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Edison: The Invention of the Movies (1891-1918) 2of4

Edison Invention of the Movies 2of4 DVD

Commercial motion pictures were invented at the Edison Laboratory between 1888 and 1893. They were actually a system of inventions: a camera, a viewing machine (the peep-hole kinetoscope), and equipment for printing, sprocket punching, and the developing of long strands of film. Perhaps none of these component parts was strictly new, but the ability of Edison and his staff to reorganize them for a specific purpose was an extraordinary technological and cultural achievement. Within a year, Edison had launched motion pictures as a commercial enterprise, remaining in the business until 1918 – a 30 year involvement in motion pictures. During that period, the technical system underwent alteration and improvement: the development of the “Latham loop,” which enabled the system to handle large quantities of film; the introduction of projection; a reframing device for projectors so the film could be kept in frame; and the three-blade shutter, which reduced flicker during projection. Arguably more important was the cultural transformation of motion picture production: the shift in editorial control from exhibitor to production company and the concomitant creation of the filmmaker, the development of story films, the proliferation of specialized motion picture theaters (often called nickelodeons), and the eventual emergence and dominance of feature-length films. In 1894, Edison was the sole producer of motion pictures in the world. By 1918, the contributions of his company to film culture had become marginal, both financially and in terms of its overall place in the American industry.

The film industry underwent tumultuous development and change over these three decades. During this period, the filmmaking achievements and fortunes of the Edison Manufacturing Company fluctuated widely. By the end of 1895, motion pictures had ceased to be profitable, perceived by many to be a passing novelty or fad. Then, projection renewed interest and expanded income; even so, the following years continued to be ones of boom and bust. Edison almost left the business in 1900, coming close to selling his motion picture interests to the rival American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. When the deal faltered, he opened a Manhattan studio and his company once again became America’s preeminent film producer-in part because his legal team put many rivals out of business. The business faltered again in 1908 and1909, but by 1911-1912, Edison films were once again considered among the best. Many Edison films continued to impress critics and audiences alike as the company employed such accomplished directors as John Collins (who died in the 1919 flu epidemic) and the young Alan Crosland (who later directed The Jazz Singer, 1929). This four-DVD set offers, for the first time anywhere, a wide selection of Edison motion pictures, from the earliest film experiments to what has sometimes been called the last Edison feature film to be released: The Unbeliever (Crosland, 1918), featuring Erich von Stroheim.

The films in this collection are presented in chronological order, allowing the viewer to follow the progression of Edison filmmaking over a 28-year period. We provide credits and program notes for each film, but groups of films are also introduced by some more general comments about filmmaking activities at Edison and in the industry more broadly. These usually cover several years at a time (e.g. 1890-1891, 1894-1895). Given the number of titles in this collection, the program notes for each film are inevitably brief, and the credits are by no means exhaustive. In the early years, films were offered for sale under variant titles and, where appropriate, we have listed them. In some cases, a film was never assigned a formal title at the time of production, and so, for purposes of identification, we have provided a title in brackets.

Film credits, to the extent available, take two general forms. Before 1909, filmmaking at the Edison Manufacturing Company was usually a collaborative activity involving two individuals who were central to the creative process. Indeed, reliance on such partnerships began with the very invention of motion pictures (Thomas A. Edison and W. K. L. Dickson) and initial commercial production (Dickson and William Heise). Therefore, for the period through 1908, we credit these individuals as “filmmakers,” to the extent their names are known. In the 1890s, the making of nonfiction subjects often involved a producer and cameraman. With the rise of fiction filmmaking in the early 1900s, the cameraman was joined by a stage director, and yet their roles were more diverse and often more collaborative than these titles would suggest. Stage manager George Fleming was also a scenic designer, while Edwin S. Porter was not only a cameraman, but also the studio head. They routinely selected and developed the film’s premise, gag or story in tandem. For this reason, crediting these individuals as “filmmakers” rather than “director” or “cameraman” is sufficiently broad and flexible to be appropriate. Sometimes, J. Searle Dawley and Edwin S. Porter are credited as the directors of films made in 1907-1908. In truth, they were not only co-directors; they were co-filmmakers. After 1908, the industry became more systematized and hierarchal. For this reason it is appropriate to employ modern-day credits (director, writer, cameraman, etc.) for these later films. By this time, films also had specific release dates.

After 1911, the Edison Company promoted its leading actors, noting them in the film’s intertitles and advertisements. Before that date, the names of actors were known only irregularly and through different sources. The names of actors for films made in 1907-1908 are taken from J. Searle Dawley’s account books, and some of the names are almost certainly misspelled. During the 1910s, the Edison Company generally promoted the writers, but not the directors or cameramen of its films. To make up for this silence, directors making Edison films between 1912 and 1915 paid for and placed in trade papers (such as the New York Dramatic Mirror) advertisements that listed their recent credits.

List of films:
1889
Monkeyshines, no. 1
Monkeyshines, no. 2

1891
Dickson Greeting
Newark Athlete
Men Boxing

1893
Blacksmithing Scene
The Barber Shop

1894
Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze
Athlete with Wand
Sandow
Carmencita
Boxing Cats
Caicedo with Pole
Annabelle Butterfly Dance
Cockfight, no. 2
Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph
Sioux Ghost Dance
Buffalo Dance
Hadj Cheriff
Glenroy Bros., [no. 2]
Louis Martinetti
Bucking Broncho
Annie Oakley
Imperial Japanese Dance
Robetta and Doretto, [no. 2]
Band Drill
Fire Rescue Scene

1895
Billy Edwards and the Unknown
Dickson Experimental Sound Film
Princess Ali
Annabelle Serpentine Dance
The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

1896
Amy Muller
The John C. Rice-May Irwin Kiss
Shooting the Chutes
Fatima, Muscle Dancer
Mess Call
Inventor Edison Sketched by World Artist
Watermelon Eating Contest
The Lone Fisherman
Interrupted Lovers
Feeding the Doves
A Morning Bath
The Burning Stable
Mounted Police Charge
Going to the Fire
A Morning Alarm
Black Diamond Express, no. 1
American Falls from Above, American Side
The First Sleigh Ride
The Morning Alarm

1897
Fifth Avenue, New York
Mr. Edison at Work in His Chemical Laboratory
Return of Lifeboat

1898
Troop Ships for the Philippines
U.S. Troops Landing at Daiquiri, Cuba
Shooting Captured Insurgents
The Burglar on the Roof

1899
Firemen Rescuing Men and Women
A Wringing Good Joke
Gold Rush Scenes in the Klondike

1900
Searching Ruins on Broadway for Dead Bodies, Galveston
The Kiss
Capture of Boer Battery by British
New Black Diamond Express
Watermelon Contest
A Storm at Sea

1901
Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken
Another Job for the Undertaker
High Diving Scene
Photographing a Country Couple
What Happened on Twenty-Third Street
Pan-American Exposition by Night
Trapeze Disrobing Act

1902
The Burning of Durland’s Riding Academy
Burlesque Suicide, No. 2
Jack and the Beanstalk
Interrupted Bathers

1903
Electrocuting an Elephant
Life of an American Fireman
Egyptian Fakir with Dancing Monkey
A Scrap in Black and White
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
The Gay Shoe Clerk
Turning the Tables
What Happened in the Tunnel
The Great Train Robbery
Rector’s to Claremont

1904
European Rest Cure
How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Herald Personal Columns
Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride
Scarecrow Pump
The Strenuous Life; or, Anti-Race Suicide
The Ex-Convict

1905
The Kleptomaniac
The Seven Ages
The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog
Coney Island at Night
The Little Train Robbery
The White Caps
The Watermelon Patch
The Miller’s Daughter
The Train Wreckers
Life of an American Policeman
Police Chasing Scorching Auto

1906
The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend
Three American Beauties
Films of The San Francisco Earthquake
The Terrible Kids
Kathleen Mavourneen
Getting Evidence

1907
The “Teddy” Bears
Cohen’s Fire Sale
The Rivals
College Chums
The Trainer’s Daughter; or, A Race for Love
Laughing Gas
A Little Girl Who Did Not Believe in Santa Claus
The Suburbanite’s Ingenious Alarm

1908
Rescued From an Eagle’s Nest
Fireside Reminiscences
Cupid’s Pranks

1909
The House of Cards

1910
New York of Today
How Bumptious Papered the Parlor

1912
Thirty Days at Hard Labor
The Passer-by
The Totville Eye
The Public and Private Care of Infants
The Unsullied Shield

1913
At Bear Track Gulch
The Ambassador’s Daughter
A Serenade by Proxy
All on Account of a Transfer

1914
The Adventure of the Hasty Elopement

1915
The Wonders of Magnetism
Black Eyes
The Lone Game

1917
One Touch of Nature

1918
The Unbeliever

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