We all know . . .
Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but what about his other inventions, over 1000 in all?
Film and Entertainment
The decision to film Daniel Boone , ill suited for winter production, suggests an absence of careful planning. But whatever Porter chose to make, productivity slowed each winter when the days grew short. Stormy weather would also have precluded shooting. Unlike the Biograph studio, Edison’s Twenty-first Street facilities lacked electric lights, not because Porter was indifferent to the technology, but because the small, glass-enclosed studio could not accommodate them. Despite such obstacles, the three-week shooting schedule for Daniel Boone was still extremely protracted. (Two years later, Griffith would handle the same type of story in a few days.) Characteristically, Porter focused on visual details rather than the major thrust of the narrative. With only a few daylight hours available for filming, time spent on achieving photographic effects was costly and not always successful. Rather than reconceive the more time-consuming setups, Porter adapted the production schedule to his filmmaking goals.
Porter and McCutcheon relied on collaborative, nonspecialized working methods. Although Porter was studio manager, he worked with the sets and operated the camera, while McCutcheon was in charge of the actors. America’s top two filmmakers from the pre-nickelodeon era thus worked in tandem rather than establishing separate production units or a clear hierarchy. Decisions were made laterally rather than vertically. Both men, in fact, were accustomed to operating in this manner. Porter had collaborated with George S. Fleming, James White, and G. M. Anderson, while McCutcheon had worked closely with Frank Marion.
William Washington Beaudine was born on January 15, 1892 in New York City, which was advantageous to a tyro filmmaker after the turn of the last century as the original “Hollywood” of America was located nearby in Ft. Lee, New Jersey. (Thomas Edison, the inventor of the first motion picture production device and, more importantly, holder of several of its most important patents, was headquartered in New Jersey. The patent monopoly that Edison belonged to did not want filmmakers operating too far away so that the monopoly could oversee the industry to ensure it did not use pirated equipment that infringed their patents. California arose as a major production center in the `Teens as it was so far away from the prying eyes of the Edison trust) Beaudine started in the movie industry as a prop boy, factotum and extra in 1909 with American Mutoscope and the Biograph Co., where he first worked with D.W. Griffith, the father of the American film. He began appearing as an actor in Mack Sennett’s Biograph films in 1912 and continued to work behind the camera while appearing as an actor in 44 movies through 1915. From 1911 to 1914, he was the assistant director or second unit director on 55 movies. He wed Marguerite Fleischer in October 1914 (they remained married until his death in 1970), the same year he moved to California. Although hired by the Kalem Co. as an actor, he got his first chance to direct while working on the Kalem’s “Ham and Bud” comedy series in 1915. He directed at least five films in 1915, and served as an assistant to director D.W. Griffith on the seminal masterpiece “The Birth of a Nation” and its follow-up, the aptly named “Intolerance”. By 1916, he was making $100/week as a director. Beaudine directed as many as 150 short comedies before graduating to feature film assignments in 1922 He earned the nickname “One Shot” for his propensity to shoot just one take, regardless of the problems that afflicted filming during that that one take, such as actors blowing their lines, or the actors fumbling the blocked business of the scene, or even technical limitations such as the failure of special effects or equipment. Problems could be taken care of in the editing room, which was much cheaper than costly filming process. Beaudine, like `John Ford’, was known for “editing in the camera”, that is, shooting only those scenes that are necessary, which saved time and raw stock. He did not shooting full coverage of scenes, with master shots and alternate takes (His contemporary `William Wellman’ , another master of editing in the camera, did Beaudine one better as “two-shot” – he would film two shots of a scene in case one was ruined in the developing lab Beaudine stubbornly would shoot only what he knew was necessary, and since Beaudine worked almost exclusively on low budget ‘quickie’ pictures for the last thirty years of his career (he directed over half of the Bowery Boys feature films), he was prized for making films quickly and economically, despite the gaffes, which likely would not be noticed by the audience of these movies anyways. (When informed that an East Side Kids quickie he was making for Monogram, which bought the rights to the Bowery Boys and renamed them, was falling behind schedule, he responded, “You mean someone out there is actually waiting to see this?” Beaudine churned out low-budget films in numbers measured by the gross, in a wide variety of genres
Regarded as the “Wizard of Menlo Park”, Thomas Alva Edison was born in Milan, Ohio on February 11th 1847. When he was seven, the Edison family moved to Port Huron, Michigan where the young Tom Edison set up his first chemical laboratory in the basement of their large house.
He attended school for only three months and at the age of twelve began selling newspapers on the Grand Trunk railway devoting every second of his spare time to experimentation with printing presses and electrical and mechanical apparatus.
In 1862 at the age of fifteen Edison published his own weekly paper – The Grand Trunk Herald – printing it in a freight car that served as a laboratory. Edison was taught the new science of Telegraphy out of gratitude from a Station Agent whose son Edison had saved by snatching him from the path of a moving train. The skills he learnt in Telegraphy afforded him a job as a Telegraph operator which took him across the country from Stratford in Canada to Adrian, Michigan; Fort Wayne and Boston.
It was while working as a telegraph operator that Edison made his first invention – a telegraphic repeating instrument which enabled messages to be transmitted automatically over a second line without the presence of an operator.
Edison settled briefly in Boston and secured employment; he, again devoted all of his spare time to his research and experimentation during which time he invented a vote recorder which although it had its merits was not sufficiently practical to warrant its adoption. At the age of 21 he traveled, almost penniless to New York City and obtains employment at the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company after fixing a broken down machine. Earning $300 a month he greatly improved their apparatus and service, again spending his spare time devoted to working of new inventions.
Among his many inventions during his employment in New York was the “Universal Stock Ticker” and generated around $40,000 from the sale of this any many other inventions. With this new-found wealth Edison moved to Newark and opened a manufacturing shop there making stock tickers.
He remained in Newark until 1875 when, at the age of 29 he moved to Menlo Park in New Jersey and the following year established a laboratory there.
In his new premises, Edison carried out some of most important work; he devised an automatic telegraph system that made possible a greater speed and range of transmission. He developed machines that made it possible to transmit several telegraphic messages on one line increasing the usefulness of existing telegraph lines. Edison also invented a Carbon Telephone Transmitter which proved important in the development of the telephone – something which had recently been invented by American Physicist and Inventor Alexander Graham Bell. In 1877, Edison recorded sound. His phonograph employed a tinfoil cylinder onto which sound was mechanically etched.
He developed this idea later in his career using wax discs instead of tinfoil cylinders. Two years later, Edison exhibited what is often regarded as his greatest invention – the Incandescent electric light bulb. In the years that followed Edison occupied himself with the improvement of the light-bulbs and the dynamos for generating the necessary electric current. Such was his research in this area that on September 4th 1882 Edison started operation of the world’s first large central electric power station on Pearl Street in New York.
In the spring of 1883, Edison employed W.K.L Dickson as his assistant. 1887 saw another move for Edison, this time from Menlo Park to West Orange, New Jersey. On this new site, Edison constructed a large laboratory for his experimentation and research. Motivated by the work of Marey and Muybridge Edison wrote on October 8th 1888 that, “I am experimenting upon an instrument which does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.” Most of the experimentation and research was carried out by Edison’s assistant, Dickson, with early experiments employing techniques developed with the phonograph. These involved arranging rows of tiny photographs on the outside of a cylinder with a light, or igniting sparks inside. Experiments using this idea as a starting point continued for some years.
On August 2nd 1889 Edison sailed to Europe and met with Jules Marey and witnessed the results achieved by Marey’s roll-film Chronophotographe. Edison returned to America with his faith in the cylinder’s shaken although he continued to experiment with this format. In October of 1890, one of Edison’s laboratory workers Sacco Albanese was the subject for the first film to employ the cylinder method. The so called “Monkeyshines” clearly displayed the limitations of this method of presentation as viewing required huge monocular magnification, and even then the images would appear impossibly grainy. As a result, the cylinder method was abandoned in favour of film.
With Dickson leading the experimentation and research the Kinetoscope was developed – a peepshow device which required viewers to peer into the top of a large cabinet where they would be treated to a minute or so of moving pictures. The first Kinetoscope prototype was ready by May 20th 1891 and was demonstrated to a Convention of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs invited to the laboratory by Edison’s wife. In June of 1892 Edison announced his intention to include his Kinetoscope in the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago the following year.
Realising that a necessity for the Exhibition’s Kinetoscopes would be films to view, Dickson perfected a working camera in October of 1892 and December saw the erection of a studio in the grounds of Edison’s Laboratory which became known as the Black Maria, thanks largely to its resemblance to the police vans of the time. The first official public demonstration of the Kinetoscope was on May 9th 1893 at the Brooklyn Institute of Art’s and Sciences. The audience at this demonstration were lined up and filed past the machine to view a Blacksmith Scene.
Despite the best efforts of Edison’s company, the Kinetoscopes were not ready in time for the Exhibition in Chicago.
By early June in 1895, Casler’s camera was in operation and Dickson appears to have spent that summer at Casrastota, New York, with Marvin and Casler and probably made some of the first mutoscope films.
Dickson was now firmly committed to the development of the Mutoscope, November 5th 1895 saw its patent issued and nine days later an application for a patent was made for a handheld mutoscope. November also saw a mutoscope adapted with a mirror device to project motion pictures and soon after the group perfected a through the film projector which they called the Biograph.
As Cinema Becomes Mass Entertainment, Porter Resists: 1907-1908
Edwin Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company found themselves operating within a dynamic, rapidly changing industry. The year 1907 was a key turning point in cinema’s history as pressures created or magnified by the nickelodeon boom transformed screen practices on almost every level. Finally, by mid 1908, cinema had become a form of mass communication: “a process in which professional communicators use mechanical media to disseminate messages widely, rapidly and continuously to arouse intended meanings in large and diverse audiences in attempts to influence them in various ways.” Such a transformation involved changes in the methods of representation, film production, exhibition, reception, and distribution. Yet Porter barely participated in this process. As a result, his standing and the standing of his films were on the wane. Thomas A. Edison, in contrast, began to assume a new and more powerful role, using litigation victories on his motion picture patents as the basis for this renewed influence.
The Biograph Association of Licensees
The Association of Edison Licensees and the Film Service Association had limited ability to implement their desired regulations because important enterprises stayed outside the combination. The American Mutoscope & Biograph Company and George Kleine were not given the opportunity to join the Edison combination in a capacity commensurate with their economic or legal positions. They formed an opposing organization based on Biograph’s productions and patents and Kleine’s European imports and chain of exchanges. Italian “Cinès”; Williams, Brown & Earle; and the Great Northern Film Company were also given Biograph licenses to import films from abroad. Altogether they offered a “regular weekly supply of from 12 to 20 reels of splendid new subjects.” Furthermore, Biograph announced its intention to license local domestic producers. Although it did not follow up on these threats, companies like Goodfellow Manufacturing operated in cooperation with the Biograph group. The resulting “film war” was waged simultaneously on the legal front through the courts, on a commercial front through pricing and marketing strategies, and on the production front through the efficient manufacture of popular films.
On the legal front, Edison sued Biograph and the Kleine Optical Company in March for infringing on a film patent, reissue no. 12,192, that had not previously been tested in the courts. To strengthen its position, Biograph acquired the “Latham loop” patent from the E. & H. T. Anthony Company for $2,500 and used it to bring countersuit against the Edison Company and its various licensees. Lengthy discussions in the trade were devoted to the value of the Latham loop, which Frank Dyer regarded “as so unimportant as not to warrant serious consideration.” George Kleine and Biograph’s Harry Marvin, in contrast, insisted the loop was essential for making films over 75 feet in length. Biograph also formed an alliance with the Armat Motion Picture Company on March 21st, thereby gaining access to its patents covering motion picture projection.
“We were engaged in bitter commercial strife,” Harry Marvin later explained. “We did what all people do under those circumstances. We fought the best we knew how. We belittled the possessions of our enemies, and we magnified our own possessions.” Between March 16th and April 30th, the Edison Company brought suit against thirty theater owners in the Chicago area and six in the Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis) and the Eastern District of Wisconsin (Milwaukee) for showing films produced or imported by the Biograph licensees.
Talking pictures were part of an emphasis on greater illusionism that, although common in the history of the screen, was particularly intense during the early nickelodeon era. Hale’s Tours was first introduced in the spring of 1905 and became a fad by the following year. (Adolph Zukor’s capitalization on talking pictures was not so coincidental, given that his initial involvement in cinema had been through Hale’s Tours.) Pathé’s coloring processes using stencils and the slightly later Smith/Urban Kinemacolor process, with its first public showings in late 1908, achieved startlingly naturalistic effects. Earlier uses of hand coloring, in contrast, had customarily heightened the fantastic elements of fairy-tale films like Jack and the Beanstalk and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. These attempts to expand the perceptual range to include sound, color, and bodily sensation further heightened the illusion of film as a transparent medium. The popular conception of film was shifting from cinema as a special kind of magic lantern to cinema as a special kind of theater.
Illusionism and theatricality were parallel currents in cinema that converged with “pictures that talk.” As one enthusiast wrote, “The illusion of life which it is the mission of moving pictures to present to the best of its ability, must always be incomplete, from the impossibility of adequately combining sound with sight, but there is no reason why the complete illusion should not be sought after, to a much greater degree than at present, by the means of stage effects.” The rise of talking pictures reveals much about the changes occurring within the institution of the screen during this period. It coincided with a new influx of theatrical directors like J. Searle Dawley, D. W. Griffith, and Sidney Olcott (who worked for the Kalem Company). It occurred at a time when cinema was taking over vaudeville and legitimate theaters and when a theatrical newspaper like the Dramatic Mirror had begun to review films. It was one of several converging elements in 1907-9 that defined film as a kind of theater—superior to the traditional stage in some respects (diversity of locale) though deficient in others (sound, color, and three-dimensional limitations). The move toward heightened realism in cinema, however, remained subservient to the narrative requirements of entertainment and the need for an efficient mode of exhibition that kept down the showman’s expenses. Strategies to achieve a superrealism were abandoned or remained a specialty service because they either limited the filmmaker’s freedom to tell a story or increased admission fees—or both. Intertitles were an extremely artificial representational strategy, but because they were an inexpensive and extremely effective way to clarify a narrative—whatever the exhibition circumstances—they quickly became standard industry practice.
From late 1907 onward, directors at Pathé, Vitagraph, Biograph, and elsewhere were developing strategies that provided the basic framework for classical narrative cinema. By mid 1908 much cinema practice had finally acquired the basic attributes of mass communication. Five criteria offered by Melvin DeFleur and Everette Dennis were being fulfilled:
1. The film industry was using professional communicators throughout its ranks. This had not always been the case. Prior to 1904, for example, production personnel often appeared in front of the camera (a practice that Porter never entirely abandoned). Even in later films, like Daniel Boone, Porter had to depend on actors who lacked professional motion picture experience. By 1907-8 Edison and other production companies were increasingly relying on a group of actors who had professional experience in the film industry.
2. The film exchanges and the new release system ensured that films were disseminated in a relatively rapid and continuous way.― 407 ―
3. The nickelodeons ensured that these films reached relatively large and diverse audiences.
4. The proto-Hollywood representational system ensured that members of the audience interpreted the films in such a way that their meanings were more or less parallel to those intended by the filmmakers.
5. As a result of experiencing these films, audience members were influenced in some way. From the very first moving pictures, spectators were, of course, usually entertained and occasionally informed. By mid 1907, however, the scale was different and a cause for societal concern. 
Edison Features: 1907-1908
The continuity of Porter’s representational system in the face of changes within the moving picture world can be seen in surviving Edison films and the criticisms of this work by contemporaries. A Race for Millions (August 1907) ends with a shoot-out between the hero and villain. This western interweaves studio-constructed exteriors with carefully selected locations. Many scenes use theatrical blocking with spatial and temporal condensations. Although a theatrical antecedent seems likely, it has yet to be located. The Trainer’s Daughter; or, A Race for Love (November 1907), however, has a plot similar to Theodore Kremer’s A Race for a Wife , in which the victor of a race between the hero and villain wins the bride. Unless familiar with A Race for a Wife or aided by the exhibitor, spectators were likely to find the complex, unlikely story obscure. The film has no intertitles. Scenes were photographed primarily in long shot, sometimes making identification of characters difficult. This is particularly true in the case of the villain, who wears two different costumes during the course of the brief film. The significance of the second scene, in which the trainer’s daughter offers herself as the ultimate stake, is not apparent unless one reads a plot summary (see document no. 24). The film’s credibility and character motivation were undermined by the choice of a Miss DeVarney, who was plain and in her mid forties, to play the romantic lead. In contrast to later cinematic practice, Porter evidenced little interest in making the trainer’s daughter an attractive woman who would be a suitable object of Jack’s desire.
The first and last scenes from The Trainer’s Daughter, which survive only as stills.
|SOURCE : Moving Picture World , November 30, 1907, p. 639.|
Porter’s next film, College Chums (November 1907) was loosely based on a well-known play, Brandon Thomas’s farce-comedy Charley’s Aunt . A Variety reviewer remarked:
Here’s a comedy reel involving a comedy idea which has long been worked to death in burlesque, nothing less than what is called in the profession “seminary stuff.” The subject is well enough handled and a variety of fairly humorous incidents is shown. By far the best feature was a mechanical trick scene. A young man and his sweet heart are shown in an altercation over the telephone. Both are seen in small circles at the upper corners of the field of vision, the rest of the sheet being occupied by housetops. As each speaks the words marshal themselves letter by letter in the air and travel across the intervening space. When the quarrel waxes hot the words meet in the middle of the scene and fall to the ground in a shower of letters. The story has to do with a young man who proposes and is accepted by the heroine. She sees him flirting with another girl and without confronting him at the time calls him up on the telephone, telling him the engagement is off. He declares that the other girl is his sister. She declares that she will call on the supposed sister at once. And so the young man’s college chum is forced to disguise himself to represent the mythical sister. The sweetheart calls and the bogus girl and she grow entirely too chummy for the taste of her fiance. The girl’s father further complicates matters by starting a flirtation with the counterfeit “sister”—a rather far fetched incident even for farcical purposes—and out of these intricacies the humor grows. The reel registered casual approval at the Fifth Avenue.
The last two-thirds of the film is located in the young man’s living room: this lengthy, single “shot” was actually photographed in several takes, with the actors exiting and reentering so that Porter could photograph the scene in sections. Actors behind the screen often brought this section of the film to life with quick repartee. This filmed-theater approach, for which the camera is a passive recorder, differs sharply from the animated trick scene that maximizes filmic manipulation and artifice. Here Porter supplied the words, using the technique of animated titles he introduced in 1905. As in the past, Porter juxtaposed various mimetic procedures for a syncretic, rather than internally consistent, mode of representation.
A Suburbanite’s Ingenious Alarm (December 1907) was lauded as “another well constructed comedy. . . . The film has a good, up-to-date application and is very well-presented.” Its slapstick humor centers around a commuter’s attempts to find a foolproof way to wake up in the morning. He “tries the old
Using animated titles in College Chums.
dodge of tying a rope to his foot to be awakened by.” Again Porter tells a simple story using a widely recognized situation. Overlapping time and action are employed as the scene moves between the interior and exterior of the commuter’s home.
Porter’s next film, Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest (January 1908), is well known because it features D. W. Griffith in his first major film role. He plays a father who battles an eagle as he rescues his child from the bird’s nest. The story for this family-centered drama was taken from a famous incident that the Eden Musee had enshrined in wax (see document no. 25). The film displays all the characteristic qualities of Porter’s work. Rather than cut between parallel lines of action, Porter used temporal overlaps. Studio sets for exterior scenes were interwoven with outdoor locations. Despite the obvious abilities of a newly hired scenic artist, Richard Murphy, a precocious critic found the film “a feeble attempt to secure a trick film of a fine subject. The boldness of the conception is marred by bad lighting and poor blending of outside photography with the studio work, which is too flat; and the trick of the eagle and its wire wings is too evident to the audience, while the fight between the man and the eagle is poor and out of vision. The hill brow is not a precipice. We look for better things.” The reviewer demanded a consistently rendered visual world, with an emphasis on credibility that was not always valorized within Porter’s rep-resentational system. Similar criticisms were to become more frequent in the months ahead.
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Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest concludes with a reunited nuclear family, their embrace cheered on by friends.
|DOCUMENT No. 25|
|No. 8 THE EAGLE’S NEST|
|SOURCE : Eden Musee, Catalogue (New York, 1901), p. 4.|
Fireside Reminiscences (January 1908) is a family-centered “society comedy drama” that evokes the story line of the well-known song “After the Ball.” In this song, a man explains to his niece why he is single and has no children. One night when he and his sweetheart were at a ball, he found her in the arms of another man. He abandoned her without waiting for an explanation, and she
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The husband reflects in Fireside Reminiscences.
eventually died as a result. After learning the man was her brother, he remained faithful to her forever. The ways in which Porter altered this story were consistent with earlier adaptations that add new family-centered elements. The lover is turned into a husband who sees his wife embracing her brother. Without waiting for an explanation, he banishes her from the home. Three years later the husband sits by the fire and recalls his past life in a series of dream balloon images: his wife, he and his wife embracing, their wedding, his wife and child, the moment he threw her out of the house, and his wife on the cold streets at night. This reminiscing is framed by a larger narrative. In fact, his wife is outside the house as he conjures up these images. She is brought inside, and their child acts as a catalyst for reconciliation. The family triumphs over the stern, misguided father, who finally sees the error of his ways and is quickly forgiven.
Surviving fragments of Cupid’s Pranks , completed on February 10, 1908, but not released in time for Valentine’s Day, make use of the charming, naive iconography of Valentine cards and similar illustrations. Filmed inside the studio except for matted shots of the New York skyline, Murphy’s elaborate sets added an important element of spectacle. In this light comedy, Cupid brings two lovers together, arranges for their car to break down and turns back the hour hand of a clock to extend their meetings—all in the interest of love. After the couple fight and reconcile, they are finally married, with Cupid looking on approvingly. Many of these scenes are introduced by intertitles that make the story more
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Porter utilized widely available iconography like this for Cupid’s Pranks.
concrete and guide the spectator. In some instances, they mask or “solve” problematic spatial/temporal transitions between shots.
Only a few fragments of Porter/Edison films made after Cupid’s Pranks survive. Our understanding of Porter’s work therefore depends on reviews in trade journals. Fortunately, these became increasingly common. Variety ‘s occasional film reviews commenced in 1907. The Dramatic Mirror , beginning with its issue of June 13, 1908, published systematic reviews of all films released during the previous week, a policy partially motivated by competitive pressures from Va-
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Tale the Autumn Leaves Told.
Nero and the Burning of Rome.
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riety . The Mirror reviews, written primarily by Frank Woods, offered carefully reasoned judgments that strongly supported the emerging, more modern representational practices. By late September, Moving Picture World responded with its own section of film reviews. Many of these were written by W. Stephen Bush, who remained sympathetic to Porter’s approach.
Porter’s work generally received strongly favorable comment during the first six months of 1908. Animated Snowballs was “a good interesting comedy run” that was well liked by the audience seeing it with Sime Silverman of Variety . Sime offered a few muted criticisms: the narrative was temporarily forgotten to show an accomplished figure skater, and the realism of the chase was ruined by the premise of a gouty old man successfully pursuing two young boys on figure skates. Nonetheless: “Some novel effects are shown. Snowballs roll uphill, and men also turn somersaults up the same incline. The opinion that the film is being reversed in the running is dissipated by some attending circumstances. It is not possible for a layman to figure out how it has been accomplished.”
After viewing The Cowboy and the Schoolmarm (March 1908) at Keith’s, one correspondent called it “a specially good film” and reported, “We never saw an audience so affected by a picture show as when the cowboy on the gallop picks up and rescues the kidnapped school teacher.” Another referred to Tale the Autumn Leaves Told (March 1908) as “Edison’s masterpiece.” For each scene, the frame had a different mask cut in the shape of a leaf. Thus the title was cleverly and visually transposed. Nero and the Burning of Rome (April 1908) likewise received much favorable attention. One unhappy critic excluded only this Porter film from a more general lament. “This subject is spectacular, contains many elements of human interest and possesses the dignity of history,” he explained.
Bridal Couple Dodging Cameras (April 1908) was called “a really novel comedy subject” and “one of the best comedy reels the Edison people have ever turned out.”
Skinny’s Finish (May 1908) was “in the best Edison style and should prove popular for some time to come.”
Porter’s The Blue and the Gray; or, the Days of ’61 (June 1908) garnered the highest praise. “No film that has been issued by any company in a long time can be classed with The Blue and the Gray for consistent dramatic force, moving heart interest and clearly told story,” declared the Dramatic Mirror .
Moving Picture World felt it was “one of the few film subjects that deserves a long run and which the public will pay to see more than once.”
Variety agreed, calling it “a commendable moving picture.” This story of North and South had many familiar narrative incidents that were often utilized by the popular press and theater. Two West Point classmates end up on opposite sides of the war. The Union officer hides his old friend and his sister’s true love from his commander. When both are discovered, the Union officer is sentenced to be shot. The sister wins a pardon from the great reconciler, Abraham Lincoln, and arrives with the reprieve as her brother is about to be executed.
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Despite the familiar incidents, Moving Picture World felt this “masterly production of thrilling interest . . . could be made clearer by more explanatory titles.”
Variety found the impersonations of Grant and Lincoln somewhat less than credible and the sister’s pleading with Lincoln for a pardon too brief to convey the complexity of the situation and therefore unrealistic. The Dramatic Mirror questioned its temporal construction:
In only one point does the construction of this story appear faulty and that is when the young officer has been stood up to be shot and the command of “fire” is about to be given, the scene is shifted to Washington where the girl is pleading with President Lincoln. The spectator is thus asked to imagine the firing squad suspending the fatal discharge while the girl rides from Washington to the Union Camp. It would have been better if the Washington scene had been inserted somewhat earlier.
Although this successive presentation of two separate lines of action was typical of Porter’s earlier chase and rescue films, the reviewer already assumed that linear temporality provided the proper basis for cinematic construction and perceived Porter’s customary methods of narrative construction as awkward.
Love Will Find a Way (June 1908) was commended as an “excellent comedy film, since it is based on a central idea which is humorous in itself.” With Pioneers Crossing the Plains in ’49 (June 1908), “Edison has given us a very good film in this story of pioneer days. The scenery is excellent and the picture artistic.” Nonetheless, the reviewer felt “the film could have been improved in the battle with the indians by the ‘pioneers’ displaying more judgement in defending themselves instead of standing aimlessly in the open to be shot down like sheep.”
Honesty Is the Best Policy (May-June 1908) had an excellent story and theme, but its effectiveness was spoiled by “faulty construction and the introduction of incidents that have nothing to do with the development of plot.” Ironically, the innovations that many historians have attributed to Porter based on the modernized version of Life of an American Fireman — parallel editing and matching action—were the very procedures that Porter had the greatest difficulty executing. Porter’s work was becoming more and more out of step with the emerging mode of representation.
THE TERMINAL RAILROAD ASSOCIATION
St. Louis already had a Union Depot, but it could handle only fourteen trains daily, so Wiggins continued to prosper. Gould, still in control of the Wabash and Missouri Pacific roads, created a monopoly of trans-river movement so he could set the tariff for trains to cross. Responding to this “arbitrary,” as it was called, the Merchants Exchange organized an effort in 1886 to build a Merchants Bridge at Bissell’s Point to break the Eads monopoly and to operate competitive lines open to any operator.
Not to be outdone, Gould organized the Terminal Railroad Association in October of 1889. The TRRA consolidated freight terminals and Union Depot via Eads Bridge and the St. Louis tunnel. Wiggins Ferry had a strong competitor, as did the Merchants Bridge which opened the following year. The Merchants had problems connecting with freight lines, though, and offered no passenger service to Union Depot.2 After the Panic of 1893, Merchants was broke. The TRRA took over its debt and property August 13, regaining its monopoly over rail connections into St. Louis. The arbitrary continued into the twentieth century.
The TRRA used this “arbitrary” to set rates for freight entering or leaving the city by rail, so it had a direct impact on the cost of using St. Louis as a shipping terminal or warehousing center. It gave a certain impetus to businesses in Illinois, who chose to not pay extra overhead to bring goods into the city. It also provided a motive for businesses to relocate north or south of city, where it could ship goods without the heavy hand of the TRRA and its arbitrary.
FREIGHT & PASSENGER STATIONS
Cupples Station attempted to remedy the problem for freight. After opening in 1891, Cupples handled most of the heavy wholesale trade in its warehouses (eighteen of them built over a thirteen-year period, ten of which remain) with its tunnel connections from the Eads Bridge via the TRRA. Some $200 million in freight passed through Cupples Station by the turn of the century. Some 93,000 trains entered and left St. Louis annually by the 1920s.
Cupples Station handled freight well enough, but travelers remained problematic. Union Depot opened in June, 1875, between 10th and 12th on Poplar, but was always restricted in capacity by a design that limited the number of trains it could handle. Its 52 daily scheduled arrivals and departures meant that it could not handle the volume from the day it opened.
The answer to the problem was a new rail station. When completed at 18th and Market in 1894, the new Union Station was the largest passenger station in the United States. It became a symbol of connection with the rest of the country for St. Louis travelers for eight decades. After World War II, train travel began declining. As air travel and expressways made trains seem old-fashioned and slow, rail travel and Union Station fell on hard times. Down to just six trains a day, Union Station closed on Halloween in 1978.
- Daniel Boone in History & Art (c-span.org)
- 17 of the World’s Oldest Films, Captured by Thomas Edison (mentalfloss.com)
- “Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison (priscillaajacks.wordpress.com)