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13 Postscript
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Although Porter and the Edison Company went in different directions, their subsequent activities involved numerous parallels as well as significant contrasts. Many industry figures believed that Porter's filmmaking days were over, but this did not prove to be the case. After leaving Edison, Porter found employment among the independents. He worked briefly with Will Rising who was head of production for the Actophone Company. Actophone, however, was quickly prosecuted by the Motion Picture Patents Company and eventually went bankrupt.[1] Porter then formed the Defender Film Company with Joseph Engel, a theater owner, and William Swanson, the well-known independent distributor and exhibitor, who had first met Porter in the 1890s.[2] This New York—based company began to release subjects on June 10, 1910. Little is known about Defender, and much of that is contradictory. Trade journals paid it surprisingly little attention. A report in Moving Picture World , however, mentioned that Defender's pictures were originally made by the World Film Manufacturing Company of Portland, Oregon—a company earlier put out of business by a studio fire.[3] These releases were expected to continue until the new Defender studio was completed. Yet Arthur Miller, who was hired by Porter as an assistant, recalls working on the company's first subject: Russia, the Land of Oppression .[4] Miller's account, however, contains puzzling gaps—for example, he never names any of the actors appearing in these films. Perhaps Porter shot a handful of Defender productions while most releases were supplied by old World Film Company negatives, or he may have simply added a few scenes to some otherwise completed productions. Was Wild Bill's Defeat (released October 6, 1910) shot in Oregon or on Staten Island, where Porter did most of his


The Rex symbol. Frame suffers 
from nitrate decomposition.

location work? Not one Defender film is available to answer these questions.

Defender films were strongly criticized in trade publications. After viewing Russia, the Land of Oppression , Frank Woods wrote:

In this first release of a new company we find the photography far from satisfactory and the story disconnected and without a discoverable plot. The oppression of the Jews in Russia forms the basis for the film, and when the soldiers enter the synagogue they all pause and pose while the camera pictures the anguish of the Jews. Then we see the refugees entering America, through the Castle Garden, and the film ends with an actor and actress making senseless grimaces at close view as if to indicate how happy they are in the land of the free.[5]

A Cowboy's Courtship (released September 8th) "is not a story at all; it has no plot."[6]The Cattle Thief's Revenge was "morally crooked because it leaves the villain triumphant," while A Schoolmarm's Ride for Life (released September 29th) was "necessarily more or less blighted by the impossibility of the plot."[7] Excepting the acting, which received occasional praise, these Defender films were condemned in a manner that recalls the harsh comments on earlier Edison films.

Defender stopped releasing in November 1910. Perhaps it was considered best to disassociate Porter's own productions from those made by a defunct firm. Or if the productions were made by Porter, his continuing problems may have forced the partners to reorganize their company.[8] In any case, Porter, Engel, and Swanson now formed the Rex Motion Picture Manufacturing Company, which began to release films in February 1911. By then Porter had already completed more than twenty productions at the Rex studio at 573 Eleventh Avenue in New York City.[9] This unusually extensive backlog was undoubtedly designed to free Porter from the pressure of the weekly release schedule.

The first Rex production, Heroine of '76, starred Gordon Sackville, who had acted for Porter as far back as 1904.[10] The film was made for a modest sum but


the results were hailed as "a remarkably good picture . . . and is bound in respect of its patriotic theme, to be popular all over the United States."[11] Even the Dramatic Mirror was enthusiastic, remarking that the story was "told with clearness and precision, and aside from a certain nervous haste to be over a situation which will doubtlessly wear off, is well acted. Great care in detail is displayed in costume and setting."[12] The company's third release, By the Light of the Moon (March 1911), was a silhouette film that revived a technique Porter had used almost three years earlier with A Comedy in Black and White (August 1908):

The film is a real novelty in modern pictures and is interesting and attractive as well. It is an excellent example of what Mr. Porter can do with a camera in a studio by the manipulation of light and trick effects in which branch of the art he has few if any peers in the world. The characters are seen in black silhouette moving in front of backgrounds that are illuminated by a representation of silvery moonlight. The effect is striking, the story is a pleasing little farce, telling of the love of two young people, the interruptions from a tramp, the objections of the girl's parents, and the elopement of the couple in an aeroplane pursued by the father in an automobile. The elopers reach the parson's house and are married before papa arrives. The picture is good enough to stand alone without the ridiculous introduction of the ballet that marches out carrying banners that spell out the name of the firm.[13]

It also provided the Dramatic Mirror with an opportunity to profile the director in a laudatory article, the first such career profile.[14]

At Rex, Porter returned to his former production methods. Once again he outfitted the new studio to his specifications and had charge of every detail of the production process. Soon he developed a Rex stock company, which featured Phillips Smalley, his wife Lois Weber, and Cleo Ridgely. Smalley also worked closely with Porter and directed the actors, assuming the position held earlier by Dawley and McCutcheon. Weber wrote many of the scenarios. Porter's collaborative approach to filmmaking proved itself effective, as Rex films quickly established an excellent reputation. "The success that has been achieved by the Rex Company in the Independent field is not difficult to understand," Woods remarked. "It proves again the fact that it is quality of the dependable, consistent kind that counts. The Rex Company started in making good pictures and has kept it up with much more than average uniformity."[15]

Only one surviving Rex film, Fate (released July 16, 1911), can be definitely attributed to Porter and it is a reworking of his earlier The Gentleman Burglar (May 1908).[16] Reviews suggest it was an unexceptional Rex production (see document no. 28). Nonetheless, the picture has a coherent, understandable narrative. By mid 1911 Porter had simplified his storytelling methods and eliminated antiquated elements that had been so harshly criticized in his Edison films. Gone were narrative digressions and overlapping temporality. Yet other elements of his earlier approach were developed and found favor in some circles.


One critic praised Rex productions for photographing actors in full shot, maintaining enough distance between the camera and the actors so the frame did not exclude the actors' feet. Readers were urged to "study their work for consistent and praiseworthy effort to keep the full figure on the screen."[17] The veteran filmmaker did not, however, enrich this reduced system of representation with techniques, such as parallel editing, that Griffith and others were finding so strikingly effective.


Fate (Rex, July 6).—This story seems to depend too much on its titles for its development, rather than the subsequent action. The result is oftentimes shown without the events leading up to it, making rather a "jumpy" story, that might have been better blended by different treatment and handling of characters. It deals with a gentleman burglar, who marries a respectable girl and changed his manner of life. A former pal turned up, demanding money. He stole it from his father-in-law's desk, evidently was caught and ordered from the house. He is then implicated in a murder and convicted. He escapes after five years, commits a burglary on his wife's room, where she lives as a wife of a former lover. Discovered by his child, he shoots himself and his identity is kept secret by the other man. It is not always quite natural in its deductions and movements. Some parts left out would have benefited others.

SOURCE: New York Dramatic Mirror , July 12, 1911, p. 25.

The popularity of Rex films gave Porter renewed credibility. A year after the company's debut, the studio chief reaped kudos from a trade press that was only beginning to acknowledge the role of individual filmmakers. As one journalist described him:

He may be rightfully considered the dean of all producers. His work to-day—the work of an artist and mechanical genius—is by no means a matter of inspiration but the result of long experience in a profession to which many are called, but few are chosen. To be a great producer in these days a man must first be born an artist. Whether or not he be a trained artist, the essence of art must be born with him. There never has been a training school for motion picture art and the successful producers in that line have been obliged to train themselves in the school of experience. A great producer must also be a born mechanic in order to successfully cope with the marvels of photography and the engineering ability required for great scenic conceptions. . . . It is safe to say that there is no living man who knows as much about the making of a moving picture as Edwin Porter. Through the medium of Rex pictures we know his artistic ability. He is capable of preparing a first-class film picture in the manuscript. With his story in hand he undertakes the scenic arrangements and rehearsals with the absolute confidence of a master. With his familiar cry of "stand-by" he takes his place at the


camera and turns the handle while directing the play. He knows his camera inside and out; in fact, he builds them himself. He knows electricity and stage lighting to the ultimate of perfection. When the negative has been exposed Mr. Porter becomes a photographer and follows it through the developing process and there is none who knows the work better than he. He is the absolute master of his trade from beginning to end and is perhaps the best qualified man to be in charge of a motion picture studio there has ever been.[18]

Porter's reputation thus enjoyed a powerful resurgence within the film industry. The Rex pictures he produced justified the now atypical way he went about making films. Collaboration and nonspecialization remained, for him, two sides of the same coin—two dimensions of the filmmaking process.

The veteran producer and his business partners used their enhanced standing to expand commercially. In January 1912 Rex commenced distributing two subjects each week.[19] Porter's films with Weber and Smalley were released on Thursdays, and pictures starring Marion Leonard and produced by her husband, the former Porter/Edison scenario chief Stanner E. V. Taylor, appeared on Sunday. In May, Porter and Rex were instrumental in the formation of the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, ultimately controlled by Carl Laemmle.

Edison Filmmaking Revives

Edison films gradually recovered from their low point at Porter's departure: by 1910—11 they were often considered the equal of any then being produced.[20] This meant more natural acting and clearly told stories. Nothing indicates this improvement better than The Passer-by (June 1912). With a flashback structure, an elderly man (played movingly by Marc McDermott) recalls his life and the crucial moments when it intersected with the woman he loved but was never able to marry. The remarkable film frames the flashbacks with camera moves toward and away from the speaker's face. Edison films were exceeded in popularity only by Biograph's, at least among MPPCo-licensed producers. As quality improved at Edison, so did the rate of production. Output increased to three reels per week beginning November 1, 1910, four per week beginning August 1, 1911, and five reels commencing September 23, 1912.[21]

Consistent with the practices of such production companies as Kalem, and to a lesser extent Biograph, Edison frequently sent small groups of actors and production personnel to distant locations. On January 19, 1910, Horace G. Plimpton dispatched a crew to Cuba, where Dawley directed Laura Sawyer in love stories such as The Princess and the Peasant and A Vacation in Havana , the latter doubling as a travel picture.[22] Since cold weather and a crowded studio hampered efficient work and novel scenery boosted interest in the Edison pictures, the additional expense seemed justified. Later that year Dawley traveled to the Rocky Mountains in Canada. In 1911 and in 1912 he again headed


to Cuba and the Rocky Mountains on filming expeditions.[23] Director Ashley Miller took several Edison stars to London in July 1912. These trips were made in lieu of creating a studio on the West Coast (i.e., Hollywood), something that many production companies were doing by 1911-12.

Edison's profits from filmmaking fluctuated between $200,000 and $230,000 between 1908 and 1911. In about April 1911 film activities were shifted from the Edison Manufacturing Company to a new corporate entity, Thomas A. Edison, Inc. That year domestic film sales averaged 40 prints for each of 178 pictures released.[24] Foreign sales in many instances approached, and occasionally exceeded, domestic sales. The lure of overseas distribution had become significant. Because British exchanges only bought films on an individual basis (rather than placing a standing order for many weeks as in the United States), sales could fluctuate from less than ten for some American-oriented subjects to more than one hundred for a melodrama such as The Switchman's Tower .[25] The impact was noticeable. Edison stopped making films about American history and focused on European events, instead. The Charge of the Light Brigade (1912) was shot by Dawley in Cheyenne, Colorado, using American soldiers but costumes reputed to have been shipped from England.[26] Whether or not true, the English praised this spectacle and placed an unprecedented print order. Edison executives considered the British market in hiring English cartoonist Harry Furniss and purchasing rights to stories. Sales in Australia, South Africa, and South America had also become an important area of concern for Edison executives. This sensitivity to the foreign market was in marked contrast to the pre-1909 period, when Edison showed little interest in overseas sales.

In the fall of 1911 Edison made a few multireel subjects (The Three Musketeers and Foul Play ) that were early premonitions of the longer, full-length films that would soon dominate the industry. In 1912 this interest shifted and the company introduced the first "serial," What Happened to Jane (released July 26, 1912). Each 15-minute film was "complete in itself," but the star (Mary Fuller) and a larger narrative bound the episodes together. This was prepared in conjunction with the Ladies' World magazine, which published corresponding accounts of Jane's adventures. This tie-in proved exceedingly popular and was much imitated, both at Edison and throughout the industry. At that very moment, however, Edwin Porter was involved in a somewhat related, but ultimately more far-reaching, development—the rise of the full-length feature film.

Edwin S. Porter and the Formation of Famous Players

While still at Rex, Porter was also pursuing other plans. In July 1912 he, Daniel Frohman, and Adolph Zukor acquired the American rights to Queen Elizabeth , a three-reel feature starring Sarah Bernhardt, and marketed it through their newly formed Famous Players Film Company. At a time when the Amer-


ican film industry was still seeking the mantle of respectability, Bernhardt's name generated laudatory coverage in newspapers that customarily mentioned moving pictures only if the editors wanted to condemn them.[27]Queen Elizabeth played to standing room only on the Loew circuit and in other theaters.[28] As Porter became more involved with Famous Players, he spent less time at Rex. Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber assumed greater responsibility, including the direction of many Rex films, until they left in September. That October Porter sold his shares in Universal for a substantial sum.[29]

By the fall of 1912 Famous Players was moving to film plays with top American theatrical stars. Bernhardt set the example, Daniel Frohman provided ties to the theatrical world, Porter the expertise in film production, and Zukor the business acumen and much of the financing. Late that year, after hastily converting an old armory on West Twenty-sixth Street into a picture studio, Porter shot The Count of Monte Cristo with James O'Neill. Again he pursued a collaborative approach, working with Joseph A. Golden, who had written scenarios and produced films at Biograph, Centaur, and Nestor.[30] When the Selig company preemptively released a competing feature based on the same story, Famous Players sued and delayed distribution of its picture for almost a year.[31] In any case, this remarkable record of late-nineteenth-century theatrical technique may not have been dynamic enough to launch the company's new line of original productions. O'Neill's acting style and the sets were incompatible with popular conceptions of realism and had become old-fashioned, even in the theater. When finally released late in 1913, The Count of Monte Cristo received little attention even in the trade press. Not surprisingly, the Porter-Golden collaboration was not repeated.

The first Famous Players production to be distributed, The Prisoner of Zenda , featured matinee idol James Hackett in a film version of his well-known theatrical vehicle. Production began in December 1912 and encountered initial difficulties. As Adolph Zukor recalled, Porter gave the actors little direction beyond the marks that they had to hit in order to remain within camera range. After Hackett saw his performance on screen, he assumed a more active interest in shaping the project. The initial shooting was redone as "he began to help Porter map out the action."[32] And so a collaborative relationship once again emerged. The results were considered electrifying, and as one reviewer remarked, "We owe much of the excellence of this production to the harmonious working of masters on the speaking and silent stage."[33]

The Prisoner of Zenda , released in February 1913, was "more the visualization of the novel on which the play was based than a reproduction in moving pictures of the play itself." Four acts were transformed into over a hundred scenes. Location scenes and interiors were integrated in a way that gained applause from members of the theatrical profession who attended a preview. They found the film "unexpectedly successful," although some critics considered Por-


A postcard used to promote The Prisoner of Zenda.

ter's camera to be too distant from the actors.[34] A modern viewing of the film likewise shows Porter and Hackett in full control of their mise-en-scène. Moving Picture World remarked, "With this four-act [i.e., four-reel] film the producers have leaped to the pinnacle of moving picture fame at one gigantic bound."[35] A large-scale marketing campaign began, with Edwin's youngest brother, E. M. Porter, the chief representative in Pittsburgh.[36]

The Prisoner of Zenda enabled Famous Players to acquire the services of such leading actors as Minnie Maddern Fiske and Lillie Langtry. Benjamin (B. P.) Schulberg, who had been put on the payroll back in late 1912, headed publicity and script editing—jobs he had performed effectively for Porter at Rex.[37] J. Searle Dawley left the Edison organization in the summer of 1913 and became Porter's collaborator. Actors and production personnel who had worked with Dawley and/or Porter soon found their way to the Famous Players' studio—including actors John Steppling and John Gordon, writer Jim Cogan, and set designer Richard Murphy. Laura Sawyer, who had become an Edison star, joined her old colleagues in August.[38] However, the most important individual attracted by the new company was Mary Pickford.

Porter directed Pickford's first feature, A Good Little Devil , which was shown to admiring exhibitors in early July. It was based on David Belasco's theatrical production of that name and had Pickford as one of the leads. Moving Picture World's praise was somewhat qualified. "That [the play] is one of Mr. Belasco's big successes is, alone, enough to make people want to see [the


Tess of the D'Urbervilles, starring Minnie Maddern Fiske.

film]. We think it as good, almost, as any fairy picture could be and, in the past, fairy pictures have been very popular, especially with children and their mothers."[39] In his memoirs, Zukor more forthrightly explained his reasons for postponing the film's release for nine months. Belasco had offered to help with the direction of the film, and Famous Players eagerly accepted. Publicity surrounding Belasco's involvement, particularly his agreement to appear in the film, heightened still further the company's already considerable prestige. Belasco's supervisory role backfired, however, for he limited the filmmakers' ability to adapt the play to motion pictures. Nonetheless, Zukor achieved one additional goal with A Good Little Devil : he signed Pickford to a one-year contract.

Porter had directed three films for Famous Players, and in two cases the results were somewhat problematic. Dawley joined Porter in directing the company's fourth effort, Tess of the D'Urbervilles , which featured Madame Fiske in an adaptation of her stage vehicle of that name. The risks were particularly high since Fiske had the right to destroy the negative if it did not meet with her satisfaction. The film, however, delighted her, in part because Porter's soft photography (and lack of close-ups) shed years off the middle-aged actress's appearance. The picture relied more closely on the book than the play, gener-


In the Bishop's Carriage, with Mary Pickford.

ating a large number of scenes. Tess of the D'Urbervilles was called "a revelation" and "glorious surprise," and Dawley was labeled "a master of photoplay arrangement."[40]

Porter and Dawley then directed Mary Pickford in In the Bishop's Carriage . Although purportedly based on the play of that name, it was, in fact, adapted by B. P. Schulberg from the original novel. Pickford plays a young thief who turns from a criminal life to become a successful stage actress. Although a former accomplice comes back to haunt her, she ultimately escapes his threatening grasp. Upon its debut, the film was promptly declared "a winner" and proved to be a highly successful showcase for Pickford's talents.[41] Porter and Dawley went on to co-direct Mary Pickford's next film, Caprice . "Mr. Porter has directed the whole with an admirable attention to detail and an artist's eye for beautiful scenes," the New York Telegraph later announced.[42] Pickford's acting and the blend of romance with comedy likewise received strong endorsements. Afterwards Porter remained in charge of the key Pickford unit, while his protégé was assigned to his own production group. Dawley was soon directing such pictures as Chelsea 7750, a detective thriller starring Laura Sawyer (Dawley also wrote the scenario).


Although Famous Players had been producing a feature film a month, these were stockpiled—as had been done at Rex. The company finally began to market its films systematically in September 1913, announcing that it would release three pictures at regular intervals each month, or "30 Famous Features" (most were four to six reels or 60 to 90 minutes each) per year—an unprecedented number and a return to the regular release schedule that Porter had disliked.[43] Beginning with Tess of the D'Urbervilles (September 1st) and In the Bishop's Carriage (September 10th),[44] Famous Players Film Company became the first film producer in the world to regularly release full-length feature films. Famous Players effectively launched a new era of motion picture practice.

Porter took Pickford to California for several months of filming in November 1913.[45] There they made at least two films under makeshift conditions. In the first, Hearts Adrift (released February 10, 1914), the Pickford character was cast away on a desert island. Although some critics praised the picture for its star's performance and for its dramatic photography, Variety contended that Famous Players had "slipped some cogs in this feature and the movie followers will no doubt pick flaws right and left."[46]Tess of the Storm Country (1914), one of Pickford's most successful films, came next. Variety declared: "Little Mary comes into her own and her work in this five-part movie production so far o'ershadows her work in the other films there's no comparison."[47]Moving Picture World told the trade that the picture "possesses the qualities that make for success."[48] Despite widespread accolades and a box-office bonanza (the film was so successful that Pickford would later remake it), Tess of the Storm Country shows a director who had not fully adopted contemporary American techniques of storytelling. The camera always remains at a distance and fails to make effective use of Pickford's enchanting and expressive face.

Tess of the Storm Country demonstrates the extent to which Porter and the film industry had moved away from a homosocial way of working and thinking. It was based on a novel by a woman (Grace Miller White), starred a woman, and appealed in large part to female spectators. This is obviously not the entire story (the scenario was by B. P. Schulberg, the direction Porter's), but production companies had developed a heterosocial mode of work that was strongly inflected by the influx of personnel from the theater. Within the industry women asserted a powerful presence in the years immediately prior to gaining the vote. Adolph Zukor found Mary Pickford and her mother astute both financially and in the subtleties of building the actress's career. "America's Sweetheart," moreover, was active behind the camera as well as in front of it. As the president of Famous Players later recalled: "Mary had her hand in everything, writing scripts, arguing with directors, making suggestions to other players. But everyone knew she did it for the benefit of the picture, and her ideas were helpful."[49] Pickford had assumed such a role in the past—at Independent Motion Picture Company she wrote and starred in The Dream (1911), directed by Thomas Ince.


Correspondingly, Porter had provided Lois Weber with similar opportunities. Although he was hardly a convert to feminism, working with women on an equal basis did not prove difficult for him. It would not be inappropriate to see Pickford as filling the void left by Porter's more formal collaborators, particularly on these two West Coast films.

After Porter and Pickford returned to New York, the filmmaker took Frederick Thomson as his co-director for The Spitfire (released June 20th)—a non-Pickford feature. Although the results were "certainly worthy of a place in any theater," Thomson was supplanted by Hugh Ford, an "international theatrical authority," who had joined Famous Players late in 1913.[50] These two worked together for the remainder of Porter's Famous Players career. Their first film, Such a Little Queen , was also Porter's last with Pickford; some of the picture's early scenes may have been shot during their California sojourn. This film likewise received wide acclaim. The co-directors continued to direct "in collaboration" on The Crucible , starring Marguerite Clark.[51]

Encouraged by its many successes, the Famous Players Film Company planned to make a series of dramas in Europe. Porter and Ford began this project by filming The Eternal City (1914), an eight-reel adaptation of Hall Caine's epic novel. Heavily inspired by the success of such Italian epics as Quo Vadis and Cabiria , they shot in the Vatican gardens, the Roman Forum, and the Coliseum. World War I soon curtailed their activities, and they finished their production in New York City. Opening at the Lyceum Theatre on December 27, 1914, the film's presentation was handled by S. F. Rothapfel, a showman whose lavish presentations matched the film's ambitions. The Dramatic Mirror called it "the finest dramatic work thus far made here or elsewhere" and noted its unparalleled use of spectacle—this just one month before The Birth of a Nation opened in New York.[52]Variety was almost as enthusiastic. During the course of 1915, another nine Porter/Ford productions were released to generally enthusiastic reviews.

Shortly before his directing career ended, Porter reminisced,

Looking back upon the past eighteen years in motion pictures—back to the day when no one knew what a motion picture was—and realizing the wonderful strides the industry has taken since then, I am more than impressed. I am thrilled. Artistically and mechanically the motion picture has forged its way forward until today it is recognized as the greatest amusement factor in the world and the greatest educational force in the history of civilization.[53]

Yet Porter's feelings must have been more mixed than he could publicly acknowledge. As feature films of four or more reels became the dominant product of the industry, pressures to standardize production intensified, and large staffs were even more stratified than they had been at the Edison Company. At Famous Players, the veteran filmmaker was considered something of an oddity.


His insistence on photographing productions was proving embarrassing to Adolph Zukor, who increasingly questioned his abilities. "Porter was, I have always felt, more of an artistic mechanic than a dramatic artist," the mogul later remarked.[54] Porter's predicament replayed his Edison experience; the falling out of favor he had suffered with the standardization of one-reel production recurred with features. His final break with Zukor came after the burning of the Famous Players studio at 213 West Twenty-sixth Street on September 11, 1915. Porter remained to supervise the hastened completion of a new studio in northern Manhattan and then left for South America after selling his one-quarter share in Famous Players for $800,000—an immense sum at the time.[55] Independent, small-scale feature production was too risky to attempt on his own. Perhaps because he lacked satisfactory alternatives, Porter retired from filmmaking.

Edison's Motion Picture Business Comes To a Close

Even as Porter enjoyed increasing prosperity in the mid teens, the Edison company encountered an array of problems. A major blow to Edison's motion picture efforts in mid-decade involved the Motion Picture Patents Company. The MPPCo had sued almost all unlicensed domestic film producers between 1909 and 1911. While it enjoyed initial successes against these independents, Carl Laemmle in particular challenged the validity of MPPCo patents in court and eventually won. Meanwhile the MPPCo-licensed film producers started their own film exchange in mid 1910, absorbing many of the rental companies owned by or affiliated with the "trust." The resulting General Film Company then bought out many of the remaining licensed exchanges; and when a renter refused to sell, he found that his license was quickly cancelled. Tactics such as these led the U.S. government to bring an antitrust suit on August 15, 1912. Much damaging evidence was submitted, and on October 1, 1915, the courts found the Motion Picture Patents Company guilty of antitrust violation.[56] Edison and other licensed producers then became liable to pay injured parties triple damages. This defeat was not only a costly financial and commercial setback but a public relations disaster.

Although Edison's motion picture enterprise suffered setbacks in many areas, the principal ones were in the area of filmmaking. The talent of its staff was weakened by the departure of Dawley, Laura Sawyer, and other personnel to the Famous Players Film Company in mid 1913. In March 1914 the Bronx studio suffered a major fire, which disrupted production. Yet Edison's decisive failure centered on its refusal to make a timely transition to full-length feature filmmaking. Edison released only one-reelers throughout 1912 and most of 1913, even as the average number of prints sold per subject fell from 40 to about 30.[57] That August, Edison introduced one two-reeler per week. Sales quickly picked


up, halving the previous decline. Feature films (and even two-reelers were sometimes considered features at this stage) were in immense demand while one-reelers were becoming "filler."[58] Nonetheless, Thomas A. Edison, Inc. regularly released four one-reelers and one two-reeler each week through the beginning of 1915.[59] In mid 1914 Edison began to release one three-reel subject a month, but such "features" only became a regular part of Edison's weekly output on March 1st, 1915.[60] By then The Birth of a Nation had opened and Famous Players had been regularly releasing pictures of four to six reels for a year and a half. In the fall of 1915 Edison was barely selling 22 prints per subject through the General Film Company—a money-losing proposition. Before the end of the year, Edison had ceased to make one-reelers for regular release.[61]

William Hodkinson, president of Paramount Pictures Corporation, which distributed all the films made by Famous Players, had come to rely on block booking (in which a theater contracted for all its programs over a given year) and arrangements whereby his company received a percentage of the gross receipts. These commercial strategies ensured healthy profits, while the General Film Company's failure to pursue such innovative methods was a major reason for Edison's lack of profitability in the feature area. Finally, in mid 1915, Edison began to have outside distributors handle its features as well as the General Film Company. This included both Paramount and George Kleine.[62] Negative costs were expected to be about $15,000 per five-to-six reel film with the cost of prints adding another $6,000. Profits, it was assumed, would be substantial. The Kleine-Edison Feature Service was inaugurated with the release of Vanity Fair on October 6, 1915, starring Minnie Maddern Fiske, the renowned, but aging, stage actress who had already appeared in Famous Players' Tess of the D'Urbervilles . Income was disappointing, however, and the picture may have never recovered its cost of $28,676.

The advent of features and World War I (which curtailed foreign markets) destroyed Edison's profitability. The Motion Picture Division would have lost $25,000 during the 1915 business year had it not been for a special $50,000 charge against Edison's foreign division. The following year, it made profits of $2,480 on sales of $566,120. To compensate for the decline in revenues, Edison brought in an efficiency engineer, S. B. Mambert. Mambert was determined to keep expenses down. When filmmaking costs went up from $1.35 per negative foot in May 1915 to $1.71 in June, Horace Plimpton was fired. L. W. McChesney became head of the Motion Picture Division that August, even as Charles Wilson remained general manager of Thomas A. Edison, Inc. Ironically, bureaucratization and petty paperwork proliferated in an attempt to reduce waste. The impact, other than further disruption, seemed small—costs for September rose slightly, to $1.773 per foot. Directors were ordered to work with an exceedingly low (1.33 to 1) shooting ratio, which inevitably hampered production and curtailed quality.[63] The cost of a film more than the potential


box-office success of a picture seemed to be foremost in the minds of Edison executives.

Since the second half of 1915, the Edison company had released its films through a variety of organizations, diffusing its identity and often creating minor conflicts between exhibitors, who found their exclusives undermined. The Paramount deal, which had looked highly promising in 1915, progressed slowly and then soured after Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky staged a coup and forced Hodkinson's departure in June 1916. Only three features were sold to Paramount. Beginning October 1916, the Kleine-Edison Feature Service was expanded to become the K.E.S.E. Service, involving Kleine, Edison, Selig, and Essanay. Edison also made films for McClure Pictures during 1916.[64]

Edison pictures, irrespective of distributor, appealed to moralistic, middle-class reform groups. Immediate pleasures of the flesh were shown to cause long-term misery. The Stoning (released March 25, 1915), for example, warns against premarital sex. It is the story of a naive middle-class girl (played by Viola Dana) who is misled, seduced, and abandoned by a railroad conductor. Though befriended by a virile, reformist minister, she is otherwise snubbed by the community and finally commits suicide. This moralizing tendency was only intensified when America entered World War I in April 1917. As many influential groups called for heightened moral purity and cleanliness, Edison inaugurated a series known as "Conquest Pictures." These programs were meant to provide "cleaner and more wholesome films, which could be exhibited with safety before any member of the family." The results proved disappointing.

Thomas Edison put much of his commitment to innovation in the area of technology. Edison had subsidized several aspiring inventors who claimed to be close to solving the problem of producing color films. They never succeeded, but two products closer to the inventor's concerns reached fruition. The Home Projecting Kinetoscope, often referred to as the Home P.K., and the updated "Kinetophone," which projected motion pictures with synchronous recorded sound in a large theater, looked back to Edison's first caveats. Each, unfortunately, would have a devastating effect on his motion picture enterprise. The Home P.K. was designed for use in homes, churches, and noncommercial venues. Its 21mm strip contained three 5.7mm images across its width; thus each foot of film contained 210 frames. Seventy-seven feet of film provided fifteen minutes of screen time. (This compactness recalls the miniscule images generated by Dickson's cylinder experiments over twenty years before.) People would buy the machine and a few films, which could then be exchanged for new ones at a small cost. The Home P.K. was launched in late 1911 and sold by many of Edison's phonograph dealers. Pictures were taken from the catalog of outdated Edison subjects—with some acquisitions made from other MPPCo-licensed producers. Edison also had personnel make science and educational subjects specifically for the Home P.K. The new motion picture system was complicated to operate and


encumbered by technical deficiencies. Although it represented a major investment of money and energy, the Home P.K. never became very popular.[65]

The kinetophone, in contrast, enjoyed an initial success when it opened in February 1913.[66] The American and Canadian rights were sold to a company set up by prominent vaudeville organizations. They embraced the kinetophone because it gave them a way to differentiate their moving pictures from those being shown in regular picture houses. Vaudeville theaters therefore made long-term (three- to six-month) commitments to the machine, with Edison receiving a rental that varied from $150 to $200 per week. With more than fifty machines playing these houses, gross income exceeded $10,000 a week. In addition, as many as a dozen exhibition units toured the country, presenting the novelty in small-town theaters for a few days at a time. Each reel of film was only six minutes long, and pictures usually showed mediocre vaudeville acts or scenes from plays. Although business boomed through the summer, people began to lose interest. As one of Edison's associates fumed, "The public is interested in seeing Talking Pictures as a novelty, once or twice, and then they want longer subjects and first class acting."[67] Although American interest in the kinetophone novelty seriously faded by the fall of 1913, Edison had also sold kinetophone rights to various parties throughout the world, including Japan. These organizations started somewhat later and often continued to be viable well into 1914; the onset of World War I delivered the final blow to these enterprises in many instances.[68]

With all the technical energy put into the Home P.K. and the kinetophone, the regular Edison 35mm projectors were not kept up-to-date. In 1909 and 1910 profits from the projecting kinetoscope averaged $135,000 per year, down substantially from the $200,000 average of the previous two years but still respectable. Sales fell 30 percent in 1911 and were declining rapidly by 1912. Within another two years, this once profitable part of Edison's business had all but ceased to exist. A half-hearted revival was attempted with the development of a new model, the "Super-Kinetoscope," in 1915; but it was expensive to manufacture and too highly priced. The revival effort was quickly abandoned, and with it all attempts to produce motion picture hardware.[69]

Throughout the 1910s Porter had retained his interest in motion picture technology. In the throes of leaving the Edison Manufacturing Company, he developed the Simplex projector with Frank Cannock. This machine, promoted by Richard Hollaman of the Eden Musee, was first sold commercially in 1911.[70] The rise of the Simplex projector coincided with the decline of the Edison counterpart. Even at Famous Players, Porter had continued to experiment with technological innovations. In June 1915, he and William E. Waddell gave a demonstration of projected stereoscopic moving pictures. As exhibitors would do in the 1950s, they provided spectators with glasses sporting a red filter for one eye and a green filter for the other. According to one report, "the audience at the


Astor Theater was frequently moved to applause by the beauty of the scenes which gave one the impression of looking at actual stage settings and not the shadowy figures of the ordinary picture."[71]

When Porter sold his shares in Famous Players, he used some of the proceeds to buy shares in the Precision Machine Company and became its president. Under his supervision, the company's Simplex projector became the industry standard. Again Porter returned to his passion for mechanical invention. In 1917-18 Porter was vice-president, and Dawley secretary-treasurer, of the Sunlight Arc Company, which marketed innovative lights for studio filming. Competition from a major corporation soon proved their undoing.[72] At the Precision Machine Company, Porter developed several pieces of new equipment, for example an inexpensive motion picture camera that exhibitors could use to take local views. These were not notably successful, and when the company merged with the International Projecting Company in 1925, Porter did not become an officer of the new corporation, but slid quietly into retirement.

Porter, once known as Thomas Edison, Jr., was actively involved in the film industry for roughly thirty years—the same length of time as his role model and one-time boss. By the beginning of 1918, Thomas A. Edison was looking to sell the Bronx studio and leave the filmmaking business. In February, thirty years after the "Wizard" had his interview with Eadweard Muybridge, the actors and production staff at the Edison Studios were laid off. On March 30, 1918, Thomas A. Edison, Inc. sold its studio and plant to the Lincoln & Parker Film Company for $150,000 cash and $200,000 in common and preferred stock. Edison's role in filmmaking, as well as his aspirations as a movie mogul, had come to an end. But for this very reason, he could finally become a figure revered and romanticized by all sectors of the motion picture industry. Until his death on October 18, 1931, he helped to shape the public memory in regard to his role as "father of the motion picture industry."[73] Porter, not unlike Edison, continued to tinker in a machine shop during his years of retirement. Yet after losing much of his money in the stock market crash of 1929, the former filmmaker became a recluse and a largely forgotten figure. He lived with his wife in the Taft Hotel, off Times Square, until he died on April 30, 1941, shortly after his seventy-first birthday.[74]


The practices that Porter espoused during his filmmaking career, while ill suited to the structure of Hollywood studios and the representational system that it supported, did not disappear. Even within this Hollywood system, informal collaborations were, and still are, common either at specific stages of production or by personnel performing complementary tasks (producer and director, for example). However, collaboration from the beginning to the end of a project and overlapping responsibilities have been more unusual. Buster


Keaton was one of the rare figures who seemed at ease with this approach— both in his work with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and later in his features, when he often shared directing credit and maintained a crew of creative collaborators from project to project. William Powell and Emeric Pressburger forged a more formal collaborative team, which flourished in England between 1942 and 1951.

Not surprisingly, the collaborative approach to filmmaking has flourished best outside of a Hollywood-type situation. We often forget that Sergei Eisenstein had a co-director, Grigori Alexandrov, on October and Old and New . Avant-garde films of the 1920s characteristically relied on a collaborative working method. Ballet mécanique was made by Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy. Un Chien andalou by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, Entr'acte by René Clair and Francis Picabia. To the extent that these films stand either in opposition to—or as alternatives to—large-scale capitalism, with its characteristic system of organization, we must consider how these films were made as much as the formal alternatives that they espoused.

In recent years, American "Independents" seem torn between two opposing impulses: on one hand collaboration, on the other a conception of the film "artist" that is grounded in nineteenth-century romanticism, one that requires all elements of a film to be subservient to a single vision. Thus many filmmakers have found collaboration a practical and comfortable way to make films. Richard Leacock and D. A. Pennebaker, the Maysles brothers (often with Charlotte Zwerin), Julia Reichert and James Klein: these are some of the many partnerships of greater or lesser duration. Likewise, it is characteristic of these working relationships that the participants perform a multiplicity of tasks—producing, camerawork, editing—and often distribution as well.

The tradition of independent filmmaking has also been used by individual filmmakers seeking greater freedom from commercial formulas. Stan Brakhage, John Sayles, and Emile de Antonio are some of the many independent filmmakers who seek near total control over their filmmaking.[75] Without disputing the often progressive accomplishments of these three filmmakers, it would seem that alternative methods of working have had much to offer. Although collective approaches to filmmaking, such as those practiced by Newsreel in the 1960s and 1970s, offer a more radical approach to the organization of work than the pairings mentioned above, their theoretical attractiveness seems fraught with particular difficulties. Compromise and political infighting, rather than synthesis, often seem to be the result. Collaboration at its best can be dialectical—the synthesis of two points of view, two sets of skills, and two personalities that become more than either individual. This was, I believe, how Porter liked to work. It was a way that acknowledged his own strengths and weaknesses.

Independent, avant-garde, or alternative filmmakers have also continued to use some of the representational procedures of the early silent period, albeit


within a modernist framework.[76] This was particularly true in the 1920s, for instance with the use of overlapping action in October . Chase and magic scenes in many French and American early films were reworked in Entr'acte , which also celebrated their peculiar methods of manipulating real time. The repeated shot of a woman mounting a staircase in Ballet mécanique likewise recalls those first vitascope projections with their continuous band of film. Jump cuts in Breathless and other films by Jean-Luc Godard evoke those in turn-of-the-century creations.

Although contemporary filmmakers such as Ken Jacobs pay explicit homage to early cinema in their work, evoking its affinities with the contemporary avant-garde, Porter's films and filmmaking practices can act as a broader touchstone. Independent cinema is committed to developing alternative, even oppositional, forms of expression and different ways of making cinema (filmmaking, exhibition, and reception), not simply to imitating the dominant, Hollywood-oriented cinema.[77] Given such goals, Porter's resistance to the proto-Hollywood storytelling methods of Griffith and others makes him a significant figure in what has come to be called "our usable past."


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