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1 Introduction
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Modes of Production and Representation

My research began as I grappled with the assumptions of an earlier generation of film historians: since the "pioneers" discovered the inherent possibilities of film editing, the issue as these historians saw it was, who discovered which techniques, and when did given techniques first appear? It is evident that this basic perception remains entrenched to this day, albeit without so much of an individualistic slant. Yet this approach fails to recognize that early cinema's production methods were. radically different from our own. As shown in chapter 5, editing was a routine procedure during the late 1890s. It was primarily performed, however, by the exhibitor, who structured groups of short, one-shot films into sometimes quite complex sequences. Of course, editing was not as elaborate a procedure as it would become in later years, but its essential elements were clearly in place.[18] The history of early cinema must therefore consider the manner in which producers assumed control over the editorial function and the impact that this had on all areas of film practice, particularly the system of representation.

This history's first line of attention thus examines the dialectical interaction between cinema's methods of production and its mode of representation. Some of this seems obvious. When Edison developed a portable camera, new kinds of subject matter became possible. Conversely, the desire to undertake these new kinds of subjects encouraged the development of such a camera. Once the camera was in use, however, it allowed for the taking of images that could be sequenced into multishot stories. While the distinction between production and representation parallels Marxist distinctions between base and superstructure, changes in the superstructure clearly do not simply reflect those in the base.[19] Cinema's production practices have an impact on its representational system and vice versa.

In the largest sense, cinema production involves three essential processes or groups: film production, exhibition, and reception (the production companies, the showmen, and the spectators).[20] While the films are a direct result of the mode of film production, they only have an impact within a changing framework involving the other two operations. The mode of exhibition comprises the showman's methods of presentation and his relation to the production company's films. The mode of reception or appreciation embraces the spectators' relationship to the exhibition and the ways in which they understand and enjoy the films as they are shown. All three processes experienced profound change and reorganization during the 1895-1909 period. The tendency among historians to equate film production to the whole of cinema has severely limited our understanding of motion pictures during the pre-Griffith era.

During its first fifteen years, the cinema's production methods experienced a series of rapid transformations. Insight into this process is facilitated by Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in Twen-


tieth Century America . Its look at changing modes of production outside the cultural sphere can readily be applied to film practice. According to Braverman, the centralization of work processes under one management is the fundamental step for subsequent transformations of production in advanced capitalism. As he remarks, "Control without centralization of employment was, if not impossible, certainly very difficult, and so the precondition for management was the gathering of workers under a single roof."[21] In the case of early film practice, control over creative decisions was scattered among different groups. Editorial decisions, as already mentioned, were initially the exhibitor's responsibility. Obviously it was not usually possible to bring producers, exhibitors, and spectators under one roof (although this occurred to some extent at the Eden Musee, where Porter worked in the late 1890s). Yet it was not only possible but highly desirable to bring certain practices under the control of a single management. Much of this volume examines the manner in which responsibility for many creative processes was more or less concentrated within the production company. This process of centralization, however, was not fully completed until the introduction of sound films.

As control over essential practices was centralized, the opportunity arose for a division of labor within the production companies. Here again Braverman provides a useful discussion of the economic logic of "the manufacturing division of labor" under capitalism. He is concerned not only with "the breakdown of the processes involved in the making of the product into manifold operations performed by different workers" but with the resulting degradation of work.[22] This division of labor was eventually manifested in the motion picture industry by what has become known as the studio system. Janet Staiger has ably explored this process of the division of labor within a similar theoretical framework, also informed by the work of Braverman.[23] While centralization of creative control was crucial to the formation of the studio system, other factors were simultaneously at play. The rapid expansion of the industry resulted in larger scales of production and created opportunities for dividing labor that capitalism was eager to exploit. The almost constant introduction of new technologies, as well as changes in the larger socioeconomic system, also altered production methods and influenced the reorganization of the workplace.

Porter's role in the process of centralization and specialization was complex and, as Noël Burch has noted, characterized by ambivalence.[24] While helping to concentrate crucial aspects of filmmaking within the production company, Porter opposed most aspects of the manufacturing division of labor. His resistance, in certain respects, is not unlike the worker resistance examined by David Montgomery in Workers' Control in America .[25] Although many in the industry—most notably the projectionists—reacted angrily to the rapid degradation of their work life, this volume focuses on the resistance of Edison studio personnel, particularly Porter, to specialization and hierarchy.

From today's perspective, Porter was an extraordinary individual who mas-


tered all phases of film practice. He not only shot a range of news subjects and actualities but produced a variety of successful dramas and comedies. Moreover, he not only directed them, but worked on the scenarios, acted as cameraman, and edited the film—he even developed his own negatives. He designed and built studios, then outfitted them for operation. He devised projectors, perforators, and cameras. He remodeled Edison's projecting kinetoscope, turning it into a first-rate projector, and went on to build prototypes for the Simplex projector, which became the industry standard during the 1920s and is still considered by some to be the best machine of its kind ever made.[26] Yet Porter was not—as one might say of D. W. Griffith, Erich yon Stroheim, or Charles Chaplin—a one-man show. Throughout his career and in many different areas, he worked collaboratively and in a nonhierarchical fashion. In short, his whole method of work was incompatible with the studio system.

Initially, the radically different formal structures of pre-1907 films attracted me and other scholars to this era of motion picture practice. The problem of cinematic representation, in recent years one of the focal points of film studies, assumed wider significance in the light of these viewings.[27] Here again, Porter clearly played a central role. He was one of several filmmakers who elaborated the mode of representation that flourished in the early 1900s, only to disintegrate as cinema became a form of mass entertainment. The dialectic between production and representation shaped the Edison films on which he worked. As the production company began to assume control over editing, Porter and his colleagues developed new kinds of continuities between shots. Life of an American Fireman (1902-3)—with its overlapping actions, its narrative repetition, and malleable pro-filmic temporality—is particularly illustrative. (The film is analyzed extensively in chapter 7.) Here and in other instances the Edison group applied this new system of continuity in its most extreme form. Such representational strategies proved so successful that they justified and helped to generalize this development. When the viability of these techniques faded, however, Porter refused to give them up. Porter's failure to adopt the emerging proto-Hollywood mode of representation in 1908-9 (embraced by Pathé, Vitagraph, and particularly D. W. Griffith) caused his fall from grace even more than his resistance to the transformation in production.

Although a series of transformations provide the framework for this study, important aspects of early cinema remained relatively stable. In fact, such qualities characterize and define early cinema. Viewers understood and enjoyed screen images in several distinctive ways. Audiences frequently viewed a film in relation to a narrative that they already knew. The narrative might be based on a front-page newspaper item, a play, or a popular song. If spectators were ignorant of the necessary referents, they could make little sense of the film. In other instances, exhibitors facilitated audience understanding of the images with a sound accompaniment—for instance, with a lecture or by speaking dialogue from behind the screen. While some early films required neither special knowl-


edge from spectators nor active intervention by the exhibitor, such situations were neither preferred to other audience-screen relationships nor dominated screen practice. Only in the nickelodeon era did cinema emerge as a cultural practice in which neither the exhibitor's intervention nor special knowledge on the part of the audience was necessary to a basic understanding of the narrative.[28]

Edison films, like early cinema in general, had a recognizable and coherent system of representing the world. As Tom Gunning has pointed out, performers or subjects in front of the lens characteristically played to or displayed themselves for the camera and an imagined audience.[29] Such an approach might involve tableau-like, static compositions or a confrontation with the camera/ spectator (for instance a cavalry charge directed at the lens). Early fiction films likewise more or less adopted a diagrammatic relationship to the real world, one that limited the degree of verisimilitude. Thus depictions of space and time were generally conventionalized and schematic. Sets suggested a locale rather than creating the illusion of a real world. Condensations of time and action within the shot were commonplace. (Perhaps more surprising, many actuality films achieved similar effects through jump cuts or camera stops.) The acting style likewise embodied highly conventionalized gestures that expressed forceful emotions. The periodic reliance on pantomime by early filmmakers further intensified these tendencies. These interrelated elements of a representational system will be called presentational , appropriating a term from theatrical criticism that is used to describe similar methods that predominated in the theater during much of the nineteenth century. This presentational approach is, moreover, evident in a wide array of other cultural forms from the same period (painting, photography, comic strips).

If presentationalism usually dominated early cinema, it was not an absolute. Films before Griffith were generally "syncretic": they combined and juxtaposed different kinds and levels of mimesis. Thus verisimilar elements could exist side by side with presentational ones. A real pot hangs on a wall next to another painted on the backdrop. A two-dimensional, pasteboard cabin may be placed in the middle of real woods. Such syncreticism operated between shots as easily as within them. A film like The "Teddy" Bears uses a set for one exterior scene and outside location footage for another. Clearly this is different from the consistently represented "seamless" mimetic world of most later cinema.

In examining the interaction between production and representation, it has been advantageous to place early cinema in the larger framework of screen practice. When looking at cinema's beginnings, most histories use some variation of a biological model of development. In its crudest form, this model suggests that the medium was born, grew up, learned to talk, and (having mastered the language of cinema) finally began to produce great works.[30] In any case, cinema moves from the very simple, the naive, and the unformed to the more


complex and sophisticated. More recently, a number of historians have seen cinema as emerging out of a diversity of precursors to become a culturally and economically determined form of expression.[31] Both these historical models view the invention of cinema as a starting point. In contrast, a history of screen practice considers projected moving pictures as both a continuation and transformation of magic-lantern traditions in which showmen displayed images on a canvas and accompanied them with voice, music, and sound effects. It is worth noting that this notion of historical continuity was commonplace during the first ten years of cinema. As Henry V. Hopwood remarked in 1899, "A film for projecting a Living Picture is nothing more, after all, than a multiple lantern slide."[32]

The history of projected images and their sound accompaniment has its origins in the mid seventeenth century. The beginning of screen practice does not, however, privilege a moment of technological invention—such as the invention of the magic lantern or the cinematographic apparatus—but rather a fundamental transformation in the mode of production. Screen practice began in the 1640s when the process of projecting images was no longer concealed from the unsuspecting viewer. Instead of being an instrument of terror and magic known only to a select few, the projecting apparatus became an instrument of cultural production that was known to all.[33] The history of screen practice prior to 1896 has been neglected by film historians. Although it remains outside the domain of this study, it provides a necessary framework for understanding the processes of industrial transformation examined in this volume. Pre-cinema exhibitors, for example, were the ones who had ultimate control over the editing process; they acquired slides from a variety of sources (including often making the slides themselves) and juxtaposed one projected image against another. The new technology of motion pictures helped to transform the screen, facilitating a shift in both narrative responsibility and authorship from exhibitors to the production companies.

While the interrelationship between production and representation is key to understanding the changes in editorial and narrative practices, its impact extends beyond these areas. The production of Edison films within a white, "homosocial," male world affected the choice of subjects as well as the ways in which these were depicted.[34] Again and again, when early filmmakers expressed a nostalgia for a lost childhood, it was boyhood they recalled and boyhood that they visualized. Such biases shaped the portrayal of women and blacks in particular. The complex relationships between work and leisure at the turn of the century, which Roy Rosenzweig and Kathy Peiss have astutely explored, finds a profound conjunction in the early film industry.[35]

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1 Introduction
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