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4 Cinema, a Screen Novelty: 1895-1897
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The Edison Manufacturing Company Breaks Away from Raft & Gammon

While the Edison Company's commitment to Raff & Gammon was never very deep, commercial pressures soon encouraged the inventor and Gilmore to distance their enterprise from the Vitascope Company. In late September, Edison began to sell films through Maguire & Baucus for 25 percent less than states rights owners could buy them from the Vitascope Company.[149] One infuriated exhibitor asked Raft & Gammon, "Is this monopoly on the Vitascope broken up or what is the matter?"[150] The only honest answer to this question would have been in the affirmative. Edison thus played one of its old kinetoscope agents off against the other. Yet as Raft & Gammon feared almost from the outset, it was never likely that Edison executives would have permitted their operations to remain under the Vitascope Company's umbrella for very long.

The Edison Company had built only seventy-three of eighty vitascopes called for in its contract with Raff & Gammon.[151] By October 1896 additional orders were extremely unlikely: the vitascope was an outmoded machine. The Edison Company, therefore, chose to ignore Armat's pending patents and constructed its own screen machine. Called both the "projectoscope" and the "projecting kinetoscope," it was first tested at the Bijou Theater in Harrisburg, Pennsylva-


nia. Its November 30th premiere was lauded on the front page of the Harrisburg Telegraph :

After . . . a select audience of city and county officials, newspaper men and their friends . . . witnessed a test exhibition of "Wizard" Edison's projectoscope (improved vitascope), at the Bijou Theater this morning, the "Telegraph's" representative is prepared to state that the invention will do until the greatest inventor of the age springs something new and still more startling in its effects on an amusement-loving public. The private exhibition was arranged by manager Foley and was a thorough success. This newest wonder of the electrical age will be here for several weeks or more in charge of G. J. Weller, one of Mr. Edison's representatives, who is under instructions to allow no one to see portions of the machine, for which patents are now pending. It is a great improvement on the vitascope in that it makes the object thrown upon the canvas larger and more distinct.[152]

The projectoscope was soon called "the greatest attraction ever presented at any amusement place in this city."[153]

Additional projectoscope prototypes were used for exhibitions in the eastern states over the next few months. On February 16th a preliminary circular announced that "Edison's Perfected Projecting Kinetoscope" was on the market for $100.[154] The machine was well received. Early purchasers included Lyceum entertainers J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith. Nonetheless, film equipment was no longer where the Edison Company was making substantial sums of money. Sales of screen machines for the business year ending February 28, 1897, totaled $21,159, but they produced only a modest profit of $1,534. Since Edison suffered a loss of $447 on his cabinet kinetoscopes, the profit from sales of hardware came to just over $1,000.[155]

Edison motion picture profits were now coming principally from sales of film, not equipment. For the business year ending February 28, 1897, film sales more than quintupled over the previous year to $84,771 and yielded a profit of $24,564.[156] With film sales becoming the key to profitability, much greater attention had to be placed on this area of the business. Heise and the kinetograph were removed from Raff & Gammon's control even as the Edison Manufacturing Company hired one of the Vitascope Company's key employees, James White, to head its Kinetograph Department in late October. His salary was $100 a month plus a 5 percent commission on all film sales.[157] At the same time, Thomas Edison began to copyright his company's most important films in an effort to protect them from the widespread duping that had sprung up (the first films reflecting this change in policy were copyrighted on October 23d). White, still relying on William Heise as camera operator, embarked on an ambitious production schedule.

James White's formal assumption of leadership of the Kinetograph Department precipitated few shifts in subject matter or treatment. Among the first of the new copyrighted subjects were Streets of Cairo ("four Egyptian Girls in full


Streets of Cairo.

native costumes executing the fascinating 'Midway' dance") and Feeding the Doves ("a beautiful girl and her baby sister dealing out the morning meal to the chickens and doves").[158] The fluttering of birds in the latter scene exploited the cinema's ability to show subtle motion, while the farm setting evoked nostalgia for a simpler, earlier time (as with Blacksmith Scene and other films). Although these represented two contrasting depictions of women, the reliance on display differed from the aggression evident in Mounted Police Charge and Runaway in the Park . For these last two, the action rapidly approached the camera, threatening to penetrate the imaginary dividing line between space in front of the camera and space behind it (between performer and spectator or between representation and reality). Following the many Lumière films of cavalry charges, White was using a simple, but effective, way to symbolically convey masculine activity.

Edison production was increasingly oriented toward turning out an array of related subjects that exhibitors could organize into sequences. Within a week of being hired, Edison's new motion picture head was filming the New York police. Accompanying the two just mentioned scenes, Park Police DrillLeft Wheel and Forward and Park Police DrillMount and Dismount showed a battalion of mounted officers drilling in preparation for the Annual Horse Show. The drill was performed for the camera; it was a conscious creation of spectacle, a display of discipline and state power that was sure to impress audiences. In November,


Mounted Police Charge. The frame suffers from nitrate deterioration.

White and Heise took four films that elaborated on Fire Rescue Scene . Three were photographed on November 14th, with the cooperation of the local Newark Fire Department.[159] These showed the fire engines leaving headquarters (A Morning Alarm ), a fire run down Broad Street (Going to the Fire ), and a final scene of fire fighting (Fighting the Fire ). Within a few weeks, exhibitors such as Lyman Howe were combining these into elaborate sequences.[160]

White's energy, captivating personality, and sense of the popular allowed for commercial success. It was these qualities more than his official position that enabled him to dominate the collaborative relationship he had with Heise. They also facilitated ties with prominent companies like the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Undoubtedly, this alliance was based on mutual interests. The American Mutoscope Company, which was rapidly emerging as Edison's chief rival, was enjoying immense success whenever its biograph showed The Empire State Express . One night at Hammerstein's Olympia, the New York Central Railroad bought two hundred seats to show off its vaunted train, suggesting that such films were not only seen as excellent publicity but as an inspirational symbol of corporate power.[161] It was in the interest of both parties to counter the Biograph—New York Central alliance with an Edison—Lehigh Valley one.

By early December, White and Heise were filming along the Lehigh railroad, accompanied by prominent corporate officials. On December 1st, near Lake Cayuga, New York, they took The Black Diamond Express . This scene, in


The Edison camera crew ready to film The Black Diamond Express. James White
 rests his arm on the camera. William Heise is to the right. They are accompanied 
by employees of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

which the train comes at the camera placed by the side of the track, proved to be one of the Edison Company's most popular subjects and was remade several times over the next six years. Many other railway scenes were also shot, but few of the resulting films were copyrighted or placed in Edison's catalogs. This trip then brought the cameramen to the Buffalo area, where they made a second and more satisfactory attempt to photograph Niagara Falls. Seven of these subjects were eventually copyrighted and sold, including Rapids Above American Falls and American FallsFrom Incline R. R. Buffalo Horse Market and several horse-related scenes at the Buffalo Country Club were also taken. On December 23d a party of Lehigh Valley Railroad executives visited the Edison Laboratory and were treated to a screening of films taken on the company-sponsored trip, beginning with the Buffalo Country Club and concluding with Niagara Falls. The choice of subjects seemed designed to encourage tourism and use of the Lehigh road. This mutually beneficial relationship between film and transportation companies would be further developed in the coming years.[162]

The Kinetograph Department's wish to avoid expenses whenever possible was again evident in a series of films taken in and around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at Christmas time. Although Bijou Theater manager J. G. Foley continued to enjoy packed houses with Edison's projectoscope in mid December, the Waite Comedy Company was threatening to curtail this success by showing films between play acts at the nearby Grand Opera House.[163] Foley, not wanting to be outdone by a rival theater, arranged for White and Heise to take a


The Black Diamond Express.

series of local views. When Police Patrol Wagon was made on Christmas Eve, "a large crowd assembled on Market Street, near Third, to watch the projectoscope people take a picture of two drunken men engaged in a fight and their arrest by Sergeant McCann and a couple of officers. The police patrol wagon dashed up and hustled the men off to the county jail."[164] Other views included Market Square, Harrisburg, Pa. , "with all the holiday shoppers, electric cars, Commonwealth hotel and many familiar figures and faces passing by."[165] In The Farmer's Troubles , "a wagon driving up Market street meets with several misadventures which attracts general attention." First Sleigh Ride was "taken after the first fall of snow and shows an exciting race along the river road."[166] On Christmas Day, Pennsylvania State Militia, Double Time and Pennsylvania State Militia, Single Time were photographed on or near the Capitol Grounds. All were copyrighted on January 8th and then offered for sale.

Before the Harrisburg views could be shown at the Bijou Theater, another exhibitor acquired the local scenes (as well as a new projectoscope) and secretly arranged to show the films at the rival Grand Opera House on January 13th and 14th. Once the screenings were announced, the distraught Bijou manager went to court in an attempt to block the Opera House screenings, but his plea for an


Receding View, Black Diamond Express.

injunction was refused.[167] Threats, promises, and appeals for a boycott appeared in various papers, but these simply increased people's curiosity. By the time Foley's Bijou began to show the pictures on the 15th, a large percentage of the city's amusement goers had seen the especially commissioned views. Only a scene of a local fire run, which had not been offered for sale, enjoyed its debut at the Bijou.

Another major filming expedition involved President McKinley's inauguration. The Edison team made a preliminary visit to Washington, D.C., in late January (Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. [© February 11, 1897]). They returned for the March 4th event and took eleven subjects, including McKinley and Cleveland Going to the Capitol and McKinley Taking the Oath . The cinematographers stayed on, filmed the new president attending religious services and ultimately accumulated more than a dozen views related to this quadrennial event. They received little attention in the nation's media capital, since with the breakup of the Vitascope operations, a large-scale, Edison-affiliated exhibition service no longer existed. Rather, the biograph at Keith's enjoyed the lion's share of publicity for presenting these subjects. Although Lumière cinématographes were in three New York venues (two Proctor houses and the Eden Musee), they could not handle Edison perforations and had to wait until similar subjects made the round trip to Lyons, France, for developing and printing.[168]

In April, White and Heise returned to the lines of the Lehigh Valley Railroad


Cock Fight.

and shot a group of subjects. Two were additional negatives of the onrushing Black Diamond Express. For Panoramic Scene, Susquehanna River , "the camera was placed on the rear of a moving train as it steamed along at the high rate of speed."[169] This receding view returned to a technique used to film Niagara Falls. It differed in only one minor, but significant, aspect from The Haverstraw Tunnel , a Biograph film made only a few months later. Biograph's camera was placed on the front rather than the rear of the train. The resulting bold penetration of space (including the entrance into a tunnel) was more shocking, more daring, than the backward-looking, nostalgic view that had almost become Edison's trademark.

Receding View, Black Diamond Express was "the first picture ever taken of a receding train . . . as the passengers are seen in the windows and on the rear end of the train, waving their handkerchiefs, hats, etc."[170] Edison and its sales agents then promoted the film as "a very clear, sharp picture which will be found pleasing and interesting, particularly if shown immediately after the approaching view of the same train."[171] Exhibitors were urged to purchase the two separate films and juxtapose them to create a spatial world, with the second shot acting as the reverse angle of the first. Temporally, continuity was suggested but not specified. Certainly one cannot assume that this juxtaposition implied a linear progression of action across the cut. However fundamental the temporal relationship between these separate scenes is to the sequence, it re-


Making Soap Bubbles.

mains difficult to define precisely. Independent, self-contained units that stand on their own, the two films together yield the impression of repeated action and a temporal overlap. It is this tension—between scenes perceived as self-contained wholes, on one hand, and their potential as part of a more complex sequence, sometimes involving spatial and temporal connections, on the other—that provides a framework for understanding early cinema and its editorial strategies. In fact, this nonspecificity could be resolved by the exhibitor (through narration or perhaps sound effects) or by the spectator's own subjective interpretation. Thus, by early 1897 editing—the arrangement of selected shots—was already becoming crucial, not simply for the construction of narrative but for the creation of spatial and temporal worlds.

As cinema quickly lost its value as a technological novelty, it was being reintegrated into screen practice. The possible spatial relations between these three subjects taken of or on a train were hardly novel—they appeared almost routinely in nineteenth-century travel lectures. The issue of temporality, however, was practically a new one. Using photographic slides, the screen had presented a series of frozen moments. Now images unfolded in time, creating new issues, new problems that were beginning to be explored.

White and Heise made two more series of related films in April. One was of Barnum and Bailey's Circus, then performing in New York City (Chas. Wertz, Acrobat; Trick Elephant No. 1 ). In contrast to two years earlier, the camera now visited the circus rather than the circus visiting the camera. The other


Mr. Edison at Work in His Chemical Laboratory. Staged in the Black Maria 
but modeled after a well-known photograph of the inventor in his laboratory.

series focused on Grant Day, April 27th, when Grant's Tomb on Riverside Drive, New York City, was dedicated with a parade (Grant VeteransG.A.R. ) and speeches (McKinley's Address ). In part because they were so easy to film, parades would become extremely popular news subjects.

During the winter and spring of 1897, the Kinetograph Department continued its production of simple, one-shot vignettes intended to stand on their own within a variety programming format. However, the Edison Company's initial reliance on preexisting forms of popular amusement was all but reversed. The Little Reb , a scene from Winchester , was virtually the only filmed excerpt of a play or musical taken during the 1896-97 theatrical season. Making Soap Bubbles and Children's Toilet continued Lumières' quotidian views of infants and small children (Baby's Dinner; Children at Play ). Established genres were elaborated. Husking Bee was a kiss film shot by a barn door: a man discovers a red ear of corn and his reward—a kiss—is exacted. Cock Fight , the remake (© December 24, 1896), now has two bettors active in the background. In Chicken Thieves , African Americans raid a chicken roost and are then pursued by angry white farmers with guns. The image of African Americans as happy-go-lucky petty thieves, common to the minstrel show and the Sunday supplement of most newspapers, was unfortunately, if predictably, being broadened.


A few films of dancers were still made. Parisian Dance showed "a dance in costume by two young ladies,"[172] and Annabelle returned in late April or early May to perform her Serpentine and Sun dance specialties to replace worn-out negatives. Yet more oblique ways of displaying female sexuality were being developed. Pillow Fight , which imitated a Biograph Company hit, is one example. It revealed "four girls in their night dresses, engaged in an animated pillow fight."[173] Here the sexuality was young, innocent, and unselfconscious.

One of the most intriguing Edison films from this period is Mr. Edison at Work in His Chemical Laboratory . Recalling Blacksmith Scene , a fictional workspace was created in the studio, and the inventor went through a mock experiment. Facing the camera, but apparently absorbed in his work, the "Wizard" flits from bottle to bottle, filling a vial that appears ready to divulge some secret discovery. Hokum of a type that Barnum would have appreciated, the film was able to reinscribe the inventor into the cinema process. A year earlier, "Edison's Vitascope" had had a virtual monopoly in its field. This not only involved a projection technology but an output of subjects. As projector models and non-Edison films proliferated, his place became less and less obvious, less and less visible. It was no longer hailed in newspaper publicity and only rarely mentioned in amusement advertisements. The film thus provided a means for reasserting his presence in a new way (on the screen), but one that recalled earlier Lumière subjects (The Messers Lumiere at Cards ) even as it played with the inventor's legend.

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4 Cinema, a Screen Novelty: 1895-1897
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