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5 Producer and Exhibitor as Co-Creators: 1897-1900
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The Peripatetic James White and Edison Film Production

Shortly after the 1896-97 theatrical year had ended and just as cinema's novelty period had come to a close, the Edison Company inaugurated a practice of great consequence for anyone interested in this era of history. When copy-


Suburban Handicap, 1897. The event shown in four different shots. As with many 
films from this period, this one only survives in a poor-quality, grainy paper print.

righting films, Edison began to submit complete paper prints to the U.S. Copyright Office. This would remain company policy for the next eight years. Nitrate films would decompose or be destroyed, but these invaluable records survived.[1] Moreover, they have remained virtually untouched and certainly unaltered for more than fifty years, while the handful of surviving nitrate prints were frequently subjected to commercial exigencies, including modernization and other forms of textual modification. Once these paper strips were rephotographed back onto film in the late 1950s and 1960s, they provided a unique resource, which even now has not been fully appreciated.

The earliest paper prints include Buffalo Police on Parade , taken June 10, 1897, and Free-For-All Race at Charter Oak Park , taken near Hartford, Connecticut, on July 5th. They not only document the kinetograph team's summer travels to Chicago and various points in the eastern United States, but enable us to understand the Edison Company's limited, but important, editorial role. Suburban Handicap, 1897 , taken June 22d, was a four-shot, 150-foot film of the


prestigious horse race at Sheepshead Bay, Long Island. In chronological order, it offered glimpses of the pre-race parade, the start, finish, and weighing out. The individual scenes may have been too short to sell on their own, and it was assumed that a purchaser would want as complete an account of the event as possible. In any case, White and Heise kinetographed and constructed a simple narrative. The shots lack camera movement (there was no attempt to follow the action), but are serviceable, if distant, views of the events. In the third shot, two heads are in the left foreground, lending depth perspective and the sense of being a participant. Whether or not intentional, such framings began to provide the basis for a news/actuality aesthetic. Other films taken that summer were not so ambitious. Philadelphia Express, Jersey Central Railway consisted of two takes. In the first, a train comes under an overpass and past the camera. The kinetograph was then halted and not restarted until another train approached the overpass. Edited together, these "takes" appear to be a single shot, with one train quickly following another. Time was elided, much as it was in the nineteenth-century theater when a character's off-stage (and therefore usually incidental) activities were radically condensed (the actor exited and then immediately reappeared).

The Edison Company employed a single production unit through the summer of 1897. As we have seen, this unit was collaborative in nature, as William Heise routinely acted as camera operator between 1892 and mid 1897, first with W. K. L. Dickson and then with James H. White. This phase of the Edison Company's history concluded shortly after the Monmouth County Horse Show in Long Branch, New Jersey, during mid August. This was probably the last joint White-Heise venture for many months, as the photographers took six copyrighted films of the event. These one-shot films (Judging Tandems, Exhibition of Prize Winners , etc.) reaffirmed the customary practice of selling individual scenes to exhibitors for use in more complex sequences. Edison's kinetograph and prestige served as a pass to this stylish, mid-August event.[2] The cameramen's attendance, however, is explained less by the horse show's newsworthiness than by the continued opportunities it provided the filmmakers for interweaving work and leisure.

By the following spring, the Kinetograph Department had at least three discrete film production units operating under Edison auspices. Immediately after the Monmouth County Horse Show, White embarked on a tour that ultimately lasted ten months and sent him halfway around the world. The 25-year-old Kinetograph Department head was joined by photographer Fred W. Blechynden. Since William Heise could not be spared for this ambitious trip, Blechynden assumed the veteran's customary role in the collaborative pairing. Heise remained at the laboratory to supervise developing and printing of negatives as well as to take occasional films.

James White's tendency to combine work and play (with film production


Philadelphia Express, Jersey Central. Two takes spliced together to form one shot.

often subordinated to manly adventure and enjoyment) was nowhere more apparent than on this trip, which ultimately produced over 130 copyrighted subjects. By August 22nd White and Blechynden were in the San Francisco Bay area, where they took a group of films at the famous glass-enclosed Sutro Baths. Some were simple quotidian shots of the baths. In Cupid and Psyche , however, the Leander Sisters were performing on the stage for a large group of male spectators, casually dressed in bathing suits. The camera was behind the two


Cupid and Psyche. The female performers dance for the male
 customers and the male cameramen.

women, who danced for the spectators and then turned and pranced for the lens and the all-male camera crew.

The Edison Manufacturing Company probably purchased the motion picture camera equipment used on this world tour (or used equipment supplied by Blechynden).[3] Unlike previous Edison cameras, this one did not operate on electricity—bringing Edison into line with common industry practice. Its new, if still crude, panning capabilities are evident in the seven-film "Pacific Coast Life Saving Service Series," taken near San Francisco. The pictures were "illustrative of the work being done by the Life Saving Corps of the United States Government, and show the methods in vogue at one of the most important stations on either side of our Continent."[4] A very quick, jerky camera move reframes the boat for Launch of Surf Boat. Return of Lifeboat consists of three shots, all taken from the same spot: between each take, the camera framing shifts in an effort to follow the boat. In the final shot, however, as the boat comes through the breakers, the camera pans to keep it in frame. Lack of control over the action required this responsiveness from the camera crew, producing new elements of a nonfiction aesthetic. Other films were shot from a single camera position but involve two or more takes. In some cases, as with Boat Wagon and Beach Cart , these cuts are virtually invisible and eliminate dead spots in the


Return of Lifeboat. In the final shot, as a wave takes the boat down the beach, the camera pans to keep it in frame.

action. In contrast, Launch of Life Boat utilizes a jump cut to show two important moments of a process, but without attempting to disguise or soften the transition. Although these films of practices and demonstrations were not fictional (i.e., seeking to create the illusion of an actual rescue), they were often advertised as such.

James White continued his reliance on subsidies from transportation companies. On September 2d, the photographers took three films of the S.S. Coptic leaving its dock. This ship was owned by the Occidental and Oriental Steamship Company, which later provided the pair with passage to and from the Far East. The following day White and Blechynden began to tour the lines of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company; they filmed accommodations and sites that were part of the package tours then being offered by the railroads (Hotel Vendome, San Jose, Cal . and Surf at Monterey ).[5]

While in San Francisco, White apparently met William Wright, whose animatographe was playing at the Chutes, a local amusement park. Wright, the leading West Coast motion picture man, possessed crude production capabilities. He had been in Seattle, Washington, just after news of the Alaskan Gold Rush broke.[6] Between August 6th and 9th, he took films related to the Klondike excitement (S.S. "Williamette" Leaving for Klondike and First Avenue, Seattle, Washington ). White apparently either purchased these negatives or worked out a royalty arrangement and eventually sent them back to the laboratory. Wright may have subsequently taken other films on the West Coast for the Edison Company.

By early October, White and Blechynden were in Denver, Colorado, where they photographed events centered around the Festival of Mountain and Plain, celebrated during the first week in October. This included a parade on the 4th (Masked Procession and Cripple Creek Floats ) as well as an Indian encampment (Wand Dance, Pueblo Indians and Buck Dance, Ute Indians ).[7] The intrepid


Wand Dance, Pueblo Indians.

cameramen then apparently returned with the Utes to their reservation (Serving Rations to Indians ), after which they headed south to Mexico.

White and Blechynden spent mid October to mid December in Mexico. Once again, their subjects were made with the active support of the railways. As the Edison catalog remarked:

The open-sesame of a general manager's pass, issued to Mr. Edison's photographers, has enabled us to lay open before the public views taken in the heart of our great Sister Republic. The Mexican Central to-day is a great railroad system, managed by capable and courteous officials. It is due to their interest in our work and the liberal assistance proffered to our artists, that they obtained such excellent and characteristic pictures of Mexican life.[8]

Several films were taken at the Hacienda de Soledad, in Sabinas, Mexico (Cattle Leaving the Corral ). Scenes of Mexico City included Las Vigas Canal, Mexico City and Sunday Morning in Mexico . Perhaps the most notable films of the entire trip were taken of a bullfight in Durango. The three-shot Bull Fight, No. 1 has a close view/far shot/close view structure. The middle shot contains a slight camera move. It is also possible that the shots were taken at two different locations and then combined to create the appearance of a single incident. Bull Fight, No. 2 consists of two shots: in both the camera follows the action. Bull


Bull Fight No. 1.

Fight, No. 3 shows three scenes from a single camera position, including the bull's collapse. Although the production company made a significant editorial intervention, the three brief films remained separate elements for the exhibitor's construction of a larger program.

White and Blechynden returned to the United States shortly before Christmas 1897. Once again they traveled under the auspices of the Southern Pacific Railroad, arriving in San Diego on December 20th (Street Scene, San Diego ). Vast expanses of orange groves were filmed from the front of a train moving in Riverside (California Orange Groves, Panoramic View ). Checking into a Los Angeles hotel on New Year's Eve, they shot South Spring Street, Los Angeles , the first film to be taken in the country's future motion picture capital. Along the way, a diverse group of railway scenes were added to their collection. Again these scenes of everyday occurrences and annual events were well suited to an evening-length travel lecture combining slides and film.

The itinerant cameramen were reensconced in San Francisco by January 22d when they visited the Union Iron Works and took Launch of the Japanese Man-of-War "Chitose " and several related scenes. Two days later, they filmed


S.S. "Coptic" Running Against the Storm.

a parade celebrating the 50th anniversary of the discovery of gold in California (Native Daughters ). At this point White made a momentous decision. Having toured for six months, the photographers nonetheless left for the Far East aboard the S.S. Coptic on February 3d—less than two weeks before the sinking of the U.S. Battleship Maine . Again the Occidental and Oriental S.S. Company subsidized their way. Buffeted by a typhoon that damaged the ship and prolonged their passage by several days, they filmed S.S. "Coptic" Running Against the Storm .[9] The camera was strapped to the deck as a mountainous sea burst over the bow, precariously extending a procedure begun when a Lumière operator put a camera on a gondola moving through Venice.

White and Blechynden arrived in Yokohama, Japan, on February 24th. Over the next eight weeks, they traveled to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Canton, Macao, Nagasaki, and finally back to Yokohama. Twenty-five films made during this circuit were eventually copyrighted, including Street Scene in Hong Kong, Canton River Scene, Shanghai Street Scene No. 1 , and Theatre Road, Yokohama .


Japanese Sampans and Theatre Road, Yokohama.

White also tried to establish an Edison agency in the Far East and later claimed to be looking for materials that his employer could use in experiments.[10] Returning home on the S.S. Doric (Game of Shovel Board on Board S.S. "Doric" ), White and Blechynden arrived in Hawaii on May 9th. Films taken the next morning included Honolulu Street Scene and Kanakas Diving for Money .[11]

On May 16th, four weeks after the United States declared war on Spain, White and Blechynden again reached San Francisco. War films, not travel scenes, were in demand, and the fruits of this trip never received the attention White must have originally expected. Responding to these new circumstances, the collaborators tooks a few scenes of American troops departing for the Philippines (California Volunteers Marching to Embark ) and finally headed home. As was often the case with Westerners visiting Asia, White had become seriously ill.[12]

During White's ten-month absence, William Heise produced approximately twenty-five copyrighted subjects, all taken either at the Black Maria or in the Orange-Newark environs. In some instances at least, he worked closely with John Ott. On two occasions, the photographer took films in close cooperation with local civic organizations. At the request of the Ambulance Fund, Heise shot five negatives in downtown Orange on October 8, 1897.[13] Two were of the vehicle racing from its stable. Three others showed a man hit by a trolley and then picked up and rushed off by the ambulance. A local theater employee played the victim. Ambulance Call and Ambulance at the Accident , the best depictions of each scene, were copyrighted and sold separately, but commonly promoted and shown together (for example, at benefits for the Ambulance Fund).[14] Other films were made with the help of Gatling Gun Company A, a popular group of citizen soldiers whose armory served as their social club. On Thanksgiving morning, the crews gathered and performed their evolutions for the camera.[15] These included Gatling Gun Crew in Action and Mount & Dis-


Ambulance Call and Ambulance at the Accident.

mount, Gatling Gun . Shown at a benefit for the Company's Athletic Fund, they were also copyrighted and sold.[16]

Heise took winter scenes of sleighing, sledding, snowballing, and ice hockey during early February 1898. Other miscellaneous scenes included an April snowstorm in Llewellyn Park (Edison's residential neighborhood) and a May game of minor league baseball between Reading and Newark. That spring the Black Maria was used for several comedies. The Burglar was based on a well-known scene in Evans and Hoey's farce A Parlor Match : A burglar struggles to open a safe, but his task is interrupted when the office boy enters the room and reveals that the safe is used as a coal bin. The Telephone spoofed a new and increasingly common communication technology:

Posted on the wall is the startling sign, DON'T TRAVEL. USE TELEPHONE. YOU CAN GET ANYTHING YOU WANT . Man comes in, rings up, takes telephone, talks, then waits a moment; opens little door at the bottom of receiver, and takes out—a glass of beer! Blows off the foam, takes a deep draught, and telephones for a cigar. Waits for a moment; gets impatient and calls again, when out comes a blast of flour, plastering his face and clothes so that he looks like a miller.[17]

Both one-shot scenes were awkwardly handled, suggesting why Heise never assumed a more prominent role in film production.

The most successful comedy made during White's absence was undoubtedly What Demoralized the Barbershop , which Heise shot in the Black Maria with the help of John Ott.[18] The set for this reworking of Barbershop Scene was more elaborate, but the key shift was in the introduction of a new element—women. This all-male milieu is located in a cellar, with a set of steep stairs leading to the sidewalk. Here two women, presumably prostitutes, stop in the doorway and raise their skirts to reveal white-stockinged legs. Neither the customers nor the camera glimpse their upper torsos and faces. The men, who can see but not be


What Demoralized the Barbershop. The all-male world of the barbershop
 is disrupted as two prostitutes try to drum up some business.

seen (except by the film spectators!), lose their composure and scramble to get a better view. The camera, likewise, is low enough to provide an upward look. The film thus inscribes male voyeurism within its simple gag narrative. It also suggests the superiority of cinematic voyeurism: film spectators can look from the unhumiliating comfort of their seats. In the darkened theater, they can see but not be seen. If the film provides a laugh at the male customers' expense, it also offers the spectator the titillation of their view.

Heise's output discloses basic problems with subject matter that paralleled White's. His response to the inflamed patriotism sparked by the Maine sinking was limited to American Flag and Old Glory and the Cuban Flag . The first example of flag-waving remade an earlier subject, while the second offered a modest variation appropriate for the current circumstances. Two versions were taken of each, the ones against a black background apparently intended for hand coloring. None, however, depicted events relevant to the Cuban crisis.

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5 Producer and Exhibitor as Co-Creators: 1897-1900
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