previous sub-section
next sub-section

1 Introduction

1. John Fell, "Introduction," in John Fell, ed., Film Before Griffith (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), pp. 1-5. [BACK]

2. Terry Ramsaye, A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Pictures Through 1925 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1926); Gordon Hendricks, The Edison Motion Picture Myth (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961); Gordon Hendricks, The Kinetoscope: America's First Commercially Successful Motion Picture Exhibitor (New York: The Beginnings of the American Film, 1966). [BACK]

3. This attitude is particularly evident in Lewis Jacobs, The Rise of the American Film (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1939), p. 35. [BACK]

4. Ramsaye, Million and One Nights , p. 414; Jacobs, Rise of the American Film , pp. 35-37. Gerald Mast, A Short History of the Movies , 4th ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1986), still argues that the modernized version of Life of an American Fireman is the correct one, suggesting that the paper print copy at the Library of Congress may simply be an unedited version. Mast ignores two similar copies that have been found by the AFI, which make his position untenable. David Cook, A History of Narrative Film (New York:

Page 492

W. W. Norton, 1981) is a noteworthy exception to this stereotyping: faced with new information, Cook revised his section on early cinema in galleys. Kenneth Macgowan, Behind the Screen (New York: Delacorte Press, 1965), pp. 111-14, is one of the few to have avoided reductive statements on Porter's role. [BACK]

5. Georges Sadoul, Histoire générale du cinéma , vol. 2: Les Pionniers du cinema, 1897-1909 , 3d ed. (Paris: Editions Denoël, 1948), pp. 401, 407-8. [BACK]

6. Jacques Deslandes and Jacques Richard, Histoire comparée du cinéma , vol. 2: Du cinématograph au cinéma (Paris: Casterman, 1968), p. 386. [BACK]

7. Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New York: Vintage Books, 1975), p. 320. [BACK]

8. The group who met at the 1978 FIAF Conference included Noël Burch, Tom Gunning, Paul Spehr, Eileen Bowser, Barry Salt, Russell Merritt, Jon Gartenberg, André Gaudreault, David Levy, John Barnes, and myself. These papers were collected in Roger Hollman, compiler, Cinéma, 1900-1906 (2 vols.; Brussels: Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film, 1982). A preparatory meeting of American scholars at the Museum of Modern Art involved extensive screening of American films by interested scholars, including John Fell and John Hagan, not all of whom were able to travel to England. Then working on a film project in Los Angeles, I was unable to attend this earlier gathering. [BACK]

9. Besides those mentioned above, scholars writing articles on early cinema during the past ten years notably include Miriam Hansen, Judith Mayne, Lucy Fischer, Martin Sopocy, Paul Hammond, Roberta Pearson, Paolo Cherchi-Usai, Stephen Bottomore, Emmanuelle Toulet, Ben Brewster, Kristin Thompson, Donald Crafton, Aldo Bernardini, Richard Abel, Patrick G. Loughney, and Robert C. Allen. A selection of these articles appears in Fell, ed., Film Before Griffith ; André Gaudreault, ed., Ce que je vois de mon ciné: La representation du regard dans le cinéma des premiers temps (Saint-Étienne: Méridiens Klincksieck, 1988); Thomas Elsasser and Adam Barker, eds., Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative (London: British Film Institute, 1990). [BACK]

10. Michael Chanan, The Dream That Kicks: The Prehistory and Early Years of Cinema in Britain (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980). John Barnes, The Beginnings of the Cinema in England (Newton Abbot, England: David & Charles, 1976), focuses on the 1894-96 period. It has been followed, more recently, by Barnes's The Rise of the Cinema in Great Britain (London: Bishopsgate Press, 1983). [BACK]

11. John Frazer, Artificially Arranged Scenes: The Films of Georges Méliès (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979), and Paul Hammond, Marvellous Méliès (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975), are both excellent studies. [BACK]

12. See, however, David Levy, "Edwin S. Porter and the Origins of the American Narrative Film, 1894-1907" (Ph.D. diss., McGill University, 1983). Levy's hostile attitude to both Porter and the Edison Company limits his study's usefulness. Levy has published two articles drawn from his dissertation which are referred to elsewhere in this book. Robert Allen and Lary May devote substantial portions of their books to the pre-1910 cinema. The ambitious scope of their studies, however, prevents both authors from systematically confronting this period. See Robert C. Allen, Vaudeville and Film, 1895-1915: A Study in Media Interaction (Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa, 1977; New York: Arno Press, 1980); Lary May, Screening the Past: The Birth of Mass Culture and the Motion Picture Industry, 1896-1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980). [BACK]

13. Historians dealing with the pre-Griffith cinema at first felt it was unnecessary—or impossible—to see the relevant films. They relied on reminiscences and to a lesser extent

Page 493

on primary source documents. Terry Ramsaye, for example, not only interviewed many figures in the early industry but utilized their scrapbooks, various legal documents, and business records. This approach was continued in a more rigorous manner by Gordon Hendricks, who sifted through large amounts of materials at the Edison National Historic Site and perused pertinent newspapers and journals. A recent textbook by Robert C. Allen and Douglas Gomery, Film History: Theory and Practice (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1985), also emphasizes this approach. With the growing availability of films, many scholars have adopted the converse attitude that viewing the films is sufficient to understand the cinema of this period. This is evident, for instance, in Richard Arlo Sanderson, "A Historical Study of the Development of American Motion Picture Content and Techniques Prior to 1904" (Ph.D. diss., University of Southern California, 1961), and Kemp R. Niver, The First Twenty Years: A Segment of Film History (Los Angeles: Locare Research Group, 1968). Mast takes this approach throughout his Short History of the Movies . The assumption is that the films speak for themselves. They don't. While viewing films is an essential first step, it is necessary to situate them within the moving picture world in which they were made, exhibited, and seen. A careful reading of primary source material is needed to achieve this understanding. While reminiscences and early secondary sources like Ramsaye's Million and One Nights often provide important clues, scholars must synthesize a new history from written primary source materials and viewings of the films. Such a synthesis characterizes a number of histories, yet has remained an elusive goal for those examining the first fifteen years of American cinema. Such exemplary histories include Jay Leyda, Kino: A History of Russian and Soviet Film (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1960), and David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985). [BACK]

14. Charles Musser et al., Motion Picture Catalogs by American Producers and Distributors, 1894-1908: A Microfilm Edition (Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1984). [BACK]

15. Ramsaye, Million and One Nights , p. 439. [BACK]

16. Kemp R. Niver, Early Motion Pictures: The Paper Print Collection in the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1985). [BACK]

17. Société des Etablissements Gaumont to Frank Dyer, 11 October 1909, NjWOE. [BACK]

18. For example, there were few "outs" (i.e., discarded footage) in the 1890s and early 1900s, whoever was doing the editing. [BACK]

19. Raymond Williams, "Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory," in Problems in Materialism and Culture (London: Verso Press, 1980). [BACK]

20. Distribution is discussed as a process functioning at the interface of film production and exhibition. [BACK]

21. Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in Twentieth Century America (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974), p. 65. [BACK]

22. Ibid., p. 72. [BACK]

23. Janet Staiger, "Dividing Labor for Production Control: Thomas Ince and the Rise of the Studio System," in Gorham Kindem, ed., The American Movie Industry: The Business of Motion Pictures (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982). [BACK]

24. Noël Burch, "Porter, or Ambivalence," Screen 19, no. 4 (Winter 1978-79), pp. 91-105. [BACK]

25. David Montgomery, Workers' Control in America: Studies in the History of

Page 494

Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). [BACK]

26. Madeleine Matz to Charles Musser, June 1984, Washington D.C. Matz is technical expert at the Division of Motion Pictures, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound at the Library of Congress. [BACK]

27. Like many other young film students I found Noël Burch's Theory of Film Practice (New York: Praeger, 1973) to be a liberating way to look at cinematic representation. Burch's emphasis on temporal and spatial relationships between shots provides a framework for grappling with the otherness of early cinema. Annette Michelson's often phenomenological approach to film analysis, the work in representational theory by Russian Formalists, and Soviet film theorists have all been influential in this respect. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the rigorous approach of David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson to questions of filmic representation has also been exceedingly valuable. [BACK]

28. Special knowledge—for instance, familarity with the actor or the story being adapted—could enhance viewers' pleasure in this post-nickelodeon phase, but it was not usually essential. Certain exceptions, particularly in the realm of comedy and burlesque, continued. [BACK]

29. Tom Gunning, "The Cinema of Attraction[s]," Wide Angle 8, no. 3/4 (1986): 63-70. [BACK]

30. Macgowan's Behind the Screen offers an intelligent version of this approach. [BACK]

31. John Fell, Film and the Narrative Tradition (1974; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986). [BACK]

32. Henry V. Hopwood, Living Pictures: Their History, Photoduplication and Practical Working (London: Optician and Photographic Trades Review, 1899), p. 188. [BACK]

33. Athanasius Kircher, Ars magna lucis et umbrae (Rome, 1646) describes and illustrates the process of projecting images. Kircher's text indicates that explaining the technical basis of projection to spectators was a necessary precondition for screen entertainment. See Charles Musser, "Towards a History of Screen Practice," Quarterly Review of Film Studies 9, no. 1 (Winter 1984): 59-73. [BACK]

34. The terms homosocial and heterosocial are used by Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn of the Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), who explores the ways nineteenth-century leisure was largely segregated by sex. As dance halls and motion picture theaters replaced the saloon in the early twentieth century, single-sex, or "homosocial," amusement gave way to "heterosocial" entertainments where the sexes intermingled more freely.

35. Ibid; Roy Rosenzweig, Eight Hours for What We Will: Work & Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870-1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). [BACK]

34. The terms homosocial and heterosocial are used by Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn of the Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), who explores the ways nineteenth-century leisure was largely segregated by sex. As dance halls and motion picture theaters replaced the saloon in the early twentieth century, single-sex, or "homosocial," amusement gave way to "heterosocial" entertainments where the sexes intermingled more freely.

35. Ibid; Roy Rosenzweig, Eight Hours for What We Will: Work & Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870-1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). [BACK]

36. This study assumes that mass entertainment uses a form of mass communication and, for heuristic purposes, relies on the definition found in Melvin L. Defleur and Everette Dennis, Understanding Mass Communication (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), p. 11. [BACK]

37. See Hannah Segal, "A Psychoanalytic Approach to Aesthetics," in Collected Papers on Psychoanalysis (New York: Bruner-Mazel, 1951). [BACK]

38. Burch, "Porter, or Ambivalence," p. 93. [BACK]

39. Robert C. Allen, "Motion Picture Exhibition in Manhattan, 1906-1912: Beyond the Nickelodeon," in Fell, ed., Film Before Griffith , pp. 162-75. [BACK]

40. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Captial , pp. 403-9. [BACK]

41. Douglas Gomery is a leading proponent of this approach, which he has discussed in a series of articles on the coming of recorded sound. See id., "The Coming of the Talkies: Invention, Innovation, and Diffusion," in Tino Balio, ed., The American Film Industry (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975), pp. 193-94. [BACK]

42. For a further discussion of this issue see Charles Musser, "American Vitagraph: 1897-1901," Cinema Journal 22, no. 3 (Spring 1983): 4-46, as well as Gomery's response and my reply in Cinema Journal 22, no. 4 (Summer 1984): 58-64. [BACK]

43. Robert Conot, A Streak of Luck: The Life and Legend of Thomas Alva Edison (New York: Seaview Books, 1979), provides insight into Edison's career as a businessman, although the staff of the Thomas Edison Papers have found many inaccuracies in its details. [BACK]

44. "Dupes" are films printed from duplicate negatives struck from a positive projection print. Since internegative or interpositive stock had not been developed, there was a significant falloff in quality. Dupes were usually made from competitors' films that were unprotected by copyright. This saved the cost of making an original negative and enabled the duper to enjoy the rewards from film sales without paying the original producer. George Kleine defined "dupes" at some length: see chapter 8. [BACK]

previous sub-section
next sub-section