Kinetoscope and Vitagraph Films from Edison

Here are some early examples of films produced by Thomas Edison and his associates. They range from the very experimental, making sure that the kinetograph can record life, to some more involved works and early forms of narrative.

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The following two films are basically motion studies, trying to reveal that the camera can capture not only a photograph but a moving picture, called a kinetograph.

  1. Dickson Greeting (1891)
  2. Fred Ott’s Sneeze (1894)

The following films reveal a fascination with boxing as a more complex form of motion capture, including a truly novel approach to the sport of boxing. The cat boxing routine was based on a carnival attraction, one that now viewers did not have to travel or pay to see. (I cannot verify that no animals were harmed in the making of the film.)

  1. Men Boxing (1891)
  2. Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph (1894)
  3. Boxing Cats (1894)

Dance was also a ready made subject for motion capture studies. The first is fairly ordinary, but the next three reveal a fascination with foreign and exotic dances, costumes, and persons. Film is beginning to take their viewers on a journey of sorts.

  1. Athlete with Wand (1894)
  2. Annabelle Butterfly Dance (1894)
  3. Buffalo Dance (1894)
  4. Imperial Japanese Dance (1894)

Beyond motion capture, early motion pictures needed to show some passion. The first is perhaps the first kiss of American cinema, which became a well-known kinetograph in its day. It was so famous that it inspired a sequel four years later.

  1. The Kiss (1896)
  2. The Kiss (1900)

New York was a common subject in early American motion pictures, due to Edison’s move to New York City in the 1890s. The Fifth Avenue film is basically a motion capture of the street, with a couple of edits. The 23rd Street film attempts at reportage.

  1. Fifth Avenue (1897)
  2. What Happened on Twenty-Third Street (1901)

The following two examples reveal a greater concern for narrative. The first is a physical joke enacted on screen, not unlike the Lumiere’s “Watering the Gardener.” The next is based on a vaudevillian act. It’s still humorous but more involved. It even has a close up!

  1. A Wringing Good Joke (1899)
  2. The Gay Shoe Clery (1903)

Lastly, another common subject for early motion pictures, especially as narrative begins to become the latest craze in the early 20th century, is firefighting. Fires were common in these days, and they posed the greatest danger for life and property. Fire rescues made for easy storytelling since the dramatic conflict was well known by the audience of the day.

  1. Fire Rescue Scene (1894)
  2. Firemen Rescuing Men and Women (1899)

And since we didn’t get to watch it in class:

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