Edison invented Hollywood
July 10, 2010 2:59 AM   Subscribe

Lights, camera ... Edison! Thomas Edison & Co. made the first movie ever shown in public - Blacksmith Scene - a film about drinking on the job. They also had many other cinematic firsts: The first sound film, the first romance (The Kiss), the first blockbuster (The Great Train Robbery), and the first splatter film (The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots). [Previously]
posted by twoleftfeet (16 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Cool. That execution is particularly bizarre with the Library of Congress intro/outro.
posted by jeremias at 4:48 AM on July 10, 2010

(Edison invented Hollywood... in that he helped form a rigid patent company that created a monopoly on filmmaking and forced independent filmmakers to California)
posted by starman at 5:18 AM on July 10, 2010

I think it's fantastic that more than a century ago, Edison foresaw the internet.
posted by EarBucket at 5:22 AM on July 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

It's a bit misleading to hype Edison alone here; as Corliss points out in that opening link, it was William Dickson, Edison's co-inventor and chief assistant, who made almost all of these early films, including the infamous Boxing Cats:

For Edison, the invention of movies was a diversion from his main interest at the time: extracting iron ore from depleted mines, an obsession that would cost him much of his fortune. If that scheme had not so occupied him, he might not have left the bulk of the film-experiment work to his chief assistant, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson.

That proved to be the cinema's good fortune, for Dickson was a scientist with a gift for the theatrical. (The invaluable Kino DVD Edison: The Invention of Movies includes dozens of Dickson's early films.) It was probably he who designed Edison's film studio in West Orange, N.J., the Black Maria, a shack that revolved to catch the sun through a skylight. The world's first film director, Dickson also invested his experiments with odd touches that, seen today, look like infant epiphanies.

Strong 2nd to Corliss' recommendation of the "invaluable" 4-DVD set Edison: The Invention of Movies, the completely fascinating liner notes of which are available at the Kino site (Netflix has the DVDs, too). Here's the bit about the boxing cat flick:

Professor Welton's Trained Cat Circus boasted cats that rode bicycles, turned somersaults, and walked through fire, but the boxing cats were the most popular of his attractions playing New York vaudeville houses and roof gardens during the summer of 1894.
posted by mediareport at 6:11 AM on July 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yo Thomas Edison, I'm really happy for you and imma let you finish, but Nikola Tesla was the greatest inventor of all time.
posted by Malice at 6:28 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

And then there's Edison's elephant snuff film.
posted by electroboy at 6:58 AM on July 10, 2010

Just for the record, and not to excuse Edison's studio's obviously lowbrow slant:

Electrocuting an Elephant
Filmmaker: Jacob Blair Smith or Edwin S. Porter. Shot: 4 January 1903; © 12 January 1903.
Topsy, the original "Baby Elephant," had been a featured attraction across the United States for 28 years. She had killed three men in her time, the last one after he gave her a lighted cigarette butt as a treat, and for this last death she had to pay the ultimate price. The event was front-page news in the tabloids, and 1500 people came to Luna Park, Coney Island to see Topsy's execution.

posted by mediareport at 7:06 AM on July 10, 2010

Okay then, Edison killed dogs ...

Edison had established direct current at the standard for electricity distribution and was living large off the patent royalties, royalties he was in no mood to lose when George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla showed up with alternating current.

Edison's aggressive campaign to discredit the new current took the macabre form of a series of animal electrocutions using AC (a killing process he referred to snidely as getting "Westinghoused"). Stray dogs and cats were the most easily obtained, but he also zapped a few cattle and horses.

posted by philip-random at 9:13 AM on July 10, 2010

"Seminary Girls" having a pillowfight in their nightgowns. Oh, Edison, you scamp.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:19 AM on July 10, 2010

A teacher of mine always referred to him as "Evil Thomas Edison," and with good reason
posted by jtron at 10:09 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure Edison was responsible for the elephant film, even if he isn't listed as the filmmaker. Most sources I'm seeing say that Edison's technicians were responsible for it and Edison showed the film as part of his campaign against Westinghouse.
posted by electroboy at 2:52 PM on July 10, 2010

I can't help but wish that Telsa rather than Edison had got into movie making: death rays, extra terrestrial radio signals, stories Mark Twain told him, homages to the number 3 and pigeon porn to kick off with.
posted by rongorongo at 4:14 PM on July 10, 2010

Important to note:

The Kinetoscope parlours may have been technically the first official public display of a moving picture, but they are not considered the first real official public film screening by film historians. Why? Because Kinetoscopes were peep-shows (e.g. only one individual could watch a film off a Kinetoscope at a time, for 5 cents) instead of the audience-accessible projected display that would become de facto in the exhibition business. (Edison never thought projections would take off because he believed peep-shows were a novelty gag anyway... The fool).

The event to birth cinema was the initial screening of Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory -- using the Lumiere brothers' camera/projection invention Cinematographe -- in Paris, on Dec. 28, 1895.
posted by Menomena at 9:24 PM on July 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I find the page title and wording of the 'first film' part in this FPP slightly problematic, because in addition to not being the first film screening, Edison's film is not considered the birth of cinema or the first real motion picture either. Again, those honours go to Workers Leaving the Factory.
posted by Menomena at 9:36 PM on July 10, 2010

Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory shows people getting off work. Blacksmith Scene shows people getting off while at work.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:42 PM on July 10, 2010

Trapeze disrobing act, Edison, 1901.

Also, Edison hate future. (text NSFW)
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:48 PM on July 11, 2010

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