Wednesday, October 08, 2008


W.K.L. DICKSON. A three-part show of ca 90 min curated by Paul Spehr. Viewed at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, Cinema Verdi, 7 October 2008, e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney.
Paul Spehr's W.K.L. Dickson show was one show only but incredibly rich, one of the most amazing of the Festival, covering his contributions in inventions from the 1880s until 1899. W.K.L. Dickson's (1860-1935) career as a filmmaker extended over a dozen years, and during that time he made 300-500 films, maybe more. He created production facilities for Edison, then for the American Mutoscope Co., the companies that dominated the American industry before Hollywood. Dickson designed cameras, viewing devices, studios, machines to perforate and trim film, contact printers, developing tanks, drying reels, he trained operators, planned and rehearsed film takes, made copies. In 1897 he went to England, where he set up production for the British Mutoscope Co., which soon added production facilities in France and Germany. By 1898 crews trained in his production system were working in each of these countries. The films he produced were almost universally regarded as the gold standard. These included Biograph's large-format films (called 68mm today), shot at 30-40 fps. Maintaining quality was Dickson's primary concern. Shortly after filming the Boer War in 1899 he retired from filmmaking. (following Paul Spehr's introduction).
Prog. 1 Experimental Films for Edison
Paul Spehr: "Edison envisaged his Kinetograph/Kinetoscope as an adjunct to – or an extension of – his cylinder phonograph.To join the image to his phonograph Dickson, his photographic specialist, was charged with trying to capture images as small as 1/32nd of an inch on a companion cylinder. The available photographic material was ill-suited for the purpose, and the graininess and distortion caused by the curvature of the cylinder made his early tests unacceptable.He persuaded Edison to accept a series of gradual increases in the size of the image. By the time of his final experiments with the cylinder the size of the image had increased to ¼-inch, and the cylinder was becoming too large to synchronize with the phonograph. He was now using the celluloid sheet-film that Carbutt and others began marketing late in 1888, but switched to the celluloid roll-film which Eastman began producing at the end of the summer of 1889." – Paul Spehr
[MONKEYSHINES NO. 1] (Edison, US 1889)
[MONKEYSHINES NO. 2] (Edison, US 1889)
Supv: W.K.L. Dickson; ph: Charles Brown?; filmed: (an outdoor photographic shed or photo building, Edison Laboratory, Orange, NJ, 6-7.1889; DVD, 28” + 28” (30? fps); print: Mastered from a photograph, courtesy Charles Musser & Edison National Historic Site,Orange, NJ. Transferred from an 8x10 photograph via computer animation by Bret Wood, KinoVideo. DVD projection by courtesy of MoMA / Donald Krim, Kino Video. No intertitles. Paul Spehr: "A photograph of 3 strips of cylinder experiments was sent to the U.S. Patent Office in 1896 to support Edison’s application for a patent for a camera taking moving images. They reproduced images made on sections of celluloid cut from sheets purchased in June 1889. According to Dickson the celluloid was wrapped around the cylinder and exposure was made by light from a Leyden jar. Images from 2 of those strips are reproduced here. They show one of Dickson’s co-workers dressed in white doing “monkeyshines”, i.e., cavorting in front of a dark background. Testifying later, Fred Ott said he posed for such tests, and he may be one of the performers here. Ott and fellow Edison employees said these tests were made prior to August 1889, but film historians, led by Gordon Hendricks, have challenged this. Hendricks opined that Dickson was still working on a cylinder machine as late as 1891, because of a statement by Dickson in his 1933 article in the Journal of the SMPE that Sacco Albanese,who did not work for Edison until 1890, posed for Monkeyshines. There is, however, evidence that the subsequent machine using strips of celluloid fed horizontally was in use early in 1890. The weeks following receipt of the celluloid were an unusually intense period of work, which coincided with a feverish effort by Dickson to purchase the new celluloid roll-film which Eastman announced during this period, July 1889. Finally, a photograph showing the machine that used Eastman’s rolls shows Charles Kayser behind it, and Kayser’s last day of work with the machine was 8 May 1890. This evidence is not conclusive, however, so the debate about this will probably continue. Regardless of the exact date, these are some of the earliest photographs intended to create the illusion of movement." – Paul Spehr
[TEST STRIPS FROM THE HORIZONTAL-FEED STRIP KINETOGRAPH/ KINETOSCOPE: DICKSON GREETING; NEWARK ATHLETE/INDIAN CLUB SWINGER; MEN BOXING] (Edison, US, 1890-91). Supv: W.K.L. Dickson; ph: William Heise; filmed: photo building or outside photo shed, Edison Laboratory, Orange, NJ, primavera/Spring 1891; DVD (from 35mm), 55” (30 fps); source: LoC. DVD projection by courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Video transfer made by the Motion Picture Conservation Center, Library of Congress, Culpeper,Virginia. No intertitles. Paul Spehr: "On 20 May 1891, an image ofW.K.L.Dickson gesturing to the camera with a straw hat in hand was shown to delegates from theWomen’s Clubs of America on a prototype Kinetoscope at Edison’s Laboratory following their luncheon at Edison’s home, Glenmont.This was one of several tests made during 1891, and strips cut from three – Dickson’s greeting, an athlete swinging Indian clubs, and men boxing – which survived in a notebook kept by Edison’s close associate Charles Batchelor, are reproduced here. The images were circular, about ¾-inch in diameter, and the film, which was perforated, ran horizontally through the camera.They are short – only 13 or 14 images – so the action is brief and fragmentary. Dickson was not satisfied with the quality of these films, and in the fall of 1891 he made the image a rectangle 1-inch wide by ¾-inch high, and changed the orientation of the film so it moved vertically.To steady the film he added a second row of larger rectangular perforations, 4 to each frame. The result was the format we call 35mm." – Paul Spehr
BLACKSMITHING SCENE (Edison, US 1893). Supv: W.K.L. Dickson; ph: William Heise; filmed: Black Maria, Orange, NJ, late April or early May 1893; 35mm, 42 ft., 36” (24 fps); print: The Museum of Modern Art, New York. From the collections of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan. No intertitles. Paul Spehr: "This small piece of working life features Edison employees.A smith and two helpers at work are encouraged by a bottle that they pass around.The film, made in the Black Maria studio in late April or early May 1893, was shown at a demonstration for the Department of Physics at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences onTuesday, 9 May 1893. It was the first demonstration of the Kinetoscope outside the Edison Laboratory." – Paul Spehr
EDISON KINETOSCOPIC RECORD OF A SNEEZE (The Sneeze / Fred Ott’s Sneeze) (Edison, US 1894) Supv: W.K.L. Dickson; ph: William Heise; cast: Frederick Ott; filmed: Black Maria, Orange, NJ, 7.1.1894; 35mm, 10 ft., 9” (18 fps); print: LoC. No intertitles. Paul Spehr: "A publicity film made at the request of Barnet Phillips, a writer preparing an article for Harper’s Weekly. Fred Ott took snuff, sneezed, and gained a degree of immortality. Although the film only had limited showings, it is perhaps the best-known film made for the Kinetoscope. Barnet Phillips’ article, “The Record of a Sneeze”, appeared in the 24 March 1894 issue of Harper’s Weekly.The account of the Fred Ott film in Dickson’s History of the Kinetograph, Kinetoscope and Kineto-Phonograph (1895) says that despite taking snuff twice, and breathing pepper, Fred Ott could not sneeze, so the filming was postponed to the next day, when it was finally successful, so this seems to be the first recorded re-take." – Paul Spehr

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