Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Paul Spehr: "Film production for public exhibition began early in 1894, in or immediately adjacent to the studio built on the grounds of Edison’s laboratory in Orange, New Jersey. The “Black Maria”, so-named by Edison’s staff because it reminded them of a police wagon, was purpose-built to resolve the exposure problems that plagued Dickson. The studio could be revolved on a pivot so the sun would flood the stage through the open roof, and the area behind the stage was a blackened recess designed to absorb ambient light (a technique borrowed from Marey). Filming was done during midday, when intense sunlight provided maximum contrast. The camera was mounted on an iron base to reduce vibration of the electric motor used to ensure a steady rate of exposure. Though it was bulky, the camera could move back and forth, and be raised or lowered to suit the subject being filmed. In order to reduce flicker, exposure was done at a high rate. The ideal was 46 frames per second, though most films were probably taken at about 30 fps. This controlled environment allowed Dickson to plan and rehearse each shot, and though his objective was to make the scene appear natural, even candid, his careful planning is evident in most of his films. Characteristically, the action begins before the camera starts, and continues after the camera stops. Though the viewer sees only a portion, it is the essential portion, and if staged successfully the viewer does not feel cheated." – Paul Spehr
ATHLETE WITH A WAND (Edison, US 1894). Supv: W.K.L. Dickson; ph: William Heise; cast: athlete from the Newark Turnverein; filmed: Black Maria,Orange,NJ, 2.1894; 35mm [blow-up from 16mm pos.], 19 ft., 17” (18 fps); print: LoC. No intertitles. Paul Spehr: "The influence of Muybridge and Marey is evident in this and in the film of Sandow that follows. However, Dickson’s film is longer, and the action is a bit more complex than the chronophotographers’ images. As was often the case, Dickson seems to acknowledge a debt to his contemporaries but strives for improvements. It’s not clear what the dog contributes, but Dickson liked animals and it is a pleasant addition." – Paul Spehr
SANDOW (Edison, US 1894). Supv: W.K.L. Dickson; ph: William Heise; cast: Eugene Sandow; filmed: Black Maria,Orange, NJ, 6.3.1894; 35mm, 42 ft., 23” (30? fps); print: MoMA. No intertitles. Paul Spehr: "The strongman Eugene Sandow was the first prominent variety performer to be filmed, and the occasion marks the symbolic beginning of production for the public. Sandow’s appearance at Koster & Bial’s Music Hall was something of a sensation, and his visit to Orange was covered extensively by the press, so it is not far-fetched to regard it as an advertisement. It promoted Sandow – and Edison’s Kinetoscope. Only a fraction of Sandow’s act was shown, but Dickson’s staging gave viewers a closer, more intimate exposure than theatre seats allowed, and gave people who could not come to the theatre an opportunity to see Sandow in action." – Paul Spehr
ANNABELLE, BUTTERFLY DANCE (Edison, US 1894). Supv: W.K.L. Dickson; ph: William Heise; cast: Annabelle Whitford; filmed: Black Maria,Orange,NJ, 7-8.1894; 35mm, 36 ft., 18” (30? fps); print: MoMA. No intertitles. Paul Spehr: "Annabelle Whitford (Annabelle Whitford Moore / Peerless Annabelle) was one of the most popular of the several professional dancers Dickson filmed for the Kinetoscope, and she was filmed the most often – she was re-filmed as the negatives wore out. Her Serpentine Dance was modeled after the dance made famous by Loïe Fuller, but it is probable that more people saw Annabelle’s filmed dances – or the numerous versions made by others – than saw Loïe Fuller." – Paul Spehr
CORBETT AND COURTNEY BEFORE THE KINETOGRAPH (Edison, US 1894). Supv: W.K.L.Dickson; ph:William Heise; cast: James J. Corbett, Peter Courtney; filmed: Black Maria,Orange, NJ, 7.9.1894; 35mm, 135 ft., 39” (30? fps); print: MoMA. No intertitles. Paul Spehr: "The most costly, and sensational, of the early Kinetoscope films was the boxing match betweenWorld’s heavyweight champion James J.“Gentleman Jim” Corbett and Peter Courtney, billed as the champion of New Jersey. It was made for the Kinetoscope Exhibiting Company, who exhibited the bout on specially enlarged versions of Edison’s Kinetoscope. Six films, each a oneminute round,were made,with Courtney conveniently knocked out in Round 6.The visit of Corbett to Orange was widely reported in the sporting press. At the time, boxing was illegal in many parts of the U.S., including New Jersey, and Edison and Dickson were arraigned in court for conducting an illegal match.The judge dismissed the charges on the grounds that it was an exhibition, since the shortened rounds did not constitute a real fight." – Paul Spehr
SIOUX GHOST DANCE / GHOST DANCE (Edison,US 1894). Supv: W.K.L.Dickson; ph:William Heise; cast: members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West [show]; filmed: Black Maria, Orange, NJ, 24.9.1894; 35mm [blow-up from 16mm pos.], 50 ft., 44” (18 fps); print: LoC. No intertitles. Paul Spehr: "On 26 September 1894 the East Orange Gazette reported, “Wild West Kinetoscoped”. Dickson had filmed Buffalo Bill, Sioux Ghost Dance, and Buffalo Dance, all featuring members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West troupe.The busy day was also reported in the New York Journal, Newark Evening News, and Orange Chronicle. Buffalo Bill demonstrated rapid rifle firing. Several ethnic groups were featured in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, and a number of them were filmed in the Black Maria. This performance by members of the Sioux Tribe is unusual, and an important historical and ethnographic document. Misdirected concern about the cult of the Ghost Dance, which combined native culture with elements of Christianity, was a contributing factor to the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota (29 December 1890)." – Paul Spehr
BUFFALO DANCE (Edison, US 1894). Supv: W.K.L.Dickson; ph:William Heise; cast: members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West [show]; filmed: Black Maria, Orange, NJ, 24.9.1894; 35mm, 50 ft., 47” (17 fps); print: LoC. No intertitles. Paul Spehr: "The Sioux Buffalo Dance was done to native drum music, and three Chiefs were present: Last Horse, Parts His Hair, and Hair Coat. Other members of the group were Black Cat, Charging Crow, Dull Knife, Holy Bear, Crazy Bull, Strong Talker, Pine, Little Eagle Horse, Young Bear, Johnny No Neck Burke, Seven Up, and Run About. It was quite an occasion, though filmings were often a social as well as business event. Mrs. Edison and her two daughters came to the Black Maria to watch. Also present were Major Jack Stillwell, the celebrated scout; John Shangren, interpreter; Major John M. Burke, manager of the Wild West show; and F. Madden, advertising manager." – Paul Spehr
BAND DRILL (Edison, US 1894). Supv: W.K.L. Dickson; ph: William Heise; cast: Frank Baldwin (Steele Ayers, the band-master), Fred W. Boardman, William Cushing, Ad. Dorsch, E.P. Brown, J.F. Boardman, George Goddard, E.F. Balch, Paul Pfarr; filmed: Black Maria, Orange, NJ, late November 1894; 35mm, 50 ft., 19” (30? fps); print: LoC. No intertitles. Paul Spehr: "During the fall of 1894 scenes from several NewYork theatrical productions were filmed.The musical MilkWhite Flag was playing at Hoyt’s Theatre, NewYork City, and 34 cast members were assembled on the small stage of the Black Maria for one film. Careful planning was needed to maneuver the band through its paces." – Paul Spehr

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