The American motion picture industry began with Thomas Edison and his brigade of inventive technicians during the final years of the 19th century. Edison never directed films and was only occasionally involved in their production, but under his leadership a new entertainment took root and quickly blossomed – literally beyond his eventual control.
Kino on Video, in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Library of Congress, has assembled 140 films produced by Edison in a four-disc DVD set called “Edison: The Invention of the Movies.” Beginning with the blurry, ghostly figures of the “Monkey-Shines” camera tests of 1889 (made at his celebrated Black Maria Studio in New Jersey) through the short oddball films designed to be seen in the kinetoscope machines (a single-viewer contraption where a 50-foot film ran in a loop) through the 1918 theatrical feature “The Unbeliever” starring Erich von Stroheim, this remarkable collection spans the development of the nascent cinema from its crude experimental beginning to the dawn of the modern film industry.
Many of the films in “Edison: The Invention of the Movies” are being made available on DVD for the very first time, most notably the 1895 “Dickson Experimental Sound Film,” which marked the earliest known attempt at synchronized sound in movies (the soundtrack of this 14-second effort was restored from a damaged wax cylinder and perfectly matched to the rather odd imagery of a man playing a violin while two other men danced a fox trot). There are some familiar titles to be seen here, including “The John C. Rice – May Irwin Kiss” and the landmark Western “The Great Train Robbery,” as well as hitherto obscure gems such as glimpses of turn-of-the-century celebrities like sharpshooter Annie Oakley and bodybuilder Eugene Sandow.
Bret Wood, who produced “Edison: The Invention of the Movies,” spoke with Film Threat on the unique challenges of bringing the harvest of silent Edison films into a single DVD presentation.
Get the interview in part two of BRET WOOD: IN SEARCH OF CINEMATIC EDISON>>>