Edison question

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MattBarry

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Edison question

PostSat Jun 21, 2008 9:25 am

In Gerald Mast's "Short History of the Movies", I noticed two odd statements
that I wanted to ask everyone here about.

First, he claims that Augustin LePrince had developed a method not only to
shoot but also project films by 1888. Unless I'm completely mistaken, I was
under the impression that LePrince was unable to play his work back, and
that his project was essentially a failure (which has been suggested as the
reason he went missing in 1890). Why is there this persistent rumor that he
was able to project his films (I've encountered this statement elsewhere)?

Second, Mast claims that "Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze" is the
oldest surviving film. Leaving aside things like "Monkeyshines" or "Dickson
Greeting", which survive only as still fragments, surely "The Barbershop"
and "Blacksmith Scene", both from 1893 and thus pre-dating "The Sneeze",
survive in original prints?

Two additional questions related to Edison:
How much survives of Edison's 1891-1893 output? The "Edison: Invention of
the Movies" set only includes the "Dickson Greeting" and "Newark Athlete"
fragments from 1891, and the "Blacksmith Scene" and "The Barbershop" films
from 1893. Of the many films Dickson and Heise made in the 1891-1893 period,
do many survive at all? (I imagine that the chances of these early camera
tests becoming lost is much higher than Edison's post-1894 output which had
multiple prints made to go out to Kinetoscope parlors for public viewing).

Do any other pre-1894 camera tests survive (other than the Edison films and
the LePrince fragments)? Do we have any of the films shot in 1888-1889 by
William Freise-Greene and John Prestwick, for instance?
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PostSat Jun 21, 2008 3:00 pm

OK, here goes.

First, he claims that Augustin LePrince had developed a method not only to
shoot but also project films by 1888. Unless I'm completely mistaken, I was
under the impression that LePrince was unable to play his work back, and
that his project was essentially a failure (which has been suggested as the
reason he went missing in 1890). Why is there this persistent rumor that he
was able to project his films (I've encountered this statement elsewhere)?


Le Prince never projected his 'films' (which were on sensitized paper, though he probably experimented with celluloid towards the end). He did build a projector (which he called a 'deliverer') but it never worked.

Second, Mast claims that "Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze" is the
oldest surviving film. Leaving aside things like "Monkeyshines" or "Dickson
Greeting", which survive only as still fragments, surely "The Barbershop"
and "Blacksmith Scene", both from 1893 and thus pre-dating "The Sneeze",
survive in original prints?


Several Edison extant films pre-date Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze. Amazingly, one of the 'monkeyshines' experiments from 1890 can be seen with its motion recreated on YouTube, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuXhbO8I03g (the person featured is G. Sacco Albanese). Dickson Greeting likewise survives and is viewable here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVintjK5lKU. Both BARBERSHOP and BLACKSMITHS survive (in their 1893 versions; both were remade later).

How much survives of Edison's 1891-1893 output?


Here's what survives, in what form, and where (taken from Charles Musser's Edison Motion Pictures):

1890

MONKEYSHINES NO. 1 - celluloid sheet for wrapping around cylinder - Edison National Historic Site, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuXhbO8I ... re=related
MONKEYSHINES NO. 2 - celluloid sheet for wrapping around cylinder - Edison National Historic Site
MONKEYSHINES NO. 3 - celluloid sheet for wrapping around cylinder - Edison National Historic Site

1891

DICKSON GREETING - 3/4" film - Edison National Historic Site, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVintjK5 ... re=related
DUNCAN SMOKING - 3/4" film - Edison National Historic site
NEWARK ATHLETE/INDIAN CLUB SWINGER - 3/4" film - Edison National Historic Site, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPTvEzgS ... re=related (plus two other fragments)
MEN BOXING - 3/4" film - Edison National Historic Site

1892

BOXING - few frames reproduced in The Phonogram, October 1892
FENCING - few frames reproduced in The Phonogram, October 1892, and in W.K-L. Dickson and Antonia Dickson's History of the Kinetograph, Kinetoscope and Kineto-Phonograph
WRESTLING - few frames reproduced in The Phonogram, October 1892
A HAND SHAKE - frames (more than those above) reproduced in The Phonogram, October 1892

1893

BLACKSMITHING SCENE/BLACKSMITHS - film (50ft) - MOMA
HORSE SHOEING - Musser reproduces three frames
THE BARBER SHOP - film (50ft) - MOMA, AMPAS

Do any other pre-1894 camera tests survive (other than the Edison films and
the LePrince fragments)? Do we have any of the films shot in 1888-1889 by
William Freise-Greene and John Prestwick, for instance?


Yes, is the short answer. Friese-Greene tests (he did not achieve sufficient frequency of images to recreate motion - he shot somewhere between one and four frames a second) survive in the Will Day collection at CNC Archives du Film and at the National Media Museum in Bradford, UK. I've seen an animation (i.e. someone ingeniously filled in missing frames to give a semblance of true motion) his few frames of King's Road, London, filmed in 1890. He didn't team with Prestwich until 1896.

Nine frames of Wordsworth Donisthorpe's 'film' of Trafalgar Square in 1890 exist. Plenty of Etienne-Jules Marey chronophotographs and Georges Demeny's Phonoscope images exist for this pre-1893 period. These may not be viewed as true films (though some argue that they are), but we are in the period of experimentation, when it is misleading to look only for technological certainties.

A lot of the serious work in this field has only been done in the past few years, and I'd avoid the general cinema histories of earlier eras, like Gerald Mast. Read Charles Musser, or Deac Rossell's Living Pictures, or Marta Braun's Picturing Time, or Laurent Mannoni's The Great Art of Light and Shadow. And look out for Paul Spehr's forthcoming biography of William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson, due to be published later this year.
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PostSat Jun 21, 2008 3:45 pm

urbanora wrote:OK, here goes.

First, he claims that Augustin LePrince had developed a method not only to
shoot but also project films by 1888. Unless I'm completely mistaken, I was
under the impression that LePrince was unable to play his work back, and
that his project was essentially a failure (which has been suggested as the
reason he went missing in 1890). Why is there this persistent rumor that he
was able to project his films (I've encountered this statement elsewhere)?


Le Prince never projected his 'films' (which were on sensitized paper, though he probably experimented with celluloid towards the end). He did build a projector (which he called a 'deliverer') but it never worked.

Second, Mast claims that "Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze" is the
oldest surviving film. Leaving aside things like "Monkeyshines" or "Dickson
Greeting", which survive only as still fragments, surely "The Barbershop"
and "Blacksmith Scene", both from 1893 and thus pre-dating "The Sneeze",
survive in original prints?


Several Edison extant films pre-date Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze. Amazingly, one of the 'monkeyshines' experiments from 1890 can be seen with its motion recreated on YouTube, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuXhbO8I03g (the person featured is G. Sacco Albanese). Dickson Greeting likewise survives and is viewable here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVintjK5lKU. Both BARBERSHOP and BLACKSMITHS survive (in their 1893 versions; both were remade later).

How much survives of Edison's 1891-1893 output?


Here's what survives, in what form, and where (taken from Charles Musser's Edison Motion Pictures):

1890

MONKEYSHINES NO. 1 - celluloid sheet for wrapping around cylinder - Edison National Historic Site, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuXhbO8I ... re=related
MONKEYSHINES NO. 2 - celluloid sheet for wrapping around cylinder - Edison National Historic Site
MONKEYSHINES NO. 3 - celluloid sheet for wrapping around cylinder - Edison National Historic Site

1891

DICKSON GREETING - 3/4" film - Edison National Historic Site, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVintjK5 ... re=related
DUNCAN SMOKING - 3/4" film - Edison National Historic site
NEWARK ATHLETE/INDIAN CLUB SWINGER - 3/4" film - Edison National Historic Site, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPTvEzgS ... re=related (plus two other fragments)
MEN BOXING - 3/4" film - Edison National Historic Site

1892

BOXING - few frames reproduced in The Phonogram, October 1892
FENCING - few frames reproduced in The Phonogram, October 1892, and in W.K-L. Dickson and Antonia Dickson's History of the Kinetograph, Kinetoscope and Kineto-Phonograph
WRESTLING - few frames reproduced in The Phonogram, October 1892
A HAND SHAKE - frames (more than those above) reproduced in The Phonogram, October 1892

1893

BLACKSMITHING SCENE/BLACKSMITHS - film (50ft) - MOMA
HORSE SHOEING - Musser reproduces three frames
THE BARBER SHOP - film (50ft) - MOMA, AMPAS

Do any other pre-1894 camera tests survive (other than the Edison films and
the LePrince fragments)? Do we have any of the films shot in 1888-1889 by
William Freise-Greene and John Prestwick, for instance?


Yes, is the short answer. Friese-Greene tests (he did not achieve sufficient frequency of images to recreate motion - he shot somewhere between one and four frames a second) survive in the Will Day collection at CNC Archives du Film and at the National Media Museum in Bradford, UK. I've seen an animation (i.e. someone ingeniously filled in missing frames to give a semblance of true motion) his few frames of King's Road, London, filmed in 1890. He didn't team with Prestwich until 1896.

Nine frames of Wordsworth Donisthorpe's 'film' of Trafalgar Square in 1890 exist. Plenty of Etienne-Jules Marey chronophotographs and Georges Demeny's Phonoscope images exist for this pre-1893 period. These may not be viewed as true films (though some argue that they are), but we are in the period of experimentation, when it is misleading to look only for technological certainties.

A lot of the serious work in this field has only been done in the past few years, and I'd avoid the general cinema histories of earlier eras, like Gerald Mast. Read Charles Musser, or Deac Rossell's Living Pictures, or Marta Braun's Picturing Time, or Laurent Mannoni's The Great Art of Light and Shadow. And look out for Paul Spehr's forthcoming biography of William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson, due to be published later this year.


Thank you. This is exactly the information I was looking for.

I'm curious where this persistent myth that LePrince ever projected any of his films originated. I received this response in regard to LePrince:

"Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster just published their
"A Short History of Film". They state that, "Le Prince was also
working on a projection device for his images, and by the winter of
1889 he had perfected a projection device using the "Maltese cross
movement", a gear that pulled down the perforated film images one at a
time for successive projection to create the smooth illusion of
movement. In the first months of 1890, Le Prince photographed short
films in Paris and screened them for the governing body of the Paris
Opera."


Clearly, this is total nonsense. I wonder where the authors got this piece of information? If LePrince had been able to do all that as early as 1890, he would be the clear "inventor" of motion pictures, and would have never had to skip out on his debts.

It's interesting how little survives of the 1891-1893 Edison camera tests. Is there a reason so much of this was lost (such as a fire or other catastrophe?)

Based on the information you provided about Friese-Greene, it sounds as if Edison's biggest "claim to fame" could be not so much in the successful capturing of moving images, but in their sustained playback.
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PostSat Jun 21, 2008 4:38 pm

That text from Dixon and Foster about Le Prince is very muddled. Le Prince probably did experiment with a Maltese cross movement, but the description of its use is taken from later descriptions of the operation of Maltese cross projectors, whereas Le Prince's 'deliverer' most certainly did not work. He did not take films in Paris in 1890, but there is an odd affidavit from someone at the Paris Opera affirming that he did see Le Prince give a demonstration of motion pictures. What the meaning of this might be, no one knows.

It's interesting how little survives of the 1891-1893 Edison camera tests. Is there a reason so much of this was lost (such as a fire or other catastrophe?)


From the evidence of Musser, it would seems that a high proportion of the early Edison experiments survive. If something worked, or marked an advance, then they kept it.

Based on the information you provided about Friese-Greene, it sounds as if Edison's biggest "claim to fame" could be not so much in the successful capturing of moving images, but in their sustained playback.


It must be stressed that Friese-Greene did not achieve anything like sufficient frequency of images to achieve the illusion of motion. Some of his experiments were at one or two frames a second. There is simply no comparison between his footling efforts and the industrialised, proficient results of the Edison team.
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RE:Edison Question

PostSat Jun 21, 2008 9:32 pm

Matt Barry writes:
"Second, Mast claims that "Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze" is the
oldest surviving film."

This has constantly been confused because it was the first film registered for Copyright in the U.S., Not in the traditional sense, as it was registered as a set of still images (they were printed on cards as I remember)

BG
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Re: RE:Edison Question

PostSat Jun 21, 2008 11:30 pm

staticflashes wrote:Matt Barry writes:
"Second, Mast claims that "Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze" is the
oldest surviving film."

This has constantly been confused because it was the first film registered for Copyright in the U.S., Not in the traditional sense, as it was registered as a set of still images (they were printed on cards as I remember)

BG


These errors, which I caught just in re-reading the first chapter, make me realize that Mast's book is probably in need of a thorough revision, all the more so since it's often the standard text for 100 level History of Film classes in colleges. I know that a new edition is published every couple years, often containing new information on recent developments in film, but it appears Mast's earlier chapter may need similar revision.
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PostSun Jun 22, 2008 4:31 pm

Christopher Lawrence wrote an interesting book on LePrince called The Missing Reel: The Untold Story of the Lost Inventor of Moving Pictures. It tells the LePrince story well, has plenty of footnotes, and quite a few pictures (including surviving frames from LePrince's films). On the minus side, the author interweaves his own personal story of investigating LePrince a little too much.

Lawrence believes that LePrince's projector was a failure, and his business was heavily in debt, so LePrince decided to disappear. Since LePrince never appeared again after boarding a train in 1890, we can never be sure what happened to him.

Since he never popped up again, there is always a chance that foul play was involved. If he did choose to disappear, he certainly never worked on his inventions again.
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PostSun Jun 29, 2008 5:25 am

In 2004 a Yorkshire television programme, Inside Out, claimed to have solved the Le Prince mystery. It employed a retired detective to examine the Paris police records, and he found a photograph of a drowned man whose body was taken from the Seine shortly after Le Prince disappeared. Here's the photograph:

Image

And here's Le Prince in late life:

Image

I'm not convinced myself (the beards don't match), but food for thought at any rate, and it does point to Le Prince's likely end even if the morgue photo is not the man himself.

I like the Christopher Rawlence book too, though the personal history (i.e. his investigation) rather gets in the way. It was somewhat better as a television programme.

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