The Oxford History of World Cinema

The Oxford History of World Cinema by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith Read Free Book Online

Book: The Oxford History of World Cinema by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith Read Free Book Online
Authors: Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
took advantage of the situation, shooting films on their New York City
    rooftop studio that purported to show events taking place in Cuba. So successful did this
    venture prove that by 1900 the partners issued their first catalogue offering films for sale
    to other exhibitors, thus establishing Vitagraph as one of the primary American film
    producers. The third important American studio of the time, the American Mutoscope and
    Biograph Company, now primarily known for employing D. W. Griffith between 1908
    and 1913, was formed in 1895 to produce flipcards for Mutoscope machines. When W. K.
    L. Dickson left Edison to join Biograph, the company used his expertise to patent a
    projector to compete with the Vitascope. This projector apparently gave betterquality
    projection with less flicker than other machines and quickly replaced the Lumières as
    Edison's chief competitor. In 1897 Biograph also began to produce films but the Edison
    Company effectively removed them from the market by entangling them in legal disputes
    that remained unresolved until 1902.
    At the turn of the century, Britain was the third important film-producing country. The
    Edison Kinetoscope was first seen there in October 1894, but, because of Edison's
    uncharacteristic failure to patent the device abroad, the Englishman R. W. Paul legally
    copied the non-protected viewing machine and installed fifteen Kinetoscopes at the
    exhibition hall at Earl's Court in London. When Edison belatedly sought to protect his
    interests by cutting off the supply of films, Paul responded by going into production for
    himself. In 1899, in conjunction with Birt Acres, who supplied the necessary technical
    expertise, Paul opened the first British film studio, in north London. Another important
    early British film-maker, Cecil Hepworth, built a studio in his London back garden in
    1900. By 1902 Brighton had also become an important centre for British filmmaking with
    two of the key members of the so-called 'Brighton school', George Albert Smith and
    James Williamson, each operating a studio.
    At this time, production, distribution, and exhibition practices differed markedly from
    those that were to emerge during the transitional period; the film industry had not yet
    attained the specialization and division of labour characteristic of large-scale capitalist
    enterprises. Initially, production, distribution, and exhibition all remained the exclusive
    province of the film manufacturers. The Lumière travelling cameramen used the
    adaptable Cinématographe to shoot, develop, and project films, while American studios
    such as Edison and Biograph usually supplied a projector, films, and even a projectionist
    to the vaudeville houses that constituted the primary exhibition sites. Even with the rapid
    emergence of independent travelling showmen in the United States, Britain, and
    Germany, film distribution remained nonexistent. Producers sold rather than rented their
    films; a practice which forestalled the development of permanent exhibition sites until the
    second decade of the cinema's history.
    As opposed to the strict division of labour and assemblyline practices that characterized
    the Hollywood studios, production during this period was non-hierarchical and truly
    collaborative. One of the most important early film 'directors' was Edwin S. Porter, who
    had worked as a hired projectionist and then as an independent exhibitor. Porter joined the
    Edison Company in 1900, first as a mechanic and then as head of production. Despite his
    nominal position, Porter only controlled the technical aspects of filming and editing while
    other Edison employees with theatrical experience took charge of directing the actors and
    the mise-en-scène. Other American studios seem to have practised similar arrangements.
    At Vitagraph, James Stuart Blackton and Albert Smith traded off their duties in front of
    and behind the camera, one acting and the other shooting, and then reversing their roles
    for

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