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Edison: The Invention of the Movies [4 Discs] [DVD]
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Special Features

  • Detailed film notes by Charles Musser, the world's leading authority on the Edison studio
  • Photo archives of more than 200 documents from MOMA's Edison Collection
  • Two hours of video interviews with archivists and cinema scholars, discussing specific films, the Edison Studios and efforts to preserve the Edison legacy: Steven Higgins, curator, department of film, the Museum of Modern Art; Charles Musser, professor of film and American studies, Yale University; Eilenn Bowser, curator emerita, the Museum of Modern Art; Paul Israel, director and editor of the Edison Papers, Rutgers University; Richard Koszarski, associate professor of English, Rutgers University; Patrick Loughney, head, Moving Image Section, the Library of Congress; Michele Wallace, professor of English, the City College


Laughing Gas
In 1907, pioneering Edison director Edwin S. Porter turned out such landmark films as Rescued from an Eagle's Nest and The Teddy Bears. From the evidence at hand, it would appear that Porter's Laughing Gas was anything but a landmark. The scene is a laboratory, where nitrous oxide -- a.k.a. "laughing gas" -- is manufactured for medicinal purposes. A prankish youngster (played by an adult woman) steals a small vial of the liquid and spreads it around the populace. Before long, everyone in town is in the throes of helpless laughter. Contemporary reviewers suggested that the only laughs generated by this film were confined to the screen. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Troop Ships for the Philippines
Cohen's Fire Sale
In this period short film steeped in ethnic comedy, confusion reigns as the Cohen Millenery shop loses a parcel newly arrived from Paris. A chase ensues across the Lower East Side to a garbage barge about to leave with some expensive cargo, until Cohen arrives and, with help from an amused police officer, retrieves most of the merchandise, especially the hats. He later sets off a fire-cracker in his store and calls in an alarm to cover the damages, and a "fire sale" ensues. The stereotyped portrayals seem broad and offensive to modern viewers, but this was acceptable humor in 1907, and the movie does capture aspects of street life on the Lower East Side around the turn of the last century. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Newark Athlete (with Indian Clubs)
Life of an American Fireman
The Barber Shop
Annabelle Serpentine Dance
Watermelon Eating Contest
What Happened on Twenty-Third Street, New York City
Hadj Cheriff
Police Chasing Scorching Auto
One Touch of Nature
Life of an American Policeman
Gold Rush Scenes in the Klondike
Another Job for the Undertaker
Louis Martinetti
The Kiss
The Gay Shoe Clerk
Filmed by Edwin S. Porter at Thomas Edison's New York studio on July 23, 1903, The Gay Shoe Clerk is notable for its early use of matched shot editing, with a close-up of the customer's ankle and a longer establishing shot used in combination with each other. The film is significant as a precursor to Porter's groundbreaking classic The Great Train Robbery, which combined state-of-the-art editing techniques to tell a 12-minute narrative story., Rovi

The Burglar on the Roof
Going to the Fire
Annie Oakley
Burlesque Suicide, No. 2
Kathleen Mavourneen
The Morning Alarm
What Happened in the Tunnel
The "Teddy" Bears
Edwin S. Porter's The "Teddy" Bears was a "novelty" film, using stop-motion animation to tell its story. Seven toy teddy bears of varying sizes suddenly come to life, getting in all sorts of merry misadventures. Always fascinated in the technical end of the moviemaking business, Porter spent seven days, twelve hours per day, to animate the film's main sequence, which ran all of 90 feet. "Bookending" this scene is nine minutes' worth of "live" action concerning the efforts of a human hunter to capture a baby teddy. An enormous success, The "Teddy" Bears remained in circulation as a kiddie-matinee attraction as late as 1914. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze, January 7. 1894
Capture of Boer Battery by British
Electrocuting an Elephant
Uncle Tom's Cabin
The Train Wreckers
Dickson Greeting
Inventor Edison Sketched by World Artist
Photographing a Country Couple
American Falls from Above, American Side
New Black Diamond Express
Buffalo Dance
Trapeze Disrobing Act
Return of Lifeboat
The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog
Fatima, Muscle Dancer
The Watermelon Patch
Band Drill
College Chums
The "money scene" in College Chums occurs early in the film, as a young man argues with his sweetheart via telephone. Their two-way conversation is conveyed by "splitting" the screen and showing hero and heroine in separate irises. Their heated words appear on-camera in the form of written letters, which parade across the screen in the manner of a modern-day TV news bulletin. All of this trickery is secondary to the story itself, which concerns the efforts by the hero's college chum to mollify the heroine by dressing in drag and posing as the hero's sister. This plot device evidently made sense to 1908 audiences, who registered no complaints about the film. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

European Rest Cure
How Bumptious Papered the Parlour
Watermelon Contest
The Ex-Convict
Men Boxing
Robetta and Doretto No. 2
The Wonders of Magnetism
The Adventure of the Hasty Elopement
The White Caps
Black Diamond Express, No. 1
The Great Train Robbery
Director Edwin S. Porter made film history when he completed the 13 sequences for the 12-minute The Great Train Robbery, released in 1903 but based on an 1896 story by Scott Marble. Featuring the first parallel development of separate, simultaneous scenes, and the first close-up (of an outlaw firing off a shot right at the audience), The Great Train Robbery is among the earliest narrative films with a "Western" setting. The opening scenes show the outlaws holding up the passengers and robbing the mail car in the train, before escaping on horseback. After being knocked out by the bandits, the telegraph operator regains consciousness and heads to the dance hall to get a posse together. The posse takes off to hunt down the outlaws and the chase is on. ~ Matthew Tobey, Rovi

The Hornbacker-Murphy Fight
Imperial Japanese Dance
A Little Girl Who Did Not Believe in Santa Claus
The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots
All on Account of a Transfer
The House of Cards
Edison's House of Cards takes place Out West -- west of the Hudson River, that is. Sent to town with his boss' weekly payroll money, a young cowboy arrives to find that the bank has closed. He wanders into the local saloon, where he proceeds to lose all the cash in a card game. Desperately, he tries to retrieve the money by robbing the saloon but is prevented from doing so by the saloon-owner's daughter, with whom he is in love. She pleads with the sheriff to allow the cowboy to escape across the border, but the lawman won't hear of it. Instead, he suggests that a rattlesnake be allowed to mete out justice: If the snake bites the sheriff, the cowboy can go free, but if it bites the cowboy -- toooo bad. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

A Morning Bath
Blacksmithing Scene
Filmed in April 1893 at Thomas Edison's New Jersey studios, the 30-second Blacksmithing Scene is the earliest known example of "actors" performing a role in a film. The three men shown were not blacksmiths, but rather Edison employees playing the parts of blacksmiths. Despite its brevity the film has a plot of sorts, as the men tire and take a brief break to drink some beer., Rovi

The Public and Private Care of Infants
Searching Ruins on Broadway for Dead Bodies, Galveston
Fire Rescue Scene
Cockfight No. 2
Interrupted Bathers
The Unsullied Shield
Boxing Cats (Prof. Wetton's)
Dickson Experimental Sound Film
Getting Evidence
Rector's to Claremont
Tale the Autumn Leaves Told
Films of the San Francisco Earthquake
This thinly disguised recruiting film for the U.S. Marine Corps was based on The Three Things, a short novel by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews. The title character is Philip Landicott (Raymond McKee), who balks at the notion of joining the Marines when America enters WWI. Eschewing the "egalitarian" philosophy of the Corps, the snobbish Landicott believes that "birth and breeding" are the most important things in love. He also believes that there is no God -- citing the horrors of war as his proof -- and cannot bring himself to embrace the notion to "love thine enemies" after they've been defeated. On all three counts, Landicott is proven wrong, and by film's end he has not only experienced a triple-decker epiphany but has also distinguished himself with spectacular acts of courage on the battlefield. The villain of the piece is German lieutenant Von Schnieditz, played with relish by "the man you love to hate," Erich Von Stroheim (here inexplicably billed as Karl Von Stroheim). Several genuine U.S. Marine officers appeared as themselves, as did the members of the Third Battalion, Sixth Regiment of the USMC. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Little Train Robbery
A Scrpa in Black and White
The Terrible Kids
Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken
Shooting the Chutes
Athlete with Wand
Annabelle Butterfly Dance
The Ambassador's Daughter
Monkeyshines No. 2
Glenroy Bros. No. 2
Sioux Ghost Dance
Firemen Rescuing Men and Women
Suburbanite's Ingenious Alarm
This one-reel comedy came from the Fort Lee, New Jersey studios of the Edison company. The title character, a young office clerk, has trouble showing up at work on time (the New York suburbs were still, at the very least, 45 minutes from Broadway back in 1908). Determined to get an early start the next morning, our hero purchases the loudest alarm clock he can find. Alas, the clock fails to arouse him from his slumbers. In desperation, he ties a rope to his wrist and dangles it out his bedroom window, instructing his next-door neighbor to tug on the rope to get him out of bed. But a playful drunk ties the other end of a rope to a milk wagon, and -- well, just guess what happens next. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Black Eyes
Turning the Tables
Fireside Reminiscences
Mr. Edison at Work in His Chemical Laboratory
New York of Today
A Wringing Good Joke
The John C. Rice - May Irwin Kiss
Interrupted Lovers
Fifth Avenue, New York
The Trainer's Daughter; Or, a Race for Love
The Lone Fisherman
How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Herald Personal Columns
Amy Muller
Caicedo with Pole
Princess Ali
High Diving Scene
Monkeyshines No. 1
The Burning Stable
U.S. Troops Landing at Daiquiri, Cuba
A Storm at Sea
At Bear Track Gulch
Three American Beauties
A popular, patriotic short from the nickelodeon days of the silent era, Three American Beauties was shot by Edwin S. Porter in black-and-white, with the color later stencil-painted onto each print of the film. Filmed in New York in March 1906, the "three American beauties" of the title are a rose, a woman, and the U.S. flag. ~ Richard Gilliam, Rovi

Cupid's Pranks
Shooting Captured Insurgents
The Burning of Durland's Riding Academy
The Lone Game
Pan-American Exposition by Night
The Miller's Daughter
The Kleptomaniac
Billy Edwards and the Unknown
A Morning Alarm
The Passer-by
Bucking Broncho
Thirty Days at Hard Labor
The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend
Coney Island at Night
Egyptian Fakir with Dancing Monkey
The Seven Ages
The Rivals
Jack and the Beanstalk
The Totville Eye
The Strenuous Life; or, Anti-Race Suicide
Scarecrow Pump
Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride
Feeding the Doves
Rescued from an Eagle's Nest
Mess Call
Mounted Police Charge
A Serenade by Proxy
Corbett and Courney Before the Kinetograph
The First Sleigh Ride
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