Commercial Warfare and the Spanish-American War: 1897–1898
8Biograph Continues to Prosper and Expand
Commercial Warfare and the Spanish-American War: 1897–1898
James H. White and Edison Production Activities
Lubin and the International Film Company
The Spanish-American War
Biograph and Edison Cameramen Travel to Cuba
Blockton and Smith Move into Production, Form American Vitagraph, and Become Edison Licensees
Selig, Lubin, and Others
The Role of the Exhibitors
With the onset of the Spanish-American War the motion-picture industry discovered a new role and exploited it, gaining in confidence and size as a result. The cinema's capacity as a visual newspaper was extended as exhibitors unspooled scene after scene related to the struggle. Even more impressively, however, motion-picture showmen evoked powerful patriotic sentiments in their audiences, revealing the new medium's ideological and propagandistic force in the post-novelty era. Across the country, exhibitors found ways to tell the story of the war with slides and motion pictures. While special evening-length productions, like those discussed in the previous chapter, expanded the boundaries of cinema practice, they operated at the periphery of the small and vulnerable industry. It was the ongoing production of a few firms that provided the commercial foundation for the American industry, and it was the war that gave this sector new life.
The established companies generally ran into difficulties at the end of the 1896–1897 novelty season, as moving pictures showed signs of fading, at least when exhibitors did not appeal to specific audiences with the passion play or The Corbett Fitzsimmons Fight. The small town of Owego, New York, was not unusual: while projected motion pictures drew crowded houses when first shown in March 1897, interest faded with familiarity. Two months later, another showman booked films for three nights at the local opera house. "Although it was a good exhibition, there was less than half a house the first night," reported the Phonoscope. "The second night the attendance was not sufficient to pay for the gas and subsequent exhibitions were 'declared off.'"1 Although the number of exhibitions in the nation's opera houses increased slightly during the fall of 1897, the vast majority (approximately 85 percent) were given by the Veriscope Company. The number of independent exhibitors showing regular 35-mm productions in these venues had declined precipitously.
Contraction was palpable in the large cities. While Boston newspapers had advertised as many as seven concurrent motion-picture exhibitions in May 1897 (including two storefronts), by fall this number never exceeded four and for many weeks fell to one (a biograph at Keith's). In New York City, the number fluctuated between five and one (the Eden Musee) during the fall and early winter. In Philadelphia and Chicago weeks went by without films being shown in commercial theaters. Adversity battered many small-time exhibitors, encouraging them to look elsewhere for profits and employment.
Nonetheless, the industry bounced back in early 1898 as events leading up to the Spanish-American War revived interest in moving pictures. Indeed, warfare not only provided American producers with their key subject matter but served as an apt metaphor for commercial competition within the industry itself. Both conflicts involved issues of markets and dominance of their respective realms. Within the film world, Edison used his patents and the legal system as weapons to vanquish rival producers. Yet ironically, the Spanish-American War created such a demand for films that other producers soon appeared. Throughout it all, the major companies—Biograph and Edison—were locked in a multilevel struggle.
During the course of 1897 and 1898, the American Mutoscope Company (i.e., Biograph) expanded rapidly and solidified its commercial position. Its rate of production steadily increased, from approximately two hundred subjects for the year ending 31 May 1897 to roughly 350 new negatives during the year ending 31 May 1898 and nearly five hundred new negatives during the year ending 31 May 1899. After W. K. L. Dickson and Elias Bernard Koopman departed for England in the spring of 1897, Wallace McCutcheon assumed charge of production. That June the company established a second production unit. One camera usually stayed in the New York area and was often used at the rooftop studio. A second machine operated in diverse locations but spent much of its time in the Boston environs. Few of the new films were meant exclusively for local audiences. Throwing Over a Wall (NO. 231, photographed 12 June 1897), for example, imitated a popular Lumière subject (Falling Wall) but on a grander scale. The photographers also returned to Buzzard's Bay and filmed the Jefferson family of actors in a group of one-shot comedies. The Tramp and The Bather (NO. 242) was one of the first tramp comedies, a genre that remained popular throughout the period covered by this volume. After a tramp steals a bather's clothes, the victim swims to the shallows, squirms into a barrel to conceal his nakedness, and gives chase. In The Biggest Fish He Ever Caught (NO. 250), Charles Jefferson hooks a fish but tumbles into the water going after it. In Still Waters Run Deep (NO. 243) "a nephew is deposited in the stream through the breaking of a plank over which he is following a young lady into a boat."2 Such scenes relied on a simple gag that had the narrative complexity of a newspaper cartoon, from which many were undoubtedly derived.
Biograph embraced the world of journalism, and its programs often acted as a visual newspaper. If the short comedies were like comic strips, many scenes showed front-page news events. The Harvard-Yale-Cornell boat races, photographed by Biograph's other camera in Poughkeepsie, New York, on 25 June, were a sports-page equivalent. Another newspaper-film connection was made when the camera crew visited the New York Journal's summer camp for young urchins in New City (Rockland County), New York. In Trial Scene (NO. 260) the campers learned about the operations of the American judicial system—a way to make them law-abiding citizens. For Hearst and the Journal, this effort at Americanizing recent immigrant groups demonstrated their good works and sense of responsibility. For Biograph, the film built good relations with a news organization that could give it assistance as well as publicity.
During the summer of 1897, Biograph's itinerant cameramen returned to Atlantic City, where the company was showing films on Steel Pier. They took various scenes of happy vacationers (No. 275, A Jolly Crowd of Bathers)—until the camera was destroyed and the operators seriously injured while photographing Atlantic City Fire Department (NO. 278). "It is a turnout of the fire department at Atlantic City," reported the Boston Herald, "and the driver of the chemical engine had to take choice between running down a hand engine or the biograph apparatus and chose the latter. One of the funny results is that the horses seem to be about to jump into the auditorium of the theater."3 The unfortunate mishap only temporarily disrupted the company's production schedule.
Perhaps the most popular Biograph film was The Haverstraw Tunnel (NO. 301), taken on the West Shore Railroad along the Hudson River. While cameras had been placed on moving trains for more than a year, in this novel film the camera was mounted on the cowcatcher and sent through a tunnel. When shown in the theater, this "attraction" (to use Tom Gunning's term) demonstrated that moving pictures could still elicit a strong visceral response. As described by the Boston Herald, "One first has a view of track and surrounding country, then the entrance to the tunnel looms up ahead, draws nearer and is finally entered. There is momentary darkness, such as one experiences when suddenly plunged into such a tunnel, and then the opening at the other end appears and finally the train emerges into the light once more, and the beautiful panorama of scenery is continued." And, the Herald noted, "The applause which followed was the heartiest accorded any picture since the Empire State [Express] was first shown." According to one New York critic, "The shadows, the rush of the invisible force and the uncertainty of the issues made one instinctively hold his breath as when on the edge of a crisis that might become a catastrophe. If there had been a collision in that tunnel half of the women in the audience would have been carried off in a collapse."4
Acted films, which included such diverse genres as comedies and scenes of dancers and vaudeville performers, constituted a large percentage of Biograph's output and distinguished the company from Edison and other American competitors. Of the ninety-seven titles listed between production No. 200 (Caught Napping) and No. 300 (Soap Bubbles), fifty-nine fell into this general category. Most were studio productions, and many continued to present women as objects of sexual desire. An Affair of Honor (NO. 238), for example, based on a popular painting, shows two women who strip off their outer garments and engage in a sword fight until one is seriously wounded. In One Girl Swinging (NO. 246), two coquettes push a woman on a swing. She is facing the camera, and at the top of each arc her undergarments are revealed. The back-and-forth motion directed at the camera is equally suggestive. Peeping Tom (NO. 245) employed a reflexive strategy: the male spectator inside the frame acts as a surrogate voyeur in relation to the film spectator. Perhaps the first such scene made in the United States, this archetypal situation had already been employed by the French; it proved very popular and would be reworked many times. (Biograph eventually remade the subject in 1905 as Peeping Tom in The Dressing Room.) These sexually enticing scenes continued to be made primarily for the mutoscopes and were clearly directed at a male audience, even though women might glimpse these forbidden pleasures as they had done with fight films.
Less sexually suggestive genres were deemed more appropriate for vaudeville audiences that included women and children. Bad Boy and Poor Old Grandpa
(No. 269), in which a naughty boy creeps up behind an old man reading the newspaper and sets it on fire, was part of the bad-boy genre. The Vanishing Lady (NO. 271) was modeled on a well-known magic trick, though an early Méliès subject served as a more direct antecedent. Most of these acted films were self-contained one-shot units that could be used in either a simple variety program or a mutoscope. In November 1897, however, Biograph took a three-part series of Christmas films (Nos. 372-374) that was remade into an expanded, four-part series shortly thereafter: The Night Before Christmas (© Hanging Stockings Christmas Eve), Santa Claus Filling Stockings (© Santa Filling Stockings), Christmas Morning, and Christmas Tree Party (NOS. 380-383). All four pictures used the same set and were photographed from the same camera position. Title slides specified the unfolding of the narrative and bridged ellipses (as previously done with multiple parade scenes taken from the same camera position). "The series of Christmas pictures, designed especially for the little folks, are pleasing their elders just as much, "Boston Herald readers were informed, "and are no doubt serving as a reminder to many how happiness can be given at this season by the bestowal of a small present upon a child."5
With its increased level of production, Biograph needed story ideas and began to advertise that it would pay five dollars "for any suggestion of a good scene adopted and used by the Mutoscope Company for their Biograph or Mutoscope." The ad led to over fifteen hundred suggestions from interested spectators in the course of one week—almost all of which were impractical. One New York newspaperman, Roy L. McCardell, found this offer to be a profitable way to make extra money and regularly contributed ideas. Soon he was hired on a permanent basis not only to provide sketches but to handle advertising and promotion. He may have also been responsible for placing a long-running series of promotional articles and photographs on the Biograph company in the New York Mail and Express.6
Biograph further augmented its repertoire of films with subjects received from the British Mutoscope & Biograph Company, commencing with W. K. L. Dickson's moving pictures of Queen Victoria's jubilee, three scenes of which were finally shown "as one continuous picture" in early August.7 The steady flow of European subjects included scenes of royalty, displays of military pomp, and news films (such as Queen Victoria reviewing the Coldstream Guards at Aldershot). Once production facilities were established in London, Dickson made periodic filming trips to the Continent, shooting Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Emperor Franz Josef of Austria in Budapest, and the coronation of Queen Wilhelmina of Holland at The Hague. These European activities provided invaluable diversity of subject matter for Biograph's American exhibition service.
Biograph had established a nationwide exhibition network by the fall of 1897, when its activities reached the West Coast. Bypassing the United States Animatoscope Company, in which he had invested, Gustave Walter hired Biograph for his Orpheum vaudeville circuit. When a biograph opened at his San Francisco theater on 25 October, it was called "the best of all the projectoscope machines yet seen." After a six-week run, it moved to Walter's Los Angeles theater for several weeks in December. Overseas exhibitions likewise proliferated, with the German premiere in Berlin during late August, the French debut in Paris the following month, and an opening in Australia.8 All were successful and led to long runs, allowing Biograph to develop an international network of production and exhibition that recalled the Lumières' efforts of the previous year.
The Edison Manufacturing Company, like other 35-mm producers, faced strikingly different circumstances. Edison was not engaged in exhibition but manufactured films and projectors that were marketed to exhibitors. While distribution was nationwide, Thomas Edison did not establish sister companies or branches overseas. His company's film output was roughly the same as Biograph's during 1896-1897, and while it increased slightly the following year, this growth did not keep pace with that of the American Mutoscope Company. And while the Edison Company still enjoyed robust film sales, it was increasingly challenged not only by Biograph but by rival 35-mm producers. When its output fell during 1899, Edison's production was only about 20 percent that of its chief rival:
|1 May 1896-31 May 1897||ca. 160 films produced|
|1 June 1897-31 May 1898||ca. 200 films copyrighted|
|1 June 1898-31 May 1899||ca. 80 films copyrighted9|
The Edison Company rarely used the Black Maria studio and, in contrast to Biograph, favored less-expensive actualities. No more than 15 of the 67 Edison films copyrighted in the last six months of 1897 were "acted" (involving fictional narratives or vaudeville performers), and only a handful of these were shot at the West Orange facility. The ratio was even lower during the first six months of 1898, when only 5 of 136 films fitted into this category (all five, however, were shot in the studio). The Edison Company had clearly departed from its earlier, pre-projection and pre-Lumière production practices.
During the summer of 1897, kinetograph department manager James H. White and cameraman William Heise filmed a diversity of outdoor scenes, including Waterfall in the Catskills; Buffalo Police on Parade; and Sheep Run, Chicago Stockyards (all © 31 July 1897). Most films showed only a single scene. Some were taken from a single camera position but consisted of more than one "take," or subshot. Philadelphia Express, Jersey Central Railway first showed a train racing toward and past the camera. The cameraman then turned off his machine and waited until a second train approached on another track to resume filming. These two takes were joined together in an almost invisible fashion. The results undercut the depiction of real time: the time taken for the action to unfold is indicated rather than actually depicted, offering a filmic equivalent to the presentational methods of condensing time through unrealistically rapid exits and entrances.
The Edison crew photographed several horse races, including the Suburban Handicap run at Sheepshead Bay, New York, on 22 June. Suburban Handicap the resulting 150-foot film, was an exception to the general practice of equating one film with a single camera setup. It consisted of four shots and showed the horses passing on parade before the race, the start, the finish, and the weighing out. While Biograph would have treated each shot as a separate film (thus retaining maximum flexibility in the arrangement of its programs), the Edison Company found that it made more commercial sense to combine these scenes and sell them as a single unit. The camera frame, however, remained static, since Edison personnel still lacked the technology needed to pan their camera on its tripod.
Later that summer, White departed on an ambitious filming trip that took him halfway around the world. Heise was left behind at the West Orange laboratory, where he supervised the development of negatives, the manufacture of positive prints, and the production of local films. White traveled and collaborated with photographer Frederick W. Blechynden. They reached San Francisco by late August, on a tour that lasted approximately ten months and yielded over 120 copyrighted subjects. Among their resources was a tripod that enabled an operator to pan his camera. While incapable of smooth movement, this rather crude device could keep a moving subject within the camera frame. Filming of Return of the Lifeboat was interrupted at several points as White re-aimed the camera at the boat pulling toward shore. As the boat approached the beach, the camera followed: the rough movement emphasized the intensity of the action and the unpredictable nature of the event.
White's trip was facilitated and often subsidized by transportation companies interested in promoting tourism, including the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, and the Mexican International Railroad. These commercial arrangements repeated those already established with important railroad companies in the East. Many of the resulting films featured the railroads themselves in their most heroic settings (Southern Pacific Overland Mail and Going Through the Tunnel). While some presented hotel accommodations (Hotel Del Monte), most featured natural beauty or tourist sights (Lick Observatory, Mt. Hamilton, Cal). California Orange Groves, Panoramic View was taken from the front end of a train passing through endless expanses of orange trees. With travel expenses paid, White and Blechynden toured the Far West, stopping in Denver and sweeping south into Mexico, where they photographed a bullfight.
Back in San Francisco, the photographers arranged passage with a shipping firm, and in early February 1898 they embarked for Hong Kong via Yokohama on the SS Coptic. On their way, they filmed the ship as it was buffeted by a monsoon (S.S. "Coptic" Running Against the Storm). A group of films were taken in China and Japan, including Hong Kong Wharf Scene, Shanghai Police, and Theatre Road, Yokohama. Returning home on 10 May, White and Blechynden stopped in the recently acquired U.S. possession of Hawaii (Wharf Scene, Honolulu). By then, the United States was at war with Spain. A week later White reached the West Coast, took a few scenes relevant to the war (Troop Ships for Philippines), and headed East, seriously ill from his travels. The trip, which reflected White's adventurous spirit, found him on the wrong side of the world when war was declared.
During White's absence, William Heise's output included scenes of winter sports (Hockey Match on the Ice) and a baseball game. At the Black Maria he filmed dance scenes such as Charity Ball and a handful of one-shot comedies. What Demoralized the Barbershop, perhaps Heise's most ambitious studio production, may have been made about this time.10 In this elaboration on The Barbershop (1894), the all-male world of a cellar barbershop is disrupted by the unexpected display of the legs of two women. The customer receives a mouthful of shaving cream from the distracted barber. The women, apparently prostitutes, are trying to drum up business. Their legs, centered in the upper part of the frame, invited film spectators to look up the women's skirts along with the men in the barbershop. Once again, surrogate male spectators were placed in the scene. Remaining in the Newark area, Heise made little effort to take newsworthy, war-related events.
Other American producers of 35-mm films emphasized actualities much as the Edison Manufacturing Company did. In July 1897 Lubin offered a series of films that included Shooting the Chutes at Atlantic City; only Life Rescue at Atlantic City, in which a drowning person is saved by lifeguards, could be described as an acted subject. Lubin exhibited these and many local views at Bradenburgh's Ninth and Arch Dime Museum when it reopened in September; The Philadelphia City Hall, Scene on the Delaware River, and others competed with the local scenes that Biograph was then presenting at Keith's Philadelphia theater. In November,
after a brief hiatus, Lubin's cineograph returned to Bradenburgh's museum with new local views, including recent parades by the police and fire departments and the departure of two cyclists starting on a fifteen-thousand-mile trip. Lubin also sold these films to other exhibitors, sometimes making them more attractive by selective tinting. Advertisements for Sixty Minute Flyer announced that "the signal can be seen changing color."11
During the fall, Lubin established a working relationship with C. A. Bradenburgh. His Dime Museum not only became a reliable customer for Lubin's exhibition service, but he allowed Lubin to build an open-air studio on its rooftop. Indulging in some customary exaggeration, the "manufacturing optician" claimed that he had spent $100,000 building a complete film plant. Earlier he announced that he had hired experts previously associated with the Edison and Lumière companies. In fact, these two new employees were probably Jacob (James) Blair Smith and Arthur D. Hotaling, who had previously been connected with Peter Kiefaber, the former vitascope states rights owner. They worked under John J. Frawley, who headed Lubin's filmmaking activities. Among the fall productions were such fiction films as Burglar Caught in the Act and Lover in a Broker's Office, which Lubin's cineograph service showed not only in Philadelphia but in New York City and Louisville, Kentucky.12 Lubin's business was becoming one of regional importance.
Webster and Kuhn's International Film Company produced numerous actuality subjects, including a series made at New York's summer resort of Glen Island and another shot on a farm. The firm offered its clients a variety of dance scenes, train scenes, and comic vignettes. In Farmer's First Trip to Bergen Beach, a rube character runs after a street car and stumbles, whereupon his bag splits open, allowing a live duck to escape. According to the Phonoscope, "The struggle of Reuben to regain possession of his duck is most comical and laughable." Many films—for example, Loving Against Papa's Wishes and Passaic Falls—were remakes of rival companies' hits.13
Little is known about the activities of Edward Amet of Waukegan, Illinois. His films and magniscope continued to be available to exhibitors through the Kleine Optical Company in Chicago and McAllister in New York, but since their trade advertisements rarely specified titles, characterizations of Amet's work remain speculative. Modestly produced, they would appear to be consistent with the practices pursued by Lubin and the Edison Company. The heavy emphasis on actualities was particularly obvious in the case of Lumière films. Available to American showmen via Maguire & Baucus, these were almost exclusively travel scenes and foreign views of daily life.14 In contrast to the American Mutoscope Company, 35-mm producers heavily favored the making of actuality subjects.
For most producers, competition among rival firms was a reality of commercial life. For Thomas Edison, once the world's sole producer of motion pictures, competition often seemed the work of upstarts who were pirating his invention. As he and other inventors had done in the past, he sought recourse through the courts. Indeed, in the early motion-picture industry, commercial warfare involved a crucial legal dimension. Thomas Edison, Thomas Armat, and Woodville Latham generally sought to
have their patents recognized in the broadest possible terms so they could use them to control key parts of the industry. Since the Lathams' eidoloscope and Armat's vitascope enterprises were commercial failures, their principal recourse was through the courts. Biograph, in contrast, sought not only to have its own patents recognized but to invalidate or restrict those patents that threatened to curtail important parts of its business; only the company's mutoscope was safe from prior patent claims. Edison, however, was in a unique position because he headed a viable motion-picture company, the Edison Manufacturing Company, and had strong patent claims as well. Moreover, he could afford the legal costs better than most, while his mythic position in American culture gave him a psychological edge in these confrontations.
As mentioned in chapter 2, Edison's patent applications encountered difficulties in the U.S. Patent Office. All claims for application No. 403,534, which covered his method of taking and showing pictures, were rejected, first on 2 January 1892 and again on 15 October 1895. Waiting until 18 April 1896, the last day he could appeal and less than a week before the vitascope's debut at Koster & Bial's, the inventor's lawyers appealed and offered a new set of specifications. These were accepted on 28 December and created a patent-interference case, Casier et al. v. Edison, which was decided in Edison's favor on 26 March 1897. Shortly after the interference was dissolved, Biograph's Harry Marvin petitioned the commissioner of patents seeking authorization "to take depositions of witnesses to prove that the apparatus described and claimed in the application of Thomas A. Edison, filed August 24, 1891, Serial No. 403,534, was in use for more than two years prior to the date of making any claim for said apparatus in this application." Marvin maintained that the new specifications were for an entirely different invention from the one Edison had originally submitted. In his ruling of 31 July 1897, however, Commissioner Benjamin Butterworth threw out the petition on a technicality. Edison's patent for a motion-picture camera, No. 589,168, was issued a month later, on 31 August. Marvin later insisted that fraud was involved.15
With a broad patent, Edison's lawyers prepared to bring suit against the inventor's commercial rivals on both the new patent, No. 589,168, and kinetoscope patent No. 493,426, granted 14 March 1893. On 7 December 1897 Edison filed two suits against Charles H. Webster and Edmund Kuhn individually and as members of the International Film Company. On that same day, he also brought suit against Maguire & Baucus Limited, the principal selling agent for International and Lumière films and the bioscope projector. The following month he sued Sigmund Lubin in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Edward H. Amet in the Northern District of Illinois. The International Film Company hesitated, uncertain whether it should fight the case or retire from the field. In February, after suffering a serious fire, Webster and Kuhn decided not to contest the suit and agreed to close their film plant. Deterred by the enormous expense involved in litigation, they chose "to rest on their oars (with two years' handsome profit) and let the larger fish foot the bill of litigation." Maguire & Baucus also declined to contest the suits and arranged with Edison to sell Lumière films under special license. They stopped selling the Urban bioscope in the United States and concentrated most of their energies on business opportunities in England. Lubin and Amet, however, contested the suits. Because Edison lawyers were not eager to pursue cases outside the New York area, these two cases were not brought to a hearing.16
Edison brought further actions in the Southern District of New York instead. The Eden Musee and its president, Richard Hollaman, producer of The Passion Play of Oberammergau, were served with a warrant on 8 February; the makers of the rival Horitz Passion Play were sued a short time later. Rather than contest the suit, Richard Hollaman became an Edison licensee, and prints of The Passion Play of Oberammergau were sold through the newly licensed F. Z. Maguire and Company. When Klaw & Erlanger hesitated in settling the Edison suit, the inventor announced his intention to prosecute anyone showing an "unauthorized version" of the passion play and backed it up by suing Augustin C. Daly, whose New York theater was showing the Horitz films. The latter case was quickly discontinued after Klaw, Erlanger, and Freeman came to a licensing agreement with Edison. This involved the outright sale of film prints, with Edison receiving a 7¢-per-foot royalty or $168 per complete 2,400-foot set for the first four sets. For subsequent sets the Edison Company would receive 16¢ per foot or $384 per set, though it was also responsible for manufacturing the films.17 Klaw & Erlanger thus encountered heavy additional expenses on top of the royalties already owed the Horitz performers. Outright sales, moreover, undermined a policy of retaining exclusive exhibition rights.
Edison also sued Walter S. Isaacs, manufacturer of the Urban bioscope as well as his own cinematograph projector. Like others, Isaacs was unwilling to challenge the famous inventor. When the Veriscope Company was sued and proved ready to defend its interests, Edison lawyers found it a difficult target, since its films of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight were made prior to the issuance of Edison's patent.18
After intimidating most New York-based 35-mm film producers and equipment manufacturers, Edison sued the American Mutoscope Company and Benjamin F. Keith on 13 May 1898.19 Biograph was not only a large, profitable concern but one that used its own unique system of motion-picture technology, and the company undertook a spirited defense: even a preliminary ruling would be more than three years away. Nonetheless, Edison had greatly strengthened his company's commercial position. Some competitors had gone out of business, while others were operating under an Edison license.
Legal complexities also occurred with projection patents. Once Patent Interference No. 18,032, Jenkins v. and Armat, had been dismissed on 24 February 1897, and their phantoscope patent, No. 586,953, had been granted on 20 July 1897, Armat and T. Cushing Daniel brought suit against the American Mutoscope Company and Benjamin Keith. Yet this case was discontinued, as Herman Casler—with the backing of the American Mutoscope Company—challenged the patent's validity in two other patent-interference cases. In Casier v. Armat, Patent Interference No. 18.460, Casier successfully argued that certain fundamental aspects of the Jenkins-Armat patents had been anticipated by Étienne-Jules Marey, who had intended to use his camera as a projector. Projection of motion-picture film was not something Jenkins and Armat could claim to have invented per se.20 Patent Interference No. 18,461, Edward H. Amet, Woodville Latham, and Herman Casier v. Thomas Armat, was undertaken as Casler and Latham unsuccessfully—and from different perspectives—tried to have the Jenkins-Armat patent thrown out. Latham, of course, wanted his claim for prior projection to be accepted, while Casler continued to seek rulings that would limit the patent's commercial impact and value. Biograph was confident of its ability to prosper in an American market where patents did not play an important role. In contrast, Edison and Armat each wanted to use their respective patents to regain a dominant position in the industry. The courts would not rule on the merits of these cases until the beginning of the new century.
As commercial warfare within the film industry was reaching new levels of intensity, the United States found itself involved in a real war. On 15 February 1898, the day Edison brought suit against Klaw & Erlanger, the USS Maine blew up in Havana Harbor. Although the cause of the explosion was never definitively established, commentators suggested that a Spanish mine or torpedo was responsible. Anti-Spanish, pro-Cuban sentiment in the United States was strong, and many Americans wanted their country to assert its power and even begin to build an overseas empire. However, proponents of American imperialism were matched by strong isolationist supporters. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst wanted war and filled his newspapers with lurid accounts of Spanish atrocities, but President William McKinley was initially reluctant to start such a conflict.
The Cuban crisis and the Spanish-American War revived the film industry after a brief period of commercial difficulty. Even Biograph had been struggling; although its year-long run continued in Keith's Boston house, Keith's Philadelphia and New York theaters terminated their biograph engagements early in 1898. This was an ominous sign, although many leading vaudeville theaters still employed the service. In Chicago, where films had not been shown—or at least advertised—for eight weeks during the fall and early winter of 1897-1898, Hopkins' Theater added the Biograph service beginning Monday, 7 February. J. Austin Fynes, former manager of Keith's Union Square Theater and recently made head of the rival Proctor organization, hired a biograph for the Pleasure Palace on East Fifty-eighth Street, where it opened on 14 February. From these theaters came the patriotic wave that tossed Biograph to new heights.
Although Hearst and other newspaper editors sought to fan American outrage over the Maine, reading their inflamed rhetoric remained a private act. It was in the theater that their readers' emotions found public expression. According to the New York Tribune:
There is no other place where it is so easy to get the people of New York together as in a theatre…. So it is naturally to the theatres that one turns to find public sentiment expressed. As far as there is any record it was Daly's Theatre that began it. About the second night after the Maine was sunk the orchestra at Daly's played "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Yankee Doodle" between the acts and the audience showed its approval of the tunes in no uncertain manner.
The next night half the theatres in town were doing things of the same sort or were announcing what they were going to do as soon as they could make the necessary elaborate preparations. And they all did it. The determination seems to have been to stir the audience with the sight of a flag or the sound of a tune at every possible or impossible opportunity (25 February 1898, p. 3).
If an American flag touched off a demonstration, imagine the effect of a lifelike image of the Maine in all its glory. Biograph did not have such an image, but it was easily created. A few months earlier, Biograph had fortuitously filmed Battleships "Iowa" and "Massachusetts;" now the film was relabeled Battleships "Maine" and "Iowa" (No. 367), put into the theaters, and prominently advertised. It became an instant hit. In Chicago, the New York World reported, "there was fifteen minutes of terrific shouting … when the battleships Maine and Iowa were shown in the biograph manoeuvering off Fortress Monroe. The audience arose, cheered and cheered again, and the climax was reached when a picture of Uncle Sam under the flag was thrown on the canvas." These pictures were quickly augmented by other "patriotic subjects"; scenes of Grant Day and of American cavalry charging the camera were "cheered to the echo."21
Looking for new subjects to enrich its exhibitions, Biograph filmed Spanish Battleship "Vizcaya" (No. 443) on 28 February, while the vessel was paying a visit to New York. Unable to film Captain Charles Sigsbee, commander of the Maine, or
Consul General Fitzhugh Lee, who was responsible for investigating its sinking, Bio-graph filmed them "in counterpart." First exhibited during the second week in March, even this "counterfeit presentment" was deemed "highly instructive" by the press.22
The political demonstrations that had greeted scenes of presidential candidate McKinley were being revived, but images of McKinley, the reluctant warrior, now received as many boos as cheers. An extensive report of one exhibition at Proctor's Pleasure Palace suggests how the skillful manipulation of images and text (via the magic lantern) could affect the audience:
Loud applause followed the production on canvas of life-like pictures of the Thirteenth Regiment on parade, a cavalry charge and sailors marching in review before Grant's Tomb.
The Spanish ship Vizcaya was exhibited crossing the bar. But no demonstration was made until a huge illuminated sign was shown bearing this inscription:
"No hidden mines here."
This brought men and women to their feet, and for several minutes the place was in a tumble.
But the most remarkable demonstration was to come near the close of the performance. The pictures of Capt. Sigsbee and Consul General Lee had been loudly cheered. Next came an excellent likeness of President McKinley. For a moment there was silence, followed by some hand clapping and an equal amount of jeers and hisses.
The operator of the biograph was equal to the emergency, and quickly flashed on the canvas the Stars and Stripes. Then the good humor of the crowd was restored, and as the curtain went down they shrieked their approval (New York World, 8 March 1898, p. 4).
The situation varied from city to city. In Rochester, where the biograph opened in late March, a film of the Vizcaya had to be eliminated from the program. According to the Rochester Post Express, "At first the audience hissed and with every performance there were indications of an approaching storm. Finally the gallery gods showed their disapproval with potatoes and other garden truck, and as the management did not care to start a grocery, the obnoxious picture has been permanently removed." In Boston, where war fever and patriotic display were less pronounced, the biograph was given little prominence; likewise, the biograph and its war views were not brought back to Keith's Philadelphia theater until April.23
Harry Marvin, Wallace McCutcheon, and other Biograph executives quickly recognized the production opportunities offered by the Cuban crisis. By early 1898, they had three camera units in almòst constant operation: one in Boston, another in New York, and a third in New Orleans filming The Mardi Gras Carnival (No. 452) and other scenes. Shortly after the Maine was sunk, cameramen G. W. Bitzer and Arthur Marvin (Harry Marvin's brother) headed south to Cuba. Despite the high cost of the trip (subsequently estimated at one thousand dollars), Biograph executives were
determined to acquire pictures of the sunken Maine and events occurring on Cuban soil.24 Once in Tampa, the photographers were forced to wait, impatiently filling their time by shooting Fighting Roosters in Florida (No. 459) and other scenes. Finally, they reached Havana and filmed Divers at Work on the Wreck of the "Maine" (No. 476), and The Wreck of the "Maine" (No. 477) from a circling tugboat. Landing in Cuba, the crew took The Christian Herald's Relief Station, Havana (No. 475), A Run of the Havana Fire Department (No. 479), and Cuban Reconcentrados (No. 484). In the meantime another camera crew headed to the Washington, D.C.-Virginia area and filmed Launching the Battleship "Kentucky" (No. 483) at Newport News, Virginia, Bareback Riding, Sixth U.S.
Cavalry (No. 486) at Fort Myers, Virginia, and Theodore Roosevelt (No. 490), which showed the assistant secretary of the navy outside the White House. In the words of the New York Clipper, these films, which reached American screens during the last week of March as peace and war hung in the balance, guaranteed that "the patriotic feelings of the audience invariably get plenty of fresh and sterling material for frequent outbursts." Advertisements read, "Peace at Any Price! Do We Want It? Read the Answer in the Wonderful Biograph." It was excellent business. With the biograph in demand, the company charged several hundred dollars for a week-long exhibition.25
In mid May, the American Mutoscope Company listed seventeen American cities where the biograph was enjoying extensive runs.26 Rival managers competed for its services. Fynes's acquisition of the biograph for Proctor's vaudeville circuit distressed and embarrassed the Keith organization and may well have encouraged the circuit's reorganization. While each local manager had formerly been responsible for hiring acts in his own theater, all acts were now booked under the direct supervision of E. F. Albee.27 Albee used his leverage to reacquire the biograph for Keith's Union Square Theater—taking it away from Proctor's—beginning 25 April, a few days after Spain declared war on the United States. In large cities several theater managers wanted the Biograph service, but the company's contracts were customarily made on an exclusive basis for a given locality. Satisfying the demand for war films thus opened up opportunities for exhibitors using 35-mm films.
The sinking of the battleship Maine occurred at a time when the 35-mm portion of the film industry was in disarray. The International Film Company photographed a sister ship of the Maine and passed it off as an authentic film of the Maine taken in Havana Harbor before the disaster, but the company itself was going out of business.28 At Edison, James White, manager of the kinetograph department, was on his way to the Far East, leaving behind William Heise, who was incapable of responding to the demands and opportunities created by the war. In addition, Edison's general manager, William Gilmore, had many responsibilities and little expertise when it came to production. Since Edison's new licensees—particularly sales agents Maguire & Baucus and the Eden Musee—needed films pertinent to the Cuban crisis if they were to compete successfully with Biograph, they were forced to fill in for the absent White. F. Z. Maguire arranged for William Paley, the Eden Musee's cinematographer, to become an Edison licensee and cover the Cuban crisis. The Edison Manufacturing Company agreed to provide Paley with negative stock and to pay him fifteen dollars for every 50-foot negative they accepted, plus a royalty of thirty cents for each print that was sold (with double and triple the amounts for 100-foot and 150-foot subjects).29 Maguire also arranged for the New York Journal to provide Paley with transportation to Cuba, a position on one of its news yachts, and a collaborator—reporter Karl C. Decker. The Hearst organization, recognizing the propaganda value of these films, happily cooperated with Edison as well as Biograph.
Paley arrived in Key West in time to film Burial of the "Maine" Victims on 27 March. This 150-foot subject showed a procession of nine hearses, each draped with an American flag. Other films taken at that locale included War Correspondents, a staged scene in which correspondents race to the cable office to telegraph news to their newspapers, and U.S. Monitor "Terror," showing one of the warships coaling at the nearby wharf. Putting out to sea on a Journal yacht, Paley was able to photograph Cruiser "Detroit," U.S. Battleship "Iowa," and other scenes of
warships in the Dry Tortugas, the open water west of Key West. Although Paley's camera lacked a panning mechanism, Hearst's boat was a convenient moving platform; from it the cameraman also took sweeping traveling shots for Wreck of the Battleship "Maine" and "Morro Castle," Havana Harbor. The films were shown for the first time at the Eden Musee on 18 April, copyrighted by Edison the next week, and quickly offered for sale by Maguire.
In mid April, as war became increasingly likely, Biograph and Edison cameramen returned to Florida and Cuba. While Biograph photographed a captured Spanish ship (No. 523, Capture of the "Panama") in the opening days of the war, most of its films were taken at military camps where soldiers trained and awaited orders. In Roosevelt Rough Riders (No. 642), shot at Tampa Bay, the horse soldiers of Theodore Roosevelt's popular military unit were filmed in two takes from a single camera position. First they charged the camera, and then they galloped across the frame, offering a side view; the troops were shown from two perspectives but without any attempt to construct a spatially or temporally continuous world. Among Biograph's other noteworthy titles were Admiral Cervera and Spanish Officers Leaving "St. Louis" (No. 703), made of war prisoners at Annapolis, Maryland, on 16 July, and The Wreck of the "Vizcaya" (No. 707), shot off the coast of Santiago on 3 July:30 both suggest Biograph's willingness to expend considerable resources for an attention-grabbing picture. In early September, once the war had ended, its cameramen made additional films at Camp Wikoff on Montauk Point, Long Island (President McKinley's Inspection of Camp Wikoff, No. 783), and Camp Meade, Pennsylvania (22ND Regiment, Kansas Volunteers, No. 785). Later that month, they staged and filmed numerous battle scenes at Camp Meade, including The Last Stand (No. 799), In the Trenches (No. 802), and Defense of the
Flag (No. 804), but long after Lubin had produced re-enactment films of this kind.
Despite its deep commitment to war-related actualities, Biograph continued to produce a wide range of comedies and acted films. Of the one hundred productions between Nos. 600 and 699 (roughly from early June to early July 1898), seventy-seven were photographed in the studio, and seventy-nine could be called acted, fiction films. Although this sampling overrepresents Biograph's output of fiction material, it was not a fluke. Of the ninety-seven productions listed from Nos. 700 to 799, forty were fictional in nature. In many cases, the rooftop stage was dressed as either an army camp or the deck of a ship. Thus, in Uncle Rube's Visit to a Man o' War (No. 588), sailors play a practical joke: they lead a farmer to a soap-covered deck area where he loses his balance and falls. In He Wanted Too Much for His Pies (No. 584), a farmer visits an army camp and, after demanding high prices for his pies, has them pushed in his face.
Other studio productions, such as Trying to Skin the Cat (No. 634) and Doing Her Big Brother's Tricks on the Bar (No. 635), offered the customary scenes of women doing acrobatics that reveal their underclothing. In A Windy Corner (No. 643), a girl crosses a grate and her dress blows up. Within a framework of male voyeurism established by the filmmakers, women spectators were allowed to revel in the pleasures of exhibitionism via their screen counterparts. Although the intent was to elicit a certain "naughty" pleasure from both men and women, other reactions from spectators were possible, either separately or in combination. Women could share in the voyeuristic pleasure, partaking of the male gaze in a way that polite society found disconcerting. Of course, members of both sexes were sometimes shocked by the suggestive nature of the images and peephole viewing.
Short Biograph comedies often presented sexuality as a source of social disruption and personal embarrassment. In How the Ballet Girl Was Smuggled into Camp (No. 592), military discipline is breached as two soldiers sneak a woman into camp in a large barrel, while in A Time and a Place for Everything (No. 702), a man kisses a maid and she drops the dishes as a result. Authority is frequently challenged, outwitted, or lampooned. In How the Athletic Lover Outwitted the Old Man (No. 608, also listed as The Athletic Lover), the father spies on his daughter's "lovemaking" by climbing onto a chair and looking through the transom. Preparing to shoot her lover with a rifle, he makes some noise that alerts the couple. When the young man races out the door to see the source of the sound, he knocks the father to the ground. This comic defeat of the oedipal father lends itself to a psychoanalytic reading.
Figures who represent the law often use this power to their own ends. In Military Discipline (No. 593), a sentry is wooing an attractive woman when his superior officer appears, orders the private back to work, and walks away with the girl. Women without men are frequently ridiculed, as can be seen in this Biograph description of The Old Maid and the Burglar (No. 700):
This old maid has been looking under her bed for years for a man. At last she finds one, as our picture shows, who happens to be a burglar; but that makes no difference to the old maid, and she promptly falls on his neck and gives him an effusive welcome, much to his surprise and disgust (Picture Catalogue, November 1902, p. 17).
The burglar pays for his transgressions by receiving the undesired attentions of a desperate old maid. Some comedies, such as How Bridget Served the Salad Undressed (No. 539, copyrighted as No Salad Dressing Wanted), were made at the expense of ethnic groups, in this case the "thick-headed" Irish. Bridget is asked to serve the salad "undressed," so she takes off her clothes before entering the dining room. (As Patrick Loughney has shown, this joke had been presented earlier as a comic photograph.31)
The Edison Company's percentage of acted, fiction films was much lower than Biograph's. Of the fifty-nine subjects Edison copyrighted in June, July, and August 1898, only five could be comfortably placed in this category, and two of these had been previously copyrighted in May. Fake Beggar, shot on the street, shows a legless, blind beggar who is given alms by passersby. When a coin misses his cup, the beggar picks it up, exposing his charade to a nearby policeman. To escape, he stands up and runs away. Cuban Ambush and Shooting Captured Insurgents were staged battle scenes probably shot in New Jersey.
The Edison films in greatest demand were made by William Paley, who returned to Florida just before the declaration of war. Because he was transported and housed by the New York Journal, the trip was expected to cost Edison and Maguire & Baucus almost nothing. In Tampa, Paley filmed American troops preparing for the invasion of Cuba (U.S. Cavalry Supplies Unloading at Tampa, Florida; Roosevelt's Rough Riders Embarking for Santiago; etc.). Many of these scenes suffered from poor frame registration on Paley's Gaumont camera (see, for example, Colored Troops Disembarking). Paley accompanied reporters covering the Cuba invasion (Mules Swimming Ashore at Daiquiri) and filmed various scenes behind American lines (Troops Making Military Road in Front of Santiago). Finally, the intrepid cameraman found a wagon to take his bulky camera from Siboney on the coast to El Caney, where General William Shaffer's headquarters were located. The cart broke down en route, however, and Paley spent a rainy night in the open with his camera. While the cart was fixed the next morning, his camera no longer worked, and Paley soon came down with a fever. He returned to Siboney with the help of Charles H. Hand, a correspondent for the London Daily Mail, and reached New York seriously ill. Bitzer of Biograph likewise suffered serious illness from his Cuba sojourn and was unable to work for several months thereafter.32
Even before Paley's films were marketed in April, the Cuban crisis enabled many 35-mm exhibitors to find new venues or to return to old ones. Lubin's cineograph was reengaged as the headline attraction at Bradenburgh's museum in late March with "an Extensive Series of Genuine and Realistic Views of Scenes and Incidents Relating to the Maine." In Jersey City, New Jersey, a Lumière cinematographe that featured war films opened in a storefront at the beginning of April and drew large crowds. New York City theaters also added a group of films to their programs. At Huber's Museum, Minnie Schult sang patriotic tunes illustrated with moving pictures, including "The Battleship Maine Song." By May, motion pictures were being shown in at least seven New York theaters—an all-time high. In most cases, these exhibition services were labeled "the wargraph" or "warscope," generic titles that often make identification of the specific showman extremely difficult.33
New York exhibitors enjoyed unique advantages during the war. In no other city did chauvinistic feelings produce a comparable demand for films. In Boston, for example, only two or three theaters had motion pictures on their bill. Since each
New York theater manager generally demanded an exclusive arrangement with the exhibition service that he hired, a strong need existed for additional showmen. Eberhard Schneider, the German immigrant who had shown films at the Eden Musee in the early part of 1897 (until the fire noted in chapter 6), prospered in part because of his development of a refraining device. Since the beginning of projection, exhibitors had been plagued by films jumping out of the projector sprockets so that the frame line ran across the middle of the screen. The operator then had to stop his machine and rethread the film before the screening could resume. With the technological improvement of a reframing device, an operator could make a quick adjustment while continuing his projection. Any exhibitor who could assure theater managers that their programs would avoid these embarrassing interruptions had a clear advantage. Schneider's service thus filled the void at Proctor's Pleasure Palace when the biograph returned to Keith's. Schneider also found a number of opportunities outside New York City.34
J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith owed much to the Spanish-American War. Seeking out new ways to make a living, the partners started the Commercial Advertising Bureau and rented a small office at 140 Nassau Street, New York City, in late December 1897. By spring they owned two outdoor "branches" where advertising slides and films were being projected onto canvas. Shortly after selling one branch for $250 in mid April, they bought a group of Paley war films for $87 and broke into vaudeville exhibition at the Central Opera House at Sixty-seventh Street and Third Avenue, in New York City. For this new enterprise, which they called American Vitagraph, the partners received $47.50 a week for two weeks. That month Blackton and Smith made two important steps that brought them to the forefront as an exhibition service: first, they modified their projectors by adding a reframing device, thus improving the quality of their exhibitions; they also purchased another Edison projecting kinetoscope and turned it into a camera.35 Entries in the Commercial Advertising Bureau's account books for 19 May indicate that the firm bought two naval books, gunpowder, and sensitized film. These were undoubtedly for Battle of Manila Bay, a miniaturized reenactment of Dewey's great naval victory, which had occurred two weeks earlier. This and other productions helped them to break into first-class vaudeville at Proctor's. After Blackton performed his chalk act at Proctor's New York vaudeville houses for two weeks in June, manager J. Austin Fynes hired the vitagraph service for his Twenty-third Street house.
Blackton and Smith soon encountered Thomas Edison's legal arm in a situation that was precipitated by their desperate shortage of cash. Unwilling to sell their own films—their exclusive control of these films made vitagraph exhibitions attractive to theatrical managers—they chose to generate additional income by selling duplicates of Paley's copyrighted films for seven dollars each. Among the visitors to Blackton and Smith's Nassau Street office on 2 June were Eugene Elmore, who was in charge of film exhibitions at the Eden Musee; Edwin S. Porter, now Elmore's assistant; and a salesman for Maguire & Baucus. They acquired the necessary evidence, and in mid July Edison filed three suits, two for patent infringement and one for copyright violation.36 Blackton and Smith panicked. The two young men had no money to fight the cases; moreover, they were challenged by one of America's great popular heroes and felt certain to lose. The next day, both men visited Edison's general manager, William Gilmore, and worked out a deal. If they did not contest the lawsuits, they would be allowed to work as Edison licensees, to take films for their own exhibitions, and to sell prints of their original subjects through the Edison Manufacturing Company under an arrangement similar to William Paley's. Blackton and Smith's talents as performers were valuable assets that helped them win such an agreement, since White, Heise, and Paley had little experience in making the acted films that were an important component of Biograph's output. The young partners were also willing to turn over their reframing device, allowing it to be incorporated into Edison's projecting kinetoscope. The result of the Edison-Vitagraph confrontation was a new working relationship that benefited all concerned, at least for the short term.
Exhibitor William Rock noted Blackton and Smith's rapid settlement of the lawsuits and made some rapid calculatons. Rock, one of the few vitascope states rights owners still in the film business, had moved his base of operations to New York City, where he was running a small film exchange. The showman remained on friendly terms with Thomas Armat, who authorized him to sue "Proctor, of Proctor's Theatre, and the party or parties who have the animated picture apparatus at said theatre, which said apparatus is an infringement upon my U.S. patent No. 578,185, if they refuse to pay a royalty."37 Rock threatened Proctor, Blackton, and Smith with a lawsuit. Perhaps he was hoping to supplant Vitagraph at Proctor's Theater or to receive a percentage of Armat's royalty. From Proctor's perspective, the Vitagraph service, with its exclusive subjects and reframing device, was not easily discarded. Instead of litigation, the parties formed a new alliance, with Rock joining American Vitagraph as a third partner—without in any way compromising his own independent motion picture business. As part of this peace agreement, Vitagraph may have received a contract to exhibit films at Proctor's Pleasure Palace, beginning on Labor Day, 5 September. Profits had to be divided another way, but the two young men had gained an older, more experienced partner, whom they came to call "Pop."
Chicago was another center of war-related motion-picture activity. A magniscope opened at the Clark Street Museum with war scenes on 2 May and remained into the fall. As was the case with most exhibition services, the machine became known as the "wargraph." Whether it was run by George Spoor is not known. A cinematograph that showed films at the Schiller Theater for one week in mid May, however, was apparently owned by William Selig. The demand for Spanish-American War films had encouraged Selig to move into production, and he shot a series of pictures depicting life at Camp Tanner in Springfield, Illinois. According to the Chicago Inter-Ocean, the "Cinematographe Views," including Soldiers at Play, Wash Day in Camp, and First Regiment Marching, were "a feature which caught the crowds … and were cheered to the echo."38
Edward Amet also continued to make films for sale during the war. Although he took scenes of military camp life, his most successful and elaborate productions featured naval battles done with miniatures. Advertisements strongly implied that
these were photographed accounts of actual battles. Thus, according to a description of Bombardment of Matanzas:
The new TELESCOPIC LENS is a triumph of modern photography. It is possible to obtain accurate pictures at very long range. This is a most marvelous picture; in the distance can be seen the mountains and shore line where are located the Spanish batteries. The flag ship New York and monitor Puritan are in full action pouring tons of iron and steel at the masked batteries on the shore. Volumes of smoke burst from the monster guns, while shot and shell fall thick and fast. Some shells are seen to burst in the air, scattering their deadly missiles in all directions, while others explode in the sea, throwing volumes of water in the air. A final shot from one of the thirteen inch guns of the Puritan lands exactly in the centre of the main battery, completely blowing it out of existence. 600 feet of this engagement was taken and it has been cut down to 100 feet, using only the best and most interesting parts. Price of this film only $30 (Clipper, 2 July 1898, p. 302).
Flickering and other flaws in the 35-mm projection system were still severe enough to help obscure at least some of the fake qualities.39 Other films of this type included Flagship "New York" Under Way, Firing Broadside at Cabanas, Dynamite Cruiser "Vesuvius," and Spanish Fleet Destroyed, which, according to one
advertisement, showed "Cruiser Vizcaya under heavy fire, beached and burned."40 In addition to scenes of military activities, Amet filmed allegorical tableaux such as Freedom of Cuba.
Sigmund Lubin's business boomed as he produced and exhibited war-related subjects. At the outset of the war, he acquired a new, more mobile camera and used it to film The Big Monitor "Miantonomah" as the vessel left the Cramps Navy Yard in Philadelphia on 22 April. Other actualities were taken in the Philadelphia area over the next months and shown at the local Woodside Park. When President McKinley visited Camp Alger, near Falls Church, Virginia, a Lubin cameraman photographed 15,000 Soldiers Reviewed by the Pres. at Camp Alger, May 28 and related scenes. Other Lubin views were taken at Camp Chickamauga, in the north-west corner of Georgia. By foot, considerably less than Edison's twenty-cent-a-foot sale price.41
Lubin, perhaps encouraged by the success of his fight films taken with "counterparts," soon began to stage battle scenes. In late June he was selling "Four New Battle Films of the Spanish American War Just Received from the Battlefield": Capture of a Spanish Fort near Santiago, Battle of Guantanamo, Hoisting the American Flag at Cavite, and Fighting near Santiago. "In these films can be seen the dead and wounded, and the dismantled cannon lying on the battlefield," Lubin ads announced. "The men are seen struggling for their lives, and the American flag proudly floats over them and can be plainly seen through the dense smoke."42 Others such as Execution of the Spanish Spy and Spanish Infantry Attacking American Soldiers in Camp quickly followed. These were only 50 to 100 feet in length, but After the Battle, which showed priests and nuns administering the last rites, was 200 feet long and yielded over three minutes of screen time. In every case, however, an exhibitor could purchase the length that he desired in 50-foot segments; After the Battle was thus sold in 50-, 100-, and 200-foot lengths.
The war boom extended to other forms of projected images as well. Special sets of war-related lantern slides were placed on the market, and many illustrated lectures on the subject were offered. Lubin claimed to be selling over one thousand different slides on Cuba and the war plus twenty-two illustrated songs. With Biograph and other urban exhibition services offering a visual newspaper of up-to-date news films, several prominent vaudeville managers introduced the stereopticon to their vaudeville theaters on a similar basis. In early February 1898 Keith's Boston theater "introduced the idea of picturing current events by means of stereopticon slides, starting with scenes in and around Boston during the recent blizzard, pictures of men who were lost in the Merrimac street fire and reproductions of the Herald's picture of Señor Lomé and the cartoon that accompanied it." A few weeks later, Keith's ads declared that Professor George H. Gies's stereopticon album was "commanding as much applause as any feature in the show. " At Keith's Philadelphia theater, Professor Mapes's stereopticon showed local and patriotic views for many weeks prior to the biograph's return.43 During the summer, Keith's large Sunday advertisements often devoted over half their space to listing the stereopticon views being shown. These and the biograph were clearly the featured acts on the program. The stereopticon thus acquired a permanent place at Keith's theaters.
Slides and films were commonly interwoven to produce unified programs, not just by a few travel lecturers but within the larger world of amusement. By November 1897, William B. Moore of the Stereopticon and Film Exchange in Chicago was offering a "Stereoptigraph, a Combination Moving Picture Machine and Stereopticon. Something radically new." While British dealers had offered this combination at an earlier date, Moore's machine was an American innovation that was promptly and widely imitated by almost every domestic manufacturer. As Lubin's advertisements for his "Cineograph and Stereopticon Combined" explained, exhibitors wanted to be capable of interspersing slides and film in the course of a single program. The general shortage of films as well as their expense encouraged Maguire & Baucus and many other sales agents to sell slides of Cuba and the Maine along with their films.44
All exhibitors, not just those creating evening-length single-subject programs, held important creative responsibilities. As already noted in chapter 6, the initial approach to organizing slides and films was largely based on principles of variety. The survival—and mastery—of this "noncontinuous program" is well exemplified by the presentations of Eberhard Schneider. In his opening show at Fox's Pleasure Palace in Reading, Pennsylvania, the sixteen-film program included six war-related subjects, from a cavalry charge and a view of the USS Iowa to a patriotic finale with "Old Glory," but these war images were always separated from one another by vastly different subjects from the repertoire of comedy, travel, dance, melodrama, boxing, and the like:
- The Gardener
- Cavalry Charge
- The Alarm
- Cubans Firing Dynamite Gun
- Annabelle Butterfly Dance
- USS Iowa
- Panorama Scene from a Moving Train
- Negroes Eating Water Melon
- Barracks in Havana
- A Warm Reception
- Storm at Sea
- Boxing Match
- Fun in Camp
- Old Glory45
This emphasized variety but also encouraged spectators mentally to reorder scenes so as to form other kinds of connections.
By 1898, however, programs that offered a much higher degree of continuity were very common. Biograph, for example, often presented complete sets of war views:
New Haven Journal-Courier, 21 April 1898, p. 3">
Now that we are going to have war sure New Haven people wish to realize what it is all about and what we have to do it with. The great American biograph at Poli's Wonderland theater gives the answer in the most important series of views ever shown by the machine. There is the case of the Maine, shown both before and after her destruction, not a mere picture but a view on all sides, for the machine was carried around the vessel and wreck in each instance, giving the view such as one could obtain while in a boat sailing around the object biographed. This by no means ends the series of views. Another shows the divers at work on the wreck, and still more show the Spanish cruiser Vizcaya, under full headway, General Lee leaving his hotel, when he started to make that memorable farewell call to Blanco, a rattling cavalry charge, a review of marines, President McKinley, Captain Sigsbee, who now commands the Yale, Cuba's flag, "Old Glory," all the Yankee cruisers, gunboats and torpedo boats and the crew of the Maine (New Haven Journal-Courier, 21 April 1898, p. 3).
This series utilized some phenomenological continuity, for the first group of films were all taken on board ship, causing at least one susceptible spectator to fear seasickness. This and other Biograph programs also offered couplets of contrasting shots. Thus the Maine was shown before and after the explosion. For a later couplet entitled "Before and After Taking Uncle Sam's Medicine, " the Vizcaya was first shown leaving New York Harbor and then wrecked off Santiago Bay. Lubin's programs, which used both slides and films, were usually grouped by subject matter and at least in some instances were accompanied by "A Brilliant Descriptive Lecture." New York's Eden Musee made a regular practice of focusing each program on a single subject. Some groupings merely consisted of scenes that were thematically related, as in late May, when Musee employees Eugene Elmore and Edwin Porter showed "scenes in and about Key West and Tampa, Florida." Other programs, however, had a clear narrative line. Once the war was over, the Musee showmen offered "a panorama of the whole war." According to their announcements: "The moving picture scenes begin with the arrival of the soldiers at Tampa, and it includes the various
important movements that followed up to the surrender of Santiago. Over twenty views are shown."46
Lyman H. Howe's program for the fall of 1898 also focused on the war. Although it was introduced by a selection of miscellaneous views, the veteran exhibitor followed these with several series of war films. The first began with The 71st Regiment of New York, showing the unit on parade before it left for the front, and then shifted to Tampa with the arrival of troops and the subsequent embarkation for Cuba. It culminated with Thrilling War Scene, depicting the defense of the American flag. After an interval of stereopticon slides, Howe shifted his focus from the army to the navy, retelling the history of the war, but this time exclusively with naval scenes.
These began with Battleship "Maine" before the vessel left New York harbor and included a faked picture showing the explosion of the Maine, a few scenes of American warships, and then Amet's battle reenactments, culminating with The Bombardment of Matanzas.47 Howe's audience experienced the joys of victory not once but twice in the course of the evening.
J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith also devoted one of two evening programs they gave while on vacation in Martha's Vineyard to an illustrated war lecture, "With Dewey at Manilla," for which Blackton posed as an eyewitness. Similar, though more authentic, eyewitness accounts were offered by travel lecturers such as Dwight Elmendorf. Many other exhibitors toured the country with their wargraphs and warscopes during the 1898-1899 theatrical season, each one offering his own distinctive selection and organization of motion-picture and stereopticon views.
In the wake of the novelty era, the American industry struggled to find its direction. The commencement of the motion-picture patent wars in late 1897 (which would not be fully resolved for another fifteen years) only added to the demoralization. But before this malaise reached crisis proportions, the Spanish-American War gave the industry new hope and new opportunities. Its more hardy, astute members filled the screen with emotionally charged images and enjoyed renewed prosperity. On an unprecedented and previously unimagined scale, they demonstrated cinema's value as a visual newspaper and as propaganda. Moving pictures had a tangible effect on the way Americans experienced a distant war. Much has been written about the yellow journalism and jingoistic press of Hearst and Pulitzer, but cinema complemented these efforts in a way that made them much more powerful and effective. Moving pictures projected a sense of national glory and outrage. It would be a gross exaggeration to say that the cinema launched a new era of American imperialism. But cinema had found a role beyond narrow amusement, and this sudden prominence coincided with a new era of overseas expansion and military intervention. Who can say what fantasies of power audiences experienced in those darkened halls, and how these emotions continued to resonate outside the theater?