The Proliferation of Motion Picture Companies and an Assessment of the Novelty Year
6The Phantoscope and Other Projectors
The Proliferation of Motion Picture Companies and an Assessment of the Novelty Year
Edison Breaks with Raff & Gammon
A Flood of Projecting Machines
The Biograph at Home and Abroad
The Lumière Cinématographe in Decline
Assessing the Novelty Year: Sound and Image
The Arrangement of Scenes
The Motion-Picture Operator
Audiences and Cultural Groups
The number of motion-picture companies increased rapidly during the 1896–1897 theatrical season. These enterprises no longer tried to develop their own selfcontained technological systems but adopted and adapted one already in existence: the 35-mm format with Edison perforations. While an astoundingly large number of firms made projectors that could handle Edison films, only a few actually began to produce their own films. The impetus behind this production of projectors and films came from the many independent exhibitors who began showing motion pictures during the summer of 1896 and whose numbers rapidly proliferated over the course of the new theatrical season. Buying films and machines from one or more manufacturers, they gave entertainments without having to worry about territorial restrictions, royalties, or licensing fees.
The first machine (with an intermittent) sold outright on the American market was Jenkins' phantoscope. On 14 May Edward D. Easton of the Columbia Phonograph Company and the American Graphophone Company came to an agreement with C. Francis Jenkins to manufacture and exploit the phantoscope (which Jenkins was then claiming as his own invention). Because the Columbia Phonograph Company had acquired some expertise in the motion-picture field by running peephole kinetoscopes in its phonograph parlors, this was a logical extension of its business operations. Moreover, Columbia found the competitive opportunity irresistible since Edison had recently tried to destroy its phonograph business. According to Easton, "The American Graphophone Company made a large investment in the business covered by the said agreement with Jenkins." Jenkins conducted the company's motion-picture business, receiving a 10 percent commission on sales and gross receipts from exhibitions. Soon Columbia was selling phantoscopes without territorial
restrictions. Although 2Armat's associates countered with a lawsuit, their request for a preliminary injunction was denied. Columbia's activities, however, were seriously thwarted that December when Armat and his cousin, T. Cushing Daniel, paid Jenkins $2,500 for withdrawing his exclusive claim to the phantoscope patent and for contractually recognizing Armat's earlier "sale" of the Armat-Jenkins projection patents to Daniel.1
A "vidiscope," probably a renamed phantoscope, was in Coney Island in late June, giving the vitascope serious competition. According to the Brooklyn Eagle, a barker stood at the front entrance promoting "the genuine and only vidiscope" as "the renowned and successful invention that has captured New York city and attracts more attention than the gold and silver question in politics." For their part, the Long Island vitascope owners sued the exhibitors in Kings County Supreme Court claiming that "the vidoscope [sic] exhibition is not genuine and that great damage will come to them if the show goes on." They were fortunate to win a temporary injunction.2
In Chicago, vaudeville manager John D. Hopkins faced a difficult situation. Shortly after he added the vitascope to his bill (paying Kiefaber $350 a week for exclusive Chicago rights), a nearby phonograph parlor began to advertise the phantoscope as a vitascope and, even worse, to show it without charging admission. The firm responsible, the Chicago Talking Machine Company, was eventually enjoined from using the name, but exhibitions were allowed to continue. On 11 August, Hopkins' "exclusive" faced further competition when a phantoscope appeared at Chicago's Great Northern Roof Garden. Yet as the Chicago Tribune reported, "The apparatus did not work well, and the time apportioned to it was chiefly devoted to cheap kaleidoscopic pictures. It will not be seen again." Hopkins was the first to admit that the episode was not indicative of the phantoscope's true worth: "I had a great deal to do with the failure of the machine," he boasted in a letter to the Vitascope Company, explaining that "one of our electricians was engaged to run it—so you understand the rest." Hopkins sabotaged the phantoscope's Chicago screening, but he was striking a more complicated deal than Raff & Gammon at first realized. At his recently opened St. Louis vaudeville house, Hopkins added the "wonderful phantoscope" to his bill, then supplied the exhibitor there with films purchased from the Vitascope Company for his Chicago house. When Raff & Gammon discovered the ruse, they planned to cut off his supply. By then, however, it was becoming clear that Edison films could be acquired from other sources, notably Maguire & Baucus, and so Raff & Gammon reluctantly accepted the arrangement.3
Once projected moving pictures were proven feasible and commercially successful, foreign and American mechanics set to work constructing machines to project Edison-gauge film. The technology was not complicated and many succeeded, with the result that by September, a substantial number of projectors were available to amusement entrepreneurs. A. Curtis Bond, press agent for the Bijou Theater in New York City, acquired the American rights to the kineopticon constructed in England by Birt Acres. After its London premiere on 21 March 1896, the kineopticon ran at
Tony Pastor's Theater from 24 August until 17 October. Its selection of mostly British views included Prince of Wales's Famous Horse and Persimmons Winning the Derby, both shot by Acres. By early September, Bond was offering to sell machines and states rights. That month the zooscope, made in Maiden, Massachusetts, was being sold outright for eight hundred dollars. The magniscope was also advertised by Chicago-based Oscar B. and George Kleine, sellers of magic-lantern and stereopticon goods.4
The magniscope was built by Edward Hill Amet, whose Amet Talking Machine Company in Waukegan, Illinois, was then turning out high-quality phonographs. George K. Spoor, the local Waukegan theater manager whose principal living came from a newsstand at the Northwestern Railroad station in Chicago, helped finance the development of the projector. "Sold outright, without restrictions and at a reasonable price," the seventy-pound magniscope was portable and designed for work with touring companies. Many itinerant showmen, particularly in the Midwest, eagerly purchased the screen machine and toured the smaller cities and towns. It also found employment in major urban vaudeville houses. Beginning on 9 November 1896, J. D. Hopkins presented the Amet magniscope at his Duquesne Theater in Pittsburgh; a week later, it replaced the vitascope at his Chicago house. Although these
runs were fairly brief, other high-profile Chicago theaters engaged the magniseope in subsequent months.5
With his projector selling well, Amet moved into film production sometime during March 1897, building his own camera and setting up laboratory facilities in Waukegan. Subjects included a street scene outside the offices of the Chicago Tribune, which devoted a lengthy article to the new enterprise. Amet's way of developing a 60-foot film was described as follows:
Two men take the exposed film into the dark room and begin operations…. Starting at one end, the film is rapidly fed into the long trough, being run back and forth until it is all placed in layers in the developer. Then, starting again with the same end as at first, it is drawn out of the developing solution at the same rate as it entered, and is run into a jar of water to wash. By that time the proper amount of development is obtained and the film next goes into the fixing solution, emerging from that to be soaked in the washing tanks in the drying room.
In the drying room are loops and strings of film sufficient to decorate a theater. The room is fifty feet high, with the ceiling made so that the films may be hung easily from it. Here after the long negatives are washed, they are festooned about until thoroughly dry and ready for printing (Chicago Tribune, 4 April 1897, p. 37).
As a variety of projectors became available, the leading companies' chief assets were their exclusive ownership of popular subjects. Yet controlling the distribution of standard-gauge films was extremely difficult, perhaps impossible. Edison films from 1894 and 1895 had been sold to a large number of peephole kinetoscope owners. These films could be placed on projecting machines as readily as on kinetoscopes. New films, sold to vitascope exhibitors, were easily resold or traded. Since Edison films were not copyrighted, they could be freely "duped" (i.e., duplicated, usually by someone other than the original owner). The Columbia Phonograph Company found it expedient to "dupe" such films because Jenkins did not have a working camera. The Lumières, as noted in chapter 4, encountered similar difficulties. By August Maguire & Baucus had acquired a large shipment of Lumière films, including Scene from the Coronation of the Czar of Russia (taken in late May), Russian Street Scene, and Place de la Concorde, which they sold for twenty-five dollars per 52-foot film. Some independent exhibitors acquired a selection of both Edison and Lumière films. For example, the kinematographe with Hopkins' Trans Oceanic Star Specialty Company, a touring vaudeville show, was showing the Lumières' Scene from the Coronation of the Czar and Edison's Herald Square.6
By October 1896 the Vitascope Company was disintegrating under the pressure of external competition and internal discord. Having made little money from the sale of vitascopes, the Edison Manufacturing Company was dissatisfied with its relationship to Raff & Gammon. Only seventy-three machines had been manufactured, and additional demand was unlikely because other projectors were coming on the market at a lower price and without territorial restriction. Likewise, limiting print sales to vitascope entrepreneurs reduced profits and made little commercial sense. The Edison Manufacturing Company therefore shifted its approach and sold prints to all potential customers, either through Maguire & Baucus or directly from its factory. Over the next eight months, beginning with Feeding the Doves (© 23 October 1896) and several other pictures, films were submitted for copyright to deter if not eliminate unauthorized duplication. James White, hired away from the Vitascope Company, was placed in charge of Edison's kinetograph department, for which he received one hundred dollars a month plus a 5 percent commission on film sales.7
White launched an ambitious production schedule. In many instances he shot groups of related films, including several of New York police (Mounted Police Charge and Runaway in the Park—both © 2 November 1896). With the cooperation of the Lackawanna Railroad, which supplied transportation and special cars for filming, White and Heise toured New York and Pennsylvania shooting films. Black Diamond Express (© 12 December 1896) was an imitation of Biograph's popular Empire State Express. Going to the Buffalo area, they improved on the scenes of Niagara Falls that Heise had taken earlier in the year; seven views were subsequently copyrighted, including American Falls from Incline Railroad and Rapids Above American Falls (both © 24 December 1896). Exhibitors would make selections from these productions and organize them into sequences. Other films imitated popular subjects made by rival producers. A Morning Bath (© 31 October 1896) remade Biograph's A Hard Wash. Both Clark's Thread Mill (© 31 October 1896), which showed workers leaving a factory, and Charge of West Point Cadets (© 27 November 1896) emulated earlier Lumière successes. A group
of films taken of Barnum and Bailey's Circus in New York City (Horse Dancing Couchee Couchee and Trick Elephants No. 1—both © 8 May 1897) added to Edison's substantial repertoire of circus-related subjects.
Thomas Edison, having made substantial profits from the sale of peephole kinetoscopes, was likewise eager to sell projecting machines to the general trade. His company soon had its own projector, known as the projectoscope or projecting kinetoscope, which debuted on 30 November at the Bijou Theater in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, one of the few important cities that had not previously hosted a motion-picture show. The initial morning performance was attended by the mayor, city officials, and the newspaper fraternity, who gave it laudatory front-page reviews. "It is the greatest attraction ever seen in this city, and the crowds will be big all week," wrote one local paper. Although several projectoscopes were in use by early 1897, the machine did not become generally available until late February. Its $100 price tag was affordable for even modest showmen. J. Stuart Blackton and Albert Smith, for example, bought a projecting kinetoscope and presented a group of moving pictures during their Lyceum entertainments. So did D. W. Robertson, a former musician who was then organizing entertainments for church groups through his Brooklyn and New York Entertainment Bureau. The price of films, however, remained quite high. Although discounts were often available, Edison films sold for thirty cents a foot, a price that changed little during the year. Indeed, Edison Manufacturing Company records reveal that films provided its key source of income:
profits from film sales exceeded $24,000 for both the 1896-1897 and 1897-1898 business years, compared to projector profits of approximately $1,500 and $5,000. This reversed the ratio of equipment sales to film sales that had previously existed.8
Charles H. Webster had left the Vitascope Company by October and was involved with at least two rival motion-picture enterprises. On 21 October he, Charles G. S. Baker, and William C. McGarth incorporated the Cinographoscope Company of New York; two weeks later their cinographoscope projector was being advertised for sale.9 At about the same time, Webster also formed the International Film Company as a co-partnership with Edmund Kuhn, and by November they were selling "dupes" of Edison films as well original films. One of their first original was Sound Money Parade, taken on 31 October. Once film production was launched, the International Film Company commenced to manufacture its own projector. This projectograph was less expensive than those previously on the market, costing $200 in December and $150 a short time later.10
By early 1897 scores of different projectors were available to American showmen. Although little noted by historians, these machines had diverse capabilities and constructions. Some depended on electricity for power, but most were hand-cranked and the operator could use limelight as an illuminant. Many were of European origin, including Robert Paul's highly popular animatographe, one of which toured Pennsylvania with Waite's Comedy Company during much of the 1896-1897 theatrical season. A motograph, probably manufactured by W. Watson & Sons of London, was ballyhooed by Hi Henry's Minstrels, and another was shown by William H. O'Neill at a Boston department store. The kinematographe, first shown at London's Royal Aquarium in April 1896, made several American appearances, including Bradenburgh's Ninth and Arch Museum in Philadelphia and Huber's Museum in New York City.11
Many projectors were built in the United States. Little more than pirated vitascopes, centographs were at Miner's Bowery Theater in New York City during early October and toured with Irwin Brothers' Big Specialty Company. By November, J. Whitney Beals, Jr., of Boston was selling his "Wonderful Panoramographe." Lyman H. Howe built his own projector, the animotiscope, and integrated a small selection of Edison films into his phonograph concerts. His first public presentation took place at his hometown YMCA in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on 4 December 1896. Thereafter he traveled through Pennsylvania, New York, and New England—one of many traveling exhibitors to present film programs to people living in smaller cities and towns. William Paley was an X-ray exhibitor who had suffered adverse effects from excessive radiation—peeling skin, loss of fingernails, rapidly graying hair, and "a slight buzzing in the ears." The English-born showman had studied electricity in his native country before coming to the United States. Abandoning X-ray exhibition, he built a projector that was similar to the vitascope but with numerous improvements. Paley used the resulting kalatechnoscope (meaning "good technical viewer") to show films with Weber's Olympia Company in March and then began to sell the machine for one hundred dollars.12
William Selig, who had been a magician and theatrical-company manager, was trying to build a projector when he discovered that his machinist had surreptitiously made a duplicate cinématographe for a Lumière employee. Using the blueprints accumulated on the project, the machinist built another for Selig and modified it to take Edison-sprocketed film.13 Charles Urban, who had had a phonograph parlor in Detroit and later toured the Midwest with a projector, had Walter Isaacs manufacture a modified Lumière cinématographe and then sold it as a bioscope.
On the West Coast, William L. Wright of Portland, Oregon, was constructing a projecting machine by early 1896. Later he moved to San Francisco, where he incorporated the United States Animatoscope Company with Gustave Walter, who ran the Orpheum vaudeville circuit, and several other entrepreneurs. Its purpose was "to deal in machines for reproducing photographic films in an enlarged form on canvas." The animatoscope opened at the Chutes, a multi-attraction amusement center in San Francisco, around 9 November. The films were shown outdoors in the evening, with a different film projected every fifteen minutes. The amusement remained at the Chutes on a fairly regular basis for many years. Shortly after his San Francisco opening, Wright returned to Portland, operated a store show for a few days, and then continued up the coast.14 The animatoscope had wide exposure in the Rocky Mountain area and along the West Coast.
Prominent dealers in magic-lantern goods also built and/or sold motion-picture
Prominent dealers in magic-lantern goods also built and/or sold motion-picture projectors. The Riley brothers sold their kineoptoscope. Sigmund Lubin of Philadelphia enlisted the aid of C. Francis Jenkins and, after some difficulty, constructed the cineograph projector, which he offered for sale in January 1897 at a cost of $150. By the end of February, Lubin had also become an important agent for Edison films. In late March his recently formed cineograph exhibition service gave its first exhibitions in vaudeville, at Bradenburgh's Ninth and Arch Museum, with The Corbett-Courtney Fight providing the theater's main attraction. The optician soon established his own production capabilities, taking Unveiling of the Washington Monument on 15 May.15
During cinema's novelty year, motion pictures found their way into most aspects of American entertainment. By spring 1897, circuses and carnival men were using films, sometimes in light-inhibiting black tents. Leon W. Washburn's Shows, starting out in Passaic, New Jersey, gave free exhibitions every night with the vitascope; the films featured acts that spectators could later see live in big tents and were presumably taken with Peter Kiefaber's own camera by his chief photographer, Jacob (James) Blair Smith. The Curtis & Howard Electric Belt Company, active in Ohio and Indiana, featured a high-wire act, juggler, magician, and magniscope. The Bonheur Brothers, who traveled by wagon through the Plains states, offered a variety of acts. The magic lantern had been an important staple in their amusement repertoire, and by April they boasted an imatoscope which may have been a motion-picture machine. In large cities, exhibitions were given for advertising purposes, projected from rooftops onto large canvases hung at busy intersections such as Herald Square in New York.16 The International Film Company's Dewars Scotch Whisky (1897) was made for this kind of outlet. Such screen advertising had been popular in previous years, when exhibitors had shown only slides. Now films were added to their repertoire. This was part of the rich diversity of exhibition circumstances generally provided by independent exhibitors who were not associated with larger organizations.
Large-scale organization can provide commercial enterprises with many advantages, and the American Mutoscope Company generally maximized these opportunities of scale. By early 1897 the company was paying expenses and making a profit. "Our machine known as the Biograph is meeting with success and we now have about 25 exhibits throughout the country," Koopman reported on 11 February. "These machines are rented, and we derive a good income therefrom." In many instances, Biograph rented its services to local theatrical entrepreneurs. Thus, its Washington, D.C., exhibitions were known first as Allen's Biograph and then Jay Denham's Biograph.17 But while most people who hired the Biograph service were amusement professionals, there were also cases like that of the Oneida County Wheelway League, which rented the Biograph service for a week in April and ran it at the Utica Opera House. Not only were free passes given to children from the Utica Orphan Asylum and other groups who could not afford admission but, according to announcements,
every penny of profits will be devoted to the construction and repair of the cinder paths. Inasmuch as every 'cyclist finds pleasure in riding the cinder paths, it is the duty of every 'cyclist to contribute to their maintenance. The officers of the League have provided the Biograph entertainments for the purpose of tempering the stern sense of duty with an alloy of pleasure, for each patron may have entire confidence that the entertainments will be well worth the cost of seeing them (Utica Observer, 9 April 1897, p. 6).
Once success was assured, the American Mutoscope Company constructed a motion-picture studio on the roof of its building at 841 Broadway. As he had with the Black Maria, Dickson insisted on an elaborate setup that could be rotated to face the sun. This outdoor studio was ready for filmmaking early in 1897. Sausage Machine (Nos. 132 and 133), an imitation of the Lumières' Sausage Machine, may well have been taken on the completed stage in late February. A production still of Love's Young Dream (No. 154), taken soon after McKinley's March inauguration, indicates that the studio was in full operation by this date. Elaborating on the osculatory motif, the film shows two lovers kissing in the parlor when they are interrupted by the girl's irate father. Several one-shot comedies were quickly filmed on the new rooftop. In A Bungling Waiter (No. 156), the waiter spoils a tête-à-tête between a young couple by spilling food on them. A Pillow Fight (No. 158), showing four young girls hitting each other with pillows until the feathers pour out, was extremely well received—in Boston it was encored until shown again—and the Edison Company promptly responded with an imitation called Pillow Fight (© 24 May 1897). The Miser (No. 160) was a close view of "the familiar character played by Paul Gilmore," giving spectators a much more intimate look at the actor than they normally enjoyed in the theater.18
Dickson remained in charge of the American Mutoscope Company's single camera throughout this period. One typical filming trip found him in Hartford, Connecticut, on 8 April 1897, ready to photograph local views. Rainy weather delayed filming until four days later, when a clear day provided sufficient light. After a rehearsal in which the city's horseless fire engine, Jumbo, charged down Wyllys Street, the fire run was repeated twice more for Dickson's camera (Jumbo, Nos. 170 and 171). He then shot Columbia Bicycle Factory (No. 172), showing workers leaving the Pope Manufacturing Company at noon, and A Newsboys' Scrap (No. 173), featuring paperboys for the Hartford Times.19 After the Hartford filming, Dickson headed north to Fort Ethan Allen near Burlington, Vermont, and took eleven scenes of military drills and maneuvers (Musical Drill, Troop A, 3RD Cavalry, No. 176). Back in New York, he was responsible for ten films of the 27 April parade celebrating the dedication of Grant's Tomb.
The American Mutoscope Company expanded its operations overseas during the first part of 1897. Biograph's London premiere came at the Palace Theater on 18 March. The reception was favorable, and on 12 May, Dickson and Koopman left New York for England, bringing with them at least one camera (increasingly referred to as the "biograph camera" rather than a "mutograph "). Their first subjects in England were Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations on 22 June. Lacking facilities for developing and printing the films, Dickson sent back lantern slides of the jubilee to the American office. "The biograph keeps well up with the times," reported the New York Mail and Express, "and yesterday it showed two good views of the intercollegiate boat races as well as five stationary views of the Queen's jubilee, the latter being the first in America of that famous celebration." A royal command performance of the biograph and its jubilee pictures for the Prince of Wales on 20
July forced the Biograph group, notably Eugène Lauste, to work around the clock to set up the developing system of tanks and wooden reels and then to make the necessary films. The screening was a success and was followed by exhibitions in leading music halls throughout the British Isles. In London they constructed a rotating studio similar to the one at 841 Broadway.20 After setting up the British Mutoscope Company, Biograph was on its way to becoming an international network of sister companies.
Biograph soon took over the market for peephole motion-picture devices. In 1896 the mutoscope had been of marginal importance. "The first pictures we took were of loom-weaving materials which the traveling salesman could use to show merchants what they were buying," cameraman Billy Bitzer recalled. "We also photographed very large machines, whose working parts could be demonstrated by this method better than they could by chart. All the salesman needed was to carry a lightweight box with a cord to hook into the electric plug. Inside the box was a series of postcard-size flip pictures, which could be stopped at any point for discussion or inspection, and were a great boon to sales." Such limited use was necessary since producing mutoscope reels in large quantities was difficult at first. According to Bitzer, these "were handassembled, and it was a Chinese puzzle to squeeze and crowd, say, the last pack of cards around the block and have them all—from one to 999—steady." A solution to this problem was found by punching holes in the cards, running a rubber band through the holes, and tying the ends. These could then be stretched over the large wooden spools and cinched by flanges.21
The Biograph Company did not start to exploit its mutoscopes extensively until launching them for amusement purposes early in 1897. On 10 February it was said to be "engaged in manufacturing for early introduction before the public, coin-operated Mutoscopes, the introduction of which will be undertaken by local companies, a number of which have already been organized, and others are organizing in various states." An extensive publicity campaign soon detailed its advantages over the kinetoscope. The mutoscope was attractive to investors, explained the New York Herald, because "it is operated by hand and requires no motor battery or attendant; so simple is it that a child can operate it." Likewise, the device was attractive to the viewer because "in the operation of the mutoscope the spectator has the performance entirely under his own control by the turning of the crank. He may make the operation as quick or as slow as fancy dictates, or he may maintain the normal speed at which the original performance took place; and if he so elects the entertainment can be stopped by him at any point in the series and each separate picture inspected at leisure."22 Little Egypt (Nos. 136, 140, 141), the first mutoscope hit, showed the famed hoochie-coochie dancer. It was soon followed by subjects such as Parisienne Girls (No. 165) and A Dressing Room Scene (No. 228). Subjects like these appealed to male spectators who not only wanted to peep but to control the unfolding of the image, perhaps searching for that frame which most revealed these women's bodies.
While the American Mutoscope Company expanded overseas, the Lumières faced increasing difficulties within the United States. Initially, although their cinématographe had lost many of its original venues, it found alternate sites in many instances. Expelled from all of Keith's theaters by early January 1897, the Lumière service soon reopened in New York at Proctor's two theaters, and in Boston at the Grand Opera House—with the result that the French enterprise remained reasonably prosperous during the first months of 1897 and grossed an average of ten thousand dollars a month.23
Despite the availability of alternate venues, the cinématographe ceased to be a powerful force in American cinema during the spring of 1897. According to Félix Mesguich, the Lumière Agency suffered setbacks when the American Mutoscope Company, with its powerful political connections to the Republican Party, was rewarded by the new pro-tariff administration. The French enterprise faced legal actions for customs irregularities because the cinématographes had been brought into the country as personal property rather than as commercial goods. Lumière manager Lafont eventually learned that he faced arrest for his company's activities and fled the country, reaching a French liner in the Hudson River by canoe.24
The liquidation of the Lumières' American holdings of machines and stock, commencing in April 1897, would seem to support Mesguich, except that the company adopted a similar commercial strategy in England at the same time,25 which suggests that intervention by the U.S. government was not the only and perhaps not even the principal reason for their withdrawal from the American market. By that date, the cinématographe was becoming technologically outmoded. Its single-hole sprocket system was incompatible with English and American projectors that had adopted Edison's four-sprocket format, which meant that only Lumière films could be shown on Lumière projectors. Since Lumière prints were increasingly available in the four-sprocket format, the French machine was not a wise choice for someone purchasing a projector. Whether the marketing of cinématographes was a desperate attempt to reassert the Lumière format, a retrenchment within the world market, a response to customs problems, or some combination of the three remains unclear. The sale, however, accelerated the decline of the French company on the American market.
The Lumière Agency sold its equipment and films to a variety of small-time exhibitors. Boston's Grand Opera House purchased a cinématographe and then rented a complete change of films each week to keep its selections fresh and attractive. F. F. Proctor chose not to become an owner, and the cinématographes left his theaters after the first week in May. Maguire & Baucus purchased fifteen hundred films of various subjects and soon became the American (and English) agent for Lumière films.26 While exhibitions on the cinématographe retained some of their popularity into 1898, the Agency's large-scale, effectively coordinated organization had ceased to exist.
By the end of the 1896-1897 season, the American industry was proceeding along two somewhat different lines. On one hand, the Edison Manufacturing Company, the International Film Company, Edward Amet, Sigmund Lubin, and the Lumières (via Maguire & Baucus) were principally concerned with selling films and hardware to anyone who wished to purchase them. On the other hand, the Biograph Company featured a special-size film that other exhibitors could not use. It showed only its own productions, and soon those of its sister companies overseas. With its superior image and high fee, the biograph service tended to play in first-class houses as a leading attraction. Thus, film production and exhibition were unified under one enterprise when it came to 70-mm (or other nonstandard formats) but were commonly performed by independent entities in the 35-mm branch of the industry.
The first year of projected moving pictures reaffirmed and established screen practices that would be elaborated in ensuing years. Nothwithstanding frequent references to the "silent screen," the cinema had an important audio component from the outset. At the vitascope's Boston premiere, a pianist was used during the first week. Soon after, stage effects provided the sounds of hammer blows when The Blacksmith Shop was shown. In New York, the cinématographe was accompanied by "the flash of sabers, noise of guns, and all the other realistic theatrical effects."27 After seeing a performance at Keith's Bijou, one Philadelphia critic remarked:
No play of the past season has contained a situation more thrilling than the reproduction of a parade of the Ninety-sixth Regiment French Cavalry. The soldiers march to the stirring tune of the "Marseillaise" and the scene stirred the audience to a pitch of enthusiasm that has rarely been equaled by any form of entertainment. The playing of the "Marseillaise" aided no little in the success of the picture. In the sham battle scene the noise and battle din created also added to the wonderful realism of the scene. A political argument and a street scene (children dancing to the strains of a hand-organ) were also excellent specimens of the work of the cinématographe (Philadelphia Record, 11 August 1896, p. 2).
This policy continued with the biograph. The same newspaper later reported:
Not content with showing the living picture, Manager Keith furnishes with every view the noises which accompany the scene. Thus is anticipated what will come soon—a device that will be a phonograph as well as a reproducer of scenes. At the Bijou the roar of the waves, splashing of water, the playing of bands of music, a locomotive whistle, bell, stream, etc., are accompaniments that have played no small share in the 48 weeks' success of the biograph (Philadelphia Record, 23 November 1897, p. 2).
Other exhibitors showed projected images with phonograph recordings. "Music can be very appropriately and effectively rendered simultaneously with the exhibition of many vitascope subjects," Raff & Gammon told prospective buyers in their brochure. "The Edison phonograph can thus be utilized to render band and orchestra selections." But some showmen went beyond this. When Lyman Howe projected films, many "were accompanied by the phonograph, which reproduced the sounds suitable to the movements in the pictures." Thus he recorded an approaching train for Black Diamond Express, SO that, according to one newspaper account, "it seemed as if the train were dashing down upon the audience, the rushing of steam, the ringing of bells and the roar of the wheels making the scene a startlingly realistic one." After witnessing Edison's Wonderful Magniscope and Concert Phonograph, one spectator remarked, "Not only could the observer see the moving pictures, but by some contrivance entirely new here, the sound of the horses' feet while running upon the pavement and the whistle of the Black Diamond Express could be distinctly heard."28
Modern-day film producers distinguish four basic kinds of sounds: music, narration, effects, and dialogue. Of these, all but the fourth were commonly used during the first year of moving pictures. But even dialogue was employed within a short time as actors or singers were placed in back of the screen. Since sound accompaniment remained the responsibility of the exhibitors—as had been the case with precinematic screen practice—variation was inevitable, and the complete lack of sound accompaniment was one of many possibilities. The introduction of projected motion pictures, which had such a profound eifect on image production and exhibition, had very little effect on sound production.
Exhibitors were also responsible for the arrangements of films. At first, they evinced very limited concern with the issue of editing, in the sense of juxtaposing one film to the next. This was particularly true for the early vitascope screenings. Each scene was a completely self-contained, one-shot unit, unrelated to the preceding or following film. Generally, no thematic, narrative, spatial, or temporal relationships existed between scenes. Only a few possible exceptions to this practice were reported in the first months. When showing scenes of Niagara Falls in June and Shooting the Chutes in July, vitascope exhibitors presented two or more scenes of the main attraction on the same bill.29 Even then, however, it is not certain that the related films were shown successively to create any kind of continuity.
Rather, exhibitions were initially organized along variety principles that emphasized diversity and contrast even while the selections often built to a climax and ended with a flourish. In this regard, vitascope exhibitions represented only an extreme instance of a general trend: even exhibitions on the Lumière cinématographe, which was technically incapable of showing films as loops, operated within the same conceptual framework. Surviving programs from the period suggest the extent to which exhibitors favored variety over possible spatial, temporal, narrative, or thematic continuities. At Proctor's Twenty-third Street Theater in March 1897, the Lumière cinématographe was listed as showing the following twelve subjects:
- Lumière Factory.
- Columbus Statue, Entrance Central Park.
- A Battle with Snowballs.
- Niagara Falls.
- Children Playing.
- Dragoons of Austrian Army.
- Brooklyn Bridge.
- French Cuirassiers.
- Union Square.
- The Frolics of Negroes While Bathing.
- Card Players.
- Shooting the Chutes.30
The four scenes of New York were scattered throughout the program. The military scenes were also separated. Children Playing was far removed from Card Players. Clearly, in this instance, discontinuity was preferred to other editorial possibilities, but in the course of the novelty year, a range of editorial techniques emerged to permit the exhibitor to organize shots into sequences.
When Biograph first exhibited at Koster & Bial's, during election week, it offered this program:
- Stable on Fire
- Niagara Upper Rapids
- Union Square at Noontime
- Trilby and Little Billee
- Joseph Jefferson—Toast Scene from Rip Van Winkle
- A Hard Wash
- Niagara American Falls
- Empire State Express, 60 Miles an Hour.
- McKinley and Hobart Parade at Canton, O.
- Major McKinley at Home.31
Rather than grouping Niagara, Upper Rapids (upper Rapids from Bridge, Niagara Falls, No. 71) with Niagara, American Falls (possibly American Falls, Luna Island, No. 63), Biograph separated them. Mckinley and Hobart Parade at Canton, O. and Major Mckinley at Home, however, were shown one after the other. Both dealt with the same subject and were photographed in the same town at approximately the same time. Here, the juxtaposition served to emphasize the McKinley pictures as the headline or feature attraction. But the general organization still suggests a return to "the old-fashioned, spasmodic, hitchy way" of showing images that was described by a lantern exhibitor in the 1870s (see page 38). Now the perfected continuity of successive film frames in each "series of images" or scene allowed for discontinuity to be reasserted on another level.
By the fall of 1896 W. K. L. Dickson at Biograph and James White at Edison were regularly producing groups of subjects that exhibitors could select and sequence. Such production was highly practical since filming different aspects of the same subject was easier and cheaper than filming the same number of unrelated ones. It also anticipated the desires of exhibitors. Lyman Howe's first film program in December 1896 was remarkable for its interweaving of variety techniques with narrative and thematic relationships between shots. Howe grouped his fifteen films into two series. In the first series, two films of police activities in Central Park, Mounted Police Charge and Runaway in the Park, were shown successively—thus maintaining continuities of subject and place. In the next series, three fire-rescue films were shown in succession to create a clear, brief narrative on which Howe later elaborated by adding new scenes. At the same time, this fire sequence was framed by two comedies, both scenes involving water play (Tub Race and Watermelon Contest). Both "series" ended on high points with two very popular subjects, The May Irwin Kiss and Old Ocean off Manhattan Beach (probably Surf at Long Branch, an Edison remake of Rough Sea at Dover).
To maintain its hold on the public, the Biograph Company increasingly relied on establishing continuities between shots. In early April, it offered the following views in succession: Inaugural Parade, 71st Regiment, New York (No. 142); The Governor of Ohio and Staff (No. 147); and Troop A of Cleveland and the President (No. 143). As was the Biograph custom, each film was preceded by an announcement slide projected by the magic lantern. Since Biograph had only a single, ponderous camera, these scenes were all taken from the same camera position and did not create a spatial world with different perspectives. When Biograph showed scenes of Queen Victoria's jubilee several months later, it was announced that the views—apparently also shot from a single camera position—"are three in number, but will be exhibited as one continuous picture." Editorial contrast, which relies on establishing many similarities to pinpoint specific differences, was also employed. Thus a Biograph series featuring the Chicago electric train was "in two sections, and affords the spectator an opportunity of seeing the contrast between steam and electric power."32 Editorial technique became increasingly elaborate as the novelty year progressed.
The motion-picture operator (i.e., the projectionist) not only played a crucial creative role but was a highly skilled technician whose job was in many respects comparable to that of the motion-picture photographer. In fact, an experienced projectionist could easily become a cameraman: Charles Webster, James White, Edwin S. Porter, Arthur Hotaling, Oscar Depue, Billy Bitzer, and Albert Smith were among the many American projectionists who later became cinematographers. One of the most compelling passages in Billy Bitzer's memoirs details the complex acrobatics and timing required to show a reel of film. He operated two "lanterns," one for slides and one for film. The biograph projector held approximately ten films spliced together on a reel with leader between each subject. Before each scene, he showed a slide that announced the forthcoming picture, then engaged the motor and quickly brought the machine up to speed:
I gingerly started the large motor controller, my left hand reaching up to help guide the film. When I got up to speed, my right hand quickly clutched the rod that controlled the picture on the screen. The beater cam movement, which pulled the picture down into position, was uneven and could gain or lose into the aperture frame. The lever which operated a friction drive disk controlled this; when I put my foot down and pushed, the pedal would open the light gate.
I had hung a mirror in a wooden frame on the front drape, at an angle which enabled me to intermittently observe how the film was feeding. If it tried to creep toward the edge of the feeder pulley, I would give it a push back with my forehead or nose. I straightened it out enough to finish the first one-minute picture, all the while keeping my eyes pretty well glued to the screen, otherwise the picture would have started riding up and down (Billy Bitzer, pp. 16-17).
At the end of the film, the machine was stopped, a new slide thrown on the screen, and the whole process repeated. Since the first motion-picture cameras did not pan on a tripod, and full sunlight provided the only lighting conditions under which a scene could be filmed (because of the limited sensitivity of the photographic emulsions), the process of making a single-shot film was, in certain respects, easier than showing it afterward.
An operator's failures could be costly. Bitzer mentions the many times he momentarily quit or was fired after something went wrong with an exhibition.33 One careless moment could blow up an entire machine and produce a raging fire. One of the first
film fires occurred on 9 September 1896 at the Pearl Street Theater in Albany, New York. Hopkins' Trans Oceanic Star Specialty Company was just commencing its fall tour with a cinematoscope as its leading attraction. The operator was inexperienced, and the curtain surrounding the machine caught fire during the screening:
Notwithstanding the efforts of the performers on the stage to quiet the audience, a panic ensued on the cry of fire, and many persons were injured in their endeavors to reach the street. The exits became blocked, men and women rushed for the windows, and from them dropped to the street below. Fortunately, no one was fatally hurt. The fire department responded quickly to the call, and speedily put the fire out. It is said the cinematoscope is ruined but the damage to the theatre is trifling (Clipper, 19 September 1896, p. 456).
This was hardly the last such incident. On 14 June 1897 the Eden Musee was almost burned down by Eberhard Schneider's "American cinematograph." A few months later, on 5 September, an independently operated Lumière cinématographe caught fire at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. On 29 September at Association Hall in New Brunswick, New Jersey, an electroscope was being shown to a small afternoon audience when the film broke, touched the arc lamp, and burned. The auditorium walls were still decorated with dried grasses and netting from a recent bazaar, and the fire spread quickly, badly burning one member of the audience; had it been an evening performance with good attendance, many deaths would have resulted. When a magniscope burst into flames at the Grand Opera House in New Haven on 22 November 1897, one man broke his leg and a woman was knocked senseless as the crowd rushed to the doors. Nonetheless, while other film fires followed—almost twenty have been documented for the pre-nickelodeon era, and many more undoubtedly occurred—a serious disaster like the charity bazaar fire in France was fortuitously avoided.34
Ascertaining who watched the early motion-picture shows is a difficult task. One major factor was economics, and poorer members of the working class and the underclass rarely if ever saw films within an entertainment context (although in large urban areas they might see them in the form of commercial advertisements). From the outset, however, the cinema drew its audiences from across the working, middle, and elite classes. Vaudeville theaters and local opera houses offered a scale of prices that accommodated people of diverse financial status.35 While Benjamin F. Keith's theaters had a fee scale that ranged from twenty-five cents to a dollar fifty, Huber's Museum in New York City, Austin & Stone's in Boston, and Bradenburgh's Ninth and Arch Museum in Philadelphia all charged ten cents. In Boston, the Nickelodeon Theater charged only five cents and showed films at least occasionally. In many other cities, as already noted, vaudeville played in "ten-twenty-thirty houses" that charged between ten and thirty cents. Traveling exhibitors visiting more rural areas usually charged between ten and fifty cents.
While motion pictures were still a novelty, they sometimes altered the makeup of a theater's customary audience by attracting an elite clientele. With the cinématographe at Keith's Bijou, "theatre parties and box parties take up almost all of the reserved section of the house," the Philadelphia Record reported. "Gentlemen prominent in the professional and business life of the city bring their families to enjoy the clean, wholesome and high-class vaudeville entertainment provided."36 With dime museums, repertory companies, and storefronts offering motion pictures for as little as ten cents, the more prosperous members of the working class could afford to see the late-nineteenth-century novelty, too. Spectatorship was undoubtedly distributed unevenly through these different economic groups, but economic difference was only one of many factors that determined attendance. Geography, general accessibility to cultural events, age, sex and standing within one's family, ethnic and racial background, religion, and personal tastes all affected the likelihood of seeing films.
Cultural differences weighed heavily in determining the composition of early film audiences. While cultural orientation was influenced by economic status, it remained a far more complex factor than most film historiography has acknowledged. Too often, scholars have seen frequenters of secular, commercial, urban-oriented amusement as the audience, but this was not the case. While venues that provided this sort of entertainment had a virtual monopoly on exhibition during the first months of public exhibition and continued to dominate the industry, two other cultural groups were very important: churchgoers (many of whom opposed commercial, secular amusements) and lovers of refined entertainments.
In addition, even commercial, urban amusements consisted of several subgroups with important differences. Keith's and Poll's, for example, emphasized the presentation of clean amusement. Sexual jokes that were too explicit or risqué did not receive the management's approval, and some acts were designed to appeal to children. In contrast, burlesque houses commonly called their film shows the "tabasco-scope" or the "cinnimatograph" to suggest that their presentations were "spicy." Some films were suitable only for adults, others only for men. With the press screening of the vitascope featuring films of women dancers, Edison purportedly "clapped his hands, and turning to one of his assistants, said: 'That is good enough to warrant our establishing a bald-head row, and we will do it, too.' "37 Yet the assumption (conscious or unconscious) of a male audience could lead to unexpected contradictions. While scenes of a scantily clad Sandow were meant for male patrons interested in the manly physique, they must have held considerable erotic interest for women spectators. Thus, the very films that were meant to affirm the masculine, homosocial world of amusement often encouraged its breakdown. The original intent of such films was overturned by the unexpected conditions of their reception. Because of this dynamic quality even more than because of its size, the cinema of commercial amusement was of central concern to all involved with film. Its dynamism was indirectly acknowledged by contending cultural groups, all of which were compelled to situate themselves in relation to it.
During the 1890s, religious groups, particularly Protestant ones, commonly sponsored film programs. While the Methodist-Episcopal Church had reaffirmed its ban on commercial theatrical amusements in May 1896, it offered alternate forms of officially sponsored entertainment to its faithful through the Epworth League. Founded in 1889, the league rapidly grew to include more than eight thousand chapters, and by the late 1890s it was enjoying its greatest success. One of its main purposes was to blunt the threat posed by the urban amusements that were penetrating into the smaller cities and towns. As the church ceased to be the center of the community's cultural life, the Epworth League embarked on counter-revolution. Other denominations had equivalent organizations, and the nondenominational Young Men's Christian Association served similar goals. Organized sports, meetings, and classes were meant to fill the independent males' leisure time and keep them out of the saloons. Many YMCA's had lecture halls, which they used for their own entertainments or rented out to acceptable religious and civic groups.
The "entertainments" offered by these religious organizations regularly incorporated sanitized elements of popular culture. At the same time, they raised money that could be used for other programs and for building expenses. For the sponsoring groups, who had frequently offered screen entertainments in the past, moving pictures were acceptable and logical extensions of established practices. This phenomenon is evidenced, for example, by Lyman Howe's first two seasons as a motion-picture exhibitor: out of thirty-seven well-documented engagements, twenty-five were sponsored by church groups, including eight Methodist (five being local Epworth chapters), seven Baptist, two Congregational, two Lutheran, and two Presbyterian. Six others were sponsored by quasi-religious organizations, including four YMCA's. Only the remaining six engagements were sponsored by civic groups, and a third of these exhibitions actually took place in churches.
Exhibitors who addressed audiences under church sponsorship showed many of the same 35-mm films as commercial theaters. Dancing girls and fight films were generally absent—although Lyman Howe did show a hand-tinted film of a serpentine dance by Annabelle, a bullfight scene, and The May Irwin Kiss. Serious opposition rarely arose within a congregation, although older, more conservative members of the Methodist-Episcopal Church did occasionally resent the incursions. Exhibitors had to gauge their sponsors, making their programs as enticing as possible without alienating their constituency. The potentially sinful quality of these pictures was perhaps somewhat mitigated by the obvious financial compensation that such events generated. Whether or not this was a pact with the devil, church members could see a wide selection of films but in a sanctioned setting and presented by exhibitors who knew how to appeal to their sensibilities. Religious, morally conservative groups who saw themselves opposed to commercial amusements were thus leading users of films.
Lovers of refined culture sometimes saw moving pictures as part of lecture series, particularly those focusing on travel. Thus the Lumière cinématographe made an early though limited appearance on the American lecture circuit under the auspices of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science (which, it will be recalled, had provided Edison with the first public forum for his peephole kinetoscope in 1893). In hopes of pursuing its members' long-standing interest in animated photography, a trustee and one of the institute's organizers went to Koster & Bial's Music Hall to look at the vitascope. This pair, neither of whom had previously ventured into a vaudeville theater, were disappointed and soon found themselves at Hammerstein's Olympia, but the eidoloscope was not to their liking, either, and so they eventually secured the French machine for an exhibition on 27 November 1896. The cinématographe, with subjects designed for a similarly sophisticated bourgeois audience in Europe, was conveniently (and not coincidentally) located across the street from the institute's main gathering spot, Association Hall. So the machine was easily moved across the street. Although Alexander Black was scheduled to introduce the opening program,
he was replaced by the lecturer Franklin W. Hooper, who commented on the films. The evening was filled out with Hooper's lecture on glaciers in Switzerland, which utilized color photographic slides. This combination of color and animated photography thus paralleled the Lumières' early lectures in France, described in chapter 5. Since the color slides were sensitive to heat and could only be shown using gaslight as an illuminant, they proved somewhat of a disappointment. The exhibit as a whole, however, was enthusiastically received.
Many times during 1897 speakers associated with the Brooklyn Institute gave illustrated lectures that incorporated motion pictures. On 13 January Alexander Black presented his well-known talk "Ourselves as Others See Us," which was "illustrated by Cinematographe, Chromograph and Stereopticon."38 On 11 February Professor Henry Evans Northrop gave the first of several lectures entitled "An Evening with the Cinematographe," which included slides and at least thirty films. By March it had been retitled "A Bicycle Trip Through Europe" and included a collection of his own stills interspersed with Lumière films of various European scenes. This shifting back and forth between slides and film may have been awkwardly handled, for one critic remarked that while the pictures were "excellent" and the cinématographe views "especially interesting," the lecture itself "was not on a par with the pictorial part of the entertainment because Professor Northrop is not, in the sense of the word, a lecturer. He is not cut out for stage work, and should either follow a carefully written text in describing his pictures or engage someone else to do the talking."39
As the case of Brooklyn demonstrates, the unified enthusiasm that first greeted motion pictures was disintegrating as exhibitors increasingly appealed to distinct cultural groups with specific kinds of films. With its strong emphasis on cultural refinement, Brooklyn differed from the general pattern of exhibition found in most other large American cities during the first year. The institute lecturers who incorporated films into their lantern-slide programs seemingly had no immediate counterparts elsewhere in the country, and indeed, when Northrop and Black traveled outside their home city, they went without the cinématographe views. Even the Lumière storefront show appealed to the more elite elements of the populace, and if films were also shown in Brooklyn churches, they were rarely shown in theatrical venues. At the same time, Brooklyn was host to one of the most dynamic and controversial sites of commercial popular culture in the nation, Coney Island, which often served as a target for conservative groups. When the Biograph Company scattered its mutoscopes throughout the resort, outrage from religious elements was not far behind. In July 1897 the Reverend Frederick Bruce Russell personally raided a number of Coney Island locales in order to halt the showing of pictures. Those that fell under the ban of the reformer's eye were entitled What the Girls Did with Willie's Hat (Kicking Willie's Hat, No. 219) and Fun in a Boarding House (Girls' Boarding School, No. 220).40
During cinema's first year of success, motion pictures enjoyed the status of a novelty. This very concept or category served to address the problem of managing change within a rapidly industrializing society: novelties typically introduced the public to important technological innovations within a reassuring context that permitted spectators to take pleasure in the discontinuties and dislocations. While technological change created uncertainty and anxiety, "novelty" always embodied significant elements of familiarity, including the very genre of novelty itself. In the
case of cinema, greater verisimilitude was initially emphasized at the expense of narrative. But if the American public responded positively—typically enjoying their initial experience of projected motion pictures—the dynamic of novelty was such that film companies had to quickly move beyond the simple task of dispersing a technological innovation through large sectors of society. As a result, film practice under-went a radical and extensive reorganization that made it different from other novelties before it, even the peephole kinetoscope. The novelty year soon saw the development of narrative through both the elaboration of brief skits (primarily comedies like Love's Young Dream) and the sequencing of shots by the exhibitor. Though not totally replaced, the endless-band technique of exhibition, typified by the vitascope, gave way to a more linear, singular unfolding of the film through the projector.
During this year-long period cinema's industrial organization changed as well, moving from self-sufficient and closely held companies, each with its own distinctive technological system, to an industry where the technology or hardware was readily available at an affordable price. The initial potpourri of formats thinned, and 35-mm-gauge film with Edison-type perforations came to be widely used, while the Lathams' format and the Lumières' perforations had reached their zenith and were being phased out. Only the Biograph Company, which sponsored the last of the four major formats to appear, retained the vertically integrated organizational structure that characterized these initial efforts. The use and even the development of unique formats were not ending, but they now occurred within the technological framework of a widely accepted 35-mm standard. Likewise, equipment had improved to the point where exhibitors had much greater flexibility. Finally, within the 35-mm branch of the industry, producers generally sold films and equipment to anyone who wished to buy, without restrictions on their use (other than that of copyright). Thus the novelty period involved dispersion outward from the motion-picture industry's centers (New York City and to a lesser extent Chicago and Philadelphia) and transformation within these centers.