Edison & Co.
Edison & Company: A Tribute to Cinematic Magicians
In 1995, forty-one film directors from around the world collaborated to make a documentary entitled Lumière and Company in an effort to pay homage to the creators of cinema. Auguste and Louis Lumière began shooting with their invention called the Cinématographe in 1895, and the participants of the documentary faced the humbling task of using the original camera to make their own short films.
In recent years, students in Fabrizio Cilento's Film History I class have been given the humbling task of recreating short films from another early pioneer in filmmaking: Thomas Edison. The students were divided into groups and tasked with creating remakes of early 20th century films produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company. For the Fall of 2015 class, some of the film remakes included Edison's Sandow The Strongman and Seminary Girls.
Sandow The Strongman
Sandow the Strongman is an iconic video clip done in the early age of film. There were three reasons this clip in particular was chosen to be recreated. Simplicity in choreography, that is the actor has relatively few motions in the footage, was certainly a factor in this choice, but congruently body building has a certain artistic flare to it. Many consider body building to be a form of performative art, similarly film is an art medium. Because directors, producers, actors, and actresses all create something artistic out of raw material—the script, movements, lighting, facial expressions, sets—the film itself becomes a medium to view this artistry. Filming this art can therefore be considered art-within-art. Lastly, there is a great potential for this film to have a humorous appeal to it. The sheer uncouthness of seeing a man pose in front of a camera can only be ameliorated if one takes it lightheartedly and with a sense of humor. The original film certainly had a humorous spin to it, as one cannot help but sense the absurdity of Sandow flexing in front of the lens, and The Strongman recreates and extrapolates on that even more.
Manipulating the lighting will be the primary way in which we will accomplish the task of reproducing this film. We will be using dynamic three-point lighting to draw attention to the subtleties, such as humor, within the film. By doing so the audience will be able to focus more on the action of the film and less on background noise—that is visual distractions not literal noise. The actor was chosen for this film because he had a similar physique to that of Sandow in the original. The trick to the whole shot was trying to mimic the same motions as that of Sandow in the original. However, some motions were opted out because they did not illustrate the overall physique of our actor. In the end, the film was accurate to the original in both design and choreography. Our goal was to recreate this film using the same methods as the original as a testament to the quality of craftsmanship that early film possessed and this remake is indeed a testament.
Project by Austen Bower, Cayce Bower, and Caleb Fugate
Seminary Boys: Edison and Company Remake of Seminary Girls
Seminary Girls is an Edison and Company production where 5 young girls are having a pillow fight when an adult enters the room and attempts to stop the fight. The girls’ attempt to hide and one girl even tries to hide under her bed. The adult who enters the room pulls her out from under her bed. In our remake we have four boys fighting and Gabby entering the fray to breakup the fight. The boys scatter and attempt to hide. One of the boys hits Gabby with a pillow and dives under the bed. Gabby pulls him out from under the bed and the film ends. This remake draws upon the disrespect for authority shown by children that we believe has grown in modern film and did not exist much in early films. In the original the girl that dives under the bed also hits the authority figure with the pillow but does so perhaps accidently. It is hard to distinguish who’s who with everyone in white nightgowns so interpreting her intentions is difficult. In our remake Brandon deliberately strikes Gabby as she enters in a disrespectful manner and then attempts to get away with it.
Shooting this film was very fun even with just three takes. A pillow fight is always guaranteed to be a good time.
Project by Christian Pavlovich, Gabby Snyder, Brandon Gordon, and Michael Longaker
For Fabrizio's Fall 2013 class, each group similarly took a different approach to constructing their chosen remake. In “The Enchanted Tramp,” the Edison film is enhanced by the inclusion of silent film star Charlie Chaplin, a further homage to cinematic history. “The Clown and the Alchemist” remains a close emulation of the original in order to convey a precise example of the editing innovations used to cut fast-paced, energetic sequences. A second character was added in the remake of “The Magician,” which stayed true to the Edison film by consisting of one long, heavily edited take. The final film of the series, “The Mysterious Café,” puts a twist on the storyline by providing a clever explanation for the vanishing and reappearance of objects.
All of the students found it challenging and enjoyable to create these remakes of the short Edison films, and ultimately we discovered a deeper appreciation for the history of cinema. In this collaborative project, we experienced for ourselves the process of crafting a “magic show” using moving images, and discovered the brilliance of the storytelling and editing techniques conceived by the pioneers of the art form.
The Enchanted Tramp
The Enchanted Drawing is a silent film from 1900 directed by J. Stuart Blackton and produced by Thomas Edison with Vitagraph Studios. We chose this film because we thought that it well represented the magical nature of early films achieved through the use of editing. Our film maintains this original charm. The entire sequence was filmed in one shot, and the magic was later created during editing (the images from the drawing literally come to life and are then put back onto the canvas). Other post-production work included shortening the film by doubling its speed, applying a projection effect, and the addition of an intentionally lighthearted soundtrack to match the comical narrative. The most time-consuming part of the process was preparing the canvas with drawn objects that would match the size, shape, and shade of the real objects and then figuring out how to align the two. The method of “erasing” the drawings was another challenge. In terms of the narrative, we decided to take a spin on the original plot by incorporating a tramp character to pay homage to silent film star Charlie Chaplin. Along with the playful elements previously mentioned, the tramp adds humor to the film through physical comedy. He is a nuisance to the artist, taking her artwork and causing her to chase after it (and, in the end, chase after him for all of his mischief)! We want to give a special thanks to Wilmer Singleton for his outstanding acting as the star of the film. The end result is one minute of amusing footage honoring the original.
Project by Melody Ritchey, Sarah Trice, Anthony Watkins, & Mark Young
For this Film History assignment, we chose to do a remake of Edison’s 1900 film, “The Clown and The Alchemist.” As we were searching for a short film to imitate, we were hoping to find something charmingly strange that would require “magic” editing, which seems to be a signature aspect of Edison’s collection. When we came upon this quirky and simple storyline about a mischievous clown chasing a perplexed alchemist around a small room, disappearing and reappearing in quick succession, we decided that we would love to replicate this bizarre slapstick comedy. We noticed that many of Edison’s films are somewhat comedic, and he and his colleagues apparently enjoyed the challenge of amusing their audiences by inventing magic tricks through cinema. “The Clown and The Alchemist” embodies the innovative concepts of Edison’s work, and the nutty plot appealed to our eccentric sensibilities. The task of remaking this film was enjoyable, and it gave us a special understanding of the filmmaking process of this time period.
The approach we took to the remaking of this short film was rather traditional, because we wanted to create something that would evoke nostalgia for the distinctive style of early cinema. We constructed a shot list imitating the actions of the original film, and during production we followed the example of Edison’s direction and arrangement of shots. We had to precisely follow the shot list without messing up, knowing that the sequencing of action had to be exact and continuous in order for the editing process to be successful. Making this film gave us a realistic idea of the way in which Edison’s crew and actors would have accomplished their enchanting, magic-oriented visions. Therefore, it was an enriching experience that connected us with the filmmakers of the past, giving us insight into their artistic goals for entertaining and mystifying spectators. Due to our cooperative organization during production, the editing process went smoothly, and our editing software allowed us to put filters over the clips that give the film an early-cinema sensation. The added music is the one alteration to the original Edison video that we decided to make. We decided to add the music from Fantasia titled “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” because it gave the film an energy and magical tone that we believed the original film attempted to produce. Although this imitation of “The Clown and the Alchemist” is not perfectly fluid, we hope that the comedy and charm that we attempted to emulate provoke sentiments within viewers for the beginnings of cinema.
Project by Tony Allevato, Noah Sheir, Sarah Stevenson, & Derek Sullivan
We chose to remake Edison’s “The Magician” of 1900. The original film portrayed only one character: the magician. For our film, we chose to add another character to give the film more of a story instead of leaving it simply as a cinematic magic show. To remain true to the original, we filmed one long take and kept in mind how we would cut the film later as Edison did. These so-called in-camera edits were challenging at first but turned out a successful homage to the original silent film. Furthermore, we found it easier to produce this film without synchronized sound so that the cinematographer could direct when the actors should freeze and start to move again.
Project by Kyle Kull, Chris Lyell, & Alicia Sims
The Mysterious Cafe
In this contemporary interpretation of James Stuart Blackton, and Albert E. Smith’s The Mysterious Café (made by Edison Manufacturing Co. in 1901), three patrons of a local restaurant find themselves, and various items “mysteriously” vanishing, only to reappear in precarious and unexpected locations. According to the film’s description in the September 1902 version of the Edison Films catalog; “As the above title indicates, the scene does not take place in an ordinary restaurant, but one in which all the natural rules of order and gravitation are reversed” (Edison Films catalog 95). However unlike its predecessor, the remake provides more of a back story which attempts to explain this mysterious phenomenon. In this film, a mad scientist from the future, has developed a device which can teleport matter from one location to another. For his own amusement he decides to try out his device on three hapless victims in a restaurant. The results are very similar to how the Edison catalog itself described the original film; “which is sure to provoke much merriment” (Edison Films catalog 95).
Edison Manufacturing Co. Edison Films. September 1902. 95. Web. 1. November. 2013.
Project by Scott Orris, Lindsay Corriveau, Jasmin Barnwell, & Ryan Fargo