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Introduction to Thomas Edison films

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 31, 2015

The extraordinarily important films in this cluster appear on the outstanding dvd collection Edison: the Invention of the Movies, 1891-1918. This historic release draws upon the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Library of Congress. (Information here: http://bit.ly/1Ez3nhY.) It also features an exemplary array of scholarly notes by Charles Musser, in part derived from his monumental study, Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900: an annotated filmography (Gemona (UD) Italy : Giornate del cinema muto ; [Washington, D.C.] : Smithsonian Institution Press, c1997).

There are a few important reasons that we are taking the trouble to respond to so many of these very early, often quite fragmentary films. One is that present practices, cinematic or otherwise, are always firmly rooted in the past. There is a genealogical justification here, which is that we can’t fully understand and appreciate who we are, or what we do, until we understand and appreciate the things that have gone before.

Additionally, or alternatively, not every past practice ended up bearing fruit, or surviving into the present. This does not mean, however, that superseded things are always without merit or virtue. A close look at these superannuated films reveal all manner of unexplored possibilities. Which could, if we wished, be explored all the way unto development, once again.

Finally, for all the dominance of the narrative feature film, close attendance to these primordial short films reminds us of the often richness of more modest things. Some of our reviews, our reactions, more like, are as terse as the films themselves. Others carry on at some length, for all the brevity of the thing that inspired them. When it comes to movies, and more besides, almost every little thing deserves and rewards the most careful attention!