in about 100 words or less
Kino Corporation & MoMA, 840m (B&W, Colour)
Curated by: Steven Higgins, The Museum of Modern Art; Charles Musser,Yale University; Film Notes by Charles Musser
Kino’s “Edison: Invention of the Movies” is an attractive 4 DVD box set which includes 140+ films, commentary, photos and essays on MoMA’s collection of films produced by the Edison Company between 1891 and 1918. The films are presented chronologically over four periods, the earliest of which contains almost 100 films from 1891 to 1905, which includes some of the most interesting historical commentary about the invention of the industry. The second disc covers the period from 1905 to 1907 and includes short films largely under the direction of Edwin S. Porter. Films on the third disc, which covers 1908 to 1913, demonstrates an increasing complexity in production technique. The final disc, covering the period 1913 and 1918 most notably includes Alan Crosland’s 80 minute pro-war film: The Unbeliever (1918).
While the entertainment value of the majority of these films may be lost forever to audiences of the past, the historical and social commentary that is offered is fascinating and informative. In addition to presenting an account of the development of the Edison Film Company, this collection also offers an interesting history of the development of MoMA’s Edison archives, and the unlikely circumstances which led to the conservation of so many of these early films.
The collection also provides a revealing social commentary which is arguably a reflection the Edison Company film makers, and perhaps Edison himself. Films such as: The Ex-Convict (1904) and The Kleptomaniac (1905) offer a sympathetic commentary on social injustices of the day. Likewise, a number of films, e.g. The Watermelon Patch (1905) and Cohen’s Fire Sale (1907) reveal racial and ethnic stereotypes which are insensitive by today’s standards, but are arguably an historical reflection of American culture (Klaus Ming December 2011).