The films in this collection are presented in chronological order, allowing the viewer to follow the progression of Edison filmmaking over a 28-year period. We provide credits and program notes for each film, but groups of films are also introduced by some more general comments about filmmaking activities at Edison and in the industry more broadly. These usually cover several years at a time (e.g. 1890-1891, 1894-1895). Given the number of titles in this collection, the program notes for each film are inevitably brief, and the credits are by no means exhaustive. In the early years, films were offered for sale under variant titles and, where appropriate, we have listed them. In some cases, a film was never assigned a formal title at the time of production, and so, for purposes of identification, we have provided a title in brackets.
Film credits, to the extent available, take two general forms. Before 1909, filmmaking at the Edison Manufacturing Company was usually a collaborative activity involving two individuals who were central to the creative process. Indeed, reliance on such partnerships began with the very invention of motion pictures (Thomas A. Edison and W. K. L. Dickson) and initial commercial production (Dickson and William Heise). Therefore, for the period through 1908, we credit these individuals as "filmmakers," to the extent their names are known. In the 1890s, the making of nonfiction subjects often involved a producer and cameraman. With the rise of fiction filmmaking in the early 1900s, the cameraman was joined by a stage director, and yet their roles were more diverse and often more collaborative than these titles would suggest. Stage manager George Fleming was also a scenic designer, while Edwin S. Porter was not only a cameraman, but also the studio head. They routinely selected and developed the film's premise, gag or story in tandem. For this reason, crediting these individuals as "filmmakers" rather than "director" or "cameraman" is sufficiently broad and flexible to be appropriate. Sometimes, J. Searle Dawley and Edwin S. Porter are credited as the directors of films made in 1907-1908. In truth, they were not only co-directors; they were co-filmmakers. After 1908, the industry became more systematized and hierarchal. For this reason it is appropriate to employ modern-day credits (director, writer, cameraman, etc.) for these later films. By this time, films also had specific release dates.
After 1911, the Edison Company promoted its leading actors, noting them in the film's intertitles and advertisements. Before that date, the names of actors were known only irregularly and through different sources. The names of actors for films made in 1907-1908 are taken from J. Searle Dawley's account books, and some of the names are almost certainly misspelled. During the 1910s, the Edison Company generally promoted the writers, but not the directors or cameramen of its films. To make up for this silence, directors making Edison films between 1912 and 1915 paid for and placed in trade papers (such as the New York Dramatic Mirror) advertisements that listed their recent credits.
Users of this DVD set may view just the films, or they can also look at additional photographic, manuscript and printed materials relating to particular films. Most such materials come from the special collections of The Museum of Modern Art, but some also come from materials gathered by Charles Musser from a variety of sources (The Edison National Historic Site, New York Public Library, and various flea markets). Moreover, a variety of interviews were conducted with experts on Thomas Edison, Edison films and American culture in general over this 30 year period (1888-1918). These individuals include:
Eileen Bowser, Curator Emerita, The Museum of Modern Art
Steven Higgins, Curator, Department of Film and Media, The Museum of Modern Art
Richard Koszarski, Associate Professor of Film Studies, Rutgers University
Paul Israel, Director, Thomas A. Edison Papers, Rutgers University
Charles Musser, Professor of American Studies and Film Studies, Yale University
Michele Wallace, Professor of English, City College of New York
The program notes generally avoid plot descriptions and evaluative criticism from a present day perspective. Rather, the commentary is meant to reprint period criticism, provide information about the performers, note sources‹all in an effort to contextualize the films and enrich the viewing experience for today's audiences.
Key to contributing archives or collections:
MoMA = The Museum of Modern Art (New York)
LoC=Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.)
ENHS =Edison National Historic Site (West Orange, New Jersey)
CNC= Archives du Film, Centre Nationale du Cinéma (Bois d'Arcy, France)
AFI=The American Film Institute (Washington, D.C.)