Kino International Corp. presents EDISON: The Invention of the Movies
From the collections of The Museum of Modern Art & The Library of Congress
A 4 Disc DVD set
Curated by: Steven Higgins, The Museum of Modern Art
Charles Musser, Yale University
Film Notes by Charles Musser
Download a PDF version: DVD 1


Commercial motion pictures were invented at the Edison Laboratory between 1888 and 1893. They were actually a system of inventions: a camera, a viewing machine (the peep-hole kinetoscope), and equipment for printing, sprocket punching, and the developing of long strands of film. Perhaps none of these component parts was strictly new, but the ability of Edison and his staff to reorganize them for a specific purpose was an extraordinary technological and cultural achievement. Within a year, Edison had launched motion pictures as a commercial enterprise, remaining in the business until 1918--a 30 year involvement in motion pictures. During that period, the technical system underwent alteration and improvement: the development of the "Latham loop," which enabled the system to handle large quantities of film; the introduction of projection; a reframing device for projectors so the film could be kept in frame; and the three-blade shutter, which reduced flicker during projection. Arguably more important was the cultural transformation of motion picture production: the shift in editorial control from exhibitor to production company and the concomitant creation of the filmmaker, the development of story films, the proliferation of specialized motion picture theaters (often called nickelodeons), and the eventual emergence and dominance of feature-length films. In 1894, Edison was the sole producer of motion pictures in the world. By 1918, the contributions of his company to film culture had become marginal, both financially and in terms of its overall place in the American industry.

The film industry underwent tumultuous development and change over these three decades. During this period, the filmmaking achievements and fortunes of the Edison Manufacturing Company fluctuated widely. By the end of 1895, motion pictures had ceased to be profitable, perceived by many to be a passing novelty or fad. Then, projection renewed interest and expanded income; even so, the following years continued to be ones of boom and bust. Edison almost left the business in 1900, coming close to selling his motion picture interests to the rival American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. When the deal faltered, he opened a Manhattan studio and his company once again became America's preeminent film producer-in part because his legal team put many rivals out of business. The business faltered again in 1908 and1909, but by 1911-1912, Edison films were once again considered among the best. Many Edison films continued to impress critics and audiences alike as the company employed such accomplished directors as John Collins (who died in the 1919 flu epidemic) and the young Alan Crosland (who later directed The Jazz Singer, 1929). This four-DVD set offers, for the first time anywhere, a wide selection of Edison motion pictures, from the earliest film experiments to what has sometimes been called the last Edison feature film to be released: The Unbeliever (Crosland, 1918), featuring Erich von Stroheim.

The Museum of Modern Art:

When the Museum of Modern Art began to build its film archive in the 1935, the acquisition of films such as The John C. Rice-May Irwin Kiss (sometimes known simply as The Kiss) received article length attention in the New York Times. Later, in 1939, the Film Library, as it was then known, began to make titles available for public screenings through its circulating film program. Two of its 16mm programs were composed primarily of Edison pictures: Films of the 1890s and Porter-Edison Films. Along with circulating programs of Lumière and Méliès films, these two reels of material ensured that people interested in the early years of cinema would be able to see at least some of its highlights.

In 1940, the Museum acquired the surviving nitrate negatives and prints of the Edison Manufacturing Company and quickly undertook a project to copy a handful of key titles for public exhibition. In the early 1970s, Eileen Bowser, longtime curator of MoMA's film archive and a leading force in the field of film preservation, supervised the transfer of the Edison nitrate (as well as the nitrate negatives in the even larger Biograph Collection) to acetate fine grain, thus assuring the long-term survival of both collections. Soon thereafter, in the 1980s, Charles Musser restored and reconstructed a number of important early subjects from the Edison Collection, again in 16mm, and they were added to the Circulating Film Library. More recently, a group of twenty Edison films from the 1910s have been restored by the Museum with funds provided by the National Film Preservation Foundation's Saving the Silents program, administered through the National Park Service. These most recent films, all finished to 35mm and several of which are on the third and fourth discs in this set, are the first in what MoMA hopes will now be a regular Edison preservation program.

Ideally, audiences should see these films in their original 35mm format, in a theatrical environment-the kind of film-going experience to which MoMA and similar institutions have always been, and will continue to be committed. Nevertheless, new technologies (first video, and now DVD) have changed the ways in which these films can be studied and enjoyed, providing audiences with a more affordable and dynamic screening experience, both in the classroom and at home. Moreover, DVD sets such as this can offer viewers a much deeper and more wide-ranging selection of film titles than ever before. It seems only fitting, then, that the Museum's Department of Film and Media should join with Kino International to present this unprecedented collection of films to the public. Edison: The Invention of the Movies continues MoMA's longstanding commitment to preserving and making available to the public the world's film heritage, matching it with Kino's equally strong tradition of film and video production and distribution.

Credits and Acknowledgements:

This set was produced for video by Bret Wood. The films were selected by Steven Higgins, in collaboration with Charles Musser. The notes and commentary were written by Musser, in consultation with Higgins. Musser and Wood conducted the interviews, which were taped by Michael Schmidt. Brian Shirey supervised the production. The DVD was authored by Stuart Snider at Cinepost, Atlanta.

Patrick Loughney, Head of the Moving Image Section of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress, provided crucial support for this project by allowing us to include key titles from the Library's extensive Edison holdings.

Ronald Magliozzi selected the original Edison Company documents used in this set from the special collections of The Department of Film and Media at MoMA, where he is Assistant Curator for Research and Collections. Additional print materials were provided by Charles Musser.

We wish particularly to thank our colleagues Eileen Bowser, Paul Israel, Richard Koszarski, Patrick Loughney and Michelle Wallace for their eloquent and astute contributions to the onscreen commentary for this set.

Special thanks to Mary Lea Bandy, Chief Curator of Department of Film and Media of The Museum of Modern Art; Gregory Lukow, Chief of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress; and Don Krim, President of Kino International. Their abiding enthusiasm and support ensured the successful realization of this project.

Thanks also to Michael Mashon and Madeline Matz of the Library of Congress; Peter Williamson, Anne Morra, and Charles Silver of The Museum of Modern Art; and Jessica Rosner of Kino International.

Steven Higgins
Curator, Department of Film and Media The Museum of Modern Art

Charles Musser
Professor of American Studies and Film Studies Yale University

Preservation funding was provided by the following:
The Celeste Bartos Fund for Film Preservation (MoMA)
The National Film Preservation Foundation:

  • The Ambassador's Daughter
  • At Bear Track Gulch
  • One Touch of Nature
  • The Public and Private Care of Infants
  • A Serenade by Proxy
  • Thirty Days at Hard Labor
  • The Unsullied Shield

The Film Foundation:

  • The Ambassador's Daughter
  • At Bear Track Gulch
  • The Great Train Robbery
  • One Touch of Nature
  • The Public and Private Care of Infants
  • A Serenade by Proxy
  • Thirty Days at Hard Labor
  • The Unsullied Shield

The National Endowment for the Arts:

  • All On Account of a Transfer
  • The Great Train Robbery
  • The Terrible Kids
  • The Totville Eye

The Lillian Gish Trust for Film Preservation (MoMA)

  • Cupid's Pranks

The American Federation for the Arts:

  • Inventor Edison Sketched by World Artist

The Bird Hoffman Foundation:

  • Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph

The Russell Sage Foundation:

  • The Public and Private Care of Infants

The following films were preserved by The Museum of Modern Art from original nitrate release prints in the collections of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan:

  • Blacksmithing Scene
  • Sandow
  • Annabelle Butterfly Dance

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