Rather, the drastic financial falloff at Biograph not only reflects an era of instability in the U. Disputes over Patents: Edison v. As soon as its patents were securely in hand, Edison had initiated a series of patent-infringement suits as a means of pursuing this strategy. Robert K. Bonine, Cutting Sugar in Honolulu ,. Edison sued Biograph in May , and although the case would not be resolved for nearly three years, when it came, the preliminary ruling was a potentially devastating blow to the defendant. In other words, Biograph was guilty of patent infringement and Edison deserved compensation see Figure 7.
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Biograph managed to block the court order that would have closed it down completely, but pending a judgment of monetary damages, the company drastically reduced its investment in production. During an eight-month period in , Biograph added films to its catalog, but all were less expensive actualities. Most of these films were shot by a peripatetic cameraman named Robert K. Bonine ? In , he would perform much the same function for Edison. Free to resume production, Biograph turned out about films between May and September , although very few were multishot films with actors.
Moreover, Biograph had already committed to converting its entire catalog of 70mm films to the 35mm format. The process took about a year, and during that time, Biograph devoted much of its resources to shooting duplicate versions of films and helping clients make the transition from 70mm to 35mm films. Conflict over Copyrights: Edison v. When the original decision was handed down against Biograph, Sigmund Lubin see Chapter 4. In fact, he moved his offices to Germany, from which he continued to sell films, and returned to the U. When he reopened, however, Edison promptly sued Lubin for copyright infringement.
In June , the courts handed down yet another decision that had serious repercussions for the entire U. Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze ,. Dickson, Edison, Back in , Edison had filed its first copyright, registering Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze as a photograph see Figure 7. Typically, producers submitted to the Copyright Office not reels of flammable nitrate film, but rather rolls of paper strips—contact prints made on photographic paper from original negatives see Figure 7.
In Edison v.
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Lubin January , a federal judge ruled that its principle of visual intelligibility—its construction as a series of indistinguishable pictures—was necessary to the performance of the motion picture. He went on to reason that the unique notational system of the motion picture—the property that would make it eligible for copyright protection—supported and conveyed not individual frames, but rather the film as a complete recorded performance.
Unfortunately, current legal practice protected the motion picture only by regarding it as a photograph. Until adequate legislation was enacted, only individual frames could be protected; in order to protect a whole film, a producer would have to copyright every individual frame. Neither Edison nor anyone else had foreseen such a requirement, and for all intents and purposes, from that date no motion picture was protected by U. Edison appealed, but the immediate impact of the decision shook the entire industry: it made no sense for any American producer to invest in the creation of new properties as long as the law could not protect its right to the financial rewards.
Domestic production ground to a virtual halt for several months. Selig Polyscope Company,. Chicago, ca. By the fall of , however, Selig was reduced to selling dupes of European films and making only promotional films subsidized by Colorado railroads. Selig produced no new acted films until the copyrights issue had been settled.
Where did the films come from? Charles Musser reports that in late , a Biograph program available to New York theaters consisted mostly of actualities the German Navy on maneuvers, tourists in Yosemite Valley, two scenes of local color from Turkey , with one comedy and one trick film shots of people diving into the ocean run backwards for the sake of variety. All but one of these items were produced by European companies and distributed in the U. Vitagraph, meanwhile, had resumed production almost as soon as the Mutoscope decision freed it from its obligations to Edison.
Between January and May , however, all Vitagraph programs were merely variations playable on a backlist of non-Edison films. Paul in England see Chapter 3. Smith in England see Chapter 5. Of the films available to Vitagraph, were British and 66 French.
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As the only other American producer who continued to compete, Lubin openly duped films from both Edison and various foreign manufacturers. Before long, prices and profit margins dropped at Edison, Lubin, Biograph, and Selig, and, ironically, American firms found that they could best compete in the market for the most popular subjects by continuing to dupe European films. Gaston Velle, L'Album merveilleux ,.
But not until an appeals court reversed the Lubin decision in April did U. Edwin S. Porter, Maniac Chase ,. Edison, USA There are actually several chase episodes. In another, a long shot is cut into a scene in which the escapee and a guard struggle on a bridge, with the interpolated shot camouflaging the trick whereby a dummy is substituted for the guard before he is hurled into a rocky stream far below.
Star-Films, France, In , U. As Abel observes, the Edison Company promoted its dupe of Cinderella as a special attraction for the Christmas season of And of course, they appealed to precisely the audience coveted by vaudeville managers: middle-class mothers and their children. Harry Davis , a Pittsburgh entertainment entrepreneur, opened an amusement arcade in April The new establishment Figure 7. Princess Theatre, Detroit, ca. The phenomenon spread rapidly, and by February , Chicago had motion-picture theaters; by June, there were more than in New York, and by mid, Philadelphia boasted more than They would alter the nature of spectatorship and precipitate fundamental shifts in representation.
Their explosive demand for product would not only increase film production but force its reorganization. It is not too much to say that modern cinema began with the nickelodeons. Film historian Russell Merritt identifies the three most important facets of this revolution, which transpired between the years and the nickelodeon, he says,. Auditorium Theatre, Toronto, ca. Storefront theaters were usually located in urban commercial districts and along the densely populated streets of working-class and immigrant neighborhoods. At first, they were small, seating from to people, and more functional than elegant in their appointments.
Sometimes they did not even trouble to remove the plate-glass windows after all, the building might be used for another purpose six months hence but merely pasted the posters up against them on the inside. My own first neighborhood theater. There was no box office. The proprietor. The Family Electric Theater was a rather dismal place, and indeed the fact that films had to be shown in darkness handicapped them greatly with many Americans of the time. Darkness was evil, or if not it might easily become a cloak for evil. This feeling was so strong that there were places where customers were allowed to sit in the light and watch the pictures through holes in a curtain.
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