Movie History! Edwin S. Porter: an inventive director

Edwin S. Porter was also one of the most influential directors in the beginning of film, and will also be the last director that I’ll discuss before going over in the area where movies got sound.

Edwin S. Porter was born April 21st 1870, and is most famous for his works in Thomas edwin_s_porterEdison’s film studios. Porter was born as a son of a merchant and had three brothers and one sister. After porter finished his school, he went on to be a painter, but he also worked as a telegraph clerk, not his dream jobs, but
it earned him some money. In the 1890’s he ended up working as an electrician for the US Navy and in the late 1890’s Porter worked as both a projectionist and mechanic, eventually becoming director and cameraman for the Edison Manufacturing Company. This was around 1899.

Working as a projectionist he had to copy some of Méliès work and he slowly started to work himself up as a director. He started operating the camera and also started to direct actors. The next century would be the time that he would become more popular. He started to create his own films and because of his history as a projector, he knew what people liked to see on the big screen: comedies. So his first films were obviously comedies. mv5byjy4m2u3n2etowy2os00mmnmlwe4ywytytu1zjhkmtjinjm2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynzg5otk2oa-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_One of his early films also concluded use of trick photography, a technique Méliès mastered at the time and just like comedies became pretty popular. An example can be found in his 1900 film called An Animated Luncheon. Here we meet two people who are supposedly on a date of some sorts. They both order their food, which are two eggs. But when they crack open the eggs, two white chickens appear. This was seen as a joke at the time, and having the chickens appear was done by an edit, which you can vaguely see.  Than they go on to get cooked rabbit, but to their surprise the meat turns into real rabbits, again white, so they would be more noticeable due to the black and white photography. I myself am not that big of a fan of the short, mostly because what we see as funny now, has changed throughout the years, which you can clearly see if you look at comedies out of the early 1900’s there they were more careful of what they laughed at, while we nowadays praise the crude humor of films like Deadpool.

Three years after the just now discussed film, he went on to make the first western ever, of which I’m more a fan of than of An Animated Luncheon. This film is of course the infamous The Great Train Robbery. The film is about 11 minutes long and is as the title insinuates about a train robbery. This film was quite revolutionary, because of the editing techniques he used. This film is one of the first films to contain cross-editing, which means that they show what’s going on with one character, and then edit away to show what’s going on with another character at the same time. Just like in An Animated Luncheon he used editing to make things appear/disappear, but more subtle this time. For example at around 3:54 minutes into the short, one of the bandits is beating someone up, but when he’s doing that, the man’s changed with a man-sized doll, so he could be thrown of a moving train. You don’t really have to look closely to notice the edit, but it shows that he is using previously invented techniques, to do something practical. At the end of the short you can see one of the bandits shooting at the camera, which made a lot of audience members scared at the time, because they thought that they were actually shot at.

This short is also the one that was the cause of the rise of the first movie theaters in the United States, the Nickelodeon. In 1905 it premiered in the theater. Nickelodeon would quickly grow due to the popularity of the medium, because by 1908 there were already more than 10 000 Nickelodeon theaters in the United States.

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Nickelodeon theater 1905

In 1909 Porter left Edison’s film studio and started his own called Rex Film Co. Together with William Swanson and Joseph W. Engel. He later left the project to start work more on his own. He started to experiment with 3D photography. To do so he invested a lot of money in his new company, which made film equipment, called Precision Machine Company (1917). It was a successful company, but in 1929 due to the stock market crash, it went bankrupt.  He did however create a 3D movie, called Niagara Falls, which came out in 1915.

The stock market crash was the beginning of the end for Edwin S. Porter. He’d stopped making films in 1915 and now, in 1930 he took every job he could find as a machinist. At that time he also started to tinker around with camera’s to create one on his own that was more accessible and affordable. When Porter suffered from a stroke, he was unable to go on working on this project, and he eventually died in 1941.

Images via: IMDb, Flickr and Wikipedia

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