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It's always fascinating to watch movies that are this old because it's like
looking a hundred years into the past. You get to see a glimpse of what the
world was like a century ago, even though in this particular film all we see
is three guys hammering on an anvil. Blacksmith Scene was the first film
ever to be shown to a large audience, I think it was something like 200
people who watched it one at a time on a kinetoscope after a lecture by the
Edison Company, the creators of the film. Actual projection of movies didn't
start until about a year or so later.
There are a lot of interesting things about this film, especially since it's the first one that was made to be shown to a large audience. These are actors in the film, not actual blacksmiths, so it's not even a documentary but it's interesting that the first thing portrayed is actual work. A perfect way to introduce a new medium. Another thing that is pretty interesting is the way they pass around that bottle of beer - even in this earliest of early films, they are striving to entertain. This is not just a moving photograph, but a primitive film that seeks to do exactly what every film made thereafter strives to do - hold the audience's attention. Obviously, it was a lot easier for a moving picture to hold the audience's attention in 1893 than it is today, but in this primitive film all of the major requirements of a film can be found.
Except a plot, of course...
This is one of the (at least) two films that the Edison Company
exhibited in their nearly completed peephole viewer, the Kinetoscope,
for the first time to the public at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and
Sciences on 9 May 1893. The other, which hasn't received comparable
historical attention, was "Horse Shoeing" (1893). This historical
importance is why the US Library of Congress has made it the earliest
film selected to its National Film Registry. The Edison Company, headed
by primary filmmakers and inventors William K.L. Dickson and William
Heise, had been successfully producing films as early as 1890.
Additionally, they had already given a public demonstration with a
proto Kinetoscope on 20 May 1891 to some 150 members of the National
Federation of Women's Clubs. The film shown was "Dickson Greeting",
where Dickson tips his hat--he moves.
The historical significance of primacy doesn't stop there for "Blacksmith Scene", though. Its May 1893 showing tested the Kinetoscope's commercial viability. On 14 April 1894, the first public Kinetoscope parlour opened in New York--their first commercial exhibition. Included among the 10 films that made up the original program was "Blacksmith Scene" (referred to as "Blacksmiths"). "Horse Shoeing" was there, too. Of the more interesting films also shown that day were: "Barber Shop" (1894), which was another interesting early use of the "Black Maria" as a (now) conventional studio set with a proto fictional narrative. And, "Sandow" (1894) flexing and posing in a loincloth offered an example of the voyeuristic and sexualized potential for the new medium--accentuated by the individualized peephole viewer. On 17 October of the same year, "Blacksmith Scene" (referred to as "Blacksmith Shop") was also part of the first Kinetoscope program in England.
In addition to its primacy in the commercial exhibition of motion pictures, "Blacksmith Scene" is also a historically noteworthy film in how it's staged to form an artificial setting and fictional narrative. As primitive as it appears today, it was probably the most complex film made to date. Before its filming, Dickson and Heise had filmed brief displays of sport, such as boxing, which would prove a very popular subject in early American film. Other experiments such as "Dickson Greeting" (1891) and "A Hand Shake" (1892) were mere recordings of the motion of gestures and weren't released commercially. So too were the early experiments by others like Louis Le Prince and Woodsworth Donisthorpe. Thus, the history of film as a commercial industry begins with "Blacksmith Scene".
Although with a slightly less restrictive definition of "motion pictures", one could argue that Eadweard Muybridge, Ottomar Anschütz, Émile Reynaud and others beat Thomas Edison to it. Nevertheless, this film is a departure from anything made before.
The film, "Blacksmith Scene", consists of a stationary long shot lasting around half a minute of three blacksmiths who take a brief break from blacksmithing to pass around a bottle of beer. It's primitive--a silhouette of a man standing in front of the camera and on the left-hand side of the frame is briefly seen before, I assume, being told to move out of the picture. The trademark sunlit shadows and black background of the "Black Maria" become an overused setting in the early Edison films, but in regards to the time of this film, it wasn't hackneyed yet. Nevertheless, there are three actors (in actuality, employees of Edison who worked on the invention of the Kinetoscope) pretending to be blacksmiths, and they act out a fictional scene of blacksmithing.
Moreover, as Charles Musser has pointed out, the film's narrative is nostalgic--recalling a bygone era when drinking while working was commonplace. In this sense, the film is a reconstruction of the past--something that the Edison Company would take further in "The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots" (1895).
"Blacksmith Scene" received widespread distribution--was, in fact, one of the first such films to be seen by many, and as such, was one of the earliest films to influence other filmmakers and to encourage remakes. The Lumière Company remade it as "Les Forgerons" (Blacksmiths at Work) in 1895. Also with the title "Blacksmiths at Work" is James Williamson's film made in 1898. The Edison Company, itself, remade it in 1895 (actually their third blacksmithing scene--the first being a now-lost experiment in 1891). Although not influenced by these commercial films (or vice versa), blacksmithing was also the subject of scientific analyses around this time in films of Albert Londe, as well as Étienne-Jules Marey and Charles Fremont.
(Note: This is the second in a series of my comments on 10 "firsts" in film history. The other films covered are Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge (1888), Annabelle Serpentine Dance (1895), The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895), La Sortie des usines Lumière (1895), L' Arroseur arose (1895), L' Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat (1896), Panorama du Grand Canal vu d'un bateau (1896), Return of Lifeboat (1897) and Panorama of Eiffel Tower (1900).)
The footage in this very early movie still looks very good, and it
still works as a vignette (albeit a staged one) of life in a bygone
era. In itself, it's a simple scene, but it's far from a lifeless one,
and the composition works as well.
The scene, which features the leisurely-paced efforts of the blacksmiths as they do their work while occasionally refreshing themselves, is not without a little irony. Even in its day, although the blacksmith shop itself was a familiar sight, the laid-back feel of the scene was deliberately imagined as a throwback to an earlier day, rather than as a picture of the (then) present of the 1890s. (The notes in the new Kino collection of Edison films confirm this.) By contrast, many of the other earliest movies were made with a deliberate emphasis on things of the present.
The images still look quite clear in comparison with some of the other experiments in the earlier 1890s, so it must have looked quite good in its time. Then, it was an intriguing taste of things soon to come. Now, it is a chance to revisit the past.
I found this film on a DVD collection of short films. I believe the
title of the DVD was the 'Treasury Collection', of which there are at
least 4 volumes. It's hard to rate this film along the same standards
one would rate, 'Casablanca' or 'Citizen Kane', because it isn't so
much a movie with a plot, it's just a steady shot of some Blacksmith's
working. The film couldn't have been longer than a minute. The one
thing that I found to be interesting was that of being able to look
back through time. It's kind of funny that in this day and age of
'Reality' teevee, the first movie sold to the public for viewing was a
movie that was nothing more than a slice of everyday humdrum reality.
10/10. For being able to cross over into the 1800's.
Thomas Edison and William K.L. Dickson's "Blacksmith Scene," was the first
film shown publicly in 1893.
This short is a brief look at 3 workers as they go about their daily ritual. Great piece of work for its time.
In the early days of cinema, directors typically recorded everyday events such as the arrival of ships or workers leaving a factory. These short films were called "actualities." Later, with the advent of better equipment (which could record for longer), directors began to introduce more complicated narratives into film.
10* (10* Rating System)
The Black Maria movie studio at Edison's West Orange, New Jersey laboratory
(see comments on "Men Boxing" for a description) was used, from 1892 until
1900, to produce as many as 300 films. "Blacksmith Scene" was filmed in
this studio and is generally regarded as the earliest known commercial film.
It was filmed by the vertical-feed Kinetograph camera using 1-1/2-inch
celluloid film newly developed by the Eastman Company.
To make this film 'commercial', it was necessary to have a way for the public to view it. A Kinetoscope was developed for that purpose. The Kinetoscope (a peep-show machine) was used for a public exhibition; given at a meeting of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on Tuesday May 9th, 1893. Over 400 people lined up to view the film over a two hour period.
Of course, it's easy to be the best, when you're the only one, and this picture, as the first film released commercially by the Edison company -- there are a couple of test films that date from 1891 -- qualifies. Considering the standards of the time, it's also pretty good, demonstrating motion and composition in a decent fashion.
The two men hammering away at nondescript pieces of metal is a remarkable way of demonstrating the then new art of cinematography. The prints we see today have suffered from indifferent duplication, years of neglect, and lackadaisical 'restoration' and must be viewed in this context. There is an unwillingness to adjust the speed of these films in video transfers which beggars belief, so the speed will also appear unreasonably slow. Nevertheless this is a good way of demonstrating how tonal contrast, the fluidity of movement of the human body, and the interaction of two men with one another can be captured by a mechanical device. If anyone can tell me what the man on the left is making, I should be most grateful
All right, so it's short on plot. But just the fact of this Edison-studio produced film is enough to make it an award-winner. It doesn't have the same pathos as the Edison clip of men dancing used to such great effect in "The Celluloid Closet," but how can you not love a century-old example of "Miller Time"?
This early movie perfectly demonstrates the future possibilities of
The quality of the movie is surprising good looking. There are no jerky movements and the colors are clear to see, as is the entire picture as a whole. Sorts of makes you wonder why movies from the 1910's and '20's were so much worse looking compared to these early Edison Manufacturing Company films, from the end of the 19th century, when it comes down to the visual quality of the images. Of course it has to do everything with different (and cheaper and more simple to make) camera techniques and projecting being used, among other reasons.
The movie shows three hard working blacksmiths hammering on an anvil, one at a time, each on a other side. When they're done they're thirsty and pass a bottle of beer, before resuming their work. Funny to see that the beer bottle itself was obviously empty. The third guy that got the bottle didn't even bothered to do as if he took a sip. He simply putted the bottle against his lips and then quickly putted it back on its place.
It's a studio shot movie (shot at Black Maria studio at West Orange, New Jersey, America's first movie studio, built on the grounds of Edison's laboratories), meaning that the person's are 'actors' (actually of course just Edison employees) and the events are staged. The movie shows all of the possibilities of movie making. It has lots of individual movements from 3 separate persons and 'action' in it, since there are several things happening within the 30 seconds.
I'm sure this movie must have really thrilled people to see all of the possibilities of motion pictures, when it was first publicly shown at the Brooklyn Institute in 1893.
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