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This would be interesting enough to watch as a piece of cinema history,
if for no other reason. J. Stuart Blackton was known for his skills in
drawing and sketching, and he would also soon become active in the new
business of movie-making. This movie was part of a series of films
featuring Blackton, but it is apparently the only one whose footage
In this feature, Blackton draws one of his 'lightning sketches', making an instant portrait of Thomas Edison, for Edison's own camera crew. Blackton is obviously skilled in addition to being fast, although in itself his technique and the portrait of Edison are not otherwise remarkable.
The popularity of this feature, simple though it was, is said to have motivated Blackton to give film-making a try himself. Although he and many of the other earliest movie makers are now largely forgotten, having remnants like this of his work keep him from being more than just a name.
J. Stuart Blackton was an important figure in the early history of
movies. Born in Yorkshire, he emigrated to New York City as a youth, and
age 21 he was employed by the New York 'Evening World' as a cub reporter
sketch artist. Shortly after Thomas Edison announced his invention of the
wonderful new moving-picture device the Vitascope (actually developed by
Edison's assistant W.K.L. Dickson), Blackton's editor sent him to New
to interview the great inventor.
Edison's office manager, W.E. Gilmore, did not want Blackton to interview Edison at all, but Edison granted the interview. Blackton had to bellow into Edison's right ear, as the inventor was nearly deaf. When Edison inquired about the sketchbook under Blackton's arm, Blackton opened it and drew some quick sketches for Edison.
The inventor had a well-developed sense of showmanship. Sensing an opportunity for his new invention, he ordered his assistants to set up the Vitascope apparatus and take footage of himself sitting for a charcoal sketch while Blackton drew his portrait. While the camera cranked, Edison (clearly seen to be speaking onscreen) ordered Blackton to sign the sketch. Sensing the publicity value of this, Blackton signed his name onscreen ... and then added the words 'Cartoonist of the NY Evening World'.
Public curiosity about Edison was rampant at the time, and Edison's Vitascope company released the film throughout America. Because thousands of people saw it, this film reaped tremendous publicity for Blackton's newspaper and for Blackton himself ... so much so, that he was soon able to leave the Evening World and go into business for himself as a moving-picture entrepreneur. He purchased one of the very first Vitascope cameras which Edison's company made commercially available: Vitascope camera #13.
This movie is probably the earliest cinema footage of Thomas Edison, and certainly the first footage of Blackton ... an important motion-picture figure in his own right. For its historic significance, I'll rate this movie 10 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
. . . as most of the kinetograph Edison offerings that the Edison National Historic Site, the Library of Congress, and the Museum of Modern Art list as 50' of 35 mm film clock in at 15 to 20 seconds when you watch them nowadays, whereas this feature drags on for one minute and 25.46 or 85 seconds! The end result from the NEW YORK WORLD newspaper editorial cartoonist only credited on-screen as "Blackton" is a pretty messy and virtually unrecognizable "sketch" of Edison. (The official U.S. government Library of Congress name for this bit is INVENTOR EDISON SKETCHED BY WORLD ARTIST, by the way.) The U.S. National Park Service expert says in the intro to this piece that Blackton fancied himself the greatest artist in the world (obviously he was never exposed to Van Gogh or Gaugin, whouv made much more money in their careers to date than he and everyone else working at the NY WORLD during its existence made in their combined lifetimes), so he wears a Bob Cratchit outfit while scribbling out this sketch to "prove" it. (It must be that ancient garment the DOWNTON ABBEY review says used to be MORE formal and artistically restricting that the "modern" tuxedo.) So irregardless of what the "cast" credits say here, donent look for old Tom from Port Huron to make an appearance here--unless, that is, you can stretch your imagination as much as "Blackton the Magnificent."
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