Blacksmith Scene (1893) Poster

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Firsts: Staging and Commercial Exhibition
Cineanalyst1 December 2007
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).)
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Historically Important, & Still Looks Very Good
Snow Leopard21 July 2005
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.
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One of the most curious of curiosity pieces...
Michael DeZubiria21 November 2002
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...
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Have you seen the Blacksmith scene?
Clark Richards12 January 2005
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.

Clark Richards
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Banging Away..
MrCritical12 November 2003
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)
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First film made specifically for public viewing
James M. Haugh16 March 2003
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.
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Best commercial American film ever!
boblipton15 October 2002
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.
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Remarkable example of moving picture technology
dfarmbrough18 October 2000
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
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technological breakthrough
Karen Green (klg19)18 November 2001
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"?
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Showing the potential possibilities of motion picture perfectly.
Boba_Fett113815 October 2007
This early movie perfectly demonstrates the future possibilities of motion picture.

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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He_who_lurks12 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
While many of Edison's earliest films were mostly of athletes and dancers doing a remarkable feat for the camera, "Blacksmith Scene" is entirely different. It actually has a staged scenario, with actual acting and props. While the "narrative" is nothing special (just several men hammering on an anvil and drinking beer) it's interesting to see how blacksmith scenes became a popular subject in early filmmaking.

To begin with, there were many early film genres that originated from somewhere. There were actualities, one-gag joke films, dance films, phantom ride films, crime films, chase films, trains-arriving-in-stations films, and I don't know what else. Another popular subject was blacksmiths. This film began that genre, and what followed were various remakes (the two I know of are the Lumiere Bro's "The Blacksmiths" and Georges Melies's "Blacksmith in his Workshop" which is now considered a lost film). Thus, with this film another early film genre was born.

Also, this Edison short is known for, like I said, the staging. While the Lumiere's "The Blacksmiths" is probably more an actuality as it looks more like the real thing, this one is interesting simply because it's an attempt to display a fictitious scene on film. Not saying the actors are exactly great; the thin one on the left barely takes a sip, showing it's obviously an empty bottle they're "drinking" from. As always, this one is only worth seeing for the historical interest, not for entertainment, and one can obviously not expect too much of it. On the historic side, it is thus a must-see.
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First alcohol showed in movie
vukelic-stjepan7 November 2016
I am chronologically watching movies from oldest to newest and I think that this is first movie which shows people drinking alcohol. I guess that this is beer, and I am glad that my favorite drink is first alcohol showed in movie. But I am not sure that drinking on job where you can hurt yourself in any moment.

I see in comments that this is earliest movie selected in USA national registry, but it is not correct, Newark athlete which is older is also included in this registry. I see that many comments said that this movie has better quality than movies which are recorded 20,30 years later, that is shame for guys which recorded this movies.
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Important Film
gavin694219 January 2016
Three men hammer on an anvil and pass a bottle of beer around.

There is not much to say about this because it only happens to be a minute long. But even at the minute, it looks pretty good and we can see that the film industry is off to a good start. Maybe this was staged, but that is what most film -- at least commercially -- happens to be.

There is speculation that the bottle of beer is supposed to be a slightly humorous hint that this is a bygone era, because although blacksmithing still existed in 1890, the idea of drinking at work had more or less faded away. Whether this is true or not, I have no idea. I can see no reason that it just did not happen that these guys were thirsty blacksmiths. Drinking on the job is not unheard of.
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The first narrative scene...
kobe141322 February 2014
William Heise and W.K.L. Dickson work together on this short of the Edison Manufacturing Company. It was the a scene of three men working as blacksmith. They all strike the iron between them, then they take a break as one man hands another a drink. This is celebrated as the first narrative scene ever committed to film.

This was an important step forward for the Edison team as they had previously only filmed performers doing a routine, such as the "Newark Athlete", or filming themselves, such as the "Dickson Greeting". Here they purposely stage a scene in their studio so that they can make their audiences believe they are watching actual blacksmiths at work.

I give a 2 out of 10, as it only really needed to be scene as a historical document.
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Work before pleasure before work
Warning: Spoilers
We see a trio of men working an anvil. Halfway through the film, they decide to take a break and pass a beer bottle around. Then it is back to work again. This is by far not the only film concentrating on the work of blacksmiths in the early days of cinema. Looks like it's a recurring theme that kept attracting filmmakers. I'm not sure how much these men were actual blacksmiths or actors playing the part.

In any case, this movie was deemed significant enough to be introduced into the American National Film Registry 102 years after its release. Unfortunately I have to disagree. I've seen several films shortly before or afterward that would have been more deserving of the honor, but were neglected.
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13 seconds of work, 14 seconds of beer breaks . . .
cricket crockett25 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
. . . with no apparent fear of catching meningitis from sharing a common bottle. The film notes guy for EDISON: THE INVENTION OF THE MOVIES 4-disc set (Yalie Charles Musser) assumes the contents of the shared drink are booze-based, since he deems it necessary to explain "the mixing of work and alcohol had been common in the early 19th Century . . ." (which means 1800 to 1850, for the mathematically challenged) " . . . but by the 1890s, was part of a bygone era." What he is alluding to is the fascist work place of New Amerika invented by Edison and his hometown drinking buddy, Henry Ford, in whose namesake museum BLACKSMITH SCENE recently was rediscovered. In just one of millions of examples, Ford hired a racketeer named Henry Bennett to supervise pistol-toting thugs installed along all of his assembly lines, with orders to shoot any workers who attempted to talk to each other while assembling Model T's shortly after BLACKSMITH SCENE was released. Though Edison churned out 2,000 films by 1918, not ONE of them has the title "MODEL T ASSEMBLY LINE SCENE"!!
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Pound that metal
John Seal26 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Men haven't changed much since Edison shot 'Blacksmith Scene' in 1893 (interestingly featuring the title card 'Blacksmith Scene #1' on the first volume of the Treasures From American Film Archives series--does this mean there was a sequel?). Here we get to enjoy thirty seconds of men pounding things: a glowing hot piece of metal on an anvil, an ice cold bottle of beer, and...well, you don't actually see them pounding anything else, but these are some pretty macho looking dudes and you can imagine what they enjoy doing on the weekend. It's not exactly the most exciting plot, but as this was the first dramatic film ever made, it only seems fair to cut it some slack. Too bad its double bill partner, a similar short focusing on horseshoes, doesn't seem to have survived.
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Hammering entertainment into the twentieth century
ackstasis12 June 2010
'Blacksmith Scene (1893)' was one of the first commercially-exhibited motion pictures, filmed in April 1893 and first screened publicly at the Brooklyn Institute on May 9, 1893. The set-up is pretty simple: three blacksmiths (actually employees of Thomas Edison) start hammering away at a heated metal rod and an anvil, before pausing to pass around a bottle of beer. The acting from two of the performers is convincing enough; the third blacksmith, on the left, doesn't even pretend that the beer bottle contains any liquid, briefly pressing the rim to his mouth and then removing it without even the pretence of drinking. The film's first seven seconds have the silhouette of a fourth party blocking the left side of the frame, before somebody presumably told him to get out of the way. While watching this didn't give me the same thrill as the Lumière brothers' 'Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895),' 'Blacksmith Scene' is still an important historical curiosity. I'm grateful that the National Film Registry always remembers to honour and preserve even these apparently-innocuous snippets of cinema history.
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Edison: Invention of Movies
Michael_Elliott31 December 2008
Blacksmith Scene (1893)

Barber Shop, The (1893)

These two Edison shorts are more "film like" than previous items from the studio, which were pretty much just camera tests. In the first film we see three men hammering some iron before taking a break and passing a beer around. The second short has three men sitting around a barber shop with one of them receiving a shave. Once again these two are basically going to be for those wanting to see early examples of history so coming to either one of these films for entertainment, as we use the word today, would be quite useless. I find watching these other films to be quite entertaining because of anything Edison could have filmed, they thought audiences would want to see this.
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