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Before the Nickelodeon: The Early Cinema of Edwin S. Porter
Before the Nickelodeon The Early Cinema of Edwin S Porter
Director: Charles Musser
Genres: Westerns, Comedy, Special Interests, Educational, Documentary
NR     2008

Noted film historian Charles Musser (The Emergence of Cinema) co-wrote and directed this definitive tribute to Edwin S. Porter, Thomas Edison s mechanic and cameraman, who is now recognized as America s first important fil...  more »


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Movie Details

Director: Charles Musser
Genres: Westerns, Comedy, Special Interests, Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Westerns, Comedy, Special Interests, Educational, Biography, History
Studio: Kino Video
Format: DVD - Black and White,Color
DVD Release Date: 04/22/2008
Original Release Date: 01/01/1982
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1982
Release Year: 2008
Screens: Black and White,Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 8
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Documentary on Porter plus some of his works
calvinnme | 03/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Edwin S. Porter, best known as the director of "The Great Train Robbery," is the subject of an hour-long documentary co-written and directed by film scholar Charles Musser and narrated by silent film star Blanche Sweet. The disc includes three vintage shorts never before available on DVD:
Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1902)
Waiting at the Church (1906)
Life of a Cowboy (1906)
There are a total of 16 Porter films on the DVD including The May Irwin Kiss (1896), The Sunken Battleship `Maine' (1898), Jack and the Beanstalk (1902) and Life of an American Fireman (1902). Obviously there is going to be some overlap with this DVD and the more expensive and expansive DVD set, Edison - The Invention of the Movies (1891-1918). However, for the low price of this set it might be worth it."
Porter should be better served
Jmark2001 | Florida | 07/30/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)

"This is an el cheapo tribute to Porter. Clips are not always in the best condition. It looks as if none were restored with modern techniques. Biography is skeletal. Narration is boring. Some portions are introduced with intertitles. If you have seen "the Great train Robbery" you do not need to see this."
Before D.W. Griffith there was... Edwin S. Porter
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 10/07/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is an interesting one hour documentary about Edwin S. Porter who provided a significant influence in the development of early cinema around the turn of the century before D.W. Griffith became America's most prominent film director. The documentary begins with Thomas Edison and his phonograph invention at the end of the 1800s, and shows us how moving pictures came onto the scene shortly thereafter, focussing on Edwin Porter's efforts in the early years of the 1900s. The story is told using excerpts from moving pictures and still photographs, many of them coloured in various ways which I found unusual and interesting. The narration is mainly by Blanche Sweet, a well-known actress of early cinema herself, and she speaks rather slowly which might take a little getting used to at first, but overall everything is clear and easy to understand. This documentary is obviously for those who are interested in the development of film-making, but also a treat for the history buff in general for its many old photographs and excerpts from film footage; news coverage, re-enactments and the first storytelling films alike.

Some highlights of this documentary for me were the explanations about how editing began, what Porter did, who influenced him to do so, and how the public responded. It was also interesting to learn how quickly a 30-minute film became so popular that it began to be mass-produced within a few years - which Porter resisted for some reason and sadly he was left behind when editing, film continuity and storytelling really began to progress from around 1908 onwards, and D.W. Griffith stepped into the limelight. Overall, a nice documentary that serves as a good introduction and overview of the first steps of cinema, with at least two complete Porter productions ("Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Life of an American Fireman")from 1902-1903, and excerpts from several others. This tape would nicely complement the DVD box set "The Movies Begin" which I'd also recommend for anyone interested in history and the development of film-making."
Very good even with a few distractions
Matthew G. Sherwin | last seen screaming at Amazon customer service | 01/20/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The makers of this documentary tried their best to keep the focus on their subject, Edwin S. Porter and his contributions to the development of early cinema, but unfortunately the way the narration goes there are so many other people and events discussed that the film doesn't give true justice to Porter and what he did at the dawn of motion pictures. This is not to say, however, that the documentary is poorly done; in fact it's very educational and interesting. However, it covers too much more than just Edwin Porter and may distract you from Porter's story in particular. However, the filmmakers do tell his story in the appropriate chronological order and the vintage film clips are very good even if a few suffer from poor lighting which was a universal issue at the time. In addition, the narration by former silent film star Blanche Sweet is very well done.

We learn so much about Foster and the development of early cinema and storytelling on film; and that's a very real plus even if it isn't always directly related to Edwin Porter. We see how Edison developed his motion picture camera at about the same time as a few other inventors were working on the same invention; and it's interesting to see how Porter used his skills especially in the years 1900 to 1904 or so to tell stories that were never before presented with such visual clarity to masses of people. Specifically, Porter tackled issues to allow film to tell a story. Porter worked hard to make short motion pictures with more than one scene; and he struggled greatly with the challenge of portraying two events that happened simultaneously. He was also one of America's first motion picture directors, even working on the classic short entitled "The Great Train Robbery" and "Jack and the Beanstalk" which required several scenes to tell the story; all of his techniques were quite new at the time and Porter mastered them during his heyday in the years 1900-1909.

Of course, there's much more to Porter's story than that. I don't want to spoil it for you so I'll leave the rest out!

The DVD comes with three short films: "Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show;" "Waiting at the Church" and "The Life of a Cowboy."

Overall, if you want to take a look at Edwin Porter's contributions to the making and marketing of short motion pictures before the advent of the nickelodeon, this documentary is a good one. Unfortunately, it tries a bit too hard to be comprehensive and occasionally gets a little too sidetracked along the way; but it still tells a great story. I recommend this for classic film buffs and anyone else interested in how the motion picture was initially developed."