Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The First Movie Studio—And a Mea Culpa

Thomas Edison
Edison's Black Maria, West Orange New Jersey
Edison’s first movie studio was in West Orange, New Jersey. It was nicknamed the Black Maria after the stuffy paddy wagons of the day. According to Wikipedia, “The first films shot at the Black Maria, a tar-paper-covered, dark studio room with a retractable roof, included segments of magic shows, plays, vaudeville performances (with dancers and strongmen), acts from Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, various boxing matches and cockfights, and scantily-clad women.” Let’s see. Edison started the film industry with Westerns, comedy, violence, and soft-porn. Seems that when the movie industry migrated to Hollywood, the moguls in charge adopted the same themes.

This very first studio shows the movie industry's predilection to innovate. Notice that the roof can be lifted to catch the light and the entire building is on a rail to rotate with the sun.

Thomas Edison
Edison Motion Picture Studio

What was not filmed at Black Maria was The Great Train Robbery mentioned in my last post. The first feature film was actually shot at the Edison Motion Picture Studio in the Bronx, New York City. My error. At the Black Maria, Edison did film acts from Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, so I’ll still award New Jersey honorary Western status.

Speaking of Hollywood, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the movie industry did not leave New York because of the weather.
“Motion Picture Patents Company, also called Movie Trust, Edison Trust, or The Trust, a trust of 10 film producers and distributors who attempted to gain complete control of the motion-picture industry in the United States from 1908 to 1912. The company, which was sometimes called the Movie Trust, possessed most of the available motion-picture patents, especially those of Thomas A. Edison, for camera and projection equipment. It entered into a contract with Eastman Kodak Company, the largest manufacturer of raw film stock, to restrict the supply of film to licensed members of the company.
The company was notorious for enforcing its restrictions by refusing equipment to uncooperative filmmakers and theatre owners and for its attempts to terrorize independent film producers. It limited the length of films to one and two reels (10 to 20 minutes) because movie audiences were believed incapable of enjoying more protracted entertainment. The company also forbade the identification of actors because popular entertainers might demand higher salaries. By 1912, however, the success of European and independent producers and the violent opposition of filmmakers outside the company weakened the Movie Trust, which, in 1917, was dissolved by court order. The Movie Trust, which was based in New York and other cities of the East Coast, was indirectly responsible for the establishment of Hollywood, Calif., as the nation’s film capital, since many independent filmmakers migrated to the latter town to escape the Trust’s restrictive influence in the East.”

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