David W. Griffith

Prod.: Biograph 35mm. L.: 340 m. D.: 18′ a 16 f/s 

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

This program is dedicated to the most active and, arguably, the most innovative American film production company before the coming of features, The American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. The pioneer company, launched in 1896, was based in New York City and in 1903 opened a new studio in a brownstone on 14th St in Manhattan, an area that held several artists’ studios and adjoined the older theater district of the city. By 1908 the theater district was moving further up Broadway, while 14th street increasingly became a center of film-related businesses, most importantly nickelodeon theaters, but also a few production and importing companies (the business offices of the Danish company, Great Northern, America branch of Nordisk, was located a few doors away from Biograph). During 1908, Biograph’s long-term conflict with the Thomas Edison Co. reached a climax. For more than a decade Edison had tried to dominate all American film production through patents on cameras, projectors and film. While Edison’s lawsuits had intimidated other American producers, Biograph felt relatively secure with its substantial support from inve­stment bankers and its own projector and camera patents (which in 1907 courts had found did not infringe Edison’s). Under the business leadership of Jeremiah J. Kennedy, Biograph responded aggressively. The company increased production and forged alliances with a number of other production companies (mainly importers of foreign films, such as Cines from Italy, Great Northern from Denmark and Georges Kleine who imported both French and British films), in order to supply the expanding nickelodeon trade with a steady source of film outside of Edison and the production companies he had forced to acknowledge his legal rights. This conflict between the Edison and Biograph “combines” continued throughout 1908, with Kleine negotiating a deal by the end of the year which would unite the rival groups (in 1909 this combination officially became the Motion Picture Patents Company). Desiring to increase the number and improve the quality of films, Biograph hired new directors, most famously D. W. Griffith who moved from actor and sometime scenarist to director in the summer of 1908 and directed al Biograph films for the next two years. This program has both pre-Griffith and Griffith films, and a change in style is evident

Tom Gunning

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