The Short Films of the Edison Studio

On the Short Films of the Edison Studio

Blacksmithing Scene (1893) Director: W.K.L. Dickson
The “blacksmithing scene” short clip is significant for being the first publicly shown Kinetograph motion picture in May 1893. It features a still camera recording of three blacksmiths hammering, pausing for a moment to share a drink of beer, and then continuing.


The footage for the “blacksmithing scene” has survived in much better condition than an earlier Dickson experimental film called the “Newark Athlete” featuring a young boy juggling, shot in 1891. It was exclusively shot at Edison’s Black Maria studio in West Orange, New Jersey.

Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894-1895) Director: William Kennedy Laurie Dickson

DicksonFilm Still.png

This early experiment in synchronized sound and film was shot at Thomas Edison’s studio in West Orange, New Jersey, popularly called the “Black Maria.” It was a test of Edison’s “Kinetophone” project. The wax recording of the sound (as seen in the film) was believed lost for many years until it turned up in 1964 in a broken cylinder in Edison’s National Historic Site as the “Violin by WKL Dickson with Kineto”. In 1998, the wax cylinder was repaired and re-recorded in New York. It was the first time the film and sound were matched since Edison and Dickson originally put the two together over 115 years ago.

Vaguely in the background the audience can hear someone (perhaps Edison or Dickson) say “Are the rest of you ready? Go ahead.” The film shows a few seconds of a man (Dickson) playing violin into a wax recording while two other men dance beside him. Another man appears in the background before the footage terminates.

There is no evidence that Edison or his team featured this film in any kind of public display. There is reason to believe they produced many other joint “Kinetophone” films, yet this is the only one that has survived. The violin song is from an 1877 Robert Planquette opera called ‘The Chimes of Normandy.’ The film lasts about 17 seconds while the wax cylinder contains about 23 seconds of sound. Tragically there have been some latter “sophisticated” modern interpreters who claim all manner of ‘homoerotic’ interpretations of the film.

It is impossible to evaluate a film of such technological importance to the history of cinema. It is an important early film to view.

Other early clips include a recording of a long-time Edison employee named Fred Ott while he inhales his snuff and promptly sneezes; or a recording of Annie Oakley shooting at glass balls (Edison was friends with Buffalo Bill and his traveling roadshow which featured Annie Oakley); and “The Kiss,” featuring the first onscreen romantic kiss between May Irwin and John Rice, who were both Broadway and vaudeville actors portraying the final scene from a popular show called “The Widow Jones.”


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