Before the Nickelodeon: The Early Cinema of Edwin S. Porter (1982). 60 mins. Produced, directed and edited by Charles Musser. Written by Warren D. Leight and Charles Musser. Associate Professor and Photo Colorist: Elizabeth Lennard. Executive Producer: Steve Brier. Camera: Rob Issen.
Narrated by Blanche Sweet. Voices: Robert Altman, Milos Forman. Rick King, Louis Malle, Michael Peyser, Jay Leyda, Robert Sklar, D.A. Pennebaker, Peter Davis, Mitchell Kriegman Grahame Weinbren, Jim Walton, Steve Brier, Robert Rosen, Anthony Potter.
Originally shot and distributed in 16mm, DVD versions were made by the BFI and Kino. It can be purchased from Amazon as well.
The idea for Before the Nickelodeon: came out of Jay Leyda’s seminar on D. W. Griffith at NYU, in which we watched his Biograph films, from The Adventures of Dollie onward, in chronological order in an effort to trace his development as a filmmaker. I became frustrated with the assumption, evident among many of my fellow students, that everything of importance started with Griffith.
So I went down to Washington D.C. with Ismail Xavier in October 1976 and ended up looking at the Edison films made between the late 1890s and about 1905 (at which point the Edison films stopped being submitted for copyright purposes as paperprints). These were generally, though as it turned out not always accurately, attributed to Edwin S. Porter. As someone who had worked in the industry for a few years as a film editor, I was particularly interested in the simple editing structures of these films–two shot films such as Another Job for the Undertaker (1901) and Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King (1901). But as I encountered slightly later films such as The Execution of Czologosz (November 1901) and Appointment by Telephone (1902), the progression of work was fascinating.
This was also the moment when I had put aside my cut of An American Potter. Since I was both directing and editing the film myself, I felt I needed some distance. Also the end was in sight and here was the perfect subject for my next film! From Potter to Porter.