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The little train robbery / Thomas A. Edison, Inc. 1905.

[Detail] The little train robbery / Thomas A. Edison, Inc. 1905

Critical Thinking

The film and audio recordings collected in Inventing Entertainment provide opportunities to chronicle the evolution of the motion picture industry and its influence on popular entertainment. Footage of vaudeville performers provides a catalyst to assess the demise of theatrical film during the early-twentieth century. Films of the Western genre can prompt a discussion on how certain styles transcend the media after entering the nation's cultural vocabulary. Additional films can be analyzed to discuss the merits of public executions and to research historic firsts in technology and popular entertainment.

Chronological Thinking Skills

An August 1910 article on Thomas Edison, "Who's Who in the Film Game," describes the motion picture camera as "the absolute foundation of an amusement business that encircles the world, giving employment to thousands and numbering its daily devotees by hundreds and hundreds of thousands." The Special Presentations, "The Timeline for Inventing Entertainment," and "The Life of Thomas Edison" provide an opportunity to chronicle the early history of the motion picture industry and the relationship between technology and the development of narrative forms.

The filmography, "Chronological Title List of Edison Motion Pictures," features examples of motion pictures from the first three decades of the industry's history, beginning with the Dickson Greeting (1891). Non-fiction "actualities" of vaudeville performers, documentaries, and comic sketches featuring trick photography gradually gave way to longer narratives such as an adaptation of the fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk and original tales such as the famous Western, The Great Train Robbery (1903).

The motion picture industry of the early twentieth century provided an opportunity to create these new types of narratives but many studios based projects on the proven success of their competitors. The Special Presentation, "The History of Edison Motion Pictures," explains that competition often resulted in different studios remaking the same film. For example, How a French Nobleman Got a Wife . . . (1904) was a remake of the Biograph Studios film, Personal (1904), but Edison's picture became the most successful film of the year.

  • How did competition and technological innovations in the motion picture industry influence the narratives of the films and establish certain genres?
  • Why do you think that Edison's studio copied other studios' work?
  • Do you think that copying other people's stories is a concern in the contemporary film industry?