Tag Archives: Thomas Edison

A Kiss Is Still a Kiss

Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown in the newly-discovered “Something Good–Negro Kiss”.

Little treasures from the early days of cinema keep popping up.  That’s what Dino Everett, an archivist at the University of Southern California (USC), discovered in a 19th-century nitrate print hidden among a batch of silent films originally owned by a Louisiana collector. The clip, shot on a Lumière Cinématographe, turned out to be an 1898 short entitled Something Good–Negro Kiss, which is now the earliest documented film of open affection between a Black man and a Black woman.

Everett later told his students, “I think this is one of the most important films I’ve come across.”  He really had no idea.

Everett contacted the University of Chicago’s Allyson Nadia Field, an expert on African-American cinema.  Using inventory and distribution catalogues, Field traced the film to Chicago and learned it had been shot by William Selig, a pioneer in film production and a former vaudeville performer.  With help of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Field also identified the performers: Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown.  Suttle is dressed in a dapper suit and bowtie, while Brown dons an ornate dress — costumes that Field says were typical of minstrel performers.

Something Good is a restaging of Thomas Edison’s The Kiss (1896), one of the world’s earliest motion pictures.  Scandalous for its time, The Kiss featured stage performers John C. Rice and May Irwin engaging in a graphic display of physical affection.  Both Rice and May were popular figures of the minstrel entertainment circuit, and perhaps the title of this newly-discovered film, Something Good–Negro Kiss, is deliberately subverting the racism inherent in American minstrelsy.

A 120-year-old classic moment in cinematic time:


Image and video courtesy of USC School of Cinematic Arts

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Dead Bugs and Other Classics of Early Stop-Motion Animation

Bugs cavort in Wladyslaw Starewicz’s “The Cameraman’s Revenge.”

Bugs cavort in Wladyslaw Starewicz’s “The Cameraman’s Revenge.”

As a film buff and former film student, I have a natural affinity for silent movies.  They’re a mark of cultural history, even though in those early days, many considered the medium little more than a passing fad.  But, almost from the start, film captured some historical events; such as the 1896 coronation of Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia, and the moments before Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria – Hungary and his wife, Sofia, were assassinated in 1914 – an event considered the trigger for World War I.

But, many early filmmakers also saw the potential in cinema.  Among them was Wladyslaw Starewicz, a Russian-born artist now considered one of the pioneers of film animation.  In 1912, he produced “The Cameraman’s Revenge,” which combined his fascination with insects and the then-revolutionary stop-motion method.  The result is amazing, even by today’s standards.

The earliest stop-motion animated movie, “The Humpty Dumpty Circus” from 1898, has been lost.  But, a 1902 piece, “Fun in a Bakery Shop,” made by Edwin S. Porter and produced by Thomas Edison, has stop-motion animation elements.  Porter is best known for “The Great Train Robbery,” which came out in 1903, and has a scene where a character fires a gun directly at the camera lens; a stunt that terrified audiences and made them duck.

Also in 1903, Edison produced the first example of claymation with “Dream of a Rarebit Friend.”

In 1905, Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomón released “El Hotel Electrico,” which features bags flying around.

In 1906, Edison presented “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” which features the first example of direct digital manipulation: an image is moved, changed, or erased in each frame.

All of this proves you don’t need fancy graphics or design to make good animation – just a great story and a wild imagination.

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