Library of Congress: Inventing Entertainment Collection
First, I should point out that LOC would prefer that I review this page, but I can’t, because it doesn’t work on my computer. Apart from that, the new version is really poorly laid out and harder to use than the old site, so I’m going to talk about the one I can use. Happily, LOC has left it up and available, and hopefully when they do their next upgrade, they will return to it as a basic format, and not the clunky new version.
Either way, what this collection represents is the movies produced by the Edison Film Company during its run in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. At the beginning of that period, Edison was pretty much the only film studio in America, and it remained dominant for several years, due in part to Edison’s patents on 35 millimeter film format, cameras, and projectors. Even after other studios had sprung up, Edison Studios continued to make interesting and historically important movies.
This older website will look old-fashioned to people today, but it is refreshingly easy to navigate. You can find movies by title, subject, or keyword search, or, as I prefer, by looking at the chronological listings, which are broken down into neat, small portions of generally one or two years. You also have a choice of different viewing formats (MPEG, QuickTime, or RealMedia), which is good, because I find that Adobe Flash Player is pretty unreliable on older computers like mine which run Vista. I can almost always get one of these three to work for me, though.
Each entry includes a lot of useful metadata, often including entries from the original Edison catalog in the “Summary” section. These provide interesting insight into the way film was marketed during the Age of Attractions. Consider this excerpt from the movie “Overland Express Arriving in Helena, Mont.” (1897): “We look down the long platform, crowded with people, and see the famous N.P. Railway Overland Express approaching rapidly…the whole scene being one of great interest and activity.” The emphasis on activity and motion demonstrates what was novel or exciting about early film, and similar phrases appear throughout the catalog excerpts.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing a number of Edison movies, and most of them will have been viewed here.