Going to the Fire (1896)
This short from Edison studios appears to be an actuality shot on location on a city street. Again, it emphasizes movement and action to hold the attention of an audience that is becoming a little jaded about “moving pictures” already.
We see a street in Newark shot at a 30-degree angle, so that oncoming vehicles cross the screen as they get closer. A man runs towards us and several horse-drawn carriages follow. One is quite large, and carries tall ladders as well as several men in fire fighter’s outfits. The last one carries a large water tank and hoses. At one point, a policeman begins to walk out into the street, turns and looks at the camera, and then backs out of the shot.
The catalog entry for this movie plays up the action: “This scene shows almost the entire Fire Department led by the Chief, responding to an alarm. The horses, said to be the finest of their kind in the country, present a thrilling spectacle as they dash rapidly by, flecked with foam, and panting from the exertion of their long gallop.” Clearly, it is becoming necessary for movies to stand out from the crowd and for advertisers to find good reason for people to be interested. Fire departments and fire alarms were a very popular topic for film in the late nineteenth century. In this case, it appears that the Edison camera crew may have set up a little way down the street from a fire department and waited for an alarm, although they may have arranged the shot with the fire department. There are large number of spectators gathered on the sidewalks, giving a sense that this was considered a big event in the community at the time.
Director: James H. White
Camera: William Heise
Run Time: 30 secs
You can watch it for free: here.