Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: 1891

Men Boxing (1891)


This early film experiment is a window into the nature of illusion in another age. It’s not, as it at might appear to be, a recording of a boxing match, but rather a simulation of such a match, on a rather minimal set, involving two non-boxers and non-actors who sort of vaguely wave their gloves at one another for a few seconds. Why fake such a subject? It so happens that boxing for money was both illegal and wildly popular in America at this time, and it’s likely that the Edison team wanted to demonstrate their ability to make imagery of this sport available to an eager public. This particular film was never publicly displayed, but that may not have been the point anyway – this could have been along the lines of an “elevator pitch,” a short presentation intended to convince corporate higher-ups that there was commercial potential in the new technology of film. Technically, this is a noted improvement over the “Monkeyshines” experiments of just two years earlier. The figures are human and identifiable as individuals, while the motion is natural and properly paced. Further evidence of the speed of film’s advancement.

Director: W.K.L Dickson, William Heise

Run Time: 26 seconds.

You can watch it for free: here.

Newark Athlete (1891)


Since I’m temporarily living with limited internet and even more limited access to classic DVDs, I’m taking the chance to revisit some of the very short films from the Age of Attractions. This is actually the earliest movie in the National Film Registry, which makes it pretty important in the history of American film. It was shot in the Black Maria and demonstrates the ability of the Kinetoscope to reproduce movement by showing a man in a gym uniform swinging a pair of things that look like bowling pins, but apparently are Indian Clubs. Although he’s identified as the “Newark Athlete,” he’s not really doing anything especially athletic, and I wonder if they really called a professional athlete all the way to the studio just to shoot ten seconds of him swinging his arms. It also strikes me that, like the boxers Dickson would later shoot for Edison, this man is rather more skimpily clad than one usually saw in the late-nineteenth century, and I wonder if the appeal of sex was already a factor even in these early days of the movies.

Director and Camera: W.K.L Dickson

Run Time:12 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Dickson Greeting (1891)


Camera: William Heise

Starring: WKL Dickson

How much can one say about just three seconds? This is another example of an early Edison experiment in which WKL Dickson, one of the technicians working on the kinetoscope, is shown passing a hat from his right hand toward his left. It is, quite literally, a “moving picture,” in the sense that it looks like a portrait that just has a little motion added. The kinetoscope was a device that allowed films to be viewed by one patron at a time by peering through a hole in the top – not a projector in the correct sense. This movie was used as a demonstration for the device at public presentations, however, so it did have a kind of “theatrical release,” even before the Lumière brothers introduced a camera-and-projection system. If nothing else, it does give a glimpse into the fashions of the late nineteenth century.

Run Time: 3 seconds

You can watch it for free: here