125th Anniversary - Edison’s Vitascope

Columbia University School of the Arts Film Division

Online, Zoom

This special evening of screenings, guest speakers and tributes marked the 125th anniversary of the first public exhibition of Edison’s Vitascope at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall on 34th Street in New York City. This was the first commercially successful showing of projected motion pictures in the United States, less than four months after the Lumière Brothers’ December 28, 1895 screening at the Salon Indien at the Grand Café in Paris, commonly acknowledged as the first ever public screening of moving pictures anywhere in the world. The Edison Laboratory had developed their own moving picture technology, the Kinetoscope, and began marketing it in 1894 to some success, but its peepshow design did not allow more than one person to view a film at once, drastically limiting the possible audience for any moving picture. Inventors Thomas Armat and C. Francis Jenkins had developed the Phantoscope projector, which Armat gave to Raff & Gammon to license as Edison’s Vitascope projection system independent of Edison’s motion picture company but sold it to Edison who marketed it (by mutual agreement with Armat) as his own invention. At Koster and Bial’s Music Hall, Armat himself ran the projector for a program of short films including English filmmaker R. W. Paul’s Rough Sea at Dover (1895) and a hand-colored print of Edison’s Umbrella Dance (1895).  “So enthusiastic was the appreciation of the crowd long before this extraordinary exhibition was finished that vociferous cheering was heard,” reads the New York Times article.

Of the 6 films on the original program, 3 are lost.

 

The 125th Anniversary 2 1/2 min. program will be:

  • Surf at Monterey
  • Band Drill
  • Serpentine Dance

Original 1896 Program:

  • Rough Sea at Dover (R. W. Paul  UK, 1895) si., b&w, 30 sec.
    • substitute: Surf at Monterey (Edison Co. US, 1897) si. b&w, 30 sec.
  • Band Drill/The Milk White Flag (Edison Co. US, 1894) si., b&w, 30 sec.
    • substitute 1897 version
  • Serpentine Dance (Edison Co. US, 1894) Cas.: Annabelle Whitford. si., b&w. 30 sec.

Lost Films:

  • Umbrella Dance (Edison Co. US, 1895) Cas.: Edna Leigh, Stella Leigh. Si., b&w, 30 sec.
  • Walton & Slavin Boxing (Edison Co. US, 1894) Cas.: Charles F. Walton, John C. Slavin. si., b&w, 30 sec.
  • The Monroe Doctrine (Edison Co. US, 1896) si., b&w, 30 sec.

Speakers (7:30–9 pm)

  • Charlie Musser, Yale University: “The Vitascope in NYC: Some Highlights”
  • Tom Gunning, University of Chicago: “All the World on a Screen: Making Up the First Film Program”
  • Andre Gaudreault, University of Montreal: “All You Want to Know About the December 28 Projection That is False Even Though Everyone Thinks it Was True”

Tributes: Columbia University Faculty and Alumni (9–9:30 pm)

  • Rough Sea at Dover (R.W. Paul): Noam Elcott, Associate Professor and Sobel-Dunn Chair for Art Humanities, Columbia University
  • Pillow Fight (Edison Co. 1897): Jane Gaines, Professor of Film, Columbia University School of the Arts
  • Dickson Experimental Sound Film (Edison Co. 1894): Ron Gregg, Senior Lecturer and Concentration Head of Film and Media Studies, Columbia University School of the Arts
  • Corner Madison and State Streets, Chicago (Edison Co. June-July 1897): Aurore Spiers '15 Film MA, Columbia University School of the Arts, University of Chicago; and Carolyn Jacobs '15 Film MA, Columbia University School of the Arts, Yale University
  • Sandow (Edison Co. 1893): Richard Peña, Professor of Professional Practice, Film, Columbia University School of the Arts
  • Annie Oakley (Edison Co. 1895): Briand Gentry '17 Film MA, Columbia University School of the Arts, University of Michigan
  • Ella Lola, a la Trilby (Edison Co. 1898): Artemis Willis ‘09 Film MA, Columbia University School of the Arts, MIT
  • Troops at Evacuation of Havana (Edison Co. 1899): Alejandra Rosenberg Navarro '17 Film MA, Columbia University School of the Arts, New York University
  • Transport “Whitney” Leaving the Dock (Edison Co. May, 1898): Hunter Koch (CC '18), University of Chicago
  • Boxing Cats (Edison Co. 1896): Nico Baumbach, Associate Professor of Film, Columbia University School of the Arts
  • Comedy: Rob King, Professor of Film and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Film, Columbia University School of the Arts
  • Star Theatre (American Mutascope and Biograph Company, 1902), James Schamus, Professor of Professional Practice, Columbia University School of the Arts
  • Awakening of Rip (American Mutoscope & Biograph Co., 1896), Daniel Lawrence Aufmann '20 Film MA, Columbia University School of the Arts, University of Minnesota

Credits

  • US Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Sound Recording Division
  • Student Ben Crabtree, Film and Media Studies, Columbia University School of the Arts
  • Charles Musser, Professor of American Studies, Film & Media Studies and Theater Studies, Yale University               
  • Ron Gregg, Senior Lecturer and Concentration Head of Film and Media Studies, Columbia University School of the Arts
  • Karlee Rodrigues '20 Film and Media Studies, Columbia University School of the Arts
  • Sara Mason, Director of Academic Administration, Film Program, Columbia University School of the Arts
  • Andrew Castillo, Columbia University School of the Arts