Sunday, April 22, 2012
WHY THE MOVIES WENT WEST
By Bill Timoney
From the Spring 2011
New York Actor
“The movie business began in New
Jersey, but moved to Southern
California because the weather was better
Most people consider the preceding
statement an accurate description of the
birth of the American cinema, but it’s not.
The wrong part is the “because” part.
Did movies begin in New Jersey? Yes.
Inventor Thomas Edison — working
in his West Orange, N.J. lab between
1891 and 1893 — took out patents on
his Kinetoscope and
that he claimed made
him the father of the
“better” weather than
the Garden State? It
undeniably has more
days of sunshine, which
early filmmakers relied
upon to light their
pictures were shown
machines that preceded
the nickelodeons. His
invention became so
popular that other
the booming market
seeking to profit from
a public’s insatiable
hunger for this new
form of entertainment.
But Edison fought
these new film
companies, most of
which were based
across the Hudson
River in Manhattan
and adjoining towns.
Click "read more" below to continue.
He claimed anybody who made, sold or
showed a film owed him money. If you
picked up a camera and exposed a frame
of film, you had to pay Thomas Edison.
Edison attacked the competing film
companies, such as Vitagraph, Kalem,
Selig and others, with lawsuits, which
cost them time and money to battle. So, in
1908, the heads of these companies met
to determine if they could pool enough of
their own filmmaking patents to challenge
Edison’s annoying legal threats. But they
were surprised when an uninvited guest
showed up at their meeting — Thomas
Edison offered his competitors a deal:
He’d stop beating them with lawsuits
if they’d join him. In September 1908,
Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company
was born. The member companies agreed
to make motion pictures the Edison way
— single-reel running time only, with no
artistic aspirations. They also agreed to
pay Edison a piece of their earnings. In
return, Edison gave trust members — and
only trust members — permission to make
and distribute films. The trust would not
permit new members to join, and only
licensed exhibitors would be allowed to
show motion pictures — trust motion
But many exhibitors objected to the
trust’s licensing terms, and many fledgling
filmmakers banned from ever joining the
trust still wanted to make films. So they
declared themselves independent of the
trust in open defiance of Edison.
Indie exhibitors like Adolph Zukor
and William Fox bought films from
Europe, where works of multi-reeled
artistic achievement had been made and
distributed to great acclaim. Indie film
producers like Carl Laemmle bought film
stock and camera equipment from Europe
and made their own product to sell to
particular delight in
defying Edison’s trust.
He named his company
IMP, which he claimed
stood for Independent
Motion Pictures. But the
company’s logo revealed
the true intention behind
the company name: it
showed an impish creature
bedeviling what looked
suspiciously like the Edison
Edison attempted to drive
the independent filmmakers
out of business by forming
the General Film Company.
GFC lawyers attacked
the indie filmmakers and
exhibitors with lawsuits.
The GFC also employed
thugs who enforced
Edison’s trust through
intimidation. GFC enforcers
confiscated unlicensed films
arriving at the East Coast
docks from Europe. They
destroyed equipment and
threatened actors. They
assaulted exhibitors and
burned down exhibition
halls. They terrorized every
independent they could find.
But they had to find them first.
The determined independents stayed
in business by staying one step ahead
of the GFC. Since Edison was based in
New Jersey, the independents made films
elsewhere. They forced Edison to hire
more lawyers and more thugs as they kept
moving beyond his reach.
The independents became adept at
quickly setting up, shooting and striking
a location before trust goons could be
tipped off to their presence. They moved
so fast that it might be argued that the
nickname “movies” was coined for them.
In fact, audiences began to refer to films as
“movies” as early as 1906, and by 1912 it
was in popular use, although discouraged
as vulgar by the industry.
The independents finally settled in
Southern California because, well, the
Pacific Ocean stopped them from going
any farther. Proximity to the Mexican
border came in handy when they got
advance word that GFC thugs were
approaching. When a young director
named Cecil B. DeMille wore a holstered
six-gun while making The Squaw Man in
Los Angeles, he wore it in case he had to
defend his cast and crew from the GFC.
The Squaw Man was made and released
early in 1914, around the time the Panama
Canal opened. A large harbor was dug
in Long Beach, Calif., just south of Los
Angeles, to accommodate large ships
arriving from Europe through the canal.
Now independents could get equipment
shipped directly, avoiding the East Coast
harbors guarded by Edison’s enforcers.
Edison would need to spend even more
time and money expanding his GFC across
the entire country.
Then a San Francisco court declared
Edison’s MPPC to be an illegal
monopoly. That ruling, combined with
the independents’ five-year war of
attrition, prompted Edison’s surrender. He
disbanded his MPPC trust and gave up his
claim to a motion picture monopoly.
The independents chose to remain in
Southern California, where the name
Zukor became synonymous with the preexisting Paramount Pictures, the original
William Fox Corporation gave birth in the
1930s to 20th Century-Fox, and Laemmle
built his theme park-like Universal
By 1915, when the new Universal
Studios formally opened, the war was
over. Edison retained his claim to the title
“father of the motion picture,” and the
independents now had an unrestricted
right to make movies. They also had a new
base of operations, a place that offered
more varied and exotic filming locations
than the East Coast — a place that would
soon come to be known as Hollywood, no
matter whether it really was Culver City or
So yes, the American Cinema began
in New Jersey and relocated to Southern
California. But as to why it went west,
sunshine had nothing to do with it.
A SAG member since 1978, Bill Timoney
recommends that those interested in this
topic read the essential work “Early
American Cinema” by the great film
historian Anthony Slide (Scarecrow
Press). Also recommended is the multivolume “The History of The American
Cinema” (University of California Press),
particularly the first two volumes — “The
Emergence of Cinema: The American
Screen to 1907” by Charles Musser, and
“The Transformation of Cinema 1907-
1915” by Eileen Bowser.
As CGI, or Computer Generated Imagery becomes more prominent is the art of practical special effects falling to the wayside or is it proving to be more effective in generating chills in horror films? Audiences have begun to not only expect but demand increasingly realistic, impressive and often unexpected computer generated effects and imagery. Production of television as well as film is increasingly done on sound stages or smaller insert stages against green screens, with performance capture (aka motion capture) on the increase, whether it is needed to tell the story or not. Which brings to the reality that not all filmmakers want to use C-G-I... and many of them talked about it at a recent gathering called Monsterpalooza.
In 1931 Frankenstein's monster was reanimated on the screen with Boris Karloff wearing four hours of make-up and three hours to take off to bring the monster to empathetic life. "King Kong" may have been a frame by frame animation, but every effort was made to bring a level of compassion and a heart to the greatest ape's expressions and movement.
Since then monsters have become a mainstay of American and international film. Actors can transform themselves into these characters, often without CG animation. Actors feel that for true humanity to come to life in characters the actor, and the actors eyes are vital.
Acting is reacting. Even computer generated characters, monster or human, must react in ways that bring the story to a very real life.
Monsters, strange characters and the actors who interact with them must have realistic expressions, movements and reactions.
The Stan Winston School of character arts teaches the practical effect, using costumer, puppetry, make-up and prosthetics to film. Named after the man who created aliens, terminators and monsters, the studio continues to teach how to mix the human and computer elements without losing out on the primary mission...telling a human and believable story. The audience should forget they are watching a movie and escape into the world of the story being told.
To do this, all of the elements, both human and inhuman, real and computer "enhanced", must work seamlessly and integrate into the story without shouting "look at me, I am a CG!"
Note: Com students may wish to look at this and previous Sunday Morning News and Views (use search feature in right hand column) for speech topic ideas.
Being Twenty Something. Psychologist Meg Jay says the twenty-something years may be the most important decade of a young adults life. Her new book is titled "The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now." Attitudes about finances, politics, physical health, life changing (or guiding) decisions, expendable income (if you are lucky enough to have it), a focus on enjoying life and the formation of often life time friendships are just a few of the key highlights of being in your 20's. Changes in the economy have also been said to put the same importance of Baby Boomers thirty-somethings a decade earlier onto those currently in their twenties.
Jay also says that too many Americans in their 20's are not looking forward or paying attention to current events and the world around them. Key decisions are postponed, put off, or ignored,leaving the prospect of a dark and overwhelming world once they turn 30.
Many 20 somethings do not have a solid plan for their future, despite being in school or having entered the work force. Student loan debts will be at an all time high per student, with very few job prospects large enough to hope to repay them. Those who have not gone to school face decreased income against increased costs, while not losing the desire to own things and impress people as have the last several generation of people in their 20's.
"Present bias" is a real trend for those in their 20's, without learning from the past or really looking toward the future in a realistic way. They are less likely to understand the history, feelings and actions of those even ten years older then them, much less those who are in places of power in poltiics, business and social institutions..
80% of life's defining moments happen by age 35. Half of Americans are living with or dating their future partner by age 30. The brain grows in spurts while people are in their 20's before settling into its perminant status (still a theory under debate). Most Americans transcend their childhoods while in their 20's, however up to one in five enter their twenties full mature and having dealt with the stresses of adult life.
Sociologist, psychologist, social anthropologists study generations, trends and attitudes.Obviously everone is different and unuique in their own way.
Faceing Facebook. Facebook may have created increased stress and tension, allowing people to commiserate and send time complaining rather than working on solutions or physically socializing. The current issue of the Atlantic looks at the positive and negative sides of Facebook and its impact on us as individuals, on groups and on society.
Tiki on the beach. This weekend in Ft. Lauderdale, thousands will gather for the Hukilau--the annual gathering of people devoted to all things Tiki. That includes Polynesian music, food and drinks, though most of it really isn't authentically Polynesian. Hakilau is an annual homage to the kitschy culture pioneered by Trader Vic's Restaurants, and carried on in Ft. Lauderdale by the Mai-Kai restaurant, where events will be held.
A celebration of the Record Store. Yesterday was "record store day", launches a few years back to draw customers back from the Internet to mostly privately owned small record shops. The increased interest in "retro" vinyl has helped, along with used CD's that can be loaded into MPEG and Apple music players, often upgraded free of charge by various music services. The annual event is second only to Christmas in generating much needed revenue for the often mom and pop operations.
Extreme Rodeo for Youth. A lot of kids play soccer, others play chess, and some kids do handstands on the backs of galloping horses. It's a risky pastime, but lately the sport of horse vaulting is finding a foothold with children in the western U-S. Parents say it teaches concentration and is a lot less expensive than other equestrian sports. It carries the full thrill of rodeo and adds the extreme sports element that youth seems to be drawn to. Supporters say that kids with low self esteem, who are socially isolated or overweight can master, gaining both self esteem and a position in the youth community.
Hatch survives his first hoop. Longtime Utah senator Orrin Hatch faced a contentious and much-watched state convention yesterday, two years after fellow Republican Bob Bennett was ousted from office at the same event for not being conservative enough. Hatch survived attacks as an insider, as too far toward the middle (or too "liberal", which he is not) for Utah Republicans and as "tax and spend." He spent over six million dollars on his reelection as the Republican Candidate, which in Utah is determined not by a state wide election, but at the party convention. That said, Hatch did not get enough votes to avoid a primary in June, which may coast as much as 14 million campaign dollars.Observers say the convention was far more moderate than the heavy Tea Party extreme right wing, with the far right falling below twenty percent. The Mormon church issued a non-patrician appeal for church members to become active in politics. Statistically a sizable majority of Mormons are conservative, Republican and support Mitt Romney for president. Hatch goes into the June primary with the endorsement of presumed Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney. Whoever gets the Republican nomination is almost guaranteed election in the fall.
The Tea Party is shrinking, in conservative circles and overall. Now that the Republican Party has let them in and they have become a part of the process, many have moderated or are less activist than they were two years ago. They have changed the conversation to debt reduction, reduction of social services, lowering of taxes and toward term limits. Freedom Works, one of the largest Political Action Committees, which fed the Tea Party and in many ways created it, is not endorsing Mitt Romney, having put out a list of 29 reasons not to support Romney. The recession and a graying America have fed the Tea Party, and will until that generation is gone and a fading memory of a perception of America of the past fades from the forefront of the Ameircan scene.
Immigration in the Supreme Court Cross-hairs. The Supreme Court takes up parts of Arizona's tough immigration law this coming week. Many legal immigrant families left the state after the law passed, while others chose to stay and work to change the anti-illegal immigrant climate there. While Arizona's politicians talk about how crime is down and literacy is up, they ignore that the same trend is occurring in neighboring states, in part because of shifts in the job and financial marketplace.
Watergate's Redemption. Charles "Chuck" Colson, a key figure in the Richard Nixon White House, has died. Colson was the president's special counsel and went to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. While behind bars, he embraced Christianity. He went on to become an central evangelical leader after his release. He decided to speak for the inmates he served with, forming a group to minister to inmates and his families. While this was taken as more Nixon era public relations, over the rest of his life he walked the walk, helped people and had a positive influence on the world. He passed away of complications from a brain anarism at the age of 81.
It's about the economy. In France, residents go to the polls today in the first round of a two-part presidential election. The top two vote getters from today's balloting go to a runoff on May 6. Incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy is trailing Socialist candidate Francois Hollande. The election is centering around a single issue...the economy. The French know why there has been no improvement, but still think the socialist, who would also protect their social programs and "entitlements" may be able to turn things around if given a chance.
Let them eat Formula One! International media have their eye son this weekend's protests against the "F1" race in Bahrain, where protesters have died and tensions are running high. The opulence of Formula One Racing set against a country that is having a social and political earthquake, and under extreme criticism and scrutiny by the US and the United Nations, shines a light on the dichotomy of the social world of many middle eastern countries.
Nationalizing oil. This week, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner ordered the expropriation of Spanish oil firm Repsol's assets in Argentina. The move delighted the left in her country, angered the Europeans and prompted the U.S. State Department to express that it was very concern. It also demonstrated what could be the emergence of a new, more radicalized left in the region. Latin and South America faces rapid change over the next decade as dictators, political leaders and economics shift rapidly or fade away into memory. The age of leadership causes concern for the dominant centrist right an centrist left governments, as their more extreme neighbors see changes in leadership and position in the International landscape.
Ms. Vice President. Julia Louis-Dreyfus of "Seinfeld" has a new HBO series, "Veep." The TV sitcom follows the trials and tribulations of fictional Vice President Selina Meyer. It was conceived as a story about a depressed Vice President who is stuck in one of the least powerful jobs in Washington (aside from chairing the Senate, that is). The show will not reveal political parties or show who is president. It will focus on the drama and comedy of being the first woman placed in this largely ceremonial position.
Sources: NPR, BBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Las Vegas Review Journal, CBS, NBC