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Fred Ott’s Sneeze (Edison kinetoscopic record of a sneeze, January 7, 1894)
A sneeze made history in 1894.
According to the Library of Congress, a Thomas Edison movie of Fred Ott’s sneeze is the first copyrighted U.S. film.
This was one of the early steps for a film industry that soon learned how to make money off of moving image technology.
The film took place sometime during the first week of 1894, but the Library of Congress likes to remember January 7, 1894 as the day Fred Ott sneezed. (The official copyright date came two days later.)
“Thomas A. Edison began thinking about the development of motion pictures in 1888….To turn his new invention into reality, Edison assigned responsibility for day-to-day development to one of his best assistants, a young Englishman named W. K. L. Dickson. By June of 1891, Dickson produced a series of successful experimental motion pictures that were shown to visiting groups at the Edison laboratory in New Jersey.
Over the next two years Dickson worked to perfect the two basic machines required for successful motion pictures: a device to record moving images, which he and Edison called the Kinetograph; and a machine to view the results, which they called the Kinetoscope.
….The Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze is one of a series of short films made by Dickson in January 1894 for advertising purposes. The star is Fred Ott, an Edison employee known to his fellow workers in the laboratory for his comic sneezing and other gags. This item was received in the Library of Congress on January 9, 1894, as a copyright deposit from W. K. L. Dickson and is the earliest surviving copyrighted motion picture.”
Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1897)
The film is associated with an urban legend well known in the world of cinema. The story goes that when the film was first shown, the audience was so overwhelmed by the moving image of a life-sized train coming directly at them that people screamed and ran to the back of the room. Hellmuth Karasek in the German magazine Der Spiegel wrote that the film “had a particularly lasting impact; yes, it caused fear, terror, even panic.” However, some have doubted the veracity of this incident such as film scholar and historian Martin Loiperdinger [de] in his essay, “Lumiere’s Arrival of the Train: Cinema’s Founding Myth”. Others such as theorist Benjamin H. Bratton have speculated that the alleged reaction may have been caused by the projection being mistaken for a camera obscura by the audience which at the time would have been the only other technique to produce a naturalistic moving image. Whether or not it actually happened, the film undoubtedly astonished people unaccustomed to the illusion created by moving images.
This film is interesting because it contains the first example of several common cinematic techniques: camera angle, long shot, medium shot, close-up, and forced perspective.
It is evident from their films, taken as a whole, that the Lumière brothers knew what the effect of their choice of camera placement would be. They placed the camera on the platform to produce a dramatic increase in the size of the arriving train. The train arrives from a distant point and bears down on the viewer, finally crossing the lower edge of the screen.
A significant aspect of the film is that it illustrates the use of the long shot to establish the setting of the film, followed by a medium shot, and then a close-up. As the camera is static for the entire film, the effect of these various “shots” is achieved by the movement of the subject alone. Nonetheless, it is these different types of shots are clearly illustrated here, and later film makers moved their cameras to achieve these shots.
Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (The Lumière Brothers, 1895) from Benito Vega on Vimeo.
(The Sprinkler Sprinkled (1895)
The Whole Dam Family And Dam Dog (1905)
Black Diamond Express (1896)
The Great Train Robbery – (Directed by Edwin S. Porter. 11 min. Thomas A. Edison, Inc., 1903.) – Watch
A Beast at Bay – (Directed by D. W. Griffith. 14 min. 1912.) – Watch
Lonely Villa – (Directed by D. W. Griffith. 7 min. 1909.) Watch
The Musketeers of Pig Alley – (Directed by D. W. Griffith. 17 min. 1912.) – Watch
Cops (Directed by Buster Keaton. 18 min. First National Pictures, Inc., 1922.) – Watch