LifeofAnAmericanFireman

LifeofAnAmericanFireman - 7 A Close Look at Life of an...

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Unformatted text preview: 7 A Close Look at Life of an American Fireman: 1 902—1 903 :51 0M [W Life of an American Fireman is a landmark film as much because of its role m film hisroriography as because of its remarkable manifestation of early cmema s representational practices. Many pas: claims for its importance, however. are unfounded. The picture represents a consolidation of Edwm Porter 5 develop- ment as a filmmaker. not the qualitative leap Terry Ramsaye. Lev-‘15 Jncubs. A. Nicholas Vardac. and Porter himself have suggested by calling it “the first story fllmi‘iltftough copyrighted on January 21. 1903. Life of an American Fireirmn was produced many weeks earlier. On November 15th. the Newark Evening News announced: TO SAVE WOMAN AND PUT OUT FIRE. AND WHILE EAST ORANGE FIREHEN PERFORM KLNFTOSCOPE MACHINE WILL RECORD SCENE. There will be a fire on Rhode Island Avenue. East Orange. this afternoon. or at least the East Orange firemen will be called out and go through the motions of extinguishing a fire and rescuing a woman from the upper story of a house. for the benefit of the Edison Kinetoscope Company, which will have one of its chainltghtntng cameras there i to reproduce the scene. The picture might also be called Life ofrm American filmmaker. for this scene. and probably others. featured James White as the daring fireman (see document no. 9]. Ultimately. the Edison Manufacturing Company enlisted the assistance of fire departments from four different localities. 212 Life of :In American Fireman 213 Despite the elaborate nature of this production. shooting was almost cer- tainly completed before the end of 1902. Ramsayc offers one explanation for a possible two-month delay between Producsion and release: “White cast himself for the lead in this picture. When W. E. Gilmore. general manager for Edison, screened the picture he ordered retakes to eliminate White on the grounds that it was subversive of corporate policy for an executive to be an actor.” The retakes. if there were any. may have been filmed while White was away. or even delayed until his return. for he married Pauline Dede on November 30. 1902. and went on a month-long honeymoon.’ Yet it seems more likely that Edison executives were hoping for a favorable resolution to their copyright case. When this failed to materiulizc. they went ahead with their sales. The film was finally offered for sale at the end of January {see documents nos. l0 and II). Docusism No. 9 RESCUE FROM FIRE WAS HUGE SUCCESS Lightning Cameras Took Pictures While East Orange Firemen Perform a. Realistic Scene. HOUSE APPEARED TO BE ALL AFLAME Hemmed in by dense clouds of suffocating smoke. that belchcd forth in volume. a woman. with a babe in her arms. stood in the window of a tenement house on Rhode Island avenue. near Crawford Street. East Or- ange yesterday afternoon. No help was near. and the woman and child scented doomed to an awful death. when Hook and Ladder No. l of the East Orange Fire Department dashed up. Manager James H. White of the Edison Kinetoscope Company, of West Orange, was the "Old Sleuth" of the occasion. and. swinging himself off the vehicle before it came to a stop. scrambled up the ladder. which was quickly raised by Firemen Judd and Stassc. and carried woman and child down to safety just as the men of Hose Co. No. 5 ran a line of hose into the building. It was a stirring scene. and it will be'witnessed by many thousands. for the kinetoscope company had one of its machines there. and a series of moving pictures was taken. The fire. though not exactly incendiary, had been planned many hours before it occurred. Mr. White. whose business it is to arrange details. such :is the “Battle of San Juan Hill." the sinking of an ocean steam ship. a collapsing warehouse. and similar scenes not witnessed in every-day life. had secured the partially dismantled tenement. It is owned by a man by the name of Lanzillo. and was partially destroyed by the fire a year ago. so that it was in first-class shape for the demonStration. Cans filled with . .-t. .. _ . .u— . .-...--._n. _ .- -.-u..- s..-- _. ._._ ..-.. -..- _. .--_,. _..—,:..u......._ guqku...‘ vim-5‘, ..- .. ,_.._ . ...._.-A _....._ .. .. _ ; 21-! Life of an American Fireman Life of an American Fireman 215 salt hay. tar and other substances calculated to produce a dense smoke were placed in every room. and at the proper moment. when a woman used to such things and regularly employed by the company for the pur- pose. had taken her place in the window, the contents of the cans was fired. Were Stationed Around Corner. Hose Co. No. 5 and the~hook and-ladder company were stationed in Halsted street and at the tap of the hell the two companies raced for the fire. Driver Flynn. Fireman Judd. Fireman Stasse and Mr. White were abroad the truck and Firemen Ohiman. Dobbins. Markfield and Dech were with the hose wagon, and while the laddermen u'ere attending to the resctte. the latter crew coupled on to a hydrant and ran their line of hose up to the building in record time. Chief Engineer Blair. of the East Orange- Fire Department and Chief Hodgkinson of Orange were interested on- lookers. .\lr. White. who dressed himself in the togs of a fireman for the oc- casion. has figured in several striking scenes before. When the battle of Spion Kop was fought In West Orange a year or so ago. Mr. White. who is six feet tall and of massive frame. got in the way of cannon about the time it went off. After awhile he "woke up“ and the surgeons at Orange Memorial Hospital picked wadding out of his chest. it was some titne before he was able to be about. He is lieutenant of Company ll. N.G.N._]. of Orange. and will shortly go to Berlin. Germany. to look after Mr. Edison's interests in the kinetoscope business. He is well known through- out the Oranges and has been head of the Kinetoscope department for' several years. _ _7r —---._.- -._..- _._._»i .L. A._. 7 5mm: Newark Et-eturtg Nat-s. November l6. P301. p. 4. DOCUMENT No. 10 LIFE OF AN AMERICAN FIREMAN Is the Greatest Motion Picrure Attraction ever offered to the Exhibitor! . [t is thrilling and dramatic. replete with exciting situations. and so crowded with action. interest and spectacular effects. that an audience witnessing it is simply SPELLBOUND. It shows: First—The Fireman‘s Vision of an lmperiled Woman and Child. Second—The Turning in of the Alarm. Third—The Firemen Leaping from their Beds. Dressing and Sliding Down the Poles. Fourth—Interior of the Engine House. Horses Dashing from their Stalls. and Being Hitched to the Apparatus. Fifth—Men Descending on Poles. and Rushing to their Places on the Fire Apparatus. ' Sixth—The Apparatus Leaving the Engine House. Seventh—Off to the Fire (a Great Fire Run) Eighth—The Arrival at the Fire. Showing an Actual Burning Building, the Firemen Coupling the Hose. Raising ihe Ladders. the Rescue Scene from the Interior and Exterior. Great Smoke and Flames Effects. 425 feet. Class A. $63.75 ' This film is sold in one length only. Send in your complete order quick, Get the film and 93 the money. This is the only complete fire scene ever aFempted where the men are shown leaving their beds. and A Genuine hitch taken inside the engine house. A Money Getter is what this film has been pronounced. You need it in your business because it will be the strongest card on your bill. Catalogue #163 Describes this and Over One hundred other New Subjects. Smut; Edison advertisement. New York Clipper. January 31. I903. p. 1100. DOCUMENT No. 11 Life of an American Fireman ln giving this description to the public, we unhesitatingly claim for it the strongest motion picture artracrion ever attempted in this length of film. It will be difficult for the exhibitor to conceive the amount of work involved and the number of rehearsals necessary to turn out a film of this kind. We were compelled to enlist the services of the fire departments of four different cities. New York. Newark, Orange. and East Orange. N.].. and about 300 firemen appear in the various scenes of this film. From the first conception of this wonderful series of pictures it has been our aim to portray "Life of an American Fireman“ without exag— geration. at the same time embodying the dramatic situations and spec- tacular effects which so greatly enhance a motion picture performance. The record work of the modern American fire department is known throughout the universe. and the fame of the American fireman is echoed around the entire world. He is known to be the most expert. as well as the bravest. of all fire fighters. This film faithfully and accurately depicts his thrilling and dangerous life. emphasizing the perils he subjects himself to when human life is at Stake. We show the world in this film the every movement of the brave firemen and their perfectly trained horses from the moment the men leap from their beds in response to an alarm until the fire is extinguished and a woman and child are rescued after many fierce 216 Life of an American Fireman battles with flame and smoke. Below we give a description of each of the seven scenes which make up this most wonderful of all fire scenes, "Life of an American Fireman." Scene 1,—The Fireman's Vision of an lmpetillcd Woman and Child. The fire chief is seated at his office desk. He has just finished reading his evening paper and has fallen asleep. The rays of an incandescent light rest upon his features with a subdued light, yet leaving his figure strongly- silhouetted against the wall of his office. The fire chief is dreaming, and the vision of his dream appears in a circular portrait upon the wall. It is a mother putting her baby to bed, and the inference is that he dreams of his own wife and child. He suddenly awakes and paces the floor in a nervous state of mind, doubtless thinking of the various people who may be in danger from fire at the moment. Here we dissolve the picture to the second scene. Scene 2.—A’ Close View of a New York Fire Alarm Box. Shows let- tering and every detail in the door and apparatus for turning in an alarm. A figure then steps in front of the box, hastily opens the door and pulls the hook, thus sending the electric current which alarms hundreds of firemen and brings to the scene of the fire the wonderful apparatus of a great city‘s fire department. Again dissolving the picture, we show the third scene. ' Scene 3.-The Interior of the Sleeping Quartets in the Fire House. A long row of beds, each containing a fireman peacefully sleeping, is shown. lnsrantly upon the ringing of the alarm the firemen leap from their beds and, putting on their clothes in the record time of five seconds, a grand rush is made for a large circular opening in the floor, through the center of which runs a brass pole. The first fireman to teach the pole seizes it and, like a flash, disappears through the opening. He is instantly followed by the remainder of the force. This in itself makes a most stirring scene. We again dissolve the scene, to the interior of the apparatus house. Scene 4.-—lnterior of the Engine House. Shows horses dashing from their stalls and being hitched to the apparatus. This is perhaps the most thrilling and in all the most wonderful of the seven scenes of the series, it being absolutely the first motion picture ever made of a genuine interior hitch. As the men come down the pole described in the above scene, and land upon the floor in lightning-like rapidity, six doors in the rear of the engine house, each heading 3 horse-stall, burst open simultaneously and a huge fite horse, with head erect and eager for the dash to the scene of the conflagtation, rushes from each opening. Going immediately to their respective harness, they are hitched in the almost unbelievable time of five seconds and are ready for their dash to the fire. The men hastily scamper upon the trucks and horse carts and one by one the fire machines leave Life of an American Fireman 217 the house, drawn by eager, prancing sreeds. Here we dissolve again to the fifth scene. Scene 5.—The Apparatus Leaving the Engine House. We show a fine exterior view of engine house, the great doors swinging open, and the apparatus coming out. This is a most imposing scene. The great horses leap to their work, the men adjust their fire hats and coats, and smoke begins pouring from the engines as they pass our camera. Here we dissolve and show the sixth scene. _ Scene 6.—Off to the Fire. In this scene we present the best fire run ever shown. Almost the entire fire department of the large city of Newark N._l., was placed at our disposal and we show countless pieces of apparatus, engines, hook-and-Iadders, horse towers, horse carriages, etc., rushing down a broad street at top speed, the horses straining every nerve and evidently eager to make a record run. Great clouds of smoke pour from the stacks of the engines as they pass our camera, thus giving an impres- sion of genuineness to the entire series. Dissolving again we show the seventh scene. Scene 7,—The Arrival at the Fire. In this wonderful scene we show the entire fire department, as described above, arriving at the scene of action. An actual burning building is in the center foreground. On the right back- ground the fire department is seen coming at great Speed. Upon the arrival of the different apparatus, the engines are ordered to their places, hose is quickly run out from the carriages, ladders adiusted to the windows and streams of water poured into the burning structure. At this crucial mo— ment comes the great climax of the series. We dissolve to the interior of the building and show a bed chamber with a woman and child enveloped in flame and suffocating smoke. The woman rushes back and forth in the room endeavoting to escape, and in her desperation throws open the window and appeals to the crowd below. She is finally overcome by the smoke and falls upon the bed. At this moment the door is smashed in by an axe in the hands of a powerful fire hero. Rushing into the room he tears the burning draperies from the window and smashing out the entire window frame, orders his comrades to run up a ladder. Immediately the ladder appears, he seizes the prostrate form of the woman and throws it over his shoulder as if it were an infant, and quickly descends to the ground. We now dissolve to the exterior of the burning building. The frantic mother having returned to consciousness, and clad only in her night clothes, is kneeling on the ground imploring the firemen to return for her child. Volunteers are called for and the same fireman who rescued the mother quickly steps out and offers to return for the babe. He is given permission to once more enter the doomed building and without hesita- tion rushes up the ladder, enters the window and after a breathless wait, 218 Life of an American Fireman in wlticlt it appears he tttust have been overcome by smoke. lte appears with the child on his arm and returns safely to the ground. Tlte child. being released and ttpon seeing its tnother. rushes to her attd is clasped itt lter arms, thus making a most realistic and touching ending of'the series. Length 425 feet. Class A. $63.75. San.“ l.f1ul'l films. lebtuary 1'90}, pp. 2—3. While documentation of early showings is sparse. Life ofrm American Fire- man was treated as a headliner in New York theaters. Probably first shown at Httber‘s Museum by the Kinetograph Company, it was soon appearing on \‘itagraph programs witlt The Fireman's Children; or. Chips off the Old Bloch {apparently an utteopytigltted Edison film made itt late 1902 or early 1903).4 When the Chicago Novelty Company. a small traveling troupe tltat featured motion pictures and vaudeville. showed the film in Reading. Pennsylvania. they promoted it with the claim that it featured Pennsylvania fire departments in action.‘ As with jack and the Beanstalk and earlier Edison films. Porter and his colleagues chose a suhicct that was in the mainstream of popular culture and screen practice. Bob the Fireitruii. a nvelve-slide lantern show. made in England before the advent of cinema. was still being sold in the United States in 1902-3. It was sufficiently popular to have Survived in considerable numbers. with lec- tures in at least two different languages." Maxwell and Simpson. illustrated song singers. made hits with such titles as “Fire. Fire and Smoke." The narratives and highly conventionalized imagery of these innumerable shows were trans- ferred to the cinema largely intact. As already discussed. the commercial po- tential of fire rescue films was established by November 1396 when White produced :1 Morning Alarm. Going to the Fire. and Fighting the Fire. Edison's September .1902 catalog listed ten fire films under one heading. while others were scattered through its 120 pages." By early 1902 several multishot films of firefighting had been produced. \‘i'illiam Selig had made the 45l1-font Life ofa Fireman by the end of Him and considered this to be his most important negative.“ Sigmund Luhin's mttlrishot. 50-foot Conn.r to the Fire and Rescue was probably made sometime in 19“]: This is a new film and it is safe to assume that it is an only one of its kind ever made. When the alarm 1‘. given the horses are seen to rtttt front their stalls and place lllflll‘ wltcs in their accustomed places at the wagons. The harness is .‘ltllllsll‘tl. the tumour Jump on. and they dash ottt of the fire house .tnd dowtt the street. The picture changes and the entire apparatus ts seen coming at full gallop toward the audience dot-tn a long lane. The picture again changes and the tire laddies are again seen resetting women and children front a burning building. after which. in another change of the picture they are seen to arrive .tt the fire house. uttharness the horses and back the apparatus into tltc house. This trim is animated throughout and the photography ls perfect. This it .ttt extraordinary picture of an interesting sublecr.” Wfiddfi'n . '- '-- M sar...n...-1...-___.—.--q-.——. -—. 219 Fottr slides from the lantern show Bob the Fireman. Numbers read backwards to guide projectionist. As Georges Sadoul has argued. James Williamson‘s four-shot. ZED-foot account of a fire rescue, Firel. may have provided Porter with a particularly direct source of inspiration.“ Yet Sadoul's accusation of imitation'seems overstated. While the last two scenes of both films share many similarities. Porter's “debt tended toward the pro-filmic elements of set construction and gesture. which were themselves highly conventionalized and hardly originated wrth Williamson. \‘IZ’ith life of an American Fireman. Porter was working within a genre that was among the most advanced in cinema. The popularity of the sub1ect. the very 220 Life of an American Fireman frequency with which it was filmed and the constant search for novelty were important factors influencing this film's production. By 1901-2. several pro- duction companies were already selling multishot fire films. ln Life afar: Amer- ican Fireman. Porter exploited this tentative shift toward centralized control and produced a more elaborate and effective story. One of the most spectacular, if rigid, genres in tutn-of-thesccntury popular culture, the fire rescue cut across many different cultural practices. In 1855 Currier and lves published a series of prints under the rubric “Life of a Fire- man." The same yearjohn E. Millais painted “The Rescue.“ a narrative painting later appropriated for the lantern show Bob the Fireman as the ninth of twelve slides.l2 “Fighting the Flames,“ 3 popular outdoor spectacle first produced for the Paris Exposition of 1900. appeared at Coney Island in 1904. when it was filmed by the Biograph Company.” The basic story of Life of an Airiericari Fireman found subsequent articulation in A Fireman's Christmas Eye. :1 theat- rical spectacle copyrighted a month after Porter's film and staged at Proctor's 23rd Street Theater that October (se...
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