Letters

American Cinematographer, February 1987 | Go to article overview

Letters


A Real Shocker

Your article, "The Lamp - Fantasy from Texas" (November) contains a deadly piece of fantasy on Page 30.

The author says that an actress was rigged with "100,000 volts of negative electricity" to make her hair stand on end, and makes the incredible claim that "she was in no danger since positive electricity is the kind that kills."

Positive or negative, 100,000 volts of direct current electricity would kill almost instantly, as would 100,000 volts of alternating current. What the author meant was that the actress was rigged with 100,000 volts of static electricity which can be relatively harmless. But she could have still been in for a painful shock if she had touched a grounded object.

Any form of electricity should be treated with thorough respect and correct information.

- Dan Preston

New York

Edison and Marey

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article, "Creators of the Dream Machine" in the August issue. However, I would like to take this opportunity to correct the record once and for all at least among technical people like ourselves. On page 4a of the August issue the text reads as follows: "Two years later, at Orange, New Jersey, Edison unveiled the first motion picture camera, which he called the Kinetograph."

I hate to spoil the glorious image of Thomas Alva Edison, but the fact is he stole the design from Frenchman, Etienne Jules Marey.

Marey applied for a foreign patent October 3, 1890 and it was issued as No. 208,617 on January 20, 1891. for his camera, the Chronophotographe (in use 1887-1890). At this time there was an international conclave of inventors working on intermittent photography, namely motion pictures. Among these was Marey, a very prominent physiologist, who published and patented his various inventions. During the period, 1888-1890, all the basic principles of both the moving picture camera and projector had been envisioned by a number of minds. This leads us directly to the Edison controversy I have brought up.

Edison assigned his British admirer, W. K. L. Dickson to the moving picture project, but he knew little of photography and the international advances of the day and forced his associate to work in the wrong directions. Edison was convinced he could affix tiny photographs on wax cylinders much the way he recorded sound with his phonograph. After realizing the futility of this approach he decided to go to France and consult Marey who was the true pioneer in motion pictures at the time. In August or September of 1889, Marey demonstrated his moving pictures to Edison at the Paris Exposition. He showed Edison the Chronophotographe, the camera which took the amazing pictures. Apparently Edison was a very endearing listener because on his return to the United States, he ordered a halt to cylinder development, and handed Dickson a sketch of a camera design he had drafted on the boat back. The design was identical to Marey's. Marey 's issued patent supports this fact.

Edison applied for three patents on a camera called the Kinetograph and a viewer called the Kinetoscope on August 24, 1891. Patent application No. 403535 was rejected by the U.S. Patent Office on 22 of his 23 claims because of previous patents of others. An exhibition patent for the camera system was finally allowed as No. 403534 on August 31, 1897, some say by "fraud in the patent office."

Marey had expected Edison to share the camera invention in the United States, not steal it and try to patent it himself. Unfortunately, this cavalier type attitude might work among some scientists, but if there was a commercial application, Edison would find and exploit it and take credit for it. The early history of motion pictures has never been totally researched.

Edison was asked as a matter of routine to apply for the foreign patents. He balked at the idea saying, "it isn't worth it". In the past, film historians who questioned Edison's claims were never able to explain why he did not apply for the foreign patents, but now it is clear.

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