The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History

By Lewis Jacobs | Go to book overview

VI
THE STRUGGLE FOR CONTROL

THE years 1908 to 1914 were a time of feverish activity and confusion in the industry. Bigger money stakes, keener competition, momentous innovations in technique, and experimental themes kept the business unsettled. This period saw, moreover, a ruthless struggle for the control of key vantage points in the motion picture world. Two events in particular affected the whole future course and form of motion pictures. One was the establishment of the Motion Picture Patents Company trust which, though doomed to eventual failure, dominated and influenced all motion picture activity for four years. The second event was the introduction of the long "feature" picture, which was soon to be firmly established and to revolutionize the business. These new developments spurred the industry into an awareness of its powers and into its third stage of expansion, that of big business.

The phenomenal growth of the demand for pictures produced a bitterer and widening competition. The number of manufacturers, importers, and exchange men in the industry mounted to between fifty and one hundred, and nickelodeons into the thousands. Manufacturing was a wide-open field, although the only manufacturers with a legal right to the patents were the three pioneer companies, Edison, Biograph, and Vitagraph. With lawsuits multiplying, cutthroat practices undermining the trade, and enmities spreading, the situation grew ever more critical.

In a desperate effort to stabilize the business and to forestall further unsettling competition, nine leading manufacturers and the major distributor and importer of foreign films banded together

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