Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Los Angeles: American Film Institute

Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Los Angeles: American Film Institute

Article excerpt

Los Angeles: American Film Institute

The newest edition of The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States, the long-awaited Film Beginnings, 1893-1910, was launched in the Spring of 1995 by the AFI National Center for Film and Video Preservation. Film Beginnings is the fifth volume in the AFI Catalog project to research the U.S. national filmography.

Published by The Scarecrow Press, the two-book set contains information on the 17,752 titles produced or distributed in the United States during the earliest years of American filmmaking. As part of the AFI's celebration of the centennial of the motion picture, Film Beginnings made its international debut during the annual Congress of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), co-hosted by the National Center in Los Angeles in April 1995.

Research on the 1893-1910 project began in Washington, DC, in late 1983. Catalog researcher Elias Savada spent more than eight years compiling and refining entries for the Film Beginnings database, beginning with information gathered by the late film archivist and historian George Pratt. More than 6,000 of the 17,752 titles in Film Beginnings are foreign titles released in the U.S. during the cinema's first two decades.

Entries in the volumes document the pioneering era of filmmaking, including the careers of such early film luminaries as D.W. Griffith, Thomas Edison, Edwin S. Porter, J. Stuart Blackton, Mary Pickford, Florence Lawrence, Billy Bitzer, "Broncho Billy" Anderson and Mack Sennett. Also documented are the productions of such early studios as Biograph, Bison, Essanay, Kalem, Kinemacolor, Lubin, Selig and Vitagraph.

Invaluable information on milestone films is contained within the entries for such titles as Edison Kinetoscopic Records (1893, including Fred Ott's sneeze), The Kiss (1896), The Great Train Robbery (1903), The Life of an American Fireman (1903), Ben-Hur (1907), The Adventures of Dollie (1908), A Corner in Wheat (1909) and The Life of Moses, Parts I-IV (1909-10).

Historical events documented from a contemporary perspective include the assassination of President McKinley, the sinking of the U.S. Maine, Admiral Dewey in Manila, the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight, and the funeral of King Edward VII. Information is also provided on thousands of lesser-known fiction and non-fiction titles - many of them now lost to the ravages of film deterioration.

Film Beginnings has been published as a "work in progress" as a direct result of the desire expressed by many archivists and historians throughout the world to obtain AFI's research on this period as soon as possible. Yet entries in the Film Beginnings volumes provide more than a mere title list, and in many cases represent as much as may ever be known about particular films from this early period. Many entries have plot summaries taken from exhibition catalogs or trade publications such as The Moving Picture World. Production credits are provided for a large percentage of the entries, as are location information and citations for further research in contemporary and modern sources.

Accompanying the film entries volume is a book of indexes that provides access to the films by corporate name, personal name, chronology, country, location of production, dramatic or literary source and a keyword index to titles. The keyword index will be of particular use to scholars as it is the only extensive index covering the subject matter of early films. The chronological index is also unique in that it is arranged not only by year, but within each year by specific month and day, wherever possible. …

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