Reframing Culture

By Turner, George | American Cinematographer, February 1994 | Go to article overview

Reframing Culture


Turner, George, American Cinematographer


Reframing Culture by William Uricchio & Roberta E. Pearson Princeton University Press 252 pps., paper, $16.95, cloth, $45

Vitagraph, the largest of the New York studios during the early part of the century, made numerous films based on literary classics, historical events and Biblical lore between 1907 and 1910 in an attempt to gain respectability for the toddling industry. As this was the era of the short story on film, most of these were one-reelers. The mere thought of condensing Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, noted mostly for its language, into 950 feet of silent pantomime with telegram-like subtitles is somewhat mind-boggling. The producers, undaunted, referred to their literary, historical and Biblical adaptations as "The Vitagraph Quality Films." Vitagraph's head men, Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton, both of whom were artists before becoming interested in the new art of moving pictures, were able to do a better job under the circumstances than most of their rivals.

Historians have all but ignored these curiosities, but Professors Uricchio, of the University of Utrecht, and Pearson, of the University of Pennsylvania, have made in-depth studies of seven of these films and situated them in the context of their time, a period of heavy immigration, labor upheavals and cultural clashes. Their approach provides a contemporary audience-eye viewpoint that is conspicuously lacking in most backwards glances at the movies. …

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