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Early American Cinema in Transition

Story, Style, and Filmmaking, 1907–1913

Charlie Keil

Publication Year: 2001

The period 1907–1913 marks a crucial transitional moment in American cinema. As moving picture shows changed from mere novelty to an increasingly popular entertainment, fledgling studios responded with longer running times and more complex storytelling. A growing trade press and changing production procedures also influenced filmmaking. In Early American Cinema in Transition, Charlie Keil looks at a broad cross-section of fiction films to examine the formal changes in cinema of this period and the ways that filmmakers developed narrative techniques to suit the fifteen-minute, one-reel format.
    Keil outlines the kinds of narratives that proved most suitable for a single reel’s duration, the particular demands that time and space exerted on this early form of film narration, and the ways filmmakers employed the unique features of a primarily visual medium to craft stories that would appeal to an audience numbering in the millions. He underscores his analysis with a detailed look at six films: The Boy Detective; The Forgotten Watch; Rose O’Salem-Town; Cupid’s Monkey Wrench; Belle Boyd, A Confederate Spy; and Suspense.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Series: Wisconsin Studies in Film


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

I first had the idea of writing about the transitional period back at a time which now seems closer to that era than the year I write this. That idea, and my interest in early cinema, were nurtured by several people at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to whom I feel tremendous gratitude. Principal among them are Don Crafton...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 3-19

AsH E I N RIC H W 0 L F F LI N reminds us, the willful act of definition forces historians to abandon the careful balancing act that history writing typically entails. Cautious relativism may reflect sensitivity to the transience of historical phenomena, but indecisiveness will not produce meaningful categories and helpful periodizations...

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2. “Boom Time in the Moving-Picture Business” : Industrial Structure, Production Practices, and the Trade Press

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pp. 20-44

THE PERIOD 1907-13 was a tumultuous one for the American film industry, as the exhibition landscape was transformed by the proliferation of small nickelodeon theaters, often converted storefronts. This nickelodeon boom, which began in 1905 and stretched into 1908, revolutionized the exhibition sector and led to a significant upsurge...

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3. “A Story Vital and Unified in Its Action” : The Demands of Narrative

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pp. 45-82

MAR K E T - BAS E D DE MAN D for films of increased length and narrative complexity created interlocking problems for filmmakers of the transitional period. Scenario writers had to determine what types of stories and narrative structures best suited the one-reel running time. Once directors had these scenarios in hand, they needed to devise appropriate storytelling methods. Increased narrative complexity further...

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4. “An Immeasurably Greater Freedom” : Time and Space in Transitional Cinema

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pp. 83-124

When Mr. Griffith suggested a scene showing Annie Lee waiting for her husband's return to be followed by a scene of Enoch cast away on a desert island [in After Many Years, 1909], it was altogether too distracting. "How can you tell a story jumping about like that? The people won't know what...

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5. “The Modern Technique of the Art” : The Style of Transitional Cinema

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pp. 125-174

ON 3 DECEMBER 1913, an advertisement placed in the New York Dramatic Mirror trumpeted the achievements of D. W. Griffith, the hitherto anonymous "producer of all great Biograph successes." As a way of establishing Griffith's prominence within the industry...

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6. Analyzing Transition: Six Sample Films

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pp. 175-204

IN THE IN T ROD U C T ION, I outlined some broad defining fonnal characteristics of the transitional period by analyzing the differences between two hypothetical films...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 205-216

Is THE TRANSITION AL PERIOD a distinct phase within the formal history of American filmmaking or merely a way station between the primitive and the classical? The transitional period's salient characteristicits constant engagement of change-renders any definitive...

Appendix A: Notes on Method

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pp. 217-219

Appendix B: Shot-by-Shot Analyses for Chapter 6

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pp. 220-235


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pp. 236-269

Filmography: Viewed Titles, 1907–1913

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pp. 270-286

Works Cited

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pp. 287-295

Film Index

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pp. 296-300

General Index

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pp. 301-306

E-ISBN-13: 9780299173630
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299173647

Publication Year: 2001

Series Title: Wisconsin Studies in Film