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prologue “The Greatest Electrical Novelty in the World” Gender and Filmmaking before the Turn of the Century O n an April evening in 1896 Koster and Bial’s Music Hall unveiled Edison’s “Latest Marvel” to a New York vaudeville audience. The wizard of Menlo Park, already known for his phonograph and Kinetoscope “peephole” moving picture device, did not disappoint. The Vitascope , the first commercially successful American film projector, threw startlingly lifelike images onto a screen. The “umbrella dance,” waves crashing at Dover, a comedic Mutt and Jeff–style boxing match, a marching band, and a serpentine dancer were familiar Kinetoscope fare, but their larger-than-life verisimilitude awed the crowd. A writer from the New York Mail and Express exclaimed that “every change” of the umbrella dance was “smooth and even,” and “there was absolutely no hitch” in the waves at Dover, which was so impressive “it had to be repeated many times.”1 The Vitascope, claimed one early exhibitor, was “the greatest electrical novelty in the world.”2 The earliest American movies emerged within an already masculinized context. The very first films were not an art form or a replacement for live theater, worlds where women existed as artists, actresses, playwrights, and managers, but commercialized sensations drawn from the highly masculinized setting of the inventor’s laboratory. Although the venue for the movies was typically a mixed-sex setting, such as a vaudeville house, a tent show, a church basement, or a visit by an itinerant exhibitor, the trifecta of science, mechanical arts, and commerce in which the Vitascope emerged ensured the film industry was gendered at the start. The first filmmakers did employ women but only to perform routinized film processing tasks deemed appropriate to their sex in largely segregated settings. For male entrepreneurs , however, the film industry’s first decade suggested adventure, autonomy, and riches. <= The Vitascope was presented as a popular science attraction. “All the Town Is Talking about Edison’s Astonishing Vitascope!” sang out an ad in the Providence Journal; it “Puzzles Scientists, Baffles Analysis,” and “Creates Round-Eyed Wonder.”3 The name itself, combining the learned languages of Latin (vita, “life”) and Greek (scope, “to see”), was meant to legitimate the projector as a scientific instrument, as did the names of its antecedents, such as the Phenakistoscope (1849), the Kinematascope (1861), and the Phasmatrope (1870).4 Audiences understood the Vitascope’s premiere within the context of related popular science entertainments, particularly the familiar and popular magic lantern. The magic lantern, a forerunner of the projector, threw images on a wall by placing a light source behind colored glass. Although at the turn of the century the magic lantern often projected pleasant photographs or painted slides, science lecturers used it to project actual specimens encased in glass slides. Viewers were made aware of the magic lantern in their midst as the male “professors” who exhibited these devices provided lectures and often specifically reminded the audience of the technical means by which the images before them were created.5 Such entertainments doubly enhanced masculine associations, for not only was the equipment the focus of attention, but so, too, was the knowledgeable male narrator who explained and demonstrated it. In this vein the most commonly cited scientific antecedent to the moving picture is the step photography of English-born photographer Eadweard Muybridge. In the 1870s Muybridge set up still cameras to capture sequential photographs in order to study animal and human movement, and he delivered illustrated lectures for both education and entertainment, using a dissolve between sequential slides to suggest movement. Muybridge conducted some of his work at the University of Pennsylvania and published the results of his study in 1887 under the title Animal Locomotion. He ultimately created a moving picture device called the zoopraxiscope and inspired Thomas Edison to consider the challenge of moving pictures.6 Moving pictures themselves emerged as a feat of “applied science,” a term used by engineers at the end of the nineteenth century. (The word technology would not gain wide currency until well into the next century.) Engineering, like science (and especially medicine), was undergoing a 10 Prologue process of professionalization at the end of the nineteenth century that led to the marginalization of women just as the film industry emerged. Female engineering students had been welcomed into the new technically focused land grant colleges that emerged after the Civil War. Often excelling in calculus and geometry, the first women in engineering schools used their math skills to demonstrate ability and often earned multiple degrees. But in a conscious effort to keep the field from becoming feminized, by the end of the century engineering programs began stressing “hands-on experience” and leadership in the field, activities that barred female students. By the end of the century “the ability to ‘handle men,’” attests historian Ruth Oldenziel, “remained the true hallmark of the successful engineer.”7 Female inventors outside academe found similar treatment. When Charlotte Smith and Matilda Joslyn Gage tried to include female inventors in the historical record in the nineteenth century, they discovered that the Patent Office omitted one out of four female applicants and particularly omitted the names of women who invented machinery.8 By the time that the moving picture industry emerged at the turn of the century, Darwinists argued that women suffered from arrested development and were thus outside the bounds of progress, making it seem extremely unlikely that women could contribute to the field of applied science.9 Indeed, women were often seen as antithetical to technology altogether, flummoxed by the mysteries of labor-saving domestic appliances and dangerous behind the wheel of the century’s new automobiles. Such imagery was contested by many women, such as suffrage advocates who embraced the automobile as the symbol of women’s emancipation.10 But while women (and often advertisers) demonstratedfemininecompetenceoverconsumertechnology , the masculinization of engineering work progressed.11 In the first decade of the film industry, from 1896 to roughly 1906, the masculinized arena of applied science joined with the masculinized ethos of the marketplace as Edison and his competitors battled over the sales of cameras and projectors (and the movies that went with them). Edison made his reputation as the “businessman’s inventor,” thanks to his early work with Jay Gould and other industrialists who desired communications technology. Edison entered the amusement field in the late 1880s, after it became clear that his phonograph was impractical for office use. He sold the device for entertainment purposes as an alternative, and by 1890, coin-operated phonograph parlors proved commercially successful. One year later Edison patented a moving picture camera, the Kinetograph, which made films for the Kinetoscope, a tall wooden box with a peephole through which a standing “The Greatest Electric Novelty in the World” 11 individual could view a loop of moving picture film. Some argue that Edison could have developed a film projector at this time, but his already successful phonograph parlors directed his thinking toward coin-operated machines for individual viewing.12 By the late nineteenth century, the American public was “accustomed to getting new sensations from [Edison] as regularly as they would put a nickel into a slot.”13 When advertised as “Edison’s latest marvel,” the Vita­scope moving picture projector appeared within a familiar and marketable context . In fact, Edison did not actually invent the Vitascope. Edison’s early focus on the individualized peephole cabinet proved a mistake. After the Kinetoscope had reaped stunning profits its first year, returns fell precipitously , and its future looked grim. By 1896, as inventors in the United States and abroad perfected projection systems, it was too late for Edison to overtake them. When approached by two entrepreneurs who owned the rights to a working projector, Edison listened to their proposal. Their machine had experienced a lackluster debut at a state fair in Atlanta the previous autumn, and the men thought they might have better luck if the famous Edison played the role of inventor. With his own efforts at projection fizzling , Edison agreed to call the Vitascope his “latest marvel” for a cut of the profits. The Vitascope was a smashing success, spawning dozens of licensees and imitators almost immediately and creating a new, highly competitive, and highly masculinized, industry. Mere months after the Vitascope’s debut, hundreds of moving picture cameras and projectors ticked and hummed across the country, but it was notgoodnewsforEdison.TheFrenchLumièrebrothers deviseda light (sixteen -pound) hand-cranked camera-printer unit called the cinématographe, which proved more popular than Edison’s equipment when it entered the American market in the early summer of 1896. Shortly thereafter, a superior “flickerless” picture from the American Biograph and Mutoscope Company appeared, using a camera and projector designed by Edison’s former motion picture engineer, W. K. L. Dickson.14 Added to this mix were cameras and projectors devised by individual mechanics. Edison immediately revised a patent application dating from the Kinetograph and filed it with the U.S. Patents Office, “claiming that he had created a device for moving pictures long before anyone else, and that any subsequent machines therefore infringed his patent.” Edison’s numerous lawsuits, meddling detectives, and alleged thugs colored the first decade of the new American film industry but did not prevent entrepreneurs from making and exhibiting moving pictures.15 Memoirs and early film histories reflecting on this period present a 12 Prologue rough-and-readybusinessculturethatundoubtedlyexaggeratedmanlycontrol and lawless competitiveness. Film historian and producer B. B. Hampton hyperbolically claimed that despite Edison’s efforts, “anyone who could rent, buy, or borrow any form of ‘box’ that would hold a lens and roll of film could become a picture producer.” All one had to do was “set up the camera anywhere, ‘shoot’ almost anything in motion, develop the negative, print the positives, and sell them practically at his own price.”16 With a winking boastfulness, cameramen Fred F. Balshofer and Arthur C. Miller recalled how they and their peers visited “speakeasy” camera supply stores in the 1890s.17 Eluding Edison “became rather amusing,” recalled another early filmmaker, “something like a game of hide-and-seek.”18 Since most films were made outdoors, companies allegedly sent out “decoy groups” to throw off Edison’s detectives so that the real filmmakers could work unhindered. The cameramen of the Independent Moving Picture Company (forerunner of Universal) claimed to hide their cameras in an icebox. Certainly the ofttold tale that filmmakers relocated to Los Angeles in order to flee across the border from Edison’s thugs cast early film entrepreneurs as outlaws worthy of a western. In these accounts one senses a mischievous and gleeful escape from the law of the father. The historical accuracy of the details is less important than the participant ’s sense that filmmaking during this period was a manly adventure. Conservative ideology held that although there was a place for female proprietors in the economy, women were unsuited to expressions of overt commercialism.19 Female milliners, dressmakers, and purveyors of beauty products, for example, worked within a preindustrial apprentice-craftsman tradition, making the products they sold to a limited group of exclusively female consumers.20 Although penning many nineteenth-century best-sellers, female authors retained their gentility by working under the paternalistic guidance of the “gentleman publisher,” who himself projected an image of literary dignity rather than crass commercialism.21 For men filmmaking offered not only a means to make profits but access to a kind of work-related masculinity that had almost disappeared in America by the start of the twentieth century. However apocryphal, memoirs and early film histories highlight luck, pluck, and Horatio Alger–like “rags to respectability” trajectories for the first filmmakers in an era of increasing bureaucratization and class conflict.22 Neither of the partners who launched theVitagraphCompany,forexample,wouldhaveinspiredmuchconfidence beforecreatingoneofthemajormotionpicturefirmsofthesilentera.23 James Stuart Blackton, a quick-sketch vaudeville artist, worked as a writer and “The Greatest Electric Novelty in the World” 13 acartoonistwhenengagementswereslack.Hispartner,AlbertE.Smith,was a magician who worked as a bookbinder when not onstage. Both were barely twenty in 1897 when they raised $800 to buy an Edison projector and a supply of films. They ultimately created one of the most long-lived and successful studios of the silent era. Similar entrepreneurial scenarios took place in other cities. William Selig of Chicago, a magician and owner of a traveling minstrel show, tried to build his own projector when he discovered that his machinist had already built a cinématographe. Using the blueprints, he had a copy made and began making and exhibiting films in 1897, incorporating as the Selig Polyscope Company in 1900. Sigmund Lubin of Philadelphia , a seller of optical and magic lantern goods, asked one of the original inventors of the Vitascope to help him construct a projector. By 1897 Lubin was selling projectors for $150 and was making his own films. A booming success as a film producer, he was the first film entrepreneur to vertically integrate his business when he began acquiring moving picture theaters in 1906.24 This first generation of filmmakers enjoyed a level of control over their work that was becoming increasingly rare. Working for others, punching a time clock, and shuffling papers at a desk blurred the time-honored definitions of manhood recognized by generations of self-employed farmers, artisans , and businessmen. The skills required for early moving picture photography , by contrast, came from the machine shop and were honed by hours behind a camera. Early cameras had to be cranked by hand at precisely the correct frames per second to achieve a look of natural movement. If the operator cranked too fast, the image would be seen in slow motion when projected on the screen. If cranking was performed too slowly, the image would appear to leap comically across the frame at superhuman speed.25 More important , early moving picture cameras were prone to picture-ruining static and were susceptible to extremes of temperature and humidity that often led to breakdowns. The specialized skills required to operate and repair the first moving picture cameras were nearly impossible to acquire outside of the technician’s shop. According to Albert E. Smith there were “so many mechanical troubles” with early cameras at Vitagraph that the company replaced the still photographers it originally hired to shoot moving pictures with “mechanics from the machine shop.” After having been trained in the rudiments of photography, the mechanics “worked out very satisfactorily.”26 Similarly, D. W. Griffith’s cinematographer, G. W. “Billy” Bitzer, was originally hired as an electrician by Biograph in 1896.27 The cameraman was the central figure in early film production. Although 14 Prologue there is scholarly debate over the existence of a “cameraman system” of production , which argues that the cameraman made all major filmmaking decisions , versus a collaborative partnership system in which someone with theatrical leanings worked with and even changed positions with the cameraman , the operator was the equivalent of the player who brings the bat and ball to a sandlot baseball game—filmmaking could not occur without him.28 Indeed, perhaps at no other time was the status of the camera operator so elevated. During the industry’s first decade, when the competitive focus was on the construction and operation of cameras and projectors rather than the movies themselves, it was the person able to make, repair, improve, and operate these devices who made the entire industry possible. When the industry entered its second decade and competition shifted from the equipment to the films themselves, the cinematographer (as he came to be known) would become subordinate to the director, but at this moment the camera operator was the pivot of production. It was the cameraman who, like the preindustrial artisan, knew the secrets of the trade: how to make the product from start to finish. Given its technological requirements and artisanal integrity, it is no surprise that cinematography remained the most intensely masculinized position in the film industry throughout the twentieth century .29 Even the physical demands of early American cinematography defined filmmaking as unsuitable for women. The camera used in Edison’s carefully guarded Black Maria studio was so heavy it had to be moved on metal tracks. The camera developed by Dickson for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company was light enough to travel, but at 350 pounds it still took two men to lift it onto a tripod. It was possible to build a lighter and easierto -use camera, as was done in France by the Lumière brothers in 1895. The Lumière cinématographe required no electricity, and it was a projector as well, but the operation of all early cameras required a level of mechanical experience that was difficult for women to acquire. The suggestion that gender is built into technology—that, in the words of Michel Callon, “Machines carry the word of those who invented, developed, perfected and produced them”—seems apt here.30 In fact, the masculinity of cinematography continued even when moving picture cameras became lighter and easier to use. As a point of reference, the photography trade began in a very similar fashion in the mid-nineteenth century. When commercial photography emerged in the 1850s, still cameras, like early moving picture cameras, were extremely large and very heavy (fifty to seventy pounds), requiring highly skilled operators who were expected to construct their own darkrooms “The Greatest Electric Novelty in the World” 15 and develop their own glass plates. The first photographers, like the first cinematographers, were entirely male. However, within a few years a handful of women accepted the challenge of photography, and they were joined by more women as still cameras became lighter and easier to use.31 By the late nineteenth century, as the scientific uses of photography gave way to aesthetic concerns, advice literature argued that photography was an art, requiring the feminine traits of “abnegation and devotion” and a “delicate touch.” Not that the transition was effortless. Catherine Weed Barnes, an important female photographer, felt compelled to actively promote photography as “suitable work for ladies.” Her article entitled “Why Ladies Should Be Admitted to Membership in Photographic Societies” (1889) suggested that there was resistance to female infiltrators. Relying on traditional gender ideology to make her point (as would the first female filmmakers), Barnes argued, “In this work there are many occasions where the gifts, supposed by the most moss-grown tradition to specially belong to women, serve them well, and make the visible result better even than that of men.”32 By 1900 female professional photographers were no longer an aberration, and thanks to the greatly simplified Kodak camera, first introduced in 1889 and marketed especially to women, female amateur photographers were a common sight.33 Although a growing number of women became amateur and professional still photographers, cinematography remained steadfastly male for most of the twentieth century. Perhaps one reason why cinematography retained its early masculine associations was because the purpose of early cinematography was blatantly commercial. Amateur moving picture cameras were marketed throughout the silent period, and advertisements even showed women operating the small cameras. A 1924 Bell and Howell advertisement for the $185.00 “Filmo Automatic CineCamera,” a 4.5-pound, handheld device, included a photo of the camera being used by a young woman to denote the light weight and ease of operation. But amateur moving picture cameras remained expensive, and few sold.34 Moving picture photography was, by definition, professional cinematography, and the moving picture camera held far more profit potential than did the still camera. Professional still photographers might do a brisk local business, but moving picture photography promised national and international distribution. But neither commercial potential nor technical demands adequately explain the sustained masculinization of cinematography for nearly a century . The missing piece is the cinematographers themselves: they actively gendered the occupation of cinematography. The film industry appeared 16 Prologue at a moment when traditional measures of white, native-born manliness shifted and disappeared. New Women entered public life as reformers, college students, workers, and patrons of new forms of leisure; immigrants threatened the well-being of white workers and white supremacy; and factories and offices replaced small businesses and artisan’s shops. White men were said to be overcivilized, soft, unable to fulfill their role in a Darwinist survival-of-the-fittest world, and as they failed, so too might the nation. Prescriptions for this malaise began to be implemented into educational settings , as well as leisure pursuits, and included sports, scouting, and a vigorous life of exercise.35 Theodore Roosevelt, the most famous advocate of an aggressively masculine ethos, outlined such a program in 1899 in a speech before the Hamilton Club of Chicago entitled “The Strenuous Life,” in which he celebrated the man “who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life” and urged his listeners to “be glad to do a man’s work, to dare and endure and to labor.”36 Cinematographers reflected this manly ethos, creating a work culture and identity centered on courage, athleticism, and self-control. The first issue of American Cinematographer in 1920 described “The Cameraman”: He must, first of all, be able to take good pictures, apart from that, he must necessarily be a brave man and ready to attempt anything asked of him. He must be clear-headed, so that he can stand on the edge of a sky-scraper, and lean over the top of a precipice, for that matter. He must perch himself in almost incredible angles, and perhaps stand waist deep in the river or ocean. He must stand steadily by his work when some wild beast comes menacingly close, when the other members of his party can run to shelter, and all the while he must steadily crank, and see that his camera is not injured by fire, animals or water, and it is a matter of record that very valiant deeds are performed by the cameraman, deeds that few actors or directors care to brave.37 In their memoirs early cinematographers emphasized mastering the camera and taking personal risks to turn out footage of patriotic appeals, safaris, boxing matches, and other forms of manly derring-do. Mounted horsemen, for example, “charged the camera” in Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Indeed, the Spanish American War actualities filmed by Edison and the Biograph companies expressed the conflated virility of soldiers and nation and, by implication, of the cameraman who captured such images, even though battle scenes were staged in military camps.38 On a more subtle level the very act of taking moving pictures was “The Greatest Electric Novelty in the World” 17 inscribed with gendered meanings. In the first years of the American cinema , filmmakers purposefully wandered through public areas searching for locations or for actuality footage.39 Recent scholarship centering on the gendered meanings of movement, space, and geography suggest that this freedom is a potent source of the masculinity adhering to moving picture photography. The nineteenth-century concept of the flaneur, “the wandering gentleman observer,” defined a level of spectatorship that was accessible only to men who could wander and loiter at will in the public sphere with little danger to person or reputation. Until the arrival of circumscribed sites that allowed female spectatorship, such as department stores, fairs, and most important, the cinema, the female equivalent of the flaneur was the streetwalker .40 And in all cases the cinematographer’s role was to look, to become the very eyes of the imaginary spectator. Although refined in more recent work, this active look was originally identified by feminist film theory as a male privilege, replicated in the classical Hollywood film, in which the active (male) protagonist gazes at the passive (female) object.41 The language used to describe photography—taking a picture, capturing an image, shooting a movie—suggests action, possession, and even aggression. Mastery over space itself was implied in the American Society of Cinematographer’s first motto: “Give us a place to stand and we will film the universe.”42 The act of boldly moving through space, taking physical risks, and capturing the male gaze on film made cinematography more transgressive for women than still photography. Many of the professional female photographers who found acceptance within the film trade became specialists in domestic photography—portraits of families, children, and flowers, all of which could be safely taken in the confined space of the indoor studio.43 In contrast, only three female professional cinematographers appear in the silent era, and their careers were exceedingly brief.44 We cannot know how many women might have been interested in professional cinematography but found it impossible either to gain the necessary skills or employment. Asitorganized,cinematography,likemostother professionalizing fields, appeared gender neutral but in fact restricted membership to men. The published aim of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) when it was established in 1919 appeared objective: “to advance the art of cinematography through artistry and technological progress, to exchange ideas and to cementacloserrelationshipamongcinematographers .”TheoriginsoftheASC, however, can be traced back to two men’s clubs, both formed in 1913: the CinemaCameraClubofNewYorkCityandthe“semi-exclusive”StaticClub formed in Los Angeles. In 1918, when the clubs evolved into the American 18 Prologue Society of Cinematographers, the society announced that “a strict mode of invitational method of membership entrance” would be enforced.45 Common gatekeeping methods to elevate a field’s status included educational requirements and licensing, but in the absence of both in this early period, the ASC and the clubs that preceded it guarded their membership through exclusivity.46 Professional cinematographers required “masculine” traits of stamina, bravery, technical expertise, and seriousness of purpose, despite the development of lighter cameras and a redefinition of cinematography as an art (a definition that should have opened up cinematography to women). <= Women did participate in the production branch of the film industry during its first decade, and they did so in significant numbers. Once regular film production was underway, the menial work required to reproduce the first movies for exhibitors to rent or buy drew from a different paradigm—not the inventor’s laboratory or the mechanic’s shop but the nineteenth-century factory. Edison, Biograph, Vitagraph, and other early film companies were not only wrangling over cameras, projectors, and patent rights; they were also competing, often fiercely, in the business of grinding out a sufficient number of films to meet demand. Even the names of some early firms, such as the Edison Manufacturing Company, reflected the openly commodified perception of the first studios, fittingly called “film factories.” While a debate eventually raged over whether the movies were an art or a business, the presence of the film factory provided a steady definition of the moving picture industry as just that—an industry. Inside the earliest film factories many of the daily activities centered on film processing, work that remained remarkably stable and sex-typed throughout the silent period. By 1900, shortly before film factories multiplied, almost half of all single American women earned a wage.47 Since women worked for less pay than did men, and since film processing consisted of similar tasks performed by women in other industries, it is no surprise to find women employed within the first film factories despite the masculine nature of shooting films. Edison and the American Mutoscope Company built factories as early as 1895 to provide moving pictures for their respective peephole machines: the Kinetoscope and the Mutoscope. In the first five to ten years of filmmaking , these factories were rather simple. Typically, the cameraman developed the film with the aid of a male assistant, who was needed to help maneuver the large slatted drums on which negatives were wound to be developed and dried. The men suspended the drums over large troughs and manually “The Greatest Electric Novelty in the World” 19 rotated the film through the developing and rinsing fluid. They then reeled the film onto another drum or rack to dry.48 No illustrations of the Edison Kinetoscope laboratory exist, but such illustrations do exist for Edison’s competitor: the American Mutoscope Company, which used a flip-card technique in its peephole cabinet. Etchings published in Scientific American show that women performed film processing duties at the Mutoscope by at least 1897, the year that the American Mutoscope Company (soon to be the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, and then simply the Biograph Company) became the premiere moving picture company in the United States.49 The etchings also illustrate a workplace segregated by sex. In the darkroom three men tote the large slatted wooden drums carrying negatives to troughs of developing fluids. In a much larger room at least two dozen women dry, cut, retouch, and inspect the films. On the left side of the room three women retouch strips of film frame-by-frame with paintbrushes while the film strips dry on enormous drums. In the rear of the room several women peer through projector-like film-cutting machines.50 The photography trade established the precedent of using women to process film. The photography boom began in the early 1840s, after the introduction of the daguerreotype. Edward Anthony, one of the largest wholesalers of photographic apparatus and supplies, hired women to cover and gild the hinged cases that protected and displayed the finished photographs. Men also performed this work, but since it was clean and not too physically demanding,itfitthedevelopingdefinitionofappropriateworkforwomen.51 Women assumed various other duties as the photographic industry developed . By 1888 Emilie Colston, writing for Photographic News, commented that “the duties of the reception room—retouching, printing, mounting, and colouring—are already acknowledged to be within the sphere of women’s abilities.”52 By 1890 the female retoucher cut a familiar figure. A writer for Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin portrayed her in a fictional portrait as somewhat pathetic, emphasizing the monotony and low status of the work. The retoucher was a “nobody” who sat each day in front of a studio window, “her head bent over her easel, a magnifying glass in her eye, a pointed pencil in her hand, busy from dawn to dusk taking out wrinkles and putting in dimples.”53 Large-scale photographic developing and printing, the kind performed by women in the early film studios, did not appear until the 1880s, when George Eastman introduced the Kodak camera. After using the onehundred -frame roll of film, already loaded in the camera, the customer mailed the entire camera to the Eastman factory in Rochester, New York, 20 Prologue and received developed photographs back via the post office. A photograph of Eastman’s photo-finishing laboratory, circa 1889, shows a large, welllighted room, much like that of the Mutoscope factory, populated mostly by women workers. But whereas only men developed motion picture film for Mutoscope,somewomen,alongwithadolescent boys, appear to be developing the Kodak photographs. This difference may be accounted for by the fact that the development of commercial motion pictures was a far more critical task than the development of amateur photographs.54 Like most work assigned to women, the tasks performed by women in the photography trade required what were assumed to be feminine skills: dexterity, neatness, and the ability to perform detailed, routine, fairly lowskilled tasks.55 When the moving picture industry adopted similar processing techniques, it adopted similar employment practices as well. A closer look at gender in the film factory circa 1910 affords us the opportunity to examine the characteristics of movie processing work assigned to men and women at a point in which the moving picture industry was well established . Aside from a few minor differences, the major processing tasks and the gender assigned to each was the same in every studio. The first major step after “shooting” the film, development of the negative determined the quality of the finished original film from which all copies wouldbemade.Thecinematographercontrolledthiscriticalprocess,making developingdecisionsbasedontheconditionspresentwhentheshotwastaken, such as lighting, temperature, and humidity. The cinematographer could correct for over- and underdevelopment or manipulate the process for artistic effect. The laboratory technicians assisting the cinematographer in the negative developing room necessarily worked in close collaboration with the cameraman and were always male. At the large Vitagraph film factory on Long Island, large, waist-high vats of chemicals dominated the developing room, around which men in soiled overalls tended the wide racks of film. After development, workers wound the negative on large drums and set them aside to dry, a process repeated for the positive print and tinted films.56 Editing was the next step. The head of the negative department and the film’s director decided what should be edited and where the titles should be inserted. Direct cutting of the negative (rather than editing from the positive print, as was done later) was probably preferred because it was a rather simple process. Films before 1910 were quite short, but even when movies reached one thousand feet, the scenario laid out all the shots in a numbered order. With few scenes and rarely any retakes, early films seem simple by modern standards. Nevertheless, editing was skilled work and thus done “The Greatest Electric Novelty in the World” 21 by men. Women, however, cut the negative at the points determined by the editor and joined the appropriate scenes together. At the Vitagraph plant men and women worked side by side in the negative department, though at differenttasks.Aphotographfrom 1912 revealed two men examining a long strip of film held between their fingers, perhaps deciding where to trim the scene in question. Young women seated at desks, each with a wastebasket and a towel nearby, appear to cut the negative according to the dictates of the editors.57 The next step sent the negative to the printing room, where women operated printing machines in near-darkness. At the Pathé Frères plant in New Jersey women stood all day in front of the machines, frequently disassembling them to wipe away dirt and dust.58 At Vitagraph women described as “experienced printers” sat on backless stools and “guided and manipulated” the film through the machines. A superintendent observed their work to ensure required qualities such as density. Although the superintendent at Vitagraph appeared to be male, this may not have been true at all studios. The American Film Manufacturing Company listed Miss Anna Gallaghan as forewoman of this department in 1910.59 Once taken from the printing machines, the film needed further development , and once again film development constituted men’s work. At Pathé “women wound the film on big wooden frames [that were] turned over to men seated before the tanks”; these men did the actual developing. The developed prints then ran on tracks to “hypo baths” and to the wash room, where running water cleared the film of chemicals. The film then continued on the track to the drying room. At Vitagraph a photograph of the developing room and the washing and cleaning room shows men attending to these activities.60 After the film dried, it had to be polished, a task delegated to women because of their alleged dexterity. A visitor to the Selig film studio in Chicago in 1909 noted the “nimble fingered girls” who cleaned each section of film.61 In 1911 future editor Viola Lawrence, a teenager, worked at Vitagraph hand-polishing films.62 The Pathé Frères factory, always in the vanguard , used a machine by 1910 that polished and cleaned film.63 In 1912, when the Crystal Film Company in New York mechanized film polishing, it boasted that its machine could perform the work that “formerly required ten girls to do.”64 Allegedfemininedexterityalsomadecoloringfilmsawoman’sjob.Again, precedents for tinting as women’s work existed in the photography trade and in the magic lantern slide trade. Daniel H. Briggs of Massachusetts, a popular lantern slide manufacturer in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, 22 Prologue “had a dozen women working on the slides, which were often passed down the line, with each woman specializing in a different color.”65 Magic lantern slides continued to be used in moving picture theaters to entertain patrons between reels, but as the movies themselves ultimately reduced the demand for colored slides, prices fell drastically. By 1909 an editorial in Moving Picture World claimed that manufacturers were “running sweatshops, where they are taking their lost profits out of the girls who color slides.”66 Some of these colorists found work in the moving picture industry. One Miss E. M. Martine of East Orange, New Jersey, described as an “expert film colorist” of twelve years, specialized in refreshing worn moving picture prints by adding color.67 Nearly a guaranteed audience draw, colored films were created by tinting (dipping the film strips in vats of dye) or hand painting. Of the two, the latter was far more naturalistic and desirable, but it was extremely costly. Tediously painted frame-by-frame, a hand-colored film cost twenty-six cents per foot at a time when a standard uncolored film cost only ten cents per foot. One contemporary estimated that if a manufacturer wished to release only one colored film a month, and sell one hundred prints of it, he needed a constantly employed staff of one hundred skilled colorists.68 Few films, then, were colored by hand, and they were typically done by special order. The one exception was the colored films of Pathé Frères. This French company patented a stenciling machine able to color long strips mechanically. Though technology replaced most of the manual work with a machine, it did not affect the sex of the workers in the coloring department. At Pathé’s Paris factory four hundred young women attended these machines, and a smaller number of women retouched the frames by hand.69 Since the developing racks could handle only two hundred feet of film, every positive print of a film exceeding two hundred feet—nearly every film by 1910—was joined together by hand before being sent out.70 This simple but laborious procedure, requiring “dexterity but not skill,” was quite literally a textbook example of a female-typed job.71 Indeed, a writer from MovingPictureWorldexclaimedaftera1910 visitto the Vitagraph plant that film joining was “a most congenial occupation for a number of girls and young women.”Theworkplacewastidy,thewomenseemedhappy,andhebragged that “this branch of service had opened up new and clean opportunity for many to earn a good living, free from many of the objectionable features of factory life.”72 Still, the duties of the film joiner were not easy. Film joining required diligent attention and speed, but joiners had few tools to help them. With no guide to align the film strips, and without a clamp to hold “The Greatest Electric Novelty in the World” 23 the cemented pieces together as they dried, the film joiner searched for the correct frame, snipped the film, brushed on odorous glue out of a bottle, and held the splice together with her fingers.73 Understandably, mistakes could be made in developing, editing, tinting, or splicing. Thus, before each film left the factory, it was inspected for errors . In 1910 Pathé Frères employees took the finished films to long, darkened rooms, where female inspectors sat two by two at small tables in front of small white squares on which the films were projected. Each inspector had a button that, when pushed, recorded the frame on which an error occurred .74 Film importer George Kleine used mostly female film inspectors, who worked for $7 to $12 a week, but the few male inspectors he employed received $2 to $5 more weekly, with the exception of one particularly wellpaid female inspector.75 At the Selig Polyscope Company in 1919, all films were “subjected to the scrutiny of a lady examiner.”76 The type of work offered to women in the film factories, then, fit within the culturally defined arena of women’s work at the turn of the century: it was performed indoors, it did not require great strength or invite danger, and it required “dexterity but not skill.” As in other kinds of factory work, women printers, cutters, joiners, and polishers were to be nimble fingered but not creative. Like the new clerical jobs opening up for women, film inspecting was clean and required some education and skill, but it was tedious work. And like clerical work, most of the jobs in the film factories appear to have been limited to white women. Existing etchings and photographs do not reveal any women of color working in early film factories, and there are no references to race or ethnicity in contemporary descriptions. Film historian Charles Musser’s conclusion that the early film industry was a “white” world appears to extend to the laboratory as well.77 <= The early film industry enforced the two most important factors that kept women’s wages low and limited their opportunities: the sexual division of labor and occupational sex-typing. Women worked in tedious, semiskilled jobs within the film factories, whereas men operated the cameras and projectors and made the creative decisions. The films themselves, though improving in quality, were made to demonstrate and advertise the equipment that made them possible. Even journalists writing about the film industry before 1908 tended to credit the machine itself with making the films, erasing the human labor involved.78 Unlike the photography trade, there was little basis in the early film industry to argue that women’s finer sensibili24 Prologue ties would make them natural filmmakers. Finer sensibilities were not required . The moving picture was a product, the cameraman a technician, and the scientific, mechanical, and commercial aura that permeated the industry masculine. As long as the battle for the marketplace could be won largely through possession of superior technology—better cameras, projectors, film stock, and the patents to protect them—filmmaking would remain virtually an all-male endeavor. But to become more than just a novelty, the moving pictures themselves needed to attract audiences for their own sake. The industry achieved this, and more, over the next decade, experiencing explosive growth that not only lined the coffers of entrepreneurs but altered the neatly inscribed masculine world inhabited by the first cinematographers and entrepreneurs. “The Greatest Electric Novelty in the World” 25 This page intentionally left blank ...


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