The Eden Musee in 1898: The Exhibitor as Creator
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 11, Number 4, December 1981
- pp. 73-96
- Additional Information
THE EDEN MUSEE IN 1898: THE EXHIBITOR AS CREATOR by Charles Musser Our ability to understand the pre-Griffith cinema has been limited by traditional historical models that are singularly inappropriate for this time period. While standard histories view 'the birth of cinema' as the creation of a totally new art form, it would seem more accurate and efficacious to examine early cinema within the context of screen history, of the projected image and its sound accompaniment. Thus, Edwin Porter's work during the 1901-03 period testifies to a shift in the editorial function from exhibitor to motion picture photographer, not the notion, cherished in so many histories, that one or more of the film pioneers invented the process of editingJ More broadly, this traditional view tends to equate film production with the production of cinema, ignoring the fact that cinema involves three essential processes: film production, exhibition, and viewing. To come to grips with pre-1909 cinema, it is essential to analyze the shifting modes of production and the changing roles and relationships between the production companies, the showmen, and their audiences. Ultimately, there is a dynamic interaction between this changing mode of production and the corresponding modes of representation which will allow us to account for the rapid transformation of cinema during this era. Using this approach to cinema history, the late 1890s becomes a crucial period that can be examined in certain of its aspects through the activities of the Eden Musee, at that time a major center of film production and exhibition in New York City. The Eden Musee, an imposing stone structure on the south side of 23rd Street west of Madison Square, was located in a fashionable entertainment and shopping district of New York City. When it opened on ChaÁ¿2ÁlÁuÁ¿2A Xá lr¿Jbn Hiktonlan faon, tkz Tkomaò A. Edition PapeM and ¿6 autäentiy ùomplutlng a book/liùn ph.oje.cX. on Edwin VoKtVi and the. ptit-GH¿fú¿tk cÁnma. 73 March 29, 1883, the Musee featured waxworks, often of a topical character , and musical concerts along with an occasional special ty--lantern shows, marionettes, etc. Musee President Richard Hol laman made moving pictures an important third element in the house's programming as the Lumiere Cinématographe began to show films on December 18, 1896 in the Winter Garden with its capacity crowd of 2,000 people.3 According to The Mail and Express, The Cinématographe is having a successful run at the Eden Musee. This is due to the new views that have been taken especially for the Musee. One of the latest and most interesting is that of L. Huang Chang's march into Fifth Avenue from Washington Square. L. Huang Chang can be readily recognized as can many of the officials who accompany him. Along each side of the avenue there is a great crowd of people waving their hankerchiefs and applauding. The thirtyfive or more other views are equally life like and interesting. The views are all well chosen and occasionally a peculiar effect is produced by reversing the view. When this is done everything is entirely opposite from the first effect. The views are shown each hour during the afternoon and evening. By the end of 1896, however, the presentation of cinema as a screen novelty , with its discrete series of unrelated views, its customary destruction of any Aristotlian notion of narrative through repetition and reversing views, and its celebration of what the screen had not previously been able to show--l ife-sized photographs which moved, was already in decline. On February 21, 1897, Hollaman replaced the Lumiere Cinématographe with the Cinematograph JoIy which showed longer views. Musee publicity announced the new machine "reproduced scenes without noise or flickering of light on the screen. Many of the scenes take from three to five minutes and each detail is strikingly exact. "5 A lecture and music accompanied the opening night performance with views primarily from France. In mid-April, the Musee shifted its emphasis to American views, renaming JoIy' s apparatus the "American Cinematograph," by then owned and operated by the German emigre Eberhard Schneider. By May, groups...