#444) Blacksmith Scene (1893)

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#444) Blacksmith Scene (1893)

OR “Forging a New Medium”

Directed by W.K.L. Dickson

Class of 1995

The Plot: A blacksmith (Charles Kayser) and his two assistants (John Ott & Unknown Actor) strike a metal rod on an anvil with their hammers. The three pause for a sip of beer, and then resume their work. The film is brief and uneventful, but don’t stop reading; it’s on this list for a good reason.

Why It Matters: The NFR gives a rundown of the film’s historical significance: as far as we know, “Blacksmith Scene” was the first film to be shown publically, and was the first film in which the action was staged for the camera, rather than simply occurring in front of it. The write-up also quotes a Brooklyn newspaper that reported the film would “excite wonderment”.

But Does It Really?: Edison’s early experiment films always seem inconsequential on their own, but the aforementioned historical significance of “Blacksmith Scene” is enough to secure its place in the Registry. Dickson was one of the first to recognize that film could be used to record planned action, rather than sheer reportage. Without this seemingly simple idea, the movies wouldn’t exist. Not a bad legacy for a 30 second film.

Everybody Gets One: All three of the actors in this film were employees of Thomas Edison’s at the time, and this is the only surviving film appearance for any of them. Fun Fact: John Ott’s younger brother Fred also worked for Edison, and is immortalized in “Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Blacksmiths mainly. Sure they’re still around, but blacksmithing as a profession is not as prominent as it was during the Industrial Age.

Other notes

  • At the time of its induction, “Blacksmith Scene” was the oldest film on the National Film Registry. Today it is second only to 1891’s “Newark Athlete”.
  • Well, it’s been 10 seconds; time for a break. I’m glad Edison et al felt the need to document these guys loafing around. And for crying out loud, don’t all drink from the same beer bottle! That’s how germs spread!
  • If these guys are actors, then who supplied the blacksmith supplies? What, no “Special Thanks” section in the end credits? Or end credits at all?
  • “Blacksmith Scene” premiered at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (now the Brooklyn Museum) on May 9th, 1893; mere weeks after it was filmed. Attendees lined up to view the film on Edison’s Kinetoscope one at a time. “Blacksmith” was the first half of history’s first double feature, with a second short film about horseshoeing now lost to the ages.

Legacy

We can go ahead and give “Blacksmith Scene” credit for motion pictures as we know them today, because why the hell not?

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