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Page history last edited by Kathryn Hansen 14 years, 8 months ago


Name    Edwin Stanton Porter
Born April 21, 1870(1870-04-21)
Connellsville, Pennsylvania
Died April 30, 1941 (aged 71)
New York City
Parents Thomas Richard Porter
Mary Jane Clark








Edwin S. Porter was an early film pioneer, most famous as a director with Thomas Edison's Company. He joined the U. S. Navy in 1893 and showed a great aptitude as an inventor of electrical devices used to improve communications.


Porter began his work on motion pictures in 1896, which was the first year movies were commercially projected onto large screens in the United States. He was briefly employed in New York City by Raff and Gammon, agents for the films and viewing equipment made by Thomas Edison, and then left to become a touring projectionist with a competing machine, Kuhn & Webster's Projecterscope. (1)


Between 1903-1905 he successfully demonstrated most of the techniques that were to become the more common visual aids used to communicate through film. An example of this work is called continuity editing. He is often credited with discovery of the basic syntactic unit of the narrative film, describing it as the "shot" rather than the scene (which is the basic unit of the stage).

Instead of using abrupt splices or cuts between shots, Porter created dissolves, which are gradual transition from one image to another. In his film Life of an American Fireman  this technique helped audiences to follow complex outdoor movement. He also used double exposure in the first scene to create the fireman's dream image.



In 1903 came what many believe is Porter's masterpiece, The Great Train Robbery. This film was the first American film in which each successive scene moved the story forward, from hold up, to getaway, to chase scene to their capture. Porter's story line was exciting, got the audience involved, and moved them in ways that had never been used before. Including one scene where a gun was pointed directly toward the screen, which frightened many who saw it.(ask.com)



Porter's curiosity concerning the mechanics of movies made him one of the most prominent technical innovators in the early years of American cinema. He was very interested in making images move across the screen. This lead him to push the limits on new technology and make improvements. During his life he experimented with trick photography, stop motion animation, and split screen shots.(3)



In 1899 Porter joined the Edison Manufacturing Company. Soon after, he was in charge of the motion pic production at Edison's New York studios, opporating cameras, directing actors, and assembling the final print. During the next decade he became the most influential filmmaker in the United States. Throughout his time at Edison, he made many films for the company; in fact he was the main stay of their film production for over five years. He left in 1909 and took senior production posts with a number of new independent companies.(2).



Life of an American Fireman.

This short film released on January of 1903, is a great example of Edwin Porter’s work. It is exciting and suspenseful and is a good progressive story.  In this film he made use of dissolves and also double exposures.

As recorded in a synopsis written in promotional material for the film, “it would be difficult for the exhibitor to conceive of the amount of work involved and the number of rehearsals necessary to produce a film of this description.” (4). This was a very ambitious film for 1903.








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