Edison’s Films

Through the series of Edison’s films screened for class we are able to get some idea of what audiences were looking for in the beginning of the twentieth century, how they were participating in viewing, and even how their desires shifted over the course of even such a short period.  It is without a doubt that the allure of the spectacle of attraction were present in these early films.  The mesmerizing short of Coney Island at night is nothing but spectacle, both in the sense that it is displaying the incredible technology that allowed filmmakers to capture moving images at night, and in that it is just aesthetically very entertaining.  That said, it is clear that the spectacle of attraction was used in contexts slightly more sophisticated than just a dazzling light show.  While “Three American Beauties” showed the astonishment of a vibrant red rose caught on film, it also had patriotic message.  “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend” did have a narrative to it, but it was one that’s only real purpose was to facilitate the spectacle of different special effects.  In class readings and discussions we have been debating the importance of the spectacle and arguing wether much of the classic film theory regarding the evolution to narrative is legitimate or not.  It is clear from Edison’s films listed above that there seemed to be a meshing of spectacle and narrative from an early period.
This also may illustrate the way in which audiences were participating with the films screened.  It is not hard to imagine audiences swerving their heads around during the chaotic special effect of the drunk Rarebit Fiend on the street, almost as if they are on some kind of roller coaster attraction, enjoying the ride.  This isn’t to say that the audience was credulous and completely awed by the imagery of the drunk-o-vision.  I use the analogy of a roller coaster because much like a roller coaster where you know that you are supposed to put both hands in the air and scream, I would argue that audiences of these early short films may have been taken in by the spectacle but that they did so knowing what they were getting in to.