I was never a true aficionado, but I’d watched my share of silents: D.W. Griffith, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin etc. While doing research for my two existing (unpublished) novels that take place around 1910 in New York, I was astonished to see just how much filmmaking owes to pioneers who worked not in Hollywood, but in New York City and its environs, and in Paris.
Of course, everyone knows about Edison and his developments. His plant in New Jersey, with its famous Black Maria studio, crops up in even the briefest of histories. But the true believers, the ones that brought the moving pictures out of the novelty and into the craft and finally into the art, were men and women who took his ideas and ran with them.
And you guessed it, D. W. Griffith himself, with his American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, made his first films in New York, shooting oftentimes in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
What many don’t also realize is that there were many others in the first two decades of the twentieth century: Centaur, Vitagraph, Gaumont, and some that have probably melted into obscurity with the volatile celluloid they used.
Even more astonishing to me was to discover how big a role women played, not just as actors, but as directors and producers (a title that didn’t exist at first). Here’s a wonderful example, out of Alice Guy’s Fort Lee studio in 1912: