Facsimile of the 1895 monograph detailing, in rather too florid language for modern readers, some technical aspects of Thomas Edison’s first movie studio and the devices for capturing and playing back some of the first moving pictures. The most fascinating part of the book describes the efforts to coordinate picture and sound by synchronizing the movie camera with a phonograph. W.K.L. Dickson was instrumental in making the first experimental sound movies for Edison, the earliest of which (from the Fall of 1894) features him playing the violin before a phonograph horn, while two men dance to the music. Most people these days do not realize that “talking pictures” existed this early in film history, although sound-on-film technologies were not created until much later. The Dickson monograph talks about the first stabs toward talking pictures, but that phase only lasted about one year, because by 1896 the big development was film projection, which took movies out of the kinetoscope and Mutoscope parlors and onto the big screen. Edison did actually come back to a newer model of the kineto-phonograph commercially a few years later. There were 19 talking pictures released by Edison in 1913, but the technology was cast aside again by 1915, as it was just too cumbersome for the union projectionists to work it, there were various technical problems, and by that point a court decision had deprived Edison of patent protection for his motion picture inventions. Ultimately, talking pictures crept into the movie universe with sound-on-disc and then sound-on-film technologies, first as short features in the mid-1920’s, then as feature films starting with The Jazz Singer in 1927.
Despite being the Wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Edison was not always a wizard at understanding the potential uses of his many inventions. He initially thought of the phonograph predominantly as a means of taking down transcription. But he did a good job of farming out to associates the task of finding varied uses for his inventions. In the case of motion pictures, Edison himself had little to do with the production of the roughly 1,200 films made by the Edison Company. Edison’s view of the kinetoscope, however, was that it had many possibilities which were being discovered with each succeeding month. In Edison’s introduction to the present volume, he sees the movie camera as a way of recording “every change of facial expression” and reproducing it life size. He finds in the movie camera a way to immortalize great live performances as he writes, “I believe that in coming years by my own work, and that of Dickson, Muybridge, Marie, and others who will undoubtedly enter the field, that grand opera can be given at the Metropolitan Opera House at New York without any material change from the original, and with artists and musicians long since dead.”