Brain Pickings

Thomas Edison and the Invention of the Movies


Today marks the 164th birthday of Thomas Edison — inventor, businessman, scientist and idea maverick of gargantuan historical proportions. We may know him from science class as the man who invented the light bulb, but his contribution to creative culture and the moving image was his true passion and, many would argue, his greatest legacy. He invented the phonograph and developed the first motion picture camera. Geroges Méliès may have been the first cinemagician, but Edison was the man who made film both a mass communication medium and a creative craft, framing many of the conventions of modern cinema.

Edison – The Invention of the Movies (1891-1918) is an ambitious collaboration between Kino Video and MoMA, celebrating Edison’s legacy and the birth of cinema with 140 of the first moving pictures ever seen. The four-disc treasure chest features not merely the masterfully restored films, but also over two hours of insightful interviews with scholars, museum archivists and cultural critics.

Edison’s films include such rare gems as boxing women…

…boxing cats (presaging the kind of cat-related interwebz entertainment by over a century)…

…and the only known footage of Mark Twain.

From the fascinating technology that fueled Edison’s films to the sociology and cultural anthropology of the era’s stereotypes depicted in the films, Edison – The Invention of the Movies (1891-1918) is a priceless slice of creative and cultural history.

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