Thomas Edison

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Those of us who have grown up having electricity our entire lives generally don’t think too much about the particulars of how the lights go on. There was a time, before everything was standardized and the limits of what electricity could do for us was known, where the world watched as the specifics of how best to harness electrical energy was bitterly debated, however. The basic argument was between direct current, where energy always flows in one direction between positive and negative terminals, and alternating current, where the direction of an electrical current reverses 50 or 60 times a second, depending on whether you’re in Europe or the United States. Sounds boring, right? Maybe not. The Weinstein Company seems to think that there’s a way to present the electricity debates of the late 1800s as a dramatic feature that would keep even modern, celebrity gossip-obsessed audiences engaged, because they’ve just put some money behind a Black List script by Michael Mitnick called The Current War that covers this very topic, and it looks like this is a project that they want to put on the fast track to production. Before you scoff at the idea of throwing a bunch of money and resources at a movie about scientific debates, know that this was the issue that eventually led to Thomas Edison publicly electrocuting an elephant to death. Yeah, things escalated quickly.

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santa claus 1907

Later today, we have a Christmas-themed edition of Scenes We Love, in which you’ll find a number of favorite movie moments of varying genres and content. Some of them involve Santa Claus. So, in lieu of finding a short film made by or featuring someone related to a new film out this week, I thought it would be fun to look at some of the earliest cinematic appearances of the jolly old holiday mascot. If you want to go back further than your usual classics-honoring tradition of watching Miracle on 34th Street, definitely check out these five ancient shorts.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? There’s a lot of concern about what seems like a constant stream of remakes and re-imaginings, and while there are several excellent remakes to point to, I thought it would be interesting to look at the first version of something. Hailing from 102 years ago, this was the first motion picture version of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” a novel that has been made into so many films, that it’s difficult to think of any new versions as being “a remake.” Of course, it’s doubly fascinating that this film, directed by J. Searle Dawley, was made at Thomas Edison‘s film studio. Regardless of that bit of trivia, it’s an interesting historical artifact. What will it cost you? Only 12 minutes. Skip work. Watch more short films.

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Mark Twain Edison Footage

In 1909, Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) would turn 73 years old and spend a lot of his time at his homestead in Redding, Connecticut. This was decades after giving birth to American literature, making friends with Tesla and fighting ghosts or whatever supernatural beast writers will faddishly shove into his autobiography. It was also a troublesome  year. It was the year his youngest daughter Jean as well as his close friend Henry Rogers died, and it’s the same year that he predicted his own demise to coincide with Halley’s Comet (just as he’d come into the world). He was right. The next year, he died. Right on schedule with the comet. But 1909 also saw good friend Thomas Edison visit Twain and his family in Redding to capture some moving images. A bit of the footage ended up in the short film The Prince and the Pauper, but it holds the unique distinction of being the only known footage of Twain out there. Check it out for yourself:

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Culture Warrior

Amongst the many reactions to Steve Jobs’s death last week, I found one comparison that people drew to be quite compelling. In order to find a fitting historic analogy to illustrate the cultural significance of Jobs’s life, comparisons ran the gamut from Nikola Tesla to, erm, John Lennon (“think different,” I guess?). But several people, including, Roger Ebert, brought to light continuities with Thomas Edison. Edison, like Jobs, was an industrialist: part inventor, mostly capitalist. But specific to his own life, Edison spent most of his career securing patents and making improvements to existing technologies rather than building something from scratch. Edison’s reputation associates him with a great deal more invention than he was actually involved in. I’m not trying to be cynical about Jobs. Far from it. In fact, I’ve been more than a little annoyed with the backlash to consumer mourning about Jobs than any initial hyperbole associated with Jobs’s death in the first place. I don’t give a flying shit about executives in pretty much any industry, but saying “he’s just a CEO” does not negate the great intellectual worth and cultural interest of Jobs himself. Jobs, like Edison, developed a cult of personality that extended well beyond the person.

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What is Movie News After Dark? This is a question that I am almost never asked, but I will answer it for you anyway. Movie News After Dark is FSR’s newest late-night secretion, a column dedicated to all of the news stories that slip past our daytime editorial staff and make it into my curiously chubby RSS ‘flagged’ box. It will (but is not guaranteed to) include relevant movie news, links to insightful commentary and other film-related shenanigans. I may also throw in a link to something TV-related here or there. It will also serve as my place of record for being both charming and sharp-witted, but most likely I will be neither of the two. I write this stuff late at night, what do you expect?

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Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as NoWaveSurfer and KeatonRox2738 in order to discuss some topical topic of interest. This week, the purported death of indie films that’s reported upon faithfully every year (at least 4 times a year). In the face of the Independent Film’s best friend festival beginning this weekend, we tackle the real question: Indie films can’t actually be dead, can they?

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