The Dalenberg Library of Antique Popular Literature presents. . .100 Years, 100 Films.
A vertical tasting of world cinema. Not always the obvious choices, these films are intended to be somehow representative of their year of release. In each case, for any given year, there are half a dozen films, or maybe even twenty, vying to be screened. Sometimes the chosen film is the top grossing movie of the year or the Best Picture Oscar winner, but usually not. Sometimes it is a popular film, but since most everybody has seen Casablanca and Star Wars many times over, the selection for a particular year might be something more obscure. Every one of these films is worth seeing for one reason or another. The goal is to convince others to watch along with The Dalenberg Library, perhaps to discover something new, definitely to discover something worth watching that might otherwise have been overlooked.
100 Films, 100 Years for 1901 is the President McKinley Inauguration Footage produced by the Edison Company (USA). Voted to the National Film Registry in 2000, this is actually two films: President McKinley Taking the Oath and Escort Going to the Capitol. These brief scenes from McKinley’s second inauguration (March 4, 1901) were filmed by the Edison Manufacturing Company. This type of “actuality film” was very common in the early days of the movies. The original film-makers, the Lumiere Brothers in France, released about 1,400 actuality films, all 50-second snippets of scenes from everyday life. The American Mutuoscope and Biograph Company (Edison’s main competitor at the time) had filmed a bit of McKinley’s first inauguration in 1897, making that the first presidential inauguration on film, and including a brief shot of Grover Cleveland, the outgoing President (which made Cleveland the first President ever captured on motion picture film.)
Actuality films were the precursors of the newsreels, and ultimately of documentaries. Many of them are honest depictions of real things, often just everyday normal things, but also some momentous events, like these clips of a Presidential inauguration At first, equipment was cumbersome, and the technology of shooting live on location was in its infancy, so there was often a tendency to re-enact and stage events in the studio. The Lumiere Brothers in France had a lighter camera and were initially more facile than the Americans at capturing outdoor, live images. However, Edison had a newer, more portable camera by 1896. And so, by 1901, Edison was sending crews into the field to record things like the aftermath of the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor (1898), the Alaska gold rush (1899), the Paris Exposition (1900), and the McKinley second inauguration. One of the best shots in the McKinley footage is a glimpse of vice-President Theodore Roosevelt riding alone in a carriage behind the President’s, made all the more poignant by the later reality that Roosevelt was about to be President only 6 months hence upon McKinley’s assassination.
The peak era for actuality films was about 1903, and they were over and done with as a film genre about 1908. But actuality films never really went away. They are the building blocks of documentary, the raw footage that editors string together and to which they apply a narrative. In 1901, the pasting together of films into a bigger show involved a screening in a storefront, or as an adjunct to a vaudeville performance, with an exhibitor stringing several of these films together and providing a narrative between the scenes. But one of the great powers of film had yet to be exploited–the power to persuade by spinning the narrative. One does not watch the McKinley inauguration footage and receive any kind of message. It is not edited or commented upon. One just watches it for the fascination of seeing the events recorded impartially by a novel technology. Leni Riefenstahl and Fox News were still decades to come.