Friday, April 13, 2012

A Morning Alarm - 1896

Country: United States
Director: James H. White
Release Date: 27 November 1896 (USA)
Filming Locations: Newark, New Jersey, USA
Production Co: Edison Manufacturing Company
Runtime: 1 min
Sound Mix: Silent
Color: Black and White
Genres: Documentary | Short
This shows the Fire Department leaving headquarters for an early morning fire. The scene is remarkable for its natural effect. The opening of the engine house doors, the prancing of the horses, and even the startled expression upon the faces of the spectators are all clearly depicted.
This Edison feature is of interest in that it films a popular subject of its time using a slightly different approach than most film-makers took with it. There are quite a few 1890s features like this that show fire-fighters at work, often as they hurried to the site of a fire, but most such movies used a viewpoint similar to the classic diagonal angle that the Lumières helped to popularize.
This one, instead, uses a different camera angle, trying to catch the vehicles as they come out of the station, then make a right-angle turn, and then come past the camera. It's a much harder task to pull off, and it actually doesn't work all that well here. You see much more of the anxious crowd than of the fire-fighting vehicles, and the vehicles actually move outside the camera field for part of the running time. The print as it survives is also pretty blurry, which doesn't help.
So this is most noteworthy as an example of an attempt to do something a little different, and even though as a movie it is not that good, it was certainly a worthwhile idea that remains worth seeing for that reason.
Another Edison feature, "Going to the Fire" was made the same day in the same city (Newark, New Jersey), and it works much better by using the more usual diagonal camera angle. The same is true of another Edison feature with a confusingly similar title, "The Morning Alarm", which was filmed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Harrisburg footage is distinctive and still looks pretty good. This one ("A" Morning Alarm) does not work as well, but it is distinctive in taking a different approach.
Featured in Edison: The Invention of the Movies (2005). The entire film is included on the DVD

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