Reserve to Make Your Own Film Project at the West Orange Edison Studio

Thomas Edison and George Eastman Video their Friend Mark Twain – Reserve to Make Your Own Film Project at the West Orange Edison Studio
by Michele Guttenberger

In 1909 Thomas Edison made the fortuitous trip to visit his good friend Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) along with his friend George Eastman of Eastman Kodak. They brought along the movie equipment- Edison’s kinetograph camera and Eastman Kodak celluloid film to record friend Mark Twain and his two daughters at his final Stormfield home in Redding CT. This film was going to be part of the story of “The Prince and Pauper”. In 1909 the technology had not yet been invented for combined audio and video recording. One year later Mark Twain died at the age of 74. His daughter Jean who appeared in this movie clip died in 1909 at the age of 29 from a sudden heart attack. This would be the only video of Mark Twain and the film is now part of the Smithsonian collection in Washington DC.

Even though in this period of technology could not capture sound on movie film, voice recordings were available many years before movie film. In 1891 Mark Twain attempted to dictate his novella “An American Claimant’ on Edison’s wax cylinders but all 48 recorded cylinders were lost. Later Twain read his stories with the newly improved technical quality of the phonograph at the Edison studio in New York City. However, these finished voice recordings were stored at the West Orange facility and in 1914 they were destroyed by fire. The wonderful narrative voice of Mark Twain that people experienced during his live stage presentations was lost forever. Actors who got to listen to his voice did their best at giving impersonations of this distinctive voice. It is these impersonations that have been handed down that gives the essence of this famous author’s voice today.

Today we can still replicate the old film technology that Edison and Eastman had started. The Thomas Edison West Orange NPS will offer on Sunday, July 27th at 2:00 p.m. (RESERVATIONS REQUIRED. Call 973-736-0550 ext. 89) a special film production event. Participants will use the technologies and practices originally used by Thomas Edison in collaboration with MONO NO AWARE. Workshop participants will re-enact classic kinetoscope films at the Black Maria with props provided by FilmBiz. . It will be the same movie production the Edison studios did in the late 1800s. They will capture short sequences on black and white reversal film stock. All the films will be processed on site and presented at a special screening that will take place at 4:00 p.m. The films will then be scanned and transferred to HD by DiJiFi for participants to share with friends and family online. During the workshop, the cinema arts non-profit MONO NO AWARE will introduce the celluloid film format created in 1889 by George Eastman that allowed Thomas Alva Edison to develop the motion picture camera in 1891. It was a partnership and friendship that gave way to the birth of motion pictures in America


Please visit Thomas Edison’s West Orange lab where you can view these short films and take a look at the Black Maria studio. Visit the Thomas Alva Edison Museum – NPS – Open Wednesday through Sunday. Hours are 10:00am – 4:00pm. Admission Fee is $7.00 – 211 Main Street West Orange, NJ 07052 Visit website for more details

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