America's First Great Motion Picture Studio
Andrew A. Erish
In Vitagraph, Andrew A. Erish provides the first comprehensive examination and reassessment of the company most responsible for defining and popularizing the American movie. This history challenges long-accepted Hollywood mythology that simply isn't true: that Paramount and Fox invented the feature film, that Universal created the star system, and that these companies, along with MGM and Warner Bros., developed motion pictures into a multi-million-dollar business. In fact, the truth about Vitagraph is far more interesting than the myths that later moguls propagated about themselves.
Established in 1897 by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith, Vitagraph was the leading producer of motion pictures for much of the silent era. Vitagraph established America's studio system, a division of labor utilizing specialized craftspeople and artists, including a surprising number of women and minorities, whose aesthetic innovations have long been incorporated into virtually all commercial cinema. They developed fundamental aspects of the form and content of American movies, encompassing everything from framing, lighting, and performance style to emphasizing character-driven comedy and drama in stories that respected and sometimes poked fun at every demographic of Vitagraph's vast audience. The company overcame resistance to multi-reel motion pictures by establishing a national distribution network for its feature films. Vitagraph's international distribution was even more successful, cultivating a worldwide preference for American movies that endures to the present. For most of its existence America's most influential studio was headquartered in Brooklyn, New York before relocating to Hollywood.
Finally, here is a historically rigorous and thorough account of the most influential producer of American motion pictures during the silent era. Drawing on valuable primary material long overlooked by other historians, Erish introduces readers to the fascinating, forgotten pioneers of Vitagraph.