Charles Silver, a curator in MoMA’s Department of Film, presents a series of writings to supplement the film exhibition An Auteurist History of Film. The following post accompanies the "A Portrait of Edwin S. Porter" program, which screens September 23, 24, and 25 in MoMA’s Celeste Bartos Theater (Theater 3).
Charles Musser, director of Before the Nickelodeon and now a distinguished professor of film, has ties with The Museum of Modern Art going back to his undergraduate days. His The Emergence of Cinema and Eileen Bowser’s The Transformation of Cinema (both in the Scribner series A History of the American Cinema) have become standard works on this period. Eileen, for many years a curator in MoMA’s Department of Film, is now retired. Blanche Sweet, a good personal and professional friend who died in 1986, stars in several of the D. W. Griffith films coming up in succeeding weeks.
As Musser’s film explains, Edwin S. Porter was a kind of jack-of-all-trades who accidentally stumbled into being the first director of note in American film. Although it is questionable that he ever saw himself as an artist, his presence in the early days of the medium, when truly interesting things were happening, makes it unfair to totally dismiss him. His later career lasted until 1916 and included some twenty features, mostly codirected with others (further diluting any possible auteurist claims). Among these were the now infamous The Count of Monte Cristo, starring James O’Neill (the film version of the stage role that figures so prominently in his son Eugene’s great Long Day’s Journey into Night), and the Mary Pickford vehicle Tess of the Storm Country.