Edwin S. Porter

Edwin S. Porter

Connellsville, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 30 Apr 1941 (aged 71)
New York, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
Burial Somerset, Somerset County, Pennsylvania, USA
Plot Porter Mausoleum
Memorial ID 68985291 · View Source
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Pioneer Motion Picture Director, Editor, Cinematographer, Inventor. His western "The Great Train Robbery" (1903) is a milestone of movie history, commonly believed to be the first narrative film. Edwin Stanton Porter was born in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. He left school at 14 to train as an electrician and served in the US Navy from 1893 to 1896. Fascinated with the new medium of cinema, he worked as a touring projectionist in the late 1890s and joined Edison's New York film studio in 1899. Porter's initial job there was building and repairing cameras, but his knowledge of movies (European as well as American) and technical know-how soon won him promotion as the company's chief director, photographer, and editor. Some of his early efforts show a penchant for trick effects inspired by Georges Melies. In 1903 Porter released "The Life of an American Fireman", which depicted a melodramatic rescue by splicing together staged scenes he had shot with stock documentary footage of firefighters at work. It is the first known example of intercutting in American films; it also featured an early use of a dramatic close-up. From there it was a short but momentous step to the basic continuity cutting of "The Great Train Robbery". In this 11-minute western epic (shot in the wilds of New Jersey) Porter demonstrated how editing could establish logical coherence between shots and scenes without descriptive titles, even when the action moved from one setting to another. It was an elaborate production for the time - a cast of 40, extensive location shooting, use of a real train - and Porter put everything he knew (and intuited) about movies into it. Camera movement (panning and traveling), special effects (in-camera mattes, jump cuts), and depth of field staging (the climactic shootout) were all used to tell a story onscreen in ways that were cinematic rather than theatrical. Ironically, its definitive moment - the close-up of the lead bandit (played by Justus D. Barnes) firing his six-shooter at the audience - was a non-sequitur, added purely for shock value. Calling "The Great Train Robbery" the "first story film" is technically erroneous, but in terms of worldwide impact it may as well have been. It was the most famous and financially successful film of the silent era until "The Birth of a Nation" (1915). Through 1909 Porter produced some 230 short films in all genres for Edison. They include "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1903), one of the earliest fictional two-reelers, the social-justice dramas "The Ex-Convict" (1904) and "The Kleptomaniac" (1905), and the fantasy films "The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend" (1906) and "The Teddy Bears" (1907). Another Porter short, "Rescued from an Eagle's Nest" (1907), marked the film debut (as an actor) of D.W. Griffith. Seeking greater financial rewards - he never made more than $85 a week at Edison - Porter helped develop the popular Simplex movie projector (1908) and started two independent production companies, Defender Pictures (1909) and Rex Films (1910). In 1912 he partnered with Adolph Zukor in founding the Famous Players Film Company. He was one of the first American directors to regularly make feature-length films, including the original screen adaptation of "The Prisoner of Zenda" (1913); the first feature version of "The Count of Monte Cristo" (1913); "His Neighbor's Wife" (1913), the only film appearance of legendary stage actress Lillie Langtry (now sadly lost); five Mary Pickford vehicles, among them "Tess of the Storm Country" (1914); "Zaza" (1915); and "The Prince and the Pauper" (1915). Porter is a curious figure among pioneer filmakers. He was a "techno-geek" rather than an artist or entertainer, happiest when tinkering with motion picture equipment. Actors seemed to befuddle him, and he eventually left the task of directing them to assistants so he could devote himself to the photography and post-production chores. Zukor complained that he was more comfortable around machines than with people. After 1903 he failed to build on his innovations in editing and even resisted new techniques (such as Griffith's crosscutting). As a whole his surviving work is routine, leading some historians to claim that "The Great Train Robbery" was a fluke. In 1915 Porter quit directing films entirely. He sold his interest in Famous Players for $800,000 and became president of the Precision Machine Co., manufacturer of the Simplex projectors. His experiments with sound, color, and 3-D systems for film yielded no practical results, but Simplex sales boomed and he retired a millionaire in 1925. The 1929 Wall Street crash wiped out most of his fortune and he spent the rest of his life in obscurity, experimenting with cinematic devices in a little machine shop. His death went virtually unnoticed in Hollywood. Original burial was at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York; in the mid-1940s he was reinterred in a new family mausoleum at Husband Cemetery in Somerset, Pennsylvania. In 1990, "The Great Train Robbery" was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film was honored with a commemorative stamp by the US Postal Service in 1998.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Linda Marker
  • Added: 27 Apr 2011
  • Find a Grave Memorial 68985291
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Edwin S. Porter (21 Apr 1870–30 Apr 1941), Find a Grave Memorial no. 68985291, citing Husband Cemetery, Somerset, Somerset County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .