Friday, May 01, 2015

Before Hollywood, There Was Fort Lee, New Jersey (1964)

The history of early filmmaking in Fort Lee, NJ has never quite received the attention that it would seem to warrant. Historians such as Theodore Huff and, more recently, Richard Koszarski, combined of course with the fine work of the Fort Lee Film Commission, have done an admirable job in shedding light on the American film industry's east coast origins. An important effort in documenting this still largely neglected area of film history is this 1964 documentary by historian Thomas Hanlon. Running a brisk 45 minutes, it presents a solid overview of the beginnings of the film industry in New Jersey, as well as key figures who worked there. Told largely through the use of still photographs, as well as home movie footage (taken in 1935 by Theodore Huff) of the remains of studio buildings in Fort Lee, there are also generous excerpts from such films as RESCUED FROM AN EAGLE'S NEST (1908, directed by Edwin S. Porter and starring D.W. Griffith), THE CURTAIN POLE (1909, a rare slapstick comedy directed by Griffith and starring Mack Sennett, whose comic fingerprints are definitely on the construction of the film's chase scenes), and THE LONELY VILLA (1909, an important melodrama directed by Griffith, noted for its effective use of parallel editing), which serve as a good example of the rich and varied work that was being produced in Fort Lee during cinema's early years.

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