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A Christmas Carol

An Edison Company Production (1910)



CC BY-NC-ND    Source: The Internet Archive

Remastered, retitled, tinted and new soundtrack added in 2010.
Original production information

Commentary

In this section we are looking at the 1910 film production of A Christmas Carol by Edison Studios. Part of Thomas A. Edison, Inc., a holding company founded by the American entrepreneur, the organization made more than a thousand short films over a 25 year period. Produced in the Bronx county of New York city, the film is silent, black and white, and 11 minutes in length. The novel does not have many characters or settings but they are reduced to a minimum in the film. Using no dynamic lighting or camera movement and only a few recurring set pieces, the film relies on body language and caption frames cut in between scenes to tell the story. Though perhaps advanced for its time, given the limitations of these early production methods, it could be said that the film also relied on viewers' familiarity with the tale to understand its meaning and plot. The impact of the film seems to come more from the spectacle of the moving picture than any underlying themes in the story. This is underscored by the prominent corporate logo on each intertitle. Rather than social commentary, the film seems to have a strictly commercial intent.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of the film in delivering Dickens' message is a lack of detail in setting the tone. We never see Scrooge's miserly fire in the hearth or any close-ups to make us feel the emotion in a face. There is no character development and we enter directly into the middle of each scene and quickly onto the next. The Cratchits and the struggles of Victorian England's working poor are not well represented. The grim conditions are reduced to Scrooge's vision of an outstretched hand, an aghast reaction, and a couple of moments of hand wringing. Many of the happy moments in the book are quite conspicuous however, and so viewers could be forgiven for thinking that this was a story about a man who conquers his delusions to get out and have a good time. Perhaps the conditions of 1911 America were not far enough removed from those of Dickens' England that an audience could be expected to pay to watch bleak and cruel scenes for entertainment.

It could be that the length of the film did not provide enough time to cover themes of the Victorian era in any depth. Perhaps the crude production methods of the day did not allow for vivid exposition of important issues. More likely, this is a case of the medium being the message. Early films didn't need narratives with depth, contrast and suspense to gain attention the way stories in books did. People didn't go to the Nickleodeon theatres to learn lessons about life, they went to have a good time being dazzled by Edison's 'projecting kinetoscope'.

Production Information

Actor Character
Marc McDermott Ebenezer Scrooge
Charles S. Ogle Bob Cratchit
Also featuring: William Bechtel, Viola Dana, Carey Lee and Shirley Mason.
Director: J. Searle Dawley
Producer: J. Searle Dawley
Production Company: Edison Manufacturing Company
This movie is part of the collection: The Video Cellar Collection
Contact Information: The Video Cellar
Creative Commons license: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0

Further Information

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