Well I've finished approximately 110 of the 140 films in this four disc collection, and yes I feel like something of a minor expert in very primitive film. Edison's place amongst the inventors of cinema is debatable. The beauty about film is that there is no inventor, or even an originating country. The art for bears some similarities to baseball in that no one is really sure who had the idea first. The truth is many people in different places were working on similar inventions to make the movies come together. Everyone borrowed/stole from each other, and Edison was one of the craftiest to play this game. He tried to get nearly all of his inventions patented so that everyone who ever made a movie would have to pay him royalties.
Edison had next to nothing to do with the actual making of movies. Much of the technology that went into making movies was created and made by people in his laboratory, and Edison was there primarily to take credit for the discovery. W. L. Dickson was considered the first movie director, and he spent his time making most of the original Edison films in the first American studio "The Black Mariah". Dickson is also credited as being the first film theorist, writing on the aesthetics and future of cinema as early as 1894. As a director though its hard to look at his work in the same way as other silent directors. He seemed more of a photographer, and in the early days of cinema they did view it as moving pictures.
Around the turn of the century Edison had a new go to guy in the form of Edwin S. Porter. Porter was immensely interested in cinematic experiments, and was arguably the first American filmmaker to use superimpositions, double exposures, rear projection, animation, and models. As always with early film numerous things were happening simultaneously throughout the world so its really hard to say who did what first, but none would argue that America's first "blockbuster" was Porter's The Great Train Robbery. Almost immediately after the release of this film, Porter became the Edison company's lone director, and had a hand in making nearly every film the company released. In this regard Porter was America's first auteur and star director. However his reign at the top would not last long, as Edison rival Biograph would rise to great prominence in 1908 behind D. W. Griffith.
This set tracks the evolution of cinema for roughly the medium's first 30 years. From photographic tests and films meant to be viewed through a Kinetoscope, to short narratives, one reelers, and finishing with a feature film. This is the evolution of American cinema, and this set is invaluable as a record of turn of the century America, and film evolution. Most of the films on the first two discs are forgettable or nearly impossible to rate. After all how can you aesthetically judge a film lasting 15 seconds? However some of the one reelers are certainly worth the price of admission. For my money arguable the first American masterpiece is Porter's film The White Caps (1905), a rather gripping film about vigilante justice. The White Caps were a real group who were active in parts of Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. Their outfits and method of taking the law into their own hands certainly recalls the KKK, but this group had no concern for race, and handed out "justice" equally. In this film the group tracks down a wife beater and proceeds to tar and feather him. Certainly one of the earliest films I was able to find that made you enthralled in the characters story and provoked a strong emotion of some kind. As for the rest of the films most show curiosity and unique little tidbits, with a fair share of mediocre films.
. . . More to come when the set is finished.