Before the Nickelodeon

Before the Nickelodeon

The latest addition to the Bioscope Library is evidence of a growing trend among academic publishers to make some of their books available electronically, both by subscription, and for some older titles, for free.

That’s what’s happened with University of California Press, which has made some 2,000 books available online via e-Scholarship Editions. Most of these are available only the university staff and students, but a handful have been made freely available for the public. Among them is one of the key early film studies texts, and is strongly recommended, not just for its own sake but for the very user-friendly way in which it has been made accessible.

Charles Musser’s Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company (1991) is a biography of Edwin S. Porter, but also very much more than a biography. He places the story of the Edison filmmaker, producer of The Great Train Robbery (1903) and Life of an American Fireman (1903), within the context of film production and exhibition at the end of nineteenth century and into the twentieth, and within broader socio-cultural contexts. The result is a rich, multilayered account of the birth of American film with Porter as the key with which to unlock the history. This modern classic has been hugely influential on modern early film studies. It is also handsomely illustrated and very readable. It is freely available as chapterised web pages, complete with illustrations, notes, appendices and hyperlinked index i.e. find the term, and the link takes you to that page in the ‘book’.

With thanks to David Pierce for pointing this out to me. I’m going to be on the look out for more.

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