Mashing Edison

Let us return to our occasional mash-up series, where we look at how some creative people have taken silent footage and blended it with modern music or other found sounds. Each of the examples here demonstrates creative use of Edison films made freely available for download and personal use by the Library of Congress through American Memory and the Open Video Project. This first example, Grandpa Can Dance!, created by pixiecherries (a.k.a. Bernie Lee), is a model piece of work, as it mashes up open content from American Memory and for the music from the Internet Archive. The two films used are Foxy Grandpa and Polly in a Little Hilarity (1902) and The Boys Think They Have One Over on Foxy Grandpa but he Fools Them (1902), while the music comes from zefrank. Firstly, it is a fine piece of creative work, with the unlikely heavy beat music fitting in well with the old-time dancing to create something delightfully strange. Added to this, he provides background information as intertitles throughout, showing interest in and respect for the performers. An education, in every sense.

More of Bernie Lee’s mashup work can be found at

Girl on Fire takes the 1898 Edison film, Turkish Dance, Ella Lola, from American Memory, filmed in the Black Maria studio. mediapetros has treated with visual effects, fire noises and indeterminate live sounds and snatches of what seem to be airport announcements, ending with a church organ and singing. The result is hypnotic and enigmatic. Ella Lola, though billed at the time as “a sensational dancer from the East”, in fact hailed from Boston.

Our third example is Love in an Elevator, which I take to be the name of the song by Aerosmith which has been laid over the Edison film Charity Ball (1897) (available from American Memory), featuring James T. Kelly and Dorothy Kent of the Waite’s Comedy Company, performing in the Black Maria studio. As in so many examples of films being placed alongside music which was not composed with it in mind, our brains seek out common points of reference, points of action matching points in the music. (Note that the film, which was probably shot at 30fps, has been transferred at too slow a speed). But the music, grim as it may be to my sensitive ears, does fit peculiarly well. And look out for that wild leap at the end. Let’s be seeing those moves at the dance halls soon.

And finally, thiscompost takes things a little further in this multi-screen presentation of a Serpentine Dance. There are two dancers shown. The first is not identifiable, though it is an Edison Kinetoscope film of a serpentine dance. The second is Annabelle, who is wearing butterfly wings, which is Annabelle Butterfly Dance (1894 or 1895 – there were multiple versions made). The film ends with the return of the first dancer. The music is a Nick Drake B-side played backwards and then forwards. Annabelle Whitford was the most filmed of the variety performers who appeared before the Edison Kinetograph in these earliest years. She was a follower of Loïe Fuller, and went on to join the Ziegfeld Follies. Here her presence (and that of the unidentified dancer) is reduced to mysterious icon, echoing the multiple presences she enjoyed on film peepshows and screens across the world as the motion picture first spread across the world.

A modern musketeer


Released next month is the latest mouth-watering, connoisseur-pleasing release from Flicker Alley, Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer. This is a five-DVD set covering Fairbanks’ career 1916-1921, as he worked his way through the genres and ever-increasing stardom, before the series of great costume dramas that marked the peak of his fame in the 1920s. It’s officially released on 2 December, with a discount offer for advance orders.

The eleven titles featured on the set are:

  • His Picture in the Papers (1916)
  • The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916)
  • Flirting With Fate (1916)
  • The Matrimaniac (1916)
  • Wild and Woolly (1917)
  • Reaching for the Moon (1917)
  • A Modern Musketeer (1918)
  • When the Clouds Roll By (1919)
  • The Mollycoddle (1920)
  • The Mark of Zorro (1920)
  • The Nut (1921)


It’s a sensational package, not just for the instrinc value of the films, but for the portrait it provides of the ‘all-American’ character leaping out of a pre-war world into post-war opportunity. The release of the set is complemented by the publication of Jeffrey Vance’s new biography, Douglas Fairbanks. This, we are told, is

the first critical analysis of Fairbanks’s body of work in over twenty-five years as well as the first full scale biography in over a half century. This extensively researched, engagingly written and sumptuously designed book goes behind Fairbanks’s public persona to thoroughly explore his art and far-reaching influence. Utilizing access to Fairbanks’s personal and professional papers, Douglas Fairbanks is a superb portrait of a true pioneer, critically important to the creation of cinema as the defining art form of the 20th-century.

The DVD set takes its apposite name from the title of the recently rediscovered 1917 A Modern Musketeer, which the curmudgeonly Bioscope didn’t much care for when it was shown this year at Pordenone. For a more generous view, within an illuminating critique of the Fairbanks persona, read David Bordwell’s latest post.