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.

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