This 1897 Film Was the First Movie Made in Los Angeles | KCET
This 1897 Film Was the First Movie Made in Los Angeles
Were it not for the title – “South Spring Street, Los Angeles, Cal.” – would you recognize L.A. in its first starring role? After all, not a single palm tree appears in the 25-second film Frederick Blechynden shot for the Edison Manufacturing Company. Nor does a sandy beach, a sun-drenched orange grove, a Spanish mission in ruins, or any other visual trope that might identify the place as Los Angeles. It was only a matter of time – merely a few days, in fact – before a filmmaker captured an iconic Southern California scene: the Santa Monica coast. But on Dec. 31, 1897, Blechynden was content to train his lens on the passing street traffic and record a scene that might as well have been Chicago, New York, or any other North American city. Blechynden’s “animated photograph,” as the film was advertised, was meant to showcase the emerging technology of the motion picture. Motion is what mattered, not symbolic imagery.
L.A.'s Earliest Film History
And yet the film does have something to say about the Los Angeles of 1897. The bustling street scene reveals a city that, despite its deep-seated anxieties about East Coast urbanism, was beginning to embrace the East Coast idea of having a downtown. Spring Street had not yet reached its heyday (that would come in the 1910s-20s when it was the “Wall Street of the West”) but had clearly emerged as a major commercial corridor. How Angelenos use the street itself is interesting, too. The concept of jaywalking had not yet been invented, and in the film pedestrians confidently share the roadway with horse-drawn carriages, electric trolleys, and bicycles. Finally, the film depicts a Los Angeles that appears to value its public realm, a “first Los Angeles,” to use architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne’s formulation. People crowd the sidewalks, and those in the passing vehicles seem engaged with rather than sequestered from the surrounding city. You can almost imagine a serendipitous meeting happening just off-camera. Even today, two decades into downtown L.A.’s revitalization, Spring Street rarely looks so animated.
Video courtesy of the Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.
The Program for Torture Victims helps survivors of torture find new life in America. PTV helped more than 300 clients in Southern California last year, and nearly all of them are also applying for asylum. As the asylum process becomes more difficult, so d
The world is experiencing the most significant refugee crisis since World War II. One in every 113 people on the planet is now a refugee. Around the world, someone is displaced every three seconds, forced from home by violence, war or persecution.
Images have just been released of a tent facility built in Tornillo, Texas which may be used to accommodate dozens of teenagers, some of whom have been separated from the parents.
Come Out and See ‘Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood’ at the Summer KCET Cinema Series on June 26th
A Q&A will immediately follow with the film’s subject Scotty Bowers and director Matt Tyrnauer.
- 1 of 60
- next ›