Note: This is an encore post from 2012.
Beginning his career as a journalist in the late 1880s, J. Stuart Blackton is today recognized as one of the American film industry’s first pioneers. He founded Vitagraph in 1896 along with Albert E. Smith and W. T. Rock, one of the first early production companies.
Using simple props, they concocted films with fake footage as Spanish American War propaganda films in 1898, such as “The Battle of Manila Bay,” shot for $3 using miniature ships and cigars. They would go on to produce short films featuring comedy, animation, and drama through the mid-teens, when they began producing features as well.
In 1906, Blackton gave birth to film animation when he drew caricatures for the Vitagraph short “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” shooting one frame of film at a time. Vitagraph would claim many firsts over the years, including creating the first newsreel, first full-length feature film, the first fan magazine, and the first complete color film.
By the early 1930s, Blackton would produce the first true film documentary on the history of the medium as well, “The Film Parade.” Though Smith and Blackton sold the name Vitagraph in the mid-1920s, Blackton retained ownership of their films and other film footage. He would employ this footage in the documentary, detailing the birth of moving pictures and their evolution, tinkering with it for years.