For many years historians assumed that the earliest motion pictures had simply been lost--thrown away, destroyed or simply deteriorated. The first print of Fireman was uncovered in 1944, in the archives of the Pathe newsreel company in France. Historians assumed the Pathe print was the original release, and that it had been a very early example of cross cutting and modern editing. Later, in the 60s and seventies, other versions of the film turned up; the Library of Congress, it turned out, had a large archive of "paperprints" of early films. These were literally paper prints of films, usually about 400 feet long, which film producers had submitted to the Library of Congress in order to establish copyright. It took many years for these paper prints to be restored and turned back into usable film, but the "Paperprint Collection" is now the single best record of early film and has radically revised our understanding of the period. The collection included versions of Life of An American Fireman. which proved conclusively that Porter had released the film using the techniques of "temporal overlap." The collection also included enough examples of the technique in other films to suggest that it was standard practice for early filmmakers.


The best account of Porter and the early years of the movies is found in Charles Musser, Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company (Berkeley: University of California Press 1991) and in a videotape also by Musser, Before the Nickelodeon the early cinema of Edwin S. Porter / Publisher: New York: First-Run Features, [1987]. The footage in this web site comes from the Musser videotape.