Thursday, June 29, 2017

Born Today June 29: F. S. Armitage


Relatively unknown but innovative early cinematographer Frederick S. Armitage was born on this day in Seneca Falls, New York. Very little is known about Armitage's life: early or late.  He went to work for the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company using their patented Mutoscope hand cranked camera.  Many sources state that his earliest film credits date from 1898, but it appears that he has one credit from 1897.  He apparently shot Trout Poachers with the Mutoscope camera.  From the start he demonstrated a knack for camera innovations--he was obviously influenced in some way by Melies, but it is unclear where he would have had a chance to view any of the French shorts.  Amongst the myriad to tricks that he used involved deliberate over-exposure, time-lapse photography, various types of superimpositions, and reverse negatives.  It has been confirmed that he was solely responsible for one of my favorite "trick actualities" of all time, The Ghost Train dating from 1901 (I have included it in the annual Countdown To Halloween--this post dates from 2012--so much has been discovered about this little film since then (!) including the corrected year.). Many of his films have interesting names for a cameraman that was supposed to specialize in actualities.  He shot the likes of The Demon Barber (1899)The Wizard And The Spirit Of The Tree (1899) and The Ballet Of The Ghosts (1899), just to name a few.  He was quite the prolific filmmaker, having shot some 188 films for Biograph by the end 1899 alone--by the end of his career, the number swelled to over 400.  By the early 1900's he was working with another early innovator in the world of cinematography A. E. Weed, uncle of the Marvin Brothers at Biograph: Harry and Marvin, and a company founder in his own right.  He was one of several camera operators on the well covered boxing match of Jefferies-Sharkey Contest (1899), virtually unprecedented in the world of film at the time; the bout lasted for 22 rounds and the film was 135 minutes in running time!  In 1899 he formally directed his first film 'King' And 'Queen,' The Great High Diving Horses, filmed at Coney Island; the film was a great success for the company.  In 1900, he also became a producer in the truest sense of the word, producing the highly edited film Neptune's Daughters, which featured some of his own earlier camera work, including the above mentioned The Ballet Of The Ghosts--the film survives incredibly (I am so pleased to have a copy in my collection!).  The last film that he is known to have worked on at American Mutoscope was Bargain Day, 14th Street, New York in 1905; he then left the company.  He next landed at Edison working on the 1908 The Boston Tea Party a film directed Edison Co. giant Edwin S. Porter.  He worked for director/producer Ivan Abramson on Her Husband's Wife (1916/I) for Abramson's own Ivan Film Productions.  The last film that he worked on came the following year with Trooper 44, a film directed by Roy Gahris for the E.I.S. Motion Picture Corp.  It seems that Armitage retired after this, but then again, so little is still known of his life.  Interest in his work has been on the rise for a few decades, and since the early 2000's much more biographical material on his life has fortunately surfaced, as some of his work has also been uncovered at the Library of Congress.  What is known to history is that Armitage died on the 3rd of January in 1933 in Ecorse, Michigan--so that at least gives a clue about retirement speculation.  He was only 58 years old.  

For More:

Wikipedia (great list of links!)

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