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Summary

The fire rescue was a popular subject across many forms of popular culture (songs, painting, journalistic essays, photography), but particularly in the early cinema. As early as 1896, traveling showman Lyman H. Howe had assembled five short films to tell the story of a fire rescue. The genre was so popular that it challenged filmmakers to provide a novel twist, something new that would distinguish their films from those already on the market. Filmmakers began to make multi-shot fire films in which there was continuity of subject matter and action (e.g. JAMES WILLIAMSON'S FIRE! of 1901) and, with LIFE OF AN AMERICAN FIREMAN, Edwin S. Porter produced the most ambitious fire film to date. The storyline and the action move across a series of nine shots, displaying a system of continuity that involved repeated, overlapping action as well as a malleable temporality. Most remarkable are the final two shots in which the fireman rescues a woman and her child from a burning building. The action is shown twice, first from the inside and then from the outside, with the actions not so much repeated as depicted in a complementary fashion. It reveals a system of cinematic representation that remained dominant until about 1907.

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