A couple of weeks ago I learned that one of the production companies in the early days of the silent film industry based themselves in Lakeside and La Mesa. They called their operation The American Film Company and featured a stunt team called the The Flying A’s. It crossed my mind that this might be a great subject for a blog, and then low and behold The Artist swept five Oscars this year. Yay! I love it when these things work out. Though I have not seen the film, the trailer promises a charming and visually brilliant depiction of the life of a fictional movie star George Valentin.
1898 – 1912
Silent film making in San Diego, by Blaine P. Lamb, in The Journal of San Diego History, gives some interesting history of local silent film.
Although the film industry had its genesis on the East Coast there soon occurred an exodus of moviemakers to points throughout the country. It was not long before these primeval producers found their way to California. As early as 1897, the Thomas Edison Company had cameramen traveling the length and breadth of the Golden State. In February 1898, an Edison crew shot a picture entitled, Street Scene, San Diego, (California). The entire film was but twenty-five feet long and contained a glimpse of downtown San Diego and a double-decker trolley car taken from a fixed camera position. These humble beginnings marked the birth of the motion picture business on the West Coast.
Stunt Men and Cinematographers
The American Film Company did not narrow themselves solely to aerial acrobatics. The production company also filmed quite a few westerns. According to Lamb, these were westerns with a twist, exploiting social issues into the bargain. One such film was entitled, The Cowboy Socialist. Things have not changed much since then. I hope this little nugget whets your appetite to find out more about the rich history of our fine city.