The only existing video footage of Mark Twain, as filmed by Thomas Edison

What happens when the father of American literature and the pioneer of American cinematography meet up for a little video shoot? Silent movie magic, that's what, starring the one and only Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) as himself.


Turns out Twain and Edison were pretty chummy back in the day. This particular footage — believed to be the only existing video of Twain — was filmed on the author's Connecticut estate in 1909, about a year before his death. Twain can be seen puffing away at a cigar in a dapper white suit, and taking a meal with his daughters Clara and Jean. All pretty ho-hum stuff, really; although, if the Oscars had been around at the turn of the 20th Century, Twain's mustache would have been an obvious nominee for best supporting actor.

[The Internet Archive via The Atlantic]



This is really sad and pissy of me but this isn't video, it's film. We are watching a video copy of film but this isn't video. All moving pictures aren't video. All moving pictures are moving images. Some moving images are film, others are video. Some are Pixelvision but hat's a story for another time.

I make this distinction because there was ancient mechanical video dating back to the 1910's and I became excited thinking that this might have been an even earlier version of mechanical video. Alas, film.

Still way cool.

Edit: This footage was shot at 16 or 18fps. When projected at 18 fps (or so) it looks far less comedic and "quaint". If you wonder how natural 18fps looks, Super 8 film (and older 8mm for that matter) is typically shot at 18 fps and looks just fine. When sound was introduced, it was discovered that the primitive optical striping of the time needed 24fps to carry audio that had enough quality to carry speech and music. Since that time, refinements allowed even film at 18 and 16fps play back high(ish) quality audio.