The Sensation of the Serial
This introductory chapter provides an overview of the serial motion picture. Typically two-reel action-packed films that ran for ten, fifteen, or more installments, serials often ended with a cliffhanger and a promise “to be continued next week.” Episodically structured and suspensefully plotted, they not only served as the precursors of the popular installment dramas and crime procedurals that have become staples of modern network and cable television programming; they also anticipated the extended incremental storytelling methods and “thrilling episodes of inescapable fatality and hair-breath escapes” that later filmmakers would exploit in commercial blockbusters such as the Star Wars series and the Indiana Jones and Marvel movie franchises. Moreover, serials helped to forge a strong link between the print and the film industries. The chapter then traces the evolution of the serial form, looking at an early twelve-part Edison production, What Happened to Mary, whose first installment was released on July 26, 1912. It also describes the serial The Perils of Pauline (released beginning March 23, 1914), which not only heightened interest in the genre; it also immortalized its star, Pearl White, and became the most famous of all the early chapter plays. However, it was the pioneering serials produced by filmmakers Ted and Leo Wharton that would have the most profound and sustained impact on the genre.
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