Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Invaders (1912)

Invaders

Director: Francis Ford, Thomas Ince

Starring: Francis Ford

I suppose that for movie-goers at the time this was a fairly unambiguous film, but I found it interesting from a moral standpoint. On the surface, it is a typical Western in which savage “Indians” attack a fort of noble white men who appear doomed until the cavalry rides in and rescues them. But, there’s more going on here. First of all, the movie begins with the treaty-signing between the Sioux and the forces of the US which the government blatantly violates in the next scene, provoking the Sioux by sending land surveyors into their territory without prior consultation. Second, there’s an inter-racial romance between one of the surveyors and the chief’s daughter, who rushes to the fort to warn them of the attack (not in time to save her would-be lover, who dies in the first attack). To make things creepier, the “heroic” colonel tries to use her as a hostage and threatens to kill her if the Sioux and their Cheyenne allies continue their uprising. He’s also about to kill his own daughter at the end, to save her from “dishonor” at the hands of the attackers, although of course this is prevented. Apart from these interesting plot developments, I was surprised at the rapid pace of editing in such an early film, and impressed by how many conventions of visual story-telling were already established. One difference I noticed was that almost everything was shot in static wide- or medium-shot, with only one or two closeups in the whole film, and no camera moves I can recall. Overall, an interesting, if not brilliant, piece of early American filmmaking.

You can watch it for free: here

Run time: 41 minutes

Cleopatra (1912)

Cleopatra

Director: Charles L. Gaskill

Starring: Helen Gardner

This is the longest 1912 film I’ve watched so far – at 88 minutes, it qualifies for “feature length.” The editing was slower-paced than some movies of the period, and the action was distinctly stagey – long shots of square sets that actors enter/exit and move about on, with no camera moves and very few closeups. The exception, interestingly, was the Battle of Actium, where closeups and rapid edits were used to mask the lack of convincing special effects. The romance of Cleopatra and Marc Antony is one of the oldest soap operas in the world, and this version is fairly true to the Shakespeare version, although without the dialogue. Helen Gardner, who was 28 at the time, was apparently a big deal – her name is on every intertitle. This is noteworthy because the Hollywood “star system” was still in very early stages, with some studios (notably Biograph) refusing to acknowledge actors’ names in their films.

You can watch it for free: here