Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Shooting Captured Insurgents (1898)

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In April of 1898, the United Stated went to war with Spain, and the face of American cinema changed forever. Suddenly, instead of showing amusing snippets of daily life or panoramas of interesting locations, the movies were showing “news,” depicting important events “as they happened,” and showing American troops in the most positive light. Even outside the US, Georges Méliès made a movie depicting the sunken USS Maine, a catalyst for the conflict. This movie claims to document the execution of prisoners in Cuba, which made me think it might be the first “Faces of Death” movie. I quickly realized, however, that it was staged (which is appropriate, actually for “Faces of Death”). The next movie on the LOC’s website, “Cuban Ambush,” is shown at exactly the same location and camera-angle, and the coincidence of the two events occurring in the same place, without so much as a repositioning of the camera, is too incredible to be believed. I suspect audiences at the time were not aware of this, even if they did see the movies at the same time; they were not used to “reading” film critically the way we do today. What I wonder about is their reaction: Shock? Digust? Cheering? Were they respectfully silent toward the fallen enemy? Or were they glad to see justice done?

Director: William Heise

Run time: 22 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1909)

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This is the first American attempt to interpret Shakespeare that I know about. Unlike the ambitious British efforts I’ve reviewed before, they took Shakespeare’s lightest, most accessible comedy, and gave it a child-friendly treatment. At just over 11 minutes long, it doesn’t get into a lot of the plot complications, and there’s no effort at all to utilize Shakespearean language for the intertitles. Each scene begins with a forward-facing intertitle to tell the audience how to interpret the action, albeit the first one that sets the action is rather complicated (as is the plot of the play, if you think about it). The static camera frames everything in long-shots, and most of the characters are hard to tell apart, although Bottom is quite memorable and over-the-top, as he should be (he also has about the least convincing ass’s head I’ve ever seen). Puck, the fairie, gets most of the effects (and also the skimpiest outfit), which are generally simple appearances and disappearances, with one flying scene that reminded me of “The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend.” Again, I’m inclined to read this as being intended for an audience that was either already familiar with the play, or as an introduction for younger viewers that showed them the light side of Shakespeare without the heavy language.

Directed by: Charles Kent, J. Stuart Blackton

Starring: Willaim V. Ranous, Maurice Costello

Run Time: 11 Minutes

You can watch it for free: here (silent) or here (with music)