Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Searching Ruins of Broadway, Galveston, for Dead Bodies (1900)


At the tail end of the Nineteenth Century, a devastating storm swept over the coast of Texas, hitting the small community of Galveston and effectively wiping it from the map. As the official death toll mounted (eventually reaching 8000), Americans were stunned at the concept of an untamed nature that could still bring such tragedy to a scientifically advanced society. As well as being one of the great tragedies of American history, this was a tremendous media event. Reporters swarmed the area, and Edison Studios sent a man down with a camera to cover the wreckage. This in spite of martial law, and the threat of arrest or shooting for anyone seen taking pictures. It’s interesting now to view this early newsreel footage, in light of our changed expectations of privacy and publicity. I assume that the ban was enacted out of a sense of respect for the dead and their families, to prevent “vultures” from swooping in to profit from their loss. Today, when an event like this takes place (think of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy), we as a nation assume the right to participate remotely, to grieve along with those who are suffering. We also understand the power of images of destruction to bring financial support and to urge the government to take action. These images of this particular tragedy help us to record a changing sense of journalistic ethics as a new era of media engagement began.

Director: Albert E. Smith

Run Time: 50 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Merchant of Venice (1910)

Merchant of Venice

This is another Italian adaptation of Shakespeare, by the same director who gave us “King Lear” a little while before. This makes sense as an adaptation, since the story is clearly set in Italy, but unfortunately the version we have is incomplete, so it’s hard to rate its success. It feels a bit rushed and overly-ambitious, introducing many characters and showing sub-plots that wind up unresolved. It’s another nice hand-tinted color print, and Lo Savio has taken advantage of some good locations for backdrops to the action. “The Merchant of Venice” is today probably Shakespeare’s most controversial play, sometimes invoking calls for censorship, because its villain is a Jew, who is made to represent all Jews in his greed and inhumanity. In 1910 this would likely have been a lesser consideration, in Italy and most of the continent, however what we have of this version seems to downplay the anti-Semtic theme, making Shylock a victim of his own duplicity rather than a representative of a race or religion. He is, however, trapped at the end by a law prohibiting Jews from spilling “Christian” blood, so an element of the original remains. On the whole, this movie comes across as less successful than the last couple I have discussed, but as I say it may be because of missing footage.

Director: Gerolamo Lo Savio

Run Time: 19 Min (original), 8-9 Min (surviving)

You can watch it for free: here.