Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph (1894)
In “The Invention of the Movies,” film historian Charles Musser takes some time to introduce this short Kinetoscope clip, arguing that it is symbolic of the “transgressive” nature of early cinema. It may not seem like all that big a deal to audiences today. However, it’s important to recall that boxing was illegal nearly everywhere in the USA, and that boxing was considered a violent “blood sport” equivalent to cock fighting. Edison was in fact prosecuted because of this movie, but got off, it would seem, due to his popularity among the type of men who sat on juries, on the claim that he was “away” the day this film was shot. The original version of this film was actually six one-minute reels, each showing a single round of the fight. Kinetoscope viewers could pay a nickel or dime to watch each round in sequence, moving from one machine to the next sequentially, or could save money and just watch the final reel to see who won. The version that survives is just a segment of one of the rounds, but I’m not certain which. The two fighters seem unevenly matched, one is much larger than the other and seems to have the upper hand, but this is a much more convincing match than the movie “Men Boxing” made previously as a experiment at the Black Maria studio. The larger of the two men (Corbett, I believe) is wearing rather revealing shorts, which ride up his rear almost like a g-string, which may have increased its “transgressive” nature for some audiences.
Director: W.K.L. Dickson
Camera: William Heise
Starring: James J. Corbett
Run Time: 45 secs
You can watch it for free: here.