At the Club (1899)
Alternate Title: Au Cabaret
Out of all the Alice Guy movies I’ve seen so far, this is the first that might have a slightly feminist social critique to it, although it could just as easily be meant to be taken as a funny drunk routine. However one reads it, it is a short and simple movie, but with some interesting aspects for the unfamiliar viewer.
A group of men sit around a table outdoors, with a hastily-built shack behind them that advertises “wines” and “liquors.” A waiter serves them as they play cards, then returns to the shack. An argument erupts and two of the men overturn the table and begin fighting, while the waiter and the other man try to keep them separate. The squabble continues until the end of the movie cuts it off.
Now, why would I argue that this is feminist or any kind of social critique? Well, let’s remember that “clubs” and other drinking establishments were male-only domains in the West in the nineteenth century. There’s also a kind of class-criticism here that may not apply in the French: in English a “gentleman’s club” is supposed to be a place of civility and decorum, while what we see depicted here is anything but that. In the French title, the drinking establishment is called a “cabaret,” although we see none of the accoutrements associated today with that term: there is no evidence of live entertainment, nor are meals served with the wine, nor do the clientele appear bohemian or artistic. It seems to me that this movie can be taken as a kind of chastisement of the evils of drink, along the lines of the American temperance movement, but it also has a distinct sense of humor: Guy may be simply laughing at drunken men, not actually condemning them – which, I admit, seems more like the French attitude.
Director: Alice Guy
Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy
Run Time: 40 secs