Wonderful Absinthe (1899)
This movie has a fair amount in common with “At the Club” (1899), although it is in a very different setting. The movie is also fast-paced, and takes more than one viewing to be understood, although I suppose that original audiences saw it with explanatory narration.
We see two outdoor seats in what seems to be a comfortable middle-class beer garden or café. A bearded man in a long coat and top hat is shown to one, and he makes his order. The waiter then shows a family to the table next to him, while he reads from a magazine. The waiter now brings out a glass, a bottle, and a carafe to his table, and pours just a bit from the bottle into the glass and leaves to take the family’s order. The man now pours from the carafe, but since he is still reading from the magazine, he does not notice that he is pouring into his hat rather than the glass. When he takes a sip from the glass, he suddenly explodes into violence, leaping from his chair. The family shrinks back, and the waiter defends them, kicking the mad absinthe-drinker in the rear and ejecting him from the screen.
Modern viewers find this movie hard to understand, as exemplified by the confused reviewer at imdb who claims that the “drunk” becomes violent when “bumped from behind.” Part of this confusion results from unfamiliarity with the “absinthe ritual,” which involves adding sugar and water to the noxious drink in order to make it palatable. This is what the bearded man fails to do when he absently pours from the carafe into his hat. His reaction is probably meant as a play upon both the horrid taste of uncut absinthe (believe me, it’s bad enough WITH the sugared water) as well as making fun of the myth of absinthe’s supposed hallucinogenic effects. Despite what you’ve heard, absinthe does not cause madness or hallucinations, but this was a widespread belief until fairly recently.
The interesting contrast to “At the Club” is that this clearly takes place in comfortable middle-class surroundings, in an environment that is open to women and children. Again, I wonder if perhaps director Alice Guy is emphasizing the evil effects of alcohol and the degree to which it victimizes families, even when the husband is not a drinker. Or, again, she may just be poking fun at the subject in a light-hearted manner. Certainly, this does not appear to be a preachy “message” picture.
Director: Alice Guy
Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy
Run Time: 40 secs
You can watch it for free: here (no music).