Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

The Hierarchies of Love (1906)

Alternate Title: La Hiérachie dan L’amour

This very simple short from Alice Guy makes fun of military hierarchies and their social effects. Although it involves several different camera set-ups, the essential story is told chronologically, in long-shot, with minimal editing.

Hierarchies of LoveWe see a woman walking in a park with a basket. A soldier (poilu) sees her and greets her cordially. He offers to carry her basket. They stroll for a while until they meet an officer. The officer chides the soldier for being lax in his duties and returns the basket to the woman. The solider leaves, reluctantly, and then the officer offers his arm to the lady (though he does not carry the basket). They stroll until he stops to run behind a metal screen briefly. While he’s back there, another officer comes along and escort the woman to a bench. This new officer suddenly pretends not to be with her when a very elderly, obviously high-ranking officer walks up. The older officer sends the young one on some chore, and sits next to the lady, showing her his stripes and even daring a peck on the cheek before the end.

It’s a pretty simple joke, and it only works because the movie is so short. Still, it has some interesting aspects. As is often the case in French films of the time (especially those of Guy), the woman in this film is not what we think of as a striking beauty, but a slightly heavyset woman with ample hips and a fairly ordinary face (to the degree that we see her face in long-shot). The point doesn’t seem to be that she is exceptionally desirable, but that she happens to be available, and the military men are undiscriminating. Also, by my standards, it is actually a bit hard to distinguish the difference in rank by looking at the uniforms of these men. Even the lowest-ranking fellow at the beginning had epaulettes, the officers all carry swords, and none have really decorative uniforms, although they do clearly age, which suggests that the hierarchies of love may not really work in the woman’s favor. Finally, there’s the bit where the first officer stops to run behind that screen – I think he’s relieving himself into a gutter or something, but I’ve never seen an arrangement like this in a park. I hesitate to suggest it was common in Paris or Europe at the time, but presumably whatever is going on would have been understood by audiences then.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 2 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

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A Sticky Woman (1906)

Alternate Title: Une femme collante

This is a simple one-joke comedy from Alice Guy that takes place in a post office. It is low-budget and relatively primitive compared to the moro elaborate work we’ve seen from Guy this week, although it’s also a reminder of the bulk of content that any director would be cranking out at the time.

Sticky WomanThe camera is set at a long-shot and faces the counter, where there are three open stations, marked “Telegraphie,” “Affranchisement,” and “Chargement,” and customers are lined up at each one. A woman enters with her maid and approaches the “Affranchisement” booth. She buys some stamps and the pair approach a desk at the front of the shot. She begins to stick stamps onto a stack of envelopes she has prepared, and the maid obligingly sticks out her tongue so that the woman can dampen each stamp before affixing it. Now a man in a top hat with a large handlebar mustache comes in with his wife; they are arguing, and he settles it by giving her some money and sending her to the “Affranchisement” station. While she is there, he notices the woman and her maid, and becomes increasingly fascinated as the maid licks stamp after stamp. Eventually, all of the stamps are affixed, and the woman goes to the “Chargement” station. The man now approaches the maid and gives her a passionate kiss. The whole building goes into an uproar as this kiss drags out longer and longer – he cannot pull himself back because of all the glue. Finally, a clerk runs over with a pair of scissors and cuts the two apart – the maid now bears the man’s mustache.

There are definite gender and class implications to this little sketch – as in “What Demoralized the Barber Shop” we see a man who apparently loses control after seeing a usually intimate piece of female anatomy (the tongue), and as in “The Gay Shoe Clerk” we see that the woman has no ability to resist his advances. Today, we might see this as a justification for anonymous sexual assault. In this case she is also a servant, used to taking orders and presumably to providing bodily fluids (well, saliva) for her mistress’s needs. The reaction of all the workers and customers suggests how out-of-place such a public display of affection was, even in France. It’s interesting to note that this time there are no signs in English, though I suspect this was sold in English-speaking markets. Possibly they were working fast and didn’t have time for translations. The other thing that occurred to me is that with the rise of self-adhesive stamps (to say nothing of email and text-messaging), there will soon be a generation that has never licked a stamp. This movie certainly makes it look unhygienic.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 2 Min, 20 secs

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).