A Story Well-Spun (1906)
Alternate Title: Une histoire roulante
This is a fun little comedy from Alice Guy that resembles a “chase film,” except that no one is chased here, just set into rapid, uncontrolled motion. Although limited in characterization, it shows a complexity of filmmaking technique, including camera set-ups and editing, equal to or better than most work at the time.
A man dressed as a hobo is resting in the shade of a barrel on a field. Another man, dressed in less dirty working-class clothes, approaches him and speaks briefly. Then he walks away. The hobo seems to decide that climbing into the barrel will be a way to get some undisturbed rest. The other man returns, and seeing where the hobo is, rubs his hands with malicious glee. He gives the barrel a good push and off it goes, nearly running down an old man walking along the field. Then it races over some train tracks. Finally it stops on a bridge, tilted at an odd angle – until the train comes and knocks it off. The barrel rolls down a large hill, rolling right over a man who is sleeping face-down, and then knocks a woman off her bicycle, bending the rear wheel so that it no longer works. At the end, it rolls down a riverside walk and dumps into the drink. The man from the beginning runs up and helps the hobo get out. The hobo refuses further help and walks away unsteadily. Finally, he falls over and rolls down a hill…
For most of this movie, of course, no one is really inside the barrel, but the audience accepts that there is. We do see some fake legs sticking out as it makes its final roll to the river, but there’s a jump cut allowing the hobo to get out. One other jump-cut occurs to the get the barrel into position on the railroad bridge. The editing here is somewhat good, though, because things move along at a fast pace, although as usual there are moments of waiting for the barrel to arrive at the beginning of each shot. I was impressed by the first shot in particular – the barrel rolls a good long way down that field, staying in-frame (and more or less in focus) the whole way! Overall, this is a pretty typical comedy for the time, but it’s fun to watch.
Director: Alice Guy
Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville
Run Time: 2 Min
You can watch it for free: here.