Fatima, Muscle Dancer (1896)
One of the short dance movies produced by the Edison company, this one evidently produced some controversy in the nineteenth century. An odd visual feature raises questions of censorship, but is it just a mistake?
We see a stage with a pastoral backdrop. The dancer is framed somewhat close for the period (we can’t see her feet, but her facial features are fairly clear). Her “muscle” dance appears to be a standard belly dance, but it is often referred to as a “coochie-coochie dance” in contemporary discussions of the movie. About forty seconds into the film, two odd gate-like artifacts appear on the film, blocking our view of the dancer, who continues her dance until the movie ends.
I can’t figure out if those two “fences” were imposed on the film purposely, by Edison or some other agency, in order to deliberately obstruct our view of the “vulgar” dance. It could be that they are meant to “protect” viewers from seeing too much, though as far as I can tell the dance is no more objectionable after they appear than before. It’s also possible that something is wrong with the existing print, and that they were unintentional, or that something went wrong with the filming, like an obstruction in the gate of the camera.
Director: James H. White
Camera: William Heise
Run Time: 1 Min, 15 secs
You can watch it for free: here (with annoying yellow subtitles. Sorry, it’s the best one I could find).