A Wringing Good Joke (1899)
This Edison short works on about the same level as the Lumiere film “A Sprinkler Sprinkled,” and delivers the same kind of prankish voyeuristic opportunity to its audience. Humor in early cinema was largely limited to very basic pratfalls and slapstick, as it would take greater length and complexity to set up other kinds of jokes.
We see a set representing the inside of a working class home or apartment. A man dozes on a chair to the right of the stage, while a woman (possibly a man in drag) works at a laundry tub to the right. When the woman goes to answer the door, a child runs out and ties on end of a string to his father’s chair, and the other to the piece of laundry his mother has left in the tub. When she returns, she begins cranking the wringer and inadvertently pulls over the chair, which itself pulls over the tub when it falls, resulting in both parents falling into a puddle of sudsy water. The boy runs out and laughs riotously at the sight.
I’m not certain if this film was shot at the Black Maria, but if so it is by far the most elaborate set we’ve seen there. By this time Edison cameras were small enough to be portable, so they may have been shooting at another location. I spoke of these kind of movies as “voyeuristic” above, and like all movies they give an audience a chance to fantasize by watching about participating in acts they do not commit themselves. In this case, the audience gets to enjoy the child’s humor at causing an accident, but avoids having to suffer or witness the consequences of this act. Other movies of this type, including “The Sprinkler Sprinkled,” also allow the audience to watch as the perpetrator is punished – without being punished themselves, thus allowing them to enjoy both the act of revolt and its suppression in safety. This movie denies us that part of the experience, but leaves it to our imagination what befalls the boy when his parents get off the floor. One final note is that most modern children have probably never even seen a “mangle” or wringer, and would probably need to have the joke explained to them, although children at the time surely knew exactly what was going on.
Director: James H. White
Run Time: 25 secs
You can watch it for free: here.