Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Month: March, 2017

Coney Island at Night (1905)

This later-era actuality film by Edwin S. Porter should be of interest to people interested in the history of New York and especially Coney Island’s Luna Park. Essentially composed of a few edited pans, it is a testament to two of the “inventions” of Thomas Edison: the light bulb and the motion picture.

The movie begins with a long, slow panorama of the park from a high angle. The nightfall is complete, and the only visible sources of light are the many electric bulbs on the attractions, rides, and signs. Large signs designating “Luna Park” are visible, as are merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, and various towers of light. An Intertitle announces a closer shot of “Dreamland” and then another takes us through the causeways of “Thompson & Dundy’s Luna Park.” The starkness of the black background provides a powerful contrast with the bright electric lights, but no human images or narrative is provided.

It’s natural enough that the Edison company would produce movies like this, but were audiences still interested in them as late as 1905? The Edison catalog claimed, this was “An excellent panoramic view of the illumination of the numerous pleasure parks at this famous seaside resort. Starting at Luna Park a panoramic sweep of the western section of the island is made. It brings into view the enormous See-Saw at Steeplechase Park and ends at the great tower in Dreamland. When the tower was reached, the camera was slowly raised and a complete view of the illumination of the tower was made. A most novel and interesting subject perfect photographically.” That’s nice, but were audiences who had thrilled to “The Great Train Robbery” and “A Trip to the Moon” really excited about perfect photography? Certainly this sort of thing didn’t have too many more years coming.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Run Time: 4 Min, 15 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

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The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog (1905)

This short from Edwin S. Porter is actually his interpretation of what Charles Musser calls a “comic picture postcard” that was popular at the time. The racy title and humorous portrayal of a family made it one of the bigger hits Edison had.

The movie begins with a series of close-ups on each character, each with a card bearing their name at the bottom of the screen, like the number on a mug shot. There is “Mr. I.B. Dam,” a fat-faced fellow with a somewhat heavy brow. Then, “Herself,” which I assume is his wife, a large woman who never ceases talking. Next is “Miss U.B. Dam,” who I take to be the maiden aunt. She fixes her hair into an improbably large bun. Next up is “Jimmy Dam,” a greasy-haired, slick looking fellow with an upturned nose. He smokes a cigarette with considerable relish, blowing the smoke out his nostrils. Then comes “Annie Dam,” whose face is largely lost under an enormous lampshade of a hat. I assume her odd head movements and finger-chewing is meant to be coquettish (or, meant to appear as if she wants to be coquettish, but is too dumb to pull it off). “Lizzie Dam” is a child who likes to chew gum, pulling it out of her mouth in a long string, then chewing it back in again. The last character is “Baby Dam,” who wails and cries at the camera.

After the gallery of close-ups, we see the family in a group shot. Then the Intertitles announce the arrival of “the Dam dog,” but the dog does not get a close-up. Instead, we see the family seated at the dinner table, arguing and gesturing, while the dog sits at the head of the table. I.B. Dam shoos him out of his place, and the dinner continues in its raucous manner, father apparently admonishing Jimmy to put out his cigarette, and the baby crying the whole time, until the dog runs up and grabs the tablecloth with his teeth, pulling it down and sending the entire dinner to the floor. The family stands up in distress, uncertain what etiquette says about this situation.

The movie is very simple, but retains some of its humorous appeal. “Stupid” families are certainly familiar to modern viewers of “The Simpsons,” and some of the origins of Homer and Bart can be seen here, in the ineffective authority of the father, and the precocious grandstanding of Lizzie, for example. Most of the characters are made up to emphasize their backwardness, and they all act as if they had no sense of propriety or manners. There were apparently a number of different series of “Dam family” postcards, as well as dolls, tobacco pipes, and other memorabilia. I somehow imagine that it was the sort of thing kids liked to “shock” their parents with – “but look, ma, it really does say ‘Dam’” – but that parents were wisest to ignore, lest they encourage through disapproval.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 5 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Alice Guy-Blaché: Mother of Film

For many years, film historians and critics ignored the contributions of women to early cinema. Despite this, one name often did show up, at least in parentheses or a footnote: that of Alice Guy, who had been the head of production at Gaumont, one of the world’s leading film studios, from 1896 to 1906, after which she moved to the United States to found Solax with her husband, Herbert Blaché. As women’s history and the influence of feminism finally began to make some headway into film studies (much later than in other fields), various writers “discovered” Guy and turned out hagiographical re-assessments of her work. Suddenly, from a footnote, she became the “inventor” of narrative cinema, the one person with the insight to see the camera’s potential for telling stories, the most important director of her time.

Alice Guy

I rather think the time has come to make a realistic assessment of Guy’s work. She is, to begin with, much more than a footnote. She was one of a handful of creative people who created the body of “early film” in the final years of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. During that time, she made at least 350 movies (these are what survive in archives today), and quite probably closer to 1000. She took chances with new technologies, and made some important experiments in both color and sound film. Her output is comparable to any male producer of the time, and it is clear that recognizable “pioneers” of cinema, such as Georges Méliès and William K. Dickson, borrowed from and learned from her works, as she also borrowed and learned from theirs. If you are interested in the history of film, you owe it to yourself to check out some of what she did.

On the other hand, she did not invent sliced bread. Some of her defenders have made some pretty strong claims, claims which I would say do not hold up. There are not 300 extras visible in her magnum opus, “The Birth, the Life, and the Death of Christ.” I counted maybe 30-45. “The Cabbage Fairy” is not the “first narrative film.” It has no story, in the sense of a beginning, a middle, and an end, whereas the Lumière brothers’ “The Sprinkler Sprinkled,” which came out four months earlier, does. As Fritzi Kramer, kind hostess of this blogathon, likes to point out, the “first” anything in film is notoriously difficult to prove and probably not as important as it sounds in the first place.

Alice Guy was a secretary to Léon Gaumont in 1895. At the time, his still photography company had failed, but he was still managing the inventory with a small staff, and was looking into motion picture technology. He invited Guy along to a demonstration by the Lumières, and agreed to put Guy in charge of what he no doubt thought would be a pretty minor film-production operation, “so long as it did not interfere with her other duties.” As Guy proved the lucrative advantages of film production, that quickly became her primary responsibility.

Whether it’s the first narrative movie or not, “The Cabbage Fairy” is a very interesting contribution to early film. Lea at Silentology has recently discussed the importance of the féerie show in French theater, and its apparent influence on the work of Méliès. Féerie was a ballet spectacle that was usually based on fairy tales or mythological sources, and emphasized stage magic, elegant costume, and fantastic situations over plot. “The Cabbage Fairy” may not be a narrative in the strictest sense, but it is a tableau that fits the concept of féerie perfectly, right down to having a fairy as its central figure! Guy did beat Méliès to the punch in this area, at least, and I have no doubt that Georges watched Alice’s movie with profound interest, although he probably would have made a féerie movie sooner or later, given his interests and talents, whether or not he saw it.

I watched and reviewed about 80 of Guy’s films from Gaumont last year, which may not make me an expert, but it gives me some sense of that period of her career. Honestly, it took me a while to warm to them. A lot of the really early stuff is just short dance movies or “trick films” that aren’t as well-executed as those of Méliès. As I worked through them, though, I began to see that they weren’t so much copies of other filmmakers work as they were part of a “discourse” between the pioneers of early cinema. Like blues or jazz musicians, they were listening to each other, then “riffing” off of what the others did. Somewhere along the way, Guy developed a more discernible voice, especially in her comedies. She had a quirky, idiosyncratic sense of humor that often involved taking logical premises to some crazy kind of extreme. The later comedies I would even call “surreal,” although that term hadn’t actually been invented yet, when they start involving mattresses that take on personality, beds that steer themselves through the streets of Paris, or footraces in which the participants trade clothing!

One of the more recent academic discussions or Guy talks about the importance that cross-dressing has in her films. This is probably nowhere more obvious than in her movie “The Consequences of Feminism,” which shows a future world in which effeminate men are dominated by masculine women. It cleverly pretends to be a critique of feminism when it is in fact a feminist critique of patriarchy and rape culture. In a “A Sticky Woman,” a masher is punished for kissing a woman at the post office when his mouth sticks to hers – because of all the stamps she has been licking! A lot of her movies take on a different aspect when you consider that she was a woman in a leadership role in a male-dominated industry at a time when women were expected to submit to male authority.

The final thing to consider about Guy’s Gaumont period was her early experiments in sound film. There are a few examples on “Gaumont Treasures,” and also a clip of Guy at work on a sound stage. These are comparably static images, as one might expect from a sound film in 1905 (it was still a problem in the early thirties), and generally just show a single song or dance number. It’s still fascinating to be able to hear the voices of performers in such early films, and gives a bit of insight into the musical culture of the period as well. Felix Mayol, in particular, is a very unusual discovery from the early twentieth century – a gay man with a very sophisticated sense of humor.

Who’s this?

In many ways, then, Guy pushed the boundaries of cinema at a time when nothing was established. She took chances, she tried new techniques, and she helped to define what “the movies” would really be about for the next 100 or more years.

This has been my contribution to the Early Women Filmmakers Blogathon, hosted by Movies Silently. Click on the link to check out all of the other contributions!

The Seven Ages (1905)

This is a series of tableaux by Edwin S. Porter that give a humorous view of the life-cycle and romance of human beings. Each of the ages suggests that love is the driving force of human nature.

The first image we see is “infancy,” in which a small child sits on a high chair crying. Then another child comes into the scene and gives her her bottle, which seems to calm her a bit, then kisses her on the head. The next age is “playmates,” where somewhat older children are sitting under a tree. The girl has a baby doll and the boy tries to kiss her, but she shakes her head and offers him the doll. Eventually, he steals a kiss anyway and she pulls away. The next age is “schoolmates.” Here, the kids are perhaps 12 or older, and the girl is sitting under a tree reading when the boy walks up. She invites him to join her, and he shyly comes over and offers her an apple. She responds by giving him a kiss. The next age is “lovers,” but all we get is a still of two adults kissing. Presumably that scene is lost. Next comes “soldier.” Here a woman walks out onto a rather simplistic set of a veranda in front of a fancy home and sits on a bench to read. A man in what seems to be a Civil War uniform comes up behind her and surprises her. She jumps up and kisses him and then we cut to a close-up of them kissing. The next scene is “the judge,” in which the middle aged couple is in a bourgeois living room, surrounded by their own children, some of whom are almost grown. They send the kids to bed, each with a kiss, and then we cut to a close up of the two of them affectionately pecking one another. Then comes “second childhood,” in which an old couple sits in front of the fire. The man holds a length of yarn while the woman rolls it into a ball. He leans over and kisses her repeatedly, and close-up reveals her smile. The last tableau is labeled “What Age?” and it shows a middle-aged woman dressed as a classic “spinster” with a cat on her lap. She picks up the cat and kisses it.

This movie has a very Nineteenth Century feel to it, with the sense of continuity in life and emphasis on “normal” bourgeois lifestyles. Few people in any era actually wind up marrying the girl/boy next door, living their lives in satisfaction with what is right in front of them, but it seems to reflect a value of that time, and perhaps this one, to idolize such choices. It is interesting the number of close-ups that are used, especially given the furor over a close-up kiss in “The Kiss” just a few years before. The spinster at the end of the movie is more or less the butt of the joke, but at least she seems happy with her kitty.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Unknown, possibly Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Unknown

Run time: 5 Min

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

The Kleptomaniac (1905)

This is another social message movie from Edwin S. Porter, which contrasts poverty and riches, and the double standard of justice which existed between them. It also gives us some very interesting images of New York at winter time.

The movie begins by showing a wealthy woman getting into a horse-drawn carriage for a day on the town. She crosses from her front door to the street, which we see is covered in snow. The next shot is of a snow-free street, although the visible breath of the horses indicates that it is still quite cold. The woman gets out of the carriage and crosses the sidewalk to a door marked “Macy’s.” The next scene is the interior of a department store, and we see a number of well-dressed women as they move from counter to counter, asking clerks to display various items for them. The woman from the previous shots is there also, and she takes something from one of the counters when she thinks no one is looking, then moves to the center of the stage to speak to a friend she recognizes. She has been observed by the store detective, however, who comes over and escorts the two women off screen. The next scene is in the manager’s office, where the friend tries to plead for the rich woman, but when the rich woman produces the goods, the manager has her escorted down to the street and into a carriage that takes her to the police station (more snow here than in any other shot).

The story is now interrupted and we see “The House of Poverty,” where a small child sits on the floor screaming while a woman is doubled over at the table. Her older daughter comes home and asks her mother for something to eat, but the cupboard is bare. The poor woman puts on a scarf and goes out to find food. The next scene shows a snowless sidewalk in front of a simple storefront. A delivery boy comes out of the door with a basket, but the shopkeeper calls him back inside, so he puts his basket carelessly on the sidewalk. The poor woman walks up and sees the unguarded basket, looks around to see if anyone is watching and takes a small loaf of bread. The shopkeeper instantly runs out of the store and grabs her by the elbow. He hails a cop, who takes the loaf and the woman back to the same snowy police station. Next, we see the police court, where a series of minor criminals, including a prostitute and a hobo, are quickly processed. Then it is the poor woman’s turn, and the shopkeeper testifies angrily about his stolen goods. The only advocate for the poor woman is her daughter, who runs up and hugs her mother, but the judge orders them separated, and the mother is taken away. Then it is the rich woman’s turn. The manager of the department store is also fervent, but her friend is there to testify and she has a lawyer as well. The judge decides to let her go. The closing shot is an image of blind justice, holding a scale where a bag of money clearly has more weight than a loaf of bread.

This movie has a lot in common with the later movie by D.W. Griffith, “A Corner in Wheat,” which contrasts the rich and the poor and the effect of stock manipulation on hungry people versus the rich who profit from it. Porter’s style is a bit less sophisticated, but the message is still clear: a woman who acts from desperation is punished for something while a rich woman looking for a thrill is let off. Porter does not so much use cross-cutting to get this across as he shows one story almost to the end, then interrupts it and tells another story before giving us the conclusion of the first one. Withholding the end of the first story still serves to build a degree of suspense as we wonder how it will turn out. I made a point of noting the level of snow we see in the various location shots, because I suspect that it demonstrates that these were shot on different days, although it’s also possible that Macy’s just had better street-clearing service than the other locations. We still get to see some great images of New York from another era. The interior of the department store is also illustrative: there is little merchandise on display or accessible to the customers, most of it is kept in drawers behind the counter, and customers have to ask to see it. Interestingly this system is not shown to prevent theft very effectively.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Aline Boyd

Run Time: 11 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Ex-Convict (1904)

Edwin S. Porter adapted a popular vaudeville story to the camera, and made an early “message picture” at the same time. While it may seem a bit melodramatic to our tastes today, it stands out among its contemporaries as an unusually effective drama.

The movie begins by showing us an apparently “normal” nuclear family, of mother, father, and daughter, as the father leaves home in the morning for work. All seems well, but the next Intertitle tells us, “That Man is an Ex-Convict.” We see him working in front of a shop on an urban street, moving some large crates and then painting words onto one of them. As he works, a bearded policeman walks up from behind him, examines him, and goes into the shop. The store owner comes out with the policeman, and the two speak for a moment, and the ex-convict is discharged. Evidently the policeman warned his boss about the man’s criminal past. The next scene is titles “Have You Reference?” and it shows the ex-convict joining a line of hopefuls in front of a warehouse that has a sign reading “Wanted 10 Men.” Each man shows the foreman a piece of paper, which is examined closely before he is admitted, but the ex-convict has no paper and so gets no job. The story suddenly leaves the ex-convict and we see a small girl being escorted by a maid in a wealthy neighborhood. The maid stops to speak with a man on the street corner, but the little girl goes into the street without her, then turns and stamps her foot to show that she is annoyed at the delay. Suddenly, the ex-convict comes running from off screen, grabs the child and dives to the ground. A moment later a car speeds through the spot where the child had been standing. The maid and other bystanders congratulate the ex-convict for his heroism, and he is given a bandage for his head (apparently he wounded himself in the fall).

Despite this act of courage, however, the ex-convict returns home to find his wife and daughter hungry, the girl in bed without any supper (possibly we are meant to understand that she is ill). He feels the desperation of his situation, then goes back out into the night. He walks the streets in the snow without an adequate coat, and tries to tell his story to passersby who have no interest or sympathy. Finally, looking at a low window to a rich house, he makes the desperate decision to attempt burglary. The next scene shows the inside of the house, where a mother, a father, and a child live in bourgeois comfort. The child is the same one that the ex-convict saved earlier. She drowses off, and the mother and father take her up to bed. Then, the ex-convict enters the empty room. The father catches him instantly, and holds him at gunpoint. The ex-convict offers no resistance, and the father leaves the room to call the police. The ex-convict considers flight, but at that moment the child comes back downstairs and recognizes him. The two of them speak to each other, and soon the child is sitting in the ex-convict’s lap, while he tells a story. The father comes back in and observes this, and puts his gun away. Soon, the police arrive and the ex-convict puts out his hands for the cuffs, but the child intervenes and the father sends them away. The ex-convict is grateful to them both for the second chance.

The movie clearly supports a progressive attitude that people should not be stigmatized for their social condition or past actions. If a man can’t get a job after his release from prison, by the logic of the film, he will have no choice but to return to crime, and people should be given the chance to redeem themselves, as the hero does when he saves the child. In contrasting the comforts of the rich home with the simplicity and squalor of the man’s apartment, Porter also makes an argument about class in America. As is often the case with early films, I found the location shots more interesting than those in the studio, particularly the images of the workplaces: the store and the warehouse. These would have been shot in New York or possibly New Jersey, but they could have been anywhere with a reasonably urban appearance. The editing structure is simple but effective. It’s not quite clear whether we’ve “jumped back” a bit in time when we move from the snow-covered (studio) street into the bourgeois home, but this could be an example of early parallel editing, if we assume that the ex-convict is waiting outside for an opportunity to come in when the living room is empty. All of the scenes of this movie are shot in long-shot, so that we never get a clear look at the actors’ faces, but there are some interesting angles. The rescue scene involves the ex-convict running onto screen diagonally from behind the camera, and the car zips past at a different diagonal. The camera also pans slightly to follow the child into the street at the beginning of that scene. It’s not a brilliant movie, but it is an interesting entry in Porter’s portfolio.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 10 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Wrong Mr. Fox (1917)

This short is a classic mix-up comedy based on the fact of two very similarly-named towns: Canaan, Vermont, and Canaan, New Hampshire, on the same train line. The thin plot does offer some good opportunities for situational comedy.

An out-of-work actor named Jimmy Fox (Victor Moore) is on the verge of committing suicide by breathing in gas from his light, when he is contacted by his agent and told to go to one of these metropoli in order to join a theater troupe. He boards the train with 3 donuts (one for every 100 miles) and a bottle of milk, stolen from his landlady. At the same time, the reverend John Fox boards the train for the other Canaan, where he is being sent to take over ministerial duties. Of course, they each get off at the wrong station, and, of course, each is mistaken for the other Mr. Fox. Of course, hilarity ensues. The reverend fairly quickly flees his Canaan community (apparently running home to his mother), when an actor in rehearsal pulls out a knife. But our actor figures out his situation fairly quickly and comes up with a plan. He begins his sermon by passing out the collection plates. Then, imitating Billy Sunday, he gives a dramatic series of gestures that cause the congregation to look into the distance while he fills his pockets. Then, he does a kind of strip show, pulling off his jacket, tie, and shirt, finishing with a flourish that makes the crowd look up while he bicycles out the door. However, he’s forgotten that by removing his clothes, he left all the money in his pockets behind.

The now-obscure star of this movie was Victor Moore, who was the principle star of the Jacksonville, Florida-based Klever Komedies studio, a subsidiary of Jesse Lasky’s Feature Play Company, and therefore part of Paramount. Judging by this film, Moore wasn’t a genius of physical comedy, like Chaplin or Keaton, he seems to be more in the tradition of situational humor like John Bunny or Sidney Drew, with just a hint of Roscoe Arbuckle’s charisma. A lot of this film is shot quite conventionally, but there are some interesting bits. The sequence in which he tries to commit suicide with gas includes several bits where he breathes fire after someone lights a match. There are several dramatic close-ups during his sermon, and I was surprised that his parishioners seem to include at least a few Asian Americans. Honestly, the funniest moment for me didn’t involve Moore at all – I laughed loudest when the preacher runs away from the actor with a knife.

Director:Harry Jackson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Victor Moore, William Slade

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Addition and Subtraction (1900)

Alternate Titles: “Whisky Tom ou l’Illusionist Toqué” “Addition and Substraction” (Note: the DVD I have uses this misspelling on both the Menu and the actual film, but the “Star Films Catalog “ online has it spelled right, so I went with that as the correct spelling).

This short film by Georges Méliès is a return to his oft-used theme of a simple magic act, but with the distinction that the magician in this case may be drunk, or crazy.

The movie shows a standard proscenium that makes no effort to hide that it is the stage of a theater. On it is a man with a large beard and top hat, and a generally disheveled appearance, possibly meant to represent a hobo, or other itinerant. He dances around a bit, and takes some pratfalls. He throws his hat in the air and kicks it away. Then he pulls up a stool to sit on, but as he does so a young woman appears in the chair and pushes him away. He repeats the process twice with new stools, but each time a young lady appears and pushes him. Now, the three women get up and move to the front of the stage. The magician stands behind them and pushes them together and suddenly they become one large woman. He hits her on the head with his hat and she becomes a child. The magician stretches the child back into the large woman, and then separates her into the three original women. He retrieves their stools for them, but the surviving film ends before he can make them disappear.

I’m fairly certain that Méliès himself plays the magician in this piece, even though he’s under a fairly thick disguise. Like his other magic-show “trick films,” it plays up his physical skill and moves along at a fast clip, so that it’s hard to keep up with on a first viewing. I imagine it being shown in the Robert-Houdin Theatre with live narration, Méliès commenting humorously on the magician’s antics. For us today, it’s just a quick glimpse at what made his films so special.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès and unknown.

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Strenuous Life, or Anti-Race Suicide (1904)

This is a multi-shot short comedy by Edwin S. Porter for Edison Studios, that tells a story by implication, winking at and nudging the audience without ever being explicit, although it deals with childbirth, one of the more sensitive topics at the time.

The movie opens on a set designed to represent an office, which is shot for some reason at a very low angle, so that the actors only come to about halfway in the frame vertically when standing. A man is sitting at a desk, and his secretary (a woman) sits across from him. He receives a phone call that excites him greatly. He gets up to leave and almost puts on the woman’s hat by mistake as he leaves. She points out his mistake so that he is not arrested for cross-dressing. The next shot is a New York street scene. The streets are covered in snow, and a horse and carriage pulls up to the sidewalk, lurching over large piles of snow. The man from the previous scene gets out and runs up to a door. The camera pans to follow him – but a large older gentleman has gotten into the foreground and seems to be the center of action until he passes out of frame (he looks a little annoyed to be photographed, although I could be imagining this). Once our attention is back on the actor, we see that he is collecting someone from the house he has gone to, and they return together to the horse and carriage and drive off.

The next scene takes place at the man’s house, where he is greeted by female servants. The man he has brought with him carries the black bag of a doctor, and the doctor and servants go upstairs while the man remains below. After he has removed his hat and coat, he proceeds into a lounge, which also has a staircase leading up. He paces back and forth excitedly for a little while and then one of the female servants brings a bundle down to him. They put the bundle on a scale, and then a close-up reveals that it is a baby. They weigh the baby and the servant congratulates the man. He picks up the baby (the camera now returns to long-shot) and coos at the child. The servant runs back upstairs, and soon is back with another bundle. This repeats until there are four bundles being held by the man and his servants, and the man collapses on a chair and faints. The doctor comes downstairs to see to him, and when he wakes up he kicks the doctor for delivering quadruplets!

This is an awfully long walk to get to a simple punchline, but I liked it for a couple of reasons. One is that wonderful location shot of a New York street in winter. There isn’t a lot of early footage of wintry days in New York, and you can really see that the streets are covered in snow here. It appears that the passers-by are not extras, just real New Yorkers going about their day, and it apparently didn’t occur to Porter to make sure the actor would be at the center of the action in the pan. The close-up is effectively a jump-cut, but it’s nice to get a better look at the baby and the actors. I’m not sure that the baby was in any of the long shots, maybe the parents were concerned about someone dropping it with all the running around. The other good part is that you can see the joke about the four babies coming pretty early, but the final joke about the man blaming the doctor comes as a funny surprise that actually works to elicit laughs – or it did for me, at least.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 5 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Scarecrow Pump (1904)

This simple comedy short from Edison follows established patterns of early comedy and could easily have been made years earlier. It’s a reminder that not everything director Edwin S. Porter made was another “Great Train Robbery” – a lot of his product was very basic in its appeal.

A set has been decorated to represent the front yard of a rural home, with a large water pump at the center of the screen, and a bucket beneath it. A boy in a Huckleberry Finn outfit comes out in to the year with a large ball or round object, which he place on top of the pump, quickly sketching a face on it. Then he puts a coat over the pump so that the handle goes up one sleeve, making it appear to be an arm outstretched. He adds a few other accoutrements and steps back to admire his work. He then hides in the bucket to see what will happen. A large bearded man in a country bumpkin outfit now walks up to the gate, carrying a jug of liquor. He sees the strange “scarecrow” in his yard, and mistakes it for a man, going up to greet the stranger. He clasps the “hand” of the scarecrow firmly and pumps it up and down in a friendly greeting – which, of course, douses the young miscreant in water as the pump is primed.

This joke is along the simple lines of “The Sprinkler Sprinkled,” except that this time the adult “victim” doesn’t really suffer for being tricked into believing that the scarecrow is real, and the child is the victim of his own lack of foresight. The “country  yokel” is a standard comic foil at this point in film history, and the movie uses traditional American images (like the Huck Finn straw hat and the liquor jug) to give a sense of place. There is no editing and the camera is stationary throughout, so this was a very simple movie for Porter to make, possibly on the same day he shot several others.

Director Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Unknown, possibly Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here.