Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: 1902

The Human Fly (1902)

This simple trick short from Georges Méliès is similar to “Kiriki Japanese Acrobats” in the execution of its effect, but somewhat simpler (and five years earlier) than that movie. Although we know how he pulled off the “magic,” the performance of Méliès makes this still a delight to watch.

A proscenium-style set shows a hall in a castle or mansion, and there are several ladies in upper class dress assembled as an audience. Méliès comes out in a Russian-style costume and gives a Hopak or squat-dance, to which the ladies clap as he becomes more and more animated. Suddenly, he turns and runs up the wall! He then comes back down for a bit more dancing, before ascending the wall again to do several tumbles and then return to the ground for a finale. The movie ends with his bow.

As with the other movie, this was accomplished by setting  up a camera directly above a floor painted to match the backdrop, then editing and using double-exposure to make it appear that Méliès was doing the impossible. Partly because overhead shots were so rarely used at the time, the trick would not have been obvious to most audiences. The Star Films catalog tells us that Méliès is a “Hindoo” in this film, although his dress and dancing seemed Slavic to me – I suppose that this is another example of the careless way in which “exoticism” was utilized to generate interest in magic and movies at the time.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 1 Min, 47 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

The Shadow Girl (1902)

I’m sneaking this one into my October “history of horror” because of the “dark” title and because I haven’t gotten to it yet – we have some big ones coming up next year and I may not have the time to get back to these minor trick films. It’s a simple short by Georges Méliès that shows mysterious appearances and disappearances in the context of stage magic.

The scene is set through a standard proscenium-style set showing a stage cluttered with theatrical equipment. A magician (Méliès) and a clown share the stage, and they pull a large white sheet from a basket. They shake it out, and suddenly there is a girl wrapped inside. They unwrap her to reveal her fetching tights and the clown tries to get fresh, causing the girl to run to the other side of the stage and Méliès to kick him in the behind. The clown now brings over a barrel and the magician and the clown hold it upright for the girl to climb through. She goes in, but a (male) clown comes out the other side. He and the magician dance for a moment as the clown brings up a hoop. The new clown jumps through the hoop and transforms again into the girl. The magician gestures her toward a plank at the back of the stage and the film ends.

The Star Films catalog suggests that the movie is cut short with this ending – apparently there is a further trick in which the girl lies on the plank and is made to levitate, then another in which a man and the girl are seen to change places at the wave of a wand. This version is all I could find, however. Another interesting point is that the catalog describes the clown assistant as an “imp,” tying the movie a bit more into the Halloween theme. It’s interesting that the magic tricks we do see focus on gender-swapping, though perhaps this is partly because it was easy to identify the difference between a man in clown makeup and a girl in tights in long shot. This remains an amusing example of the magic shows Méliès used his camera to bring to life, even after more ambitious projects had been successful.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

My review of this movie was originally a facebook post, then it became the first post I ever put on this blog. I attach it below for posterity, however given the fact that I now write much longer reviews of much less important movies, it seemed like it was time to update it at last. This review will now take its place on my index.

The movie begins by showing a meeting of philosophers and scientists (many of whom dress like wizards) to discuss a proposal by one of their number. A proscenium-style stage shows a conference set up inside of an observatory, with a large telescope prominent in the background and in front there is a blackboard with the images of the Earth and Moon drawn on. A group of women carry in telescopes and present them to the magicians standing in the front rank. They raise them into the air and the telescopes transform into stools, which they now sit upon. The presenter goes to his podium and speaks, gesturing excitedly, and drawing a line on the chalkboard between the two spheres, showing the route that could be taken. Most of the audience applauds, but one of the front-ranking scientists raises an objection, resulting the speaker hurling books and papers at him. The other scientists push him to a chair in the back, and congratulate the speaker. The servant-women bring packs of gear for the front-ranking scientists, so that they can go on the expedition along with the inventor. They change out of their robes into explorers’ garb and leave the stage.

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The Dancing Midget (1902)

A simple trick film in which Georges Méliès combines the conventions of the stage magic show with the effects of cinema to produce a brief piece of entertainment. Once again, he shows that he was quite willing to milk a technique and concept for all it was worth.

A standard proscenium-style set is established, with the backdrop painted as a tunnel leading away from the audience with a large black area in the center. Méliès enters from stage right, dressed as a slightly comical variety of a standard magician. He waves his cape and an assistant appears, dressed in a servant’s livery and wig. He pulls six eggs from the mouth of the servant, an act which seems to amuse the man greatly, and then breaks each in succession into his hat. He stirs up the hat’s contents and dumps a great deal of confetti out of it onto his assistant’s head. Then, he produces a much larger egg from the hat, about the size of an ostrich egg. He places it onto the table and gestures, causing it first to grow, then to burst and reveal a tiny ballerina inside. She dances on the table for a while. Then the magician brings her up to full size, and puts the assistant into a crate, placing his cape over the ballerina. He pulls up the cape, and – voila! – the two have changed places. He now  kicks the servant off the stage and departs with the ballerina down the tunnel.

I’ve come to recognize that when there’s a large black space in the center of a Méliès set, it means that something will be shown in double-exposure within that space. I wonder if his contemporary audiences ever caught on? Anyway, I liked Méliès’s somewhat frenetic performance here, and was surprised by the comparably under-stated behavior of the assistant. Usually, that would be the more comedic role, with an expectation that he would try to kiss the ballerina at some point. The trick at the center of the film is not especially new, nor are the various appearances and disappearances used to support it. Still, it is another fine example of the many short films Méliès produced during his brief but prolific career.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 2 Min, 40 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

The Colonel’s Shower-Bath (1902)

This short piece of slapstick from Georges Méliès demonstrates that even as late as 1902 (the year he put out “A Trip to the Moon”), he wasn’t only making fantasy films and special effects. In fact, he wasn’t even always at the cutting edge of innovation – this movie seems at least five years behind the times.

A proscenium-style stage has been set up to depict a guarded gate in a European city. There are several soldiers on duty, although only one paces out his watch. Others sit, slouch, or mill around nearby. Above them, a scaffold has been set up for some painters who are re-painting the arch over the gate. Suddenly, the man on duty rushes over and alerts his comrades: the colonel is coming! All of them snap to attention, and one shorter fellow, who seemingly was taking a nap, rushes out of the guard station still trying to get his sword back into its scabbard. The colonel arrives, a distinguished older gentleman with an elaborate mustache. He berates the guards a bit for their slovenly appearance, then notices the painters and briefly speaks with one. That one climbs up the ladder to the scaffold with a bucket of paint while the colonel sits on a stool beneath the scaffold. The painter slips, and dumps the white paint all over the colonel, to the great amusement of the troops. The colonel rages at everyone.

There’s not a lot to this movie, although the backdrop and costumes are quite good. The short fellow continues to slouch throughout the colonel’s tirade, and maintains a very un-military appearance overall, which sort of makes him the star of the movie. Later slapstick stars like Keaton and Chaplin would take similar advantage of the audience’s identification with the short fellow who could never make good. But, really, it’s a simple joke you can see coming a mile away. Even Edison was putting out better stuff by this time, although of course the bulk of any film program at this time was not the highest-quality material.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1906)

This early short from Edison incorporates several technical advances worthy of Méliès, but employs them in a decidedly different manner, producing a very “American” special effects comedy, despite its being a remake (not to say outright rip-off) of a British original. It’s particularly interesting as one of the first iterations of a persistent early cinema myth.

The classic proscenium-style frame actually does depict a stage in this instance, a stage on which a screen has been set up for projecting motion pictures. There is a box visible to the left of the screen, and a man sits in it, presumably part of a larger, invisible audience. The first movie begins with a title telling us that the program is “The Edison Projecting Kinetoscope.”  The actually movie’s title is “Parisian Dance.” We see a young lady in modest attire come on the screen and do a dance, which does involve raising her skirts for a a few kicks. The man in the box gets increasingly excited, eventually jumping down onto the stage to join the filmed lady in the dance. She disappears and a new title tells us we will next see “The Black Diamond Express.” A train track appears and our rube again gets very excited, leaning forward into the screen to see the oncoming train. As the train rushes past the camera, he panics, and dives back into his box for safety. The final film is “The Country Couple,” and it involves a rustic young man and woman having a brief romantic interlude. The man again leaps onto the screen, perhaps jealous or perhaps angry because the girl reminds him of his daughter. He attempts to attack the young man, pulling down the screen as a result and revealing the projectionist behind it. He and the projectionist proceed to get into a scuffle, rolling across the stage in combat.

It was a pretty clever idea, using a series of old Edison pictures to fill in as “movies-within-a-movie” to develop a whole new plotline. It also required some technical understanding of how to handle split screen effects. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as well when “Uncle Josh” gets in front of the screen: he tends to disappear as if he’s gone behind the screen, or to become transparent so we can see the movie projected on top of him. Still, this movie gave us a kind of “Shadowrama” almost ninety years before MST3k. I’m pretty sure that films were not rear-projected at the time, as we see here, and that in a real situation the projectionist would have been situated in front of the screen, not behind it, approximately at the position that the camera is for the purposes of shooting this movie. I suspect that the reason he is moved is so that he can be revealed to the audience when Uncle Josh pulls down the screen, since editing and multiple camera set ups are not within the framework of this movie, and also the reveal works dramatically much better than someone yelling at Uncle Josh from behind would. The “cinema myth” I refer to above is the commonly-recurring trope about people panicking and running from theaters when a train was shown coming at the camera. It appears unlikely that this ever happened, but the story expresses the power of cinema to move people, something that apparently film makers were already aware of in 1902.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Charles Manley

Run Time: 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Interrupted Bathers (1902)

This short comedy from Edison by Edwin S. Porter and George S. Fleming uses several tropes that will be familiar to comedy fans from any era. It is a very simple movie, with a quick punchline at the end, that plays on the viewer’s expectations and desires.

interrupted-bathersWe see the bank of a stream or possibly a small lake, shot from the water, with a line of shrubbery in the back. There is a woman reclining there, amid various scraps of clothing. Three other women frolic in the water, splashing one another and themselves with water. Two men dressed as hobos come out of a hole in the bushes, and approach the reclining woman. She screams and runs off and the women in the water splash at the men. They gather up the clothes and wave at the women as they leave. The women swim toward the left side of the screen and disappear. After a jump cut, we see a woman cross the screen left to right, wearing a barrel to cover her lack of clothing.

The thing that stands out about this movie is that all of the women in the water appear to be fully clothed. I suppose that they might be wearing demure bathing suits of the period, but to me it looks like they are just swimming in their street clothes. That makes the entire conflict of the film, and its punch line, seem a bit silly. However, in all likelihood, an audience at the time understood that a woman could not just climb out of the water in a bathing suit or whatever it was she wore and allow herself to be seen in public. It’s also possible that Porter assumed that the audience would understand that the women were “really” nude, even though they could see clothing. At any rate, wearing a barrel (which may have already been established on the vaudeville stage) would continue to be a comedic symbol of modesty and nudity in movies and cartoons for decades.

Director: Edwin S. Porter and George S. Fleming

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 46 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

 

Burlesque Suicide No.2 (1902)

This short film from Edison challenges certain truisms about early movies and their techniques and subject matter. It also demonstrates the ways in which narrative fiction could establish suspense without using editing.

burlesque-suicideThe film consists of a mid-shot of a man sitting in front of a table. On the table in front of him is a decanter with a dark liquid, a glass, half full of the same liquid, and a revolver. He alternates between reaching for the glass and the gun, never quite taking a drink or putting his finger on the trigger. He pantomimes his despondency and sense of loss. At the end, he picks up the gun and begins to point it at his head, when suddenly he bursts into laughter and points at the camera.

Every now and again you’ll come across an over-simplified history of film that claims that all movies were shot full-figure prior to Griffith or until 1914 or some such nonsense. While it’s true that close-ups were fairly rare in the early days, you can find examples of films showing people in mid-shot and other close ranges going back to the very beginning. In this case, Porter and Fleming have taken advantage of the closer view in order to allow the actor to convey his emotions using his face, rather than overly large, theatrical body language. Another interesting aspect of this movie is the actor’s breaking of the fourth wall in order to convey the “burlesque” (meaning parody at this point in history). He laughs at the audience for believing in his determination to kill himself, reminding them that what they see on the screen is not real but illusion, and also making the dark subject matter less threatening. Still, we spend most of the movie anticipating the possibility of this grim act, wondering whether he will pull the trigger, and waiting to see how it can be resolved. The suspense of this film relies entirely on his performance, and on the intimacy of the camera to the actor.

Directors: Edwin S. Porter, George S. Fleming

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min

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

The Burning of Durland’s Riding Academy (1902)

Actuality footage of firefighters in action is spliced together in this topical Edison short from the early years of cinema.

burning-of-durlandsThe film was taken on location at a fire in an urban area. The first shot is a pan through the streets which stops at the firefighters spraying their hose into a gigantic cloud of smoke. Some spectators stand and watch, but as the movie proceeds, we see a lot of pedestrians pass by without apparent interest. A few stare at the camera. The second shot is taken from much closer to the group of firefighters and their hose, and seems to be later, as we see ruined walls and piles of rubble, but far less smoke. The camera pans away from them to show a half-collapsed wall and another hose further down the street. It then pans back to the main group of firefighter, training their hose into the midst of the smoke and passes them to find a man with a shovel digging through rubble. A final edit shows us a crowd watching a wall collapse, apparently from quite nearby. Once the dust clears a bit, a few of the men strike at the rubble with picks.

As I’ve noted before, firefighters were popular figures at the time, and we’ve seen them in a number of films, but this is the earliest example so far of them actually fighting a fire. It’s pretty much newsreel footage, nothing seems to have been faked, and the camera shows us what it can of the situation. We’ve moved into an era when Edison camera operators are comfortable with pans, and do them without much planning or preparation, to get as broad a view of the scene as possible. Durland’s Riding Academy was in Manhattan, where the Edison Studios were now headquartered, and the camera was mobile enough to get to the scene in time to get footage of the fire in progress. No doubt this fire was still in the news when this movie was being shown, and people were excited to be able to “see” the news as well as read about it.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: J.B. Smith

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 3 Min

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

The Treasures of Satan (1902)

Alternate Title: Les Trésors de Satan

This short film by Georges Méliès represents my final “history of horror” entry for the month of October. As usual, it deals with its subject matter playfully, and in this case it is even somewhat hard to be certain what is going on, but the theme of Satanic black magic is implicit from the title and performance.

treasures-of-satanA figure dressed as Satan is on a set, designed to be a large chamber in a castle. Satan has large feather-like horns on his hat and a goatee, but otherwise appears normal. On a table on stage left is a pile of bags with large numbers written on them (lots of zeros). He summons some assistants (with smaller “horns” on their hats) who lift a coffin-sized chest onto some stools and help Satan place the money bags into the chest. They lock the chest and leave the room. Almost immediately, another man in medieval garb (no horns) sneaks into the room and dances about with glee over the money he hopes is in the chest. He breaks it open, but it snaps shut on his fingers. Then the money begins leaping about uncontrollably. He traps it in the chest again, but then a demon-woman (horns again) climbs out holding one of the bags. followed by five others. They tempt him with the money, then suddenly the bags turn into large spears and the women pursue the man, poking him. When he tries to hide in the chest, it disappears and rematerializes upright on the left side of the stage, and he is exposed to the spears. He runs in to the chest again, and it blinks out and reappears on the stools with the same effect. Finally the women disappear when he kneels to pray. He tries to grab the chest, but it gets up of its own accord and eludes him. He hits it with a stool and it turns into a demon-acrobat, who tumbles. The demon and Satan try to grab the man, who tries to run away, but Satan charms him into the chest, which then emits fire and smoke, while all the demons dance around it. At the end, Satan transforms the chest back into the money bags.

I’ve tried to be somewhat neutral in my description of this plot, because there are contesting narratives as to what is actually going on. The logical assumption is that the non-demon man (played by Méliès himself) is a thief, trying to steal from Satan and being punished in return. However, the Star Films Catalog says that he is a miser, and that Satan is stealing from him: supposedly he is “greatly astonished” that his fortune has been moved from the table to the chest. However, this doesn’t really fit the action: why should a miser sneak into his own chamber? Why would he leave his money lying out on a table? And, he doesn’t look “astonished,” he looks excited by the idea that there’s money in the chest. The first time I watched, I actually thought this was dual-role movie, with Méliès as both Satan and the thief/miser. However, watching again, I wasn’t so sure that Satan was Méliès. He’s too far away from the camera to be identified for certain, and he moves differently than the playful dancing one gets to know as Méliès’s body language. The bearded man is unmistakably Méliès.

Director Georges Méliès

Camera: Georges Méliès

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 2 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.