Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: 1910

Police Force of New York City (1910)

Max Schmittberger, New York Police Inspector, 1910 (Library of Congress)

Max Schmittberger, New York Police Inspector, 1910 (Library of Congress)

This short from Edison may actually be a reissue of a 1904 film, judging by the opening title. It portrays the New York police in a variety of practice exercises, focusing on rescue and arrest operations. Many of them focus on chases of one sort or another – on horseback, motorcycle, or speedboat. There is also a section on the K9 division, for dog lovers. The boat arrest includes some obvious mock gunplay. The intertitle “stopping runaways in Central Park” actually refers to runway horses – showing how language and technology has changed over time, as well as the expected duties of the police. There is no attempt to provide characterization or narrative, we simply see single-shot depictions of the police training exercises. Locations seen include Central Park, the Hudson River near the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Riverside Park, and Broadway at 23rd Street, all of which have changed a great deal, making this an interesting historical document for architects and New Yorkers. As a depiction of the police, of course, it has to be seen as being what the Edison Studio believed people were interested in, as well as how the police themselves were comfortable being portrayed.

Director: James H. White

Run Time: 8 Min, 30 Seconds.

I haven’t found a free version of this online. If you find one, message me or comment!

Merchant of Venice (1910)

Merchant of Venice

This is another Italian adaptation of Shakespeare, by the same director who gave us “King Lear” a little while before. This makes sense as an adaptation, since the story is clearly set in Italy, but unfortunately the version we have is incomplete, so it’s hard to rate its success. It feels a bit rushed and overly-ambitious, introducing many characters and showing sub-plots that wind up unresolved. It’s another nice hand-tinted color print, and Lo Savio has taken advantage of some good locations for backdrops to the action. “The Merchant of Venice” is today probably Shakespeare’s most controversial play, sometimes invoking calls for censorship, because its villain is a Jew, who is made to represent all Jews in his greed and inhumanity. In 1910 this would likely have been a lesser consideration, in Italy and most of the continent, however what we have of this version seems to downplay the anti-Semtic theme, making Shylock a victim of his own duplicity rather than a representative of a race or religion. He is, however, trapped at the end by a law prohibiting Jews from spilling “Christian” blood, so an element of the original remains. On the whole, this movie comes across as less successful than the last couple I have discussed, but as I say it may be because of missing footage.

Director: Gerolamo Lo Savio

Run Time: 19 Min (original), 8-9 Min (surviving)

You can watch it for free: here.

Twelfth Night (1910)

Twelfth Night

This Shakespeare play remains a popular film subject, with its themes of gender confusion and romantic frustration, blended into a safe, comedic resolution. This was its first known film rendering, and it suggests that by 1910 we are moving into a different context for silent film adaptations of classical works. This time, we get a recognized “star” in the lead: Florence Turner, who would be in hundreds of movies during her career, and had appeared as Titania in the earlier “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Moreover, this is the first effort I’ve seen to preserve some of the Shakespearean dialogue by placing it into intertitles, about halfway through the film. This movie also generally preserves the full storyline, although it is much shortened to a length of twelve minutes, and the titles give enough information for an audience with no prior knowledge of the play to follow along. One gets the sense that, rather than simply giving a vignette or snippet of the Bard, it was the director’s hope here to actually render the play in the new medium of film. By modern standards, it may be only marginally successful, but it still seems like a sophisticated use of the technology to present something complete in itself.

Director: Charles Kent

Starring: Florence Turner

Run Time: 12 Min 27 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

King Lear (1910)

King Lear

One of the interesting things about silent movies is how readily they adapt subject matter across cultures. This is the first Shakespeare film I’ve talked about from a non-anglophone country, but since the emphasis is not on dialogue, there’s no sense of anything “lost in translation” between English and Italian. It also is the first film I’ve discussed which includes some hand-painted scenes and some tinting, so, in effect, a color film. There were many color film experiments in the silent era, and some studios employed large numbers of low-paid painters to apply color to movie strips by hand. The effect, when done well (as it is here) is striking and somewhat ethereal, since the hand-painting varies slightly from frame to frame. In terms of telling the story of King Lear and his daughters, I found some of the choices here interesting. The good daughter, Cordelia, is portrayed in the opening as somewhat taciturn, maybe even dour, and one can understand Lear’s preferring his more vivacious-seeming daughters. They also spend a good deal of time on a setup in which Lear compares his unfeeling daughters’ hearts to a stone, which it seemed to me might have been better blended with the previous scene of their betrayal, since all the actor has to do is talk to his servants, where a confrontation with his daughters would have been more visually interesting. There is no attempt to add a happy ending, and this comes off as the most “adult” or sophisticated century Shakespeare thus far.

Director: Gerolamo Lo Savio

Run time: 16 Min

You can watch it for free: here.