Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Ff

From the Submerged (1912)

This short from Essanay uses Chicago locations in a melodrama about urban poverty and redemption. While not an entirely believable story, it contains a message about the worth of every human life.

The opening shot shows a vagrant (E.H. Calvert) waking up on a park bench, assessing his surroundings, and walking away. There are two other homeless people sleeping in the background. He walks out onto a bridge and looks ready to jump when a woman (Essanay co-founder Ruth Stonehouse) restrains him. She speaks to him a bit, gesturing towards the sky, perhaps in reference to God, and the man appears grateful to her for her intervention. Now he goes to a bread line, where he collapses with hunger before he can get any food. A sympathetic fellow-bum gives him a piece of bread, a coffee, and a newspaper, then goes to the back of the line again for himself. He eats eagerly, and looks at the newspaper, spotting a small item in the personals. It is addressed to “Charlie” and says that his father is dying and that all is forgiven. Calvert leaps up and runs off to answer the ad.

Read the rest of this entry »

Films of the San Francisco Earthquake (1906)

Actuality footage of one of the major natural disasters of the Nickelodeon Era. These early newsreels fed audiences hungry to see what they were reading about in the papers.

On April 18, 1906, an earthquake of an estimated 7.7-7.9 magnitude hit San Francisco. Because of the construction standards of that time, the quake did far more damage than would be expected today, but worse was the fact that fires quickly broke out that could not be contained. Broken water mains and damaged streets prevented the quick response of volunteer fire departments, the fire burned for four days, destroying huge portions of the city. Hundreds of people lost their lives, and tens of thousands their homes, and the entire city was disrupted. Naturally, this was a major news event at the time. While there was likely no camera rolling during the actual quake, nor so far as I can tell during the height of the fires, there were newsreel cameramen on site within days, taking images of the devastation, the refugees, and the rescue efforts.

This particular “movie” is included in the “Invention of the Movies” DVD from Kino, and serves to give us a sample of that footage. I am not certain whether it was ever screened in the form we see here, whether it is stitched together from multiple sources, or whether it is a fragment of a larger film. In comparing what we do have here with “Searching the Ruins of Galveston for Dead Bodies,” it doesn’t appear that documentary techniques have changed much in six years. The camera pans across scenes of devastation, wisely getting human figures into the picture when possible for scale, and stays at a distance from its subjects. There are a few shots of newspaper headlines to give context, but I assume that exhibitors would usually provide a running narration, possibly reading from newspapers, to add to the drama of the images, when these scenes were originally shown. We do see some flaming buildings in relatively close-shot, but the long pans show a city after the fires have passed.

For a modern viewer, the first response is that the ruined cityscapes look like the aftermath of a war, but it’s interesting to note that large-scale artillery attacks on civilian areas were rare at the time, and aerial bombing nonexistent. Thus, when people who lived in 1906 witnessed such things as in the later World Wars, they were more likely to think that they were “like an earthquake.”

Director: Robert K. Bonine

Camera: Unknown, likely Robert K. Bonine

Run Time: 2 Min

You can only see the reviewed version on the “Inventing the Movies” DVD, however some of the same shots are edited into a film: here (no music) and you can see a much longer set of actuality footage of the 1906 earthquake aftermath here (no music).

The Fantastic Dog Pack (1917)

Alternate Title: La Meute Fantastique

This episode of “Judex” is longer than the previous one, but to me it seems like less actually happens. We do get the pay-off of the cliff-hanger from the last story, and also several new entanglements are established, but the story overall feels a bit off-track to me here.

As the story begins, Musidora and her criminal companion Morales (Jean Devalde) bring the chloroformed Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor) to a villa where they keep her unconscious while they await payment. This soon comes in the form of Cesar de Birargues, the overly-amorous employer who contracted with the pair to kidnap her in “The Mysterious Shadow.” But when he offers his payment, Morales demands an additional 10,000 francs hazard pay. Cesar goes home depressed and confesses what he has done to his sister and father; the father tells him to go to their country home while he takes care of the problem. Read the rest of this entry »

The Four Troublesome Heads (1898)

Alternate Titles: Un homme de têtes, Four Heads Are Better Than One.

This is one of the best-known early shorts from Georges Méliès. It demonstrates considerable creativity and a sophisticated use of special effects.

four-troublesome-headsGeorges Méliès enters the frame and stands between two tables. He removes his own head and puts it on one of the tables, where it starts talking and looking around. Méliès, momentarily headless, has a new head appear on his shoulders, and he crawls underneath the table with the head on it to demonstrate that there is no person there. Méliès repeats the action twice, with a new head appearing on his shoulders each time, until four identical Méliès heads are presented at once – three on the tables, and one on his shoulders where it belongs. Méliès then plays a banjo, and the three additional heads sing along. He appears annoyed by their singing, and smashes two of the heads with the banjo, then pulls his own head off and punts it offscreen. Finally, he reattaches the remaining head and takes a bow.

This movie is technically impressive, considering the number of takes he had to do (at least four) in order to get the multiple-exposures right. Each of his heads is animated and they do seem to interact with one another as well as the full-bodied Méliès. When he takes off his head, he holds a mannequin-head in his hand (nicely painted so it does look like him, but not animated), and the space above his shoulders is blank. It looks to me as if he wore a hood or a sack over his head for these shots, but the multiple-exposure makes it transparent so that you can still see the dark curtain in the background. This is probably the reason he used such a drab backdrop, instead of the usual highly stylized painted sets he usually has, because it would have been much harder to hide the hood as it moved in front of the details. Despite that aesthetic lack, however, this remains a much more creative use of the camera than the typical appearances and disappearances we’ve seen in most of his early experiments. I note again that the Star Films Catalog gives a description of a much more exciting climax than what we seem to have today, though in this case it doesn’t look like anything is missing. I think perhaps they were just talking it up.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Famous Box Trick (1898)

Alternate Title: Illusions Fantasmagoriques

This is another of the early shorts of Georges Méliès, and like many of them it is not so much a story as a one-minute magic act. Méliès uses the camera tricks he has learned up to now to make things appear and disappear, to turn them into other objects, and to cause a simple wooden box to become a source of wonder.

famousboxtrickWe see a tightly-framed proscenium-style set with elaborately decorated backdrops. Toward the back of the stage but prominently visible is a table with a large wooden box on it. Méliès himself is dressed as a magician or “conjurer” (according to the Star Films catalog) on the stage, and as the movie begins he is performing esoteric gestures with his hands. Suddenly a live dove appears in his hand, and he bows quickly and puts it in the box. He adds two handkerchiefs and makes more mystical motions with his hands and – voila! – a boy in a clown suit appears. Méliès lifts him down, then puts him on a stand, and takes a large axe and swings it at him! Of course, there is a jump cut and instead of a single brutally mangled child we now see two which are completely unharmed. They begin fighting and Méliès separates them. He picks one up and the boy disappears and is replaced with some papers which Méliès tears up. He then puts the other boy back into the box. He now produces a hammer and smashes apart the box, but the child has disappeared. He reaches down to the floor, where one of the panels of the box rests and pats it, causing the boy to reappear. He twirls the boy around and picks him up, and suddenly the child turns into two flags, which Méliès waves vigorously. He drops them and disappears in a puff of smoke, but he comes back onstage from a rear door to take a bow.

Similar to “The Magician” of last week, this is a fast-paced series of trick shots with no plotline or logic. It all happens so quickly that you can imagine an audience of children laughing and applauding with each new wonder. There are implications of violence that some adults would not approve of, but in the end no one is really hurt and all the tricks are just for fun. It’s easy to imagine that some of these tricks had already been worked out by Méliès on the stage, but that he found them easier to perform with the magic of stopping the camera. An interesting point is the flags at the end. I tried watching it frame-by-frame to verify what nationalities they were. The Star Films Catalog claims they are “an American and an English (sic) flag.” I’m pretty sure the one on stage right is actually American, while the one to our left has a small Union Jack in a dark field, which is neither British nor “English,” as I understand it. It could be an Australian flag, but I never could spot the Southern Cross. At any rate, it seems odd that he would have used these rather than the French Tricolour, but perhaps he was already aware that his most important audience would be Anglophones? If any vexillologists want to chime in, please do so in the comments.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès, unknown children

Run Time: 1 Min, 15 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Firemen Rescuing Men and Women (1899)

This short from Edison contains action and suspense, and even the beginnings of a plot as the bravery and selflessness of rescue teams is put at the forefront. While the melodramatic adulation of fire fighters may seem quaintly nineteenth century to us today, it is worth remembering that 9/11 raised similar emotions in audiences quite recently.

firemen-rescuing-men-and-womenWe see the front of a building, with four windows visible and ladders propped against it. Smoke billows from all of the window, and two teams of firemen work from the highest ones, helping people in civilian clothing out the windows and onto the ladders, where they descend below the frame line. At one point, a fire fighter tosses a doll out the window to one of his fellows on the ladder. He then tosses it casually to the ground. After two men and a woman have been rescued, the fire fighters themselves go in and out of the windows, seemingly uncertain, for a few seconds.

The original catalog entry by Edison emphasizes “the efficiency of modern life-saving methods and apparatus now in use by the fire departments.” All it looks like is a few men on ladders, but presumably this emphasis on modern efficiency would have carried over to the live narration an exhibitor would have used to accompany this film. I assume that this was a staged event or a training exercise, and not a real fire, although it might have been presented to audiences as authentic, and there’s nothing that actually proves it fake. The doll being tossed from the window is the one odd bit, and I wonder if it was intended to help simulate a child-rescue, but the performers didn’t understand this and just tossed it quickly aside to get to the “real” rescuing.

Director:  J. Stuart Blackton

Camera: Albert E. Smith

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Fifth Avenue, New York (1897)

This short film from Edison shows a famous area of the famous city closest to the studio. It is a location shot, but was probably cheap to produce.

Fifth Avenue New YorkThe film we see consists of two shots. The first is a pan across a mostly stationary crowd standing on some steps, possibly to get a view of a parade or other event taking place in the street proper. We don’t see what they are looking at, only the crowd and people walking on the sidewalk. I’m not certain, but it’s possible these are the steps to the New York Public Library’s 42nd Street Branch at Fifth Avenue. The second shot is stationary and doesn’t show the steps, but appears to be taken close by. Here we just see crowds of people walking past the camera in both directions.

Apart from the clothing styles, this could be a shot of Fifth Avenue taken today. Most people look well-to-do, they walk in groups, and they seem to be able to navigate crowds comfortably. A few people turn and stare at the camera, but most seem to be concentrating on getting where they are going, or on watching whatever is happening in the street that we can’t see. The existing print is rather over-exposed, but I don’t know if that’s damage after the fact or a problem with the original. Some sources cite this as the “first camera pan,” which is possible, but I’m dubious.

Director: James H. White

Camera: William Heise

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min

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

First Sleigh Ride (1896)

This is another example of an Edison studios location shoot, this time in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The movie emphasizes movement and contrast, as much as its location, to capture the attention of audiences.

First Sleigh RideWe see a busy street with light snow cover. A series of horse-drawn vehicles rush across the screen, past a small crowd of gathered onlookers. The second of these is the “sleigh” mentioned in the title, while the other two have wheels. As the sleigh goes by, one of the bystanders waves his hat in encouragement, as if observing a race. In the background you can see a trolley sitting in the street – no horses in evidence, possibly it is electric.

This short film was made while the Edison company was in town to shoot exclusive footage for the Bijou Theater which was exhibiting the “projectoscope” – an advance over the kinetoscope that allowed the projection of movies onto a screen. Charles Musser cites a catalog entry which states it was taken “after the first fall of snow and shows an exciting race along the river road.” The Library of Congress gives a different catalog entry that says “This subject taken just after the recent first fall of snow, shows two enthusiastic horsemen indulging in a ‘brush’. with their respective horses and cutters.” Both descriptions suggest a competitive race, as suggested by the onlooker waving his hat, but to me it just looks like three vehicles driving normally down the street. Perhaps my view is spoiled by years of modern car chases and other high-speed spectacles.

Director: James H. White

Camera: William Heise

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 30 secs

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

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?

Fatima Muscle DancerWe 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.

Fatima Muscle Dancer1I 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

Starring: Fatima

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).

Flirting with Fate (1916)

Douglas Fairbanks is in love again, but this time it’s not going so well, so he decides to off himself. Suddenly, his luck begins to change, but can he avoid the clutches of the assassin he hired to cash himself in?

Flirting_with_FateOur movie begins by introducing Doug in his role as August (“Augy”) Holliday, a starving artist who can “draw anything but a paycheck.” Augy has a couple of “guard dogs” who seem to be trained to chase away landlords and not much else, and a rich friend, played by W.E. Laurence. Laurence stops by and Augy lets him see a picture he’s painted of “the most beautiful girl in the world” – a girl he saw in the park one day, played by Jewel Carmen. Turns out that Laurence knows her family, and he gets Augy invited to a party at their house (and, presumably, provides his down-and-out friend with a tux for the occasion). Augy makes an uneven impression at first on Gladys, but since her aunt is trying to force her into marrying a dull guy with money, she’s a little more interested than she might be. He’s hopelessly smitten, but broke, so he hasn’t a chance with the aunt. Some private collectors offer him $3000 for the painting he did of her, but he can’t part with it, so he goes back to try again. This time, he meets up with one of Gladys’s girlfriends, who agrees to act as a stand-in for Gladys while he rehearses a proposal. Of course, Gladys walks in and sees this and thinks he’s untrue to her, so she runs to the dull guy’s arms, and when Augy sees this, he becomes despondent. Read the rest of this entry »