Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Kk

The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903)

Released just one year after “A Trip to the Moon,” this extended adventure story from Georges Méliès was at least equally as ambitious and well-executed, although it’s not so well remembered today. Essentially a fairy tale-quest story, the use of a witch and her demons as antagonists fits it more or less into my October history of horror.

The movie begins on a proscenium-style set dressed as a medieval court. Lords and ladies arrange themselves around the throne. Méliès himself appears as “Prince Bel-Azor,” who is betrothed to Princess Azurine (Marguerite Thévenard). Various fairies give the princess wedding gifts, led by the fairy godmother, Aurora (Bluette Bernon). Suddenly a witch runs in, offended at not having been invited. When she is admonished by the prince, she turns into flame and disappears. The next sequence shows the princess in her bedchamber, assisted in undressing for bed by several ladies-in-waiting. Once they leave, the witch, assisted by several green demons, seizes the princess from her bed and puts her into a “chariot of fire.” She is unable to resist, although the prince rushes in at the last moment to be confronted by a fire-wielding demon. He and the court rush out to a high tower and watch the chariot of fire and its retinue rushing across the sky. The prince vows to pursue. Read the rest of this entry »

Kiriki, Japanese Acrobats (1907)

This short movie by Segundo de Chomón demonstrates his easy facility with the trick film. While much of his work is compared to (or even confused with) that of Georges Méliès, I can honestly say I’ve not seen another movie that looks like this one.

A group of actors walks out onto a bare stage with a black background with a bamboo frame around the sides and top. They are a mixed-age and –gender group, all wearing Japanese-style clothing and imitative hairstyles (the men and boys have shaved “bald wigs” on to represent a chonmage). An edit brings them to about the point of a mid-shot so you can get a look at them, then the camera cuts and they begin their act, climbing on top of one another, and sometimes using poles to hold each other up. The end result is usually a symmetrical pattern of human bodies in an apparently impossible position. How was it done?

I was able to spot the trick in his trick film right away, but I’m not sure how obvious it would have been to an audience in 1907. After the edit, we are not actually looking at people standing on a stage anymore, but rather at people lying on their backs with the camera positioned above them, and they pretend to be “climbing” each other when they are really rolling/crawling on the floor. One of the reasons for the simple stage decoration was that it made it easier to match the two shots so that the audience wouldn’t notice the difference. Camera angles were still a fairly new concept in 1907, and audiences were accustomed to static cameras using proscenium-style framing to establish a stage for all of the action to take place in, so this might have seemed quite impressive, even if it is a somewhat simplistic, plotless film for the Nickelodeon Era.

Director: Segundo de Chomón

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 2 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Kansas Saloon Smashers (1901)

This short film from Edison gives a comic reproduction of then-recent prohibitionist activity in the Mid-West.  Although her name is not mentioned in the title, it is clearly a film about Carrie Nation.

We see a proscenium-style wide-shot of the front of a bar, with various characters approaching the bartender to purchase drinks. There is a working-class woman, who buys a “growler” in a bucket, a friendly policeman, who buys and drinks a whiskey, and an Irish caricature, who carries a sod shovel and smokes a pipe. Suddenly, a group of women in black dresses and bonnets rush in with hatchets, smashing bottles of liquor. One of them grabs the “growler” the Irishman was buying and throws it on him, then she runs behind the bar and smashes the mirror. She is then sprayed by the bartender with his seltzer bottle, and the tide of the battle turns as the policeman returns to escort the women out of the bar. They leave, but the policeman slips on the beer and falls. The bartender also slips right as the film ends.

The Real Carrie Nation with a hatchet.

Carrie Nation was able to carry out her attacks on Kansas saloons in part because State law stated that they should not exist. She would be arrested for disturbing the peace, but released after a day because of the difficulty associated with prosecuting her for doing what the police were supposed to do already. The eastern Edison crew that worked on this movie don’t seem to have been terribly sympathetic, the cop we see drinking seems to be a nice fellow, and the prohibitionists are out of control and ultimately defeated with a seltzer spritzer. Still, it was a smart move, dramatizing events that were widely spoken about among the classes of people that were watching movies at the time. This movie was likely adapted both for individual kinetoscope viewing and for screening at venues that had projectors. It’s a pretty simple shoot, but note that the smashing of the mirror is accomplished with a jump cut, similar to the effects that Georges Méliès was now famous for. The narrator on the “Treasures” disc this is included with suggests that the women are played by men: if so, I couldn’t tell, but it’s true that women were pretty scarce at the early Edison shoots.

Director: George S. Fleming and Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Kathleen Mavourneen (1906)

A short melodrama from Edwin S. Porter that draws from Nineteenth Century theater as well as traditional song, and comes off as creaky as any movie of the Nickelodeon Era. While we see some evidence of the editing techniques that made Porter famous, acting and plot don’t show much advancement in this one.

Kathleen is a lovely Irish lass, introduced in a pastoral setting before a waterfall. She is approached by Captain Clearfield, her landlord, who has designs on her affections. Kathleen spurns his advances, but when he persists, the heroic Terence O’More comes onto the scene and fights him off. Clearfield is now shown conspiring with a band of thugs who hold up a carriage on the highway. He meets with them in a very fake-looking cave set, and divvies up the spoils of their heist. Now Clearfield shows up at Kathleen’s father’s home, accompanied by four men in uniform (I think they’re supposed to be bailiffs, but they look like bellboys to me). When his advances on Kathleen are again spurned, he orders the men to turn Kathleen and her father out of their home. When O’More overhears what is happening, he runs off to get the neighbors to band together and drive off the bailiffs. This precipitates a lengthy chase sequence, which ends with all of the bailiffs chased into the river.

There are two “lost scenes” that follow this sequence, which are today replaced with Intertitles. In the first, the gang kidnaps Kathleen with chloroform, rendering her unconscious and dragging her back to the cave. In the second, one of Clearfield’s henchman knocks out her father and sets the house on fire. O’More arrives in time to rescue him and then goes in pursuit of Kathleen. Wearing a hood, he pretends to be a bootlegger, and convinces some of the men to take him back to their hideout to drink whiskey. Once there, he tears off his disguise and engages in fisticuffs with the entire gang, besting them and freeing Kathleen. The final sequence is a wedding dance for Kathleen and O’More.

This movie is based on a play by Dion Boucicault, which was apparently unreleased in America at the time. The play had been based on the song “Kathleen Mavourneen,” which was popular among Irish Americans during the Civil War. “Mavourneen” is derived from the Gaelic mo mhuirnín, meaning “my beloved.” The lyrics to this song are simply maudlin longing for a lost love, with no mention of all the complications of an evil landlord and robbers, so Americans unfamiliar with the play might have been baffled by the plot of this movie, which lacks Intertitles or other explanatory techniques to reveal the plot and characters. No doubt some exhibitors provided narration to make sense of it. Historian Charles Musser in “Before the Nickelodeon,” suggests that Porter may have “misjudged their audience’s familiarity” with the material or else “failed to achieve the level of self-sufficient clarity” that was needed. In any event, the movie, which was comparably complex to shoot, was not a big success with exhibitors, who bought fewer than half as many copies as was the case for “The Terrible Kids.”

Looking at it today, it’s hard not to see Clearwater as a classic example of the mustache-twirling “you must pay the rent” model of an evil landlord from the silent era. At least he never ties Kathleen to any railroad tracks! I think he would have seemed old-fashioned even to the moviegoers of the time, in fact. His behavior derives from stage conventions of the Victorian age, which movies would often lampoon in coming years. Given that he has the forces of the law on his side, it seems somewhat unrealistic that simply besting him in single combat is enough to remove his threat, but that is also a convention of simplistic melodrama. The more “modern” pieces of the film include the chase sequence, which we’ve been seeing a lot of lately, and the closing dance, which makes me think of “Watermelon Patch” and “The Miller’s Daughter.”

Director: Edwin S. Porter and Wallace McCutcheon

Camera: Unknown, possibly Edwin S. Porter and Wallace McCutcheon

Starring:Kitty O’Neil, Walter Griswoll

Run Time: 15 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 Kiss (1900)

This was released as an admitted remake of the original “The Kiss,” starring May Irwin and John C. Rice. It was far less controversial in its time, but Edison Studios did everything they could to make it as profitable.

kiss-1900We see a mid-shot of two people, a man and a woman sitting close together, in front of a backdrop that suggests a cozy setting. The woman has her hair up and wears a frilly dress, the man has a mustache. They hug one another and peck at each other’s lips, although the kisses generally only last for a second or two. There is no really scandalous deep kissing, and they spend more time smiling at one another than actually kissing.

As a student of early cinema, I’m always amused when someone today complains about there being too many remakes. Remakes are literally as old as cinema, and they were far more common and frequent in the first years of experimentation than they are today. The Edison catalog was entirely up front about this remake: “Nothing new, but an old thing done over again and done well. Some one has attempted to describe a kiss as ‘something made of nothing,’ but this is not one of that kind, but one of those old fashioned ‘home made’ kind that sets the whole audience into merriment and motion, and has always proven a popular subject. It is very fine photographically and an exhibit is not complete without it.” It’s interesting to wonder why it was necessary to remake this film only four years after its release at the same studio – possibly the original was now too worn out to make further copies, or possibly they hoped that by using a new camera and modern film, they could improve the picture and the impact. The actors are noticeably younger than John Rice and May Irwin, and it may be that as their fame waned, the image of two middle-aged people kissing was less appealing than it had been.

Director: Unknown (imdb claims Edwin S. Porter, but Library of Congress does not confirm this).

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Unknown (imdb claims Fred Ott, but this is almost certainly wrong).

Run Time: 45 secs

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

Kobelkoff (1900)

Attention, Tod Browning fans. It turns out that “Freaks” (1932) was not the first movie to feature a “human torso.” Nikolaï Kobelkoff was a circus performer born in 1851, who had toured Europe through the nineteenth century and was a popular and successful entertainer.

KobelkoffThis movie shows Kobelkoff doing his act. He pours a glass of wine and drinks it, eats a bit of soup from a bowl with a spoon, and checks his pocket watch while sitting at the table. Then, he jumps down from his seat and points and aims a gun, paints on a canvass, and lifts a weight. Finally, we see him doing some tumbling on a mat. While he seems to have no arms or legs, in fact he has stumps, and in particular his “right arm” is capable of fairly delicate manipulations, even without hands or fingers. Judging by his jumping, his leg-stumps are quite muscular.

Kobelkoff1People have always been simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by human oddities. They are frightening reminders of the randomness of genetics and birth and proof that human beings do not control their fates. They also inspire us to some degree with their ability to overcome their disabilities and perform “normal” activities that obviously challenge them daily. Many people today object to their exploitation for entertainment purposes, although for many years this was the only viable economic option open to them, if they weren’t to be a burden on their families throughout their lives. Kobelkoff’s performance here seems to show a happy and healthy man, enjoying himself and the attention he gets. Already 49 years old at the time, he would live until 1933.

Director: Unknown

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Nikolaï Kobelkoff

Run Time: 1 Min 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

The Kiss (1896)

Alternate Titles: “The May Irwin Kiss,” “The John C. Rice – May Irwin Kiss,” “The Rice – Irwin Kiss,” “The Widow Jones.

May_Irwin_John_C._Rice_Kiss_1896

This is a medium close-up of two people, a man and a woman, kissing. It was one of the first movies shot for the Edison Vitascope projection system, and was released with much ballyhoo. It should be noted that the Vitascope, while it was an important development in motion picture history, was not entirely successful. It apparently ran somewhat jerkily and unreliably, and required a great deal of electrical energy to run (there are reports of rather dangerous arrangements in which it was hooked up to streetcar tracks to siphon power). At the same time, the Lumiere BrothersCinematograph and the new Mutoscope company’s device were in competition, apparently with rather more success, bringing in a profit for distributors, which the Vitascope mostly failed to do.

Vitascope

But, back to “The Kiss.” John C. Rice and May Irwin were the stars of the theatrical hit “The Widow Jones,” which reaches a climax in Act I when the shy male lead kisses the widow. The Edison company brought these two stars to the Black Maria to film the famous scene. In fact, the kiss itself only lasts a few seconds, most of the film has the two of them speaking lines of (unheard) dialogue to one another with their faces pressed intimately together. Only at the end does Rice back off and straighten his mustache, taking her head in his hands and finally moving in for the kiss. It is noteworthy that, while Rice is middling-attractive, Irwin does not seem to be a “beauty” by contemporary standards or modern. The point, I think, is that passion is for anyone, not reserved to only the young or to those who meet certain subjective standards of beauty.

There seem to be conflicting reports as to media reaction to this movie. Wikipedia, citing a source I’m not familiar with, claims that it was seen as “disgusting” and resulted in calls for censorship. However, Charles Musser, in “The Invention of the Movies,” claims that the result was to make John C. Rice into a “kissing star,” able to tour the coast giving men tips on how to kiss effectively. When Irwin tried to take “The Widow Jones” on the road with another male star, audiences wouldn’t have it, insisting she get back together with Rice, the best kisser in town. Either way, this movie seems to have been a big hit for the Edison studios, even if the machine it was produced for never took off.

Director: William Heise

Camera: William Heise

Starring: May Irwin, John C. Rice

Run Time: 34 seconds

You can watch it for free: here or here.

Knockout, The (1914)

Knockout_(poster)

A boxing ring is a natural site for slapstick, and Keystone brought together nearly all of its star power for this boxing-slapstick comedy. Fatty Arbuckle (from “Fatty Joins the Force” and “The Rounders”) stars as “Pug,” a large, innocent fellow with a yen for Minta Durfee (his real-life wife, also in “A Flirt’s Mistake” and “Fatty Joins the Force”). After several escapades with local tramps, he gets fast-talked into ten rounds against “Cyclone Flynn” (Edgar Kennedy, who was in “A Flirt’s Mistake” and “A Star is Born”). Charlie Chaplin (who also co-starred with Fatty in “The Rounders”) shows up about halfway through as the referee, Mack Swain (from “The Gold Rush” and “Tillie’s Punctured Romance“) is there as the gambler who threatens Fatty if he doesn’t win, and the Keystone Cops show up at the end, when everything has gone completely out of control. It’s a much larger cast and more elaborate scenario than usual in the shorts of the period, with substantially more intertitles, and the editing is tight and the camerawork imaginative as well. The funniest sequence by far is the actual match, in which Kennedy is just “straight” fighting, Fatty is clearly outclassed, but scared to lose, and Chaplin is desperately dodging the blows of the two other men, while trying to trip Fatty up in order to get the ordeal over with sooner.

Director: Mack Sennett

Starring: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Minta Durfee, Edgar Kennedy, Mack Sennett, Charlie Chaplin

Run Time: 27 Min

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.