Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Kk

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.

King John (1899)

King John

This is the first known example of an adaptation of Shakespeare’s work to moving pictures. It is, of course, silent, and so doesn’t do much justice to the brilliant dialogue of the Bard. It exists today in a two-minute clip from what was probably a rather longer film. Watching it is sort of like looking at an artist’s interpretation of Shakespeare on canvas, or like the above illustration. If you’re familiar with the play, it is a sort of snapshot of a key scene, but it isn’t really a reenactment of the play. It was produced through the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company, an affiliate of the US Biograph studio.


Directed by: WKL Dickson & Walter Pfeffer Dando

Starring: Herbert Beerbohm Tree

Run Time: 2 min.

You Can Watch it for Free: Here

Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914)


Director: Henry Lehrman

Starring: Charles Chaplin

This is the big start for Charlie Chaplin. It is a simple, seven-minute comedy reel in which an odd fellow blunders in front of cameramen trying to film a local soapbox racing event, and then refuses to go away, even when rather forcefully asked to do so. It was the first time that Chaplin appeared in his “Little Tramp” outfit on film, so is a milestone of sorts. It’s also an example of Keystone Studios taking advantage of a local news event as the setting for one of their comedies, which gave them the opportunity to make what looked like “big” productions for very little money. In later years, Venice police would have chased them off the track for filming without a permit, but here, Charlie is nearly hit by several race cars, and his only adversary seems to be the other actor. Much has been made about the “breaking of the fourth wall,” which refers to the point in the movie where we see the cameraman filming Charlie by virtue of a second camera, although I’ve seen examples of this going back as far as the 1890s. Cameramen were always fascinated by filming other cameramen.

Run time: 6min 21 sec

You can watch it for free: here