Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Nn

The Night Before Christmas (1905)

This is a 1905 Edison release with clearly seasonal intent from Edwin S. Porter, based loosely on the famous poem, much of which appears in the Intertitles.

Night_Before_Christmas_1905We open on Santa feeding his reindeer, then going inside to labor over toys in a crude woodshop. There is no sign of any Elves or “helpers” present, and it appears Santa must work backbreaking hours on each toy to produce it by hand. We then see the interior of a middle class home with a large family. There is a brief ritual in which the kids appear to write their wishes to Santa and throw them in the fireplace, then all the children run upstairs for their stockings to hang. The smaller ones are helped by the parents and a servant, possibly their nurse. Then they are led upstairs and the parents clear the room for the presents that will appear. The next sequence is in the children’s room, where the excited kids keep getting out of bed and causing the nurse to come back in. Eventually, they break out into a pillow-fight. Now we see Santa again, he goes through a big book with first names written in it, putting check marks next to some, and crossing others out (I noticed he laughed especially hard when he came to my name and crossed it out). He loads up his sleigh and there is an “effect” sequence in which we see a tiny model sleigh with eight reindeer dash across the (painted) countryside, evidently drawn by a string. They do very little flying, but do manage to get to the top of the house at the end. Now we switch back to live-action and Santa throws the bag of toys down the chimney before descending himself. He emerges in the middle-class dining room we saw before, and deposits toys in all the stockings, sometimes checking the letters in the fireplace. He then waves his arms and lots of bigger tows and decorations appear. He makes his signature wink, and goes up the chimney, just before all the kids run downstairs and eagerly start grabbing toys. The movie ends with a close-up on Santa with his finger beside his nose, and the words “Merry Christmas” at the bottom of the screen.

Night Before ChristmasNo doubt this was a successful movie in its day, with familiar material convincingly brought to life through simple storytelling techniques. The reindeer-sleigh sequence hasn’t held up terribly well, although its use does seem to add a kind of Méliès-charm to the whole thing (Méliès would’ve made them fly, I bet). The shots are static and scenes are edited in sequence. The one somewhat odd piece is the pillow fight, which isn’t in the original poem (indeed, supposedly “not a creature” should be “stirring”). Pillow fights were, interestingly enough, a fairly common subject at Edison, where they were seen to supply a certain slapstick humor to family fare, so I suppose Porter felt it would be appropriate to put one in here. My thought, as the pillows flew apart and feathers went everywhere, was that Santa should cross these naughty kids off his list!

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Cast: Unknown

Run Time: 9 Min

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

A Night Out (1915)

Night OutThis is one of the early films Charlie Chaplin made at Essanay Studios during his year there after he left Keystone. It has many of the familiar elements from Keystone – men with silly facial hair, women who seem to enjoy flirting with transients, a dull-witted policeman, a large jealous husband, hotels and bar rooms, and a world populated with people with a propensity for solving problems with physical violence – but has more measured timing and use of the individual gags, plus a much longer run time than most of the shorts he did there.

Night Out4To the degree that there is a plot, it concerns Charlie and his drinking buddy Ben Turpin, who apparently are out on the town for a while before the movie starts because by the time it does they are both staggering drunk. They make their way to a restaurant, where they get into fights with various patrons and ultimately are thrown out by the large headwaiter (played by Bud Jamison, who is doing his best to be Mack Swain). The two pals decide to get a room and sleep it off, and, after multiple pratfalls, Ben Turpin winds up in his bed, and Charlie winds up in a room with Edna Purviance (this was her first appearance in a Chaplin film, but they would work and sleep together for the next eight years). Then her husband comes home, and, of course, it’s Bud Jamison! So, Charlie packs up his pajamas and goes to another hotel, but he’s too drunk to sign the register and winds up on a park bench. Turpin wakes up alone and the desk clerk insists he pay since Charlie already left. He finds Charlie on the park bench, who replies to his request for rent money with several blows to the head with a brick. Meanwhile, some issue has come up at the original hotel with the headwaiter that involves holes being cut in his handkerchiefs, so they move to the second hotel. Now, Charlie heads back there and goes through an elaborate getting-ready-for-bed ritual that involves throwing his trousers out the window and spreading toothpaste on his slippers. Meanwhile, Edna has been playing with a dog in her room (across from Charlie’s, of course) and the dog runs under Charlie’s bed, where she follows it. Charlie comes out and discovers a girl under his bed, to some apparent glee, until she says something about her husband coming back and he looks out the door and sees Jamison again. They try to sneak her back into the room, but it’s no good, Charlie is caught and chased, and winds up going out a window. Ultimately, Turpin finds him again and they fight, ending with Charlie getting drenched in a bathtub.

Night Out1I’m not sure if it was just me or if Charlie was still getting used to the longer format, but this movie felt more like three or four short movies stitched together than like a cohesive longer plot. At about six minutes in, I had laughed at least as many times as I have at any Keystone, but I was already feeling like it could wrap up and be fine. At fourteen minutes in (the length of the average one-reeler), I was really ready for it to be done. By the end, it seemed actually too long, even though the gags and the falls were entirely up to snuff. One thing Charlie did do was take the time to elaborate some of his gags, which he wouldn’t have done at the faster pace. For example there’s a sequence in the hotel room where Charlie has drunkenly confused the phone with a water dispenser, and keeps trying to pour into his cup from it. That’s the sort of little touch that rarely made it into a Keystone. On the whole, though, it isn’t up to the level of later “feature-length” work like “Burlesque on Carmen,” nor even the sustained zaniness of “The Tramp.” If you like Keystone Chaplin well enough to sit still for half an hour, then this will work for you, maybe even better than watching three Keystones would, but it still seemed to me to be a bit rough around the edges.

Night Out2Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin, Edna Purviance, Bud Jamison, Leo White

Run Time: 33 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Newark Athlete (1891)

Newark_Athlete_1891

Since I’m temporarily living with limited internet and even more limited access to classic DVDs, I’m taking the chance to revisit some of the very short films from the Age of Attractions. This is actually the earliest movie in the National Film Registry, which makes it pretty important in the history of American film. It was shot in the Black Maria and demonstrates the ability of the Kinetoscope to reproduce movement by showing a man in a gym uniform swinging a pair of things that look like bowling pins, but apparently are Indian Clubs. Although he’s identified as the “Newark Athlete,” he’s not really doing anything especially athletic, and I wonder if they really called a professional athlete all the way to the studio just to shoot ten seconds of him swinging his arms. It also strikes me that, like the boxers Dickson would later shoot for Edison, this man is rather more skimpily clad than one usually saw in the late-nineteenth century, and I wonder if the appeal of sex was already a factor even in these early days of the movies.

Director and Camera: W.K.L Dickson

Run Time:12 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

New York Hat (1912)

Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to "Fredojoda."

Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to “Fredojoda.”

The arrival of a $10 Merry Widow hat (worth $237.07 in adjusted dollars today) from New York City causes quite a stir in a small-town haberdashery. But, when the local pastor (Lionel Barrymore, from “The Miser’s Heart” and later “You Can’t Take It with You”) buys it for Mary Pickford (also in “The Usurer” and later “Daddy Long Legs”), the local gossips set to work to destroy both their reputations! Her stingy father destroys the hat and the local church board seeks to oust the minister, until he explains that he is simply the holder of a trust from Mary’s dead mother, who willed that she be provided, from time to time, with “bits of finery.” This fairly light bit of fluff does showcase both Barrymore and especially Pickford’s talents, as well as being another avenue for D.W. Griffith’s directing. The “AB” logo for American Biograph is visible in nearly every shot, showing that they were becoming increasingly concerned about copyright and piracy. Imdb claims that Mack Sennett and Dorothy Gish appear uncredited, although it’s a bit late for Sennett to still be hanging around Biograph (he founded Keystone Studios the same year) and it would be a very early appearance for Dorothy, who was only 14 at the time.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Harron, Mack Sennett (?), Dorothy Gish (?)

Run Time: 16 Min

You can watch it for free: here.