Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Oo

One touch of Nature (1917)

This is an apparently incomplete fragment of a longer story produced as a feature for Edison late in their production career. It tells a familiarly heart-warming story about a baseball player, using real locations and players to give verisimilitude to the melodrama.

The excerpts begin by introducing John J. McGraw, the real-life manager of the New York Giants, who is talking to a recruiter who has seen an amazing player named Bill Cosgrove (John Drew Bennett). McGraw seems skeptical at reports of the boy’s prowess, but agrees to give him a try. We then jump to the “deciding game of a world’s series” in which the Giants are playing against Philadelphia. McGraw looks on stoically as the seats of the Polo Grounds swell with fans. Read the rest of this entry »

100% American (1918)

Mary Pickford stars in this promotional film for the Fourth Liberty Bond during World War I. While it’s predictably preachy, the film does take advantage of its star’s charms and gives a brief narrative to hold the audience’s interest while arguing that it needs to “do without” in order to support the war effort.

Pickford is introduced a “Mayme,” a typical young American woman who likes to indulge in the pleasures of an affluent society. The story begins with her and a girlfriend or roommate at an amusement park, dazzled by all kinds of opportunities for meaningless consumption and fun. They are distracted by a man giving a speech – possibly a barker for some new attraction. He turns out to be a “four minute man” – a public speaker drumming up support for buying war bonds. At the climax of his speech, he points at the camera and asks, “What are you giving right now?” A reversal shows Mayme reacting to this question. Evidently she feels guilty for not doing enough. She and her friend continue along the boardwalk and Mayme window shops longingly, but resists the urge to go into a store and buy new clothes. Then she and her friend go to a soda shop. While her friend eats ice cream, Mayme orders water. Finally, she walks home alone to save car fare.

The next scene comes on “bond day.” Mayme stands in a line of people, ready to buy their war bonds. She has saved up a sizable wad of bills, but she gets nervous when an ugly man takes an interest in her, and she stashes the loot. When she reaches the head of the line, she looks in her purse and can’t find the money – she’s already forgotten that she hid it – and she accuses the ugly man of robbing her. A policeman comes over to shake him down and meanwhile, Mayme finds the money, buy her bond, and makes a hasty retreat after correcting her mistake.

The movie now looks forward to “after the war” when Mayme is qualified to go to a “100% American” dance with soldiers and other bond-holders. Her fashionable friend cannot attend this event, because she failed to buy bonds. But, Mayme has pity on her and lets her take her bond. After she leaves, Mayme collapses in remorse that she can’t even go to the celebration. Then, Mayme’s soldier boyfriend comes home. He has bought two bonds, so that they can still go together. The final scene is a live-action political cartoon, in which Kaiser Wilhelm II is suspended from falling into “the soup” on a thin high wire labeled “Hindenburg Line.” He tries to retreat from France to Germany, but is weighted down by various burdens, with labels like “brute force” and “clown prince.” Mayme takes out a baseball labeled “Fourth Liberty Bond” and knocks him off the wire, simulating the kinds of amusements she forsook at the beginning of the film. Then she points to the camera and suggests that, “Your’s may be the bond to knock him off his perch!”

By 1918, Mary Pickford was possibly the biggest star in the world (easily in the top five, at any rate). Her support of liberty bonds was well known, and she donated a considerable amount of her valuable (and expensive!) time to public appearances in support of them. There’s an irony to the title of this film, however, since she was in fact a Canadian citizen! Her home country had been fighting for almost four years by the time any American troops showed up, and perhaps that was the reason for her urgency in trying to get the war over as quickly as possible. Of course, she had already starred in “The Little American” and was known as “America’s Sweetheart,” so audiences probably didn’t see this as a big problem. She was an actress playing a role, and in this case that role was of a patriotic American girl who sacrifices her immediate pleasures for the sake of the war effort. Unfortunately, the concept of “100% American” would be used after the war to hound immigrants and leftists during the “Red Scare.”

Feet!

This sort of short propaganda film doesn’t show off the best in film making technique of the time, but there are some interesting bits. The reversal to Pickford after the four minute man breaks the fourth wall is particularly well executed in terms of editing, and handled very quickly, to keep the emotional verisimilitude high. There are a number of insert shots of Mayme’s fashionable shoes, perhaps to establish her as a person given to extravagance, or perhaps in the interest of titillating the male audience, as shoes and feet seem to have been a big deal since the days of “What Demoralized the Barber Shop” and “The Gay Shoe Clerk.” I found the final “cartoon” interesting as well, since it involved so many different ideas being integrated into a single image.

Director: Arthur Rosson

Camera: Hugh McClung, Glen MacWilliams

Starring: Mary Pickford, Loretta Blake, Monte Blue, Henry Bergman

Run Time: 14 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Out West (1918)

This two-reel comedy from Comique is another collaboration between Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keaton, and this time the two of them really work well together. As you might guess from the title, it’s a Western spoof, and the level of chaos easily rivals anything the Keystone Studios ever put out.

As the movie begins, Arbuckle is riding the rails, bumming a ride on a freight train. He’s chosen an unusual way to do this, however, he’s in a tanker car three-quarters full of water. Roscoe takes a moment to peek out the hatch, but when he does so, the train comes to a stop and a railroad worker comes across the top of the car, so he ducks back down. The worker now opens the hatch and connects it to the pipe from a water tower, filling the car the rest of the way while Arbuckle sputters and nearly drowns. Once the worker’s gone, he climbs out and looks for somewhere better to ride. He finds the caboose, where the workers are having a breakfast of coffee, ham, and bread. He waits until they’re distracted from reading the paper, then uses a hook to grab their breakfast and haul it up to where he’s sitting, on top of the car. The workers first accuse one another of stealing the food, but then discover Roscoe, since his bottom is still hanging over the windowsill. The chase is on! Arbuckle and the railroad men run across the roof of the moving train, and the silliness escalates until Arbuckle has disengaged several cars in order to escape. The train backs up to reconnect, but he’s able to slip away in the confusion.

We are now introduced to the town of Mad Dog Gulch, which is clearly a wretched hive of scum and villainy. As the owner of the saloon and local sheriff, Buster Keaton keeps order with his sixguns. Spotting a man cheating at cards, Keaton watches from the bar until the confrontation reaches a climax, then cuts it short by gunning the cheater down from behind. He picks up the dead man’s hand and tells his opponent, “you would have lost, anyway.” Then he kicks the corpse into a handy trapdoor to the basement, after briefly removing his hat in respect. We also meet “Wild Bill Hiccup” (Al St. John) who apparently lives in Mad Dog Gulch and is even a meaner hombre than the rest of the town. He plans to rob the saloon with a bunch of his buddies, all of them wearing masks so as not to be recognized by the sheriff.

Meanwhile, Arbuckle is wandering the desert, and winds up being chased by a group of cannibalistic Indians who have decided to eat him. He runs for the nearest sign of civilization, which, for better or worse, is Mad Dog Gulch and the Last Chance Saloon. He runs in just as the robbery is taking place, and just after the bartender has been shot (Keaton rapidly deploys a “bartender wanted” sign, even while the robbery is in progress), and knocks Al over with the saloon doors. He grabs the dropped guns and amazes everyone with trick shooting, managing to roust the robbers, shoot the Indians at an enormous distance, and shoot Buster’s hat off his head several times in a row. Once the smoke has cleared, Keaton dumps the body of the bartender through the trap door as well, and offers Arbuckle the job. He accepts, but Keaton won’t let him permanently remove the “bartender wanted” sign – he knows how long his bartenders usually last.

The next scene of the film is a pretty ugly racist bullying sequence in which a group of men with guns terrorize an African American man  and make him “dance” by shooting at his feet. Arbuckle joins in, and the man is even briefly dumped into the basement with the bodies before “Salvation Sue” (Alice Lake) comes in and puts everyone to shame for the goings-on. She now becomes Arbuckle’s love interest, as the two shyly introduce themselves. Al St John and his gang return, this time without masks, just looking to raise a little Hell instead of robbing the joint. He takes an interest in Sue, despite her lack of reciprocation, and Buster tries to throw him out, getting thrown clear across the room for his efforts. Arbuckle tries to put an end to the “mashing” by breaking a bottle over Al’s head, but he doesn’t seem to notice, so Arbuckle tries another. And another. Soon both Al and Alice are drenched in spirits from all the broken bottles, but Al is in no way slowing down, so Arbuckle tries his gun, also without effect. Finally, it dawns on Arbuckle to try tickling Al with a feather, and this proves to be the one thing Al can’t resist. He’s reduced to helpless laughter and Alice is able to get away. Buster joins in the tickle-fest and they kick Wild Bill Hiccup out, but Buster falls into his own trap door in the process.

Humiliated, Hiccup attempts to gain his revenge by kidnapping Sue and riding out of the town with her as his gang keep the bartender and the sheriff at bay. Arbuckle eventually breaks free and chases Hiccup back to his shack as Keaton holds off Hiccup’s men. After once again subduing Hiccup by tickling him, Arbuckle and Sue push his shack off a hill with him still inside, which is presumed to be enough to kill or at least subdue him. The end.

This movie is completely over the top, which is what it would take to effectively lampoon a Western at a time when so many of them were already silly to begin with. The structure of this film, at least from the time Arbuckle enters the bar, closely follows that of a William S. Hart movie. The stranger from out of town proves himself to be tougher than the tough guys, he gets hired (in a twist, he’s hired as the bartender by the sheriff, rather than the other way around), he meets the girl who makes him want to reform, and then the tough guys abuse her and he has to use his skills to rescue her. But, in this case, the story takes place amid a nonstop barrage of ridiculous gags. I only described maybe 25-30% of them in my rather lengthy synopsis above. The first part of the movie, aboard the train, includes some of the most death-defying stunts I’ve seen done on a train, and I kept thinking about the incredible risks Arbuckle and the other actors were taking. A train is hard to stop, once someone falls between two cars!

I can’t ignore the racist depictions of the Indians or the African American character, which does rather taint this movie for the modern viewer. It’s not a defense, but it is important to understand in the context of the “over the top” comedy that Arbuckle is here lampooning racist depictions that were presented seriously at the time, and he’s deliberately pushing them to an extreme. The idea that Indians would try to hunt down a “big fat paleface” for food was supposed to be ridiculous, and also a mockery of the generic “savage” presented in other films of the day. It can’t be seen as any kind of anti-racist critique, however, and watching it is a bit difficult, to say nothing of the use of the black man’s fear for his life to generate laughs. On the other hand, that man happens to be Ernie Morrison, Sr., a great comedian and the father of “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, a personal favorite of mine. This was the kind of work he had to take to show off his skills, and we should not underestimate the hard work and talent he put into his “dancing” and pratfalls.

With all of this in mind, however, there are other things at work which save the film if you can get past those parts. Buster and Roscoe are clearly collaborators in this movie: their roles are nearly equal. Arbuckle is definitely still the star, but Keaton is less of a minor character or inferior and more of a sidekick. He also does some great stunts, including hanging from a chandelier and various pratfalls, and it’s clear Arbuckle thought his work was part of the draw, although I don’t find his name on any contemporary posters, so I guess he wasn’t a star yet. I found watching the two of them work together very enjoyable in this movie.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: George Peters

Starring: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Al St. John, Alice Lake, Ernie Morrison Sr

Run Time: 21 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

On to Washington (1913)

This short clip of newsreel footage gives us a look at a significant event in women’s history – a march on Washington that culminated on the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.

The movie begins with a title card that tells us that 14 “suffragettes” will march from Newark, New Jersey to Washington DC, then shows a series of shots of the march – which appears to have attracted many more than 14 individuals, including many men. We also get a two-shot of the leaders of the march: Rosalie Jones and Elizabeth Freeman. Jones wears a heavy cloak and carries a large walking stick. One shot begins by showing a police escort on horseback, and it’s not clear how many of the people marching are involved, sympathetic, curious, or even hostile to the intent of the march, though no unruliness is depicted. One man waves awkwardly at the camera, possibly indicating a wish not to be photographed (or possibly saying, “hi, Ma!”). It ends suddenly, and might be incomplete.

The event shown here is really the kickoff of the march in Newark, so we don’t see the nation’s capitol or the reported 5000 marchers that turned out on March 3, the day of Wilson’s inauguration. This event represents a shift in American suffrage tactics from attempts to win the vote state-by-state to a national strategy. The two women shown represent the alliance between “respectable” wealthy women (Jones) and working-class activists with a more hard line approach (Freeman). There were counter-protestors, as well as politicians and pundits who spoke against them, but the march was seen as effective in raising awareness and sympathy. Wilson at the time was cautiously supportive of women’s right to vote, but he only really came out in favor after the First World War.

Director: Unknown

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Rosalie Jones, Elizabeth Freeman

Run Time: 1 Min, 20 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

The One-Man Band (1900)

Georges Méliès really shows off in this trick film from early in his career, reproducing himself no less than six times on the screen. The film is light on content, but still an amazing accomplishment in terms of in-camera effects.

The movie begins with a standard proscenium frame; Méliès stands in front of a row of seven chairs. He counts them off for the audience, then sits in each one sequentially. Each time he gets up, an image of him sitting in the chair remains behind. Each seated image magically has a musical instrument in its hand when it appears. These include cymbals, a trombone, a flute, a drum, a violin, and a guitar. The image in the middle has no instrument, but stands on his chair waving a baton. Now all of the Méliès-clones begin playing their instruments, appearing to coordinate and play in time. After a few seconds, they stop, stand up and take a bow. After they take their seats again, the “conductor” image in the center gestures for them to move into the center. The outer images move on top of the inner ones until there is only one image left in the center again. He then makes the chairs disappear with a gesture. He dances around the stage a bit and makes them reappear. Then he banishes the outer chairs until there is just one chair left, which he sits on as a large fan rises up behind him on the stage. He and the chair descend through a trap door. Then he suddenly appears behind the fan and leaps over it, disappearing in a puff of smoke when he hits the stage. The fan then re-descends below the stage and reveals Méliès standing behind it. He steps forward to take a final bow for his magic tricks.

Most of this movie is a pretty standard Méliès magic-show with things whimsically appearing and disappearing, but the main attraction (and the basis of the title of the film) is the part at the beginning where we see seven images of him performing together. This was done, of course, through multiple exposures, and required seven precisely timed takes on the same strip of film. It is quite an accomplishment, maybe all the more impressive to us today who know how it was done than to audiences seeing it for the first time with no knowledge of motion picture photography. If you look carefully, you can see that the multiple images “bounce” up and down a bit, not in sync with each other (it’s especially obvious with the stationary chairs after the Méliès-images have disappeared). I assume that this is because of the natural jiggle of the hand-cranked camera, which would jiggle at different times in each take. When the images stand in front of one another, they tend to be transparent, and the leaping Méliès at the end is also transparent in front of the fan. This is also a function of the multiple exposures. These technical “flaws” in no way lessen the fun or the impressiveness of the film, but they are indications of the hand-crafted, improvisational approach of Méliès’s camera trickery.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès, Georges Méliès, Georges Méliès, Georges Méliès, Georges Méliès, Georges Méliès and Georges Méliès

Run Time: 1 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

The Outlaw and the Child (1911)

This early Western from Essanay shows that Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson’s characters weren’t always unambiguous heroes and also gives us a glimpse of work the Chicago-based company was doing in California even before opening a permanent studio in Niles.

 

Broncho Billy plays the outlaw, and as the movie opens we see him being secured in his cell by the sheriff (Arthur Mackley), arrested for we know not what crimes and awaiting trial. The sheriff heads home to see his five-year old daughter, assuring that we get to see both of the title characters in the first few minutes of the film. She does a cute bit of searching her father until she finds a bag of candy hidden under his hat. Then the sheriff puts her to bed and gets ready to sleep himself. Meanwhile, a confederate has brought Broncho Billy a file so that he can cut through the bars of his cell. He is able to do this in remarkably little screen time, and steals a saddle and horse in order to get out of town. The deputy (Harry Todd) discovers his absence and raises a posse, heading over to the sheriff’s house to rouse him and get him to lead the search. The sheriff leaves his small child alone, and when she wakes, she finds him absent and so goes out to look for him, soon blundering into the desert with her doll. The search is unsuccessful and the sheriff returns home, only to begin a new search for his missing daughter.

 

Meanwhile, the outlaw has made his way into the dessert with a full canteen, but he comes across the prostrate figure of the child. He rushes to her side and revives her with his supply of water, but while he is doing this, his horse wanders off. Now, he must carry the child back to civilization, sacrificing all his water to keep her alive. He brings her right to the door of the sheriff’s house, where the sheriff and his posse all witness his heroism before he expires.

This simple plot works well for a one-reel Western, although there is little subtlety of character or drama. We have to accept that a seasoned outlaw doesn’t know how to keep his horse under control for a couple of minutes while he attends to another concern, and also that the sheriff hasn’t been able to teach his daughter to stay put at night (I assume it’s night, because they were asleep, though the whole movie was clearly shot in broad daylight), but these are pretty minor concessions compared to the enormous coincidences audiences expected in melodrama at the time. I rather expected when the father left the girl alone that Billy would wind up taking her hostage and then having a change of heart, but this story emphasizes his redemption over his crimes. The locations, which were in Los Gatos and Redlands, California, work well for the piece, especially the desert scenes, where I found myself thinking how vast the openness looked behind our actors, while a film crew and safety lay only a few feet away. The filming and editing are pretty standard for 1911, with pretty much all scenes sequential and shot in long shot, so that we can see actors’ entire bodies as they move about the screen. A simple piece of Americana from another era.

Director: G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson

Camera: Unknown

Starring: G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Arthur Mackley, Harry Todd, William A. Russell

Run Time: 15 Min

I have not been able to find this movie available for free on the Internet. If you do, please comment below.

Oh Doctor (1917)

This comedy directed by and starring Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle is also an early vehicle for Buster Keaton, who plays his spoiled and immature son. While a bit rough around the edges, there is some good physical and situational comedy here.

oh-doctorThe movie begins with Arbuckle and his family arriving at the racetrack in their car. Arbuckle puts down an anchor when he parks, and abuses Junior every time he tries to speak. Shortly thereafter, the Vamp (Alice Mann) drives up with her beau, Al St. John. Al gets his jacket caught in the door of the cab and is dragged through a mud puddle as a result. Meanwhile, Alice flirts with Arbuckle, who we now learn is a doctor who needs cash. He tricks his wife into letting him sit near the Vamp, and overhears Al getting a “hot tip” on a horse, so he bets all his money on it. Of course, the horse is a dud and runs the wrong way. His wife is very angry at him for losing their money, and they go home while Buster laughs about “the funny horse that ran the wrong way.”

oh-doctor2The Vamp and Al now formulate a plan to get the expensive necklace they saw Arbuckle’s wife wearing. She calls him and says she has swallowed  can of shoe polish, so Arbuckle agrees to make a house call. Along the way, he sees a man selling a “miracle soap” that will prevent all illness. Worried about losing business, Arbuckle sets his car on automatic and sends it plowing through the crowd, then hands out business cards to the injured spectators. He whistles and the car obediently returns like a dog. Then, he finally goes to the Vamp’s apartment, where he fixes martinis for both of them from the supplies in his doctor’s bag.

oh-doctor1Meanwhile, Al has appeared at Arbuckle’s house pretending to be a patient, and is able to steal the necklace from around the wife’s neck without her noticing. Buster sees him getting away, though, and follows him back to the Vamp’s apartment, calling his mother and letting her know what has happened. Now, Al and the Vamp have to get Arbuckle out of the house, so they send him to a bookie with another hot tip. He puts in the bet, but then goes back. There is a series of comedic close-encounters as Al avoids Arbuckle, Arbuckle avoids his wife, and the wife tries to get back her necklace. Then Arbuckle finds a police uniform in the kitchen and puts on a false mustache, using it to intimidate Al and retrieve the necklace. At this point, Buster shows up with several more policemen, and Arbuckle bluffs his way past them by pretending to arrest his wife. Then he tries to collect his winnings from the bookie, but they all run away at the sight of his uniform. He takes his money anyway, but his wife gets the last word.

oh-doctor4Contrary to his “Old Stoney Face” standard of later years, Keaton in this movie emotes with powerful facial expressions, laughing uproariously and bawling at the slightest provocation. The comedy is a bit more “situational” than most of what we associate with Keaton and Arbuckle, but they both get in plenty of pratfalls as well. Keaton, in particular, does an impressive tumble backwards over a table to land comfortably in a chair. I suspect that Arbuckle (who directed) had told him to cry so frequently, thinking that it would be good comedy, but I found that it made the relationship seem more abusive and less funny. Overall, I wouldn’t rate this as the best work either actor has done: I spent a lot of it waiting to see what Keaton or Al St. John would come up with next. The biggest laugh Arbuckle got from me was when he started handing out business cards to the people he had injured.

oh-doctor3This year marks the 100th anniversary of Buster Keaton’s entry into film comedy, and this blog post marks my entry into the “Buster Keaton Blogathon,” which has been running now for three years. For the next few years, we’ll be able to track Keaton’s development, as we have with Chaplin over the past few. He definitely showed physical ability and screen presence right from the moment he got started, even if he honed and refined his talent as he gained experience. I’m looking forward to getting to know Buster as this project develops.

Now go  check out the other entries in the Blogathon!

buster-blogathon-the-third-1-copyDirector: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: George Peters

Starring: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Al St. John, Alice Mann

Run Time: 21 Min

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

Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken (1901)

This is an early comedy short from Edwin S. Porter, who would become the chief director for Edison Studios in the early twentieth century and the creator of the famous “Great Train Robbery” just a few years later. While this is a far less sophisticated film, it remains interesting as a stage in the development of American film and its celebrated director.

old-maid-having-her-picture-takenWe see a proscenium-style view of the interior of a photographer’s studio, with photo samples on the wall, a full-length mirror, a chair for portraits, and a camera to one side. A woman with a pinched face speaks to the photographer, who leaves her alone after a few seconds. She turns to look at the samples, and the display suddenly crashes to the floor. She then looks and the clock, and its hands suddenly spin crazily before it also comes crashing down. Then she checks her look in the mirror, which seems fine until she holds her fan up to her chin, and then it shatters. The photographer returns to see the destruction, and hastens the woman into the chair, perhaps hoping to avoid further chaos. He poses her, and she once again raises the fan to her chin. Suddenly she is flung back and a moment later a puff of smoke emerges from the camera, which has exploded because of her ugliness.

There are a number of interesting points about this movie. In “The Emergence of Cinema,” Charles Musser reveals that the old maid is actually Gilbert Saroni, a “professional female impersonator,” apparently a vaudeville actor who specialized in ugly women. It’s a reminder of both the fact that early film was largely a male-dominated world and also that camp humor is older than Gay Liberation, though arguably its meaning is different in such a world. On the subject of both gender and sexuality, the Edison catalog ends its description with the line, “The picture finishes up with the old maid tipping back in her chair and losing her balance, displaying a large quantity of fancy lace goods. A sure winner.” This once again emphasizes the degree to which Edison was comfortable appealing to “vulgar” interests in its movies and ad campaigns. The movie is shot in a very typical style for the period, with a single shot from a single angle, with exits and entrances (by the photographer, at least), and a series of effects occurring for real in front of the camera. No camera trickery here: this could have been performed on a stage just as it appears. A final observation is the problematic timing of the explosion: the old maid observably reacts before the camera has exploded, but it never occurred to Porter to do a re-take.

Director: Edwin S. Porter and George S. Fleming

Camera: Unknown, possibly Edwin S. Porter or George S. Fleming

Starring: Gilbert Saroni (or “Sarony”)

Run Time: 1 Min, 20 secs

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

On the Barricade (1907)

Alternate Title: Sur le barricade

This is the last narrative short I have from the collection of Alice Guy movies I’ve been reviewing since March. While most of them have been comedies (the ones with any story at all, that is), this is at least an attempt at a more dramatic, even action-packed movie, with a sentimental ending.

On the BarricadeA young man and his aging mother are eating a meal in a house whose door allows a view into the street. We can see uniformed men rushing by with guns, but the pair continue to eat. An intertitle reminds us that “Even during the revolution, it was necessary to provide for the household.” The young man gets up and takes an empty milk bottle. His mother urges him not to go out, she fears for what will happen if he gets caught in the fighting, but he insists. He goes out and we cut to a shot of some people building a makeshift barricade in the street, using parts of a wagon, bricks, baskets, and barrels. The young man approaches from behind the barricade, and the revolutionaries try to shoo him off, warning that the army is approaching from the other direction, but he says he needs to get milk for his mother (another intertitle), and they let him pass rather than argue further. The barricade keeps going up after he goes through.

Now we see a corner further along, with a large factory in the background. The boy runs up to the corner, and peers around as another group of revolutionaries retreats, forced back by the advancing troops. We see three of them get shot before the others retreat, the boy running along with them. They run down an alley, but the army pursues, and soon we are back at the barricade. The army is shooting down the revolutionaries, and the boy picks up one of their guns, but the soldiers quickly leap the ramshackle affair and take the survivors prisoner. At the officer’s command, hasty firing squad is set up, but the boy pleads to be able to take the milk to his mother, and gives his word to return. The officer grants him permission, and the boy runs off. We see his mother, pacing and fretting at his absence, and then he runs in with the milk. He puts the milk on the counter and hugs his mother, but then he insists he has to go. He goes back out the door and she follows. Meanwhile, the firing squad are finishing off some other captives, and the boy runs up just after one is shot. The officer seems surprised at the boy’s return, but doesn’t hesitate to order his men to take aim. Then the mother runs in front of the guns, and the soldiers refuse to fire at an old woman. She pleads with the officer and even he seems moved, ordering the men to volte-face and sending the boy and woman away free.

On the Barricade1There’s a continuity problem with this movie, in that the boy, coming from his mother’s house, first approaches the barricade from behind, but when he returns to the firing squad, he and his mother approach from the other direction (they exit back in the original direction, walking towards the camera). This doesn’t really make sense, unless he’s running around the block for some reason before coming back, but I don’t know how sensitive a 1907 audience would be to this detail. It would depend largely on how careful theatrical productions were to match exits with entrances. Of all the French movies I’ve seen from this period, this is the first to be set during the revolution of 1789, perhaps the most important event in European history to this time. From that point of view, it’s interesting to think about how Guy went about selecting locations in Paris that would look enough like they did 100+ years earlier to work for the audience – although I’m not certain that the factory with the name painted on the side was likely in 1789. This movie avoids dealing with political questions or the international implications in favor of a small, human story that reminds me of the sort of war movies D.W. Griffith made during his time at Biograph. It’s a bit hard to imagine anyone returning to a firing squad after being allowed to leave unguarded, but this is presumably meant to heighten our sense that the boy is honorable and good, and thus make us identify with him. For me, it doesn’t necessarily work as well as the bizarre comedies where inanimate objects come to life and so forth, but it is an interesting piece.

Director: Alice Guy, possibly with help from Louis Feuillade

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 4 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Ocean Studies (1906)

Alternate Title: Effets de mer

It’s odd to find this simple series of shots of the ocean amidst the movies Alice Guy put out in 1906 – it feels like a reversion to the simple experiments from the “Age of Attractions.” I do suspect that this was also a bit of an experiment, but from what we have, it’s hard to rate its success.

Ocean Studies

We see three images of the ocean breaking against rocks at the shore, edited together in sequence. The first is so close that it could almost be a river. The second is a slow pan back and forth along the coast – this gives us the clearest perspective of the location. And the final image appears to be a reversal of the first, again focusing on the rocks without the horizon visible. The movie includes no human figures or narrative of any kind.

I’m inclined to read this as an attempt at “visual poetry,” but it’s hard to say. For one thing, as it stands, we have the images, but there could have been more to this movie. Possibly Guy released it with narration, which would have been read aloud as it ran by an exhibitor. Or, possibly this wasn’t even intended for release – maybe she was testing a new camera or taking shots she intended to use later in some other way, but they were found in Gaumont’s cellars and included in this set. The title “Ocean Studies,” made me expect something scientific, but as soon as I saw it I realized they meant “study” as a painter would use the term: a study of the ocean. It’s worth noting that by this time Guy had brought on a new assistant, Louis Feuillade, who would write “manifestos” of film as art and try some interesting work along those lines as well, so it’s possible that he influenced this anomalous movie as well.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 1 Min, 40 secs

You can watch it for free: here.