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Friday, June 21, 2013


A Way-Back Ride: The Ambassador's Daughter (1913)

Two Dramas At Once, and It's Up To Us To Absorb Both
Watched three Edison shorts last night that were each one hundred years old. It's easy to file (and forget) such antiquity as "Archive Interest Only," but hanged if I'm not drawn by these relics to a point of watching for pleasure. Is it backwash of Biographs checked out of our local library at age fourteen? Half those reels were reading, Blackhawk intro titles to explain history involved. There were oldsters too still around (1968-69) who'd seen filmic pyramids when built. Now they're gone and nothing but cold written words are left to testify on movies at dawn --- well, that plus survivor pix like The Ambassador's Daughter, derived off 35mm MOMA elements and available from Kino in a terrific Edison set. There's belief afoot, for too long, that film so old has just got to be crude and primitive. Looking at The Ambassador's Daughter humbled me proper as to such notion, being quite sophisticated for telling a story unfolded on multiple levels of interacting folks, it being a challenge (but rewarding) just to keep up with them.

Stolen Secrets That Could Compromise a Nation!

A Search For The Missing Document In The Foreground,
While Action In The Background Reveals Where It Is
Action in The Ambassador's Daughter reminded me of multiplane in Fleischer cartoons. Everyone's on a set you could call cramped, but situated at differing levels from fore to background, each up to something that advances the plot. Given but fourteen minutes to tell the tale makes close watching essential, and it won't do to ignore what goes on behind center-placed participants. That density is something I tend to forget after being away a while from silent shorts. Patronage must have well trained by 1913 to hawk-watch every corner of frames presented to them. Did swishing camerawork and quick-time edits introduced later slow our ability to pick up narrative cues? Early films, and their audiences, might be many outmoded things, but they weren't lazy or spoon-fed, like we've perhaps become.

Miscreants Celebrate Theft Of The Document, But Wait ...

... The Intrepid Heroine Listens From Without!
How focused could viewers be in a storefront nickel house where stiff-back opera chairs (if that) were what you sat on and air was set on fetid. I'm betting they paid closer mind to action on the screen just to keep minds off all that. Theatres might well have gotten too comfortable in years to come, what with A/C, rocker chairs, iced refreshment and butter corn. Movies too complex got traded for half-sleep, or conversation. Patronage now look at palm-held screens or carry on talk w/o regard to the show or neighbor patrons, so you could ask, why bother coming in at all? Kino's Edison box really takes us back to early in the last century unplugged, shorts loaded with street scenes, high hats, people coping with snow, horses passing horseless carriages, the works. Print quality is uniformly amazing. Watch these and dispel notions of earliest film looking lousy. Many who preserved MOMA content, plus other historian/scholars, are interviewed. Edison --- The Invention Of The Movies: 1891-1918 is a must-have DVD set.

1 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers the Edison shorts, and D.W. Griffith at Biograph:


Many years ago, I attended a showing at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia of a number of Biograph shorts directed by D. W. Griffith. The titles included "A Corner in Wheat" and the "The Musketeers of Pig Alley," and given that they were the efforts by which the master honed his skills and established his reputation, they were probably rather better than the Edisons you saw. What they probably shared in common, however, was a strong moral perspective and an understanding of human nature. I can appreciate, then, why you found yourself turning to the Edison shorts with pleasure, for these are the elements of any interesting story. It's curious that, a century on from when these films were made, so many film makers today seem unaware of the importance of these qualities. It is at least a comment on our times.!



Daniel

7:29 PM  

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