Friday, October 10, 2008


Attack on a China Mission - Bluejackets to the Rescue - see Brighton programme 3
[A Photograph Taken from Our Area Window] [A Study in Feet]
GB 1901. PC: G.A. Smith / Warwick Trading Company. D: G.A. Smith. Orig. l: 100 ft. Print: BFINA, 35mm blowup from 17.5mm Biokam, 44 ft /16 fps/ 0'45", no intertitles
Barry Salt: "The effects of the 1978 Brighton conference of FIAF on film historiography were not just due to the fiction films made between 1900 and 1906 that were shown there. The contributing film archives also sent any unidentified films they possessed that they thought might have been made in the period. The smaller the archive, the more optimistic their attributions. There were even a couple of films clearly made in the 1920s that were viewed. The participants at the conference screenings quickly developed an eye for the stylistics that indicate the date of manufacture of an early film, and soon a jolly shouted chorus of “Later” greeted all the films that were out of bounds.
But for myself and others, some of the most revelatory films shown were the many Pathé films made in the next couple of years after 1906. It was clear that these films had a major role in polishing and diffusing the basic features of film continuity established around 1900 by George Albert Smith and James Williamson. The films of latter duo did get a showing at Brighton, but some of them were still undiscovered at the time. Much the most important of these is James Williamson’s Attack on a China Mission Station. One shot from this film, which was all that was believed to exist, was shown at Brighton, but subsequently it was discovered that almost the complete film was in the Imperial War Museum collection. When I saw a print of this copy, it was obvious that it had been tampered with at some time, and the order of two of the shots in it reversed. The well-known single shot version was clearly an unedited “rush” print of one of the shots of the film, as various people had speculated. What was less obvious was that the unedited shot contained a little more footage at its beginning and end than appeared in the nearly complete version. So I used this shot to make up a reconstructed version of the film, with the other shots put into their right order as well. More details on the film can be found in my article “Cut and Shuffle” in Cinema: The Beginnings and the Future, edited by Christopher Williams and published by the University of Westminster in 1996. (This article is also included in my book Moving Into Pictures, published by Starword in 2006, and the film itself can be seen on the BFI DVD Early Cinema – Primitives and Pioneers.)
The more often I see this film, the more remarkable it seems. Besides the continuous action running through its four shots, which are shot at different angles to the area of action, there is also the division of one of the takes into two parts, which are spliced into separate parts of the finished film. This is real film editing, and James Williamson did it for the first time in 1900.
The George Albert Smith films that have re-appeared since Brighton don’t reveal any major new discoveries, but it is good to have his A Photograph Taken from Our Area Window of 1901. This is one fixed set-up showing a set representing the view through the window in a semi-basement room. A frame from the film is illustrated on page 37 of John Barnes’ The Beginnings of the Cinema in England 1894-1901, Volume 5: 1900. Through the window can be seen the footpath outside, with the legs of passing people. Various incidents are suggested, mostly flirtatious, purely by the interaction of the feet of the people. This notion, which probably comes from acts in the variety theatre of the time using a partially raised curtain, was expanded through a string of subsequent films over the next two decades." – Barry Salt. - Just the feet tell the story, much like the hands and feet only star in the Jacques Feyder short Des pieds et des mains seen earlier during the Festival.

No comments: