Friday, October 10, 2008


MacNab's Visit to London
GB 1905. P+D+star: Arthur Melbourne-Cooper. Print: BFINA, 310 ft /16 fps/ 4 min, no intertitles. - Print from worn material.
The Motor Pirate
[title on print was Motor Pirates or Modern Pirates]. GB 1906. P+D+star: Arthur Melbourne-Cooper. Print: BFINA, 483 ft /16 fps/ 8 min. No intertitles.
Tjitte de Vries: "One of the problems of making a selection from the films made by British film pioneer Arthur Melbourne-Cooper (1874-1961) is that he sold his films to distributors, preferring to use all his time for making films. However, there are still enough films that can be credited to him. One of these is The Motor Pirate (1906), also known as The Modern Pirates or (in a 1911 reissue) The Raid of the Armoured Motor.
This is considered an early science-fiction picture. A futuristic armoured car roams around rustic country roads, scooping up all the chickens from a farm, attacking and killing people, and swallowing up a policeman who tries to stop it. While driving on a narrow road, one of the pirates jumps onto a young couple’s open car, robs them of all their valuables, and salutes them courteously when he jumps back into the armoured car.
In scenes closely resembling later Keystone Kops capers, a motor car drives out of a garage, with policemen jumping on it, and some of them falling off, in a chase after the pirate car which ends in an explosion in a pond. It is quite possible that former Keystone Kop Eddie LeVeque, in Walter Wagner’s book You Must Remember This (New York: Putnam, 1975), had this film in mind when he said that Mack Sennett didn’t originate the Keystone Kops but derived them from French pictures. Cooper, according to Denis Gifford’s The British Film Catalogue, sold The Motor Pirate to Gaumont.
The two pirates were played by Cooper’s brother Hubert and by a young Dutchman, Anton Nöggerath Junior. The roads from St. Albans to Shenley, Bell Lane and Shenley Lane, are still recognizably there. The pub at the waterside splash in Colney Heath, where the armoured car attacks a police car, also still exists. The trademark of Cooper’s Alpha Trading Company is painted above the skull-and-crossbones on the machine-gun turret.
Cooper himself can be seen most actively in a slapstick comedy in the best future Mack Sennett tradition, MacNab’s Visit to London (1905), in which he plays the lead of Scotsman MacNab, a golf enthusiast dressed in a kilt. This picture gives us examples of his special kind of humour, with which he satirizes the then-new fashion of playing golf. There is even a joke in the typical English slapstick tradition of television series like Spitting Image and Absolutely Fabulous, when the public’s curiosity gets teased about what a Scotsman might wear under his kilt, when MacNab, in his golfing frenzy, has it torn off him by his hostess. In Cooper’s case it was a decent pair of boxing shorts. In 1905, when a woman’s ankle was still taboo, this scene was almost salacious. Playing opposite Cooper are Ruby Vivian and Letty Forsythe as his hostesses and Norman Reckitt as his cousin. William Hogg is the porter who gets a handshake from the thrift-conscious Scotsman in stead of a tip.
Since the stimulating FIAF congress in Brighton in 1978, we have been able to establish a filmography of slightly more than 300 film titles which we can indisputably attribute to Cooper with evidence from a number of sources. A list of these titles is given as an appendix to our forthcoming book, They Thought It Was a Marvel. Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, Pioneer of Stop-Motion Pictures (Amsterdam: Filmmuseum/University Press), which is a study of the 36 puppet and cartoon films made by Cooper from 1897 until 1930. (...)" – Tjitte de Vries - The MacNab film may be an early parody of golf, and it has interesting links with Laurel & Hardy, both Putting Pants on Philip, a foundation film of the duo, and Should Married Men Go Home? (their golf parody). - The futuristic car of The Motor Pirate still elicits a good laugh.

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