Friday, October 10, 2008


US 1904. PC: Biograph. D: Wallace McCutcheon. D: G.W. Bitzer. Print: LoC, 16mm, 187 ft /16 fps/ 8 min, no intertitles
How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through The New York Herald "Personal" Column
US 1904. PC: Edison. D: Edwin S. Porter. Print: LoC, 35mm, 675 m /16 fps/ 11 min, one English title at the beginning
Meet Me at the Fountain
US 1904. PC: Lubin. Print: LoC, 35mm, 385 ft /16 fps/ 7 min, no intertitles
André Gaudreault: "As far as production is concerned, 1904 and 1905 are the years when the chase film came on the scene, a genre that would play a key role in the evolution of what we call “film form.” The critical importance of the chase film to the development of filmic expression lies in the fact that its basic storyline required the use of editing and that it encouraged filmmakers to conceive of animated views as a series of juxtaposed tableaux. Although the chase film is in some respects a fundamentally attractional genre, it is just as much an essentially narrative genre, telling a rudimentary story: what is an early chase film, in the end, if not the narration of a series of attractions? The chase film, historically speaking, was probably the ideal genre for moving from a paradigm in which attraction was the principal element around which views were conceived and produced to a paradigm in which narration took over.
In the chase film of the period an initial shot shows an event that sets the chase in motion, and the tableaux that follow almost invariably show the same action: a character (or sometimes several characters) runs toward the camera (and thus toward the viewer) and then leaves our field of vision, at which point several (rarely just one) characters appear in the background in pursuit, following the same route. This is how the most famous of these films, Personal (Biograph, 1904), unfolds.
In Personal, the chase extends over eight shots basically showing the same thing: a man running away from a group of women chasing after him. For this accumulation of shots to contribute something on the narrative level, it would have to advance the action. But here, it is not the action that advances (there are no new developments), it is the characters who advance (literally, as the chase proceeds). The filmprovides the viewer with a series of “acts,” each one as spectacular as the last. With Personal we are still closer to the tableau than we are to the shot. For there to be “shots”, there have to be “fragments”; the film has to be assembled out of bits and pieces. None of the segments here is a fragment: each is an independent tableau, containing and conveying a self-sufficient micro-narrative.
Personal also has the honor of being the film that inspired the most remakes in a brief period of several months. The first one of those is How a French Nobleman Got a Wife through the New York Herald “Personal” Columns, made by Edwin S. Porter just a few weeks after the release of the Biograph film. Some of the shots in this remake were even made in the same locations as the original film, such as Grant’s Tomb on Riverside Drive, New York, where in both versions the man meets the women responding to his ad. Porter didn’t even try to distinguish his film from the Biograph film. All the Edison company wanted to do with this film was to create a cheap copy of a competitor’s latest hit and to add it to their own sales catalogue. Not surprisingly Biograph dragged the Edison company before the courts, making it the (pur)sued in this legal chase. By initiating a court battle, Biograph was trying to convince lawmakers to regulate the practice. This” lawsuit had immediate effect: Lubin took a certain number of precautions in order to avoid legal problems. Two weeks after the release of his own version of the film, under the title A New Version of Personal, he decided to rename the film Meet Me at the Fountain and to add a supplementary scene of 75 feet in length, in order to head off possible lawsuits." – André Gaudreault. - A foundation film and two immediate remakes. It is surprising to see how close the imitations are to the model. The same chase idea was even the basis for Buster Keaton's Seven Chances.

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