Monday, October 06, 2008

The Evidence of the Film

US 1913. PC: Thanhouser. D: Edwin Thanhouser, Lawrence Marston; cast: William Garwood (broker), Marie Eline (messenger boy), Florence LaBadie (sister), Riley Chamberlin (clerk); 1000 ft /16 fps/ 14'30", print: LoC, original English intertitles, e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Gabriel Thibaudeau. Viewed at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, Cinema Verdi, 6 October 2008. - Moving Picture World: "A girl who worked in the joining room of a motion picture factory had a little brother of whom she was very fond. He visited the plant one day, and saw from “the inside” how pictures were made. The youngster was a messenger boy, and later he was summoned to the office of a broker and given a package that he was to deliver to a rich woman uptown. The woman received the package herself, opened it in his presence, but found only bits of blank paper, instead of the bonds she had expected. At first she suspected the broker, but he clearly proved that, in the presence of two witnesses, he had placed the bonds in an envelope, and carefully sealed them up. The messenger boy protested his innocence, but the woman and broker both insisted that he be prosecuted, and the weeping child was locked in a cell. A sister pleaded with his accuser, but in vain, and for several days the case against the boy was dark. One morning while joining film the girl happened to glance with extra care at one scene. She thought she recognized her brother, and close examination under a microscope proved to her that she was correct.
With a cry of joy she rushed to the police station and told the officers in charge that she had important evidence. Two detectives accompanied her back to the plant, and saw a scene of a play thrown upon the screen. It revealed the messenger boy, package in his hand, coming around the corner, whistling merrily. A man close behind him ran into and upset the child, deftly substituted a package he held for the one the boy had dropped, and then walked down the street so rapidly that he did not notice the camera. “Don’t you know that man?” screamed the girl. “He is the broker who had my brother sent to prison.” The broker was arrested; when the evidence of the film was displayed to him he broke down and confessed. He had hoped by throwing the blame upon the boy to keep the bonds to himself. A long term in prison was his punishment, while the plucky girl was warmly complimented for the shrewd way in which she cleared her little brother." (Moving Picture World, 11 January 1913)
David Robinson: "The surviving print of The Evidence of the Film was discovered in 1999 in the projection booth of a Montana cinema; two years later it was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. The idea of a misdemeanor being captured and exposed by the motion picture camera was not new. Hepworth's The Tell-Tale Film (1908) and Feuillade's Erreur tragique (1912) were stories - respectively farcical and dramatical - of spouses caught on film in compromising circumstances. In Starewich's animated The Cameraman's Revenge (1913) the betrayed spouse himself films the wife's infidelity; and titles like Indiscretions of the Kinematograph (1908) and Indiscretion of Moving Picture (19o9) suggest other stories in the same line. Even the idea of the ensnaring visual technology was by no means novel (...)
The Evidence of the Film has other points of special interest however. It is well made, revealing (as Edwin W. Thanhouser has pointed out) the influence at this juncture of D.W. Griffith upon Thanhouser's directors: one of the jobs he was to assume on leaving Biograph in 1913 was as consultant to Thanhouser. The subject permitted the company a good deal of incidental publicity, profiting from the positively benign influence of the film exemplified by the plot. In case we might have any doubt about the identity of the film unit which is conveniently shooting on location in the very spot of the crime, the big insert close-ups of the incriminating film frames have the name 'Thanhouser' boldly marked on the edge. And the cutting rooms - notably staffed entirely by women - provide the setting for the crucial scene of the film. Q. David Bowers' encyclopaedic history of Thanhouser states that the opening of the film originally showed the sister giving the little boy an instructional tour of the studio. (...)" David Robinson. - A fascinating meta-film.

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