Saturday, October 06, 2012

The earliest Charles Dickens movies

Charles Dickens 1: Le prime prove / Early Essays - I watched just the first two movies of this programme. Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Philip C. Carli, 6 Oct 2012.

THE DEATH OF POOR JOE (G.A. Smith, GB 1900?/1901?). D: G.A. Smith; C: Tom Green, Laura Bayley; 35 mm, 73 ft., 1'13" (16 fps); print source: BFI National Archive, London. No intertitles.

Michael Eaton: "On the very week of the Dickens bicentenary in February 2012 Bryony Dixon, Curator of Silent Film at the BFI, made an intuitive leap to connect a film in the BFI National Archive labelled “Man Meets a Ragged Boy” with “The Death of Poor Joe”, a production never previously considered as Dickensian but which was a title listed in a 1901 catalogue of films for the Biokam, “a combined camera/projector for the amateur market using 17.5mm film issued for sale by the Warwick Trading Company”. Dixon writes: “The film, filmed outdoors, is set against a backdrop depicting the long wall and iron gates of a churchyard. A night watchman passes, shining his lamp in the snow. Poor Jo (spelled ‘Joe’ in the catalogue title) the crossing sweeper walks along with his broom.” She instantly recognized the Watchman as Tom Green and the Poor Boy as Laura Bayley, wife of the Brighton pioneer G.A. Smith and “a notable pantomime performer” on the Brighton stage. Tom Green was also a regular in Smith’s films. “There are similarities to the death of Jo in Bleak House (with) the churchyard setting where Jo has collapsed,” though this film “conflates the Dickens story other stories such as Hans Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, who freezes in the snow but is comforted by visions of light and warmth.”"

"So can this significant discovery really be claimed as the earliest Dickens film? Yes and No. Clearly, it doesn’t exactly recreate a scenene from Bleak House. But it does replicate the iconography of “Jo  the Crossing Sweeper”, already established on the stage by the “burlesque boy” Jennie Lee in the adaptation by her husband J.P. Burnett, entitled simply “Jo” and first performed in February 1876. Her depiction with cropped hair, dressed in rags, and, of course, carrying the broom, was praised by Charles Dickens Junior as “thoroughly admirable and genuinely pathetic”. Most subsequent  theatrical versions of one of Dickens’s greatest works exploited Miss Lee’s success, with titles such as “Move On, or Jo the Outcast”, “Poor Little Jo”, “Jo the Waif, or The Mystery of Chesney Wold”. And Jennie Lee revived her celebrated performance in May 1896, shortly before Smith’s film was made." – MICHAEL EATON

AA: A brief sketch reminiscent of Jo the crossing sweeper in Charles Dickens's Bleak House. Discovering the ragged boy collapsed in the snow, caught in the spotlight of the night watchman's lamp, the boy dying upon discovery. Cardboard sets, primitive performances, a long take. 

MR. PICKWICK’S CHRISTMAS AT WARDLE’S (R.W. Paul, GB 1901). D: R.W. Paul; 35 mm, 140 ft., 2'20" (16 fps); print source: Filmoteca Española, Madrid. No intertitles.

Michael Eaton: "In 1899 R.W. Paul made two 100-foot films from Dickensian scenenes, Mister Bumble the Beadle and Mister Pickwick’s Christmas at Wardle’s, both of which were thought to be lost. However, an almost-complete print of the latter has been found in Madrid and will receive its public premiere at Pordenone. This is a really significant discovery for the filmography of Paul as well as for Dickensian cinema. This scenene from The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club derives from the first extended treatment the young Dickens wrote of the yuletide season, with which he will forever be associated." – MICHAEL EATON

AA: This sketch based on The Pickwick Papers is actually a funny dance movie. When the distinguished guests arrive the dance music on the piano is started, and everybody joins in the dance. A long shot, a long take, a duped look.

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