Excuse the bossy title but “I think you’ll really enjoy them because they surprised and delighted me” seemed a bit long. But that’s the gist of this post. I think 1910s cinema needs more love but pre-1910 is even more of a graveyard sometimes, except for Melies and some Edison. Well, let’s change that! Here are five films from the era that I think are worth your time.
Confession: This was nearly a 100% British list but I decided to be fair and try to balance things out for a more international flavor. And, of course, nothing wrong with loving Melies or Edison under the direction of Edwin S. Porter, I am just encouraging a broader diet.
The X-Rays (1897)
A delightful mini comedy from George Albert Smith, this film plays with the then-new technology of x-rays and takes their see through abilities to their logical conclusion. Less than a minute long, this charming film still features a fun trick shot and clever costuming.
Wonderful Absinthe 1899
Wonderful indeed, this little gag film shows off the humor of Alice Guy, one of the world’s first film directors. It takes a familiar everyday act, diluting a glass of absinthe, and escalates matters into a seltzer attack. It’s no epic but it never pretends to be, just good, modern Belle Epoque fun.
The ‘?’ Motorist (1906)
A motoring couple are pulled over for speeding, so they naturally run over the cop and escape into outer space. Subversive and hilarious, this trick film from R.W. Paul is a don’t-miss bit of silent sci-fi.
Available on DVD as part of The Movies Begin box set but also released in the R.W. Paul collection put out by the BFI. It’s a region 2 disc so you will want to make sure that you have a player that can handle the task.
Princess Nicotine (1909)
Miniature, tobacco-obsessed fair folk declare war on a smoker when he disturbs their antics. Innovative special effects and a saucy sense of humor make this Vitagraph production a real winner. Bonus: A solid gold performance from a young Gladys Hulette.
Released on DVD as part of the out-of-printTreasures from American Film Archives box set with a piano score. The contents of that set are now available for legal viewing, including Princess Nicotine. The film is also included in the Wild and Weird setwith a score by the Alloy Orchestra.
One of the building blocks of Italy’s dominance of the historical epic, Luigi Maggi’s biopic of Rome’s most infamous musician is also a grand bit of entertainment, both lively and entertaining.
Released on DVD as part of Kino Lorber’s The Movies Beginbox set.