I’ve been enjoying my century-and-a-quarter rewinds that I decided to do another one this year and what a year 1897 was!
First of all, 1897 was the year of the earliest confirmed feature-length film. The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight was a full boxing match, early pay-per-view. It was also advantageous because prizefighting was very much the subject of Gilded Age culture wars in the United States and was banned in certain areas. Filmed matches were a way to evade those bans. (I dig a little into the view of boxing in America at the time in my review of Who’s Who. It can be broadly compared to the view of alcohol: widely popular but clamors for bans with heavily political and religious overtones.)
1897 also marked the beginning of sincere attempts to censor and ban films deemed improper for the general public. While The Kiss (1896) is widely viewed as the first censored film, it was actually rather uncontroversial and the public at large was enchanted with the brand new projected motion pictures.
The year also marked the possible beginning of advertising films with Admiral Cigarette being one of the earliest examples. The cigarette brand used its signature showgirl spokesmodel in military dress to advertise its product.
Speaking of showgirls…
But seriously, efforts to keep paying audiences interested in the motion picture phenomenon led to some rather lurid pictures– those censors weren’t entirely tilting at windmills– and both crime and women’s ankles drew eyeballs to movie shows and the older, still-popular peepshow machines. This month, I will primarily be focusing on this aspect of 1897’s output: the many ways filmmakers used shock and scandalous material to satisfy their audience.
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