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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Dr. Wise On Influenza (1919)

Dr. Wise On Influenza is a public information film, commissioned by the Ministry Of Health in 1919, to help make the population of Britain realise how dangerous the Spanish Flu was, and how important it was for everyone to try and minimise their chances of spreading it to others.

And so Dr. Wise (above) delivers a lecture, intercut with dramatised events, showing how you (yes, YOU!) can help save the lives of others, much of which now seems horrifyingly relevant now (although I’m pretty sure no-one really needs to follow the bit about gargling some vast array of chemicals).

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI Player

2. And have posted this review of it now for fairly obvious reasons

3. Which I am sure are readily apparent

4. (Please everyone do not die)

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Film Information

Title: Dr. Wise On Influenza
Year: 1919
Duration: 20 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Wooden Athelete (1912)

The Wooden Athelete is a stop motion animation from 1912, depicting various acrobatic events in a small puppet circus, and I found this five-minute long cartoon, directed by Arthur Melbourne Cooper, almost entirely delightful.

Though the puppets are fairly simplistic, and the sets almost non-existent, there’s a real joy in every scene of this, and some pretty good jokes, too. I loved it.

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI player once again.

2. The whole thing is strangely risque, too, as the presence of clothing on some of the audience members at the beginning suggest this entire circus perform their routines 100% nude.

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Film Information

Title: The Wooden Athelete
Director: Arthur Melbourne Cooper
Year: 1912
Duration: 5 minutes
Watch: BFI player; youtube

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Acrobatic Fly (1910) / Birth Of A Flower (1910)

The Acrobatic Fly and Birth Of A Flower are two films released in 1910 by the brilliant nature film and stop-motion pioneer F. Percy Smith (whose incredible To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly I watched and reviewed previously).

The Acrobatic Fly was a part of an ongoing series of similarly themed short films, in which F. Percy Smith decided to use stop motion to make it look like insects were engaged in a series of pointless acrobatic displays.

I’m not entirely sure why, but I found this fairly disconcerting (presumably because of the use of real flies nailed to a pole).

I much preferred Birth Of A Flower. This film is a series of time lapse sequences, showing flowers opening up their petals into full bloom, and it’s really quite beautiful. Of course, watching it now, these sequences aren’t anything we haven’t seen before (although they’re still beautiful staged), but I expect a hundred and ten years ago footage like this would have been a pretty wonderful novelty.

Although maybe not as much of a commercial success as flies carrying dumbbells.
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Notes

1. I watched these both on youtube – The Acrobatic Fly here, and Birth Of A Flower here

2. That version of Birth Of A Flower is only an extract, but it’s been soundtracked by some Erik Satie music, so I preferred that version to the full version

3. Which can be viewed here

4. But which unfortunately has a fairly ugly watermark ruining it, unfortunately.

5. If you’d like to know more about F. Percy Smith, this Atlas Obscura article is pretty wonderful

6. And well worth your time.

7. This BFI article about Birth of A Flower is also interesting (but a lot shorter).
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Film Information

Title: The Acrobatic Fly
Director: F. Percy Smith
Year: 1910
Duration: 3 minutes
Watch: youtube

Title: Birth Of A Flower
Director: F. Percy Smith
Year: 1910
Duration: 7 minutes
Watch: youtube (extract only); youtube (full version)

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Pirates Of 1920 (1911)

Pirates Of 1920 is a (partially incomplete) science fiction film from 1911 directed by Dave Aylott and A.E. Coleby, set in the terrifying far future of 1920, where a group sky pirates roam the world causing fairly slow havoc in their zeppelin, robbing cruise liners and stealing beautiful women from their husbands-to-be.

This future is 100 years old!

Anyway, I like the use of tints in different scenes, which is used to good effect, with blue for the night time scenes and an ominous red for an explosion (the model effects are great, too).

I also really liked this strangely specific not the sky pirates prisoner dropped out of the airship in an attempt to get help in her escape.

Unfortunately the film itself is a bit generic, and as the last five minutes of it have been lost, none of us will ever know if Jack Manley, our excellently named hero, successfully saves our plucky heroine from those dastardly pirates in the end or not.

But we can hope and we can dream.

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI Player here

2. There’s loads of things called Pirates of 1920 on youtube, but none of them actually seem to be this, for some reason.

3. The use of tinting in this reminded me of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1916 version), which I saw a few years ago, and which had different tints depending on whether scenes were set underwater, on Captain Nemo’s submarine, or outside, an so on.

4. I saw that version with a live soundtrack by the band Fishclaw, and it was really great.

5. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find any snippets of their soundtrack anywhere

6. And also I can’t find whatever tinted version of the film they showed anywhere either, with every version on youtube or wherever in boring old permanent black and white.

7. Anyway, I enjoyed 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea very much and might watch it again soon.

8. Especially as I’m pretty sure it was while watching that that I decided to make this website.

9. And then took 4 years to actually get round to doing it.

10. But now I have, so everything is okay.
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Film Information

Title: Pirates Of 1920
Director: Dave Aylott and A.E. Coleby
Year: 1911
Duration: 17 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902) / Mister Moon (1901)

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (or, A Trip To The Moon), directed by Georges Melies in 1902, is perhaps the most well-known of all early films, especially the image of the moon with a spaceship in its eye.

I’ve always quite liked the way that the conventions, limitations and constraints of early film-making led to a similarity in style and appearance to early computer games (especially adventure games), which were the result of a very different set of technical problems, but which utilised very similar solutions.

So here you get static single screen sets with lavishly painted backgrounds, through which the characters move one scene at a time (such as the two images immediately below).

Partly this would have been due to the limitations/difficulties of the filming process itself (movement juddering, smooth camera control, re-focusing, etc), partly for stylistic reasons (the recreation of a theatre-style viewpoint) and also because of the cost, size and other logistical problems in the making, building and staging of sets.

These are evoked, in a way, by the static pre-rendered screens of something like Dizzy or Monkey Island, which allowed for a much higher graphical detail at the expense of screen movement/scrolling, the number of moving characters/enemies, and so on.

The more obvious lineage, of course, is that of Le Voyage Dans La Lune’s imagery being referenced and replicated in the 120 years since in everything from subsequent HG Wells and Jules Verne adaptations, to Tintin and Flash Gordon (the crashed spaceship and the hopping Selenite are very similar to the initial landing scene and the strange green monster that gets incinerated a bit later in the 1980s version), right the way up to The Smashing Pumpkins (I’ve often wondered if that video was the creation-myth of steampunk).

When they return to Earth, the scene where they crash into the sea is very similar to the corresponding scene in The Automatic Motorist, even down to the newts swimming about.

(I’d noticed the more obvious homages to this in The “?” Motorist and The Automatic Motorist when I watched them, but had missed this one)

I also watched Mister Moon, a 1 minute promotional video for the musical hall star Percy Henri’s comedy act, filmed in 1901, and which also features a terrifying human-faced moon (and nothing else at all, in this case).

Unsurprisingly, I found this utterly terrifying.

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Notes

1. I watched both of these on the BFI player again – Le Voyage Dans La Lune; Mister Moon.

2. The crashed spaceship image from A Trip To The Moon is one I’ve, erm, well, stolen repeatedly over the years, although I’ve not yet resorted to moons with faces, thankfully.

3. I didn’t realise the BFI player was region locked to the UK, so I’ll try to add alternate links to things I’ve watched from now on

4. If I can

5. Although you might well have been glad of the chance to not see the full horror of Mister Moon, to be honest.

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Film Information

Title: Le Voyage Dans La Lune
Director: Georges Melies
Year: 1902
Duration: 12 minutes
Watch: BFI; youtube

Title: Mister Moon
Director: Percy Honri
Year: 1901
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI; youtube

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Animated Putty (1911)

Animated Putty is a short demonstration of stop motion/claymation effects from 1911, directed by “trick” film specialist WR Booth. It consists entirely of a number of sequences where some lumps of putty roll around slowly forming themselves into intricate shapes and models, and it’s brilliant.

There’s two incredible scenes here. The first is one where a windmill builds itself from scratch, and then slowly creates its own sails as it spins. The second is where the pretty figure of a woman transforms into and utterly horrifying demonic gargoyle, which then proceeds to vomit up further gargoyles until we all scream.

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Notes

1. I watched this on the BFI site here.

2. WR Booth also directed ‘The “?” Motorist’ (1906) and ‘The Automatic Motorist’ (1911), both of which I reviewed here.

3. One of the first cartoons I made when I first got a 3DS was a little plasticine worm.

4. Which would have been obsolete a full century before.

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Film Information

Title: Animated Putty
Director: WR Booth
Year: 1911
Duration: 4 minutes

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Suspense (1913)

Suspense is a brisk ten-minute long home-invasion thriller, directed by Lois Weber, an acclaimed and prolific pioneer in early cinema, the majority of whose work has largely, unfortunately, been lost.

Technically groundbreaking both in its use of split screen and the staging of its scenes (it’s hard to imagine how difficult the wing mirror car chase scene must have been to stage with an impossibly huge and cumbersome 1910s camera rig), Suspense is also beautifully filmed.

There are a number of shots that are pretty much perfectly composed, despite over a century of being referenced, re-used (or just plain stolen) elsewhere potentially diluting their impact for people like us watching it now.

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Notes

1. I watched this on youtube, on the Change Before Going Productions channel.

2. I really like the soundtrack they’ve added to this, composed by the artist Robbie Kaye.

3. This film is often described as Hitchcockian, although maybe we should respect causality at least vaguely and decide that it’s his films that should be termed Weberian.

4. I can’t say I’m a great fan of the slightly reactionary nature of the plot, but it’s not as if we’ve moved onto anything much more thoughtful in the century since.

5. Thanks again to Vom Vorton for recommending this film to me.

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Film Information

Title: Suspense
Director: Lois Weber
Year: 1913
Duration: 10 minutes
Related Articles: Lois Weber (bfi); Four Daring Films By Lois Weber (open culture); Lois Weber (bbc)

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Fantasmagorie (1908) / Le cauchemar de Fantoche (1908) / Un drame chez les fantoches (1908)

Fantasmagorie, Le cauchemar de Fantoche (The Puppet’s Nightmare) and Un drame chez les Fantoches (The Puppet’s Drama) are three early animated films, all directed by the groundbreaking Emile Cohl, a French artist and animator who was once a member of the Incoherents art movement, an excellently named precursor of the Surrealists.

Both Fantasmagorie (pictured above) and Le cauchemar de Fantoche (pictured below) are essentially a constant stream of visual improvisations, as the simple stick figures and line drawings transform and morph unpredictably through a series of surrealist imagery and interactions for a couple of minutes. They’re utterly wonderful.

That same year, Emile Cohl followed these up with Un drame chez les fantoches, a slightly more complex cartoon, in terms of plot, at least, in that it actually has a story. Unfortunately, it loses something in terms of the sheer energy and imagination of his first two, although it still has a couple of nice sequences in it, too (like the wonderful snake, shown below, which looks fairly like the sort of creature I like to draw).

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Notes

1. I watched all of these on youtube – Fantasmagorie here, Le cauchemar de Fantoche here, and Un drame chez les fantoches here.

2. Although Fantasmagorie is often said to be the first fully animated film, I’m pretty sure the “fully animated” distinction is added only so everyone can talk about this rather than the deadeningly awful Humorous Phases Of Funny Faces, which was directed a couple of years earlier by J. Stuart Blackton.

3. And which Fantasmagorie is clearly inspired by.

4. It’s strange how many early cartoons had to have a bit showing the illustrators hands drawing the first image at the start.

5. Presumably so you understood it was a cartoon and not some sort of dream come to life.

6. Fantasmagorie and Le cauchemar de Fantoche also remind me a lot of Dipdap, which I really love.

7. I wish I was an Incoherent.

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Film Information

Title: Fantasmagorie
Director: Emile Cohl
Year: 1908
Duration: 2 minutes

Title: Le cauchemar de Fantoche
Director: Emile Cohl
Year: 1908
Duration: 2 minutes

Title: Un drame chez les fantoches
Director: Emile Cohl
Year: 1908
Duration: 3 minutes

Title: Humorous Phases Of Funny Faces
Director: J. Stuart Blackton
Year: 1906
Duration: 3 minutes

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly (1909)

To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly is a very short educational film (it’s only a minute long), made using stop-motion animation to explain how spiders travel across unexpectedly large distances. It was directed by F. Percy Smith, a naturalist and photographer who helped pioneer the use of many now-familiar film-making techniques, such as time-lapse sequences.

I love spiders and I love stop-motion creatures and I utterly love this. What a wonderful thing.

And a hundred and ten years old.

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Notes

1. I watched this, yes, via the BFI Player – To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly
2. I think this may be my favourite thing
3. I just wish I’d seen it earlier so I could have incorporated this knowledge into Spiders Are Wonderful (multiple winner of the factual book of the year award in 2011).

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Film Information

Title: To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly
Director: F. Percy Smith
Year: 1909
Runtime: 1 minute

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The “?” Motorist (1906) / The Automatic Motorist (1911)

The “?” Motorist is a pretty wonderful 3-minute long comedy sketch made in 1906 by WR Booth, an early pioneer in so-called “trick” films, where camera tricks and special effects were used to create breathtaking, impossible, visuals.

The “?” Motorist is a delight. It’s quick, funny, perfectly paced, with a strangely beautiful space interlude and a great final joke. The only downside is that it has a frightening moon with a terrifying face, as was the style at the time.

Then, five years later, he decided to make it again, but this time with a robot driving the car.

The Automatic Motorist, despite the robot, is unfortunately worse in almost every way. In typical reboot style, there’s more stuff, and almost all of it worse, so this is longer, slower, with worse jokes, and any number of shots that go on too long.

There is a, though, really lovely scene where they drive along the bottom of a lake and look at all the delightful newts swimming around, which I found really beautiful.

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Notes

1. I watched both of these on the BFI player – The “?” Motorist; The Automatic Motorist
2. Neither of those versions have music, but you can probably find versions with a score on youtube.
3. And many thanks to Vom Vorton for telling me to watch The “?” Motorist, as it was excellent.

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Film Information

Title: The “?” Motorist
Director: WR Booth
Year: 1906
Runtime: 3 minutes

Title: The Automatic Motorist
Director: WR Booth
Year: 1911
Runtime: 6 minutes