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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

These Adverts Are More Than 100 Years Old (1898-1918)

This week I have been watching all the old adverts I could find.

Vinolia Soap (1898) / Good Night (1898)

These are two of the oldest British film adverts known to still exist, and both were made by Charles Goodwin Norton, who ran a stationary shop in King’s Cross, while also making his own films (as a hobby I think, rather than as a business).

The first of these is an advert for Vinolia Soap, which presumably doesn’t exist any more, but might well do for all I know, because I’m afraid I’m not an expert on soap.

The advert itself consists of some people packing the soap into boxes on a table, while round them troop a swarm of women holding the packages up to the camera, all of them trapped in a continuous loop of movement, unable to escape, even while the wind whips up the sheets of wrapping paper and swirls them all around in a vortex around their feet.

According to the internet, Vinolia Soap was the exclusive soap available to passengers on the Titanic, so maybe this wasn’t an advert at all, but instead some sort of unholy incantation, inscribing it with an infernal curse.

The second of these films, Good Night, isn’t anywhere near as ominous, and isn’t even really an advert. But it is quite charming, so I’m going to include it here anyway.

Outside Charles Goodwin Norton’s stationary shop, a group of children stare at the camera, while others hold up signs thanking the viewer for attending whatever one of his film screenings it was they’d just attended.

Although, now that I think about it, maybe this is the first ever post-credits short, and therefore entirely to blame for the abject horror that afflicts all superhero films to this very day, and so is actually even more of an accursed product than Vinolia Soap ever was.

Three Linotype Machines (1900)

Three Linotype Machines is a single minute-long shot of three linotype machines in operation.

There’s no title cards or other information to explain anything about the machines, so I couldn’t tell you if these are the sort of linotype machines I would be inclined to buy, but I’m not sure I mind, as I just find it hypnotic to watch them, and could do so for much long than a single minute at a time.

(This also reminded me of this short film of a printing press in action, that I posted about here before.)

The Spirit Of His Forefathers (1900) / Britain’s Best Bicycle (1902)

The Spirit Of His Forefathers is a 30 second advert for some whisky, based around a pun on spirit, and the punchline of which I have spoiled in the picture below.

I have no regrets.

Britain’s Best Bicycle is another 30 second advert, this time for Rudge-Whitworth Bicycles (later bought by Raleigh, it says there, making me wish I’d had a Rudge-Whitworth Chopper all those years ago now).

In this advert, a man rides a bike, which isn’t as good as Rudge-Whitworth bike. He gets laughed at for his crimes.

Now, these two adverts are more recognisable as adverts, really, to my modern eyes, than any of the earlier ones above (although technically the whisky one is earlier than any of them, as its a remake of a 1897 version of the same ad). And while the bike one is a bit rubbish, the whisky one you could pretty much imagine being an advert right now, although the kilt man would probably be one of the forefathers now, I suppose.

And it’d be for porage oats.

Ruining the pun forever.

J. White And Sons Ltd, The Furniture Specialists, Chesterfield (1905)

J. White And Sons Ltd… is a fifteen minute long advertorial tour of the J. White and Sons furniture shop in Chesterfield, in 1905, where we get to see the exterior of the shop from the High Street, the inside of the shop, the workshops, and more (especially concerning pianos).

It’s quite interesting (but probably not very exciting), and I liked the way that, even if furniture shops don’t make 15 minutes adverts for themselves any more, they at least still look basically the same inside. I bet everything even then was too expensive to ever buy, too.

Also, the street scenes at the start are particularly wonderful, not least because of the preponderance of hats, with even the children wearing flat caps.

Even the babies are wearing flat caps.

The Smallest Car In The Largest City In The World (1913)

The Smallest Car In The Largest City In The World, might not actually be an advert for a Cadillac (it purports to be a news item showing the miniature car being give as a gift to the King of Norway), but I’m pretty sure it’s an advert for a Cadillac.

This film is pretty wonderful, regardless of its actual designation, not just for its long sequences of the miniature car travelling through central London, huge crowds of excited wellwishers following behind, but also for the second half of the film, where somehow they get 3 children in the car, and also they get arrested, and then there’s a dog there too for some reason I don’t know why but it’s wonderful you should watch it

Shine, Sir? (1916)

Shine, Sir? is an almost supernaturally boring, 7 minute long advert for some Australian brand of shoe shine, patriotically called Kiwi, that was originally from 1916, but here comes with a strangely reverent introduction from someone in the far future year of 1965, marvelling at how advanced the advertising methods of first world war Britain were.

At the end, though, an animated kiwi vomits out the word KIWI a bunch of times, and suddenly the whole enterprise is redeemed.

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Notes

1. I watched all these on the BFI Player again

2. At the links in the information bit below.

3. I could probably have posted this all as several separate entries, rather than a single long one

4. But I did not

5. And now never shall.

6. I watched the furniture shop advert while listening to the Kicking A Couple Around EP by Smog

7. Which didn’t really fit very well at all, I must say.

8. But then I watched the littlest car in the world one while listening to 14 Floating Infinity by Aphex Twin

9. And it synced almost perfectly

10. To the first half at least

11. As it ran out before the end.

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Film Information

Title: Vinolia Soap
Director: Charles Goodwin Norton
Year: 1898
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Title: Good Night
Director: Charles Goodwin Norton
Year: 1898
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Title: Three Linotype Machines
Year: 1900
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Title: The Spirit Of His Forefathers
Year: 1900
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Title: Britain’s Best Bicycle
Year: 1902
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Title: J. White And Sons Ltd, The Furniture Specialists, Chesterfield
Year: 1905
Duration: 14 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

Title: The Smallest Car In The Largest City In The World
Director: F.S. Bennett
Year: 1913
Duration: 6 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

Title: Shine, Sir?
Year: 1916, 1965
Duration: 7 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

Categories
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

Categories
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

Categories
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

Categories
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

Categories
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

Categories
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