This Film Is 100 Years Old

John Bull’s Animated Sketchbooks (1915-1916) / A Prize Fight or Glove Fight between John Bull and President Kruger (1900)

John Bull’s Animated Sketchbook was an ongoing series of animated satire/propaganda from 1915 and 1916, in which postcard illustrator and political cartoonist Dudley Buxton utilised the “lightning sketch” technique (time lapse footage of him drawing his pictures) to deliver political commentary in the manner and quality of Brant.

Most of the sketches here are, unsurprisingly, wartime propaganda (“The British wage ware like this, but the Germans wage war like this!“), but there’s still time for one about Charlie Chaplin choking on a fly in his pint too for some reason.

(Pint not included in screenshot)



1. There were four of these and I watched them all on the BFI website (1, 2, 3, 4).

2. I came across these today because I searched the BFI free site for Charlie Chaplin and this was all that came up.

3. Although the first three of these episodes all appear to be animated by Dudley Buxton, the last one is illustrated by Anson Dyer.

4. Whose work I seemed to be surprisingly furious about in 2019.

5. Poor angry young me.

6. (He is shite though)

7. I mean, obviously most of the political satire is going to fall flat a century later, but if political commentary cartoons are the most “of their time” art form possible, they’re also consistently the worst too. And seemingly always have been/will be.

8. And while we’re on the topic of John Bull, “A Prize Fight or Glove Fight between John Bull and President Kruger” is a two-minute political sketch about the Boer War from 1900.

9. In which Britain and South Africa have a fist fight (and of course only Britain fights fairly).

10. No other way they could ever lose.


Film Information: John Bull’s Animated Sketchbooks
Director: Dudley Buxton
Year: 1915-1916
Duration: 2 minutes to 10 minutes
Watch: Various episodes on the BFI Player: 1, 2, 3, 4

Film Information: A Prize Fight or Glove Fight between John Bull and President Kruger
Director: John Sloane Barnes
Year: 1900
Duration: 2 minutes
Watch: BFI Player

This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Views Of Tokyo (1913-1915)

Views Of Tokyo (1913-1915) is two minutes of footage from 1910s Tokyo, as the name suggests, with lots of lovely shots of people being intensely interested in the camera, as they walk past, or more often just stop and stand there and stare and stare.

Although my favourite part isn’t the people but the wonderful automata about 40 seconds in, which we see for a few seconds, but which I wish I could watch for hours (or a few minutes, at least), just disappear into it for a while and think of nothing else but it’s movements.



1. I watched this on youtube

2. But with the sound off, so I didn’t listen to the added sounds.

3. I also found a colourised, upscaled version, which is here if you’re interested.

4. And which is twice as long.

5. It’s just a shame colourisation is so distracting.


Film Information

Title: Views Of Tokyo (1913-1915)
Years: 1913; 1915
Duration: 2 minutes
Watch: youtube (black and white); youtube (colour)

This Film Is 100 Years Old

Smashing Barriers (1919) / Auntie’s Portrait (1915)

Smashing Barriers was originally a 15-episode adventure serial, where a sawmill owner and her impossibly boring boyfriend try to escape the attentions of an outlaw and his band of ruffians.

Directed by and starring William Duncan in 1919, these episodes (the plotting of which was described at the time as “incomprehensibly convoluted”) were eventually condensed down to a single movie a few years later, and then even further into this short film in the 1930s, for sale as a home movie.

It’s this ultra-condensed version which survives, the originals all having been lost.

The surviving film is only ten minutes long. Yet there’s time enough for rescuing a damsel in distress from a burning building, out of control carts careering down a hill, an improvised zipwire escape, someone leaping off a cliff into the waters below, people randomly fire guns, and more. The picture above is basically straight out of Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Even though this was presumably all deeply generic at the time (100 years ago!) it’s sort of wonderful how much of the action here is still used repeatedly in everything right now. And for another hundred years yet, too, I expect, unless there’s some sort of catastrophic outbreak of originality just round the corner.

And no one wants that. We’d all be terrified.

I then watched Auntie’s Portrait, a not-especially comedic farce filmed in 1915, and made by the same company as Smashing Barriers, The Vitagraph Company Of America.

This too is deeply generic in almost every way, so much so that I can’t really think of anything to say about it. I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing at all, really, but there’s a nice fourth-wall breaking dog at the start, so I’ve decided to include it here so I’ve got an excuse to post a picture of its cheeky little face.



1. I watched Smashing Barriers on amazon prime, where it appears to be one of about five silent movies in their entire catalogue

2. Although with amazon’s, let’s say, incomprehensibly convoluted search function, for all I know there’s actually billions.

3. I watched Auntie’s Portrait on the Harpodeon website, where it’s free for a week.

4. But usually costs two quid.


Film Information

Title: Smashing Barriers
Director: William Duncan
Year: 1919
Duration: 10 minutes

Title: Auntie’s Portrait
Director: George D. Baker
Year: 1915
Duration: 12 minutes