BIG SWALLOW, THE
aka. A Photographic Contortion
(James Williamson, 1901, UK, 1m, BW)
The Big Swallow (1901)
Directed by James Williamson
Starring Sam Dalton
Cinematography James Williamson
Williamson Kinematograph Company
Release dates 15 October 1901
Running time 1 min 8 secs
Country United Kingdom
The Big Swallow (AKA: A Photographic Contortion) is a 1901 British short silent comedy film, directed by James Williamson, featuring a man, irritated by the presence of a photographer, who solves his dilemma by swallowing him and his camera whole. The three-shot trick film is, according to Michael Brooke of BFI Screenonline, "one of the most important early British films in that it was one of the first to deliberately exploit the contrast between the eye of the camera and of the audience watching the final film."
BFI Screenonline reviewer Michael Brooke points out that despite being, "less bitten by the trick-film bug than his contemporaries," the director, "made one of the most striking genre entries," taking the concept of the concept of extreme close-up photography pioneered by George Albert Smith in Grandma's Reading Glass and Spiders on a Web (both 1900), "a stage further by featuring a man advancing towards the camera, remaining in more or less perfect focus until his mouth appears to swallow the lens."
Although the director's, "purpose was primarily comic (and doubtless inspired by unwanted attention from increasingly savvy passers-by while filming his actuality shorts)," he creates, "one of the most striking genre entries," and, "makes imaginative use of an extreme close-up to create one of the seminal images of early British (and world) cinema, as effective in its way as the slashed eyeball of Un Chien Andalou (1929), and of just as much appeal to the Surrealist movement."
The film, however, "might have been still more effective if Williamson had omitted the second and third shots," in which he, "cuts to the photographer apparently disappearing into a black void, and then back to the man who retires munching him up and expressing great satisfaction, "since they detract from the logical purity of the first, ending on a completely blank screen as the swallowed camera is no longer able to function as a surrogate for the audience's point of view."
The Big Swallow is one of the first films that wasn’t directed by either The Lumière Brothers or The Edison Manufacturing Company. It’s also markedly different than Edison’s performative features and the Lumière’s documented shorts (though it does share some similarities with L'arroseur arrosé). The Big Swallow is a comedy short in which a man (portrayed by then acclaimed actor Sam Dalton) protests to being film and, when the cameraman continues, proceeds to advance on the camera until just his mouth is visible, opens wide and swallows both the camera and cinematographer.
It’s a neat little film that takes a gimmicky concept but uses it to good effect. Clocking in at just one minute, it’s very much the same standard affair for films of the period, since it was unfortunately caught on the crux before multi-shot movies started appearing and films became longer. It bears similarities with Méliès’ works in that it takes an effect and uses it as the selling point for a film. Though it may seem dated today, The Big Swallow must have been hilarious and genuinely impressive at the time. I think it often gets lost in the competition simply because of its release date, as it lacked the innovation of earlier pictures and wasn’t quite late enough for the longer multi-shot pictures. However it is actually a fun little film, that at least tries to push technical boundaries with a nice concept.
The Brighton School (filmmaking)
Brighton School (fr.: L'école de Brighton) was a loosely associated group of pioneering filmmakers active in the Brighton and Hove area of England from 1896 to 1910. The core membership of the group consists of filmmakers George Albert Smith, James Williamson and Esmé Collings as well as engineer Alfred Darling; other names associated with the group include Collings' former business partner William Friese-Greene and the group's London-based distributor Charles Urban. The term was coined by French film historian Georges Sadoul in an article that was translated and re-published in pamphlet form as British Creators of Film Technique by the British Film Institute in 1948.
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