The '?' MOTORIST, THE
(Walter R. Booth, 1906, UK, 3m, BW)
The '?' MOTORIST, THE (Walter R. Booth, 1906, UK, 3m, BW)
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Produced by Robert W. Paul
Production company Paul's Animatograph Works
Release dates 1906
Running time 2 mins 22 secs
Country United Kingdom
The '?' Motorist is a 1906 British short silent comedy film, directed by Walter R. Booth. It features a motorist on the run from the police. during which he drives along clouds, around the moon, and around the rings of Saturn before landing through the roof of a courthouse. The trick film is, "one of the last films that W.R. Booth made for the producer-inventor R.W. Paul," and according to Michael Brooke of BFI Screenonline, "looks forward to the more elaborate fantasies that Booth would make for Charles Urban between 1907 and 1911, as well as drawing on a wide range of the visual tricks that Booth had developed over the preceding half-decade."
A magical glowing white motorcar dismembers policemen, drives up buildings, flies through outer space and can transform into a horse and carriage. This was a British effort to top Méliès at his Sci-Fi/fantasy/comedy trick films, another Melies imitation, but it's certainly one of the most amusing ones out there. The fact that it actually features some of its scenes outdoors (in contrast to the studio-bound Melies oeuvre) gives it a good sense of novelty, and many of the special effects are pointed and very funny, especially the one where the car turns into a horse and carriage to astound the pursuing policeman. This is one of the best of the early trick films.
Walter R. Booth was one of the early film pioneers. Booth made numerous trick special effects films in a career that started in 1899 – soon after the Lumiere Brothers made the first film – and lasted until 1918, during which time he made some 165 short films. Booth was inspired by the films of his much more famous contemporary Georges Melies. He copied and experimented with many of the special effects techniques that had been invented by Melies – assorted optical trickery like mattes, superimpositions, stop-action cuts and the use of miniatures. In particular, The ? Motorist seems like a copy of Melies’s more elaborate An Impossible Voyage (1904) in which a multi-vehicle combination took off from the Alps and flew through space. Booth creates fairly much the same sort of film here, albeit with far less elaborate effect than Melies did.
Certainly, the scene where a car of the era is driving along at (what must have been for the day) a breakneck speed, charging past and bowling over police officers and then in one amazingly surreal effect that still takes the breath away today, heads towards a shop front and instead of crashing through, drives straight up the side of the building and into the sky, is wonderful. The most charming scenes are where we see the car gracefully passing through the clouds, riding up and down each of them as though they were gently rolling hills, and then conducting a 360 degree circle around the circumference of The Moon (which has a face) and flying on to land on the rings of Saturn, conducting a circuit around them, before returning back down to Earth.
Although The ? Motorist is often read as an early work of science-fiction, it exists more in the realm of fantasy – just as in Melies’s films, The Moon has a face; nor is there any science-fictional explanation offered as to why the car suddenly develops the ability to fly. One is not sure to what extent it was known by the general public back in the 1900s that space was an airless vacuum (it was only 1905 when Albert Einstein published General Relativity and displaced the notion that space was composed of something Victorian scientists referred to as the aether) so there is probably no point jumping on the film for the idea of two motorists driving through space without an enclosed vehicle or any kind of breathing gear. More than anything, the film seems to have been created as an absurdist comic whimsy about the new arrival of the motor vehicle and the consequent fad for motorised speed. Given the film’s brevity, the results are quite charming.
The effects of the era were not particularly sophisticated – a large part of this is due to the fact that many of the techniques were still being invented and perfected as filmmakers went along. There are some passable travelling mattes as the car is seen flying through the sky, although the process is so primitive that it makes the car look as though it has been animated. The opticals are particularly poor and mismatched during the scene where the car crashes down through the ceiling of a courtroom and then drives off, where the result makes the car and motorists inside seem no higher than the various lawyers’ waists.
Walter R. Booth’s genre works include:- Upside Down; or the Human Flies (1899), Artistic Creation (1901), Cheese Mites, or Lilliputians in a London Restaurant (1901), The Haunted Curiosity Shop (1901), The Magic Sword (1901), An Over-Incubated Baby (1901), The Waif and the Wizard (1901), An Extraordinary Cab Accident (1903), The Voyage of the Arctic (1903), The Hand of the Artist (1906), which was Britain’s first animated film, The Airship Destroyer (1909), The Aerial Submarine (1910), The Aerial Anarchists (1911), The Automatic Motorist (1911) and The Menace of the Air (1915). Most of these are only a few minutes long and serve to highlight a single trick effect.
Walter R. Booth
Walter Robert Booth (/buːθ/; 12 July 1869 – 1938) was a British magician and early pioneer of British film working first for Robert W. Paul and then Charles Urban mostly on "trick" films, where he pioneered the use of hand-drawing techniques that led to the first British animated film, The Hand of the Artist (1906). Booth was born in July 1869, the son of a porcelain painter. He followed his father with an apprenticeship at the Royal Worcester porcelain factory in 1882, where he worked until 1890. He had been a keen amateur magician and subsequently he joined the magic company of John Nevil Maskelyne and David Devant at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London, where he is presumed to have first encountered filmmaker Robert W. Paul, who exhibited some of his earliest films there in 1896.
Booth went to work for Paul first devising and then later directing short trick films, beginning with The Miser's Doom and Upside Down; or, the Human Flies (both 1899). Many of their early collaborations, such as Hindoo Jugglers and Chinese Magic (both 1900) were based on conjuring tricks, whilst A Railway Collision (1900) pioneered the use of scale models. They reached the height of their collaboration in 1901; with simple trick films, such as Undressing Extraordinary, The Waif and the Wizard and An Over-Incubated Baby which relied on jump-cuts, The Devil in the Studio and Artistic Creation which integrated hand drawn elements, and Cheese Mites; or, Lilliputians in a London Restaurant which experimented with superimposition; as well as more complex films, such as The Haunted Curiosity Shop, Scrooge; or, Marley's Ghost and The Magic Sword which has been compared to the work of Georges Méliès. Their collaborations continued for the next five years with such films as The Extraordinary Waiter (1902), Extraordinary Cab Accident and The Voyage of the Arctic (both 1903), befored culminating with Is Spiritualism A Fraud? and The '?' Motorist (both 1906).
In 1906 Booth went to work for Charles Urban and constructed his own outdoor studio in the back garden of Neville Lodge, Woodlands, Isleworth, London, where, with F. Harold Bastick, he made The Hand of the Artist (1906), which has been described as the first British animated film. He went on to produce at least 15 films a year for Urban including semi-animated trick films The Sorcerer's Scissors (1907), When the Devil Drives (1907), and proto-science fiction invasion fantasies The Airship Destroyer (1909) and The Aerial Submarine (1910), as well as The Automatic Motorist (1911), a partial remake of The '?' Motorist (1906), up until 1915.
He subsequently went on to produce advertising films, including A Cure for Cross Words for Cadbury's cocoa and chocolate and he invented an advertising method called Flashing Film Ads, described as unique colour effects in light and movement. Little is known of his subsequent career and he died in Birmingham in 1938.
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