EVIDENCE OF THE FILM (Lawrence & Edwin Thanhouser Marston, 1913, USA, 15m, BW)
The Evidence of the Film (1913)
Evidence of the Film (1913)
The Evidence of the Film is a 1913 American silent short crime film directed by Lawrence Marston and Edwin Thanhouser starring William Garwood. The only known copy of this film was rediscovered in 1999 on the floor of the projection booth in a Superior, Montana movie theater. In 2001, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The Evidence of the Film tells the story of a messenger boy at a film studio who is wrongfully accused of stealing bonds worth $20,000. He is saved by his sister, a film cutter, who comes across some footage of her brother inadvertently walking into a location shot and being knocked down by the real-life villain.
William Garwood as The Broker
Marie Eline as Messenger Boy
Riley Chamberlin as Clerk
Florence La Badie as Sister of Little Boy
The Evidence of the Film, a recently rediscovered one-reel drama made in New Rochelle, New York, under the auspices of the Thanhauser Studio. The plot concerns a Dishonest Broker (as he is helpfully identified by a title card) who plots to steal bonds worth $20,000 and blame his act on a messenger boy. This broker-- who looks like an Edward Gory drawing of a Well-born Gentleman Gone Bad, and whose villainy is amusingly transparent from the beginning --sends off the boy with the genuine bonds, but then contrives to bump into him on a public street. After 'accidentally' knocking the boy to the ground he helps him up, meanwhile switching envelopes, substituting one full of paper scraps for the real bonds, which he pockets. Subsequently, the innocent lad is accused of theft!
Alas, the broker's dastardly plan comes off without a hitch, and the kid, who looks about six years old (and is actually played by a girl), lands in jail. However, there's another surprise in store, this time a distinctly "modern" one: the broker hadn't allowed for the presence of a crew of movie-makers working on location, coincidentally shooting a scene on the very sidewalk where the collision occurs-- happily, within range of the camera. In the opening scene we learn that the messenger boy's sister works as a film-cutter; and, just when things look truly bleak for the lad, we find that she works for the very studio whose crew captured the crime on celluloid. In a scene anticipating David Hemmings' dark room investigation in Antonioni's Blow-Up by more than half a century, we watch as the boy's sister examines the location footage, recognizes her brother, and realizes what actually occurred on that sidewalk. Thus, justice triumphs, thanks to the miraculous new technology of the motion picture!
This movie is a fascinating treat for film buffs, but, as my tone may suggest, it's amusing on a level the filmmakers probably didn't intend. Despite a plot twist made possible by brand new 20th century technology, the atmosphere is redolent of Victorian melodrama; the messenger boy's outfit even suggests David Copperfield. Viewers may well chuckle as the film-within-a-film unfolds in the climactic scene: the Dishonest Broker looks so corrupt, his envelope maneuver is so clumsily performed, and he so obviously commits his crime in full view of the camera, how can we help but laugh? The camera is not hidden, mind you, it's grinding away in plain sight on a public street, and you'd think that in 1913 this spectacle would draw even more attention than it might today, when we're so accustomed to seeing video crews taping commercials or news segments, or whatever. The Dishonest Broker is not only dastardly, he's a bit thick.
Despite aspects which look silly now, this movie must have represented an imaginative leap forward in its time. Film itself serves as a pivotal plot element, which must have been a surprising, creative twist for contemporary viewers. The Evidence of the Film also provides an interesting sociological note: the studio cutting room where the boy's sister works is staffed entirely by women. This points up the fact that, in the movies' early days, women were employed in greater numbers in all areas of the film industry than would be the case later on, after the big studios consolidated operations in the 1920s.
The chapter titles are as follows:
• The Dishonest Broker Plots to Outwit his Client
• The Moving Picture Company at Work
• The “Dummy” Package is Given to the Messenger Boy
• The Broker Has Witnesses to Prove his Innocence
• Some Days Later. The Evidence of the Film
• The Detectives See the Picture
• The Innocent is Freed
"The Evidence of the Film" is a conceptually interesting early self-referential short film. It involves a film-within-a-film, and it examines the nature of film as a recorder of events (in the story, a film clip becomes evidence in serving justice). There's also a glimpse of the movie-making process, as the evidence was of a crime occurring in front of a camera filming a movie, and there's a behind-the-scenes look at an editing room. As was pointed out, the discovery of "truth" (in this film, unambiguous truth) in photography in this film reminds one of Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 self-reflexive classic "Blowup".
First, the crime is shown from a somewhat obscure angle from behind the characters--filmed by the invisible, unacknowledged camera, which gives us the outer film. We see the acknowledged camera's viewpoint, from a clear vantage point in front of the characters, later when it's projected as evidence. There's an obvious goof in the staging of the actors playing actors, though, as they appear right next to the main characters in the first perspective and farther off in the background in the second scene despite the two shots supposedly having happened simultaneously. Regardless, the film-within-the-film scene--the camera's POV superimposed--is great. A scene of an audience (our surrogates) watching a film dates back to Robert W. Paul's "The Countryman the Cinematograph" (1901), and D.W. Griffith made a similar scene in "Those Awful Hats" (1909), but the multiple-exposure effect in this film is especially convincing, and the emphasis on the POV of the camera is especially innovative. Interestingly (and rather contradictory to the theme of film as honest recorder), the footage shown twice on the negative within the film is from the first, unacknowledged camera's POV, rather than the film-within-the-film.
The notion of film as a recorder of events, fictional or actual, is a bit limited and narrow view of the medium, though. It's apparent the filmmakers weren't trying to explore the depths of cinema too much. I suppose they believed they were making an ordinary crime drama. Compare this to another self-referential film from 1912, "The Cameraman's Revenge" (Mest kinematograficheskogo operatora), which is also about recording "real" events and then incriminating the players with the projection of the film later. Aside from the fact that Wladyslaw Starewicz used replica insects for his film rather than people, his film also differs from "The Evidence of the Film" in that its filmic perspectives are more elaborate and it probes the medium's illusionary capabilities. Anyhow, "Evidence of the Film" is an interesting early self-referential film worth watching.
Topics: William Garwood, Florence La Badie, Marie Eline, silent film, silent movie stars, free classic film, old movies, silent film streaming, silent era, archive films, rare films, classic crime films, silent classics, classic images, classic crime movies, classic films on line, classic movies on line, silent films on line, silent movies on line, good silent movies, old movies online, free classic movie, masterpiece old movies
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