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The Self-Reflexive Trick Film

The Countryman and the Cinematograph

R.W. Paul, Great Britain, 1901

In its treatment of the principal character, this clever trick film also becomes a curiously multilayered tour de force about audiences and their reactions to the movies. When he first pantomimes the movements of a dancer in the superimposed image (top), the bumpkin appears to be part of the music-hall entertainment—someone who’s there to be watched and laughed at by the moviegoing audience. But when the image cuts to an onrushing train (bottom), he scampers away to safety—mimicking the alleged reaction of the first moviegoers when Louis Lumière surprised them with an approaching train six years earlier. The extant footage ends here, but we know from Paul's catalogue what follows. The next image on the screen within a screen features a pretty girl in the company of a bumpkin who looks a lot like our hero, and—his confidence apparently restored by the reflection of his own image on the screen—the “real” bumpkin returns to the stage. With this action, he becomes associated with the more sophisticated audience watching Paul’s integrated allusion to a legendary moment in the history of spectacle-spectator relations. Finally, when the bumpkin turns to look at the audience, the little jest comes full circle: now the bumpkin-viewer is looking from the screen at the audience of which he is a representative member.

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