FIGURE 4.6

The Licensed Trick Film at Vitagraph

The Clown and the Alchemist

Edison Manufacturing Co.; J.Stuart Blackton/Albert E. Smith, producers; USA, 1900

The Mysterious Cafe

Edison Manufacturing Co.; J.Stuart Blackton/Albert E. Smith, producers; USA, 1901

The Artist’s Dilemma

Edison Manufacturing Co.; J.Stuart Blackton/Albert E. Smith, producers; USA, 1901

See the moving picture

See the moving picture

See the moving picture

Vitagraph flourished between 1898 and 1900 because of the superior quality of the films that the company shot on its New York rooftop studio, especially comedies and trick (or “mystery”) films. Between November 1900 and March 1902, however, a legal agreement required Vitagraph to release its films through the Edison Co. All three of the films above, though made by Vitagraph, were registered by Edison, with Blackton and Smith listed as “producers.” In The Clown and the Alchemist (1900—top), a clown displays magical powers to torment an old professor, who strikes back with his own repertoire of tricks. In The Mysterious Cafe (1901—center), a couple tries to dine in a restaurant in which the laws of physics have been mysteriously suspended (they find themselves flying about from chair to chair and table to table). The Artist’s Dilemma (1901—bottom) is much more elaborate. A young woman steps out of his grandfather clock and wakes a sleeping artist to paint her portrait. While the artist paints, a clown emerges from the clock and starts to romance the woman. When the artist objects, the clown splashes his painting with whitewash—producing a perfect reproduction of the model. The woman in the painting promptly steps down from the canvas and joins her perfect mirror image in a dance. At a wave of the clown’s hand, the two merge into one. Going back to sleep, the artist awakens from what has, of course, been a dream. If the premises of these films sound a lot like those of Georges Méliès (see Chapter 3), remember that, in their days as vaudevillians, Blackton and Smith worked in the same end of the entertainment business as the magician Méliès. In particular, Smith was well known and highly regarded for his magic act.

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