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Lending a Little Drama to the Newsreel

Attack on a China Mission—Bluejackets to the Rescue

James Williamson, Great Britain, 1900

Williamson conceived this film to capitalize on a vogue for faked newsreels, and he also provided for the accompaniment of a commentator to clear up any ambiguities that his audience might encounter in watching it. The story begins when the Boxers invade the grounds of the mission and then cuts to a shot of a missionary and a young woman who are walking in front of the house (left); it climaxes with the arrival of British soldiers, who subdue the rebels (right). The most ambiguous touch—the appearance of the handkerchief-waving wife on the balcony (center)—resulted from Williamson’s desire to make an acted story film. Although the final product comes across as a sequence of pictures whose purpose is to illustrate a story, China Mission is much more ambitious than the typical one- or two-shot “dramas” of the day: there is, for example, some rudimentary crosscutting among the film’s six scenes (the fourth is a continuation of the second), and there’s a reverse-angle cut showing characters passing through a door from two different perspectives.

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