See the moving picture


Staging a Multilevel Melodrama

Histoire d’un crime (The Story of a Crime)

Ferdinand Zecca, Pathé-Frères, France, 1901

In this adaptation of a waxworks exhibit depicting a lower-class murder, Zecca attempts to tell two stories at once, one of them devoted to the main character’s interior life. In the first of seven tableaux, a carpenter kills a bank employee during a robbery (left). He is arrested and condemned and, while awaiting execution in prison, relives in dreams the events leading up to the fatal act. His flashbacks include memories of his wife and child and a card game in which he loses all his money (right). The sequence of three “vision scenes” entailed the construction of an enclosed stage on the prison set (where the prisoner, left, sleeps and a guard dozes). The three “visions,” punctuated by a drawn curtain, are all played out by actors in the space above the two actors on the prison set, whose immobile postures furnish an unchanging “reality” in which the condemned man’s shifting thoughts occur.

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