See the moving moving picture


Spectacle Escalation

That Fatal Sneeze

Lewin Fitzhamon, Hepworth Manufacturing Co., Britain, 1905

Fitzhamonís popular linked-episode comedy is also an ambitious instance of bricolage filmmaking (see Biographical Sketch 6.2 and Reading 9.1), integrating no fewer than three genres in its running time of five and a half minutes. The opening gambit is borrowed from the so-called bad-boy genre: when a boy fills an old manís handkerchief with sneezing powder (1), his victim is beset by an unremitting series of exhorbitant sneezing fits. By taking his main character out into the streets, Fitzhamon contrives to stage the inordinate destruction caused by each sneeeze in a series of locations linked by the characterís path through town. At one stop, the old manís sneeze brings the outdoor inventory of a shop clattering to the sidewalk (2). A moment later, his sneeze shatters a storefront window (4). Using wire rigging and stop motion, Fitzhamon appropriates techniques from the trick film to transform each instance of destruction into a special-effects spectacle. Along the way, the linked-episode comedy has also become a chase film, as the old man has inevitably attracted a crowd of pusuers (3).

Finally, Fitzhamonís cavalcade of spectacle effects is also contrived to escalate as the film advances from episode to episode, culminating in the two most explosive sneezes of all. As he stumbles into a residential neighborhood, the old man pauses to sneeze so violently that the whole world pitchesóan effect achieved by placing the camera on a rocking platform (5). In the final shot (6), our hero sneezes so hard that he blows himself out of existenceóa trick of stop-motion substitution.

Back to CHAPTER 8/Part 2