Friday, 13 March 2015

1906: Dream of a Rarebit Fiend

Dream of a Rarebit Fiend
I passed on Edwin S Porter's landmark 1903 film "The Great Train Robbery" to focus on the more visceral "Desperate Poaching Affray", but just so his fans aren't too upset, here's his 1906 film "Dream of a Rarebit Fiend", based on one of a series of comic strips by the great Winsor McCay.

A man overindulges in a restaurant, then staggers home, stopping to cling to a lamp post as the streets spin around him. He gets into bed, then the furniture comes to life and leaves the room. After he goes to sleep, little demons stand on his headboard and torment him with pitchforks, then the bed lifts off the floors, spins round wildly and flies out of the window and over the city. Finally he finally he falls out of the flying bed, gets caught on a weathervane, then falls again, through the ceiling of his room and back into bed, where he wakes up.    

The film is full of ingenious photographic effects that aren't too obvious in their execution even today. Not to me anyway. I was trying to see whether he's really hanging from that flimsy-looking weathervane via a hidden harness, or if there are wires supporting him from offscreen - I think there are, in which case it's quite a feat not to get them tangled up as the vane rotates several times as he hangs from it.

We're getting to the end of an era here - one where trick effects are still expected to hold an andience's attention without much added in the way of characters or story - but this goes the extra mile, adding a few new tricks of its own, and is still fun to watch today.

It's hard to find good copies of many of these early films online but the one I've linked to here with a soundtrack by The Carport Theatre is the best I've found.