The Evidence of the Film
Dir: Lawrence Marston/Edwin Thanhouser
Prod: Edwin Thanhouser
Meh. If you want thrills, stop right here.
I can see why this film was nominated, but that doesn’t make it interesting. It’s another sample from the overlooked Thanhouser Company, the New York/New Jersey film studio that turned out an estimated 1,000 pictures between 1909 and 1918 (see my previous post on ‘The Cry of the Children,’ 1912).
This is another melodrama, with a self-conscious gimmick. An unscrupulous financier attempts to steal $20,000 worth of bonds by deftly switching packages on an innocent messenger boy. Fortunately, a film crew captures the deception; the film is seen by the boy’s sister – serendipitously, she’s a film editor – and she enters it in court to exonerate her brother and give the villain his comeuppance.
As Ned Thanhouser (grandson of the studio founders) points out in his essay for the National Film Registry, you can see the incremental improvements in film technique developing here. Analytical editing begins, using shots to compare and contrast instead of simply pushing the action forward in time. Close-up, medium, and traveling shots are entering the film vocabulary, along with the utilization of multiple planes of action, cross-cutting for rhythm and suspense, and most important of all, regard for continuity – both in the scene itself and the internal logic of position and direction. Narrative cinema is starting to dictate its ground rules.
The conceit of the plot device is weak, and much as I might like to make its example speak to our current video-everything, eyewitness culture, it’s a damp squib.
The NFR Project is an attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry, in chronological order. Next time: ‘Matrimony’s Speed Limit.’
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