Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Silent Oscars: 1906

What qualifies as the first feature-length film depends on what you think of as a feature film. In 1903, French movie-makers Lucien Nonguet and Ferdinand Zecca directed a series of interrelated short films covering events in the life of Christ, from the annunciation through the resurrection and ascension. At a time when individual theater owners had more control over the product shown on the screen than the studio that produced it, La vie et la passion de Jésus Christ was sometimes exhibited edited together into a single 44-minute film.

And then there was Alice Guy Blaché (I wrote about her yesterday) who covered the same subject in a single, 33-minute film, La vie du Christ.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences now defines a "feature" as a film over forty minutes in duration. By those terms, most film historians cite Australia's The Story of the Kelly Gang as the first feature-length film. Released in 1906, The Kelly Gang clocked in at a then-astounding 70 minutes. Written and directed by Charles Tait, the film tells the story of Ned Kelly, an Irish-Australian bushranger who battled British authority and was eventually hanged for his trouble. The film was thought lost until one reel turned up in a Melbourne garbage dump; in 2006, additional footage was discovered in the UK, bringing the restored total to 17 minutes. What's left plays like an extended-length version of The Great Train Robbery—no knock, I assure you.

winner: The Story of the Kelly Gang (prod. W.A. Gibson, Millard Johnson, John Tait and Nevin Tait)
nominees: Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (prod. The Edison Manufacturing Company); Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (prod. J. Stuart Blackton); San Francisco Earthquake & Fire: April 18, 1906 (prod. unknown); Short Films of Georges Méliès (prod. Georges Méliès); Le théâtre de Bob (prod. Pathé Frères); La vie du Christ a.k.a. The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ (prod. Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont)
Must-See: Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, The Story of the Kelly Gang

winner: Charles Tait (The Story of the Kelly Gang)
nominees: Segundo de Chomón (Le théâtre de Bob); Alice Guy (La vie du Christ a.k.a. The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ ); Wallace McCutcheon and Edwin S. Porter (Dream of a Rarebit Fiend); Georges Méliès (Short Films of Georges Méliès)


Maggie said...

That is amazing. First, that someone would throw it away. Second, that someone would rifle through garbage and think it interesting enough to take. Kudos to dumpster divers.

Mythical Monkey said...

Yeah, "lost" silent movies have turned up everywhere (The Passion of Joan of Arc, for example, turned up in a broom closet in a Dutch mental hospital decades after the original negative was destroyed in a fire), but to find the only copy of a classic film in the garbage is a true stroke of luck.