This week, our featured book is Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes. Today, author Maggie Hennefeld’s encourages us to use our imagination with these snippets. Remember to enter our book giveaway by 1 PM today for a chance to win a free copy!
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For those of you who cannot get enough slapstick comediennes in early cinema, here are some snippets from the annotated filmography of my book. The following is a list of non-extant films that I wish had survived, and often re-imagine very vividly. Enjoy!
A Kitchen Maid’s Dream (Vitagraph, US, 1907)
An overworked kitchen maid fantasizes that she can dismember her own limbs to finish her housework on time.
The Magnetic Eye (Lubin, US, 1908)
A man gains magnetic ocular powers (literally magnetic!) after being bitten in the eye by a mutant mosquito. He then “attracts” the object of his affection, commanding a young woman’s body to hurl itself headlong toward his eyeballs.
Bridget and the Egg (Lubin, US, 1911)
Bridget attempts to crack open a tough egg by wielding a large axe.
How They Got the Vote (Edison, US, 1913)
A man attempts to woo the daughter of a suffragette with the help of a magician, who grants him the power to freeze time. The suffragettes leverage their dowry in exchange for this modernist political weapon. They bring all traffic and commerce to a staggering halt until given the right to vote.
Betty’s Fireworks [Les Épinards de Léontine] (Roméo Bosetti, France, 1910)
The incorrigible tomboy Betty fools around with fireworks. The character Betty (known as “Titine” in France), played by an unidentified but comedically brilliant actress, appeared in 25 episodes of this series from 1910-1912. Many are still available, such as Betty Pulls the Strings, Betty’s Electric Battery, and Betty Flies Away. Recently, Betty was the star of a silent film program on “Nasty Women” featured at the Pordenone Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2017.
The Servant’s Revenge (Lubin, US, 1909)
After being fired by her abusive employers, a housemaid seeks revenge by sneaking into their home during a fancy dinner party. She switches the pipes between the gas jets and the garden hose—“The guests become uneasy, and a geyser of water from the gas jets completes their discomfiture.”
Bessie’s Dream (Selig, US, 1912)
In her dream, a woman named Bessie hunts “Jew fish” (i.e. grouper) and then is chased by cannibals.
The Suffragette Sheriff (Kalem, US, 1912)
Rattlesnake Bill’s wife is elected sheriff, so he pretends to commit murder to force her resignation—because obviously she wouldn’t give the death penalty to her own husband! She learns of his ruse and seeks her revenge by pretending to go through with the execution. But the gallows are nothing more than a tank of water. Women laugh last in this comedy Western.
The Mechanical Mary Ann (Lewin Fitzhamon, UK, 1910)
A clockwork maid wrecks a house.
Eva Is Tired of Life (Pathé, France, 1911)
An overworked woman with an “indestructible constitution” unsuccessfully attempts to commit suicide.
For more discussion, aesthetic analysis, and historical context about all of the above, check out my book, Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes.! I will personally illustrate any frame grab or lost movie still from the book upon individual request.