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Sneeze Face, Cheese Mites and Techno Charles Chaplin: 'Amazing Tales'

Sneeze Face Fred OttSneeze face, cheese mites, and techno Charles Chaplin: San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014's 'Amazing Tales from the Archive's (image: Fred Ott's 'sneeze face' in the short film 'Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze')

The “Amazing Tales from the Archives” presentations at the 2014 San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which ran May 29-June 1, focused on three subjects:

“A New Look at an Old Sneeze” nearly bordered on redundancy. Fred Ott's sneeze, officially known as Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze, was filmed by the Edison Manufacturing Company in 1894 and is one of the oldest surviving “motion pictures.” The approximately one-minute short film illustrates a man – Thomas Edison's assistant Fred Ott – in the throes of sneezing. While historically a cinematic event and notable as the first motion picture to be copyrighted in the United States, Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze never does quite illustrate the potential of what film can do. The thrust of the presentation was the recent discovery of additional frames of film stock in which Mr. Ott's natural body function can be seen multiple times. Personally, I prefer the version with fewer frames.

“The Birds and the Bees,” on the other hand, did demonstrate the potential of motion pictures, as the presentation showed how early pioneers took cinema to a new level unseen before. F. Martin Duncan's The Cheese Mites (1903), for instance, pointed the way for future scientific discoveries of what is invisible to the naked eye. Other filmmakers, such as Oliver Pike, Percy Smith, and J.C. Bee-Mason, likewise led the way for future wildlife photography, filming animals in their natural habitat. The stencil-colored birds in flight and time-lapse photography of flower buds blooming beautifully illustrated what was to come with this new medium.

And finally, “Chaplin's Use of Technology” took a rare look at how this early master of comedy worked as an independent filmmaker. I especially liked the short film of Charles Chaplin arriving at his studio, exchanging pleasantries with his staff, and kissing his butler on the forehead.

Now a final word about the 2014 San Francisco Silent Film Festival: From my own experience, this year's event was planned and organized much more efficiently than some of the previous festivals. The starting times were met with greater precision and the talk before the shows was kept to a minimum. Good job!

Photo of Fred Ott's 'sneeze face' in the short film Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze via the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website.

Sneeze Face, Cheese Mites and Techno Charles Chaplin: 'Amazing Tales' © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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