Disturbing And Creepy Early Cinema Vintage Clips

Quick announcement: Bill and I are having a holiday at home, so after this post I shall see you in two weeks’ time.

Before the motion picture industry solidified in the 20s, The tens and 1890s were a period of gleeful experimentation, much like the advancement of YouTube from dramatic gophers to defined communities and vloggers.

From the cinéma vérité of the Lumière Brothers, the fantastical whimsy of Georges Méliès, the glamour and fun of Alice Guy-Blaché  and the innovation of the world’s first animators, everyone had something they wanted to test. Vaudeville stars of the Belle Epoque and big events were a natural draw, but sometimes events don’t go according to plan, vaudeville acts seem alien to modern eyes and other things… are just odd.

The Balancing Bluebottle/The Acrobatic Fly (F. Percy Smith, 1910)

I honestly felt sick after watching this. It’s fascinating though and I couldn’t look away. But…yeah I still felt sick.

A fly is glued to a matchstick by the wings, it’s strength tested by placing objects onto it’s flailing legs, one of the objects being a dead fly. Yep, it spins around the corpse of it’s brethren on frantic arthropodic feet. You know that shudder Bart does in the Simpsons…

Fish (Bert Williams, 1916)

This next one isn’t creepy so much as sad. Bert Williams wrote and directed two films, unheard of for a person of colour back then. However this two reeler is very light on humour and audiences had a hard time accepting him, as a 42 year old man, playing a boy. Added to the mix are parents played by white people in black face with incredibly poor comic timing and pathos that leaves the viewer depressed.

Bert was never able to reach his full ambition, stuck as he was in ‘black’ roles often in blackface. Friend and fellow vaudevillian WC Fields said “Bert Williams was the funniest man I ever saw and the saddest man I ever knew.”

On stage and in his other short he was a more subtle comedian. After the disappointment of Fish he returned to live performances.

Death jump from the Eiffel Tower, 1912

On the 4th February, 1912, Franz Reichelt was scheduled to test his homemade parachute by jumping from a great height. Nobody in the watching crowd or French and British media thought to tell him it was a bad idea and off he went, falling from the tower to his unfortunate death.

The Dancing Pig (1907)

The internet is quite familiar with a small section of this vaudeville performance, namely the titular pig gurning grotesquely at the end. The rest is pretty darn odd too, involving public humiliation and torment. All in good fun though.

The Cameraman’s Revenge (Wladislaw Starewicz, 1912)

Perhaps it’s my phobia of dead bugs (live ones I’m fine with though, no idea why) that leads me to find this film so shudder inducing. It’s a shame because this satire by the Polish, Russian and French stop motion animator is really incredible.

The cast of deceased insects perform an operatic melodrama of betrayed love and revenge in a mischievous swipe at popular theatre.

Monkeyshines 1, 2 and 3 (Thomas Edison, 1889 – 1890)

These ghosts from the past were captured during Edison’s first attempts to record image on film.

The Consequences of Feminism (Alice Guy-Blaché, 1906)

Either this film is meant to show the absurdity of men who protested against the suffragette movement or it’s an indictment of what could happen if allowed to continue. Seeing as Alice was a filmmaker herself I’d prefer to believe the former, but we just don’t know.

The Inferno ( Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan and Giuseppe de Liguoro, 1911)

This ambitious project was one of the first feature length films ever made (the first being The Kelly Gang, 1906). It’s packed with disturbing imagery from cannibalism to tortured souls and remains hauntingly fascinating to this day.

The Rainbow Lady From Hell

I remember the night I looked as though a rainbow had thrown up on me. I was transformed into a Gorgon and ordered to hide in the forest, frightening visitors. It was a good weekend all round, during a warm August in 2006.

I had been asked to come along to an outdoor charity event to be dressed up as a “sexy Medusa,” so said the lady on the phone. It was part of a Dante’s Inferno theme in a hidden, forested corner of some private land which the partygoers would be lured to after dark. Why the hell not? I roped a friend into driving me there and back; it wasn’t too far and there’d be free drinks. On the Friday night my friend Angie showed up in her small black Ka, which suited her personality well as my half Fillipino friend is also small and neat. She was dressed elegantly as we were both under the impression they were very rich and very posh.

They were too posh to give us good directions, but eventually we arrived at the entrance to a field. It looked just like a festival, with tented bars and dancing areas overlooked by a many bedroomed monster house. We were greeted at the front gate by a blonde lady who explained my role for the evening. My body was to be painted and I would wear a clinging dress with a headdress resembling snakelike hair. I was excited.

Angie and I drank Cosmopolitans with our little fingers raised and at 9 O’clock I received the bat signal summoning me to the mansion. The first thing I saw indoors was a curly haired young man whose skin was painted like tree bark. “I’m one of the lost souls in the trees at the gates of Hell,” he introduced himself cheerfully. He had twigs in his hair for extra effect, and to show maximum tree skin was wearing nothing but shorts. I slipped into a tight pink dress and took my place in front of a sweet lady with a shaved head and rainbow top.

The painting was laborious but the tree-man, or Hugh, entertained me with camp excitability and Angie became my PR, answering my phone and fetching us drinks. As well as us there were two other girls dressed as a lost soul and a Gorgon.

I'm Old Greg

Eventually every part of my visible skin was pink, blue or yellow. My face was painted toinclude small fangs and huge eyelashes, and then the headdress went on. It was made of felt and snaked down to my stomach. Now I was a real Gorgon, and I preened in front of the mirror before a girl in the doorway said, “Oh, you look like a giant prawn!”

We were ushered to our hiding spot through a tunnel of trees. Red streamers hung to the ground at the entrance, in the dark it was like entering a dream. My bare feet padded on the soft grass until we arrived in Hell – a pleasant open woodland with tall trees, a band and a bar. Several mannequins painted up like Hugh were dotted about for good measure. I always knew Hell was more fun than Heaven.As we waited we were joined by a dark haired girl in a purple fairy dress balancing on stilts. We excitedly chatted and waited, and waited, until it was 1am and I had begun to believe I truly looked like a giant portion of seafood. We waited some more, and at 2.30 am it finally happened.

I was handed a mega-phone as we invaded the tent and soon a very British orderly queue had formed. As it disappeared we floated after them, the tree people taking up positions amongst the foliage, the Gorgons drifting in and out of the trees and the girl on stilts picking her way through the crowds as they danced to the band.

People stared at me in wonder as I slipped past them. It was a very odd feeling and quite nice, validating my delusions of grandeur. After a few hours we felt we had done our duty as ethereal beings and it was time to enjoy the party. We danced about until I noticed the sun had crept into the sky. A man I had spoken to once was obviously feeling the ever ticking pressure of time and asked if he had ‘pulled me yet’. I decided it was time to leave.

I’m always amazed by how much smaller everything seems in daylight. When you’ve been lost in a dark, private world it’s easy to feel that it will stretch on forever, but the ‘gates of Hell’ had become once again a tunnel of trees and, beyond that, a very ordinary car park.

I changed into my clothes and called Angie. I was impressed with the way she had managed to sleep in the car, it’s not an easy thing to do. I slipped into the seat next to her as she woke herself up properly. “Did you have fun?” She asked as she began the drive home.