April 1, 1899 [Firemen Rescuing Men and Women]

The childhood rapture over a fire persists. How many minor conflagrations did my pals and I set, our prone bodies keeping us eye-level with the tiny flames so that they might loom larger, a performance as much as a fire?

So I will not fault this little film for its artificiality, the stagy puffs of smoke and the firemen's unhurried portage of the "victims"; still, an actual fire—the Windsor Hotel in New York—smolders behind this recreation, and one is perhaps relieved to see how efficiently the firemen work. But the fire itself remains in the distance, and we are allowed to suspend our moral sensibilities to enjoy the artifice, even less dangerous than the miniature blazes I kindled and watched so merrily as a boy. And although I remember one or two tongues of flame that threatened to slip from our control, the almost-danger only added to the excitement. This is a lesson the cinema is learning: The actual and the artificial must hone as closely to one another as possible, infusing the coolly observed moment with enough panic to keep one's gaze level and wide, as much an avid maker as a detached observer.


  1. "The actual and the artificial must hone as closely to one another as possible"

    Ain't it the truth! And may we never forget it...

    1. This is important to the Viewer in 1899, if only because he feels the oneiric pull of movies and wants to claim ownership of the image. It's that danred "gaze," male or otherwise, desiring to possess what it sees.


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