May 23, 1899 [A Wringing Good Joke]

A boy ties a string between a washer-tub handle and a man's chair, so that the chair tips over as the woman works the wringer. I will not denigrate the gag: It is satisfyingly orchestrated, with a nice application of basic mechanics to upend the chair and its occupant, with a particularly pleasing (well-timed as well as -aimed) plunge by Grandpa into the water.

I'll admit this is the kind of thing I would have liked to have attempted in my own childhood, but had neither the opportunity nor temerity—nor freedom, it appears, as the boy seems intent not on avoiding parental retribution but simply feeling the joy of chaos—and this may be the attraction: as in Edison's ersatz fires (or even executions of insurgents), moving pictures provide a safe haven for disruptions of all kinds. I may worry at some point over the leveling effect of cinema (all up-endings are equally staged, thus free of repercussion) as it moves from domestic to political shenanigans, the stakes rising in direct proportion to our acceptance of their equal un-importance—after all, these are mere entertainments; but I will not worry today. For now, I'll ignore that school-marm voice in me that fusses over where this may lead us, and simply enjoy the precision with which that boy catalyzes mayhem.


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