October 14, 1902 [Interrupted Bathers]

Many of these little humorous episodes are of necessity set in a blank netherworld—in which nothing but the prank exists, often motiveless (beyond itself), with little or no provocation and minimal or cursory repercussions; and so the cinema, perhaps even especially here, in this eminently disposable sub-genre, begins to assume authority as its own art, with its own rules. And while they may be freely swiped from the comic sketch (whether by "Boz" or Josh Billings) and the newspaper cartoon (from Nast's political and Yuletide offerings to The Yellow Kid and Jimmy Swinnerton's bears and tigers), the cinematic prank not only depends on motion—as any stage gag would—but moves freely from the restrictions of the stage to the suburban garden—and even more distant haunts, such as the swimming pond of Interrupted Bathers, where the female bathers' clothing is stolen by a pair of hoboes (not the usual youthful chums who in smirking innocence are so often intent on disrobing their female counterparts). These contrived mischiefs seem somehow at once more realistic and fantastic when they occur out there in Nature, where the real breeze flutters actual trees, while ersatz high jinks (yes, often producing equally ersatz amusement) march dutifully mid-frame.

As for the fantastic: In the closing moment the women don the inevitable barrels worn as frequently by the naked as they are by the cleaned-out gambler. I'm always mystified by their perplexing availability—not denuded bathers, but barrels. How does one come across them so handily, out there amid the oaks and ferns?


Popular Posts