September 20, 1904 [How a French Nobleman Got a Wife through the New York Herald Personal Columns]

The title is almost as interminable as the endless bowing on the part of the Frenchman—and its "plot" is as static as the subsequent "chase" through the underbrush of the Nobleman by his bevy of Personals down an embankment, through a forest, over a fence, and so on—culminating in the only moment of dynamism, the Nobleman's plunge into a pond—followed by the apparently most persistent woman, who gleefully joins him. This Edison piece, which begins with the old joke about meeting at Grant's Tomb, almost embarrassingly reveals the difference between the cinematic aspirations of the Wizard of Menlo Park and Méliès the Magician—although I should be quick to point out the latter's own tendency toward the hidebound, willing to repeat himself, too enamored of the camera's ability simply to stop and restart to achieve his endless appear-disappear tricks.

Still, I'd rather watch Méliès pop his characters from place to place—under pot-lids and inside drawers, cabinets and closets willing to consume and reveal his hapless cooks, alchemists and conjurers—than endure the meanderings on which Edison seems willing to expend hundreds of feet of film. The growing problem with both is not the lack of plot (the theater continues to provide ample opportunity for that) but cinema's hesitancy to express its characters' inner life—and I do mean "hesitancy," not quite "inability," for Edwin S. Porter, at least, seems willing to consider more than situation; but if we're to know more of them than the stilted revelations of title-cards and pulled faces, the animated picture must live up to its name and find a way to bring these figures to life with purely visual means, to recognize the challenge of their medium—and the promise it holds to show us not only action but character.

How this will happen, I'm at a loss to say. But once again I find myself watching and waiting, not yet certain what I'm seeing, but anticipatory. It's a stimulating mood: satisfaction suspended, but eyes wide open.


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