March 6, 1907 The "Teddy" Bears]

Of course, there's something slapdash and lazy about the art of the Nickelodeon. Between the slovenly patrons crowding, standing, expelling all manner of sounds and odors and so on (modesty forbids further description) and the desperate jumble of the program itself—moving pictures, pamphleteering "lectures," magic lantern shows (still surviving, despite their animated counterparts), and sweaty exertions both gymnastic and (more or less) melodic, both solo and sing-along—all of it straining to please, to keep uninterrupted the flow of nickels—it's no wonder individual films should begin to reflect the atmosphere of their venue, to wear nothing but motley.

The "Teddy" Bears is a decidedly lunatic manifestation of this tendency. It's both stagy and transcendent, an admixture of theater and circus, history and fable. The bears dance, their flopping costumes clumsy as they emerge (at first toy themselves) from a knothole(!) and surprise Goldilocks (ironically clutching her "Teddy" bear), the bears in their nightclothes, ill-fitting and somehow unsettling, shifting dimly in a painted-flats narrow space, awkward and confined.

Then the chase begins—and we're in the actual out-of-doors, with snowy path and wooded hillock. And Teddy Roosevelt "himself" arrives (how easy it is, with glasses and mustache and grin, to impersonate a President!), and the little girl hides behind the ready Chief Executive, who, indeed all bully-bully, blithely dispatches the fairy-tale characters, sparing only (as he famously did in real life a few years ago) Baby Bear—here, at Goldilocks' pleading.

And then we're back on the creaking boards of the stage, where Goldilocks gets her armful of toy bears and forgets the real-world slaughter by the man with the Big Stick—as any child would. That's the accidental truth of this picture: the quicksilver adaptations of children to the strangest and the worst, clutching the sudden toy like a shield. Actually, I'm the one who needs shielding, who's off-balanced by the events; Goldilocks remains in childish control, managing both the beasts and the grandiloquent adult. At the end, I'm befuddled, but Goldilocks looks perfectly at ease, the world fitting her just right.


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