March 14, 1908 [Fireside Reminiscences, Tales the Autumn Leaves Told]

The flat and predictable snippets, un-involving gags and sentimental interludes that still crowd the programme leave us bored and shifting in our seats, chatting and hoping that next little chase or prank will be better—no, less achingly bad—than the previous.

But within those very same five-minute flickering displays, over almost before our backs settle into our seats, is a kind of leftover magic, a sleight-of-eye, so to speak, the grinning urge toward original images. But even better: sometimes the grin fades, and a genuine surprise startles us into attention, or a moment of grace captivates. This goes back some ways; I am drawn once more, almost fifteen years ago, to Annabelle dancing in serpentine bliss, in almost private joy, allowing us to watch. The faces in the fire of Fireside Reminiscences begin as cliché, but they float in delicate mystery, a camera-trick that passes slowly, like winding silk, across my eyes. And the disarming sweetness of the faces framed by the leaves telling their tales, the cinematic equivalent of a child's afternoon with scissors and paper and stencil, quietly cast themselves on the surface of the screen, fall in gray tones that mirror memory itself, drifting but clear, dimming but firm, no matter how many autumns pass.

And I know what I want: both the story and the dream, the magic trick and the séance of narrative, ghost-murmurs taking shape, three acts long—five, if things wax Shakespearean. I have heard of the Australian motion picture, more than an hour of film, based on the story of the outlaw Ned Kelly [1906]. And I'm sure America and Europe will follow—as France did last year with The Prodigal Son. I can feel cinema falling into its proper trance, a necessary ecstasy of sixty minutes and more.


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