December 13, 1915 [The Lone Game]

Three tuberculosis patients fight “the lone game”—and the melancholy of that phrase is as suffocating as the disease. Fictionalized yet rooted in sad reality, the film makes me hesitate: Intended as education, does it also seek to “entertain”? The narratives move with predictable certainty toward recovery or death. And, while the messages are vital—the effect of treatment, the economic barriers, the contagious element—there's a sense of intrusion here, as we watch the actors cough, their faces drawn, the unhealthy environment threatening. Nothing seems certain or steady in this film; all is frailty under the weight of those laboring lungs.

My squeamishness may be accentuated by my own fear of TB—the idea of suffocation fills me with a particular dread—and perhaps I should admit that one of cinema’s strengths always will be misdirection: the social ill becomes the personal drama—which in turn becomes the viewer’s, enlisted by the Red Cross to anticipate one’s own infection—and one’s responsibility to not only the sufferer but the self.

I will let it go, then. Edison seems almost out of his own “game”—the film business—but (as he has since the beginning) he knows that the act of seeing is believing—and, here at least, we are asked to believe the truth.


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