This is the most interesting of Gaumont's available early, fin-de-siècle productions generally attributed to the studio's main director, producer and writer, Alice Guy. That's regardless of its uncertain dating, too, which I address in my comments for the 1896 entry of La fée aux choux (1896). To summarize, only one such film exists today, although Guy remade the cabbage-patch scenario later in "Midwife to the Upper Class" (1902) and, briefly, in "Madame's Cravings" (1906). Thus, everyone posting reviews for the hypothetical 1896 film and the c.1900 film, which perhaps is a remake and perhaps not, have seen and are discussing the same, sole film to exist today. Dating aside, then, "The Cabbage-Patch Fairy" is an amusing piece in the cinema-of-attractions mode--before the maturity of narrative cinema.
More interesting methinks than the cabbage-patch fable (like the one involving storks) on human reproduction is to consider "The Cabbage-Patch Fairy" as a fable on cinematic duplication, which others, such as Alison McMahan (in her book, "Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema") and Jane M. Gaines ("Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries?") have brought up. Having possibly been made as a demonstration film, to advertise either Gaumont's cameras or films, the cabbages, then, may be self-reflexively seen as the cinematographic apparatus and the infants as the films they birth. Moreover, the commercial distribution of films requires their reproduction--the duplication of a negative that was already a photographic copy of the scene filmed. In early cinema, especially for popular films such as these cabbage-patch ones, this also necessitated remaking the films entirely as the prints wore out--contributing to the current confusion over the dating here.
The fourth-wall-breaking fairy, the only adult character in this version, is appropriate in this respect for a demonstration film. It's a direct address to customers or spectators. She returns our gaze and, thus, invites us to partake. This is presentation of a product or spectacle instead of narration of a story and characters with psychological motivations. Fairies occupy an interesting space in early cinema. In the féeries (fairy films) of Georges Méliès, such as "Cinderella" (1899), "Bluebeard" (1901) and "The Kingdom of the Fairies" (1903), the fairy guides characters through a scenario--much like the "midwife" character does in Guy's subsequent "Midwife to the Upper Class." Whereas, here, the fairy guides us through the spectacle. In either case, the figure is something of a surrogate on screen for the filmmaker, displaying the trick-effects magic and production design of Méliès in his films, or the magic and scenery of the cabbage patch here.
It's also remarkable that Guy, the world's first female director, would choose and return to a fairy tale on human reproduction, whereas Méliès and others tended towards more masculine, or at least boyish, tales of adventure, such as knights rescuing damsels and the slaying of monsters. This focus on mothering became even more prominent with, say, the pregnant protagonist of "Madame's Cravings," as well as, even, the prominence of the mother Mary and other women in her passion play, "La Vie du Christ" (1906).
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