Porter's sequential continuity editing links several shots to form a narrative of the famous fairy tale story of Jack and his magic beanstalk. Borrowing on cinematographic methods reminiscen... Read allPorter's sequential continuity editing links several shots to form a narrative of the famous fairy tale story of Jack and his magic beanstalk. Borrowing on cinematographic methods reminiscent of 'Georges Melies', Porter uses animation, double exposure, and trick photography to il... Read allPorter's sequential continuity editing links several shots to form a narrative of the famous fairy tale story of Jack and his magic beanstalk. Borrowing on cinematographic methods reminiscent of 'Georges Melies', Porter uses animation, double exposure, and trick photography to illustrate the fairy's apparitions, Jack's dream, and the fast growing beanstalk.
Strictly speaking, this film is a photographed stage play in which the special effects are stage effects, but that in itself was something of a novelty in 1902. Many of the earliest films of the 1890s and early 1900s consisted of only a single shot, representing what we would call 'actualities' filmed in natural locations: trains rolling past, ocean waves, street scenes, etc. The actors of Jack and the Beanstalk perform in full costume, and emote before painted backdrops as the familiar story is related in several lengthy shots presented in a methodical fashion. Although Porter's production lacks the verve that France's Georges Méliès was bringing to similar material around this same time, it does boast a moment or two of cinematic (as opposed to theatrical) wit. I like the early scene where Jack falls asleep and the Good Fairy 'directs' his dream, which is enacted for us, and includes such details as dancing bags of money and a woman hatching out of an egg. There's also a nice moment later when, after climbing the beanstalk, Jack takes another nap and the Good Fairy once more appears to him in a dream, this time treating him to a magic lantern show concerning the giant he's about to face.
Someone who posted about this film previously called it "pathetic," and asserted that the filmmakers lacked imagination. I suggest in return that a certain amount of imagination is required to appreciate exactly what filmmakers were dealing with in 1902 when this medium was brand new. We're all so accustomed to going to the movies and having TVs in our homes, popping in videos & DVDs whenever we like, but what about the people who made these first films? In 1902 most people had never seen a movie or a movie camera. This was an entirely new technology, and there must have been numerous problems for the filmmakers, e.g., simply moving those bulky cameras, loading the (incredibly flammable) film itself, technical difficulties with lab work, etc. Making motion pictures was still a brand new, experimental process. Mechanical breakdowns and disappointments must have been a common occurrence for the pioneer producers. But we should also consider how much fun it must have been to be present at the birth of a new art form, the thrill of making discoveries that advance that art form, and the great excitement experienced by the original audiences who saw these films when they were new. In short, it takes imagination simply to view and appreciate a film like Edwin S. Porter's Jack and the Beanstalk, and we should count ourselves as fortunate that we can still do that.
- Aug 6, 2002