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The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912)

CRUMBLIES… 4 crumblies

I know, Silent Steve and I had a bit of a Sunday. He thought we should look at a couple of American films, what with the good stuff to date being French or – gasp – German. And so we started with a film that should be a sage lesson to any teachers organising a day trip – and a promise to grandmothers everywhere not to be an unmitigated bitch. For their grand-spawn will dream, and quite possibly try to get to, The Land Beyond the Sunset.

This is just under 13 minutes long, so quit huffing and watch the thing.

It’s from Thomas Edison’s company some twenty years after the man made history…

Okay, let’s clear something up. The film camera came from the work of Wordsworth DonisthorpeLouis Le PrinceWilliam Friese-Greene (yeah – go watch The Magic Box (1951) again), Alexander Parkes, and Thomas Edison employee  William Kennedy Laurie Dickson. Of that last pair, Edison made it move, Dickson made it work. Got that, America? However, Edison was a savvy businessman as well as an engineer-inventor and ran a couple of companies that turned out over a thousand films.

Beyond 20.32.19The Land Beyond the Sunset starts with impoverished Newsboy Joe (Martin Fuller) in silhouette. Slowly materialising in a busy street in the Bronx, his attempts to sell papers are snubbed by the rushing urbanites. A woman and a kind little girl, however, pause for a chat and he is gifted a penny, Then it’s back to hell for Joe…

Beyond 20.33.23He lives with his Grandma (credited as Mrs. William Bechtel – really, Bechdel irony, anyone?). She’s horrible. Shouts at him, goes through his pockets, takes the penny and does nothing to make life nicer. They live in a single room, with skewiff shelving, a dodgy table, and an ancient chaise-longue that she sleeps on whilst Joe takes the floor. Not a great existence…

Next day – in scenes that are nearly but not quite clear – goodly folk arrange a trip to the seaside for children of the poor. Bigelow Cooper is the Minister, and a year into his film career here. A crowd of kids form at his office, gathered by kindly adults. Joe pitches up and gets into the group, is invited along and suddenly…

Countryside! Flowers, trees, a happy crowd and kind people. Oh yes – Joe has his first sight of decency and beauty… This short was, apparently, made in collaboration with the Fresh Air Fund of America, so its point is not about bitchy grandmas after all…

Beyond 20.33.37

Then things get even nicer as the group is fed (there’s a god-loving pause) and told fairy stories. Cue daydreams for Joe as a boy in medieval tights, beaten by an evil old woman (looking a bit like Grandma again – certainly has her chin), is saved by a fit fairy. And off he goes with the fit fairy, some other fit fairies, in a flowery boat…whilst the other fairies all smile at the camera (and… it’s a cut). Back to the picnic and Joe has a moment of violence from his Grandma superimposed over his head. Nice touch – old Jack here didn’t want him to go home either.

Watched it yet? We’re at minute 11.

Beyond 20.34.08SPOILER – then Joe hangs back, finds a boat, and heads out to sea. Where he probably starves and dies, but I suspect the Fresh Air Fund turned a blind eye to that plot weirdness. I can only imagine how tense teachers would get at the scene….

Okay. It’s brief, it’s sweet, it’s undeniably American and shows their feel for film storytelling and caricatured old folk was there from the start. It’s also a damned sight more saccharine than the European approach.

Fuller is wildly unconvincing (especially in tights) but competent, Bechtel gives good slatternly oldster, and old Jack fell a bit in love with Ethel Jewett‘s kindly storyteller and good fairy.

Give it a go. It’s on the YouTube.

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