Silent Steve stared at me. I stared at Silent Steve.
“Cabbages?” I said.
“Yup,” he replied.
And so I’m going to share this with you.
First, a history lesson. Way back at the dawn of cinema, when the Lumiére brothers invited some people over to see their new stable projection system, recipients of the tickets included the goodly folk at Léon Gaumont’s company, now the oldest film company on the planet. One attendee was – as a courtesy – the typist and stenographer Alice Guy.
Remember that name. Alice Guy. Later Alice Guy-Blaché.
For after watching the ‘people leaving a factory’ starting point of motion pictures, Alice Guy asked to have a go at Gaumont and thus made history. It was Alice who first told a story in film. Movie narrative was, well, new. Completely new – got that? Every film, every film star, this site and any person who has enjoyed any film, television, blipvert or video that tells a story…bow down before Alice Guy. History forgot her; we will not.
And so to the first narrative film. About cabbages and a fairy. She made it in 1896, then remade it in 1900. That’s the one above.
The story is a fairy tale that boils down to: parents needing kids should look for the fairy in the garden. She will gift you girls from the roses, and boys from the cabbage patch. And that’s what happens in this minute of first-film-story-ever-told.
A fairy stands in a garden.
She reaches down and pulls a real child out of the cabbage patch – it’s a boy!
She reaches down and pulls a real child from the roses – its a girl!
At 42 seconds, turn away if you want to enjoy the inadvertent drama first hand, she reaches into the roses again – one handed – and pulls out another child that appears to be… let’s go with it’s a doll, less convincing than the actual babies on set, and more than a bit startling given she drops it.
The star, a bit sweepingly posy, is not a natural with baby dolls…and seems to stumble at one point. So, welcome, theatrical habits, to the motion camera.
And that’s that. A fairy tale for childless couples, perhaps attractive to those in their middle years, shows that a bit of magic and a flouncy fairy can make your dreams come true. Provided you ask for two babies and a corpse.
There’s no real way to score this. Silent Steve was resistant to my opinions on fairies, cabbages and freakish dolls, so I’ve gone with five crumblies as at that moment (okay, the 1896 moment, not this, the 1900 one), there was nothing else to judge this toll of history’s bell. It was the first.
Alice Guy gave us story on film, and for all the silliness on display, her instincts to leave documentary behind and touch the emotions…well, old Mrs Jack would have been delighted, because every minute of filmic narrative began with the smarts of a woman.
And don’t that just make it feel now?