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Pierrette’s Escapades / Le départ d’Arlequin et de Pierrette (1900)

CRUMBLIES…3 crumblies

Okay, I sat through these two minutes of obscure pantomimic pantomiming, so you do too. Silent Steve dared me to eat a cupcake quicker than Pierrette’s Escapades, plainly expecting me to fail, and unaware that the sheer beauty of the thing would block my gag reflex and see Cake of Fairy spatter the wall like Victorian hand-tinting…in Pierrette’s Escapades.

Okay. It’s 1900. Commedia dell’arte is a thing – a subset of your faintly tiresome pantomime – and a perennial story hits film. Alice Guy – still tremendous, elsewhere pairing records with film to produce talkies (well, okay, singies) before anyone else, here bangs out a fairly simplistic two minutes in Glorious Colouring-In-i-Colour. And boy is it bright – bask in orange and pink, people.

The story, with the people not so much shaded as highlighter-penned into life, is a classic. Pierrot (here a lady) is a fat clown in freakish white silk. He ambles into the changing room (or some such) of the lady he admires. She’s poncing about without a care in the world, albeit she knows what a life of mime can do to you so rejects the scary-arsed clown’s advances. For a moment, Slurpy Sid’s approach to Mad Maud is played out in skippy 1900-and-new-to-it motion. Poor Pierrette – the unpassionate clownula rasa – slapped back by the flighty girl… At least she doesn’t try gouging out an eye (Maud did a self-defence class; nearly ripped off Sid’s nipples as well).

Anyway, sod the clown, goes the ancient story. For up pops Harlequin, she (in this 120 second epic) of the garish green and faintly chequered outfit. The two are much more sympatico, though it looks a lot like Pierrette and Harlequin are played by the same woman. Just possible, I muttered to Silent Steve, that Pierrette has sussed where he’s failing with the lady (Columbine) and goes for the sweet-spot of green leotard and yellow boots. And hat. Yum.

Anyway, the last thirty seconds comprise the ladies prancing and nearly dancing, just about telling a story, though old Jack here thinks you’re supposed to have spent your time since the 1880s watching pantos in prep.

And then…

And then…

They end on a kiss!

I know! Of course, it being the year 1900, there’s not a hint of sexiness. This is, after all, a woman and her prancing clown at play. A quick touch of the lips, not entirely obscured by the glare of the colours painted on the film, and Pierrette’s Escapades come to a sudden stop. And – give Harlequin her due – she got a damned sight further than Slurpy Sid did 118 years later.

I’m not a great fan of this, what with the context being a century out of date and the narrative way too simplistic…, one might say not even there, which makes it a bit of a let down for an Alice Guy fan. That said, this is a film made by a woman, starring women, offering a trad story and best-endeavours technology. As with the synchronised records, the colour here shows that people wanted talkies in colour from the very beginning. And the Guy touch gives it to them.

So, there you go, not great but still enlightening. Pop to the top of the page and take a look at a crappy day for Pierrot, and a joyous one for Harlequin.

Columbine’s favours be with you all.

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