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Extraordinary Waiter, The (1902)

British Film Institute

Main image of Extraordinary Waiter, The (1902)
DirectorW.R. Booth
Production CompanyPaul's Animatograph Works
ProducerR.W. Paul

A customer finds a blackface waiter indestructible.

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This 1902 film, alternatively known as Diner and Waiter Comic, is apparently set in some African colonial outpost (indicated by the mountains, the diner's pith helmet and the waiter's colour), though any hint that this might be a cousin to producer R.W. Paul's Boer War films is quickly dispelled by the usual parade of former stage illusionist W.R. Booth's trademark trickery.

Here, an overbearing diner indicates his displeasure with the waiter's lackadaisical service by pushing him over, which leads to an increasingly elaborate series of assaults in which the waiter's head is pulled off and replaced, and he is knocked to the ground, beaten with a stick and even trampled (jump-cuts substituting a dummy at the crucial moment of impact, an effect that Booth would revisit in the following year's Extraordinary Cab Accident).

If this makes for somewhat uncomfortable viewing - this is, after all, a film entirely about a large white man brutalising a small black man - this is mitigated slightly by the fact that the waiter is so clearly not only unharmed but even amused by all these shenanigans, and the diner is the one who ends up angry and frustrated. It's just about possible to read this as a metaphor for the rather more widespread frustrations arising from British colonial rule (the Boer War was still a current issue), though it seems unlikely that this was intentional on Booth's part.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'R.W. Paul: The Collected Films 1895-1908', with music by Stephen Horne and optional commentary by Ian Christie.

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Video Clips
Complete film (1:16)
Booth, W.R. (1869-1938)
Paul, R.W. (1869-1943)
Paul's Animatograph Works: Trick Films