Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
'?' Motorist, The (1906)


Main image of '?' Motorist, The (1906)
35mm, black and white, silent, 181 feet
Production CompanyPaul's Animatograph Works

A motorist goes to extreme lengths to evade the law, even to the point of interplanetary travel.

Show full synopsis

One of the last films that W.R. Booth made for the producer-inventor R.W. Paul, the curiously (indeed, unpronounceably) titled The '?' Motorist looks forward to the more elaborate fantasies that Booth would make for Charles Urban between 1907 and 1911, as well as drawing on a wide range of the visual tricks that Booth had developed over the preceding half-decade.

The film starts when a couple driving a car refuse to stop for a traffic policeman, who is subsequently run over in a manner reminiscent of Booth's Extraordinary Cab Accident (1903). But from this point, the film becomes far more fantastical, with the car literally driving up the front of a building and flying through the air, eventually leaving the earth's atmosphere altogether in order to visit both the moon and the planet Saturn, whose rings become an improvised racetrack, the film's most original and memorable image.

There are also strong visual echoes of the work of French fantasy pioneer Georges Méliès, who featured the moon with a smiling face in A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune (1902) and who was also very fond of creating imaginary Jules Verne-style journeys in such films as the self-descriptive An Impossible Voyage (Voyage à travers l'impossible, 1904). Booth and Méliès both started out as stage illusionists, and would certainly have been aware of each other's work.

Five years later, Booth would make The Automatic Motorist (1911), a virtual remake of The '?' Motorist, but on a bigger scale.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilations 'Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers' and 'R.W. Paul: The Collected Films 1895-1908'. An extract is also featured in 'How They Laughed', Paul Merton's interactive guide to early British silent comedy. Note that this material is not limited to users in registered UK libraries and educational establishments: it can be accessed by anyone, anywhere.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (2:22)
Production stills
Aerial Submarine (1910)
Extraordinary Cab Accident (1903)
Booth, W.R. (1869-1938)
Paul, R.W. (1869-1943)
A Year in Film: 1906
Paul's Animatograph Works: Trick Films
Science Fiction
The Roots of Monty Python