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X Rays, The (1897)


Main image of X Rays, The (1897)
35mm, black and white, silent, 46 feet
DirectorG.A. Smith
Production CompanyG.A. Smith

Cast: Tom Green, Laura Bayley

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A courting couple are filmed by X-rays.

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This early short by G.A. Smith contains one of the first British examples of special effects created by means of jump-cuts, something accidentally discovered the previous year by the French magician-turned-filmmaker Georges Méliès when his camera jammed when filming a street scene and he discovered that a carriage had apparently been transformed into a hearse. Méliès realised that he had stumbled upon one of the basic building blocks of the cinema of illusion, and his contemporaries were quick to follow suit.

Here, Smith uses two jump-cuts, first to turn his courting couple into "X-rays" created by means of them donning black body-suits decorated with skeletons (the reduction of the lady's parasol to bare wires is a particularly witty touch), and then back to normal. The couple are played by the Brighton comedian Tom Green and Smith's wife Laura Bayley, both regular performers in his films.

Unlike many films from the late Victorian period, the production of The X-Rays can be very precisely dated to October 1897, thanks to an entry in Smith's company accounts. This means it would have been screened almost exactly two years after Wilhelm Roentgen's discovery of X-rays in November 1895. Publication of his findings saw 'X-ray mania' sweeping the world in early 1896 and, while the medical importance of Roentgen's discovery was swiftly grasped (he received the first physics Nobel Prize in 1901), so was its comic potential, with references to X-rays popping up in a wide range of media from advertising to political cartoons.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
Complete film (0:44)
Topical Budget 873-1: The Miracle of X-Rays! (1928)
Smith, G.A. (1864-1959)
Science Fiction