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Countryman and the Cinematograph, The (1901)


Main image of Countryman and the Cinematograph, The (1901)
35mm, black and white, silent, 19 feet (surviving fragment)
Production CompanyPaul's Animatograph Works

A country yokel visits the cinema and confuses film and reality.

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Also known by the even more descriptive title The Countryman's First Sight of the Animated Pictures, this is available only as a fragment - though R.W.Paul's catalogue describes the film in full (see synopsis). What survives runs from the end of the first film the countryman sees to the start of the third, with the second (the train) presented in full.

This is one of the earliest known examples of a film within a film, where the audience reaction to that film is as important a part of the drama as the content of the film itself. This theme would go on to be explored in far more sophisticated ways in such diverse titles as Sherlock Jr (US, d. Buster Keaton, 1924), Hellzapoppin' (US, d. H.C.Potter, 1940) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (US, d. Woody Allen, 1985).

Although primarily a comedy - R.W.Paul's own catalogue refers to the lead character as "the yokel", making it clear that he was intended as a figure of fun, and so self-evidently stupid that even the most lowly member of Paul's own audience could still look down upon him - the film is also an interesting, if exaggerated, portrait of how early cinema audiences reacted to what was then an astonishing novelty.

This is particularly clear in the second sequence, an obvious reference to the way that the Lumière Brothers' The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (France, 1896) panicked its original audience into believing that a real train was bearing down upon them.

The film was effectively remade the following year in the United States by Edwin S Porter, whose Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1902) is virtually identical in terms of plot, though more sophisticated in its use of intertitles and especially brand promotion (the Edison Kinematograph is prominently featured).

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'. It is also featured in full as part of '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
Surviving fragment (0:11)
Paul, R.W. (1869-1943)
Paul's Animatograph Works: Trick Films