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Miller and the Sweep, The (1897)


Main image of Miller and the Sweep, The (1897)
35mm, black and white, silent, 40 feet
DirectorG.A. Smith
Production CompanyG.A. Smith

A miller collides with a chimney sweep, and they both come to blows.

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The Miller and the Sweep (1897) was one of the first films made by G.A. Smith, shortly after he first acquired a camera (either in late 1896 or early 1897). Although he is recorded as having made thirty-one films that year, this is one of the few that survive.

It's one of the earliest films to show a clear awareness of its visual impact when projected. Knowing that the final film would be in black and white, Smith turned the action into a battle between those two opposites - the miller is clad in white and is carrying a bag of flour, the sweep is in black and has a bag of soot, each of which has a similarly destructive effect on the other's appearance.

Smith also stages the action in front of the miller's windmill, which provides a constantly moving backdrop that makes it clear that the film is shot on location.

Smith's subsequent films would be rather more sophisticated, especially when he started exploiting the creative possibilities of close-ups, editing and special effects, but The Miller and the Sweep is still immensely endearing and clearly shows his cinematic imagination at work, albeit in embryonic form.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers'. 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.

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Video Clips
Complete film (0:48)
Production stills
Washing the Sweep (1898)
Smith, G.A. (1864-1959)