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Women's Rights (1899)


Main image of Women's Rights (1899)
aka Ladies' Skirts Nailed to Fence
35mm, black and white, silent, 69 feet
Production CompanyBamforth Company

Two gossiping housewives are appalled to discover that while they were talking, local villains have nailed their skirts to the fence they were standing beside.

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For a long time, this film was known by early cinema programme compilers under the self-explanatory if less than poetic Ladies' Skirts Nailed To (A) Fence and given the approximate date of 1900. Subsequent research, though, strongly suggests that it and an originally presumed lost Bamforth title of 1899, Women's Rights, are one and the same film.

The evidence comes in the form of a set of cards, also produced by Bamforth, entitled Gossips and Eavesdroppers, which features the same plot and performers. The cards also make it clear that what appear to be gossiping housewives are actually discussing women's rights, a potent issue at the time (Emmeline Pankhurst would found the first suffragette movement in four years' time to address womens' growing grievances, particularly in being denied the vote), which also gives the men a motive for nailing their skirts to the fence - albeit a rather unpleasantly misogynist one.

Curiously enough, the women are clearly played by men in drag, though no explanation for this seems to have survived. Neither is there any explanation (beyond plain laziness on the part of the film-makers) as to why all three shots are taken from one camera position, despite it being obvious that the middle shot needed to be taken behind the fence.

The film is nonetheless interesting for marking a clear advance on the likes of the Lumière Brothers' much-copied The Sprinkler Sprinkled (L'Arroseur arrosé, France, 1895) in that, while the practical joke narrative is broadly similar, the three-shot structure is somewhat more sophisticated.

Michael Brooke

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

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Video Clips
Complete film (1:14)
Bamforth, James (1842-?)
Bamforth and Co.