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Explosion of a Motor Car (1900)


Main image of Explosion of a Motor Car (1900)
35mm, black and white, silent, 98 feet
DirectorCecil M. Hepworth

Cast: Cecil M. Hepworth, Henry Lawley

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A car drives past a policeman and explodes, although he is happily unscathed enough to pick up the pieces afterwards.

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One of the most memorable of early British trick films, Cecil Hepworth's Explosion of a Motor Car (1900) was one of the first films to play with the laws of physics for comic effect. The time taken for the various parts of the car and its occupants to fall from the sky is hugely exaggerated, though in a way that devotees of Chuck Jones' Road Runner cartoons (made half a century later) will recognise immediately.

The absurdity of the treatment means that even when clearly recognisable body parts start appearing on screen, the overall effect is far less disturbing than it might otherwise be, even to an early 21st century audience rather more familiar with the concept of terrorism by car bomb than the one Hepworth was aiming at. The comedy is heightened by the unflappability of the policeman who just happened to be passing when the car blew up: neatly dodging severed limbs, he starts helpfully assembling them into matching piles even before they've finished their descent.

Explosion of a Motor Car was also one of the first British films to exploit the type of trick photography pioneered in France by Georges Méliès, originally based around the simple jump cut as a means of altering reality. The use of extras walking past the scene and in front of the car just before the explosion adds to the feeling of realism and serves to heighten the suspense, given that the film's main event has already been revealed by the title. The same year, Hepworth made the equally black car-based comedy How It Feels To Be Run Over.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers'. The film 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 (1:45)
Bathers, The (1900)
How It Feels To Be Run Over (1900)
Hepworth, Cecil (1874-1953)