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House That Jack Built, The (1900)

British Film Institute

Main image of House That Jack Built, The (1900)
Production CompanyG.A. Smith

A small girl is building a house when her young brother appears and mischievously knocks it down bit by bit. But despite this wanton destruction, in a few seconds it is miraculously restored.

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Whereas G.A. Smith's other breakthrough films of 1900 (As Seen Through A Telescope, Grandma's Reading Glass and Let Me Dream Again) edit two or more shots together to create a continuous linear narrative, with The House That Jack Built, the cut at the middle of the film marks the point where time starts to run backwards.

The film's second shot consists of the first projected in reverse, transforming Jack from a wantonly destructive bully into a miracle worker, his magic fingers rebuilding the house even though he barely touches the bricks. Reversing the film in the projector was a popular trick with audiences at the time, and Smith makes use of both this and its audience's presumed knowledge of the technique by advertising exactly what is going on - the two shots are separated by a title card bearing the single word 'REVERSED'.

But in addition to exploiting a popular cinematic trick (see Cecil Hepworth's The Bathers, also 1900, for a similar example), Smith was continuing his experiments with narrative forms. The second half of the film can also be interpreted as wish-fulfilment on the part of the girl, hoping that time will literally turn back on itself to allow her house to be rebuilt. Smith demonstrates that while this is impossible in reality, it is easily achievable in cinema - and by running the film repeatedly, Jack can continue his destruction and reconstruction for ever.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
Complete film (0:54)
Bathers, The (1900)
Sheer Trickery (1924)
Smith, G.A. (1864-1959)