Percy Smith's films of various insects seen juggling tiny objects caused an absolute furore when they were first shown to the public in 1908. This was unlike anything cinemagoers had seen before and there was much debate as to how Smith had 'taught' the little creatures to twirl match sticks, manipulate corks and waggle tiny dumbbells. The filmmaker was forced to justify his methods in the press, guaranteeing that there was no trickery involved and certainly no cruelty.
Still images from the film were featured in newspapers and magazines and the subject inspired poetry and political cartoons; this obviously pleased Smith greatly. He was humble in print, however, stating that his intention in making the film was of course to entertain the public, but also to demonstrate the strength and agility of those insects we might unthinkingly squash or swat when they settle on our lunch.
There were several different versions of this film. The version featured here includes a scorpion grasping a matchbox, an ant holding a match, and flies and fleas juggling various small objects. Alas, the much-debated footage of a fly dressed as a nurse holding a small model baby is missing from this version. Shame!
*This film is included on the BFI DVD compilation 'Science is Fiction / The Sounds of Science: The films of Jean Painlevé.