100 years ago, filmmakers were just as obsessed with self-reflexivity as they are today. In An Accidental Alibi by John Adair, Joe Hardy (Augustus Phillips) is convicted of a murder he did not commit. The “accidental alibi,” a film taken of Joe on in New York City on the day that he was supposed to have committed the murder in the country, suddenly turns up and Joe is given a retrial. According to the Motography reviewer, this takes place in a “thrilling court room scene” in which “the new evidence, in the shape of the motion picture is projected before the judge and the assembled jury. It is absolutely conclusive and the jury gives a verdict of “Not guilty” without leaving their seats” (Motography, 3 May 1913, p. 334).
In the coming months, I’ll be posting some of these Sennett “comedy-melodramas” such as Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life and Mabel’s Dramatic Career. I’ll let you decide whether the other Sennett films I’ve posted on recently fit into this generic category (it’s an open question since this press release/article does not specify any titles).
In order to make this determination however, we have to understand that the definition of melodrama was a bit different for audiences one hundred years ago than it is today. These early film melodramas were not simply tear-jerkers. Rather, they drew from the late 19th century stage melodramas like Under the Gaslight or Blue Jeans in which dramatic situations were heightened with “thrilling incidents” and “intense moments” such as the hero being tied to railroad tracks in the former and on a board being fed into a buzz saw in the latter.
100 years ago today, citizens of Omaha could catch the Pathé company’s film of the presidential inauguration at the Krug Theater (full disclosure: I’m not sure how many companies made their own films of this event and whether the above is Pathé’s or someone else’s):