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Birth of the Flowers (Pathé)

April 9, 2011

On Friday I attended a symposium at Northwestern University called Science/Film. Today’s 100 year old movie is a Pathé film that reminds me a lot of the time-lapse plant films that presenter Oliver Gaycken discussed in his presentation, “The Secret Life of Plants.” According to Gaycken, around the turn of the last century many people were excited about the possibility that plants may be endowed with consciousness, and films such as Birth of the Flowers were instrumental in helping to promote if not a belief in plant consciousness, a sense of environmental ethics.

Here’s the “manufacturers synopsis” sent to the trade press:

Not only are the stages of growth of a number of chrysanthemums shown, and the mysteries of potting and repotting explained, but also the ten days opening of a single flower in two minutes on the screen. The beautiful flower in two minutes on the screen. The beautiful-bud, encased in its green calyx, stands boldly upright. It swells and bursts open, and then the ragged petals of the chrysanthemum slowly bend and spread outwards.

BIOSCOPE (23 March 1911): 31.

Most likely this film was something of a rip-off of the 1910 The Birth of a Flower

As late as 1915, people were still talking about the magic of these types of film:

FLOWERS ALIVE When films such as The Birth of a Flower (Urban Colonial) and How Winter Flowers Bloom (Pathé) were first shown on the screen the admiration of their beauty was coupled with wonder that a mere mechanical process could reproduce within a few minutes compass that which spread over hours or days was practically invisible to us. With each successive viewing of such pictures there is an added sense of wonder no longer at the inventive skill that has made such marvels possible but at the manifestation of life itself. The rose bares her golden heart to the sun the daffodils sway and unfurl like exquisite dancers living embodiments of the poet’s lines. Yet before these beauties and graces can be accomplished there may have been a bitter struggle. The writhing stems of the cyclamen shoulder each other the tight furled buds strike one at another like the heads of snakes each blindly but surely seeking the light. Only after patient and persistent effort can the delicate blossom flaunt her snowy loveliness on high. Presented with fitting musical accompaniment rising to a climax with the triumphant unfurling of the flower this film was a true drama of life itself.

THE INDEPENDENT 84., no. 3497 (13 December 1915): 420

 

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