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The Cave Man (Vitagraph)

April 16, 2012

Moving Picture World (20 April 1912): 199. Courtesy of the Media History Digital Library

Around 100 years ago, there began a trend of producing cave-man themed films. The Cave Man was one of them. I posted about one, As it was in the Beginning, a while ago. In today’s 100-year-old film, written by Charles L. Gaskell and directed by and starring Ralph Ince. The film is likely lost, but I here’s a synopsis I paraphrased based on what Vitagraph provided to the Moving Picture World about 100 years ago:

After her father dies, Chloe, played by Edith Storey, is left alone in the world. She is discovered and taken home to their cave by brothers Dagban and Eric, who vie for her affection in an allegory about “brain vs. brawn.” When “Dagban threatens to do her bodily harm unless she accedes to his intentions” Eric beats up his brother to protect Chloe, and then subsequently leaves the cave he calls home to avoid further conflict. By this point, he has won Chloe’s affection with his kindness and love, and she decides to follow him and “together they continue their journey, seeking happiness in the land beyond the horizon, which joins earth with heaven.” (Synopsis paraphrased from The Moving Picture World, (13 April 1912):156.)

In 1915, Vachel Lindsay attributed the phenomenon to a fundamental primal appeal, writing “There is in this nation of moving-picture-goers a hunger for tales of fundamental life … The cave-man longs with an incurable homesickness for his ancient day.” (The Art of the Moving Picture, 1922 reprint. page 261). I happen to think this interpretation is specious for various reasons, which I won’t get into here. Lindsay himself provides an alternative  explanation for the rising popularity of such films which has more to do with the enduring appeal of the scantily clad female body objectified by the camera’s lens:

He acknowledges that these films allowed for “anew costume freedom,” previously taboo. Unlike some of his more puritanical peers, Lindsay approved of “such limitation of clothing as would be probable when one is honestly in touch with wild nature and preoccupied with vigorous exercise.” as long as the depiction of “half-draped figures living in tropical islands or our hairy fore-fathers acting out narratives of the stone age” clad in “the grass-robe or buffalo hide,” was narratively motivated and not just an excuse for the “abbreviation of drapery” on the human body. (The Art of the Moving Picture, 1922 reprint. page 261)

I do not have any stills to show from The Cave Man, but I’m betting the “abbreviated drapery” of its characters’ costumes was similar to that of the girl in As It Was In The Beginning, pictured below.

Moving Picture World (27 January, 1912): 262. Courtesy of the Media History Digital Library

One Comment leave one →
  1. pmarasa permalink
    April 16, 2012 10:41 am

    Certainly such a story seems merely light melodrama with loincloths; but it’s also certain that the myth of cave life runs strong in popular culture. Jack London wrote such a book, “Before Adam,” less than a decade before “The Cave Man.” (It’s available at Project Gutenberg: Like most children–especially boys?–I was fascinated with this myth (the almost-parody of the Flintstones notwithstanding), and have a fond memory of London’s book–although I bet I missed his Darwinist/Marxist slant on antediluvian adventures.

    p.s. “Dagban and Eric”! There is something Pythonesque (as in Monty) about that.

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