Groundbreaking Cinema In 1898

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#1
kiss1380.jpg

Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown embrace in the 1898 film 'Something Good-Negro Kiss.' (Courtesy of the USC School of Cinematic Arts.)
'Something Good‑Negro Kiss' is the title of an 1898 film that was just recently discovered. Dino Everett, an archivist at the University of Southern California, found the 19th-century nitrate print amongst a batch of silent movies once owned by a Louisiana collector. He brought the footage to the attention of Dr. Allyson Nadia Field, an associate professor at the University of Chicago’s Department of Cinema and Media Studies. Using inventor and distribution catalogues, Dr. Field traced 'Something Good-Negro Kiss' to the Chicago studio of William Selig, a vaudeville performer and pioneer of early cinema. Mr. Selig’s Chicago-based Selig Polyscope Co. was one of the first motion-picture studios in America. Dr. Field was even able to identify the actors in the film as Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown.

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William Nicholas Selig in 1916 (Wikipedia)​

It is striking to note that Suttle’s and Brown’s costumes are consistent with those worn in minstrel shows, a 19th century form of musical entertainment rooted in exaggerated racial stereotypes. Early minstrel shows were performed by white actors in blackface, but in the wake of the American Civil War, minstrelsy expanded to include black performers. These performers attempted to balance the genre’s racist style with more refined depictions of African-American identity.

Something Good-Negro Kiss’ was likely inspired by 'The Kiss,' an 18-second film created by Thomas Edison in 1896. Edison’s film was one of the first films to be publicly shown and has the distinction of showing the first ever on-screen kiss. According to the Library of Congress, Edison’s film “spawned a spate of imitators, but ‘Something Good-Negro Kiss’ is set apart by the chemistry between its actors.”

In contrast to other films of its time, ‘Something Good-Negro Kiss’ is devoid of any racist caricatures. The film is now among 25 movies recently inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

I found this story to be fascinating. If you're interested in learning more, check out Uplift Cinema written by Allyson Nadia Field (Duke University Press, 2015). This book digs into the emergence of Black filmmaking practices in the period prior to D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915).

Uplift%20Cinema%20cover.jpg
 

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WJC

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#11
Thanks for sharing this interesting bit of film history. What strikes me is how natural and relaxed the couple are compared to the contrived poses of so many couples in other early films.
 

byron ed

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#13
...Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown embrace in the 1898 film 'Something Good-Negro Kiss.' (Courtesy of the USC School of Cinematic Arts.)
As an art image it's charming. A big deal historically really. The date is verified?*

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* I'm a little suspect in that the technical quality of the image seems too good to have been scanned (or enlarged analog) from a small format film frame, especially given pre-century movie film technology. The grain and sharpness appear more 1930s than 1890s. And how lucky to find an original nitrate movie reel in good enough condition to run. So many nitrates degraded over time, becoming brittle or even spontaneously combusting in less-than-ideal storage conditions.

And then there's those very natural facial expressions remarked about in one of the frames -- typically that requires a higher film speed emulsion of a sort developed by the 1930s. At higher film (more light receptive emulsion) speeds less intense lighting is allowable, meaning less stilted and more natural facial expressions. Also note the frame where the actors are caught mid-motion with not much blur, possibly another indication of a higher film speed than was possible in the 1890s.
 
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byron ed

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...in which even the team registered somewhat the same reaction, stating “It was remarkable to me how well the film was preserved" and "It is really striking to me, as a historian who works on race and cinema, to think that this kind of artifact could have existed in 1898." So not to doubt the archivist's professional opinion but to bolster it, given the significance of the find doesn't testing and dating by a certified chemical/materials lab (say one specializing in film, Rochester NY or whatever) seem prudent? Let's assume something like that was done. Am I out of line?
 
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#16
No, I don't think that at all. I did a little research on Dr. Allyson Nadia Field before I started this thread and she is highly respected in her field. It seems unlikely she would support this date if she wasn't sure. Of course anything is possible. Did you view the clip on the site? I enjoyed it.
 

Belle Montgomery

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#17
...in which even the team registered somewhat the same reaction, stating “It was remarkable to me how well the film was preserved" and "It is really striking to me, as a historian who works on race and cinema, to think that this kind of artifact could have existed in 1898." So not to doubt the archivist's professional opinion but to bolster it, given the significance of the find doesn't testing and dating by a certified chemical/materials lab (say one specializing in film, Rochester NY or whatever) seem prudent? Let's assume something like that was done. Am I out of line?
As an art image it's charming. A big deal historically really. The date is verified?*

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
* I'm a little suspect in that the technical quality of the image seems too good to have been scanned (or enlarged analog) from a small format film frame, especially given pre-century movie film technology. The grain and sharpness appear more 1930s than 1890s. And how lucky to find an original nitrate movie reel in good enough condition to run. So many nitrates degraded over time, becoming brittle or even spontaneously combusting in less-than-ideal storage conditions.

And then there's those very natural facial expressions remarked about in one of the frames -- typically that requires a higher film speed emulsion of a sort developed by the 1930s. At higher film (more light receptive emulsion) speeds less intense lighting is allowable, meaning less stilted and more natural facial expressions. Also note the frame where the actors are caught mid-motion with not much blur, possibly another indication of a higher film speed than was possible in the 1890s.
Saint died in 1932 and Gertie died in 1934. Their ages at the time appear to match the film date...28 and 16 :wink: @Eleanor Rose
 



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