Cinematic Firsts: The First Detective Film (& The First Sherlock Holmes Film) - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Cinematic Firsts: The First Detective Film (& The First Sherlock Holmes Film)

The game's afoot...

In 1894, Herman Casler patented an early motion picture device called the Mutoscope. Similar to Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope, which we looked at here, it didn't project on a screen but rather allowed one person at a time to watch a short moving picture.

The Mutoscope worked on the same principle as a flip book, with individual image frames printed onto flexible cards lit by an electric light bulb inside the machine and attached to a circular core which revolved with the turn of a user-operated hand crank. It was cheaper and simpler to use than the Kinetoscope, and the system, marketed by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company quickly dominated the coin-in-the-slot "peep-show" business. The Mutoscope is now widely remembered as the "What The Butler Saw" machine, but soft-pornography was not its sole content.

The typical arcade installation included multiple machines offering a mixture of fare. In 1898, The San Francisco Call printed a short piece about the Mutoscope, which claimed that the device was extremely popular:
"Twenty machines, all different and amusing views...are crowded day and night with sightseers."
It was so popular that the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company struggled to keep up with the demand for new films. How popular? Well, their primary staff cameramen, Arthur Weed Marvin, directed over 418 short films for the Mutoscope between 1897 and 1911 - that's a new film approximately every twelve days!

One of his titles, produced in 1900 (although not copyrighted until three years later), was called Sherlock Holmes Baffled. In the film, a thief who can appear and disappear at will steals a sack of items from Sherlock Holmes. At each point, Holmes's attempts to thwart the intruder end in failure. Take a look...

The identities of the first screen Holmes and his assailant are not recorded, and the film itself was thought to have been lost for many years until a paper copy was identified in 1968 in the Library of Congress Paper Print archive by Michael Pointer, a historian of Sherlock Holmes films. What's a paper copy you may ask? Well, because motion pictures were not covered by copyright laws until 1912, paper prints were submitted by studios wishing to register their works (as this film was in 1903). These were made using light-sensitive paper of the same width and length as the film itself, and developed as though a still photograph. Both the Edison Company and the Biograph Company submitted entire motion pictures as paper prints, and it is in this form that most of them survive and have subsequently been transferred to 16 mm film to be viewed today.

Sherlock Holmes Baffled was the first time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary creation had appeared in a moving picture, albeit in a form unlike that of later screen incarnations. The film doesn't represent any of Doyle's work, and it's quite likely the character's name was really just used purely for its familiarity with the public, but regardless of that Sherlock Holmes Baffled was still the first film to feature a detective of any sort.

View all our Cinematic Firsts articles here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad