Saturday, August 25, 2018

The First Auto, Roy Del Ruth, 1927

A gimmick film. Not only is it chock full of gimmicks, but it's also, in a way, about a society enthralled by gimmicks. About a society encountering modernity in the form of gimmicks. Maybe also about the gimmicky nature of modernity in general. A film about people constantly trying to showcase something or other, to attract attention to something, to play tricks on each other. The introduction of the car is just a convenient occasion to free one's inner narcissistic showman. Fortunately, the basic mood is still optimistic, even hedonistical. Progress is a given, something which is about to happen anyway, so we might just enjoy it.

The gimmicks really take over (almost) everything. There filmic realisation stems from Del Ruth's Sennett days (i just encountered a variation of the joke with the funnel in his The Heart Snatcher), and the technologically newer sound effects are used just in the same way: A laughter, applause and even single words are used as distinct gimmicks vamping up the otherwise silent image. Some of the effects are truly astonishing, especially a series of different, stylized voices used to depict town chatter. It's a pity this transitional phase didn't last longer (and, of course, that most of the films produced with sound effects are lost).

There's also an old man who doesn't believe in gimmicks. He sticks to his horse, an animal which almost automatically triggers, with each of its appearances, a mode of melodrama completely absent from the rest of the film, because it clearly belongs to an older era. The last shot belongs not to the car, but to the horse - which has been transformed into a kind of sentimental gimmick. So in a way, this is also a film about the invention of nostalgia. Vernacular dialectics.

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