Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Rescued by Rover

Rescued by Rover is a 1905 film which along with the likes of The Great Train Robbery (1903) helped to bridge the gap between films that were a mere curiosity or fairground attraction towards the narrative structure which dominated the following century and continues today. The film makes use of the recent invention of the cut or edit to slice together the action surrounding a baby which is kidnapped by a beggar woman. It mostly follows a dog as it seeks out the missing child to alert its owner, the baby’s father. Although by today’s standards the plot is fairly predictable and quite repetitive, for the time it was groundbreaking. Just five years earlier the Hepworth Manufacturing Company was producing films which although interesting were single shot amusements, now in 1905 they had produced a proper narrative film which is much more coherent than any contemporary film I’ve seen so far.

There are several areas in which this film is inventive or pioneering. The first is perhaps the most important. Rescued by Rover was the first film to ever feature paid actors. Before this time roles were filled by the crew, friends or sometimes passers by. Here though two actors, one of which was May Clark, are employed in a cast which also features Director Cecil Hepworth’s wife, child, dog as well as himself. The film is also noted as being the first to create an animal star. The dog, Blair, became famous for several years following the film’s release and is also one of the best trained I’ve seen on screen.

Another innovative technique is the cutting which is an early example of piecing together a narrative to form a coherent story. The dog travels from house to house in search of the baby which if seen in real time would have been long and boring. Instead, the cutting shortens these sequences and also creates tension and anticipation. Even so I have to admit that the dog’s travels do become repetitive despite the six and a half minute run time. I was instantly reminded of Lassie while watching and I have to believe that this film had at least some influence on the original Lassie novel and subsequent film and television adaptations. 

Something which I always enjoy seeing in early films is the locations. The interiors were shot at Nettlefold Studios South West of London and I have to assume that the exterior shots were filmed in and around Walton. It’s fascinating to me to see towns and cities on film from over a hundred years ago and here we are treated to shots of Victorian slum type terrace housing as well as some more affluent houses and streets and a brief river scene.

Rescued by Rover is by no means a masterpiece by modern standards but when placed in contemporary context it is easy to see why it was so popular and influential. It might be dull and repetitive but it introduced and explored several new techniques and innovations to the medium and influenced filmmakers during the following years, one of which was D.W. Griffith, the man credited with making some of the best films of the silent era including The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance.


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