Walter R. Booth: Comedy or Horror?

Undressing extraordinary
R: Walter R. Booth. P: Paul’s Animatograph Works (Robert W. Paul). UK 1901

“The Edison company, which distributed the film in the US, regarded it as a comedy, its catalogue claiming that the audience would end up ‘simply convulsed in laughter’, though it has also been cited as a pioneering horror film, and not simply because of the scene with the skeleton (undressing taken to its logical extreme?). After all, the inability to complete an apparently simple task for reasons beyond one’s control is one of the basic ingredients of a nightmare.
Although his initial gait makes it clear that a primary cause of the traveller’s discomfiture is a combination of tiredness and alcohol, the fact that we see events from his perspective but not through his eyes adds a disturbing level of realism to the hallucinations, created via well-timed jump-cuts that convey the impression of a single three-minute take.
As with many of Booth’s other shorts, similar concepts can be found in films made decades later, examples including Sherlock Jr (US, d. Buster Keaton, 1924), L’Age d’Or (France, d. Luis Buñuel, 1930), Magical Maestro (US, d. Tex Avery, 1952), The Flat (Byt, Czechoslovakia, d. Jan Svankmajer, 1968) and a great many sketches from Monty Python’s Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-74).”
Michael Brooke
Screenonline

The Magic Sword
R: Walter R. Booth. P: Paul’s Animatograph Works (Robert W. Paul). UK 1901

“Compared with the films that Booth and Paul made only two years earlier, The Magic Sword is impressively elaborate, with single shots containing multiple trick effects achieved through complex double exposures and superimpositions. One of the most striking effects is a shot of the witch taking off on her broomstick. John Barnes, in volume 5 of ‘The Beginnings of the Cinema in England’, quotes Frederick A.Talbot’s description of how producer Paul ‘(…)invented a novel movement in the camera, which is now in general use in trick cinematography. The lens was arranged to be raised or lowered in relation to the area of film in the gate, but still independently of the film itself. This was done with a small gearing device whereby, when the gear handle was turned, the lens was moved upwards or downwards. The witch astride her broom stood upon the floor of the stage, which was covered with black cloth, against a background of similar material. By turning the gear handle of the lens attachment the latter was raised, until the witch riding on her broom was lifted to the upper corner of the film and there photographed. Although she simulated the action of riding through space in the traditional manner, in reality she merely moved across the black-covered floor.’

The final result, together with similar sequences involving a giant ogre grabbing the damsel from the castle ramparts and the witch being turned into a magic carpet that unrolls by itself before taking off with our heroes on board, was so startling that it moved the legendary stage illusionist J.N.Maskelyne (of Maskelyne and Devant fame) to describe The Magic Sword as the finest trick film made up to then.”
Michael Brooke
Screenonline

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