An Archetypical Disaster Story

The Deluge
R and D Unknown. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1911
Print: Prelinger Archives San Francisco

“The biblical flood is an archetypical disaster story that exists in various renditions throughout world cultures and artwork including film (…). These Bible-based stories make audio-visually explicit what was sometimes only implicit (or missing) within Holy Writ by intermingling biblical stories with (sometimes incredulous) poetic license and other plot extrapolations for dramaturgical effect. (…) For example, The Deluge (Vitagraph 1911) was America’s first pictorial presentation of the great flood. Set in 3317 B.C., God decides to destroy human wickedness, except for Noah and family who build an ark, load two of every living creature onboard, and survive a forty-day wordwide inundation. Beached upon Mount Ararat, Noah builds an altar and gives thanks, whereupon God’s rainbow physicalizes his convenant to never again destroy the world with water.”
Anton Karl Kozlovic: Noah and the Flood: a Cinematic Deluge. In: Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch (ed.): The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and Its Reception in Film. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG 2016, p. 35


“Catholic and Protestant leaders participated actively in the production of the censorship codes that would regulate the content of Hollywood films from the late 1920s through the 1960s. At the same time, some Protestant and Catholic leaders advocated the use of religiously themed movies as a way of enhancing and modernizing worship or of supplementing traditional religious education. Some even produced their own films for religious audiences. (…) From the earliest years of filmmaking in America, the wide range of films that audiences attended included films that told Bible stories. The Life of Moses (Vitagraph 1909), The Deluge (Vitagraph 1911), and From the Manger to the Cross (Kalem 1912) were among the first Bible films made for release in the United States. Almost twenty others followed in the silent film period and into the sound years of the late 1920s. In addition, Americans had access to religious films produced in Europe, and these were widely exhibited in theaters, synagogues, and churches.”
Gary Laderman, Luis León: Religion and American Cultures: Tradition, Diversity, and Popular Expression, 2nd Edition. ABC-CLIO 2014, p. 516


>>> Arthur Melbourne Cooper’s Tale of the Ark

New York 1911

New York 1911
P: Svenska Biografteatern. Swe 1911
Print: Museum of Modern Art (published only on YouTube)

“This documentary travelogue of New York City was made by a team of cameramen with the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern, who were sent around the world to make pictures of well-known places. (They also filmed at Niagara Falls and in Paris, Monte Carlo, and Venice, although New York 1911 is the only selection in the Museum’s collection.) (…) Produced only three years before the outbreak of World War I, the everyday life of the city recorded here — street traffic, people going about their business — has a casual, almost pastoral quality that differs from the modernist perspective of later city-symphony films like Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler’s Manhatta (1921). Take note of the surprising and remarkably timeless expression of boredom exhibited by a young girl filmed as she was chauffeured along Broadway in the front seat of a convertible limousine.”
Museum of Modern Art

Manhattan Trade School for Girls
R: Unknown. D: Millie Spiro, Rose Pasquale, Miriam Levy, Sadie Smith, Mary Johnson. P: Unknown. USA 1911
Filming location: Manhattan Trade School for Girls, 209-213 East 23rd Street, New York City
Print: George Eastman House

“The Manhattan Trade School for Girls was established as a private philanthropy in 1902 with the aim of teaching skills to working girls so that these girls could gain employment in jobs where they would be paid a decent wage; the school also ensured that skilled labor would be available to New York’s businesses. According to the school’s First Annual Report, this was ‘an experiment without precedent.’ The school was supported by a combination of wealthy New York men and women with an interest in charitable pursuits and a group of professionals involved with a variety of reform endeavors. The school was originally located on West 14th Street, moving to East 23rd Street in about 1907. In response to the increasing demand for vocational education, the New York City school system absorbed the Manhattan Trade School and it became one of four vocational schools in the city and the only one that admitted female students.”
Preserve & Protect

“To put this movie in perspective, it’s worth mentioning that it came out the same year that the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire took the lives of 123 young women who were working in the most appallingly unsafe industrial conditions in a sweat shop in New York City. Many of these women were immigrants, and many immigrants continued to work under unsafe conditions even after new laws were passed to protect workers. The Manhattan Trade School was intended to be a more positive solution to this situation. Children could leave school legally at age 14 and many working class boys and girls would immediately take work to support their families at that age. Some, especially in immigrant families, didn’t even get that far. The Trade School’s brief program was supported by grants to make it possible for the students to receive small stipends and the work they did in classes was sold to support the school as well. The “trades” taught at this school were not, for the most part, seen as professions, but as better alternatives to low-paying jobs for unmarried girls until they found a husband.”
Century Film Project

>>> more New York films on this website