The Impossible Convicts
R: G.W. Bitzer. K: G.W. Bitzer. P: American Mutoscope & Biograph. USA 1906
“With The Impossible Convicts (1906), director G.W. Bitzer has some fun with reversing footage (…). A group of convicts in prison dress are marched backwards down into their cells and locked in. They stage a desperate prison escape, which morphs vaguely into a Marx Brothers-like farce, with the guards chasing the prisoners, and characters emerging from different cells to those they entered. Like an Escher etching, time and gravity don’t obey the rules; sometimes they move forwards, and sometimes in reverse. This three-minute film ostensibly unfolds in one shot, and if you blink you’ll miss the shot transitions, and for a dreamlike moment wonder why everybody has suddenly started moving backwards. For its eccentric and novel approach, and its stone staircase that moves when kicked, this early short film (…) is worth your time.”
“The trick film’s mocking of penal authority via the metamorphoses of convicts’ bodies in When Prison Bars and Fetters are Useless (1909) and the subversion of time in The Impossible Convicts, provides a potentially deeper understanding of prison’s ‘structure of feeling’ than the later prison film. Unencumbered by the generic conventions of the studio system era, early prison films provide a striking vantage point from which to explore prison and prisoner’s paradoxical place within the popular imaginary.”
Alison Griffiths: The carceral aesthetic: Seeing prison on film during the early cinema period. In: Early Popular Visual Culture. Vol 12, 2014, Issue 2, p. 174-198. (abstract).