Life and Death of Charles Peace

The Life of Charles Peace
R: William Haggar. D: Walter Haggar, Violet Haggar, Lily Haggar, James Haggar, Henry Haggar, Fred Haggar, Sarah Haggar. P: William Haggar and Sons. UK 1905 (Release)

“The life, crimes and execution of Charles Peace. Showing his first burglary; the murder of Dyson; Peace disturbed by the police at home and the roof-top flight which ensues; a burglary at Blackheath; how he deceives a policeman dressed as a parson; his capture by PC Robinson; his journey to Sheffield for trial and his attempted escape; an identification parade in prison and his execution.”
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“Charles Frederick Peace (1832 – 1879), known as Charlie, was born in Sheffield, the son of a sometime collier, lion-tamer and shoemaker. His life before 1846 seems to have been unremarkable, but the double blow that year of an accident on the rolling mills at his workplace, when hot steel pierced his leg, and the death of his father, seems to have led him into crime as a way to earn a living. His first arrest was in 1851, for burglary, and in 1854 he was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment at Doncaster.
In the years that followed, he moved between Sheffield, Manchester and prison with some regularity, and occasionally seems to have tried ‘going straight’ with little success. He moved from petty criminal to the ‘most wanted’ list in 1876, with the murder of an associate named Arthur Dyson, which led to a long period on the run.
He found a safe berth in Nottingham’s notorious Narrow Marsh slums, where he remained for several months during 1877, cracking safes and embarking on an affair with a music hall singer, all the while evading his pursuers. Despite many ingenious escapes and bold ruses, the law eventually caught up with him and he was tried, sentenced to death by hanging and executed at Armley Gaol in Leeds at the age of 47.”
Dawn of the Unread: Charlie Peace

621-William Haggar

William Haggar (1851-1925)
“Of more than 30 documented films made between 1901 and 1908, only four shorts are known to survive in their entirety. Yet two of Haggar’s extant films, A Desperate Poaching Affray (1903) and The Life of Charles Peace (1905), an early potted biopic of a murderer hanged in 1879, are among the most important British films of the 20th century’s first decade. (…)
After acquiring a Wrench projector in 1898, he ran a travelling cinema (Bioscope), appearing regularly at fairgrounds in the West of England and the South Wales coalfields.
Haggar made his own films from around 1902, most of which were distributed by Gaumont, Charles Urban or the Warwick Trading Company. The filmmaker’s ‘stock company’ was his own family (eight of his 11 children appeared in his films, with son Walter as lead in the Charles Peace film, for example). Haggar drew on his rural background and early experiences of impoverishment to make several poaching films. (…)

Haggar’s films included comedies, burlesques, crime thrillers and trick movies. His A Desperate Poaching Affray, including Haggar’s earliest extant panning shot, is now regarded by academics as one of two or three British films which influenced early narrative drama in the United States, particularly the development of the chase film. It featured several shootings during the prolonged pursuit of the poachers. Haggar, steeped in the tastes of his proletarian fairground and theatre melodrama audiences, was never averse to using violence in his films even though his film-making middle period (1903-1905) coincided with the rise of puritan religious Nonconformism in Wales. (…)
The Charles Peace movie – long mistaken for the now missing 1905 version by Frank Mottershaw of the Sheffield Photo Company – flaunted William Haggar’s love of theatre. He employed overt stage sets in the film’s first half, and the killer is in heavy stage make up throughout. The later location scenes are choreographed with typical energy and brio and include a rooftop chase and a hanging scene. The film, interestingly, also has content and stylistic similarities to Mottershaw’s A Daring Daylight Burglary (1903).”
BFI Screenonline

>>> Telling a Crime Story: Four Examples

Zecca: Social Realism

Au pays noir
R: Ferdinand Zecca / Louis Nonguet. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1905

“Poor people who were able to work received no support. The working classes were forced to take on poorly-paid and dangerous jobs in order to survive. Mining accidents spread fear and terror among mining communities. Sensational special effects on the screen, such as firedamp explosions, helped reinforce demands by the labour unions and charitable organisations for safer working conditions and improved support for surviving dependants.
Mining accidents used to be part of daily life for miners: Pathé, the leading film company of the time, condemned this scandalous situation by releasing this melodramatic social reportage which was shot partly on location at a mining site and partly on a recreated set in a film studio.”
Screening the Poor
Trier University / Department of Media Studies

620-Au pays noir
Constantin Meunier (1831-1905): Au pays noir. About 1893

La grève
R: Ferdinand Zecca. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1904

During a strike, several workers are killed in a confrontation. The wife of one of them kills the factory owner. At her trial, the owner’s son asks for mercy, knowing that his father was wrong. Because of that the wife is freed.

>>> A Day in the Life of a Wigan Coal Miner



Chomón’s Box of Tricks

Le rêve des marmitons
R / K: Segundo de Chomón. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1908
Print: EYE
Dutch titles

„The director continued with his project of investigating the possibilities of cinematography, in particular by submitting his characters to all sorts of absurd situations. Of course, unusual situations are a staple of comedy, not least in the cinema, which can use technical trickery to multiply such situations. The same goes for fantasy, which, by its nature, is no slave to ‚the natural course of things‘ and which also benefitted enormously from that new trickery. Amongst the many devices in the Spaniard’s box of tricks, stop-motion proved the most fertile for materialising the mad dreams of fantasy worlds. In Le rêve des marmitons (1908) it is the device that is used for making people’s hands detach from their bodies and remain alive, in a sort of proto-surrealism that would have delighted Salvador Dalí. (…)
This is animation at the service of laziness, showing a dream of how, one day, all the most tedious domestic chores might by done automatically, as in this proto-surrealist fairy story. In Chomón‘s hands, this new toy — stop-motion — was capable of allowing even flies to have a lead role in a film. And it was, indeed, a little fly that the director gets to intervene in Le rêve des marmitons by drawing caricatures on the bald head of one of the cooks: while the man is asleep, the insect wets its legs in a bottle of Chinese ink and then runs amok, making a number of irreverent drawings on the shiny pate. And just as the Spanish director could feature a fly in a film by means of stop-motion, so he could include, among his celluloid extravaganzas, parasols processing through the streets and dancing to the sound of a circus band. This occurs in Symphonie bizarre, a film that, as in the case of Le rêve des marmitons, would have warranted the description ‚surrealist‘ if that word had been current in 1908.“
Paulo Roberto de Carvalho Barbosa: The Man of a Thousand Tricks: Chomón the animator. In: Art Research Journal / Revista de Pequisa em Arte, V. 2, n. 1, jan. 2015, p. 126-127

Symphonie Bizarre
R / K: Segundo de Chomón. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1909