Sunday, June 26, 2011

Love and War - 1899

American movie. "An illustrated song telling the story of a hero who leaves for war as a private, is promoted to the rank of captain for bravery in service, meets the girl of his choice, who is a Red Cross nurse on the field, and finally returns home triumphantly as an officer to the father and mother to whom he bade good-by as a private. The film presents this beautiful song picture in six scenes, each of which has a separate song, making the entire series a complete and effective novelty."
This dramatic feature is ambitious for something made in the 19th century, and it is quite creditable for its era. It also has some thoughtful moments, and so it still has something to say. It contains enough ideas for a much longer feature, even a full-length feature, and it packs them into a running time of just about two minutes with efficiency and decent craftsmanship.
The story starts with a young man leaving his home and his loved ones to fight in the war (apparently the still quite recent war with Spain), and it then follows both the soldier in the field and his family back at home as the war proceeds. It's the kind of story that would become fairly commonplace in cinema some years afterwards, but it is an involved story for a movie of its year.
Each scene is significant in showing the ways that the war created a painful tension between the young man's family life and his perceived responsibility to his country. The opening scene of him saying good-bye is easily one of the better such scenes made before 1905 or so.
In 1899, they just did not make movies much longer than this, and so the film-makers must have thought out carefully how to pack the most meaningful material into a short running time. It could easily have been expanded into a worthwhile movie at several times its length, yet it would still be a fair number of years before that would become commonplace.
All of that makes this little film quite worthwhile for its day. It requires extra attentiveness to watch, due to physical deterioration of the film, but it is worth the effort.

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