Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Water Nymph (USA,1912)

This early film by Keystone studios is more famous for its historical context than its rather simple plot and it is amazing how much history this split reel can have (A “split reel” was a film shorter than a one reeler, which means it lasted less than 11 minutes). It portrays a era when the leisure options of working class and middle class citizens were changing and it was still relatively new to go to the beach to swim. Bathing suits were also a new phenomena and still a bit frowned upon. So, seeing Mabel in a trampoline, jumping on the water in such relaxed way was something really groundbreaking because many women have just started to enjoy their free time this way.
Mack Sennett already directed and acted in comedies in his prior studio, Biograph, the same studio that gave D. W. Griffith to the world. But in Keystone studios, Sennett got to put his own style in the comedies, with characters making broad gestures, showing lives of working class citizens in a fast pace, lots of physical gags and risky stunts, without the melodrama touch of his films at Biograph studios.
Another interesting characteristic of the output of Keystone studios was making fun of well-established social institutions, specially authorities (the Keystone cops being the most famous example of it) and romantic relationships, like marriages, for instance. The latter would be even more deeply spoofed in situational comedies of 1920s of both Keystone studios and other ones.
Mack and Mabel were sweehearts, but Mabel had not met Mack’s parents yet. Thus, Mack had the idea of playing a trick on his flirtatious father by asking Mabel to vamp him (which would mean to seduce him in nowadays’ terms) while everyone was on the beach in a sunny day.
Nevertheless, one of intertitles implies that Mack’s father was not exactly a faithful husband (“Mack’s Papa, a faithful husband when locked in at home”) and he predictably got too carried away with Mabel until the moment Mack tells him she is his own girlfriend.
Another noteworthy thing are the dexterous stunts of Mabel Normand in the trampoline and how skilled she was as a swimmer. This film is a really precious witness of a society whose urbanization was happening really fast for the era’s standards and of the new world of entertainment and delight that was being opened to people beyond the borders of the countryside. Without mentioning that this film could have been the inspiration for the famous Sennett’s Bathing Beauties, that would be released by the studio some years later. 

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