In Britain, in March 1901, this brief scene was captured on film. Entitled The Death of Poor Joe - Joe being based on the crossing sweeper in Bleak House - it is now thought to be the earliest moving image reflecting a scene from a Dicken's novel.

This footage (created in Brighton and directed by the film pioneer George Albert Smith with Smith's wife, Laura Bayley, playing the part of Joe) has only recently been rediscovered in the vaults of the British Film Institute by the curator Bryony Dixon.

The VV rather likes the shining beam of the watchman's torch which appears to have a life of its own, and must be one of the very first examples of 'special affects'.

Until the discovery of Poor Joe the earliest known film relating to Dickens' work was Scrooge, or Marley's Ghost, this having been created in November 1901.

This film was directed by Walter R Booth, a magician and master of trick photography.Lasting just over six minutes it shows a scene from Dickens' 1848 novel entitled A Christmas Carol. However crude such techniques may now seem when presented to our jaded eyes the special affects of superimposed imagery - such as in the case of the face on the doorknob - were really amazing at the time - so much so that the film was played at a Royal Command Performance at Sandringham House in December 1901. 

Sadly, only three minutes of this important historical footage now remains intact. But if you have an interest in such films then these and other fascinating clips will be shown at a Dickens' special event to be held at the BFI Southbank on March 23rd. 

                                            A still from The Pipwick Papers. 1913

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I love seeing these old films. Great find. Wish I could attend the Dicken's event. Have fun if you go.