Stage boxing match between Sergeant-Instructor Barrett and Sergeant Pope, with a round, interval, and knockout.

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Stage boxing match between Sergeant-Instructor Barrett and Sergeant Pope, with a round, interval, and knockout.

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boxing | See All (1) »

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Short | Sport

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January 1896 (UK)  »

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The manly art of fisticuffs.
18 March 2007 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

This crude early film was shown at the Cinema Muto festival in Sacile, Italy, in October 2006. The very earliest film-makers (such as Birt Acres, who made this film) often used their cameras to record sporting events: this saved them the cost of hiring actors and staging scripts, and early nickelodeon customers would gladly pay to watch films of sporting events which they hadn't seen in person. Boxing matches were especially well-suited to the new medium, as these featured plenty of action but kept the combatants combined in a small area (the boxing ring) directly in front of the primitive movie camera, which (of necessity) was stationary.

Birt Acres, the American-born film pioneer in Britain, is known to have filmed at least two boxing matches in 1895/96. The other one is apparently lost. This one was filmed at the military tournament (an athletic competition among the British armed forces) near Cardiff in August 1896. (IMDb give a release date of January '96, which I believe is an error.) Cardiff is one of my favourite cities, so I was keenly disappointed that this film offers no real nineteenth-century glimpse of that metropolis. However, we do see corner men, a referee and the ringside spectators in addition to the pugilists. One of the boxers is an army sergeant named Pope (no forename recorded), the other a sergeant-instructor (presumably of boxing) named F. Barratt. Damned if I know which is which. One boxer knocks down the other. Damned if I know which. The fight itself (we see about a round and a half) looks genuine enough ... until we come to a knockdown which looks suspiciously staged, as if Acres wanted to make sure that his audience got a good solid ending with a (literal) punch.

As neither of these two combatants is important to the history of boxing, and as the rules of boxing in the 1890s are already well documented, this film's historical significance is minimal. But then, I'm not especially a fan of boxing. I tend to be fascinated by all movies that were made before 1900, but this one fascinates me a lot less than most from that period. Perhaps this brief film rates some significance as the very first fight scene in movie history. I'll rate it 4 out of 10.


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