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As a longtime fan of the early "trick films" I can heartily recommend
this bizarre and ingenious exercise in nickelodeon surrealism. Although
it doesn't display the boisterous showmanship of Georges Méliès'
mini-epics, or rival the sheer beauty of Ferdinand Zecca's The Red
Spectre (the trick film nonpareil), Princess Nicotine; or The Smoke
Fairy can nonetheless hold its own as a clever, funny, and downright
eerie exploration of the cinema's potential to capture fantasy on
Produced at Vitagraph's Brooklyn studio, the film features a mustachioed actor named Paul Panzer who would become best known playing the villain in the famous serial The Perils of Pauline. Here we see Mr. Panzer as a proper Edwardian gentleman seated, presumably in his home, at a table as well stocked as any tobacconist's shop with cigars, cigarettes, pipe, loose tobacco, and wooden matches. As the film begins, the gentleman puts aside his newspaper and yawns and stretches in a histrionic fashion, suggesting he's already half asleep and that what follows may be a dream. Certainly what follows is dreamlike, for almost immediately the lid of a cigar box swings open and two fairies about the size of hamsters emerge. One fairy is a young girl while the other looks more mature and Glinda-like. The older fairy seems to be encouraging the girl to cause mischief, which she is only too happy to do. The gentleman realizes he is not alone when he attempts to light his pipe and finds a giggling fairy in the bowl, underneath the tobacco. The rest of the film involves a battle of wills between the gentleman and the fairy, as each one strives to hassle, harass, and torment the other. In the end, the battle is essentially a draw.
The filmmakers utilized every camera trick available at the time to achieve their desired effects, and may well have concocted new ones. Double exposure, reverse image, and stop-motion photography were all employed, as well as two old-time stage tricks: enlarged props and images reflected in mirrors. A book about motion pictures by Frederick Talbot published in 1912 devoted an entire chapter to this eight- minute film, and it's easy to see why: this movie represented state-of-the- art special effects for its day. Almost a century later, Princess Nicotine is still a delightful treat.
The special visual effects and camera tricks in this short comedy are
easily among the best and most resourceful of its era. Both the variety
and the quality are impressive, and most of them are also amusing to
watch, in addition to their technical skill. There's no telling how
much trouble they had to go to in order to make them look this good,
but it was worth it.
The story is very slight, serving only to set up the camera tricks. It features a pipe smoker who comes face to face with a couple of high-spirited miniature female fairies and their antics. The tiny fairy characters are completely realistic, with the double exposures being done with care. There are also other special effects using stop-action and other such techniques.
It's very short, only a few minutes long, but none of it is wasted. It's funny, and it's quite a display of technical skill given the limited resources of its era.
A smoker falls asleep, and two mischievous fairies play with his pipe.
He discovers this, and imprisons them in a cigar box. He removes a
flower from the box, which contains a fairy smoking a cigarette.
Rating a film that is only five minutes long is a bit of a challenge. In this case, the title of the film is longer than the film itself. (Well, not literally.) But for 1909 it really deserves a lot of credit. The illusion of making people look small and interacting with full size people is easy today (2016), but for its time was probably not just a novelty but almost revolutionary. The Germans became the masters of trick cinema in the 1920s, but this clearly predates them...
Over 100 years old now, but this film still contains some tricks that,
while obviously not looking as realistic as today's computer-generated
trickery, are at least as good as the stuff the likes of Ray
Harryhausen was producing as late as the 1980s.
The film is quite unique in the way it combines long shots of the mischievous fairy capering on a table with close-ups of her standing amongst over-sized props, and it's a technique that enhances the realism of the special effects for the viewer. Today, it's easy to forget you're watching screen trickery when you see the same kind of special effects that are on display here, and too easy to be distracted by the flaws of vintage effects, but that's not the case with this one. It's likely that Vitagraph set out to make a blockbuster special effects movie with this one, and they quite obviously succeeded. Well worth seeking out.
This is over a hundred years old. Its before folks had any idea of what
film could really do. The imagine required is orders of magnitude what
it would take today.
We loose sight, but nicotine was considered a hallucinogenic for creative science in the 16th century, something worth fighting and dying for. Some did in the quest, which transferred to Indian Thuja before it was all over.
This little film has a clueless man who discovers a small fairy in his tobacco. She's a vision and the source of a vision. She's impish and sexy. She's coy and controlling. She's small.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
I watched this short silent film online tonight and it was identified
as a film by the genius French director Georges Méliès. However, when I
looked on IMDb, it said it was by J. Stuart Blackton! Obviously SOMEONE
is wrong! While watching it, I sure thought it was a Méliès film
because it was so creative and the camera tricks were so masterfully
done. If it IS a Méliès film, then it's pretty typical of the amazing
stuff he did. If it is NOT, then obviously by 1909 other directors
starting imitating his style and techniques. Regardless WHO is
responsible, it is a cute and interesting little film well worth
seeing--particularly by Cinephiles like myself.
If you want to see this movie yourself, you can see it online at http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=melies
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Princess Nicotine; or, The Smoke Fairy" is a 5-minute black-and-white short film from considerably over 100 years ago, so it's obviously still a silent movie. There are only really 2 interesting aspects about this one. First of all, the inclusion of "or" in the title. I guess the maker behind this wasn't sure what title to choose, so he went with both, something we still see today in films. The second would be the inclusion of smoking in here. It was a common content in early films in terms of documentaries during which we see people smoke, but as the real core of the film it's something that stands out. Unfortunately the story does not, so I cannot really see why this short film is still semi-popular today. Maybe the reason is that director J. Stuart Blackton as well as actors Paul Panzer and Gladys Hulette had long successful careers in the industry and the film's cinematographer even won an Oscar later on. Their collaboration here made it into the National Film registry. I am not a fan though. Not recommended.
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