A man tells his grandchildren about prehistoric man. Weakhands is unable to court a woman because of his physical weakness. Humiliated by Bruteforce, he bumps into Lillywhite, who has also ...
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A man tells his grandchildren about prehistoric man. Weakhands is unable to court a woman because of his physical weakness. Humiliated by Bruteforce, he bumps into Lillywhite, who has also been cowering since her mother died. But when they venture out in search of breakfast, Bruteforce separates the couple and sends Weakhands scrambling into a cave. There, he hits upon the design for a club: A rock on the end of a stick. With this equalizer, he soon vanquishes Bruteforce and wins Lillywhite back again. Written by
Jon Reeves <email@example.com>
Something different from the folks at Biograph (What were they thinking?)
Although this short drama of primitive man was apparently intended as a serious work, it's awfully difficult to watch it today without at least cracking a smile. Whatever the filmmakers' intentions -- and they're not entirely clear -- Man's Genesis is undeniably funny. Maybe director D. W. Griffith was concerned that audiences would find this material amusing no matter how he handled it, for he added a subtitle calling the film "A Psychological Comedy Founded Upon the Darwinian Theory of the Evolution of Man." It looks like he was hedging his bets: if they laugh, fine, it's a comedy. If not, it's a drama. (And by the way, what's a "psychological comedy"?) The story is presented as a parable of ancient times which takes the audience back to the discovery of creative intelligence, specifically, to the very moment a primitive man discovers his ability to craft a tool to achieve an important goal. This isn't at all the "genesis" of humanity, but why quibble?
The caveman episode which comprises the bulk of this film is presented as a tale-within-a-tale, told by an old man to a little boy and girl who are squabbling, a pair of siblings who are presumably his grandchildren. (One aspect of unintended comedy is the implication that this anecdote is a flashback to Grandpa's childhood, back in the Stone Age!) Despite having to wear grassy outfits and fur pelts that are sure to provoke mirth, the actors in the Stone Age sequence appear to take their roles seriously, especially the solemn leading lady, Mae Marsh. Mae struggles to maintain her dignity while the male actors behave in an ape-like fashion, crouching behind boulders and barking at each other. As you'd imagine the story enacted is rudimentary, a basic conflict between a bullying Goliath and a weak but clever David. The intended moral is problematic, however. It seems the old man telling the tale intends to teach the children that we should use our intelligence to solve conflicts, that Might does not make Right, yet the protagonist of his story uses his intelligence to build a club, then uses this weapon to pound his enemy to death. Hasn't he demonstrated that Might, backed by intelligence, is indeed Right? (Or perhaps that, right or wrong, Might WINS!) At the end, when the old man finishes telling this story, we half expect the little boy to utilize the lesson by building a club to pummel his sister; instead, the kids go off together happily, hand in hand, having learned . . . what, exactly?
Man's Genesis is not entirely ridiculous. It's certainly unusual and well worth seeing, either for campy laughs or to get some sense of what contemporary attitudes were about early civilization, but no one is going to mistake it for a serious work of speculative anthropology. I would love to know what the director and his players actually believed they were doing.
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