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One of the films in the 3-disk boxed DVD set called "More Treasures from American Film Archives (2004)", compiled by the National Film Preservation Foundation from 5 American film archives. This film has a running time of 5 minutes. See more »
This short film begins with a nicely composed shot of what appears to be the garden of an English manor house, with a gravel path stretching into the foreground. An elderly but spry bearded gentleman dressed in the traditional flannels of a country squire strides towards us. Birds are twittering, a stray moth flits past the lens, and we can hear the gravel crunching as he gets closer. He dabs at his nose with a handkerchief, then abruptly seems to notice the camera (and presumably the crew of technicians) for the first time. "Well, this is a surprise!" he exclaims quite unconvincingly. "Have you all come to see me, ladies and gentlemen?" The gent is George Bernard Shaw, and he's here to improvise a brief address for the unseen cinema audience. He speaks in clipped, perfectly enunciated Henry Higgins-style English, with nary a hint of his native Ireland. His delivery falters a bit here and there, but his air of authority is unmistakable.
By the time he turned 70 in 1926 Shaw had written most of his major works and had been a literary celebrity for over three decades. Now, at the age of 71, he would become something of a movie star, or at least a star of newsreels. Over the next few years Shaw would deliver jovial orations in several sound films (this Fox Movietone short marks his second such appearance) and he was said to be an audience favorite. It's easy to see why: even when he's rambling his way through a series of disjointed remarks, as he does here, he's charming and funny.
Almost as soon as the Fox Studio acquired a sound-on-film system to make newsreels their crews were sent around the world to capture talkie footage of of celebrities, everyone from Charles Lindbergh to Arthur Conan Doyle. Even Benito Mussolini delivered a speech in broken English to the Movietone cameras, and Shaw seems to have been aware of this, for he spends much of his time here poking fun at the Italian dictator. He assumes a formidable pose, lowers his brow, glowers at us in a menacing fashion and even raises his arm in the Fascist salute, then relaxes and remarks that although he himself is able to strike this threatening pose or take it off at will, Signor Mussolini is condemned to go through life looking like this, "though he is a most amiable man." This kind of joshing might make contemporary viewers a bit queasy, but it's important to note, first, that Shaw was most certainly being facetious, and furthermore that the true evil of Fascism was not widely understood at the time this film was made, even by highly intelligent and well-informed persons such as G. B. Shaw. It's also worth adding that in "Buoyant Billions," Shaw's last full-length play, he made clear his disdain for Mussolini and Hitler.
Getting back to the film at hand, our speaker concludes with an anecdote about a little girl who encountered him on a public street in Wales and was urged by her father to ask him for his autograph, even though she had no idea who he was. And then, with a jolly wave, Shaw bids us goodbye. His talk for the camera, barely five minutes in length, is slight in content yet oddly hypnotic. Like those very early motion pictures of ocean waves and passing trains, this brief film gives us a glimpse of a brand new technology and allows us to imagine its impact on audiences when most movies were still silent, while the somewhat frivolous nature of Shaw's off-the-cuff remarks gives us a sense of the man's playful side. This film is a fascinating little treasure.
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