SPOILER ALERT: Reading this review will take longer than the running time of the movie itself.
The Yorkshire-born showman J. Stuart Blackton was an important figure in the early history of American movies. Most of his early films were newsreel-style records of actual current events ... but their historical value is compromised, because Blackton's films are often re-enactments (often blatantly faked) of these incidents, filmed days or weeks after they occurred.
Blackton's first film, 'Tearing Down the Spanish Flag', made immediately after the USA declared war on Spain, was a cynical attempt to profit from America's jingoistic war fervour. Blackton and his partner Albert E. Smith set up a film studio in a tiny 10'x12' room in a Brooklyn office building. Smith aimed the camera towards the open window, so as to use the building next-door over as a background. A small flagpole with a tiny Spanish flag, set up in forced perspective so as to look much larger, was erected in front of the window. While Smith cranked the camera, Blackton's hand reached into the frame and tore the Spanish flag off its halyards. Then he pulled the flag cords to raise an American flag on the same pole.
That's it. This brief one-shot movie caused a patriotic sensation wherever it was exhibited in the USA, and it brought in a substantial profit for Blackton and Smith, which they used to finance more films in their tiny studio. Eventually they erected a proscenium stage, elsewhere in Brooklyn, and began to film silent versions of stage plays.
Considering that 'Tearing Down the Spanish Flag' made possible the financing for more sophisticated films which also served as experiments in the new medium, I'm tempted to give this crude movie a high rating. But it may also be the first motion picture that was financed by cynical executives purely to cash in on an unsavoury aspect of the public appetite ... the first of many such movies. I'll split the difference and rate this movie 5 out of 10.
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