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The Little Match Seller (1902)

In front of a windowless, soot-blackened brick wall on a snowy evening, a young girl wearing one shoe, a dress, and apron, tries to sell matches. She has no buyers. A cheeky lad comes by ... See full summary »

Director:

James Williamson

Writer:

Hans Christian Andersen (fable)
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Storyline

In front of a windowless, soot-blackened brick wall on a snowy evening, a young girl wearing one shoe, a dress, and apron, tries to sell matches. She has no buyers. A cheeky lad comes by and steals her shoe, right off her foot. A lamplighter passes. She huddles by the wall, lighting a match from time to time, and through the brick she can see a series of visions: a roaring fireplace, a table with a roasted turkey, a Christmas tree, a beckoning woman with a kindly face. As night passes, the child sleeps. Is there any rescue for her? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Genres:

Drama | Short

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Details

Country:

UK

Release Date:

21 March 1903 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Den lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne See more »

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Silent

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Trivia

This film was used as the video for the Cyndi Lauper song December Child. See more »

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User Reviews

 
one of the art forms first masterpieces
10 May 2016 | by MisterWhiplashSee all my reviews

I spent the better part of one night watching a bunch of 1 to 10 minute early short silent films (by this I mean the era of Lumiere and those of the next couple of decades), and I discovered a director I wasn't familiar with, James Williamson. He made a number of notable and clever 1 minute films (plus the 4 minute "Fire!" that speaks for itself), and often times it's simple set-ups or camera tricks ("The Big Swallow" is all about testing the extreme close up feature on the camera), but he wasn't really into showing metaphor or going into a character's consciousness. Little Match Seller is different, and it's one of those first, primary examples of how to use visual metaphor, to use the grammar of cinematic expression, in order to convey a message.

This may come as a shock but (gasp) sometimes poor people are very young and on their own and have no one to look out for them. In this scenario a little girl is by a giant closed door as it's snowing heavily all around her. But she doesn't despair too greatly since she has her matches and when she lights a match it makes a vision: she can see inside the house to how luxurious it is, how good the dinner looks at the table (boy that turkey!) and she even pictures someone nice and kind to comfort her. And then she dies.

What happens after this I won't say, you should just watch it, but suffice it to say in 3 minutes this director conveys more emotional resonance and reaches out for the audience's empathy better than some directors do today with feature-length productions. It may be a little much to see the religious connotation to it, but there's a purity to how it's all expressed that I couldn't resist. It treats humanity in a similar way to something like It's a Wonderful Life, so it makes sense where it winds up. And the technique that Williamson used here, showing us through a super-imposition on the door when a match is lit, makes the fantasy palpable, especially as it's a young person who has an infinite amount of hope.

This is an extraordinary piece of work for any era, and it shows how cinema can be more than simply documenting things as they actually are, and that even things such as composition - where the girl is sitting and standing matters, and how much space there is for the events to unfold matters too - and that keeping it all on one shot forces us to not look away. There's nothing you can really be distracted by if you're looking at suffering and, on the flip-side, hope in equal measure. Surely the director's best(?)


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