The Jester (1908)

Ah, the magic of cigarette smoke! In this film from 1908 — most likely directed by the British magician and filmmaker Walter R. Booth, though titled in Dutch here and digitized by the Eye Film Institute in Amsterdam — a woman dressed as a jester makes things appear, disappear, and transform every times she exhales…

Puff! She turns a throne into a pedestal. Puff! On that pedestal, a terrier appears. But the jester’s magic is not limited to now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t stuff. She can also make her body spin like a pinwheel and her face revolve like a mask.

In a second scene, spookily blue, the jester conjures a Pierrette and a Pierrot, whom she splits into two Pierrots. This is predictably followed by a boxing match between the Pierrots to see who will win the hand of the miserable-looking Pierrette. Less predictably, the match ends with the two men becoming one again. The victorious Pierrot now claims Pierrette, who looks more miserable than ever in the moments before she changes into another woman and Pierrot changes into an apple, which the new woman eats. Finally, the jester returns with her cigarette, re-conjures Pierrette, and hides her in a cigar box.

In a brief final scene, with everything now pinkish red, the jester pours Pierrette out of the cigar box back into the world, and with a hefty dose of nicotine transforms her into a twirling girl in a party dress. Then she separates Pierrette from that girl and makes her twirl as well. The End.

An entertaining, if rather eerie, bagatelle from the early days of film, The Jester reminds us how magical the medium must have been for audiences — and how bewildering for actors — accustomed to the stage. Aside from the dog, whose chops are impeccable, everyone in the film looks either terrified or vaguely amused.

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