collections

Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906)

A short, silent film starring John P. Brawn as the titular fiend, who having gorged himself on Welsh Rarebit — melted cheese on toast — stumbles to bed via a rather hallucinatory encounter with a lamp post and falls into a troubled sleep. Inaugurated by a trio of pickaxe-wielding demons, his subsequent cheese-fuelled dream involves an inelegant flight through his window and over an urban nightscape, ending skewered by his pyjamas on a weather vane. The film features some pioneering special effects including a fully spinning sky and the aforementioned demons.

The sequence is based on a comic strip by Winsor McCay, alias “Silas”. Dream of the Rarebit Fiend was McCay’s longest running comic, totalling over 300 episodes more than his better known Little Nemo. It begun with a seven year stint in the New York Herald, running from 1904 to 1911, and then from 1911 to 1913 appeared in various other papers under different titles, before undergoing a brief revival in the 1920s under the title Rarebit Reveries. As in the 1906 screen version, each episode involves an instance of indulgence in some food or other (usually Welsh Rarebit) followed by an often unsettling trip through a turbulent dreamscape. The darkish nature of these postprandial wanderings through the human psyche lie in stark contrast to the happier dream world excursions presented in the all-colour Little Nemo begun a year after Dream of a Rarebit Fiend launched.