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[Detail] Krazy Kat goes a-wooing. 1916.

3) Vaudeville

Vaudeville entertained middle-class audiences throughout the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries by offering a variety of entertainers on a single stage. Actors, comedians, singers, dancers, musicians, athletes, and other performers presented a series of attractions on any given night. Motion pictures arrived in the vaudeville theatres in 1896 and quickly became the biggest draw on the bill. Two films in this collection demonstrate how new animation techniques could extend traditional vaudeville magic performances.

The Enchanted Drawing (1900) features an illustrator sketching a man's face, a wine glass, a bottle of wine, and a cigarette on a large pad of paper. Trick photography allows the artist to remove each object from the page, use it, and return it to the page.

The face in the drawing responds to every trick--either becoming upset when items are removed from the page or becoming happy when he can enjoy the alcohol and cigarettes on the page.

Fun in a Bakery Shop (1902), on the other hand, presents a similar premise within a larger sketch. A baker enters the scene and throws a lump of dough at a scurrying rodent. The dough sticks to a barrel and the baker becomes a sculptor through trick photography, using the dough to fluidly create a series of funny faces. When the baker completes the caricatured image of an Irishman, his colleagues start to laugh and then throw him headfirst into a barrel of flour.

  • What do you think is the role of slapstick comedy in these films?
  • How do these films compare to other comic vaudeville sketches represented in the American Memory collection, American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment 1870-1920?
  • Why do you think that both films rely on trick photography?
  • How do you think that audiences might have responded to these films?
  • Why do you think that movie theaters ultimately replaced vaudeville theaters?
  • What other conventions of film and early animation might have come out of the vaudeville tradition?

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