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Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley, "Suspense"

Video transcript
(music) Anne: American cinema was born in 1893. The first film that we know of was called The Blacksmithing Scene. It's a 30 second black and white short, called in actuality a brief recording of an event. 20 years into the future in 1913 you begin to see the dawn of the narrative film with the film Suspense directed by Lois Weber and Philips Smalley. It's the story of a young mother and she lives in a very remote area in a home that is also managed by their house maid. We look at this film for the complexity of the story telling. We begin to see story progressed through editing. One day the maid just decides to quit. She leaves the mother and the baby alone. The husband is in the city and he's working. Then she takes the house key and puts it under the doormat. The camera cuts to the maid walking along the desolate road. And a vagrant passes the maid as she's leaving the house. You then see the vagrant walk up to the house and pick up the key. The mother then looks out the window, sees the vagrant with the key. She knows that trouble is coming. What Lois Weber and Philips Smalley did that's really fascinating in terms of film production was to create a superimposition of a triangle on the screen and in the center is the husband who receives a phone call from his wife. You see the wife on one angle of the triangle and then you see the vagrant at the door with the key. So what you're seeing is this simultaneity of action that was never experienced before by the audience. The story goes on and becomes a chase. The husband gets the phone call. He steals a car along the way, which then engages the local police to chase him. So you have this suspenseful moment in what's going on in the house. The mother is hiding with the baby. You have the vagrant walking through the house. He's eyeing the various valuables in the house, and you have the father who is trying to come to the rescue. Ultimately the film ends up with the dad rescuing the mother and the child and the vagrant being taken off to prison. Pretty advanced stuff for 1913.