Friday Film Focus: The Winter’s Tale (1910; silent)

It’s July and a Friday, which means a new summer blockbuster is being released: Dunkirk which I cannot wait to see…but that’s not what we’re talking about today. Today, we take a look at one of the first films of The Winter’s Tale, a silent film from 1910.

Like last play’s silent rendition of Cymbeline, this is a short one. How short? How about almost half as long as that film’s 22 minutes: just 12 minutes (kind of…more on that later). And like that flick, there’s no Shakespeare text here (or stage direction… again, more later).

Not much is known about the film-makers. No known director. Screenplay is credited to Lloyd F. Lonergan and Gertrude Thanhouser (co-founder, with her husband Edwin, of the production company–the Thanhouser Company). The print comes courtesy of the LIbrary of Congress, but it’s not in good shape; in fact, it’s pretty horrible–incomplete, blotchy, bubbly, scratched–though the musical soundtrack added later is fine.

There are no opening credits (only part of its incomplete state). It simply opens with a court scene. With a fairly prominent jester, who appears in all the Sicilia scenes. Huh? At about the 1:20 mark, we get our first intertitle, which tells us about jealous Leontes, the plot to poison Polixenes, and his escape. Leontes’ command to abandon the baby comes before Hermione’s collapse, which seems to be caused by news of the baby’s ordered fate (there is no Mamillius). In Bohemia, there is no bear (Antigonus lives to see another day).

After Hermione’s collapse, we get a very interesting intertext:

And moreover, we see it happen.

The fifteen year jump works more easily with the intertext than with the clumsy use of the choric figure Time. When we meet Florizel, he’s dressed as a “shepherd”…with an animal skin that looks suspiciously like a tiger’s skin…is this supposed to be a shout-out to the dangerous animals in Bohemia (though we don’t see a bear)? Instead of a sheep shearing feast, it’s a “betrothal feast” for Florizel and Perdita.

When they head to Sicilia, we get another intertext that takes a different tack:

There is recognition and walking away by all.

That’s it. The end. No resolution to the Hermione character and her living fate.

Of course, that’s because that last scene has been lost to history. Again, incompleteness rears its ugly decapitated–missing–head.

It would be interesting to see how they played it off, since it’s no doubt that she’s real and not a miraculous statue.

So. Should you see this? If you can see it for free, sure. Right now, the only way to see it is by Fandor, which is a subscription service (though you can do a free week trial).

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