Fun Fact Friday presents: Early French Filmmaking And The “Shock” Effect

This week’s Fun Fact:
During the early days of film, French film companies such as Pathé and Gaumont used disabled performers for “the ‘shock’ effect of their appearance,” employing them for trick effects in comedies and other types of films (Norden 23). In the one-reel comedy The Automobile Accident, (1904) a drunk man coming home from work decides to lay down in the middle of the road and go to sleep. While he is sleeping, a taxi cab speedily comes down the road and runs over him, severing his legs from the rest of his body. The sleeping man awakens, surprised by the loss of his legs. The chauffeur of the taxi cab is terrified, but the country doctor in the back of the taxi cab is not affected as much, leaving the vehicle, picking up the severed limbs, reattaching them to the man, and helping him to his feet before they shake hands. Now with his legs back in place, the man “[resumes] his journey as if nothing had happened” (Talbot 211-212). In order to achieve such a visual effect, footage of a disabled actor was edited into the film to produce a fluid sequence (Norden 23; Talbot 212-214). Such an example illustrates the limited opportunities that were available to performers with disabilities and how disability was used in film at that time.

Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

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Works Cited


Norden, Martin F. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies.

New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

Talbot, Frederick A. Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked. Philadelphia:

  1. B. Lippincott Company, 1914.
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