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An Interesting Story (1905)

This silent comedy, filmed by early film pioneer James Williamson, charts the mishaps of a man so involved reading ‘an interesting story’ that he cannot concentrate on anything else. At breakfast, he is so engrossed in his book that he pours coffee into his hat. As he leaves his house, still reading, he falls over a maid cleaning steps; walks into a girls’ skipping rope as they play; bumps into a donkey pulling a cart; walks into the only other person on a quiet street and eventually walks into the path of a steam roller by which he is flattened. As he lies on the road, two cyclists appear and, using their bicycle pumps, re-inflate him. Dusting him off, they give the man his hat and, book in hand, seemingly unscathed, he resumes his journey.

Classroom Activities

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Questions

  • What book do you think he is reading? Why is it so interesting?

  • Why is the man getting into trouble all the time?

  • How many types of people are there?

  • What reactions do different people have towards him?

  • What would the men be shouting who find him flattened? How do we know they shout something?

  • What is their reaction at the end of the film?

  • How many bad things happen to the main character? How are they resolved?

  • Do you think this is a funny story? Why or why not?

  • How do we know that this story is going to end happily?

Watching

  • Using freeze frame and the Spot the Shots worksheet, identify the different shot types and angles used. What view does the camera show? Whose perspective is it? How does the camera change for each event?

  • This film is in black and white. Discuss what colours we might see if this film were filmed today.

  • Cover the screen and ask pupils to listen to the soundtrack (before showing the film for the first time). How would you describe this music? Are there any sound effects that represent an action or contribute to the drama? How are the cymbals symbolic? Why do you think there is silence when the man is squashed? How does the crescendo of music anticipate the climax of the story?

  • Play the film (sound and vision) and ask your pupils to concentrate on the music soundtrack. Identify how the cymbals and other percussion instruments indicate when something bad is going to happen. Does the music change when something bad happens? Is the music a warning? Do you hear any sounds from people or any other noises in the music? Why? What types of instruments create different moods? Why does the drum beat louder when the man meets trouble?

  • Replay the following scenes: the man sitting at his breakfast table; the sequence when he walks towards the steamroller and is squashed. How does the camera aid us in anticipating cause and effect throughout the narrative? Did you notice more than one way of moving between shots? What difference would it make if another type of transition were used? What roles do the other characters play in this narrative sequence? Do they add to the comic element?

Analysing

  • Discuss the time setting of the film. What decade is the film set in? How do you know?

  • Look at the size of the roads. Can you tell whether it is a wealthy or poor area? How many different settings are there?

  • Introduce the concept of ‘slapstick’ comedy to your class. Perhaps show some clips of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Keystone Cops – focus on action, costume and movement. Now ask the class to identify any scenes or elements in this film that can be classed as ‘slapstick’.

  • What modern film or films could this be compared to?

  • Ask the class to look at the portrayals of men and women in the film. Were there stereotypical gender roles and if so, why?

  • Show the film alongside Little Pig is Flying or The Lucky Dip. Examine how the different stories work, looking at narrative development (focus on complication, crisis, cause-and-effect and resolution).

Creative

  • Playscript: write a series of stage directions to create a silent play for performance.

  • Book review: write a review of a book you have read that was so absorbing that you were oblivious to the world around you.

  • Storyboard some new sequences for the film showing some other disasters that the man could have on his journey.

  • Write a new dialogue script for the film. Get the class to take on roles and perform their script. Record it and add to a downloaded version of the film in iMovie or Windows MovieMaker to create a sound version of the film.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-002-000-111-C
Resource Rights Holder BFI
Project Ref STSH2-03
Year of Production 1905
Genre Comedy
Curriculum Areas Expressive Arts, Literacy and English, Social studies
Who James Williamson (Filmmaker)
Country of Origin UK
Medium / Content Live Action, Fiction, Black & White, Silent
Themes Slapstick, Safety, Distraction
Clip Length 05:00