Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk (1902), directed by Edwin S. Porter,  was an early example of what silent films originally were; taking pre-existing fairy tales and such, and adapting them to screen to exhibit.  The plot of film is the same as the original fairy tale, Jack goes out to sell the cow for money, gets magic beans, they get planted and grow into a beanstalk, Jack climbs it and finds a golden egg laying goose belonging to a giant, steals it, escapes and then cuts down the beanstalk.  There are a number of early editing tricks pioneered by Porter, including inserting one shot into the rest of the scene, as he does with the fairy that appears to Jack at night in his bedroom and shows him the top of the beanstalk in the giants lair.  The sequence where the beanstalk actually grows in frame was also a new trick employed by Porter in which he used successive stop motion shots strung together to create the onscreen illusion of a growing beanstalk.

The film is very representative of the films made at the time.  The filmmakers were still busy experimenting with what they could do with their cameras on screen rather than worry about writing elaborate stories to be played out on the screen.  Porter obviously was one of the men at the fore front of this as his movie is little more than an adaptation of some other work for him to use the camera to make new.  His use of dissolves and gradual shifting from scenes helped audiences follow complex movements from outdoor to indoor shots a little more smoothly.

The length of the movie was longer than most others at the time as Porter was working with Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company running his New York studios.  Those working with the MPPC had access to Latham Loops available in their cameras that could handle heavier, longer rolls of film, leading to longer films.  This allowed Porter to produce films with plots with enough depth to have introductions, climaxes and resolutions, lending to a more complete experience that audiences would grow to enjoy over time.  He was able to continue it with The Great Train Robber the next year.

His work in the film was similar to Georges Melies in France, whom he greatly admired.  Meliees work was mostly about editing and camera work than what was necessarily on the screen.  Most of it was more like magic tricks than filmmaking, which impressed Porter.

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