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Hepworth Manufacturing - How It Feels To Be Run Over (1900)

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Published on Jan 23, 2009

Cecil Hepworth's How It Feels To Be Run Over (1900) is based on a very simple premise: a car is driven directly at the camera so that it eventually fills the screen, creating the visual impression suggested by the title.

However, it has other aspects to it that lift it above typical one-shot trick films. First of all, there's the comparison between new-fangled motorised transport and reassuringly old-fashioned horse and cart. The horse is intelligent enough to avoid potential collision, but the car drives directly at the camera, its occupants gesticulating at the camera to get out of the way.

Indeed, at the point of impact the car is on the wrong side of the road (driving on the left being a British convention going back centuries), which further underlines the impression of arrogant motorists who think that others should get out of their way rather than vice versa, not least because they're going too fast to be able to take evasive action themselves.

It is also the first known film to feature intertitles, which would become a staple of silent film grammar. Here, they are used in a strikingly creative way, with individual words (spelling out the sarcastic "Oh! Mother will be pleased") intercut with exclamation marks so rapidly that they almost become animated.

Although it is unclear from the film how the titles were created, they may well have been scratched directly into the celluloid, which would account for their jittery nature. This might be irritating in a different context, but here it seems entirely appropriate - indeed, this may well be the very first film that attempts to capture a subjective mental state through techniques other than first-person point of view shots.

The car reappears in the same year's all too descriptive Explosion of a Motor Car.

Michael Brooke

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