Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day Project (1913)
(scene from the 1913 movie with Bert Williams)
no copyright infringement intended
Often when looking for an old-old movie, I have the impression of doing some kind of archeology, or rather paleontology. It is not only the difficulty of finding a copy, or of understanding the movie from some fragments. It's also the effort to enter the universe of that bygone epoch, with mentalities so different, with names and histories that today don't tell anything anymore. Sometimes it's the language barrier. Sometimes it is also the destiny of the movie throughout the years. But never was this impression so powerful as with this movie made by Bert Williams in 1913. Imagine a new born immediately abandoned and forgotten, remained in a long lethargy, awaken and starting his life at 101 years. Because that was the case with Lime Kiln Field Day.
Like all movies of Bert Williams, it was made for the Biograph studio. It was an all-black cast, which was remarkable for those times: it is credited as the oldest surviving all-black movie. And remarkable is that it doesn't give a damn penny about all racist stereotypes of that epoch. It is a vaudeville whose personages spend some leisure time, preoccupied with dancing and romancing. Bert Williams is trying to conquer the heart of beautiful Odessa Warren Grey, which is far from simple, as there are also some rivals.
So they started to work for the movie, doing shootings on location in New York and New Jersey, but after some months the project was abandoned. The movie remained unfinished, unedited, and without a title. The footage was stored at Biograph and remained there languishing for decades. In 1939 MoMA acquired 900 negatives from the archive of Biograph. The movie of Williams was among them. It came to the attention of the curators sometime by the middle of the 2000's. The work of restoration took about ten years. Well, it needed a title, as in 1913 they left the baby unbaptized. So MoMA took care also for a name: Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day Project. It is now compared with movies of Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
Here are four fragments from the movie
Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day Project - Marry Go Round
Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day Project - Footrace
Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day Project - Rivals
Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day Project - Cakewalk
Some links for this movie, with stills and abundance of information:
- MoMA: 100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History
- The Guardian: Oldest Surviving Film With an All Black Cast Moved Me to Laughter and Tears (Steven W. Thrasher)
- CBS: Oldest Surviving Film of Black Actors Found
Labels: Bert Williams