Snippets 201. Many readers of this blog will have probably heard of the “cake walk”, a dance that was popular during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The dance originated on the slave plantations in America and was performed in minstrel shows. Keen to capitalise on that success, the search was on for the next dance craze:
Pathé Freres have a film showing the new dance Kickapoo, which, it is said, will oust the Cake Walk from public favour. The dance is performed by the Elks, the creators of the Cake Walk, and is represented as they performed it at the Casino de Paris. The same performers are represented by another film in the Cake Walk itself. Pathés are also to the fore with Russian- Japanese films. These, representing Russian infantry, cavalry and artillery, Japanese Ladies at Tea, a street in Tokio, and A Japanese Dance, to mention only a few, have been taken from life and should prove great favourites with the public. Of some clever trick films which Pathés issue, we may mention The Diabolical Saucepan and The Magic Hat. This class of films always pleases.
The quote above is taken from the April 1904 edition of Talking Machine News. The “kickapoo” was a Native American dance, and Pathé were making the mistake of simply latching onto another dance that had its origins in an American minority. However, a Native American dance was clearly a very different thing to the Cake Walk, and the Kickapoo was not much of a success in the Western world. The film in question by Pathé is “Kickapoo by the Elks”. A quick internet search doesn’t turn up anything, so my guess is that it no longer exists, and likewise “The Diabolical Saucepan” and “The Magic Hat”, both of which sound very interesting! They belong to a genre of early cinema known as “trick films”, which utilised early special effects techniques. One early example simply flipped the film on an upside-down set, so it appeared as if the actors were dancing on the ceiling.
We’ve come a long way…
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