Wednesday, October 5, 2016

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0048 - DREAM OF A RAREBIT FIEND (Edwin S. Porter, 1906, USA, 7m, BW)


(Edwin S. Porter, 1906, USA, 7m, BW)



DREAM OF A RAREBIT FIEND (Edwin S. Porter, 1906, USA, 7m, BW)

Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906)

Directed by     Wallace McCutcheon
Edwin S. Porter
Written by     Winsor McCay (comic strip)
Starring     Jack Brawn
Cinematography     Edwin S. Porter
Distributed by     Edison Manufacturing Company
Release dates 1906
Running time 6 minutes
Country     United States
Language     Silent

Dream of a Rarebit Fiend is a 1906 American silent film directed by Edwin S. Porter for Edison Manufacturing Company. It is a seven-minute live-action film adaptation of the comic strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend by American cartoonist Winsor McCay. The film was marketed as using several special effects in which "some of the photographic 'stunts' have never been seen or attempted before." In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


The Rarebit Fiend gorges on Welsh rarebit at a restaurant. When he leaves, he begins to get dizzy as he starts to hallucinate. He desperately tries to hang onto a lamppost as the world spins all around him. A man helps him get home. He falls into bed and begins having more hallucinatory dreams. During a dream sequence, the furniture begins moving around the room. Imps emerge from a floating Welsh rarebit container and begin poking his head as he sleeps. His bed then begins dancing and spinning wildly around the room before flying out the window with the Fiend in it. The bed floats across the city as the Fiend floats up and off the bed. He hangs off the back and eventually gets caught on a weathervane atop a steeple. His bedclothes tear and he falls from the sky, crashing through his bedroom ceiling. The Fiend awakens from the dream after falling out of his bed.

Production and release

The January 28, 1905, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend comic strip upon which the film was based. The Fiend was played by John P. "Jack" Brawn. The Edison Military Band performed a piece called "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" on an Edison cylinder (Edison 9585) in 1907, written by Thomas W. Thurban. The piece was likely inspired by Porter's 1906 film, and may have been intended to accompany it. The piece was written for 18–20-piece band, and has been recorded numerous times.


Edwin S. Porter‘s interpretation of a comic strip by Winsor McCay, the creator of the well-known and bizarre “Little Nemo” series. The premise is that a fellow, after eating Welsh rarebit, experiences a series of hallucinatory effects. One could argue that this makes it the first LSD film, although of course LSD would not be invented for another 32 years. I certainly think that the drug-reference is deliberate, although I’d guess that rarebit was substituted to avoid offending people or perhaps for fear of making narcotics seem appealing to children.

Porter here uses the full range of camera effects pioneered by Georges Méliès, but to what seems to me a very original effect. First, the man experiences extreme vertigo, and the sense that a pole he is hanging on to is flying through a wind. Then, when he staggers into bed, he is briefly tormented by imps, pounding on his head with a variety of implements, then his bed starts leaping around the room and ultimately flies out the window and over the city, with him on board as a passenger. The story is told without intertitles or text of any kind. I think it may have been the best thing Porter ever did, although it was less innovative than “The Great Train Robbery.”

Dream of a Rarebit Fiend is a warning against too much imbibing and gluttony. A drunken man in white tuxedo and top hat sits eating rarebit (Welsh Rabbit) soup out of the tureen. He then staggers out of the restaurant and begins walking home. With the use of superimposed images, we see how the world looks to him, off balance and spinning out of control. He grabs hold of a post to keep from falling down. A stranger comes along and helps him walk.

He arrives home, changes into nightclothes and stumbles to bed. He immediately begins to dream (hallucinate?). First his shoes begin to slide across the floor and his bedroom chairs disappear. Next tiny white-clad imps appear above him and start jabbing his head with pitchforks. His bed begins floating and spinning all around the room and then sails out into the night over the city.

He begins to float out of the bed and grabs on to the bedrail in fright. Finally he falls and, luckily, gets caught on a weather vane. He then wakes up safely back in his bed with a splitting headache. The image of the man on the floating bed is quite famous and in 1906 it was probably downright amazing. This was the Edison Company’s most popular release of the year but, alas, now it is not much more than an historic curiosity.

Based on the comic strip of the same name by Winsor McKay. This was the Edison Company's most popular film release in 1906, selling 192 copies during the year. Edwin S. Porter ("Jack and The Beanstalk"/"The Prince and The Pauper"/"Zaza") directs this cartoonish short, where a man (Jack Brawn) dines alone in a restaurant and an excess of food (Welsh rarebit) and alcoholic drinks cause him to have a nightmare when he retires for the night in his apartment. It's so violent, with little devils beating atop his head with pitchforks, that the dreamer has to cling onto his bedposts for dear life. The film pays homage to the long history of film and the technical advances in the industry.

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