Vaudeville in Early Motion Film

Roll up, roll up! Come in and watch a collection of weird and wonderful vaudeville acts from the very beginnings of motion picture.

Dating back to the 1890s, this enchanting collection is a treasure trove of wacky performances and unique talents, eternally captured on film by the pioneering experimental work of Thomas Edison, his peers and their newly invented motion picture cameras.

Come and see the famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley in action – the first woman to be considered a national superstar. You won’t believe your eyes when you watch this dizzying Japanese juggling routine. Swoon away with these two “body beautifuls” as they flex and stretch their perfect physiques. Boxing was one of the most popular sports at the turn of the century, and not just among men: even cats, kangaroos and – shock horror – women were doing it!

Left: Annie Oakley shooting targets, 1894  Right: Woman & man display their physiques, 1900s
Left: Annie Oakley shooting targets, 1894
Right: Woman & man display their physiques, 1900s

If you’re more a lover than a fighter, you may like this cheeky clip of May Irwin and John Rice. In the words of the original caption: “They get ready to kiss, begin to kiss, and kiss and kiss and kiss in a way that brings down the house every time.

According to Edison film historian C. Musser, the actors staged their kiss for the camera at the request of the New York world newspaper, and this resulted in the most popular Edison Vitascope film in 1896.

Left: May Irwin and John Rice kiss, 1896  Right: Luis Martinetti on hanging rings, 1894
Left: May Irwin and John Rice kiss, 1896
Right: Luis Martinetti on hanging rings, 1894

These 1890s vaudeville acts, comedy skits, and scenes of everyday life documented everything from unusual talents, farcical sports, acrobatics, world dance and more. Many were under a minute long and presented a single scene – authentic or staged – with little to no cinematic technique, usually no camera movement and flat compositions reminiscent of stage shows.

Find out more

Click through to see more films from this groundbreaking time in film history, all available for licensing through the Bridgeman Footage archive.

Contact the Bridgeman Sales Team at uksales@bridgemanimages.com for more information about these clips.

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