Edwin S. Porter directed Uncle Josh's Nightmare (1900) for the Edison Manufacturing Company, & its close resemblance to films of Georges Melies is startling.
Uncle Josh (Charles "Daddy" Manley) takes to his bed & immediately upon falling asleep, an imp appears in his room, played by a man wearing a cloth-horned black costume very similar to that which Melies found for The Black Imp (Le Diable noir, 1905).
The imp rips the blanket off Uncle Josh who leaps out of bed & gets in a fight with the imp, knocking him unconscious.
He wraps the imp in a sheet, tying it with a firm knot, then lugs the heavy parcel to a footlocker & stuffs him in that. But the imp has no intention of remaining in the box, & reappears & disappears as it pleases.
Uncle Josh was a "series character," probably the very first, or in close tie with the Happy Hooligan films. Up until the 1920s he could also be enjoyed on sound recording cylinders from Edison Manufacturing Company, in what were precursors to radio plays. He was the subject of four films, of which three are easily accessible.
The second was Uncle Josh in a Spooky Hotel (1900). Josh arrives in his rented room with a companion (whom the contemporary Edison Catalog says is the landlord, but they do seem to be old friends too). There's a clock over the bed, & it's nearly the witching hour, midnight.
As they sit down side by side, a white-clad spook appears behind Josh & knocks his hat off, then vanishes before it is seen.
Assuming his companion did it, Josh gives him a whack, & they begin arguing & almost get in a serious fight. As soon as they settle down, the white figure appears behind Josh's companion & the scene plays over but this time the companion thinks Josh has reached behind him & given him a smack.
But then the companion sees the ghost manifest & terrified runs out of the room, not bothering to warn Josh, whose back was turned. The ghost sits down on the edge of the bed with Josh still unaware that he has a different companion.
It was an amusing affectation to make a film in which a man is sitting in the loges watching a film.
"Film within a film" is the main delight of Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1902), which spoofs the actual audience reactions when cinema was first introduced & naive viewers feared such things as trains screaming out of the screen.
Josh is watching a film, which is a fragment of Parisian Dance (1896). A woman strides out on screen & does the can-can & a cartwheel, inducing Josh to climb from his box seat to be closer to the screen, trying to dance with the lady.
In the age of two & three-minute films, exhibitions consisted of many films shown back to back, so soon Uncle Josh is watching a film with an express train racing at him, scaring him so bad he jumps back into the box seats.
The film shown is a fragment of Black Diamond Express (1896) which due to a remake became known as Black Diamond Express No. 1. In its "complete" original it's a half-minute of watching the train rushing by a row of railroad workers waving at each other.
It such a simple film it's hard to believe how popular it became, & how many imitations existed. Gilbert "Bronco Billy" Anderson wrote & produced a stage melodrama about a train catastrophe, using the Edision film in the climax.
When the negative wore out the Edison company remade it as New Diamond Express (1900), which was pretty much the same film from the same angle with similar workers by track waving hankies.
The third film Country People may also have existed as a separate film at one time but there is no record of it, so it's believed that this one's original to the Uncle Josh adventure.
The third film brings Josh back to the front of the screen laughing hysterically at the man & wife arguing on the screen. But when the husband begins beating his wife, chivalrous Uncle Josh rolls up his sleeves intending to join the fight, which only knocks the sheet down on which the film was projected. In the end Josh & the projectionist are fighting.
To an extent the Uncle Josh character is a hick or buffoon, but it was easy to relate to him, as he was also a bold guy. His reaction to a demon in Uncle Josh's Nightmare was to have a fight with it rather than run away.
In the end of Uncle Josh in a Spooky Hotel, he's slapping the ghost on the knee & having a good laugh. And his reaction to wife-beating in Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show was to intervene (though note the Edison catalog added a note not evident from the film, in that Uncle Josh thought the attacked woman was his own daughter). He was a sympathetic comic hero the audiences could relate to.
One Uncle Josh comedy is seedy & not overtly advertised by the Edison Company as part of the series, though in their catalog the company noted in passing that the protagonist of How They Do Things on the Bowery (1902) was Uncle Josh.
It's a crime comedy with femme fatale prostitute picking up Uncle Josh in the street & slipping him a mickey in a nearby bar, stealing his wallet. When the waiter finds him asleep, he's awakened roughly & tossed out into the gutter, & a police paddy wagon shows up to fetch him away to jail.
The main audience for kinescopic films were men, & men would plonk down a coin for a seedy film faster than anything.
Some places would have the law shut down a kinescope parlor if things got too sleazy, & often all it took was a fast-dancing lady completely smothered in her costume to be charged with immoral content. It's my suspicion the "extra" Uncle Josh film was slipped to a certain type of client that needed Edison to provide the bread-and-butter sleaze hidden among innocent stuff in case the law came in.
The law could be given a peak at two or three of the Uncle Josh films & be satisfied they were innocuous. The customer after a sexier peep show could be led right to the one kinescope containing the tale of Uncle Josh & the hooker.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl