Gray, F., 'The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899): G.A. Smith and the rise of the Edited Film in England', commissioned chapter within, The Silent Cinema Reader, Lee Grieveson & Peter Kramer, eds., Routledge, 2004, pp.51-62. ISBN 0 415 252849
As described in relation to my work on James Williamson, above, I have also been investigating George Albert Smith’s work for over a decade. Smith (1864-1959) established his ‘film factory’ at Hove in 1897 and it was here that he produced his major films. For this work, he drew upon his knowledge of contemporary music hall, theatre, pantomime, popular literature, mesmerism, the magic lantern and film-making in Europe and America. Smith made two very significant examples of the edited film: The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899) and Grandma's Reading Glass (1900). This commissioned chapter examined the former as it was the film-maker’s first attempt to produce a multi-shot, narrative film. It introduced his new understanding of continuity film editing and it would have a profound impact on his work in 1900.
The chapter contextualised this film in terms of the rise of the phantom ride film, contemporary railway culture and the early history of the edited film, especially in relation to the magic lantern. This film signalled the end of the unedited, single shot film that had been the dominant mode of film production since 1893.
As essentially a non-narrative experience, phantom rides usually had no clear beginning or end. All of these factors worked to create the illusion of a mysterious, dream-like agency that was carrying the viewer through space and time, hence the name the 'phantom ride'. The effect of a phantom ride was also to produce visual pleasure through the viewer’s physical experience of watching the train/the camera as it made its way, at speed, through light and shadow, different landscapes and features, around bends and into tunnels. The kinaesthetic reactions to such films (literally watching the film and physically reacting to it) revealed their peculiar and delightful power.
From 1899, Smith’s focus was on developing and understanding the nature of continuity editing - to link individual shots together within the fictional space and time of a single diegesis. The combination of Smith’s single shot The Kiss in the Tunnel with a phantom ride created an edited film of spectacle and narrative which demonstrated a new sense of continuity and simultaneity across three shots. His work also expressed his new interest in not just celebrating and capturing a moment in time but also selecting and organising these time elements in order to manipulate – or indeed sculpt - time.
The Silent Cinema Reader brought together a selection of published material and commissioned chapters by leading silent film historians in order to create an international perspective on different aspects of silent cinema. My chapter provided the Reader with a study of the British contribution to the international development of film form around 1900. I have also contributed the entries on Smith for various reference works: New Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004), the Encyclopedia of Early Cinema (Routledge, 2004) and Directors in British and Irish Cinema (British Film Institute, 2006).