Posted by: Footler PJ4 JUL 2012
Cecil Milton Hepworth wrote the first British book about the cinema, ‘Animated photography: the ABC of the cinematograph’, in 1897. He also produced short films, some of which demonstrated special effects techniques developed by film-makers. Two of his titles, ‘The egg-laying man’ and ‘How it feels to be run over’, may give you some idea of his work.
Hepworth experimented with stop-go action, exploding vehicles and varying the speed of filming. One example of his use of slow motion was so bizarre (and so politically incorrect) that without its pharmaceutical connection I would hardly dare to mention it.
‘The Indian chief and the Seidlitz powder’ (1901) starred Hepworth himself as what at that time was called a Red Indian, complete with warpaint and eagle feather headdress.
Seidlitz powders consisted of two separate wrapped powders, one containing tartaric acid and the other a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and potassium sodium tartrate. The powders effervesced when mixed in water and were taken to relieve digestive problems. The name Seidlitz was derived from Sedlec, a village now in the Czech Republic, which has been a source of fizzy mineral water since the 17th century. Apart from the name, the powders had no link with the village or its mineral water.
In the film the bumbling chief, suffering with stomach ache, breaks into a drug store where he finds and consumes a large amount of fizzy medicine, causing his body to expand vastly. His balloon-like leaps around the store were created by cranking the camera much faster than the usual 16 frames per second but then showing it at normal speed. I leave the final scene to your imagination.
Hepworth’s company went into receivership in 1923. His original film negatives were then melted down for their silver content and, sadly (or not, you might think), most of his feature films have also disappeared.