|NEW ATTACK ON DEERFIELD.
BY MOVING PICTURE RED SKINS.
HISTORIC EVENTS REPRODUCED.
How 40 Actors Have Prepared New Thrills by Combining Fact and Fiction
Where a Real Massacre Once Occurred.
The possibility of weaving a romance out of the thrilling events of Deerfield
history, presenting as it does Indian attacks upon stockades and fortified log
dwellings, and the famous Bloody Brook massacre, has appealed to the Thomas
A. Edison motion picture company of New Jersey, and they began last week to
produce films from the old scenes, re-enacted in the historical old town. It
has taken three or four days for the series of proposed scenes to be acted and
taken upon a film for motion-picture purposes. A company of over 40 people were
upon the spot, half of them regular motion picture actors from Bedford park,
Bronx, N. Y., where a studio of the Edison company is located, and the other
half local recruits, picked up in Deerfield and neighboring Greenfield and pressed
History has a strong appeal to motion picture audiences, provided it is selected
carefully with a view to leaving out the dry parts and presents the high colors
and hair-raising thrills. Indians with their hatchets, tomahawks, bows and arrows,
war paint and feathers are just the people to turn loose upon a picture screen
if you would make the audience sit up and give attention. There is for an audience,
safe in opera house seats, an excruciatingly pleasant creeping sensation in
watching a band of bloodthirsty savages creep warily down the distant hills
closer and closer to plunge over the plains to attack the unsuspecting stockade.
With no effort at imagination the spectator as he watches the realistic picture
can easily suppose himself one of the victims whom the wily Indian, with cruel
features and ready tomahawk, is approaching nearer and nearer to scalp. The
delight of those cold chills down the back, with the assurance of safety as
we grasp the arms
of the theater chairs and realize that it isn't true!
The Deerfield massacre of February 29, 1704, during the French and Indian war,
when a band of 200 French soldiers and 140 Indians descended upon the little
settlement, slaughtered most of its inhabitants, fired its buildings and carried
women and children off to Canada, presents the ideal color for a motion picture
The real attack on Deerfield was a tragedy, as the massacre which followed
the attack wiped out nearly all of the colony's leaders, but tragedy is
not what a motion picture audience wants. This audience may take an uncanny
pleasure in watching an abstract colonist, to whom its interest has not been
particularly drawn, sink with an Indian tomahawk in his skull, or fall in the
excitement of the fight as the puffs of smoke spurt out from the muskets, but
the chief characters must suffer no injury. The stage director for this moving
picture enactment, Frank McGlynn, who, by the way, is a clever fellow, understands
this well and has prepared his story accordingly.
The central figures, those well to the front of the camera at all times, are
a young Puritan maiden, her old white-haired father, her soldier lover and three
children with their mothers. After the fall of the stockade one particularly
malicious-looking Indian shaking his tomahawk in triumph back at the burning
settlement carries her off, presumably to Canada. The grief-stricken father
attempts to follow, but is held back by a trapper. The children, of course,
meet with no harm and the lover sets out in pursuit. He will, of course, eventually
regain possession of the heroine, kill the wicked Indian in a satisfying manner,
restore the girl to her loving father's arms and receive the usual reward.
It is interesting to note in the carrying out of this desire to please an audience
that has the two-fold longing for the smoke, action and slaughter of a realistic
battle with the safety of the good people toward whom the interest has been
drawn, the moving picture director has a far larger number of Indians than whites
fall in the conflict. It is hard to see, on careful thought, how the defeat
of the settlers would have been possible under these circumstances, but the
audience in a moving picture house must be satisfied. In all the detail of movements
and struggles the picture must be actual for them, but close adherence to the
truth of life and history would take away all the romantic charm and leave the
story without interest in their eyes. Two of the children of Rev. John Williams
were murdered in this attack and his wife was killed soon after the start of
the trip to Canada, but such details were not for the moving picture films.
None of the prominent historical characters stand out in this moving picture
story. The real thing was too bitterly tragic for romantic portrayal in a picture
theater. Benoni Stebbins, the hero of that fateful day, who with seven companions
held an unfortified house for three hours against the assault of 140 Indians
and 200 French soldiers, was killed when the enemy finally overcame his stubborn
resistance. Because of his unfortunate death, unfortunate for him in the original
attack and again unfortunate for the instigators of this second moving picture
attack, he could not be taken for the hero, and the love story had to be played
by entirely imaginary characters. Possibly if those original colonists and Indians
had known that the modern generation would not be satisfied with history as
they were making it they would have fixed up the fight differently.
The method of making these moving picture films with a background and scenery
as extensive as has been used in these historical portrayals is interesting.
It was an extensive task that extended throughout four or five days and cost,
it is estimated, at least $2000 to complete. The setting for the approach of
the Indians against the fort was upon the wooded Mount Pocumtuck hills to the
east of the town. Untrodden snow, in some places four feet deep, lay over the
hills and gulleys. History tells us that at the time of the real attack there
was four feet of snow upon the ground, but that it had a thick crust which supported
the attacking party. The attacking party Friday wallowed through the soft snow
up to their knees in a realistic if not historic manner.
How the Pictures Are Taken.
A scope of at least one-half mile back over the hills was covered by the cameras,
two of which were in operation. Indians, real in the minutest detail of their
costumes, with faces heavily coated with paint, cheekbones made high and noses
made crooked by means of a colored putty-like substance, were scattered all
over the high hill after they had been given careful instructions by the director.
The regular actors occupied the foreground, while the supernummeraries were
in the extreme rear. At a signal of the director all started to move as prearranged,
and the camera rolls were set in motion. Advancing a short distance and then
dropping to the snow, darting from tree to tree they came on, scattered all
over the hill from top to bottom. The professionals in front made the greatest
speed, and after advancing to within 10 feet of the camera turned to the left
and so passed out of the picture. Those at the extreme rear had reached about
the middle of the scene of the picture, when the camera machinery was stopped.
All during the action, which lasted five minutes but could have been made longer,
the director using a megaphone shouted directions to those taking part, telling
them to move more rapidly, to spread out more, to close in so as to keep within
the lines of the picture, etc.
Almost everyone now understands the principle on which moving picture effects
are based. A series of small pictures presenting the various positions assumed
by the body in motion are rapidly run over the screen, producing thus the illusion
of action. In getting these pictures a long strip of sensitized film a little
over an inch in width is rapidly turned on a roll by the photographer, and hundreds
of exposures are thus made. In five minutes about 100 feet of these tiny pictures
are run past the camera lens. Judgment must be used by the photographer as to
the speed with which he must turn the roll, as the effect of quicker action
will be made, the slower the roll is turned. This is because by slower motion
of the roll more minute details of action of those in front of the camera are
obtained, and the later rapid turning of the roll when the picture is run in
a theater gives the effect of quick action.
The "Fight" at the Stockade.
With the most simple scenery the stockade scene was run through. The scene
called for a few feet of the palings to show above a huge snow bank, which history
says drifted against the fort and up which the Indians climbed, and thus jumped
down into the inclosure 12 feet below. A steep bank of untrodden snow was found,
and some pasteboard palings reinforced with light wooden blocks gave the stockade.
The palings were only three feet high, but when placed in the snow appeared
to be the tops of stakes 12 feet high sticking above a deep snow drift. Up this
the Indians scrambled and jumped over the palings, falling and crawling on their
stomachs out of the focus of the camera. It is surprising to see the hard falls
which these professional moving picture actors take with little concern. They
think nothing of falling into deep water to get an effect. They often hang from
a bridge or other elevation as high as 50 feet in the air while they are photographed.
It is strenuous work, and calls for fellows who can do all sorts of outdoor
stunts from riding horses in Wild West fashion to climbing and jumping trees,
fences, bridges and every imaginable structure. There are many old circus hands
engaged in this line of work.
In producing such a scene as was made Friday in which the settlers are seized
and carried off by the Indians, and the colonial soldiers attack the enemy in
a vain hope of saving them, much careful preparation is necessary. With a snow-covered
field and the beautiful hills as a background the natural scenery was perfect
and needed no additional mechanical devices to help produce an effect. Each
of the actors in such a scene, however, must be instructed in what he is to
do and at just what spot in front of the camera certain actions are to be carried
out. It must be understood just which of the contestants are to fall dead and
at the fire of which particular muskets. The spots where they are to fall are
also selected with a view to the most picturesque effect. Every move in a struggle
between two combatants is carefully prearranged. The principals are kept well
to the front where their every move will be particularly emphasized and not
lost in the general excitement and activity of those around them. Their actions
alone tell the main romance and the interest must be centered on them by putting
them to the front and detailing their actions specifically to tell the story.
In the case of a very complicated scene a rehearsal is first run through with
to make sure that no mistake will be made when the picture is taken. If an important
detail is omitted or a mistake made in carrying it through, it is necessary
to make the whole picture over again. When so many characters are acting at
once it is impossible for the human eye to follow every move, but the eye of
the camera records everything that is done before it. Often some one of the
actors will unwittingly make a move that will spoil the effect or make the whole
scene absurd, and in the general activity of the moment the director will not
note it. In such a case the error is not discovered until the film has been
developed, and the picture produced upon a screen. To offset the possibility
of a film that may be defective or may become fogged or damaged two cameras
are used for each view.
Locomotive Delays the Battle.
Just as the battle scene mentioned was about to be started Friday the shriek
of a locomotive warned the director that a delay of a few moments was necessary.
The Boston and Maine railroad tracks ran along the side of the hill above, and
were included within the range of the camera. It is easy for the reader to imagine
the effect that would be produced in a motion picture depicting an Indian attack
in the year 1704 if a modern railroad train should be discovered rushing past
in the middle of the scene. Liberties enough have been taken with history but
a railroad train in the middle of a battle between Indians and colonists was
more than even a moving-picture artist could conscientiously depict and so the
picture was held up until the scene was clear again.
All details, such as modern buildings, telegraph and telephone poles and railroad
tracks, had to be taken into account and
the cameras so focused that they would not present these things. The Boston
and Maine tracks were not visible and the telegraph poles were hidden by trees,
the train would have been seen if the picture had been taken while it was passing.
Excitement ran riot for a few moments when a well-meaning but excited recruit
from Greenfield started a picture before the signal and shot his blank cartridge
at a professional Indian, the wadding flying uncomfortably close to his ear.
The action was immediately stopped until the necessity for shooting well over
the heads of the actors had been carefully impressed upon the minds of the assistant
actors from Greenfield.
Before the series of pictures being made around Deerfield has been completed
there will have been some 9 or 10 scenes prepared, telling a connected story.
They will require about 1000 feet of film, the average length of the film for
each scene being about 100 feet. Parts of the story which are supposed to have
taken place in Canada will be made with local background, as it is felt that
the scenery in Canada would not differ materially from that in Massachusetts,
at least not enough to make a noticeable effect in a moving picture.
Actors Are Interested.
These moving picture actors take as much pride in their creation of a big scene
as the actors who carry through their parts to win the applause of an audience
that is seated in front of them. They enter enthusiastically into all that they
do and run through every part in a most serious, business-like fashion. So strong
is their emotion at times that they will give vocal expression to the part they
play, even though they know that it will not add to the effect they wish to
produce. The Indians whooped aloud in triumph. In motioning their comrades to
advance they shouted “Come on,” and similar expressions. When seized
by the big chief the heroine screamed and begged aloud for mercy. A wounded
Three children of the director, Frank McGlynn, the oldest five and four years
respectively, were in the scene when the settlers were seized by Indians. Their
father instructed them to make believe frightened, and as they were
hurried by Indians before the camera lens, on their baby faces most skilful
portrayal of fright was given. Every moment when the action is being run through
for the camera the director is busy with his megaphone shouting directions.
There is one advantage which these actors have over ordinary player folks and
that is they can go to the real exhibit in the theater and see themselves act
for the entertainment of the audience. They take great pleasure in sitting with
the audience and watching scenes in which they have taken part reproduced.
Bloody Brook Romance to Be Acted.
Another romance of much this same character will be made later upon the Bloody
Brook massacre of September 18, 1675. As this event happened in the early fall
it will be necessary to wait until an exterior scene which will present leaves
upon the trees and the open water of the brook can be secured. Along in the
last of August or September the Edison company will go to South Deerfield and
prepare a film presenting as nearly as possible the massacre of those early
days, supplementing the story with imaginary characters and scenes that might
have happened at that time.