Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906)

dreamofararebitfiend1

*. “Rarebit” isn’t a word. It’s a corruption of “rabbit” that is used, and only used, to describe a dish of melted cheese on toast called Welsh rarebit, which has no rabbit in it. I’ve never had it. It looks disgusting. But then I think fondue is disgusting too. And I like cheese!
*. That said, it’s the Fiend who makes it look disgusting here, cramming enough of it in his mouth to make himself sick. I suspect his delirium, however, is brought about by the bottles he’s kicking back. It’s a remarkable display of excess, complete with pasty eruptions.
*. The source material was a serial comic strip written by Winsor McKay (“Silas”) featuring various dreams and fantasies. The comics were adult in nature, and even quite dark at times, complementing the childhood adventures of Little Nemo (another McKay creation from the same period).
*. It’s probably best remembered today for the scene of the Fiend riding his bed over the city. That’s too bad, as I think this is the weakest effect in the film. My favourite part has the Fiend holding on to a lamppost as it swings like a pendulum while superimposed over a street that seems to be shot from the deck of a boat in rough seas. I can only imagine what contemporary audiences thought of this, as the movement alone is enough to make me feel queasy. I guess they must have liked it though, as Edison sold a lot of copies.
*. I’ve seen several different prints of this one, running from just over five minutes to just over seven (the latter, however, in a print where the film speed seemed to be wrong). In some versions there’s definitely been material cut from the opening dining scene.
*. We may feel a familiar tug watching it today, when comic book movies are our dominant narrative form and effects rule. This movie is a bit different, trying to slip a moral in about the consequences of overindulgence, but at the end of the day it’s just a magic carpet ride. In terms of the story’s structure it resembles A Trip to the Moon, with a fantastic voyage and then a crashing back to Earth. That was a familiar trope in early cinema. Some of the effects, however, have held up really well, like the model shot of the spinning bed or the lamppost sequence I mentioned, and Porter really was one of the most accomplished storytellers of his day.

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