With his finger squarely on the pulse of the burgeoning motion picture industry, Edwin Thanhouser founded the Thanhouser Company in 1909, setting up shop in the city of New Rochelle, New York. Thanhouser’s earliest productions rarely exceeded the 12-15 minute range, as the era of multiple-reel films was yet to come. The Winter’s Tale was made during the company’s first year and is a notably abridged (i.e. condensed to 12 minutes and 35 seconds, with zero dialogue) adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
Before O, before 10 Things I Hate About You, before Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet, and well before She’s the Man, there was this, the first ever attempt by an American film studio to bring Shakespeare to the screen. People can endlessly debate the merits of dialogue-less Shakespeare adaptations from the silent era, but surely audiences of the time were so thrilled by the period-faithful costumes and sets that they refrained from expressing much nit-picky dissatisfaction. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how thrilling the dramatic developments (indicated by inter-titles) must have been: “THE KING HAS COMMANDED THAT THE INFANT PRINCESS BE LEFT TO PERISH OUTSIDE HIS KINGDOM.” Pretty dark stuff. The variety of patterns created by the print’s nitrate deterioration is an added bonus, so if your cinephilic standards are unfulfilled, you can at least pretend like you’re watching one of those Stan Brakhage movies.