#27) Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (1894)

vc129.1#27) Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (1894)

OR “The Right Snuff”

Directed by William K.L. Dickson

Class of 2015

The whole film, courtesy of the Library of Congress

The Plot: The harrowing true story of a journalist and a photographer trapped in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime…no, wait, that’s “The Killing Fields”. This film is just some dude sneezing.

Why It Matters: The NFR cites the film’s representation as “the invention of the movies” and goes into the film’s history and preservation.

But Does It Really?: Purely as film, yes. And I don’t mean film as in a movie, I mean the actual physical film itself. It is the first baby step in what we now know as cinema. I’m genuinely surprised that it took the NFR 26 years to add “The Sneeze” to the Registry.

Everybody Gets One: A brief note on Fred Ott; a respected surgeon and gynecologist in his native Cambodia…no, wait, that’s Dr. Haing S. Ngor from “The Killing Fields”. Fred Ott was just some dude who worked for Edison.

Other notes

  • For God’s sake Fred, cover your mouth!

Legacy

  • This is technically the first snuff film. Thank you!
  • Since it’s in the public domain, this is a handy clip to have in your “Great Moments in the Movies” montage.
  • Fred Ott followed this film up with “Fred Ott Holding a Bird”. Unfortunately, early cinema audiences recognized an inferior sequel when they saw it, and avoided that film in droves.
  • Director William K.L. Dickson went on to invent the mutoscope and direct the short “What the Butler Saw”, possibly the first film whose goal was pure titillation.
  • This film has been remade several times, most notably as “That Scene in ‘Annie Hall’ Where Alvy Sneezes on the Cocaine”.
  • Thomas Edison would go on to steal some of the world’s greatest inventions.

Listen to This: The National Recording Registry has several Edison recordings, but one of its most unique is a cylinder recording for a talking doll the Edison Company made in 1888. You can listen to the doll’s rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” here, and then have fun trying to go to sleep tonight. Also be sure to check out the Library of Congress’ catalogue of Edison Picture and Sound Recordings.

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