#405) Something Good – Negro Kiss (1898)

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#405) Something Good – Negro Kiss (1898)

OR “The Windy City Turns Up the Heat”

Directed by William Selig

Class of 2018

The Plot: Chicago stage performers Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown kiss several times. It’s not this intimate moment that’s groundbreaking, but rather the fact that Suttle and Brown are African-American, showing affection openly and without any reference to minstrel shows or the negative racial stereotypes of the day.

Why It Matters: The NFR’s extended writeup gives a brief overview of the Selig Polyscope Company, the trend of “kissing films” in the late 1890s, and the discovery and restoration of “Something Good”. Dr. Allyson Nadia Field from the University of Chicago calls the short “a landmark of early film history”.

But Does It Really?: Why does the NFR need to oversell me on “Something Good”? In a few brief moments we get quite possibly the first film recording of African-American intimacy in which neither of the participants resort to gross stereotypes. That’s enough for me. Welcome to the NFR!

Shout Outs: As best we know, “Something Good” is intentionally spoofing “The Kiss”, the popular film that spawned the “kissing films” craze.

Everybody Gets One: First of all, shoutout to the aforementioned Dr. Field; everything we know about this movie comes from her research. William Selig was a former vaudeville/minstrel show performer who shifted to producing upon seeing a demonstration of Edison’s Kinetoscope in 1894. He founded the Selig Polyscope Company (one of the first film studios) in Chicago and started filming any local acts he could persuade to appear on camera. Among those performers were Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown, two dancers who may have been at Selig’s studio to perform the then-popular cakewalk dance. It is theorized that Suttle and Brown’s recorded kiss was an afterthought following their dance routine.

Other notes

  • All I can add is a corroboration of the palpable chemistry between Suttle and Brown. These two are all over each other. Get a room, why don’t ya!

Legacy

  • Following “Something Good”, William Selig moved his production company to Los Angeles, and did okay until the film industry switched from novelty shorts to full-length features. Selig lost most of his fortune in the Great Depression, but four months before his death in 1948, he was given an honorary Academy Award in recognition of his pioneering film efforts.
  • Both Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown died in the early 1930s, their vaudeville careers long behind them.
  • “Something Good” disappeared seemingly forever, until it was obtained by USC archivist Dino Everett from a private film collection in New Orleans in the mid 2010s. Everett immediately contacted Dr. Allyson Nadia Field, and thanks to their extensive efforts, “Something Good” has been recognized for its historical significance and added to the NFR. Unsurprisingly, online viewing of the short skyrocketed upon its NFR designation.
  • Not really connected, but now I have “Something Good” from “Sound of Music” stuck in my head, which occasionally segues into “I’m into Something Good” by Herman’s Hermits. It’s a rich and full day of earworms for me.

And with that Herman’s Hermits reference, we wrap up Year Three. We’ll be taking a break for the holidays, but we’ll return in 2020 with Year Four and the first of the NFR Class of 2019.

Happy Viewing,

Tony

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