Monday, March 30, 2015
Early films exploited an old superstition that a mirror could be a portal to a demon netherworld. A demonic mirror could absorb human energy and even steal a person's soul. It was believed at one time that an infant, whose soul was most vulnerable to a mirror's draw, should never be allowed to cast a reflection in a mirror.
In the early days of film, Pathé Frères produced a number of frightening mirror fantasies. I recently came across three of these films while browsing the company's exhibitor catalog. In the 1905 comedy Ah! la barbe! (later released in the United States under the title A Funny Shave), a man trying to shave is stunned to look into his bathroom mirror and see a big monstrous head staring back at him. The man becomes so distressed that he finally smashes the mirror.
In Miroir pour fiancés (1910), a loving young man and woman who are engaged to wed encounter a beggar, who presents them with a mirror that allows them a glimpse into their future. The couple is distressed by the apparitions that materialize in the mirror. The wife appears in these apparitions as a fat, red-nosed drunkard. It is noted in the exhibitor catalog that the young "rose" has shed her leaves and petals and now displays "only thorns." She has become, according to the catalog, "harder than an old crocodile." She has seven children, one of which is black (an indelicate sign of infidelity). At the same time, her husband has become bitter and nasty and he thinks nothing of beating his once blushing bride. The couple is so appalled by what they see that they quickly break off their engagement.
Les Reflets vivants (1908) was an imaginative slapstick comedy. A young inventor produces a liquid which can, when applied to the surface of a mirror, cause any human image in the mirror to come alive and step out into the real world. At first, the inventor's own image comes alive and performs all of his gestures. Was this an early film version of the classic mirror routine? The inventor manages to make his double vanish by wiping the liquid off the mirror. The inventor then takes the mirror into the street. A police officer who looks into the mirror is forced into a gun battle with his double. A street washer is so disturbed by his double that he fires a hose at him. An angry mob chases the young inventor to his home. When they attack him, he suddenly wakes up in bed and realizes that his fantastic adventure was only a dream.