“The contrast between the ‘tired business man’ at a roof garden and the sweatshop worker applauding Pippa is certainly striking,” notes a piece in the October 10 edition of the 1909 New York Times. And with those words a long relationship between the Paper Of Record and film criticism began. The byline-free piece is less a proper movie review than a case study, positing the 11-minute short “Pippa Passes,” an adaptation of a Robert Browning work, as an example of films moving away from lurid material that attracted the wrath of censors and concerned citizens and toward more respectable ends. As such, there’s more than a whiff of condescension to the article, which includes this line in the opening paragraph: “[f]rom all accounts there seems to be no reason why one may not expect to see soon the intellectual aristocracy of the the nickelodeons demanding Kant’s ‘Prolegomena To Metaphysic’ with ‘The Kritek Of Pure Reason’ for a curtain raiser.” Serious movies? Who can imagine such a thing! Also unmentioned: The director of “Pippa Passes,” a somewhat influential artist by the name of D.W. Griffith.
“Pippa Passes” seems not to be available online, but here’s another Griffith short from the same year that draws on literature for inspiration: the seven-minute biopic “Edgar Allen [sic.] Poe.”