Cecil M. Hepworth – the first livable-streets advocate?

Last night I was doing some research on interstitials – you know, the narrative cards in silent films – when I came across the piece in which they allegedly debuted. It was a short clip called How It Feels to Be Run Over.

How It Feels was directed by Cecil M. Hepworth, a British filmmaker. He probably would have made a great livable-streets advocate today with this storytelling.

This film appears to be an introduction to the horseless carriage – and to some of the dangers it poses. The soon-to-be-irrelevant beast has no problem passing the camera without incident, while the automobile veers uncontrollably out of its lane (remember, this is a British film). The passengers wave their hands – out of the way, stupid pedestrian! What are you doing in the road? This thing’s got a mind of its own!

No criminality was suspected.

Also of note: if you look carefully between 0:31 and 0:37, you’ll see a cyclist riding behind the vehicle. Draw your own conclusions there although it’s difficult for me to not think of a recent incident.

Many early moving pictures were used for shock value. Some of this might have stemmed from the supposed reaction to the Lumière Brothers’ film Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat in 1896. Legend has it that some viewers fainted for fear that the train would enter the audience.

Fellow Frenchman Georges Méliès (played by Ben Kingsley in the film Hugo) created many of the techniques used for intentional scares, including the one used by Hepworth in 1900′s Explosion of a Motor Car, which I find hilarious.

Hepworth’s use of stop-frame recording here might have scared a few viewers into thinking they’d just seen a snuff film. More importantly, in my opinion, it highlighted the potential dangers of mechanical transport – this time, to the users themselves.

This might be the single most potent tool in the advocate’s playbook: the ability to cast changes to streets as a benefit to drivers. It worked well to get the improvements to Fourth Avenue passed (see p. 32), although it seems to be woefully underused.

Looks like it’s been over a century in the making.

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