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Magda Foy (in white) practices alternative medicine.

There is a film that makes us a little weepy every time we watch it.

Every. single. time.

Get this: The film is not even 12 minutes long – and it’s over 100 years old!

If you’ve seen the 1912 film Falling Leaves, you know what we mean. If you haven’t seen it, then please scroll right to the bottom of this post where you can watch it.

Falling Leaves is a beautifully-crafted film about a young woman (Marian Swayne) who is dying of consumption. Swayne’s character is caring, sweet-tempered and adored by her little sister (Magda Foy). Swayne dotes on Foy; she reads to her and accompanies her singing via piano.

But she is dying and, after a particularly severe attack, the doctor has bad news for the family. “When the last leaf falls,” says the doc, “she will have passed away.”

The family is naturally distressed, but Foy isn’t convinced. She reasons that if there are still leaves on trees, her sister will not die.

Foy finds a ball of string and runs to the garden. She picks up fallen leaves from the ground and, using the string, she gently but firmly hangs these leaves on the bare branches. However, the leaves continue to drop at a pretty fast clip, much faster than Foy can pick them up.

In this scene, the director keeps Foy at the bottom of the frame, as if to emphasize how little she is, in comparison with the trees, which are quite tall. Every time Foy bends down to retrieve a leaf, she disappears from view and we are left, briefly, with a sense of panic. Hurry! Leaves are falling!

We admire this little girl, alone in the garden in her night-dress, yet our heart breaks for her. If only such single-mindedness could actually cure her sister!

Director Alice Guy-Blaché was a French filmmaker who made her first film, The Cabbage Fairy, in 1896, while she worked at Pathé Studios in France. When she and her husband emigrated to the U.S. in 1906, she founded her own studio, Solax, where she cranked out a film every week, including Falling Leaves.

Guy-Blaché made a brilliant choice in casting Foy as the little girl. Foy is innocent, charming and tenacious. She convinces us she would hang every fallen leaf in the garden if it would cure her sister, and she would do so gladly.

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“No trouble at all. I always carry my patented medicine with me.”

Happily for everyone, a renowned Bacteriologist (Mace Greenleaf) happens to be walking by the garden and sees Foy absorbed in her unusual task. When Foy realizes this stranger could help her sister, she drags him into the house and into her sister’s bedroom where – lo, what’s this? – he pulls a vial of anti-consumption serum from his pocket. Ta dah!

(Three months later, the famous Bateriologist is still making house calls. And bringing flowers. And telling Swayne funny stories while feeding her snacks.)

Yes, we know you’re thinking it was the Bacteriologist, with his modern medical knowledge, who heals Swayne. But our heart tells us differently. Our heart tells us it was a little girl, alone in the garden in her night-dress, with a ball of string and a Mission.

Falling Leaves: starring Mace Greenleaf, Blanche Cornwall, Marian Swayne. Directed by Alice-Guy Blaché. Solax Studios, 1912, B&W, 12 mins.

This post is part of the SHORTS BLOGATHON, hosted by Movies, Silently. Click HERE for a list of all fab entries.

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Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

29 Comment on “Girl, in Garden, with String

  1. Pingback: Alice Guy-Blaché: female film pioneer | Girls Do Film

  2. Pingback: Falling Leaves (1912) | the motion pictures

  3. Pingback: Alice Guy: Entertaining Since 1896 | Silver Screenings

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