Drama

Girl, in Garden, with String

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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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29 thoughts on “Girl, in Garden, with String

  1. Wow, thank you so much for introducing me to this film. I know of Alice Guy Blaché, but I haven’t seen her work. This is a wonderful treasure, as is your post.

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  2. “There is a film that makes us a little weepy every time we watch it.” This film did not make me a little weepy. It made me cry. A lot. I have to see more of Alice Guy Blaché’s movies.

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  3. A review as charming as the film itself 🙂
    This is one of my favourite Guy-Blaché shorts, one thing that never ceases to impress me is how much feeling she always managed to pack into them. It’s a shame that quite a few seem to be impossible to find (in the UK at least!)

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  4. Fascinating (both your article and the film). Alice Guy-Blaché’s movies are some of the very best I’ve seen recently. She could do everything. Without the credit, this lovely (and romantic, and plot-twisted) Falling Leaves could pass as a Griffith movie, couldn’t it?
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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  5. I had never heard of this film, so thanks for telling me about it and (even better) providing the link so I could watch this sweet short.

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  6. Thanks for this! Everybody who loves film should get to know Guy-Blaché. 🙂

    In case you haven’t heard, there was a Kickstarter film project that’s been funded: “Be Natural: The untold story of Alice Guy-Blaché” (dir. Pamela Green & Jarik van Sluijs). Not sure when the film will be completed, but you can keep track of it here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/benatural/be-natural-the-untold-story-of-alice-guy-blache?ref=email

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  7. Ha! I was weepy before your DESCRIPTION of it finished! I’m so glad to know about Alice Guy-Blache’. I especially liked the set for the garden with the falling leaves and imagine it took some practice to get those leaves tossed down individually with some realism. I know she did this at her own studio, but am surprised to learn that Pathe’ was around so long ago. Will look forward to learning more and enjoying your blog:0).

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    1. Re: Pathe – I know! That place had been around since forever, it seems like.

      Isn’t this such a heartfelt and lovely film? That little girl alone is worth the piece of admission. And you’re right about the leaves falling…I hadn’t actually considered that aspect.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I really enjoyed watching this short film. It is so sweet. You described it perfectly. Amazing how you don’t really need too many words to convey a powerful story. Thanks, Ruth!

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    1. Isn’t this film adorable? (It always blows my mind when I realize it’s over 100 years old!) That little girl just steals your heart, doesn’t she? You’re right when you say you don’t need a lot of words to present a powerful message, and this film is proof.

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