Title: The Big Swallow

Director: James Williamson

Released: 1901

Length: 1 min 07 sec

I was introduced to The Big Swallow after it featured briefly in Steven Soderbergh’s excellent hospital period drama The Knick. In the episode two characters watch the film through a looking glass and express amazement at the man in the film as he seemingly eats the camera.

The Big Swallow is a seminal piece of work as ‘one of the first to deliberately exploit the contrast between the eye of the camera and of the audience watching the final filmaccording to BFI online.

Looking back now, the lines between fun and horror were incredibly blurred in Victorian times as these photo’s testify. The Big Swallow was supposed to be a comedy short upon it’s release in 1901 but it’s unnerving jerky camera and unusual subject matter make it feel more surreal in the present day, Lynchian even.

To give some context as to how different the world was back in 1901, The Big Swallow‘s main actor Sam Dalton also appeared in a short film entitled Sambo where he employed ‘black face’.