This is a kind of cool case of serendipity: The Death Of Poor Joe is a 1901 UK production, directed by G.A. Smith, and was uncovered the day after the British Film Institute celebrated the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth. Silent film curator Bryony Dixon made the discovery and her research shows it’s the earliest film made featuring a Dickensian character. Prior to now, the earliest known Dickens film was Scrooge or Marley’s Ghost released later in 1901. Conducting unrelated research, Dixon came across a catalogue entry referring to The Death Of Poor Joe and thought the title might be a reference to the character in Dickens’ Bleak House. The film existed in the BFI’s collections, but had previously been listed under the title Man Meets Ragged Boy and wrongly dated c1902. The one-minute film is said to be in excellent condition and will screen as an addition to the BFI’s program of Dickens’ pre-1914 shorts. It came into the BFI collection in 1954 as part of a group of films from a collector in Brighton who had known the director. In the film, “Poor Jo” is seen at night against a churchyard wall, freezing in the winter snow with his broom. A watchman comes along swinging his lamp and catches Jo as just as he falls to the ground dying; the watchman tries to help but it’s too late as he shines his lamp down into Jo’s face, Jo puts his hands together in prayer, taking the lamp for heavenly light as he dies. According to the BFI, the film has similarities to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl and Dickens’ story of Jo from Bleak House which has similar pathos. It was shot with a Biokam device, a combined camera/projector for the amateur market, that was put out in 1899.
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