The Wobbling Crank is a book about the movies and their beginnings by the best unknown film scholar of his generation-- Cuthbbert Cuthbbertsön. Cuthbbertsön does for the movies what P.D.Q. Bach has done for classical music, Monty Python for large snakes, Dame Edna for cross-dressing and haute couture.
This is the second edition of The Wobbling Crank. The first edition (3 copies), printed on cigarette paper and bound in clapboards, appeared and disappeared in 1985 when left behind by Cuthbbertsön in the Stanley Theater, Jersey City, after a revival showing of The Last Days of Pompeii. The present edition (2 copies) has been reconstructed with ridiculous fidelity from the original unoriginal handwritten manuscript (carpenter's pencil on foolscap).
To understand why the movies and why serious writing about the movies are today in such a sorry state one must read this book. Wobbling Crank takes us back to the beginnings of the whole mess, focusing ruthlessly on the "prehistory" of the movies and the so-called silent film error.
"The only way to understand what happened in the past ('history')," writes Cuthbbertsön in this ground breaking (pothole) work, "is to focus on what did not happen ('prehistory'). Mine is a 'prehistory.'"
The Wobbling Crank documents with uncommon honesty the "prehistoric" experiments, discoveries, accidents, bad personal habits, and criminal behaviors that led to the invention of the moving pictures (the felonious activities of Thomas Edison and his assistant, Black Maria; the poor dietary habits of the Lumiére brothers; violin recitals by Georges Méliès at beheadings, and more). Not the kind of stuff you'll find in your ordinary paperback history of the movies.
The Wobbling Crank is mainly devoted, however, to an exhaustive (exhausting) oral "prehistory" of the silent film error--the recorded stories of movie pioneers who were there although not all there in the beginning. This senseless remnant includes: a studio laundress, a sausage maker, a ghost town projectionist, a porter-inventor-dramatist, a giant camerawoman, some wardrobe mistresses, an incendiary cinematographer, a Hollywood ventriloquist-dentist, a producer's mother, a bordello proprietress, a not-so-special effects man, and others equally strange or insignificant.
Cuthbbertsön makes no claim for the absolute (or even minimal) accuracy of the recorded accounts of these obscure witnesses, especially given their age and mental and physical condition (few ambulatory, all over 90, some dead). Then, again, these interviews were transcribed from scratchy audio tape and memory onto scraps of brittle yellow foolscap using a carpenter's pencil, adding considerably to the problem. But these are small matters.
The Wobbling Crank remains a hugely entertaining account of the early movies, no matter how distorted, unreliable, or downright untrue that narrative may be. This forgotten and forgettable work can thus confidently be expected to take its place among the many cinematic studies of its kind that continue to be published at an alarming rate in America, Europe, the Near and Far East, and parts of Africa--by academic scholars, journalists, film historians, critics, reviewers, and other comic writers.
The Wobbling Crank marks the end of film scholarship as we know it. Finally, some good . . .
Reviews and Comments
"Cuthbbert Cuthbbertsön ... the best film historian of his generation." Clotildda Cuthbbertsön
"Does for film history what the Hindenburg did for lighter-than-air flying." Jane's Fighting Airships
"Le cinéma selon Cuthbbertsön? Si grand-père avait pu prevoir qu'on en viendrait là, il ne l'aurait pas inventé." Wendie Jo Lumiére
"If I were alive and reading film books, this would be #1 on my list." Henry James (dec.)
"A book to be read with the eyes closed." Jean-Luc Godard Jr.