After reigning for 124 years as Rex, King of Carnival, Charles A. Farwell is back on horseback – in a piece of film discovered in March in a Dutch museum.
This two-minute snippet, believed to be the oldest existing film shot in New Orleans, will screen Wednesday at 6pm at the Presbytère, overlooking Jackson Square. The exhibition, which will be followed by a debate, will be free and open to the public.
Video from the 1898 parade shows six floats, including one with a live ox. The theme of the parade was “Queens of the Harvest”.
Following Wednesday’s event, the film will be incorporated into the museum’s exhibit celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Rex organization, which will be on view through December 11. Curator of the Carnival collections at the State Museum. “It is very important to set it aside and not share it with our visitors.”
The search for this film had been a long-standing obsession of Carnival members, who had been plagued for years by rumors that it existed. They were blocked until Mackenzie Roberts Beasley, an audiovisual researcher who knows how to track down even the most obscure films, went online and found him at the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.
The request to find the film came from Will French, a historian and archivist for the Rex organization, who happens to be a longtime friend of Beasley’s. French, a corporate lawyer involved in funding film production, said he joined the hunt because he wants to build the krewe video archive.
For Farwell’s granddaughter Lynne Farwell White, the discovery was both personal and joyful because her grandfather died in 1917, 26 years before she was born.
“I got the chance for the first time in my life to see my grandfather alive and as a real person,” she said in an email. “This is very special!”
White donated a sword that was part of Farwell’s Rex suit to the krewe’s archive.
working class entertainment
The film was a project of the American Mutoscope Co., which sent crews everywhere to make films. They were aimed at the working class, Beasley said, because the short films represented the kind of low-cost entertainment they could afford.
Frank Armitage, one of American Mutoscope’s top cameramen, was sent to New Orleans to photograph not only the Rex parade but also two Navy ships docked in the harbor; Gallier Hall, which was then City Hall of New Orleans; a crew carrying a steamboat; and a project called “Way Down South,” said Ed Poole, film props researcher in Gretna at hollywoodonthebayou.com.
Armitage and his crew didn’t stay long in New Orleans, Poole said, because they were sent to Cuba to document the aftermath of the sinking of the USS Maine, which exploded in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, a week before Tuesday. fat. The sinking ignited anti-Spanish passions and was one of the factors that led to the United States’ declaration of war on Spain, although an investigation showed that the explosion that sank the ship was the result of a fire that ignited ammunition, not Spanish sabotage. .
To film Mardi Gras, French said, Armitage was in Gallier Hall and looking out over St. Charles Avenue towards Poydras Street. The result, which the Dutch museum has put in a crisp, digitized, high-definition version, is rich in detail, said French, who likened seeing it to a hunt for “100 little Easter eggs” because each view reveals something new. .
For example, everyone along the parade route is stopped and there is no visible police presence to contain the crowd. Some knights are dancing on top of their floats. There aren’t many costumed revelers, although a child on the street is wearing a devil costume.
And nobody is playing anything. “We think Rex started playing in 1920, in the first parade after World War I,” Phillips said. “We know there were occasional opportunities during parades where trinkets could be tossed from one person to another, but it wasn’t something people expected.”
Preceding each float was a silver bell-shaped poster with the theme of the float. This detail was added because the show was the 25th for the krewe. Although the Rex organization was founded in 1872, political unrest forced the cancellation of all 1875 parades; consequently, the 1898 procession was the silver wedding parade.
And then there’s that ox – the Boeuf Gras, which represents the last meat to be eaten before Lent. There is no indication of how difficult it was to get the animal on the buoy, or how docile it was during the ride.
But in the early years of the 20th century, the live ox was removed from the parade because officials decided it was “no longer in good taste,” Phillips said. In 1959, the Boeuf Gras returned in a papier-mâché version and has been part of the Rex show ever since.
Dr. Stephen Hales, historian for the Rex organization and archivist emeritus, said that finding this video proves one thing: “You can’t give up finding things. It’s good to know that these bits of evidence from past carnivals are out there.”
The clarity of the film “is so incredible,” Beasley said. “It’s a time capsule.”