Film History Essentials: Come Along, Do! (1898)

What it’s about:

An elderly couple sit on a bench eating lunch together. Soon, they notice a few people entering a nearby art exhibit, and decide to enter as well. Once inside, the husband becomes transfixed by a nude statue of Venus, prompting his wife to drag him away by his coattails.

Why it’s essential:

In 1898, British film pioneer Robert Paul bought four acres of land along Sydney Road in Muswell Hill, about seven miles north of the heart of London, and only a mile from Alexandra Palace. On this site, he built his “Animatograph Works,” England’s first film studio (and an adjacent laboratory for processing film). That summer, he reportedly made 80 films at the new studio, though only one of these survives, and that not in its entirety.

The (partially) surviving film is Come Along, Do!, a brief comedic sketch based on a popular song of a few decades before. The central gag that the song is based on may have originated in a humorous painting, but regardless the song, in turn, inspired several additional derivative works, including this film, a stereoscopic slide, and various cartoons. The “joke” of a lecherous husband whose desires are foiled by his dour wife is an old and well-worn cliché, although this is a distinctly Victorian iteration. Here is an excerpt of the lyrics:

To Dr. Kahn’s Museum I took her, one day,
To study the classical nude;
She thought that Venus and Jupiter were
Underdressed and decidedly rude.
The beauties of Venus I tried to point out,
When into a temper she flew,
“She’s worse than Mazeppa, it’s awful, she said,
I’m ashamed, sir, so come along do.”
CHORUS.—Come along do, come along do;
What are you staring at? come along do;
Come along do, come along do,
You ought to know better — so come along do.

attrib. Fred French, excerpted from The Book of Comic Songs and Recitations (1874), p. 43

The reference in the first line is to “Dr.” Kahn’s Anatomical and Pathological Museum, which contained displays focusing on various parts and systems of the human body, as well as a number of more salacious exhibits purporting to educate patrons about venereal disease. The museum was open from 1851 until it was forced to close in 1873, thanks in part to a campaign by the Society for the Suppression of Vice. “Mazeppa” is a reference to an 1819 poem by Lord Byron, dramatizing an apocryphal event from the life of a 16th-century Ukrainian leader in which, as a young man, he was supposedly strapped naked to the back of a wild horse which was then turned loose, as punishment for carrying on an affair with the wife of a nobleman.

The film version of this is somewhat more simplistic. So much so, in fact, that most of the film is devoted to a prelude to the scene from the song. The elaboration of the opening scene, in which the couple sit and eat outside of the art exhibit, was perhaps the only way to pad this one-off gag out to the full minute in length that was standard for a film of the time. This consideration may be responsible for what makes Come Along, Do! so unique: It is the first known instance of a film with multiple scenes edited together in a way that shows that they are sequentially linked. In other words, this is the birth (as far as we know), of film continuity, one of the essential building blocks of film narrative.

Unfortunately, the second scene (believed to be about twenty seconds long) is lost except for a few film stills that survived thanks to a set of images that Paul presented to a museum in 1913. The sequence of events depicted in the scene is simple enough that it’s not hard to get the gist (in fact, other versions of the joke are conveyed in a single image). Nevertheless, this is a sad loss, particularly alongside the other 79 films that Paul is said to have made during his first months of operation in the first British film studio.

Paul’s years at Muswell Hill are sometimes referred to as the era of “Hollywood on the Hill,” though of course this is a bit of an anachronism. No films would be made in Hollywood until years after Paul had closed his studio. He continued making films at the Animatograph Works for just over a decade before finally deciding to leave the film business behind and employ his considerable talents as an engineer in other endeavors. However, he left behind a legacy of helping to popularize British-made films, both at home and abroad, developing accessible filmmaking equipment, and training many of the next generation of British filmmakers to follow in his footsteps.

Why you should see it:

It’s kind of amazing that a 60-second film could feel “padded,” and yet here we are. The opening scene is just such obvious filler that it hardly even counts as set-up. However, the song would likely have been played or sung for contemporary audiences while the film ran, and they would immediately have been in on the joke. Seen from that perspective, the first scene isn’t so much set-up as it is build-up. And there’s a sort of in-joke here as well: The old married couple are played by Robert Paul and his wife Ellen, married for less than a year at this point. Ellen was a dancer, and is known to have performed in at least a few of Paul’s other films, though not as frequently or as recognizably as George Albert Smith’s wife, Laura Bayley, or Georges Méliès’s (second) wife, Jeanne d’Alcy. Ellen did, however, play a significant role in the running of the studio behind the scenes, and has begun to be recognized as one of the women pioneers of early film.

British film scholar Ian Christie has done a great deal of work to unearth details and educate the public about Paul’s years in film. One of his projects has been an attempt to restore Come Along, Do! to, as near as possible, the way audiences would have experienced it in 1898. To that end, he has posted a version here that is accompanied by an original musical score reminiscent of the tone of the original song, is color-tinted as he notes many of Paul’s films of this period were, and features a preliminary restoration of the second scene, “animated” after a fashion using the existing film stills. It is definitely worth a look.


~ by Jared on March 19, 2023.

One Response to “Film History Essentials: Come Along, Do! (1898)”

  1. […] the Barber Shop exists at one remove from those films, and is more akin to something like Come Along, Do! Rather than simply allowing the male viewer to be the voyeur, enjoying a view of the female form, […]


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