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by Various Authors

grade: 7.5

Steinklopfer-Marsch, made in 1908 and discovered and restored in 2019 by the Filmarchiv Austria, is, thanks to its completely innovative form for the time, an extremely rare document today. One of the earliest forms of music videos, in which the singer Mirzl Hofer performs one of her songs. Full film at the end of the article.

Singing in the Alps

In 2019, the Filmarchiv Austria discovered and restored an important historical document. We are talking about the short film Steinklopfer-Marsch, made in 1908 and in which the famous singer Mirzl Hofer performs in front of the camera singing one of her songs (hence the title of the film). Steinklopfer-Marsch, therefore, produced by Biograph Film, represents one of the first music videos made a few years after the invention of cinema. Strange, isn’t it? Yes, because, as we know, in 1908 the cinema was still silent and films were shown with musical accompaniment. In the case of this short film, therefore, the projection was accompanied by a gramophone, which played precisely the song sung by Hofer. Following restoration by the Filmarchiv Austria, the song was synchronised with the pictures and the result is, in fact, a real music video clip.

The mise-en-scène is, as was often the case in the early 20th century, rather rudimentary. In the foreground, the jodlerin Mirzl Hofer sings the song Steinklopfer-Marsch. Next to her, a few dancers compose a simple choreography. In the background, a reconstruction of an Alpine landscape (with the Biograph logo visible at one corner) completes the scene. The camera remains constantly still and the whole thing takes place in a single shot with a total running time of about three minutes (corresponding, precisely, to the duration of the song itself).

Steinklopfer-Marsch is a simple film, without any particular pretensions, which nevertheless, thanks to its completely innovative form for the time, represents an extremely rare and extraordinary document today. It often happened, in fact, that, albeit with limited means, many directors and production companies tried to experiment with new film languages and new ways of understanding mise-en-scène. Suffice it to think, for instance, of some films shot by cameramen of the Lumière brothers in Venice, in which the camera was placed on a vaporetto, in order to realise the first, rudimentary tracking shots.

In the case of this Steinklopfer-Marsch, therefore, the production company – the famous Biograph Film, which, after being founded in the United States, had opened many other offices around the world – decided to take an innovative approach by filming the famous singer during one of her performances. Given the impossibility of moving the heavy camera, the choreographies are rather limited, but are nevertheless impressive, if one considers that this was made only in 1908.

For the audience of the time, such an event must surely have been something extraordinary. (Almost) like the famous Lumière train arriving at the station, which, in its time, terrified viewers of all ages. In any case, this precious little Steinklopfer-Marsch anticipates a genre that is particularly popular and beloved nowadays. A courageous and forward-looking work that, unfortunately, had been almost completely forgotten until recently.

Original title: Steinklopfer-Marsch
Directed by: Various Authors
Country/year: Germany, Austria / 1908
Running time: 3’
Genre: musical
Cast: Mirzl Hofer
Screenplay: Various Authors
Cinematography: Various Authors
Produced by: Biograph Company

Info: the website of the Filmarchiv Austria