A Trip to the Planets (192?) narrated by Megan Prelinger

A Trip to the Planets (192?) 17 min., b&w/color, silent Source: Prelinger Archives, Library of Congress As Megan Prelinger notes in her voice-over commentary, A Trip to the Planets is “a true orphan.” Production credits are absent from the 16mm…

A Trip to the Planets (192?) narrated by Megan Prelinger

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A Trip to the Planets (192?)
17 min., b&w/color, silent
Source: Prelinger Archives, Library of Congress

As Megan Prelinger notes in her voice-over commentary, A Trip to the Planets is “a true orphan.” Production credits are absent from the 16mm print, no doubt deleted from the unknown original source. Even its name might have been created after the footage we see was assembled, as we find no record of a silent-era film with this title.
          The best clue to its identity is that some footage is from Max Fleischer’s animated short All Aboard for the Moon (aka All Aboard for a Trip to the Moon), a Goldwyn-Bray Pictograph released theatrically in February 1920. As animation historian Ray Pointer notes, Fleischer supervised other Bray Pictographs about the solar system at this time: Eclipse of the Sun (1918), The Birth of the Earth (1919), Hello, Mars (1920), and If We Lived on the Moon (1920).
          Pictographs began as moviehouse fare, then often circulated in nontheatrical settings, especially American classrooms. Originally, Paramount released weekly one-reel Pictographs, produced by Bray Studios (1916-1919). These self-described “screen magazines” each included a travelogue, an educational segment, and a cartoon. Shorter “split reel” editions were branded Paramount-Bray Pictographs. From 1919 to 1921, a new distribution deal tagged the series Goldwyn-Bray Pictographs.
           Entry into the newly created classroom market is evidenced by an illustrated profile of Fleischer, All Board for the Moon, and the Bray studio in Educational Film Magazine, February 1920. Pictographs’ educational subject matter covered categories such as “science, biography, invention, biology and civics,” according to an ad in the magazine. In the United States, the visual education movement blossomed in 1920, with teachers and administrators advocating for motion pictures in nearly every branch of learning. Companies large and small formed to sell to this new market. Advertisements in journals for educators often emphasized the revelatory power of the motion picture: “The wonder and mystery of the invisible are revealed in the Pictograph — fascinating lessons in botany and zoology, delivered through the lens of the microscope.” Testimonials were abundant in movie trade journals as well. The March 30, 1918 edition of Moving Picture World quoted a school principle in Mingo, Ohio: “After studying ‘infusoria’ [protozoa] in biology we book a Paramount Pictograph which touches on this subject.”
            Some version of A Trip to the Planets may have had a 35mm theatrical release, and this one certainly had nontheatrical sales and rentals. With the introduction of 16mm film in 1923, schools that purchased prints for their AV libraries could have screened it for years. It is this nontheatrical afterlife for educational films that enabled this copy of A Trip to the Planets to survive in some form. Even if there was a Goldwyn-Bray Pictograph featuring these images, the title A Trip to the Planets likely appeared only as the on-screen introduction to a segment. However, as evidenced by its length and radical stylistic shifts, this is a compilation film incorporating shots from other productions.
            Although we lack information about the film’s transition from 35 to 16mm, the provenance of this orange-tinted print is instructive, exemplifying how thousands of orphan films often lived on, albeit in altered forms and “repurposed” excerpts.
            This version of A Trip to the Planets is the only one known to survive. It comes from the library of Mogull Bros., a long-lived nontheatrical distribution company created in the 1920s.

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