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T. I really want to see this film! Is it on the Unseen Cinema DVD? I love this surreal dreamlike imagery. This inspires me!


Hi, J. Yep, it's on Unseen Cinema, disc 2 along with When the Clouds Roll By which has a life sized rarebit, onion and mince pie chase Douglas Fairbanks while he runs up a wall and dances on the ceiling! This stuff is priceless.


"holds onto a streetlamp for dear life while the world around him spins out of control."

Certainly the best part of this film. I was in awe as the man held on to a pole for dear life which was quite obviously in the midst of a treacherous storm... on a sunny downtown street...

This has to be one of my (many) favorite films of "Edison: The Invention Of The Movies". Not only do we have split screening where he's flying around perilously above the city, but there's demons attacking his head, surreal dream-scapes and treacherous situations too. Not bad for a short film!


What an intriguing write-up. I love your tie-in with Winsor McCay, precisely because John Canemaker--who won this year's Oscar for "The Moon and the Sun"--is scheduled to promote his new book on McCay at the Pacific Film Archives later this month. You've provided insight.



You flatter me, Michael, thank you. Any chance that you'll attend Canemaker's appearance and share the experience at The Evening Class? I just recently discovered McCay through researching Porter's film, and a DVD of his animations is on its way via Netflix; Canemaker's book will make a perfect companion. Looks like I'll have to stop at Powell's tomorrow. Thanks again.


I'm actually scheduled to interview Canemaker, if he's in the mood. Anything you want me to ask him?


What an absolutely cool thing to offer. OK, here's a couple of questions for Canemaker if you have the time/opportunity to ask:

1. His book on McCay was originally published in 1987. Why release a new edition now? What is added? Anything replaced with new information, etc.

2. How about his method(s) of research? How did he go about collecting information about McCay and his work?

*** Any research tips are always welcome ***

3. Who (else) is an expert on McCay? Any other recommended books, articles, etc.

4. (This one is probably covered in the book, but we might get even more info) Was the notion of a "rarebit fiend," around before McCay? It seems so esoteric and yet he made one of his most influential and creative strips, not to mention four animated films, out of it. He seems confident that his readers would know what he's talking about with the whole rarebit-overindulgence-equals-nightmares scenario. What is the origin of the rarebit fiend concept?

Based on the well done interviews on your blog, I'm confident that you'll have the rest covered :) Thanks, Michael


Thom, thank you for your suggested questions. Unfortunately, I only had so much time to speak with him and was not able to ask him everything I was hoping to. During my research, however, I did come up with some of the answers to your questions.

The new edition is essentially a centenary tribute. Although I didn't ask him directly, I did read in another interview that the primary differences between the two editions is compensation for what has fallen into public domain. A lot of material now available by public domain was removed from the book and replaced with more rare material. He did mention that he had the opportunity, for example, to interview McCay's tracing assistant, that sort of thing. Further, he was granted access to some of McCay's personal diaries and letters, which had not originally been made available.

As for methodology, Canemaker reminds me very much of myself. He enjoys research and he enjoys interviewing and, between the two, cobbles a notable effect.

As for other scholars on McCay, my understanding is that Canemaker's treatment is definitive. In my Evening Class write-ups, the links will lead you to other interviews and, within those interviews, you might find some references to explore.

I didn't get a chance to ask him directly about the rarebit meme, but, it appears to have already been in place and was primarily a cautionary formula against adult overindulgences. Further, it leans into the idea that our dreams are directly related to what we eat. A nightmare could be something as simple in origin as an undigested potato. Which is to say, I guess, before Freud stepped in to suggest that dreams could be the expression of repressed energies, nightmares were seen as the result of gastrinomic overindulgences.

Anyways, I hope that answers your questions somewhat. I did exchange addresses with Canemaker so, if correspondence develops between us, I'll be sure to be more direct.


You've gone above and beyond (again), Michael. So far, this has been my favorite film to talk about and explore. It's amazing how many connections stem from one film. Thanks again.


André at the Alternative Film Guide shares the news that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will honor the films of 1906—including Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. Get the full scoop and see what other flicks from 1906 will receive some well-deserved recognition at the AFG.


I'm fond of film, especially old ones. You have described this film with such enthusiasm, so I've decided to watch it. (If I find it).


Thank you, toothpick_tp. You can find it on Disc 2 of the Unseen Cinema DVD collection. Hope you enjoy it.

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