Bring back some good or bad memories


April 10, 2024

Birth of the Pearl (1903)

Filmed on June 14, 1901 on the rooftop of the Biograph New York City studio and released in 1903, Birth of the Pearl is one of a series of “Living Pictures” filmed by Biograph in an apparent attempt to recreate the burlesque stage living picture exhibitions of the mid-19th century. As with the New York City stage tableaux, the living pictures were often representations of famous paintings or statues of nudes; in this particular case, of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.

“In this picture there is a limited amount of action in the pose. As the curtains are drawn aside the shell appears shut. It gradually opens, disclosing the model curled up in a recumbent position. She slowly arises as is awakening, and gracefully assumes the final position of the pose.” – American Mutoscope & Biograph picture catalogue.

Today, this Biograph short wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow but back in the early 20th century, this thing was certainly popular for men wanting to peek something naughty. This one-minute film has a couple women open a curtain, which reveals a large seashell. Once the shell is opened a pearl comes out but of course this “pearl” is an attractive woman wearing white tights that almost makes it seem as if she’s completely naked. At best this is a curio today but even though our current eyes are used to seeing much worse, it’s easy to imagine how hot and erotic this would have been by those eyes in 1903. The film is certainly worth watching for film buffs and those interested in these early films that tried to show sexuality.

Sadly none of the performers names were recorded but this early film tells a bigger story. Many burlesque performers relied on historical and often classical Greek stories bc they offered Victorians an acceptable way to explore other ideas about the body, beauty, and sexuality. Pearl necklaces and jewelry as well as images of the clam shell itself, a symbol of the goddess of love, became really popular in 19th and 20th century design. Pearls and clam shells were code, both as a symbol of beauty and as a subtle reference to female sexuality.

From Birth of the Pearl, 1903, created by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.


Post a Comment



Browse by Decades

Popular Posts


09 10