Not A Dull Razor – The Library of Congress’s Mistake?

This movie was shared on Facebook the other day along with the following description.

“This might be the first shave video ever. The film’s title and library catalog notes are interesting – I think they might have been written by someone who didn’t know anything about the process or technique of a two-pass straight razor shave.” Bill Moss, Vintage Gillette Safety Razors

I am not sure if this is indeed the first shave video ever, but it most certainly is one of them. It is such a shame that the description provided by the Library of Congress appears to be so incorect.

“This picture shows an old gentleman seated at his shaving table. The razor is evidently giving him a great deal of trouble, as he catches hold of the brush and with a great show of impatience he hurriedly coats his face with the foaming soap and makes a second attempt at removing his beard. He scrapes and scrapes, and judging from the painful facial expressions, the razor grows duller with every stroke. The old man makes a new and ludicrous twitch of the mouth every time he draws the razor across his face. This is a 50 foot film of an ordinary scene of every day life, and its mirth provoking merits have never been surpassed. ” Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division – http://www.loc.gov/item/00694191/

I also doubt the title is original, as it seems to support the description. From the perspective of a wet shaver who also is a frequent straight razor user, this is merely a portrayal of a mundane ritual every man of the time completed every so often. Aside from the antics in the beginning where the man gets some soap in his mouth and spits it out, everything else seems in order. The rigorous lathering of the soap is called “face lathering”. Face Lathering is just the agitation of the soap to turn it into a thick cream that will stay put on the face while one shaves. The faces the man makes during his shave is a technique used to help keep the skin taught so the razor can glide over the surface of the skin without catching on loose folds. You will also notice him using his other hand to help pull the skin.  Finally, he re-lathers and repeats. This is a simple two pass shave. It’s common to do this 3 or 4 times. It’s part of a process called beard reduction. Sadly, the techniques used in the video are mostly lost to the current generation of shavers. It is quite clear that the person who described the film was bias and based the description on their knowledge of wet shaving. Understandable I guess. I think it would have been more appropriate to just describe the film without adding a purposed or intent that was clearly lost over the years. “Man Shaving with a Straight Razor” would have been a more appropriate title.

What is really sad here is that this description seems to be spreading to other reputable sources of information like The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) who shares the exact same text.

If anyone has any more information on this film, I would love to hear it.  Especially if it contradicts what my current theory is.   Enjoy the film and have a great shave!

References

  • http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0273552/
  • http://www.loc.gov/item/00694191/

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