QUEEN OF THE MIST - experimental narrative video.

Queen of the Mist tells, in narrative poetry, the story of Annie Edson Taylor—the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and a forgotten American heroine. A 63 year-old teacher facing unemployment and poverty in 1901, Taylor decided to take up the challenge P.T. Barnum had issued and send herself over the Falls as her one hope to reverse her fortunes. Had Taylor been a man or a young beauty, she might have found the fame and fortune she hoped for. Instead, she was ignored and derided, robbed and abandoned by her managers, impersonated by an actress, and eclipsed by Bobby Leach—who was the first man to go over Niagara Falls (ten years after her feat). She died in poverty at the age of 83.

Queen of the Mist presents the events of Annie’s life through impressionistic re-enactments, layered with archival materials. It imaginatively portrays Annie Taylor’s daring feat and the ordeals she suffered in the years that followed it. It brings to light a courageous early 20th century woman whose story has been lost to history.

Directed and edited by Rohesia Hamilton Metcalfe, Queen of the Mist was made at the invitation of and in collaboration with the poet, Joan Murray—and is based on her narrative poems from the book of the same name. Excerpts from these poems, which creatively dramatize Taylor’s life, are read by Ms. Murray. Mary Foskett plays Annie Edson Taylor, supported by a cast of 40 actors and extras.

29:00 minutes © 1996
color/sound; Beta SP (NTSC)

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“Metcalfe uses a rich variety of means from docudrama to archival material to recreate a forgotten moment in history. Based on narrative poems by Joan Murray this resembles an experimental historical novel about the life of a real person, like Susan Sontag’s Volcano Lover in which the life of that person functions as a spine for asides and reflections about many things including the limitations of life in the 19th century for unmarried women or how one of the greatest cruelties then and today is how the years make older women increasingly invisible. This is also a cautionary tale about seeking fame. If Taylor had been younger, or a man, she might have made money from her feat, but Hamilton Metcalfe shows how this ordinary woman who sets out to become a heroine becomes an anti-heroine, a sad creature who dies in poverty at age 83.”

- Ann-Sargent Wooster
New Arts Program Video Festival Program Notes, 1997

“I was haunted by the story...it felt so personal and deeply disturbing.”

- Don Yannacito, Programmer, Rocky Mountain Film Center

“...the text is beautiful and the story compelling.”

- Esther Robinson, Producer, Alive TV

“...all women should have a chance to see this film!”

- Bernice Coe, Coe Film Associates

Direction, image processing, editing: Rohesia Hamilton Metcalfe
Poems, voiceover, location management, casting, costumes: Joan Murray
Co-executive producers: Rohesia Hamilton Metcalfe, Joan Murray
Associate producer and assistant editor: John Gallagher
Narration recording: Howard Segal, Brooksong Recording and Larry Nuckolls, WMHT FM
Sound design: Jonathan Duckett

Annie Edson Taylor: Mary Foskett
Annie as young girl: Mia Witte
Cooper: Jonathan J. Davol
Maggie Kaplan: Alexandra Blodgett
General public: Barbara J. Terpening, C. Webb Heidinger, Carol Bosselman, Carol Carlson, Colleen Nugent, David B. Adolphus, Edna Van Duzee-Walter, Elaine W. Stock, Ellen Dwyer, Erika Matthews, Eva Graham, Jamielynn Whydra, Jerry Grant, Jim Murray, Joan Murray, Judy Grant, Kathleen Michaels, Kim Rice, Kristen Cooper, Kristy Riedel, Lee Salvagione, Nikki Bradt, Norman M. Walter, Phyllis Kershaw, Roy Berman, Stephen D. Boaden

Archival photos used with permission from: Niagara Falls Public Library and Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society
Archival film used with permission from: Archive Films, New York

Queen of the Mist was funded by grants from The New York State Council on the Arts and The Niagara Council of the Arts. Production support was also provided by Lockport Community Television, The Experimental Television Center, Ltd, PBS affiliate, WMHT and the Communications, Film & Video Department of The City College of New York

Selected Screenings:
Documental Festival, Venice, CA
femme totale Festival, Dortmund, Germany
International Women’s Video Festival, Hamilton, New Zealand
American Film Institute Video Festival

FIRST PRIZE, NARRATIVE, New Arts Program Video Festival, Pennsylvania
DIRECTOR’S CITATION AWARD, Black Maria Film and Video Festival

The sound of this version is low; please use earphones to watch.