Cheating on the silents


Fannie Ward in The Cheat (1915)

While browsing for novelties on silent cinema subjects, like one does, I came across, one of those sites which serve up ready-made essays for hapless students challenged by deadlines and an absence of brain power (“Discover the CheatHouse secret: when you cite, it isn’t cheating”). And there was the opening of a ready-to-go essay on early cinema. It only gives you the first 120 words, hoping that you’ll pay up for the rest. The model essay is classified under Film & TV Studies, University, Bachelor’s, and suggests a grade of A-. From the evidence of those first 120 words, I’d say more likely an F-…

Early cinema is otherwise known as the “cinema of attractions”. The term was shaped around many of the great world fairs and exhibitions of the time, when filmmakers started to stray from the traditional way of filmmaking (Nichols, p. 37). The common tradition was the scientific use of images to show people the “real world”, and with the help of new technology and “tricks”, filmmakers started to focus more on the “attraction” part of film. It is a “cinema that displays its visibility” creating a fictional environment for the viewer. It brought to the viewer something new and exciting, something exotic and bizarre. This “cinema of attractions” caught on with many filmmakers, becoming much more common …

Sellars and Yeatman could hardly have done better. I love the assertion that early cinema is otherwise known as the cinema of attractions. How true that has become., and other sites like it, are heavily dependent on essays being submitted by students themselves, who gain greater access to the site the more essays they have accepted, making the whole process becomes a self-fulfilling disaster. There are some sites where hard-up academics contribute essays for a few cents, but most of these sites are sustained by the students’ work themselves. All offer a sample paragraph or summary; all charge either through subscription or pay-as-you go.

So what other cheats are out there for the gullible and the desperate? CheatHouse itself offers essays on The Birth of a Nation, Der Golem, Chaplin, early Japanese film, German expressionism, and much more, all of it woeful. offers you ‘Motion pictures and communication’ (“The motion picture, first screened in the late nineteenth century, was a new form of expression which would undergo several improvements to captivate more and more audiences. The effect of this medium, changed as it trekked through many stages of development” – just the sort of waffle that used to sustain me in my student days, alas). gives us these words of wisdom on the career of Lillian Gish:

The history of the great talent Lillian Gish is immeasurable. She has acted in more productions per decade then anyone else in this century. She has been in one hundred and five films alone, that’s not counting all the on stage productions she has performed in. The amazing talents of this once beautiful young actress can be seen in any of her early silent films too. Way Down East and Orphans of the Storm are two of her earlier films that portray her exquisite skills. Yet none of this would be know if it wasn’t for a mastermind of directing, D.W. Griffith. Gish would have lived a long unrecognized life of theatre and missed out on the most important part of her career, the silent film.

And so on and so on. You could try Doing My Homework, eCheat (“It’s not cheating, it’s collaborating”), Write My Essay,, and so on. Not all are rubbish., a general educational resource site with literature guides, study packs, reference sources and other materials, offers you what looks to be a perfectly serviceable essay on Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat (such irony):

Cecil B. DeMille is both celebrated and derided for his overall depiction of the “new woman,” a development resulting from the rise of consumer culture in the late nineteenth century. In this increasingly commodity-driven society, women increasingly moved into the public sphere in search of freedom and discovery at the risk of their own reputations and their families’ social position. This is notably brought out in DeMille’s most famous film “The Cheat,” in which the female protagonist disrupts the established order and inverts the traditional notion of womanhood. DeMille uses the notion of the “new woman” in “The Cheat” to critique society during that time.

The essays on more respectable sites such as BookRags are promoted as reference guides, of course, not as encouragements to plagiarism, and naturally they can be used as such. What I find interesting is the muddle and cliché in most of the model essays, which reflect what a peculiar world early film must present to the average student of the twenty-first century. How to make sense of this mad, mute, monochrome world, and to find in it relevance to the films and concerns of today? It’s a wonder that any can.