Controversial Silent Film Shot In Jacksonville, St. Augustine Returns To The Silver Screen

Jul 9, 2014

One of the most controversial films of 1914 was shot in Jacksonville and St. Augustine.

A Florida Enchantment was among the raciest films of it's day, with a provocative plot of infidelity and gender-bending. It’s believed to be the first documented appearance of bisexual characters in an American motion picture. It outraged the censors of the day.

Fast-forward a century, when local audiences love to watch the silent films from the First Coast's movie making past. Jacksonville's Norman Studios Silent Film Museum will present A Florida Enchantment this weekend as part of their new Silent Sundays film series.

Rita Reagan and Devan Stuart of the Norman Studios joined Melissa Ross for more on the film and the film series.

A Florida Enchantment stars Sidney Drew (who also directed) and Edith Storey as couple engaged to be married. Hijinks ensue when Lillian Travers, played by Storey, discovers that her fiance, played by Drew, is cheating on her. She takes revenge by swallowing a magic seed that changes her gender.

"It seems very mild today, but back in the day there were a lot of people who were just not laughing," said Devan Stuart.

The film is believed to be the first appearance of bisexual characters in an American motion picture.

When it was released, Variety reported, "The picture should never have been put out." When a stage version was performed on Broadway, the New York Times called it "vile stuff" and "a nauseating mess."

Edith Storey (left) dressed as a man in the 1914 film "A Florida Enchantment" with an actress in blackface playing her maid.
Credit Harpodeon

"It has people of the same gender kissing," said Rita Reagan. "You can imagine what that would have done in those days."

At one point in the film, the fiance also swallows a gender-changing pill, after which he changes into a dress, resulting in horror and anger from those around him.

The film also features white actors playing black characters in blackface, a practice common on stage and screen a century ago.

The film takes place at some well known local landmarks and includes shots of St. Augustine's former Ponce de León Hotel, now Flagler College, the Old Curiosity Shop, and the Castillo de San Marcos.

"St. Augustine residents in particular will recognize a lot of the spots," said Stuart.

A Florida Enchantment will be screened Sunday, July 13, at 4 p.m. at Hotel Indigo in Jacksonville's Deerwood Park. The screening will be followed by a discussion of the film. All proceeds from the Silent Sundays series will support Norman Studios.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.