The first edited motion picture?


Hot news from the Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema site. The researches of Eadweard Muybridge scholar Stephen Herbert have come up with evidence for Muybridge to have been the first person to present an edited motion picture, in 1881. This is long before ‘film’ as we know it, but Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope machine projected silhouette images taken from his sequence photographs, painted around the edge of a glass disk. Anyway, here’s the news report:

It now seems confirmed that there was a screening of some newly-produced Zoopraxiscope glass plates in San Francisco in the Spring of 1881, one of which features sequential actions: perhaps the first ‘edited’ motion picture informed by the camera – meticulously painted images based closely on photographic sequences to create a succession of different ‘shots’; and for dramatic effect. A May 1881 report in the San Francisco Post described this as: “a deerhunt, where a deer, followed successfully [successively?] by dogs and horsemen, traverses over the illuminated screen”. The report says these new subjects “can now be illustrated”. Stephen Herbert thinks it is reasonable to suppose they were all shown at this time, though it is just possible that the report is taken from a written submission by Muybridge. But even if it was, it is quite likely that he started using them in his shows. Most of the subjects described in the report survive, including the little-known ‘three-shot’ motion picture Deerhunt. More details can be found on the Eadweard Muybridge Chronology (1881, May 16 entry).

So maybe the first ‘movie’ was an animated scene of a deer hunt made in 1881, when the Lumiere brothers were still in short trousers (practically). Or perhaps we need to be very careful about our terminology and not describe such a phenomenon with the language of a later medium. ‘Pre-cinema’ (unfortunate term) was not about anticipating cinema, as such, but existed of itself. Nevertheless, it is fun to make the comparison…

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