What the first movie goers saw


This is interesting. An online daily journal, The Slate, has published an article with video slide show on the reception of early films, inspired by the Phillips Collection’s Moving Pictures exhibition on early film and art, currently on exhibition in America. The article, by Jana Prikryl, is entitled ‘What the first movie goers saw’, and it is acompanied by ten films from the 1890s/1900s, a mixture of Lumiere, Edison and Biograph titles, courtesy of Williams College Museum of Art. The text reports on the Moving Pictures exhibition, which it says offers too narow an explanation of sources of inspiration for the first filmmakers, which is undoubtedly true. Interesting, the writer finds the films “oddly modern” because as short clips formed out of a “spirit of improvisation” they are close to the world of YouTube. While one must not be lured into the old belief that early films are naive and accidental – much artifice and deliberation went into even the simplest of actualities – she is right to say that in these mesmerizing clips we can see a “watershed moment in visual culture”, and the YouTube analogy is one worth pursuing (not least in view of the increasing number of early films now popping up there).

The clips include the bodybuilder Eugen Sandow in 1894, the Lumieres’ Feeding the Baby, Edison’s Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show and a Danse Serpentine. All of the clips have thorough credits and acknowledgment of source. Well worth watching, and reading, and pondering.

Joost shows silents

Joost logo

Along with half the online community, or so it seems, I’m one of those testing out the beta version of Joost, the system for distributing television programmes over the Web using peer-to-peer technology. The people who gave us Skype and Kazaa are behind it, and it’s supposed to show how all our viewing habits are going to change by turning your PC into a TV. Well, maybe so, though the much of programming on offer so far ranges from the exotic (Basquetbol de America Latina) to the unnecessary (PokerHeaven TV). But there are some signs there of a more promising future, and who can complain at the programming of the recently-added The Silent Movies Channel? Available worldwide, it features Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (“relive your childhood memories with the silent movies’ four greatest stars” says the Joost 24 site, which is an unlikely claim unless they’re thinking of those Bob Monkhouse programmes that introduced people like me to the silent comedians in the 1960s – today’s generation has Paul Merton doing the job instead).

The Silent Movies Channel is produced by a company called Indivisual, a video-on-demand business licensing a whole range of “quality niche content to on-demand platforms around the world”. What you get, then, is Chaplin’s The Rink, A Jitney Elopement, In the Park, A Night in the Show, Easy Street, His New Job, Police, The Floorwalker and Burlesque on Carmen; Keaton’s Convict 13, The High Sign, The Balloonatic, Neighbors, The Electric House, One Week, The Boat and Daydreams; and Laurel and Hardy in a selection of silent shorts from early in their careers as solo artists – Laurel in Roughest Africa, Mud and Sand, White Wings etc, and Hardy in The Sawmill, Kid Speed, and the pair of them in A Lucky Dog, their first film together (1921, though made in 1919), if not as the paired comic team they were to become.

Quality wise it’s your typical pixellated, just about adequate online video (can’t tell you about the music because the sound wasn’t working on my PC), OK full screen if you sit back enough. However, it’s interesting to see the positive comments that there have been about the Silent Movies Channel from those reviewing the channels available on Joost. This is the sort of stuff, seems to be the feeling, that should be made available to all, which can appeal to all. And it’s a pleasant way in which to while away a lunch hour.