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.

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