Monday, September 30, 2013

Who ARE these people? The first motion picture ever made




This is truly one of the great motion pictures of all time. That's because, at one point, it was the ONLY motion picture of all time. It fascinated me so much that I just had to make a gif of it (an easy task, given the length).

This is about 2 1/2 seconds of film, just a couple dozen frames, but it attempts (valiantly) to tell a story. The woman in the long grey dress walks in one direction, abruptly turns around and heads in the other direction. An old lady on the right moves forward a step or so, then suddenly disappears. We see the back of a man in a long overcoat who looks to be walking around the old lady, but then he disappears into a blackened unexposed bit of film on the right and emerges for a billionth of a second, having changed direction. People are changing direction forever in this thing.





The only person really doing anything is the fellow on the left, who walks purposefully off-screen from left to right. But he too appears to have just walked around the woman in the long grey dress. Everybody is walking around everybody, maybe to create maximum action with only four players. 

Who were those players, and did they know what they were doing? "We're creating film history today". But what is "film"? Wasn't this just another contraption for people's amusement, kind of like Bell's hand-cranked telephone which turned out to be such a dud? In 1888, women still wore long skirts, corsets and heavy, elaborate hats, their hair piled up with combs. Even breathing must have been difficult. By 1920, clothing would be loose and covered with bugle beads and fringe, with hemlines above the knee. 

I don't know who shot this film (now titled Roundhay Garden Scene), why it was so short, why it survives to this day and is still all over the internet. Maybe SOMEBODY realized the significance of it, even in 1888. Now that I look at it for the hundredth time, I realize the "old lady" is probably an actress, someone pretending to be an old lady for effect. Why do I say this? The way she walks (if it IS a she) is stagey and exaggerated. She rocks back and forth like a ship in dangerous waters.





I am full of questions: who directed this thing? Who was the cameraman? Was this the only take? Why an old lady in the first place?

If she's really a fake, she must be the first film actress ever, or at least the first actress ever to appear in a 2 1/2-second film. She should have earned a microscopic Oscar.




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