Sunday, November 1, 2015

Monkeyshines: more creepy than Halloween

It's All Saints Day, the bellybutton of the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration which lasts from October 31 to November 2. In celebration of which, I'm going to post something totally irrelevant: something I came across years ago and which fascinated me. As usual, it's attached to the idea of obsolete technology which was cutting-edge and even astonishing in its day.

YouTube has graciously provided me with many clips of early gizmos which were meant to create the illusion of motion. I'm not sure if Eadweard Muybridge invented the idea or not, but his studies of horses and buffalo and giraffes in motion were groundbreaking. Somehow (I can't find out how because I have to get out of here in a minute), he had rigged it up to take a lot of photos of a moving object over a few seconds. Trip-wires, or something, except that then the horse might trip! (haha). However he did it, when the photos were shown in rapid succession, the horse or buffalo or Thompson's gazelle or whatever-it-was seemed to be running. (Until then, people were so ignorant that they claimed a horse always had one foot on the ground when it ran. Reminds me of what Ann Landers told teenage girls they should do when making out.)

It's really just the old flip-book idea in more sophisticated form, leading to the mutoscope - you know, the crank job with its 20-second-long, supposedly titillating scenarios.

Meantime, Edison was experimenting with the kinetoscope, which used a kind of film - a quantum leap beyond these rapidly-shuffling leaves of paper - but still pretty primitive. Only one person could look at it at a time, creating the strange and steamy intimacy that made the church thunder against its wicked graven images. An experimental Edison film called Monkeyshines (in two parts) is especially strange and seems to reach out to us from some eerie dimension in the deep past. In the first part there are just flickers of what might be a human form. Part Two is a little more recognizable, but still weirdly primitive and low-tech.

(Wikipedia entry)

Monkeyshines (1889 or 1890), an experimental film made to test the original cylinder format of the Kinetoscope, is believed to be the first film shot in the United States.

Monkeyshines, No. 1 was shot by William K.L. Dickson and William Heise for the Edison labs. Scholars have differing opinions on whether the first was shot in June 1889 starring John Ott or sometime between November 21–27, 1890 starring G. Sacco Albanese. Both men were fellow lab workers at the company; contradictory evidence exists for each claim. Monkeyshines, No. 2 and Monkeyshines, No. 3 quickly followed to test further conditions.

These films were intended to be internal tests of the new camera system, and were not created for commercial use; their rise to prominence resulted much later due to work by film historians. All three films show a blurry figure in white standing in one place making large gestures and are only a few seconds long.

(NOT Wikipedia entry): I REALLY have to get out of here, I'm late for whatever it is I'm going to, which is none of your business anyway, but here are some bizarro Muybridge things I found along the way. And his name really was spelled Eadweard. Maybe his mother couldn't spell? (Oprah's real name is Orpah, did you know that? Now you do.)

POST-LEAPFROG OBSERVATIONS. This Muybridge guy was some character. His real name was Edward Muggeridge, by the way, but he didn't think that was colourful enough, so he kept changing it until he thought it was back to its original medieval form. It wasn't - just very hard to spell. And just how would you pronounce EADWEARD anyway?

I present this blog the way I dig out my facts: in jigsaw fashion, finding a chunk of valuable information, but later finding something else that seems to fit or, more often, just changes the whole picture. That is why I am so given to post-blog observations: it's to represent the process of discovery, the nosy eagerness and ferreting-out. Research is never a straight line, is it? (unless it's very dull research). Or maybe I'm just too lazy to write formal essays with all the loose ends neatly woven in. But such watertightness is, I've always thought, a great way NOT to learn, because everything is already neatly sealed. Much scientific discovery has been effectively choked off and died due to this approach.

So! Here is another nice nugget about Muybridge, whom I did NOT set out to talk about! At all! I was going to talk about Monkeyshines, and got sidetracked, but Muybridge is much more interesting than Edison because he murdered somebody:

His most famous work began in 1872, when he was hired by Leland Stanford (later the founder of Stanford University) to photograph horses. Stanford reputedly had made a bet that for a moment, all four of a racehorse's hooves are off the ground simultaneously, and he hired Muybridge to take the pictures to prove him right. This was difficult to do with the cameras of the time, and the initial experiments produced only indistinct images. The photographer then became distracted when he discovered that his young wife had taken a lover and may even have had their child by him. Muybridge tracked down the lover and shot and killed him. When Muybridge stood trial, he did not deny the killing, but he was nonetheless acquitted. Muybridge left San Francisco and spent two years in Guatemala. On his return, Muybridge resumed his photography of horses in motion, this time far more successfully. He set up a row of cameras with tripwires, each of which would trigger a picture for a split second as the horse ran by. The results settled the debate once and for all: all four hooves do leave the ground at once, as the top middle image in this sequence demonstrates.

". . . For which I will gladly pay you Tuesday."

*DISCOVERY!* I have made a discovery! More Muybridge dirty pictures, hitherto unknown to anyone, even Muybridge! (Taken from the Muybridge Institute for Pornography, Stagreel, Minnesota).