by D.W. Lundberg

Saturday, March 27, 2010


As a warm-up for the Documentaries entry in our "Best Of The Decade" series (due in a few days - I promise), I thought I'd treat you (or re-treat you, for those already in the know) to just a few of the earliest recorded films in history - five clips, to be exact. These are nifty little glimpses of everyday life - some only a couple seconds long - that were mind-blowing to audiences of the day. (In other words, they made lots and lots of money. Nickels of it, as a matter of fact.)

Some of you might be asking, "How come these things are so darn short?" Well, that's because the technology was just in its infant stages. After all, "motion pictures" are just that: a series of frames played in sequence, one after another at high speed, to give the illusion of actual movement. These clips are the earliest example of that. Innovative minds such as Eadweard Muybridge, William Kennedy Dickson, and Thomas Edison invented the camera equipment that helped usher in the new age of cinema as we know it.

Before we begin, try to place yourself back in the time when these films were made. Imagine what it must have been like, to witness these projected images for the first time. Also take notice how the choppiness of each film becomes less distinct as the years go on.

The first of these clips I'd like to show you was shot in 1888 by Louis Le Prince, a Frenchman (duh) who is often credited as the "father of motion pictures." The film, titled Roundhay Garden Scene, is considered the earliest surviving motion picture by the Guinness Book Of World Records.

Thrilling, no? Give yourself a minute to calm down. I'll wait.

Good? Okay, moving on. The second clip is called, specifically enough, Fred Ott's Sneeze, shot by William Dickson. According to the Library of Congress, it's the first motion picture to be copyrighted in the U.S. Oh, and that thing Fred's got in his hand is called a "handkerchief."

Now a pair of films directed by the world-famous Louis Lumiere, of the world-famous Lumiere Brothers. First up is The Sprinkler Sprinkled, from 1895. It runs a whopping 45 seconds (how epic that must have seemed back then) and is considered the first narrative comedy film, shot with actors. It's also quite delightful in its simplicity. (Yes, I said "delightful." You come up with a better word.)

Our second Lumiere masterpiece is L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (translated from French as, I believe, "Choo Choo Train Time"). Rumor has it that the first audience to see this film fled in terror as the train approached the screen, in fear they'd be run over - which, when you think about it, makes some kind of ridiculous sense.

And finally, my favorite of the bunch: George Méliès' A Trip To The Moon, from 1902. Note the innovative special effects (the first of their kind), and the incredibly accurate portrayal of moon men (here called "the fuzz," although I seriously doubt this translation's authenticity.)

Good stuff, don't you think? And you thought film history would be boring...

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