There’s an old piece of film that I have often seen in snippets, usually in a montage about the earliest days of film in the late 1890’s. It’s a short film of a dancer with swathes of fabric twirling, very modern dance-ish in style, and as she spins the fabric changes color. It’s a pretty mesmerizing piece of fim, even more so given the infancy of the medium of the time.
Doing a little research I found that this was filmed by the French film pioneers, the Lumiere Brothers, in 1896. Each film cell is handpainted to achieve the color effects. The dancer in the film is Loie Fuller, an American-born pioneer of modern dance who was the toast of Paris in the 1890’s, starring often at the Folies-Bergere.
I find this film quite enchanting which is pretty amazing considering how many different moving images, how much computer generated animation and other advances in film-making I, like most people, have witnessed in this time, over 110 years in the future. Can you imagine how mind-blowing this must have seemed to the average person of the day?
This point is well illustrated in the movie, The Magic Box, a 1951 film in which Robert Donat portrayed British inventor, William Friese-Greene, who had invented and patented the motion picture camera a year before Edison but never received any credit and died in virtual anonymity. In the film, when he finally is able to fully demonstrate the motion picture with his invention he is alone in his lab, late at night. He is frantic with excitement and runs out into the London streets to let the world know of his triumph. The only person he encounters is a London police officer, played by Laurence Olivier. The bobby suspiciously goes along with Friese-Greene thinking he has a psychotic on his hands. He hesitantly agrees to look at Friese-Greene’s demonstration and when the film rolls and the images of the London citizens strolling in Hyde Park appear, he is frozen with amazement. It is as though he is looking on a true miracle. And perhaps he was– the miracle of invention.
Anyway, take a look to see a beginning point and realize how far we have come…