Age Has not Withered Them

Just as I did with Flicker Alley’s Georges Melies boxset, I need to pay my respects to another magnificent collection, Edison: The Invention of the Movies, from Kino Video. It took a long time to arrive in our university library, but I finally got to crack it open today. It’s going to take a long time to get through it. Including documents and commentaries and interviews with historians, there must be over 20 hours of things and stuff spread across these four discs. You can either watch the films in isolation, or have them embedded in a series of sharp and detailed commentaries by the likes of Charles Musser, Eileen Bowser, Michael Wallace, Paul Israel and others.

From say-what-you-see titles such as Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze and Mr. Edison at Work in his Chemical Laboratory, to spectacular fictions such as Jack and the Beanstalk and The Teddy Bears, this is essential viewing for anyone remotely interested in early cinema, and I look forward to forcing it on anyone who isn’t remotely interested.

The images above are from the earliest serviving camera tests made by Edison and W.K.L. Dickson. It’s called Monkey-Shines no.1. If a monkeyshine is a kind of naughty practical joke, I can’t really see one in here. Instead, we get a ghostly figure flickering in and out of focus, threatening to sputter out at any moment, and struggling to break into imagistic life. It is completely beguiling to look at, amongst the most riveting ten seconds of film you could hope to see. It’s as though this long-dead being is trying to force its presence out of another time and into ours, fighting against the ever-increasing temporal gulf. Of course, this effect is not part of the art, but a side-effect of the camera’s in-progress design. The imperfections, scratches and age-damage of these artefacts are signs of their historical distance from the present time, but they can take on a kind of beauty all of their own, as in the way Carmencita’s dance seems to be showered with fireflies.

I can’t wait to plough through the rest of this set. It feels important, edifying and educational. There’s not many times you can say that about a bunch of movies, especially one that includes boxing cats…

4 thoughts on “Age Has not Withered Them

  1. How do you capture the images? I haven’t discovered how to do that on my iMac. I use to photograph images as they are projected on my wall and I loved the look of it. One of my most viewed images on flickr is of Fight Club projected on my wall. 1,679 views!

    I can’t wait to set up my projector on new flat. It will be my little project next week. That and setting up wii, wii fit, xbox, organising flickr tags, and setting up a new blog.

  2. Hi, Kirsten,

    VLC player has a “snapshot” option. I use that to capture images. They’re not particularly high resolution, but they work well enough at this size on a blog. The top rated photo on my Flickr site is also a video capture from a wall-projection: Gertie the Dinosaur. That only has 180 views so far, though, so its amazing that so many people want to look at a bit of Fight Club.

    Hope you find time to keep reading this blog once you’ve finished setting up all your techie gear…

  3. re: screen or image capture on a mac:
    use cmd/shift/4 ( hold down cmd? shift and simultaneously the 4 key) a cross-hair then appears. use it like photoshop to delimit the aera on the screen to be captured. release, and you have an image on your desktop. ( depending on osX version in either a png or jpg version)
    hop it works.
    best regards
    sam renseiw

    (fine blog btw. was rummaging for some bazin writings)

  4. Pingback: Back to Bazin Part II: The Myth of Total Cinema « Spectacular Attractions

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