The Early Cinema: "Motion Study"

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In Europe and America, a number of men were conducting formal investigations into the character of motion. The most famous is probably Eadweard Muybridge, a photographer. Muybridge would set up a row of cameras--several dozen if necessary--and trigger them in series as his subjects moved in front of them. In his first experiment, he had Leland Stanford's prize horse gallop past a row of cameras. Thin wires across the horse's path tripped each camera in sequence. He did many such studies, then found a way to mount the transparent plates on a spinning wheel with a light source behind it. He called this apparatus a "zoopraxiscope."


The device allowed him to project his sequential photographs, so that viewers saw something like the short loop of Muybridge photographs playing here. The running boy film was assembled from a series of 12 motion studies by Muybridge.

Like Barnum, Muybridge had some pretensions to science--he claimed to be doing "nature studies" and he used a grid background to suggest scientific precision. He was also, like Barnum, more than a bit of a faker. The former Edward Muggeridge was more than willing, for example to offer his audiences the thrill of erotic nudity, or the illusion of scientific accuracy.

But these aren't exactly movies...