90 Movies in 90 Days: Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer
Release Date: September 29, 1975
Director: Thom Andersen
Production Company: New Yorker Films

Created as a student film by Thom Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself), this documentary covers the contributions of Eadweard Muybridge as a pioneer in motion pictures.  Muybridge created a means of capturing motion through an array of cameras and trip wires to take multiple photos in sequence.  Over the years 1882 to 1893, he photographed 100s of subjects including various animals, men, women, and children performing various actions for scientific study.  These were collected in a massive portfolio called Animal Locomotion: an Electro-photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movements.

The movie is narrated in a clinical tone by Dean Stockwell and offers a short biography of Muybridge (he killed a man!), a catalog of his works, some tantalizingly few details about the identity of the people in his photos, and some reflection on how they were often nude despite the strict mores of the era.  The film also notes that despite pioneering motion pictures, he had little effect on cinema.  By the 1890s, new cameras using reels of film swiftly made Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope obsolete.  I suppose it could be argued that Muybridge provided the antecedent for the animated GIF!

An animated GIF created from Muybridge’s photographs of an American bison galloping.

This is fascinating and well-made documentary that provides a look into some odd but groundbreaking research of the late 19th century.

Rating: ****


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