Flicker: Animals in Unsupported Transit
Flicker: A Moment in the Life of Eadweard Muybridge
Flicker is a short one-minute experimental film that was directed by Hamish Anderson, a talented young English filmmaker. Flicker is presently on The 2008 Shortlist of Filminute, a juried international one-minute film festival that challenges filmmakers to develop and submit the world’s best one-minute films. Hamish Anderson is a university student who is the son of the British film artist Peter Anderson. Prior to making Flicker, Hamish created a documentary made in Zambia with UNICEF and a three-minute film, Canned Spirit, about an English graffiti artist.
Hamish lives in Oxford, England, and the film set for Flicker was created in his home there. In addition to filmmaking, Anderson’s other creative talents include drawing and design; accordingly, he drew the dogs that appear in the film with a fine black pen, and he also made the zoetrope (the spinning device that shows the drawings of the dogs).
Flicker is a film that uniquely and explicitly reveals an image of artistic convergence. Anderson describes his film as “a filmic representation of a moment in the life of the pioneering photographer, Eadweard Muybridge.” Muybridge is legendary for his “Horse in Motion” high-speed photographs of a trotting horse, which resolved the long-running controversy over whether all of the horse’s four feet ever leave the ground at the same time. The “Horse in Motion” photographs are considered by many in the know to be the world’s first motion pictures.
Curiously, Anderson describes his film as the portrayal of “a moment” in the life of Muybridge, but he doesn’t further specify what he intends that particular moment to be. Actually, Flicker depicts a convergence of moments. At one level, the film could simply be taken as an illustration of “the moment” in which Muybridge was first able to display his photographs as moving pictures. But it’s important to note that Anderson is not displaying Muybridge’s own photographs in his film. Instead, he’s using drawings of Muybridge’s photographs, which in fact replicates another significant “moment” or event that actually took place in Muybridge’s own life.
That “convergent moment” involved the relationship between the mercurial Muybridge and his financial patron, Leland Stanford (a Former California Governor). It was the “moment” in Muybridge’s life when their relationship completely broke down after Stanford commissioned a book called The Horse in Motion as Shown by Instantaneous Photography. That 1882 book omitted the actual photographs that had been taken by Muybridge, relying instead on drawings and engravings based upon the photographs, and at the same time the book gave Muybridge little credit for his work.
Flicker: Animals in Unsupported Transit
Eadweard Muybridge’s Horse in Motion: The World’s First Motion Pictures
The Horse in Motion: Freezing Time
He was one of the most famous people of the 19th century, but the name of Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) is nearly unknown today. In 1855, Muybridge left England and settled in San Francisco, starting his career as a publisher’s agent and bookseller. He left San Francisco at the end of that decade, and after a stagecoach accident in which he received severe head injuries returned to England for a few years. Muybridge reappeared in San Francisco in 1866 and rapidly became successful in the photography profession, focusing almost entirely on landscape and architectural subjects.
In 1872, the former Governor of California Leland Stanford, a businessman and race-horse owner, had taken a stance about a then popularly-debated question of the day: whether all four of a horse’s hooves left the ground at the same time during a gallop. Stanford sided with the assertion that they did, an idea called “unsupported transit“, and took it upon himself to prove it scientifically. To prove Stanford’s claim, Muybridge developed a new photographic technique that facilitated instantaneous motion picture capture. In 1877, Muybridge settled Stanford’s question with a single photographic negative that showed Stanford’s racehorse Occident airborne in the midst of a gallop.
By 1878, encouraged by Leland Stanford to expand his experiment, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse in fast motion using a series of twenty-four cameras. The first public demonstration of his new moving picture technique successfully took place on June 11th, and it was attended by members of the press. Muybridge used a series of 12 stereoscopic cameras, set 21 inches apart to cover the 20 feet taken by one horse stride, taking pictures at one thousandth of a second. The cameras were arranged parallel to the track, with trip-wires attached to each camera shutter that were triggered by the horse’s hooves.
This series of photos is known as The Horse in Motion, and it shows that the hooves do all leave the ground, although not with the legs fully extended forward and back, as contemporary illustrators had tended to imagine. Rather, it occurred at the moment when all the hooves are tucked under the horse, as it switches from “pulling” from the front legs to “pushing” from the back legs.
Few people remember that those photos were just a beginning for Muybridge. Through further work, he was able to develop his new technology so that it took the extended series of images and transformed them into the first moving pictures. Twenty years before Thomas Edison popularized his own projector, Muybridge was filling auditoriums across the United States and Europe with audiences eager to see the first motion pictures. Later, Edison did all that he could to obscure the true origins of the cinema, in order to protect his own patents.
Horse in Motion: The World’s First Motion Pictures
3D Computer Graphics: The Horse in Motion
The Photographer: A Gentleman’s Honor
In 1874, while still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Muybridge found a letter that had been sent to his wife, a letter revealing that she had a lover, a certain Major Harry Larkyns. On October 17, 1874, he sought out Larkyns, saying to him, “Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife.” Muybridge then killed the Major with a gunshot. He was put on trial for murder, but was acquitted by the jury with a verdict of “justifiable homicide.”
An interesting aspect of Muybridge’s defense was a plea of insanity due to the head injury Muybridge had sustained years earlier in his stagecoach accident. His friends testified in court that the accident had dramatically changed Muybridge’s personality from genial and pleasant, to unstable and erratic. Although the jury dismissed the insanity plea, it is not unlikely that Muybridge did experience some emotional changes due the earlier head injury. This episode in Muybridge’s life was the subject of The Photographer, a well-known 1982 opera by Philip Glass, with words that were drawn from the trial and from Muybridge’s own letters to his wife.
Philip Glass: The Photographer/A Gentleman’s Honor
Technorati: Hamish Anderson, Flicker, short film, one-minute film, Filminute, Eadweard Muybridge, Horse in Motion, Horse in Motion photographs, first motion pictures, Philip Glass, The Photographer, A Gentleman’s Honor
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