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Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer 1975
Description: Thom Andersen's remarkable and sadly neglected hour-long documentary adroitly combines biography, history, movie theory, and philosophical reflection. Muybridge's photographic studies of animal locomotion in the 1870s were a major forerunner of movies; even more interesting are his subsequent studies of diverse people, photographed vs neutral backgrounds.
Released: 29 Sep 1975 Director: Thom Andersen, Fay Andersen, Morgan Fisher Writers: Thom Andersen, Fay Andersen, Morgan Fisher Actors: Dean Stockwell, Eadweard Muybridge Genres: Documentary, Biography
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Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer Reviews:

There was much-needed reappraisal of Eadweard Muybridge during the 1970s, which was the centennial of his instantaneous and sequential photography of horses and another animal locomotion in California. Especially considering the hurt done by misinformation in such ebooks as "A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture" by Terry Ramsaye, which belittled Muybridge's contributions or erroneously assigned them to others and which, generally, offers a false history of the invention of films while promoting Thomas Edison as the central inventor. Besides this film, "Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer", two ebooks that remain among the greatest on the topics were published: "Muybridge: Boy in Motion" by Robert Bartlett Haas and "Eadweard Muybridge: the Father of the Motion Picture" by Gordon Hendricks. An exhibition and ebook titled "Eadweard Muybridge: the Stanford Years, 1872-1882" has been credited with initiating this series of retrospective works and probably remains the greatest reference on that period of Muybridge's photography. This documentary movie now doesn't cover that initial period of instantaneous and sequential photography very well and neither is it especially informative in regards to the Zoöpraxiscope projection of animated pictures, but, rather, does better at focusing on the earlier zone still photography of Muybridge and his soon chronophotography for the University of Pennsylvania.Educationally and as an introduction to Muybridge, this is a valuable film. It was also an early source for animations of Muybridge's serial photography, which are actually widely accessible on the web, as well as from another documentary sources. Critically and, occasionally, stylistically, this documentary is flawed, though. If you're an academic who subscribes to Marxist movie theory, however, you'll surely disagree with me on this and, instead, concur with Thom Andersen's critical approach. The first indication of this problem is that the movie starts with a quotation from Mao Zedong. Most of the first part of the film, however, is a nice biographical sketch, where zoom-ins on photographs are used to nice effect. The Marxist speak and academic mumbo jumbo is largely saved for the end when discussing the University of Pennsylvania work. Here, we learn that there was "a dialectic of topics and method" and that the rectangular-grid backgrounds for the photographs "provides the most dramatic means of establishing the separateness of human beings form the physical objects surrounding them". Whatever that means—not surprisingly, this was a 16mm student film.Stylistically, the only annoyance was the filmmakers' tendency to sometimes receive carried away with some of the animations, as well as with the music, and, especially, the over test of stroboscopic effects. I'd guess that this documentary itself should possibly induce seizures among some folks just as was done, as mentioned in the film, for Muybridge's photography of artificially induced convulsions.I don't mean to be harshly dismissive of this hour-long film, though. Despite being nearly 40 years old itself now, its history remains largely accurate. Although it does create the mistake of explaining how we see motion pictures as due to the "persistence of vision"—that is, the illusion of motion is somehow fused from afterimages on our retinas; this, however, was commonly believed back then. Even today, many, if not most, continue to create the mistake of believing that this has anything to do with how we perceive motion from a succession of still images, which, in fact, is a effect of our brains making sense of what we see. (By the way, for both an available biography of Muybridge and a nice explanation of how we perceive motion pictures, read Brian Clegg's famous biography "The Boy Who Stopped Time"). Nevertheless, this is, generally, a nice and brief introduction to the fascinating life and work of Eadweard Muybridge, who has been properly restored to his zone as one of the most necessary figures in the history of the invention of movies.


Eadweard Muybridge is probably greatest known for lining up a series of 24 cameras, in the year 1878, in order to photograph a galloping horse.The documentary "Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer" briefly covers his life, but concentrates its gaze upon Muybridge's photography work before and after the much publicized galloping-horse-at-Palo-Alto event.In his early career, Muybridge photographed landscapes of the American West. Equipped with early 3D stereoscope cameras, he covered a fight with the Native Americans.The bulk of the documentary concentrates on Muybridge's photographic technique of cataloging animal and human motion. Intriguingly, he had cameras set up at a tons of angles, simultaneously capturing the same fleeting moment from different viewpoints.The narration can be a bit tedious and academic at times. The unlimited amount of nudity in Muybridge's work also grows a bit exasperating. However, his rigorous documentation of details, and unlimited experimenting makes his "zoopraxography" work fascinating to early photography lovers.I prefer not to rate this film, as it's a far cry from being "great entertainment" and yet I found it to be very educational.



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