By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
University of Victoria
Nov 24 7:00 & 9:15pm
with Q&A afterwards with the filmmakers
The life and times of Eadweard Muybridge, the Godfather of Cinema is explored in this semi-biographical film. Highlights of this photographer’s experiments with studying motion at the turn of the century is the focus and through this lens, viewers see how committed he is to this art when it hasn’t been given the label by the community of critics from this era.
Muybridge (Michael Eklund) is best known for his 1868 work in capturing the beauty of Yosemite Valley. In contrast, the events that led to the court drama around his justifiable homicide of his wife’s lover perhaps made him world-famous. This case is still studied today. She’s 21 years younger than he, and at that time, not many people batted an eye at their age difference. The movie delicately balances between the events that leads to the fall of their romance. Eklund deserves major credit for conveying the gravitas that’s needed to make this character larger than life and appear emotionally burdened.
For the real man, during the course of his studies, he published Animals in Motion (1899) and The Human Figure in Motion (1901) — his independence away from his wife moreorless led to her transgression. Although much of the film shows how his love for Flora (Sara Canning) developed, he never fully showed how much he cared for her. The real plot develops when Harry Larkyns (Charlie Carrick) arrives into their lives claiming he’s as much of a photographer as Muybridge.
This film is a wonderful character-driven exposition that looks at their love triangle reminiscent of how King Arthur has to deal with Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot. However, there is no Knight of the Cart to save Flora and Muybridge’s Camelot is equally destined to fall. Not everyone took a liking to his studies of the nude body. He is the godfather of cinema and his studies of motion in animals and humans are required material for today’s animators to study. His techniques would later be refined by other innovators, namely Edison (with the Lumière brothers suspiciously missing) to create motion pictures.
This movie leaves the impression of Muybridge misunderstanding what’s needed to truly love Flora. His focus and his passion was imprinted upon the plates of life he captured instead of what his eyes perceived. Director Kyle Rideout certainly got that point across. Both the filmmaker and Muybridge conveyed a sense of what this pioneer personally understood as art. Muybridge probably behaved much like how Théodore Géricault studied the human body before painting The Raft of the Medusa, an equally contraversial work of art. Both wanted to see how colour, texture and light altered perception, especially on human anatomy (nude, deformed or not). While the painter went a step further to look at corpses and had cadavers brought to the studio, perhaps what this film looked at was the decay of Muybridge’s soul. Although both were committed to refining their craft, just how they were treated by society is another movie in itself.
Ever since Muybridge’s stagecoach accident robbed him of his emotional well-being and his age (his hair mysteriously turned white), he became a determined man. The attempts to look into this man’s mind and his obsession succeeds in small ways. The voice over expositions during the flashbacks are good, and it could have gone deeper if writers Josh Epstein and Kyle Rideout wanted it to.
Sadly, they did not explore the court drama. To hear the testimonies would have added to understanding Eadweard’s madness. In their defense, it would have made for a three-hour long movie than a 100 minute one — which not many filmmakers would like to undertake. In what’s revealed leaves viewers wondering just how much dignitas and virtus gets left from a man tormented by demons. Had he lived in a different age, he’d make an excellent Emperor of Rome.
3½ out of 5 Stars