A Whirl of Invention: “Roundhay Garden Scene”

For the past few years, I’ve been fascinated by emergent media. I’ve been drawn to film recently. This is probably due to the fact that my classmate and I decided to do our final Turkish project on film and film translation and I ended up with the section on the history of Turkish cinema (long story short, it rose, became super prolific, then it was the 90’s and it was not a priority. It’s getting better now). I’ve decided to dedicate a sizable portion of my contribution to the reboot of The Potted Lid to watching copious amounts of silent film and commenting on them. I will warn everyone now: I am not a film studies student or anything close. I am simply an enthusiastic amateur who may not always have the time to research each of the films I watch. My opinions may not be super well-informed. That being said, if someone out there has more expertise, please feel free to comment and correct my ramblings. And if you have no expertise in this subject, please comment anyway and we’ll ramble together.

Let’s start at the beginning, then. The earliest bit of film I could find is “Roundhay Garden Scene.” It’s just over 2 seconds long and can be found Roundhay Garden Scene.

What I find most interesting about this is where the black spaces are. By my understanding, the black bars that appear at the top and right of this scene are imperfections on the individual frames. I understand, then, how the one at the top happens, but I find how consistent the one on the right is to be confusing. I have a feeling this is a very basic thing in film, which seems to mean that I can’t figure out why certain imperfections last over the course of multiple frame or why this one seems to move upward. It could be part of how film was developed, which I also know little about.

Outside of my lack of understanding this aspect of film, I’m fascinated by the way each person has chosen to move. The man in the foreground looks like he’s just exaggerating a regular walk, but everyone else seems to have committed to odd forms of movement. The woman in the light colored dress moves backwards before turning her back on the camera, while the man in the background starts with his back to us , then turns forward. His coats are flying pretty impressively for walking around a garden. I still haven’t been able to figure out if the woman in black is just turning along with the second man, with her acting as the pivot of the turn, or if she’s just swaying back and forth and then starting to spin in the last fraction of a second. The men seem to have exaggerated their movements more, but everyone’s clearly doing something that should be a noticeable movement on the film.

Even though this is incredibly short, I’ve grown quite fond of it. According to the Wikipedia article on this clip, the individuals in the film are the cinematographer’s son, the former’s friend (the woman in the light dress), and his in-laws. I find that there’s something very human about the awkwardness of it. It seems like the natural result of your dad/friend/son-in-law saying “hey, I’m gonna try out this new thing, everyone move around!” I like how it gives you a small glimpse of the tiniest of moments between a few people playing with the hip new technology.

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