zoetropes, praxinoscopes, kinetescopes & other pre-cinema diversions
March 4, 2003 5:21 PM   Subscribe

Pre-cinema devices & diversions - before film, multimedia amusements ranged from zoetropes and magic lantern shows to praxinoscopes and kinetescopes. Whether you're a film buff or a photographer or simply just prone to nostalgia for a day when the world seemed less jaded, you will love this site - take the time to take the tour.
posted by madamjujujive (12 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for the link, madam! In L.A., the Getty Museum had a large exhibition of just these marvelous optical machines about a year ago, called Devices of Wonder (the website doesn't really do the show justice -- it focuses more on playing with interactive versions rather than detailing about their history and mechanics). Fascinating stuff.
posted by scody at 5:46 PM on March 4, 2003

The camera obscura near the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol is great fun. I visited this years ago when I was a kid and was amazed by the quality of the image.g
posted by carter at 7:09 PM on March 4, 2003

great stuff, but don't forget about Muybridge (even though he was doing science)
posted by amberglow at 8:41 PM on March 4, 2003

You trumped me madam! I've been working on a pre-cinema post for some time now but I had difficulty with putting it together (let me just say that if I'm going to be trumped, I prefer it to be by you). So I'll just add a few things here. Born within five weeks of each other and dying a week apart, Eadweard J. Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey were leading figures in what is now termed Chronophotography. Muybridge had a particularly fascinating life. He first became known as a landscape photographer, although he did other types of photography as well. In 1872, he began working with Leland Stanford to prove the theory of "unsupported transit," - i.e. that a horse in a full gallop could have all four hooves off the ground. However this project was interrupted in 1874 when Muybridge murdered his wife's lover who Muybridge thought was the real father of their son. The defense claimed it was insanity. Recently, Arthur P. Shimamura of U.C. Berkeley has furthered this claim:

Muybridge's life was significantly affected by a neurological injury which he sustained earlier in 1860. In a stage coach accident, Muybridge was thrown out of the coach, hit his head against a boulder, and was knocked unconscious. Long-term effects of this accident were described in some detail during the murder trial, because one aspect of the defense was to suggest insanity as a result of the accident. Various friends and colleagues testified that Muybridge exhibited significant personality abnormalities. Prior to his accident Muybridge was a good businessman, genial and pleasant in nature; but after the accident he was irritable, eccentric, a risk-taker, and subject to emotional outbursts.

The orbitofrontal damage is the same type of injury that affected Phineas Gage. There is an excellent and fascinating account of this here. "The jury discarded entirely the theory of insanity, and meeting the case on the bare issue left, acquitted the defendant on the ground that he was justified in killing Larkyns for seducing his wife." I did a search on his attorney Mr. W. Pendegast who "made the closing statement for the defense. According to the San Francisco Chronicle (February 6, 1875): 'The speech was one of the most eloquent forensic efforts ever heard in the State. The peroration carried the audience away, and at the close they broke into a storm of applause...'" and found that he died an early death a year later at the age of 35(I just find that interesting, that's all). [There's an interesting account of what happened to the son, although I haven't been able to substantiate it anywhere.] Muybridge then went to S. America until things calmed down and finally returned to prove Stanford right. For further info on creativity and pyschopathology, read this article. Let me post this before my computer crashes. More in a bit.
posted by snez at 10:06 PM on March 4, 2003 [2 favorites]

scody, carter & amberglow, thanks for such good links! I have had fun exploring them.

And oh lord, snez, you have outdone yourself here. What wonderful contributions, and so much depth on the topic. I was completely unaware of Muybridge's colorful circumstances, and completely in the dark about both his mental health problems and the murder of his wife! Nor was I familiar with the startling case of poor Mr Phineas Gage! What a fascinating backdrop.

Honestly, this is what I love about MeFi - an interesting topic becomes all the more interesting, and takes some fascinating twists and turns.

OK, I have one more cool thing to throw into the mix too:
If you live in NY, NJ or VA, see if you can catch a show form America's only 1890's Magic Lantern Show which apparently tours the globe. It sounds worth seeing:

Instead of flexible movie film, the lantern uses 3" glass slides -- hand-painted 100 years ago -- to illustrate dramatic stories, beautiful songs and outrageous comedy, all from the Victorian period. The slides are spectacular -- dramatic, detailed, colorful. They change about every 30 seconds, and many of the comic slides actually move -- the first cartoon animation.

They also provide an extensive list of links (that I've yet to explore) on the Victorian era, early cinema, magic lanterns and more.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:05 PM on March 4, 2003

Many animations of Muybridge photographs can be found here on Charl Lucassen's amazing site (that I keep linking to). Muybridge was also the first to produce a 360 degree view of an image frozen in time by using multiple cameras simultaneously (that is now popular due to products like TimeTracker). Mr. Lucassen has produced an animation of this here (click on the seventh image from the left on the top menu).

"Whereas Muybridge had used a number of cameras to study movement, Marey used only one, and the movements being recorded on one photographic plate." For information on Marey, there's a great online exhibition with animations like this well known one of a falling cat and the lesser known falling rabbit. Early in his work, Marey used what is simply known as a gun camera (sounds better in French - Le Fusil Photographique) that can be seen here (click on 1882 at the bottom of the page), first pioneered by Janssen. There were others around that didn't quite match up. [side note: the gun camera resurfaced during world war II for training purposes.]

This is a good archive of articles on Marey and his work dating from the 1800's. I like this one. There are many contemporary photographers that are clearly influenced by Marey (and Muybridge). Amy Heller is one of the better ones. OK, time to wrap this up. Let me finish with this:

For a man who devoted his life to animal motion, Marey did not live to see his dream of an insect in motion captured on film. It was his last assistant, Lucien Bull, who finally caught a bumblebee in flight and a bullet bursting a soap bubble, two of the most beautiful and mesmerizing moments on film.
posted by snez at 11:47 PM on March 4, 2003 [1 favorite]

I forgot to add - Thanks madam!
posted by snez at 11:48 PM on March 4, 2003

Nor was I familiar with the startling case of poor Mr Phineas Gage!

Madam, if you're interested in Gage's story and what it shows about how the brain works, I highly recommend this book.
posted by homunculus at 12:42 AM on March 5, 2003

Nice site, as usual, madamejuju!

The camera obscura has been rumored to have been used widely by the master painters (as David Hockney claims) such as Vermeer (more), and many others such as Canaletto, Ingres, Van Eyck, and even Caravaggio!

The controversy continues!

"That he was not Picasso is, um, a very good thing."
posted by hama7 at 4:19 AM on March 5, 2003

What an illuminating post and thread! Thanks, Madam and everyone else... (Wasn't there once a lollipop called a "day-long sucker"? I can't find a reference on google, but anyway, that's what this thread is like! (And, of course, I mean that in a good way.)
posted by taz at 5:12 AM on March 5, 2003

Wasn't there once a lollipop called a "day-long sucker"?

An all-day sucker. Now the title of a Stevie Wonder song. To go sideways a little for fans of technological history, I recently interviewed the director of the MZTV Museum in Canada for a magazine article. The history of television sets (as opposed to the programs) complements this interest with pre-cinema devices.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:34 AM on March 5, 2003

hey folks, thanks for the additional links, and taz, I agree - there's a lot here to chew on....lelilo, I particularly like the MZTV Museum - kewl. Some of those early tvs are awesome.

Great Vermeer link, hama7!

And homunculus, you always add relevant, quality links to the threads you particpate in - thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 6:38 PM on March 5, 2003

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