Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Echoing the Past

After the class discussion on the early history of film on Wednesday night, I looked up several examples through our own generation’s revolutionary film medium, YouTube. While I watched a collection of films by the Lumiere brothers, I couldn’t help but think about how amazing it would have been to participate in these early experiments with moving pictures. Now, we think nothing of picking up a camera and goofing off with friends, haphazardly recording and deleting footage right and left. Even though I do have a digital camera, I don’t like the idea of deleting pictures or video; every time I do, I feel as if I’m erasing a moment of history, and perhaps that is why I felt a sort of connection to these early films. There was something very cool about watching regular people make history by doing something as mundane as eating breakfast.

What struck me the most after watching Edison's recording of a sneeze and Melies's slightly more high-tech films Le Monstre and Le Diable Noir is how little the kinds of things we film have changed. If you type "the sneeze" into the YouTube search bar, approximently six thousand eight hundred and ninety videos come up, including the ever popular Sneezing Panda. I find it completely remarkable that a video of something sneezing has gotten over thirty million hits. The films made by magician Georges Melies are also still highly entertaining. Melies's four minute long short Le Diable Noir is the epitome of the timelessly funny genre of physical comedy. It doesn't matter if it is was fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, or just last week, there is something inherently funny about watching someone be duped over. From fans of Tom and Jerry cartoons to the Home Alone movies, there will alwyas be an audience for this type of humor.

The other thing that I found facinating about the Melies films was that the special effects used to animate the skeleton in Le Monstre and to make people disappear and reappear in Le Diable Noir are still put into practice today. The methods may be simple, but that does not mean that they are not as entertaining and valuable as those used in bigger, more elaborate productions. There is definitely a certain timelessness to Melies's work, if only because of the consistency of human nature. Though film has evolved in several ways, in some aspects it is still the same as in the early years.


  1. In your searches did you find any films that you just did not see why they were popular or interesting?

  2. We live in an age when everything, even those of the smallest importance, are captured forever. YouTube is a treasure trove of this type of preservation. When Edison filmed the sneeze, film was in its discovery phase. Now we get literally billions of videos on the internet - partly because we really don't have any sense of what is worth preserving anymore. What is worth preserving to you?

    Good post!