Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer
(Thom Andersen, 1976, 60 min)
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the reconsideration of Eadward Muybridge took on a new urgency in relation to the formalist concerns then powering the central current of avant-garde film. Thom Andersen began researching Muybridge in the mid-1960s. In 1966, he published an essay about him for Film Culture that advanced some of the claims he would make in his first feature film, Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer, completed in 1974 in collaboration with Morgan Fisher and Fay Andersen.
As in his early shorts, Andersen’s approach to recounting Muybridge’s life and analyzing his work could be called “minimalist”, though Andersen would likely prefer it to be called “reductionist”, following the term he later applied to Warhol’s first films. The film is made with remarkably few materials: Muybridge’s stills and and zoopraxographs—often animated, a narration read by Dean Stockwell, Michael Cohen’s score, and less than a minute of originally photographed footage. It is tempting to say that Andersen removed everything except the essentials, but, as always, Andersen’s highly specific idea of the essential—the film begins with a quote from Mao—reminds us of the absurdity of such a conceit.
The fastidiousness of the film’s analysis follows Muybridge’s own work. In the reanimated zoopraxograph stills, the film reveals what Muybridge accomplished scientifically, aesthetically, and philosophically, and how his motion studies cleared the path for the invention of cinema, but remained distinct from it. Onscreen, it traces the exact temporal distance between the profilmic events of his images and our experience of them--constructing a dizzying mise-en-abyme.
Andersen is fond of quoting Roland Barthes’ riff on Francis Bacon, which asserts “that a little formalism turns one away from History, but that a lot brings one back to it.” No other film makes that point as well as Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer.
The film takes for granted that even in a moving image collection as rigorously scientific as Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion, sociological and historical revelation is inevitable. From there it precisely demonstrates how different kinds of knowledge are produced by moving images. -Colin Beckett
Print restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Directed by Thom Andersen
Thursday, March 27 3:00pm
A 35mm print, newly restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive; “Thom Andersen’s first feature announced the arrival of one of America’s most significant documentary auteurs. Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer