The nearly constant motion of the camera in this 1913 film is perhaps even more unusual than the polychrome tinting. The steady gliding motion together with artificial color creates a travel reverie which at times has the feel of enveloping the viewer. In general, early silent films were shot using a stationary camera. The bulky hand-cranked motion picture cameras required a sturdy and well-stabilized tripod to achieve optimal image quality. Most films made before the 1920s rarely included more than an occasional tilt or panoramic shot from a fixed position as camera movement. There were exceptions of course, and rail travel, whether street cars, trains or even subways, seems to have provided an ideal combination of stability and smooth movement to make truly moving images a possibility for film viewers. The earliest camera “dollies” most likely utilized tracks laid down inside of the film studios. A practice which gave rise to the term “tracking shot” still in use today to indicate virtually any travelling camera movement.
The DC area will have a rare opportunity next month to see a wonderfully comic reversal of travelogue and ethnographic film conventions when the National Gallery of Art screens French filmmaker Jean Rouch’s Petit a petit (1970) as part of its regular weekend film programming.
Human Studies Film Archives