1891 – Benjamin Harrison was president, Carnegie Hall held its first performance, and Stanford University was founded by Leland Stanford, patron of film pioneer Eadweard Muybridge. Here were the top films of the year, as I see them.
1) Je vous aime (dir. Georges Demeny)In 1891, there were two centers of filmmaking, an American center and a French center. The French center comprised of Étienne-Jules Marey and his gun-shaped camera, “the Chronophotograph.” Marey trained Georges Demeny to use the machine. The idea behind this film came from the director of the National Deaf-Mute Institute. The idea was to use film to teach deaf students how to speak and lip read. The result was the world’s first medium close-up.
2) Dickson Greeting (dir. William K. L. Dickson) On May 20, 1891, Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope was displayed in public for the first time. Edison showed off short films made at his laboratory by William K. L. Dickson, including this one of Dickson greeting us by holding his hat.
3) Two Fencers (dir. Étienne-Jules Marey) This short from Marey’s Chronophotograph shows the promise of motion better than anything else from this time period. The framing and choice of subject shows an artistic competence by Marey that Dickson lacked, at least at first. It compares very favorably to Dickson’s Men Boxing, in which the two pugilists don’t actually make contact.
4) Newark Athlete (dir. William K. L. Dickson) Newark Athlete also shows the kinetic possibilities of the frame. The athlete swings Indian clubs towards and away from the camera, demonstrating the potential of illusion of three dimensions in a way no one else had before.
5) La Vague (dir. Étienne-Jules Marey) La Vague was one of Marey’s earliest experiments with motion. He recorded the waves crashing on the bay of Naples. Click here to see some more examples of Marey's work and modern uses of the Chronophotograph.