Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Very First Romance Film

Being in film school I am, of course, required to study a lot of film theory and history, which is kind of fun, even if a lot of the old movies we watch have to come with the disclaimer "By the way, this is historically significant, and technically well made, but also notably racist/sexist/et al".

So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw one particular film.

Okay, so some history. In 1872 Leland Stanford, who was wealthy and also probably bored, made a sort of "bet" taking the position that during a gallop all four of a horses hooves did temporarily leave the ground all at the same time. A lot of people thought this was impossible, so Stanford hired Eadward Muybridge who, with the help of John D. Isaacs, developed a system for taking several pictures in rapid succession with several cameras lined up facing a track. When the pictures came out if was found that you could sort of "flip" through them, and they appeared to be moving, and you could watch the horse gallop.

It was this that inspired the eventual invention of the Edison Kinetoscope, which wasn't actually invented by Edison, but he hired the guy who invented it to invent it (guy by the name of Dickson), so he got his name on it. Anyway. Getting from the Muybridge Experiment to commercial Kinetoscope use took a good 20 years, so now it's 1896, and there are these Kinetoscopes. You put money into them, put your face up to them, rotate a little handle and watch a short little movie. It was all the rage.

And in 1896, there was one particular actuary (that's what they called the little clips) that was the most popualar that year. Call it the 19th century blockbuster.

It was called "The Kiss"

And it looked like this.

Notice anything? Anything at all?

That woman is May Irwin.

And if you hadn't noticed, she is fat.

She was also very successful. A noted singer, actor, and comedian of the time. She was a popular and beloved performer. She died an old lady (well, 76, which is a decently long life) who was very rich.

As Wikipedia puts it,
"May Irwin's buxom figure was much in vogue at the time and combined with her charming personality, for more than thirty years she was one of America's most beloved performers."

Just another bit of history you can reference whenever someone tries to tell you that our current beauty standards are natural, inherent to everyone, instinct, an immovable part of history, or some sort of fact.

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