quote on actualities?
May 1, 2007 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I've been searching for a quote - I think by the french filmmaker Robert Bresson, but I'm not totally sure. The gist of it is, in speaking about the very first films made, "actualities," the author of the quote says that the public viewing these films was surprised to see the wind moving the leaves in the trees.. does this ring a bell for anyone? thanks!
posted by ethel to Media & Arts (3 answers total)
Heh. I went to my copy of Birth of the Motion Picture, opened it up, and the first thing my eyes lit on (on p. 17) was: "viewers [at the first cinematographic exhibition of ten short films, in Paris, 28 December 1895 and the following weeks] all exhibited the same reactions: skeptical or blasé at the appearance of a static photographic projection, stupefied when it became animated, admiring at the sight of the wind in the trees and the agitation of the waves, and afraid when the train entering the station at La Ciotat seemed to throw itself at them." [Emphasis added.] Obviously that's not the quote you're looking for, but it may point you in the right direction.

Googling around, I find references to the windblown trees here and... aha, here's a good paragraph:
As for the elemental energies that Hoveyda brought so lucidly into focus, actually they’ve always been in cinema. When the Lumière Brothers set up their first films in the 1890s, viewers flocked to the screenings when they heard, among the chatter of reports, some amazing accounts of trees! Maxim Gorky, for example, was disturbed by the way some kind of ghost-power seemed to shiver the leaves [‘Newspaper review of the Lumiere programme at the Nizhni-Novgorod fair, Nizhegorodski listok, 4 July, 1896’, anthologised in Colin Harding and Simon Popple (eds.), In the Kingdom of Shadows: A Companion to Early Cinema (London: Cygnus Arts, 1996), pp. 5 – 6]. Framed aloft in the dark, the trees appeared to be oddly alive. For Gorky, cinema offered life in spectral form. He saw not an intensification or clarification, but a leached trace of natural vitality. It worried him. However, it galvanised him too; the vivacity of his writing betrays him. All the things moving on the screen, they were like kindred creatures signalling to the human beings in the darkened room, as if the screen were transmitting a fellow-feeling that jumped out of the trees, across the auditorium, into the audience, and back again. In such a world, all things with movement in them might be considered siblings somehow. If city-folk had lost the ability to sense such animism, this cinematograph might bring them back to the mysteries. Perhaps cinema, which Gorky called ‘the kingdom of shadows’, was too savage for him. Or too pagan. But he couldn’t stop himself confessing how engaging it was.
Could it be Gorky you're thinking of? (Bresson is discussed further down that page, but nothing about trees.)
posted by languagehat at 10:55 AM on May 1, 2007

From this page on the history of the earliest films:
In the archives of Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, which his daughter Audrey assembled in years of research, is a tape-recorded interview with the residents of the hamlet Ridge Hill (nearby the later Elstree Studios in Borehamwood), where Cooper began his Alpha Trading Company. The interviewed, now at an advanced age, still remembered with enthusiasm the first film shows they had attended sixty years ago:
'You them mòving. The leaves on the trees moved. You saw someone really waving his hand. It was unbelievable.'
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:01 AM on May 1, 2007

Response by poster: thanks so much, both of you - i think it was gorky. and i picked up a book at the library called in the kingdom of shadows, that has many primary documents about early film, including (surprise!) "in the kingdom of shadows" by maxim gorky.

thanks again!
posted by ethel at 7:48 PM on May 1, 2007

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