Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
Every film student at some point has had to look at a set of images that would show the power of motion pictures in a way no one had ever seen before it was made. Those images were of a horse galloping, roughly 16-20 photos showing the horse in different poses that when shown in rapid succession created the appearance of a galloping horse. These images were taken by Eadweard Muybridge (yes, that is how he chose to spell it) in 18-whatever and basically showed the power of sequential photos and how they could create movement. It’s basically one of the foundational images that created cinema and in Exposing Muybridge, we learn about the man that made it happen and his strange and at times controversial life.
Made up largely from talking head interviews, Exposing Muybridge is your standard biography of a historical figure that goes throughout the life of young Edward James Muggeridge, from his childhood in the UK to moving to the US to become a bookseller to that murder he did and then changing his name to the stupidly spelled Eadweard Muybridge (Seriously, he spelled it that way by his own choice, this man was insane) to his photography series that ended up changing the world. With interview subjects ranging from historians to art critics to Gary Oldman, Exposing Muybridge lays out the life and works of one of the most important figures of all time and how some of his famous motion photos may have been fakes.
Laying out the life of Eadweard Muybridge as seriously as possible is enough to make for a fascinating film because the man led a strange and fascinating life (admit it, you had to pause during the last paragraph to make sure you read the word ‘murder’ right?) and for the most part Exposing Muybridge is a fascinating account of this important figure. It goes far beyond the basic stuff you would learn in any film class and explores the man in extensive detail, which also helps you understand his work better.
The fascinating part comes when Exposing Muybridge really decides to look at his work, the reasoning behind even trying to make these photos or the way some of them were quite clearly staged. It’s extensive and well researched and will absolutely make you go “What the fuck?”, which is a strange reaction to have to a documentary about a man who took a bunch of photos of horses and naked lesbians kissing (that’s right, one of the earliest pieces of film is literally just of two women making out… suck it homophobes). His story is undeniably fascinating, full of some genuinely strange moments that are almost so weird that you might wonder about their authenticity but the film is so well researched and handled that it all feels true… and at times, kinda dull.
Even at an hour and a half and with a figure as strange and fascinating as Eadweard Muybridge as the focus, there are a few moments where Exposing Muybridge does drag a little. With a figure like Muybridge in a format as standard as the talking head documentary, there’s a few moments where it’s just undeniable that it’s going to all kind of get a little boring and you will probably drift off… sure, Exposing Muybridge has some power moments like a murder that will pull you back but there’s a slight pacing issue that can just make it feel a little hard to give every element of this story the full attention it deserves.
If you can give it that attention, Exposing Muybridge is genuinely fascinating with a great set of experts really diving deep into one of the most important men in the history of film. It’s absolutely essential for anyone with an interest in film as an artform, and those who just like fun facts about historical figures, just make sure you’re in the right headspace to give it your full attention because while the person might be undeniably fascinating the actual film making is standard documentary style and sometimes that means you might just have a problem focusing.
…and also Eadweard Muybridge is a very stupid way to spell your name.