The Barbershop (1894)

The Choreography of Layers

The history of anything involves trying to discover the accidents of convention that stuck. Movies could have taken off from any of a number of the already mature arts: especially painting. It turned out — much the worse I fear — to have adjusted to become a continuation of drama, probably starting in earnest with “Birth of a Nation.”

But here we have a very early film, an experiment really, that shows one link that continues today, the link with dance.

I’m particularly fond of modern films that reconnect with the notions of dance — especially the dancing eye of the camera — whether they have explicit dancing in them.

This is framed as a contemporary photograph, which means it inherits the painterly conventions of composition of the time. But see how well the motion is planned in two layers: a foreground and background. This comes from the dance tradition, especially the choreography of the day.

And it has stuck with us all this time as a basic rule. Pretty interesting, that. And accidental too, I surmise.

Posted in 2004

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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