I Luvz Me Some EADWEARD
You are already familiar with the work of Eadweard Muybridge (born Edward James Muggeridge). His late 19thcentury photographic studies of animals and humans in motion, typically against a dark background of a carefully measured out grid for visual reference, are still used as reference and inspiration to this day.
He’s rightfully recognized as one of the crucial contributors to the development of motion pictures, but even beyond that his work as an inventor and a photographer mark him as an important figure in the history of art and science.
Oh, and he point blank murdered his wife’s lover and got away with it when the jury ruled it justifiable homicide.
wot da hey ?!?!?
Was Muybridge an eccentric, a sociopath, a victim of brain damage, on the autism spectrum, or just plain ol’ bug-fuck crazy? Your guess is as good as mine because there’s a mountain of evidence to support each conclusion.
Eadweard is a 2015 Canadian film that doesn’t come to any firm conclusion re Muybriudge’s mental state but does lean towards a more sympathetic diagnosis.
It picks up Muybridge’s story from the point where he conducted his first motion studies (the famous “Sallie Gardner at a Gallop” series of photos) and met / seduced / was seduced by his soon-to-be wife, Flora Shallcross Stone.
Stone was half her husband’s age (21 to his 42) but his prematurely white hair and odd demeanor made him appear far older (Muybridge had been almost fatally injured in a stagecoach accident in 1860 and apparently suffered brain damage that drastically changed his personality and affected his behavior for the rest of his life).
The movie plays fast and loose with the actual historical record but at least acknowledges this from the beginning. In the film Muybridge’s groundbreaking animal and human locomotion studies at the University of Pennsylvania begin almost immediately on the heels of his first photographic experiments and marriage to Stone; her subsequent adultery with theater critic Harry Larkyns and Muybridge’s murder of same is depicted as occurring over the course of his motion studies.
In reality, his motion studies fell into three distinct periods, with the UP series being the last and his marriage / betrayal / crime / trial falling between the first two.
But writers Josh Epstein (who also produced) and Kyle Rideout (who directed) wisely realize the truth is sometimes better served by ignoring the facts, and the truth they’re going for is what fills that gap between the all too frail human being and their remarkable accomplishments.
You don’t hate Michael Eklund’s interpretation of Muybridge, but you sure can’t like him, either, no matter how many stagecoach wrecks he was in.
Eadweard is a handsomely mounted production and a textbook example of clever low budget film making.
Using real locations as much as possible, Epstein and Rideout give the film a sense of solidity lacking in many larger budgeted productions. Scrupulous attention to period costumes and props help sell the illusion, and their choice of subject matter helps as well; in addition to his motion studies, which were done outdoors to take advantage of natural light, Muybridge also photographed the natural wonders of the American and Canadian West extensively, giving Eadweard a sense of genuine spectacle.
There’s also the matter of copious nudity.
Eadweard shows perhaps the most wholesome full frontal male and female nudity ever featured in a film.
There are sensuous scenes in Eadweard but they don’t involve actual nudity.
When human flesh is depicted, it’s depicted at Muybridge intended: Openly, without shame or hypocrisy, and purely for academic purposes.
If the scenes of male and female subjects going through a variety of common human activities -- climbing ladders, sweeping, pouring water -- strike any emotional chord, it’s playfulness.
In the end Eadweard leaves one deeply appreciative of the innovator and not a little troubled over the individual.
Unlike Muybridge’s photographic motion studies, the movie offers no clear interpretation of what we’re seeing.
© Buzz Dixon