Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit viff.org and follow VIFF on Twitter at @viffest.
Eadweard, a highly dramatized biopic of legendary American photographer Eadweard Muybridge, uses the man’s theories of motion as a cinematic means of expression, authentically rendering a sense of his craft and genius in spite of the film’s obvious anachronistic tendencies and appeal to creative license. Special effects at times produce photograph like motion, wherein tracers of objects and people are seen as they move about. This is presumably how Muybridge saw life, and it is what he brought to the art form: photographs streamed together like a flip book to trick the eye into seeing motion. What would later be termed “critical flicker fusion”, the phenomenon of seeing motion when photographs are presented at a high flicker rate, typically 24 frames per second, was first tested and tried by Muybridge, who is seen in the film using 24 cameras to crank out motion pictures.
Beginning in 1867, Muybridge is seen photographing mountains in either Alaska or Northern British Columbia. In this intriguing scene, the use of lights and colour filtration help to creatively evoke Muybridge’s sense of innovation, as he slightly opens his tent to reveal his developed photograph. What follows is a series of events which showcase Eadweard Muybridge develop his craft, from his first meeting with Thomas Edison (Tom in the film) to University solicitation to unorthodox science experiments. Beneath this documentary of Eadweard’s work is a fictional account of his relationship with wife Flora, whose lover he was to kill in a crime of passion. He would notoriously be judged innocent in the last American ruling of ‘justifiable murder’.
What’s especially appealing is Eadweard’s mise-en-scene. From costumes to props, Rideout has ensured a fascinating and seemingly accurate depiction of a historic time. The use of overexposure, or perhaps post-produced brightness, well complements the many uses of white garments and objects. A slight aura is found around people and objects, as if illuminating them in the manner of photography. It is truly quite an enjoyable vision.
Remarkable as Eadweard Muybridge is Michael Eklund, whose charisma carries the film to superior heights. If not for his authentic performance and believability, the film may not have worked. Eadweard, quite frankly, is full of anachronistic dialogue, not because of the ideas beings stated which are certainly informed, but because of the language and cultural subtext of all relations. The film’s appeal to creative license makes it seem far too contemporary at times, with characters saying things like “holy shit” and using many modern colloquialisms. The film is also marred by an over-dramatization of Eadweard’s romantic relationship and committal of murder, which works on a fictional level but underserves the film’s biopic responsibilities. The film thus straddles between drama and document, and thus never realizes either mode to its fullest extent.
Remarkable as Eadweard Muybridge is Michael Eklund, whose charisma carries the film to superior heights. If not for his authentic performance and believability, the film may not have worked.