'Expose Muybridge' Review: Focusing on a Cinematic Pioneer

“ Expose Muybridge an art and science documentary by pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge, comes out less than two weeks after Jor...


Expose Muybridgean art and science documentary by pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge, comes out less than two weeks after Jordan Peele’s “Nope” put a new spotlight on Muybridge’s proto-cinematic images of moving horses.

The documentary, written and directed by Marc Shaffer, is something of a standard, PBS-ready biographical survey, in which talking heads chronicle highlights of Muybridge’s career. By comparison, Thom Andersen’s “Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer” from 1975 made more innovative use of Muybridge’s photographs for visual and narrative purposes. Still, Shaffer spends time on aspects of Muybridge’s legacy that don’t make all the standard rundowns.

Before Muybridge turned his attention to movement, the film notes, he photographed western landscapes. Shaffer follows photographers Byron Wolfe and Mark Klett to Lake Tenaya in California’s Yosemite National Park, where they attempt to locate Muybridge’s original viewpoint. They also analyze photographs of the same place by 20th century photographers Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, to shed light on Muybridge’s distinctive eye as an artist.

Others share their views on Muybridge’s eccentricities. Actor Gary Oldman, a collector of Muybridge’s work who took part in trying to make a Muybridge biopic, presents himself as a serious enthusiast when he exposes the motives and photographs of the photographer. Biographer Marta Braun and art historian Amy Werbel dispute the idea that Muybridge’s motion studies at the University of Pennsylvania should be considered scientific, in line with the university’s ostensible expectations. Film historian Tom Gunning suggests that Muybridge was, unwittingly, some sort of surreal ancestor.

Although starchy in its presentation, “Exposing Muybridge” makes it clear that the images of its subject matter still have much to show us.

Expose Muybridge
Unclassified. Duration: 1h28. Rent or buy on AppleTV, google play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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