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Essential Films Canons

Best Film

Worldwide | France | United Kingdom | United States | 1890 | 1888 | 1887 | 1880

Best Artist

Worldwide | France | Germany | Malta | United Kingdom | United States | 1890 | 1889 | 1888 | 1887 | 1886 | 1885 | 1884 | 1883 | 1882 | 1881 | 1880

Best Company

Worldwide | United Kingdom | United States | 1890 | 1889 | 1888 | 1887 | 1886 | 1885 | 1884 | 1883 | 1882 | 1881 | 1880

Best Direction

Worldwide | France | Germany | United Kingdom | 1890 | 1888 | 1887 | 1880

Best Actor

Malta | 1890

Best Cinematography

Worldwide | France | Germany | United Kingdom | 1890 | 1888 | 1887 | 1880

Best Editing

Worldwide | France | 1888

Best Debut

Worldwide | France | Germany | Malta | United Kingdom | United States | 1890 | 1888 | 1887 | 1880
Tuesday
Feb182014

Wordsworth Donisthorpe


Director - Cinematographer | United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland | 1847 - 1914


Wordsworth Donisthorpe started with a wool-combing machine and ended up by making his own moving picture camera. In retrospect, it is easy to see the resemblance in the mechanism between the two machines, but it is surprising that the inventor was a graduate from Cambridge University who qualified as a barrister, that dedicated his life to political activism. Donisthorpe, unlike many of his contemporaries in the field of motion pictures, was neither a photographer, nor a technician keen in the reproduction of movement. What he was interested in was how an individual mind can revolutionise an entire society. The invention of the kinesigraph was for him just one of the many ways through which he could leave his own mark in history.

When we say that Donisthorpe was neither a photographer, nor a motion picture enthusiast, we refer primarily to the fact that neither photography nor cinema were his goals. His primary concern was invention in itself. Moving photography was a field that he could contribute at the time. And it is no surprise that one of his earliest applications for a patent refer to a glass-plate camera. The 1876 application read: “This invention has for its object to facilitate the taking of a succession of photographic pictures at equal intervals of time, in order to record the changes taking place in or the movements of the object being photographed, and also by means of a succession of pictures so taken of any moving object to give to the eye a representation of the object in continuous movement as it appeared when being photographed”[1]. It is without doubt that this is one of the earliest understandings of a film camera. However, it took him another 14 years to record his first film, London's Trafalgar Square (1890), being assisted by William Carr Crofts. This was of course at least two years after fellow mavericks, such as Muybridge, Le Prince or Friese-Greene, had already successfully trialled their own inventions.

After the death of his cousin (Crofts) in 1894, Donisthorpe had little involvement with the world of film, except in assisting his sons in experiments on colour photography and sound motion pictures. London's Trafalgar Square is still the only proof that his camera worked, thus ensuring his place in early cinematic history.

What is important to remember about Donisthorpe, however, is that through his political thought he placed motion pictures at the heart of a humanistic revolution. The motion picture camera was one of the methods in which the individual could express their point of view. The experience of filming is an individual act that is eventually shared through representation, but the message received is still an individualistic one. The camera had the added advantage of allowing us “to retrace our steps in Time”[2]. From a humanist point of view, the film-maker acquires the power of reproducing their own history. Arguably, Wordsworth Donisthorpe’s cinematic failures did lead him to conclude that all film can do is but to create “a barren husk: a soulless phantasm and nothing more”[3]. But, he was wrong, for the phantasm becomes the raison d'être of any cinematic auteur. Donisthorpe, the inventor, taught us to film through the camera lense. There was no artist there to look back at the results.


[1] Herbert, Stephen. Industry, Liberty, and a Vision: Wordsworth Donisthorpe's Kinesigraph; p. 24. London: The Projection Box, 1998.
[2] Herbert, Stephen. Wordsworth Donisthorp. London: Who's Who of Victorian Cinema, 2000.
[3] Herbert, Stephen. Wordsworth Donisthorp. London: Who's Who of Victorian Cinema, 2000.

Essential Films Canon

Best Artist: 1890
Best Direction: 1890
Best Cinematography: 1890
Best Debut: 1890

Filmography

Film:
  1. London's Trafalgar Square (1890)
Director:
  1. London's Trafalgar Square (1890)
Cinematographer:
  1. London's Trafalgar Square (1890)

Links: IMDb - Wikipedia - Amazon