Art is a fickle mistress, as has many times been proven the case. An artist’s “destiny” cannot really be predicted, or to be more coldly rational, his/her public evolution and legacy are part of a causal chain with many many factors involved which most of the time are outside of his direct control and subject to wild fluctuations depending on the “spirit of the times” or a given society’s culture, norms and values. Therefore, the conclusion of this causal chain cannot be determined with the insufficient information he/she or any of his/her peers have at the beginning of his/her career.
So it’s no surprise that you have one hit wonders that pop up bright as a comet and fade just as fast. Or on the contrary, slow starters who amaze the world with their talent and skills in the later part of their lives. Or chaotic up and down performances from artists who one day are amazing and then for a while (or a good while) are … disappointing to say the least. Then, some of them have comebacks.
Then, of course, there’s “the greats”. The ones that everyone knows because of their (as much as humanly possible) constant masterful outputs.
But what about those who were “greats”, but for one reason or another, simply disappeared from memory. Yes, as scary and unfair as this sounds for an artist, it happened enough times in our history. Which is why, in a feeble and minor attempt to right some of these injustices, you can read below about 7 pioneer filmmakers lost to time.
1. Francis Martin Duncan
If you like today’s lengthy and informative documentaries (BBC, Discovery, National Geographic etc.), you probably have Mr. Duncan to thank. As he is the first to create a nature documentary in 1903. It’s called “Cheese Mites” and it was done using a combination of still photography and a microscope, which Duncan came up with. It features cheese mites going about their business, as I’m sure you’ll be surprised to find out.
2. James Williamson and George Albert Smith
These two pioneered most of the editing concepts still used today. The idea of creating a narrative by alternating the distance in the shots comes from them. In “Grandma’s Reading Glass” for example, of 1900, you can see the first POV ever. They did other cool stuff too, including breaking the fourth wall in “The Big Swallow” (1901).
3. William Dickson
We can no longer conceive of a movie without sound. But that was the case for a long time. So, thank pioneers like William Dickson who made the very first partially successful attempt at a recording with both video and sound in 1894’s “Dickson Experimental Sound Film”. Though this attempt was on separate supports and not synchronized. However, he claimed he achieved success in 1899 (still well before the first official movie with sound, “The Jazz Singer” of 1927), but this recording has yet to be found.
4. Oscar Micheaux
This man, who was an African-American actor, fought to break some pretty impressive barriers at the time, and succeeded. Namely he made the first lengthy black movie to be shown in a “whites only” cinema. And his movies were shown more than once, including in theaters in Europe, despite being low-budget works as he had constant financial, legal and technical obstacles.
5. The Skladanowsky brothers
Everyone knows another set of brothers (the Lumieres) as the inventors of public cinema. But, surprisingly, the Skladanowsky brothers are the absolute first to have had a screening of a series of 9 second movies for which the audience paid to see. And all of this happened on the 1st of November 1985, a few weeks before the famous Lumieres premiere. But the projection system which the latter had was better, so they were remembered while the Skladanowskys were not.
6. Jean Painleve
This man managed (among many other achievements), to invent the technology needed for making the first underwater photos and movies, at the dawn of cinematography. Watch his documentary of 1934 “L’Hippocampe” in which he filmed sea-horses underwater.
7. Alice Guy-Blanche
Perhaps fiction is one of the most important things in art, with its ability to broaden mental horizons and its impulse for us to use our imagination. As the Lumieres’ screening of just a year earlier was still very much something that the world was trying to get used to, and all early movies shown presented facts of life, realities, Alice made a short about a woman magically picking babies from a cabbage patch. It’s called La Fee au Choux (The Cabbage Fairy) and it was filmed in 1896.