Roundhay Garden Scene

 In the history of motion pictures, very few titles have had the lasting impact and social significance of director Louis Le Prince’s film "Roundhay Garden Scene”.

Having no previous works in the genre to build upon, Le Prince was forced to establish many of his own techniques and storytelling elements, which themselves were severely restrained by the limited technology he had to work with.

The film’s premise is simple enough. The action opens with Adolphe Le Prince, Sarah Whitley, Joseph Whitley, and Harriet Hartley, all portraying themselves in the garden of Oakwood Grange.

Adolphe, being the director’s son, naturally was given the lead role, walking across the scene in front of Harriet, who seems to indifferently turn away from him throughout the course of the film, though neither of their motivations are thoroughly explored.

The film was so focused on Aldolphe’s character that the arc of Joseph and Sarah is hardly touched upon before the film’s conclusion. Joseph, in his jacket, which really exhibits the attention to detail in the costume design, was generally a much more enjoyable character than Adolphe, and showed the potential to really steal the show for the few who bother to notice his character.

The relationship between Joseph and Sarah, who is walking backwards throughout the entire film, creates an air of mystery that may be overlooked during a casual viewing of “Roundhay Garden Scene”. Joseph’s implied affection for Sarah is left very open ended, though their brief interaction could be seen as a sign that Joseph’s presence will be the change in Sarah’s life that will set her on the straight and narrow path forward in life.

Harriet’s move toward Sarah and Joseph suggests an element of competition between the two women for Joseph’s affection, which due to the unnecessary focus on Adolphe, is not satisfactorily concluded.

Despite Adolphe’s unconvincingly portrayed character being essentially unnecessary to the overall storyline, he provides a foil for Joseph, whose disappearance behind Sarah at the end of the movie seems to foreshadow a deeper conflict between the two men which could have served as the basis for a sequel.

Sadly, “Roundhay Garden Scene” is a film scarred by real life tragedy. Only ten days after filming, Sarah Whitley died and was buried near the set. The director and cameraman Louis Le Prince disappeared under suspicious circumstances while traveling to the London premier of his film and was presumed to have been murdered. His son, and featured actor Adolphe Le Prince was shot to death in his New York apartment soon after.

In the end, “Roundhay Garden Scene” is ultimately a bold experimental film which really set into stone the basic elements of motion picture making, and though it no longer lives up to today’s cinematic standards, it is a must see for all enthusiasts of motion pictures, and with a remastered version available to watch for free on the internet, there's simply no excuse not to see "Roundhay Garden Scene" at least once.

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