2 August 2004 | Cineanalyst
Narrative Development: Function
(Note: This is the first of four films that I've decided to comment on because they're landmarks of early narrative development in film history. "Le Voyage dans la lune," "The Great Train Robbery" and "Rescued by Rover" are the others.)
George Albert Smith was the most important filmmaker of the so-called "Brighton School." His pioneering use of close-ups is one of his greatest contributions to the development of the art form. He also experimented with editing to make some of the earliest multi-shot films and with trick effects. In the same year as this short film, he made "Grandma's Reading Glass," which is an extravaganza of point-of-view (POV) close-ups. I prefer "As Seen through a Telescope," however, because the use of a POV close-up serves the plot; whereas, a thin story--a boy, like the director, fascinated with magnification--served the parading of POV close-ups in "Grandma's Reading Glass."
"As Seen through a Telescope" begins with an establishing shot. Why a man is outside during daylight looking up at the sky with his small telescope is anyone's guess. Anyhow, the old pervert then uses the telescope to peer over at a younger man tying a woman's shoe. The old man and us see the woman flirtingly pulling up her dress via a POV close-up shot. A mask over the camera lens creates the illusion that we're looking through a telescope.
The third shot returns to the original long shot, where the comicality is that the younger man pushes the voyeur off his seat as he and the woman pass by. Elementary enough, but the use of a POV close-up within something of a narrative is a landmark in film history.
Edwin S. Porter remade this as "The Gay Shoe Clerk" (1903). Besides the story, the main difference between it and "As Seen through a Telescope" is that Porter's close-up wasn't a POV shot, but a privileged camera position.