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Panorama from the Tower of the Brooklyn Bridge (1899)

Filmed from the Brooklyn tower of the bridge, this is a panorama starting at Manhattan's Battery and then panning northward along the East River shoreline.
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Filmed from the Brooklyn tower of the bridge, this is a panorama starting at Manhattan's Battery and then panning northward along the East River shoreline. Written by Thomas McWilliams <tgm@netcom.com>

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bridge | new york | travel | See All (3) »

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Documentary | Short

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1.36 : 1
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pans, panoramas and circular panoramas
10 December 2015 | by (France) – See all my reviews

It is quite false to believe that there is no camera movement in early films or that decisions to use or not use certain effects were a result or technical backwardness. It is true that close-ups remain relatively rare and that panning in or away from the subject was almost unknown before the 1910s. But it was not have been in the least bit difficult to achieve the former nor would it have been difficult to achieve the latter (by mounting the camera on a dolly) but film-makers were probably worried that such movements would simply be distracting and irritating for the audiences (as in many poor modern films they can be). There are of course several well-known instances of close-ups in films of the 1900s but film-makers long remained chary of their use and in many ways were wise to be so. Overuse of the close-up is again one of worst failings of many modern films. As for panning, there are earlier examples(in the very earliest films of Yevgeny Bauer, for instance) but the ground-breaking Italian epic Cabiria (1914) was principally responsible for popularising what for many years afterwards was known in the US as "a Cabiria shot" (both the pan-in and the pan-out). But panning continued to be used with great moderation and that, as with the close-up, was a matter of choice not of technical incapacity.

Lateral movement of the camera was, on the other hand, not so uncommon. Travelling shots had been in use in the US (principally for "ghost rides" but occasionally for panoramas) since the summer of 1896 and panoramas had had been regular fare everywhere since the autumn and winter of 1896, when they became virtually a trademark of Lumière cinematographers wherever they went. By this time already become something of a cliché. Circular(360 degree)panoramas were also easy enough to achieve but they only came into fashion at the time of the Paris Exposition of 1900 where not only the Lumières but nearly all film-companies made extensive use of them. If this film really were shot in April 1899 it would be an early example but why then should the film not be copyrighted until September 1903. It is far more likely that the date is an error and that it was in fact shot in April 1903, when circular panoramas had become commonplace. Expositions in the US in 1901-2(Pan-American, Charleston) had already provided plenty of excuses for them.


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