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As Seen Through a Telescope (1900)

An elderly gentleman in a silk hat sits on a stool in front of a store on the main street of town. He has a telescope that he focuses on the ankle of a young woman who is a short distance ... See full summary »
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Storyline

An elderly gentleman in a silk hat sits on a stool in front of a store on the main street of town. He has a telescope that he focuses on the ankle of a young woman who is a short distance away. Her husband catches the gent looking. What will the two men now do? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Genres:

Short | Comedy

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Release Date:

April 1903 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Professor and His Field Glass  »

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1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

 
An excellent early forerunner of 'Rear Window'.
6 February 2001 | by See all my reviews

This comic short has a similar plot to Smith's previous 'Grandma's Reading Glass' - a male protagonist looks at the world through the eyes of an optical instrument. Where the visions of the first film, however, were appropriate to a young boy - curious, novel, fresh, surprising ways of looking at the world as if for the first time (e.g. like the first cinema goers), the development of an individual consciousness as it were - the point of view in this film is typical of an aged lecher, as he gawps at the incipient sexual tease performed by a man and a bicycled woman as he ties up her shoelace, slowly raising her long dress to reveal a titillating glimpse of stockinged leg.

The move here from the encyclopaedic to the sexual and voyeuristic may be symptomatic of the 'wrong' turning taken by cinema, bemoaned by the likes of Godard, away from a curious interest in the world to vulgar, voyeuristic, prurient peepshows. But Smith is no fool, and the clatter the scopophile receives from one of his 'victims' is given to us too - we are no better than this pervert.

The set-up cries out for voyeurism - a distanced shot of an environment offers us a brief glimpse of the couple in the background - the only way we can learn more is with the aid of this man's instrument, significantly more phallic that Grandma's female lens. There is no distortion here, as was the case with the first film, but clarification, a feeling of being close to the action, but apart from it: enjoyment without risk, the dream of every voyeur.

In a sense, this simple plot - voyeur attacked by the man he spies on - foreshadows one of the great masterpieces of cinema and the ultimate analysis of cinematic voyeurism and the invasion of privacy, 'Rear Window'. The man's instrument may be phallic, but it is onanistic and sterile, especially in comparison to the fertile sexual relations presumably to be enjoyed at a later date by the couple. The cinematic gaze is already being made negative, anti-social, hidden, something to be punished, something unhealthy, anti-family, solitary. The watcher must be watched, controlled, as the victim's punitive action suggests.

But it's not that simple. The framing circle of the close-up is linked to the circles of the wheels and pedals of the bicycle, maybe even the circle of life that this courtship intimates, just as Jeff's voyeurism is framed against his reluctance to settle down with his girlfriend. A surprisingly ambiguous, analytical piece of self-reflexive cinema.


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