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Grandma's Reading Glass (1900)

A boy looks through glasses at various objects, seen magnified.


Harold Smith




Credited cast:
Harold Smith ... Willy - the little grandson


Demonstrating the brand-new technique of close-up through the use of a circular mask, the director alternates medium shots with extreme point-of-view shots to simulate the magnification of various objects. As a sweet grandmother organises her sewing basket, Willy, her inquisitive little grandson, plays with her magnifying glass to look at the inside of a pocket watch, only to soon turn his attention to a caged bird, grandmother's rolling eye, and lastly, a well-fed cat. Written by Nick Riganas

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Short | Family


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This film was considered lost until it was re-found in the collection of Peter Elfelt in 1960. See more »


Featured in Silent Britain (2006) See more »

User Reviews

POV Close-Up Parade
7 March 2008 | by CineanalystSee all my reviews

In my comments on "As Seen Through a Telescope", I said that I preferred it to this film, "Grandma's Reading Glass" (which was made the same month and year and by the same director), because this film is merely a parading of point-of-view (POV) close-up shots of supposedly magnified things. The story is: a boy looks through a large magnifying glass (his grandmother's reading glass) at various objects, including his grandmother's eye. The set is primitive and the tight camera framing makes it seem small. The shadows make it obvious that it was made at an open-air stage.

"As Seen Through a Telescope", however, has a single POV close-up that functions within a narrative. And, its fictional story takes place outside. An analogy that seems somewhat appropriate is that "Grandma's Reading Glass" is like the modern-day special effects blockbuster that neglects further insight and compelling plot. Looking at a remake of each film further illustrates this point. Biograph's "Grandpa's Reading Glass" (1902) serves the same purpose of this film: to thrill with its novel trick. "The Gay Shoe Clerk" (1903), Porter's version of "As Seen Through a Telescope", however, is less of a clone; its setting and even its close-up is presented from a different perspective--the more standard one rather than a POV. George Albert Smith made at least one more POV close-up film in 1900, "Spiders on a Web", which is only a one-shot film of spiders (but, oddly, no web).

Regardless, "Grandma's Reading Glass" is noteworthy as an early example of POV close-ups inserted within something of a narrative. By 1900, story films of multiple shots still weren't the norm and had only recently come into existence. Film editing was only about five years old.

Another thing on a historical note: there's been some controversy surrounding the author of this film, but there shouldn't be. Some, although it would seem lacking sufficient evidence, have claimed that Arthur Melbourne Cooper made this film and a few other films attributed to Smith. This controversy originated from Melbourne Cooper himself, who made such claims to his daughter, Audrey Wadowska. Tjitte De Vries has recently argued the Melbourne Cooper claim. On the other end, Stephen Bottomore and Frank Gray, in the journal "Film History", have gone a long way to discredit these claims. Nevertheless, MOMA has attributed their copy of the film to Melbourne Cooper and the Wikipedia website (as of this date), among other places, is full of unfounded claims for Melbourne Cooper in their section on him.

The evidence for Melbourne Cooper, as of now, is entirely based on, at best, secondhand accounts originating from the memory of a now deceased man, and more likely originating from his faulty memory, or, at worst, his self-aggrandizing lies. Very little is known for certain about Melbourne Cooper's early film-making career, and his entire career isn't very well known, either; on the other hand, Smith's surviving financial records have made his film-making career probably the best documented of early British filmmakers. Concerning this film, Bottomore (in "Smith versus Melbourne-Cooper: An End to the Dispute") has pointed out that there's no documentation of an association between Smith and Melbourne Cooper, that the Warwick Trading Company grouped this film with other uncontested Smith films in its 1900 catalogue, and that the Charles Urban Trading Company credited Smith as the author of this film and others, contested and uncontested, in their 1903 catalogue. Moreover, the little boy in this film is probably Smith's son, Harold, who also appears in uncontested Smith films. The same tabby cat with a ribbon in this film probably appears in uncontested Smith films, as well. In addition, Smith's financial records reveal that he had the equipment--the camera masks--to make the POV close-ups. De Vries even admits now that "As Seen Through a Telescope", which demonstrates the same unique feature, was made by Smith.

G.A. Smith was one of film's most important pioneers. In addition to the POV close-up insert shot in these 1900 films, he helped introduce many developments in editing and camera placement within early story films, as well as some trick effects and a color cinematography process. In many respects, his films were the most advanced at the time--even surpassing those made by more acclaimed contemporaries Edwin Porter and Georges Méliès.

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Release Date:

November 1900 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

A nagymama nagyítója See more »

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