Grandma’s Reading Glass (1900)
Director: George Albert Smith
Cast: Harold Smith
Synopsis: A boy looks through glasses at various objects, seen magnified.
Could it be that George Albert Smith’s landmark film Grandma’s Reading Glass contains one of cinema’s earliest examples of product placement in a movie? In the film’s very first shot, seen in close-up within a circular mask to denote the point of view of an observer through the titular reading glass, we see a newspaper advert for “Bovril — an appetising sandwich (for Henley?)” before the screen reverts to a standard medium shot of a young boy at a table at which his Grandmother is seated. As Gran sorts through her knitting or sewing, the boy plays with her magnified reading glass, and for the first time in cinema’s history we’re treated to a point of view shot of a character within a film. The boy first examines the inner workings of a pocket watch before turning his attention to a bird in the cage to his right. Then, in the film’s most striking image, we see a close-up of Grandma’s eye rolling wildly for a few moments. Finally, the curious boy studies a small cat for a short while.
Grandma’s Reading Glass provides us not only with the first POV shot, but also an example of primitive editing as it cuts from the boy’s perspective to a medium shot of he and his Granny, repeating the process on a number of occasions. It’s not exactly exciting stuff when seen today, but it was groundbreaking back in 1900 and marks another tiny progression in the development of cinema. Although Smith masks the lens to give the impression of looking through the reading glass (a tactic more commonly used to indicate the view of someone peering through a telescope) there’s no real sense of the image at which he’s looking being magnified in any way. Nevertheless, Grandma’s Reading Glass stands out as something a little different from an age when filmmakers were struggling to come up with ways of entertaining their audiences.
(Reviewed 9th September 2014)