Demolishing and Building Up the Star Theatre (1901)
Director: Frederick S. Armitage
Synopsis: Time-lapse photography is used to show the manual dismantling and demolition of New York’s Star Theatre over a period of about 30 days.
By 1901 audiences were fed up with everyday scenes captured on film — and why shouldn’t they be? The novelty of moving images had long since worn thin, and if they wanted to see scenes of everyday life all they had to do was step outside the theatre. Filmmakers were therefore forced to dream up more inventive subjects for their movies — although, for some reason, what seems like the obvious idea of telling a story wouldn’t occur to them for another couple of years yet. There’s no doubt that telling a simple story would have been a lot easier for Biograph filmmaker WKL Dickson than shooting this film of the demolishing of the Star Theatre.
Dickson set up his camera across the street from the theatre before demolition work began and created a method for shooting one exposure every four minutes for eight hours a day in order to capture the time-lapse effect the audience sees. When the film was distributed, the footage of the building’s demolition was reversed so that it appeared to be rising from the rubble once more. It was a trick that the Lumiere brothers had pulled five years earlier with their Demolition d’un mur, but that effort showed just one wall being demolished and then magically resurrected. Dickson’s film is on a much grander scale, and it probably impressed audiences at the turn of the last century, but today that smaller-scale picture looks more impressive because the original action takes place over a period of seconds, rather than 30 days. A strange film — interesting, yet dull at the same time.
(Reviewed 9th September 2014)