To see further and deeper than others, it is necessary to demonstrate a focus which is unwavering, the consequence of which is that peripheries are omitted and disregarded. With its European premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Eadweard is the story of such a man, the complex and driven Eadweard Muybridge, brought to volatile unvarnished life by Michael Eklund (Errors of the Human Body).
Captured in almost every flickering frame projected upon the screen as he struggles to realise a vision which only he can comprehend, Muybridge was a pioneer of early photography whose work on the landscapes of his adopted homeland gave way to a fascination with the movement of the human body which would become an obsession to capture and recreate that motion.
While his name is not so well remembered as those successors, now regarded as pioneers of the art which became cinema, such as Auguste and Louis Lumière or Georges Méliès, the work of Muybridge will be immediately recognisable by all who see it: walking figures, human, horse, elephant, monochrome movement superimposed upon a static grid.
Eadweard is adapted from a stage play by producer Josh Epstein and director Kyle Rideout, himself a former actor who appeared in the original production and has now promoted himself from naked photographic subject to fully clothed photographic subject.
That Muybridge’s achievements were curtailed and his reputation overshadowed is a consequence of the tragic circumstances of his life; a stagecoach accident where he suffered head trauma which turned his hair prematurely white and affected his temperament.
He became argumentative with his assistants and with those who would wish to collaborate with him, with his patron at the university (True Blood‘s Christopher Heyerdahl) who cannot see Muybridge’s cataloguing of the necessarily naked human body in action as other than improper and incompatible with genuine scientific enquiry, and his tender love for his wife Flora (The Vampire Diaries‘ elegant Sara Canning) became tarnished by his jealous possessiveness.
An exquisite period recreation luminously filmed by Tony Mirza, the film is anchored by Eklund’s fearless and unpredictable performance, heading a flawless if understated ensemble, many of whom have served in the trenches of Canada’s booming television industry.
With little known of Muybridge, the man behind the reputation, in the post-screening discussion Rideout and Eklund confirmed that it was an interpretation rather than an attempt at historical veracity and that certain narrative liberties were consciously taken, but in doing so they have crafted an intelligent, engaging and enjoyable exploration of the narrow margin between creative genius and madness which defined “the godfather of cinema.”
What is authentic is the meticulous recreations of Muybridge’s work, the thousands of photographic plates he created which have been preserved, reproduced and examined through the decades and are featured in the closing credits, their settings brought to vivacious and often humorous life, the visions he tirelessly pursued with his primitive equipment charmingly animated but visible only to his eyes.
Eadweard is currently seeking European distribution but can be followed on both Facebook and Twitter