Cambridge Film Festival – Eadweard – Review ****

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Kyle Rideout’s debut feature Eadweard, co-written with producer Josh Epstein, is a captivating look at the work of one of photography’s early pioneers, one who ultimately paved the way for the cinema. This tale of movement, obsession and murder is poetry in motion with artistry to burn.

Famed photographer Eadweard Muybridge, (Michael Eklund) tired of the static landscape scenes that made his name, is determined to record the essence of movement in a vast encyclopaedia of locomotion. Initially hailed as a revolutionary scientist, his switch to nude subjects leads to professional and personal friction. His growing mistrust of his wife Flora (Sara Canning) and her relationship with suave newspaper critic Harry Larkyns (Charlie Carrick) sets in motion a deadly series of events the could destroy Eadweard’s life and reputation.

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Eklund’s Muybridge is an odd fish, gangly, loping and unorthodox in look and movement, and a taciturn eater of lemons. He is polite, even courtly with subjects, but capable of great cruelty, which is demonstrated by the animal vivisection and the abuse of “deformed” patients in the name of scientific endeavour. Eklund often resembles a snowy haired Daniel Plainview, hinting at the monomaniacal pursuit of Eadweard’s goals and darkness within. His voice resonates with the deep honeyed burr Daniel Day Lewis brought to the villainous oilman, which was in turn inspired by iconic director John Huston, the movie mastermind behind The Maltese Falcon, The Misfits and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre amongst many more.

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Invoking Huston is no coincidence. Muybridge here becomes the prototypical film director, constantly in fear of losing the light, yelling action to motivate his subjects, throwing tantrums when his instructions are ignored. He is even forced to pitch for funding and convince nervy backers to trust in his vision. His obsession and frustration in working in stills but desperate to capture movement is well realised. He strives for immortality through his images, equating them to fathering a child. The filmmakers seem to have found a kindred spirit. For all the sensational drama in Muybridge’s life, the focus on his work and skill is what shines through.

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Appropriately for a film about “the godfather of cinema” Eadweard is technically assured, with stunningly beautiful compositions from cinematographer Tony Mirza. Elisabeth Olga Tremblay’s clever use of jarring edits creates, like Muybridge’s photographs, the impression of movement within a still frame, while visual effects superbly imitate the Great Man’s motion studies to illuminate how he saw the world. The production design by Rideout is handsome but unfussy, never falling into the fusty museum trap of many a period piece.

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The film is not without its faults, however. Anna Atkinson & Andrew Penner’s all pervasively grating score overplays its idiosyncratic hand, sounding more suitable for a Wes Anderson directed hoedown than an arts biopic. Sara Canning is poorly served by weak characterisation, with Flora’s initial manic-pixie-photo-groupie and subsequent nagging wife personae afforded little of the nuance granted to Muybridge. Elsewhere the wobbly accents of minor players betray its Canadian production, while off screen dialogue suggests budgetary compromise. But as a vital glimpse of a significant figure in cinema’s prehistory these are small caveats to make.

Eadweard was screened at the Cambridge Film Festival and does not currently have a UK general release date. For more information on future screenings click here http://www.motion58.com/films/eadweard/

David is a filmmaker, artist and failed astronaut from Birmingham, UK. His short films have been shown on BBC TV, at the BFI and at BAFTA. Only bats and small dogs are likely to have seen them. He has written for the stage and has exhibited artwork in Birmingham's municipal art gallery. Few can correctly guess his age, to his occasional annoyance.