Roundhay Garden Scene: The Victorian Era Comes Alive (1888)

A year after his first motion picture, Louis Le Prince filmed Roundhay Garden Scene at his in-laws house in England. Like Man Walking Around a Corner, the movie is brief at 2.11 seconds, but offers a significantly clearer picture than the earlier effort. 

The movie ‘stars’ Le Prince’s family engaging in a short trounce in front of their home. The four principal actors are Sarah and Joseph Whitley, (the parents of Le Prince’s wife), as well as Le Prince’s son Adolphe and family friend Annie Hartley. The participants seem to be engaging in a dance for the camera, with Adolphe and Hartley taking centre stage. 

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 2.57.00 PM.pngThe short was filmed on Le Prince’s LPCCP Type-1 MkII single lens camera, and offers an improved quality from the last model. The cut was remastered in 1931 by the National Science Museum, presenting a 20 frame copy of the original film. This version also inverted the scene so the house was on the right of the frame to pertain to Western ‘right-to-left’ reading preferences. Unfortunately, it seems that this edit damaged what is now the right side of the image, as a filmstrip bar is noticeable running along the edge of the frame. The film was later digitally remastered with the image reversed to the original orientation and a further 32 frames were added to the picture. The digitally remastered version is widely available online.

Le Prince’s first film was merely an experiment in capturing motion, and the testing continued into Roundhay Garden Scene. However, this film is more complex then its predecessor, and it offers uniques challenges that were unfounded in the previous Le Prince picture. For example, this movie included four actors, rather than one, and a clearer quality. The goal of the movie was to display motion to Le Prince’s stakeholders, and it seems that the company decided to represent this through dance. The movie must account for blocking, staying in frame, and establishing a unique motion for each actor. While experimental in conception, the resulting film has all the qualities of a carefully-directed movie. Unwittingly, Le Prince invented the art of directing with Roundhay Garden Scene


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