And like the famed heiress,the women of 1903's “Seashore Frolics” grabbed the attention of gawkers and photographers alike as they bounced around on the sand,creating a spectacle.
Produced by the Edison Manufacturing Co.,as in Thomas Alva,the film is one of 146 pieces in “Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film,” an exhibit that opens Saturday and runs through May 20 at the Phillips Collection.
The art museum is the last stop for the films assembled by the Williams College Museum of Art in Massachusetts on their national tour. The exhibit also includes paintings of similar subjects and historical publications The museum,which is near the Dupont Circle Metro stop,is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It stays open Thursdays until 8:30 p.m.
Visitors can browse 11 rooms of paintings and films listening to an audio tour on their cell phones. The calls are free,but they will use up minutes.
Most of the films catch daily occurrences or recreate common professions.
Nancy M. Mathews,a senior curator with Williams College,pointed out the first film ever made for public viewing,the Edison Co.'s “Blacksmithing Scene,” at a media preview Monday.
The one-minute film,made in 1893,shows three burly men banging an anvil and sharing what Mathews said looks like a beer. Shimmering and shaking on early film stock,the movie ironically plays on a state-of-the-art flat screen.
Mathews said the film isn't the simple project it appears to be. The work filmed at Edison's Black Maria studio,in New Jersey,could give any modern method acting a run for its money.
“This is an elaborate setup for a film,” Mathews said. “This has got to be real blacksmiths. It's not people using these tools for the first time.”
Across the room from the steady stream of smashing steel,a lithograph of moviegoers catches viewers with its bright colors. The print,”Edison's Greatest Marvel,the Vitascope,” sums up the show's comparison between traditional art and early filmmaking.
The films “were shown in existing theaters,some in the Paris Opera House,” Mathews added.
In the print,the beautifully dressed audience of 1896 watches a film projected onto a screen that resembles a huge canvas enclosed in a gold frame. Their perfectly rendered faces appear blissfully ignorant of their historical significance.
Maurice Brazil Prendergast used watercolor to convey motion in his 1899 “Venetian Palaces on the Grand Canal,” catching a similar mood of the film “Panorama of Grand Canal as Seen from a Boat,” produced by the Cinématographe Lumière studio in 1896.
Both attempt to bounce the audience up and down in the Venetian canals as they hang on the museum's white walls. The painting has shadow and hue to work with,while the film,which took a camera on a gondola ride,converted the water into the first dolly track,the steel frame used by today's technicians to move a camera quickly and smoothly.
Susan B. Frank,assistant curator for the Phillips Collection,said this poignant contrast adds something new to the museum.
“Phillips is not known for its technology,” she said. “The challenge was to make technology as discrete as possible.”
And that means both of the dominant media receive equal treatment.
Turning a corner could mean stumbling upon a giant oil canvas or a small screen showing “Sandow,” a film of the great strongman of the same name from 1894 flexing his muscles as if he were in a Calvin Klein commercial from the 1980s.
“This is one of the most thought-provoking and stimulating exhibitions to see in a long time,” Frank said.
The entrance fee is $12 for non-members and $10 for students and those over 62. For more information,visit the museum's Web site.