December 28, 1895 [Le Cinématographe Lumière, continued: L'Arroseur arrosé]

With The Sprinkler Sprinkled it seems as if I saw the entire future history of the Cinématographe. Its carefully staged silliness, as fleeting as it is, presages the narrative structure that will surely overwhelm moving pictures. And while I remain bound to the pleasures of the image itself, I also cannot deny the story, as well-worn as it may be: A man is watering a garden. A boy sidles up behind him and steps on the hose, halting the flow. The man is puzzled, eventually peering into the hose—and of course the boy lifts his foot and the man is drenched, his hat flying from his head. He chases the boy, catches him before he leaves the picture's edge, and returns him to the scene of the crime, lowering the boy's head to face the hose, then spanking him for his wrongdoing. The boy leaves the picture, the man resumes sprinkling.

As with other presentations this evening, this one is staged. And while it seems as artificial as La Voltige, in which a man "comically" (and repeatedly) attempts to mount a horse, or the amateur blacksmiths of Les Forgerons, its stiff morality is forgiven to make room for the insistence that photographed action can be purposeful, with a definable arc. I am not left with the impression that the action will continue after the camera turns away, that the subjects will repeat their actions or simply wander off. The fiction is complete, in that all we need to know about the man and boy is already captured; they have no life beyond their little comic drama of crime and punishment. And so I can distance myself from the sight, just as it proclaims its independence from me. It is primarily a story, and its persons simply actors. My emotional involvement lies only with the minor violence of the water, and I am free to laugh at the mischief as well as the retribution. Another remove, then, occurs, from the way I see the world to the comfortably distanced reality imposed by the Cinématographe.


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