August 24, 1901 [What Happened on Twenty-Third Street, New York]

Considering the title, at first nothing. Like so many street-scene actualities, it blandly records the street, the passers-by—who, as usual, refuse in large part to be performers, choosing instead to look directly at the camera, forcing the audience to be the ones seemingly observed. But I trusted the title, and waited for something to happen.

A couple approaches the camera, with that self-consciously casual gait that marks the performer, setting themselves off from the actual persons in the frame—whose world becomes artifice in the service of performance—not more beautiful than the world itself, but arranged and plotted, so that it appears more real than ourselves.

But reality, of a sort, re-asserts itself. As the couple passes over a grate, the woman's dress billows up, and we see her legs—a moment that is at first comic, but also erotic—yes, in a facile, juvenile manner—and most important, brief, one of those fleeting moments the cinema seems to discover, almost accidentally—although of course contrived; but still affecting because it is short-lived, the eye barely able to capture it before it passes—and in that brief passage the mind enlarges the moment until one is all but certain that one has seen more than one actually did. I have seen—well, if not my share of ladies' legs, enough to keep me acquainted; but I believe (with some disquiet) that the actual legs will fade away, and the cinematic ones will fill my memory, superseding all others—which in turn will themselves become "cinematic," remembered as motion pictures.


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