I have a spreadsheet that contains everything Michael Eklund has acted in and my goal is to watch all of it and blog about as much of it as I can along the way. There will be spoilers.
A psychological drama centered around world-famous turn-of-the-century photographer, Eadweard Muybridge who photographed nude and deformed subjects, became the godfather of cinema, murdered his wife’s lover, and was the last American to receive the justifiable homicide verdict.
Do you know who Eadweard Muybridge is?
I didn’t. Turns out he’s the godfather of cinema, a world famous photographer and the last person to ever be told his murder was completely justified because of jealous rage by the courts. His invention the Zoopraxiscope and his encyclopedia of motion inspired Thomas Edison to create a device to allow the multiple camera setup Muybridge used to be performed by just one camera. He’s got a life made for film, yet I’ve never heard of this movie before. Maybe it’s because it’s Canadian or because it’s about a guy that I had never heard of and wasn’t marketed appropriately. Regardless of the reasons, if you haven’t seen this movie you need to.
Michael stars in the title role, and yes, he grew that epic beard his character is wearing and endured having it bleached out. Here in an interview in which Michael talks about the physical transformation:
The interviews are all like this, Michael loving on the movie and saying he couldn’t see anyone else in that role and that’s one reason he had to go after it. It’s also a helluva lot lighter than the Call which I reviewed previously and this is the first movie he did after the Call.
We go from serial killer Michael Foster to photographer Eadweard Muybridge, and he is a guy who loves his work, so much in fact that he ignores his wife entirely for it. She looks for love and comfort elsewhere (and potentially has a baby from that love and comfort.) It’s this affair that will drive him into jealous rage and lead to a acquittal for murder with justifiable cause. Even with all of this, putting motion into pictures and creating an encyclopedia of movement consumes his every waking moment.
It’s so sad to watch as his connection to this woman (who happens to be twenty years his junior), start so strong at a party with such amazing chemistry and then begins to fade into almost nothing. As someone who also gets caught up in pet projects I know all too well how easy it is to lose sight of life around you and only see what’s directly in front of you. After all, often you’re the only one who believes in the project, maybe you’re the only one who can see its potential.
The movie holds this bittersweet feeling throughout, like the rinds from the lemons Eadweard eats. You can’t help but be happy for Eadweard when he gets the first set of pictures. He’s achieved something after jumping all the hurdles that life has thrown his way, even if no one takes him seriously. You’re still happy even after the second and third time, then you start to worry as his work completely consumes him and he starts to lose the woman he loved so much. She tries to get herself involved asking Eadweard to let her model for him and he turns her down. While working and living with a spouse can be a toll on a marriage, completely ignoring them and photographing nude women and deformities instead of your wife can be too.
This nudity continues when we see Eadweard arguing with the university officials who provided the equipment and assistants and are helping fund his project. He stands toe to toe with the head of the university. They disagree with the nudity in the project, naked (nude Eadweard corrects) women and men do not belong in polite society, they say. Eadweard argues that this isn’t about naked flesh, but about motion and clothing impedes his ability to photograph that. To prove his point, Eadweard strips to the skin on the lawn in front of the university officials and their wives, and proceeds to get his assistants to start a new series of photographs, calling out the subject as, “man walking, age 50.”
On an artistic side, when asked about it the actors mention that it was important to everyone involved that the nudity be captured tastefully. It’s shot in what I can only describe as a sterile way, there’s no sexual gaze to the way the camera shows that the form you’re looking at isn’t clothed. You see them as Eadweard’s cameras see them as they perform whatever task he’s asking of them. To contrast, when we see Eadweard and his wife making love it’s shot in an almost dream-like state.
The movie is so much more than I can review here and I highly recommend giving it a watch. You can watch it on Amazon, or rent/buy it on iTunes. The ending with Eadweard going into a jealous rage is reason enough.
Eklund truly embodies the role and while I know so little about Eadweard Muybridge, this portrayal makes me want to learn more. The gentleness that he put into this role is remarkable and the acting he does with his eyes (thanks giant beard) is intense. If you’re able to get past the clothes you could almost believe this movie was made in modern time rather than the late 1800s, Eadweard’s emotional temperament and tenderness isn’t something you always see for men in movies set in this time.
Let’s sum it up with a fantastic picture from the Edmonton Journal in 2015 promoting the movie. Fun note: throughout the movie Eklund uses his left hand to write even though he’s apparently right-handed.