Melbourne Cup 1896: Still or moving image?

Melbourne Cup 1896: Still or moving image?
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This clip shows a group of men posing for the camera at the 1896 Melbourne Cup. Unfamiliar with moving image, the men remain still as if posing for a photograph. A horse gallops into the foreground and blocks our view until Walter Barnett, the film’s producer, gives the horse a pat on its rump. Summary by Elizabeth Taggart-Speers.

With the early introduction of moving image film, people tended to remain still, as did the camera.

Melbourne Cup 1896 synopsis

This film documents the 1896 Melbourne Cup horse race including footage of the crowd watching the race.

Melbourne Cup 1896 curator's notes

Marius Sestier shot this film using a Lumiere Cinématographe that he balanced on a tripod to ensure the camera remained steady.

This film is one of the earliest Australian films to tell a story by presenting the footage in chronological order. The Bulletin (28 November 1896) commented how 'beautifully appropriate’ it was 'that the first Australian picture presented by the new machine should be a horse race’.

Melbourne Cup 1896 was screened not only in Australia, but also in London, St Petersburg and Paris soon after the first French cinema was opened that same year. It was believed to be Australia’s earliest surviving film until the discovery of Patineur Grotesque (1896), which Sestier shot only a few days prior to the Melbourne Cup.

Throughout the film you can see Walter Barnett, the producer of the film, encouraging action and movement by directing the crowd to wave their hats. Although this film is recorded as actuality footage, this manipulation of the action not only indicates the general unfamiliarity people had with moving image but also puts a personal perspective onto Sestier’s story.

Notes by Elizabeth Taggart-Speers

Henry Walter Barnett
Marius Sestier