This footage of a man performing on rollerskates for a crowd in a park is thought to be Australia’s earliest surviving film. Patineur Grotesque, aka The Humourous Rollerskater or The Burlesque Roller Skater, was made in Prince Alfred Park, Sydney in 1896 but the exact date is still unknown. Despite this, the film’s first screening was not in Australia, but in Lyon, France on 28 February 1897. It is believed that the film had never been screened in Australia until 2010.
© Association Frères Lumière
The film is one minute long and the action takes place in the centre of the frame. A man in costume on rollerskates performs for a gathering crowd. As part of the act the skater trips and falls, then drops his hat. As he attempts to retrieve the hat he continues to fall about revealing a white hand motif on the seat of his pants as he bend over and flips his coat tails. When, finally, the hat is restored to his head, the act is completed.
Burlesque rollerskating had been included on the stage since the 1880s in Australia and around the world. A burlesque rollerskater was often hired to perform at outside venues such as skating rinks, circuses, aquariums or other places of amusement.
Now also recognised as Australia’s first comedy film, it is interesting to note that French film historian, Georges Sadoul, in his 1973 rewrite of L’invention du Cinéma, refers to Patineur Grotesque as a forerunner to the work of Charlie Chaplin and Max Linder.