muybridge male nudes
by Douglas Messerli
Eadweard Muybridge (cinematographer) “various male athletes” / 1887
Andrew Toovey (composer and editor) Dutch Dykes (with Eadweard Muybridge moving video) / 2002
In his 1887 collection notebooks, photo albums, and films about 300 male nudes appear, most of these, like his images of women, animals, and nature concerned with locomotion and muscular movement.
None of these are truly erotic, although some of the male figures are kind handsome and virile and may be perceived as some viewers as homoerotic images, particularly the ones that involve the motion of the male penis.
I certainly don’t perceive them that way, although among the wrestlers, walkers, sprinters, jumpers, pole vaulters, discus throwers, and others such as the muscular, bald-headed man who climbs and descends stairs who appears to have a rather erect penis; one commentator comments that that model’s name was Bill Bailey. And there is male-to-male skin contact as one handsome young man puts his hands to the back of another as he leaps over him.
But generally these short “moving pictures” cannot truly be categorized as early LGBTQ movies, but are nonetheless important simply because they represent some of the first portraits of the male nude in motion.
Most of these figures are represented in books and in series of photographic images. But the best collation of the films I have seen, which repeat certain images, slow down others, and frame backwards at moments is gathered in British composer Andrew Toovey’s 6 minute short from 2002, Dutch Dykes (with Eadweard Muybridge moving video) named for his orchestral composition that accompanies the images. By presenting the images in this manner, we can more fully perceive just what the cinematographer was attempting to discern, how the body in motion truly looks. And yes, at moments this collation does slightly eroticize the short clips, allowing us, moreover, more carefully to pursue their faces and other body parts.
If nothing else, the orchestral accompaniment provides the images a sense of comic intensity as we hear in the mostly brass and percussion stutters of sound the more awkward stopping and clumsy motions of the rest of us who cannot match the graceful gestures of the sportsmen depicted.
Los Angeles, April 27, 2021
Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (April 2021).