Voyeurism and Early Cinema

Related Exhibition Exposed

Tuesday, February 01, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

Phyllis Wattis Theater

With the emergence of the moving picture in the late nineteenth century, the theater quickly became a new space for voyeurism and cinema became a vehicle for exhibitionism — perfect complements. Hidden in darkened movie houses, filmgoers quickly settled into their new roles as spectators and voyeurs. The collection of short films demonstrates early cinema's preoccupation with the thrill of looking; films include Peeping Tom (Par le trou de serrure) from 1901 and the pioneer of the Western genre The Great Train Robbery (1903), which is noted for the villain's direct gaze at the audience.

Image: Peeping Tom (Par le trou de serrure) (still), 1901, Pathe Films/Ferdinand Zecca. Preserved by the Library of Congress.

All prints are courtesy of the Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies archive at the Library of Congress, part of their Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.