Rough Sea at Dover  (1896)

5.3 / 10

The sea is quite rough, and at Dover a series of heavy waves pounds against a pier and along the adjacent shoreline. The scene then shifts to a different view of flowing water, and shows a heavy current from a point along a riverbank.

Country United Kingdom

Genre Documentary, Short

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Rough Sea at Dover (1895)

Michael Brooke | BFI screenonline | www.screenonline.org.uk | English

One of the oldest surviving British films, Rough Sea at Dover was shot in 1895 and intended for exhibition in peephole kinetoscopes. Birt Acres, a professional photographer, shot the film with a camera designed and built by R.W.Paul, based on Thomas Edison's invention (Paul took advantage of Edison's failure to copyright his kinetoscope in Britain).
The film received its premiere (or, to be strictly accurate, its projected premiere in front of an audience) on 14 January 1896 at the Royal Photographic Society in Hanover Street, London - the first public film screening in Britain, a month after the Lumière Brothers showed their films in Paris. It seems to have been a success, as projected screenings were subsequently a regular feature of RPS meetings.
Rough Sea at Dover subsequently crossed the Atlantic, being included in a programme shown on April 23 at Koster and Bial's Music Hall in New York, alongside films made by Edison's company. The projectionist was Edwin S Porter, who would go on to make the pioneering American films The Life of an American Fireman (1901) and The Great Train Robbery (1903).
Although the content of Rough Sea at Dover - nothing more than waves crashing against a pier - might seem of no particular interest even at the time it was made, it provides an excellent illustration of the type of subject favoured by cinema pioneers.
Water was seen as being particularly filmic, because its constant ebb and flow provided continuous movement from frame to frame, and audiences would doubtless have thrilled at what appeared to be the alarming closeness of the waves. At this stage in the medium's development, this in itself was enough to attract interest - and Rough Sea at Dover went on to become one of the most popular and widely-screened of all early British films.
Michael Brooke
*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilations 'Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers' and 'R.W. Paul: The Collected Films 1895-1908'.

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