Mug Shot

Subject for the Rogue’s Gallery
K: A.E. Weed. P: American Mutoscope & Biograph Company. USA 1904
Print: Library of Congress

“This remarkable film shows a woman being subjected to a mug shot. The police brutally pin her in place. She attempts to resist the mug shot by making ridiculous faces. She begins to cry, and then the film ends. A few odd feet of footage, apparently taken after the actress’s scene was over, then follow. It’s not clear why–perhaps to reassure audiences that it was all a fake?
The film depicts the power of police authority in the 1900s. The woman is exposed, subject to a ruthless mechanical and human gaze. Her attempts to subvert it can only fail. The audience sympathizes with her desire to avoid being identified, but viewers also inevitably identify with authority–our point of view becomes nearly the same as that of the police camera, and the actress is made fascinating to the viewer by the long, slow zoom.
A. E. Weed operated the camera for the film. The slow zoom towards her face is very unusual for the time and adds a great deal to the film’s effect. We don’t know if this was the whole film, or only part, and if so we have no idea what part. Filmakers had to submit an example of their work to the Library of Congress to secure copyright. They often submitted fragments of longer films, smaller parts designed to represent the character, subject matter, and cast of the whole film. In other cases, the Library of Congress received the entire film.”
The Early Cinema

A.E. Weed‘s career as a Director of Photography for the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company did not last long, but he was solid and innovative, like his compeer, the better remembered Billy Bitzer. In this one, we have a tracking shot, starting from a long distance into a close up as policemen restrain a woman for her mug shot — and she does some mugging to enliven the piece.
Biograph’s cameramen were experimenting at this point in order to spice up their shows — Weed would spend most of the remainder of his career shooting short actualities of local interest, like schools in Missouri. His work here would evolve eventually into the grammar of cinema, but at this point, it was not the method, but the point of the piece.”
The Moving Camera, 3.11.2010