The Big Swallow  

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Extreme close-up from the movie "The Big Swallow" (1901), produced and directed by James Williamson (1855-1933)
Extreme close-up from the movie "The Big Swallow" (1901), produced and directed by James Williamson (1855-1933)

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"The Big Swallow" (1901) aka A Photographic Contortion, produced and directed by James Williamson.

The sales catalog of this film describes the film as "A man reading finds a photographer with his head under a cloth, about to take his picture. He orders him off, approaching nearer and nearer until his head fills the picture, and finally his mouth only occupies the screen. He opens it, and first the camera, then the operator disappear inside. He retires munching him up and expressing great satisfaction."


BFI Screenonline reviewer Michael Brooke points out that despite being, "less bitten by the trick-film bug than his contemporaries," the director, "made one of the most striking genre entries," taking the concept of the concept of extreme close-up photography pioneered by George Albert Smith in Grandma's Reading Glass and Spiders on a Web (both 1900), "a stage further by featuring a man advancing towards the camera, remaining in more or less perfect focus until his mouth appears to swallow the lens."

Although the director's, "purpose was primarily comic (and doubtless inspired by unwanted attention from increasingly savvy passers-by while filming his actuality shorts)," he creates, "one of the most striking genre entries," and, "makes imaginative use of an extreme close-up to create one of the seminal images of early British (and world) cinema, as effective in its way as the slashed eyeball of Un Chien Andalou (1929), and of just as much appeal to the Surrealist movement."

The film, however, "might have been still more effective if Williamson had omitted the second and third shots," in which he, "cuts to the photographer apparently disappearing into a black void, and then back to the man who retires munching him up and expressing great satisfaction, "since they detract from the logical purity of the first, ending on a completely blank screen as the swallowed camera is no longer able to function as a surrogate for the audience's point of view."

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