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Minute Bodies : The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith

2016
Distributed by Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Stuart A. Staples and David Reeve
Directed by Stuart A. Staples
DVD , b&w, 53 min.
Middle School - General Adult
Biology


Reviewed by Jim Hobbs, Online Service Coordinator, Monroe Library, Loyola University, New Orleans, LA

Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 11/9/2018

This assembly of short clips of natural phenomena is less an educational film than an art house midnight feature. There is scant educational or documentary content, only a few lines about the filmmaker at the outset with nothing about the subjects filmed or techniques used. The clips were created by F. Percy Smith in the 1920s and 1930s in the U.K. as part of a film series. From the DVD cover: “Smith worked in the early years of the 20th century, developing various cinematographic and micro-photographic techniques to capture nature’s secrets in action.” He invented and built some of the equipment that created these haunting images. That’s all that we need to know; the film stands on its own. Clips are full motion or stop motion with little physical or time scale. Some images are recognizable: a frog, fingertips, tweezers, bees, ants, mice with Smith, and a greenhouse. It is entrancing and hypnotic, showing plant, fungal, and animal life in movement, fast and slow: being born, growing, reproducing, eating, and being eaten. Seeds germinate and grow, and plant tendrils whip around seeking support. Some unidentified shapes appear immense with an almost geographic appearance, like river deltas; others are like fireworks, fire, or flood. A plant growth sequence includes a period clock with whirling hands. One striking shot shows a miniature musical instrument made with a pin and a button. There is no voiceover to set the scene, instead an original, ethereal score from the alt rock band Tindersticks, mostly instrumental with some nonverbal vocals. Smith’s moons, planets, and shooting stars will captivate and stay with you after the film is over.