Film History Essentials: Passage de Vénus (1874)

(English: Passage of Venus)

What it’s about:

On December 9, 1874, the planet Venus passed directly between the earth and the sun for the first time since 1769, and it was kind of a big deal. The passage is an extremely rare occurrence that has historically had great scientific importance, providing observers with a variety of opportunities for research, refining measurements, and calibrating equipment. This was the first transit of Venus since the invention of photography, and expeditions from all over the world set up observations points across the globe to capture the event. Passage de Vénus is a series of photographs depicting the transit taken in Japan by a French astronomer and a Brazilian engineer.

Why it’s essential:

If you spend any time researching and reading about the birth of film, you’ll soon learn that there isn’t one firm date that everyone can agree on as the starting point for movie history. Cinema emerged over a period of several decades, evolving out of a variety of artistic traditions and advancing through many technological innovations in many different countries. This just happens to be the earliest title listed on the Internet Movie Database. It’s not technically a motion picture at all, and was never conceived as one. It’s merely, as stated, a sequential series of photographs depicting an event. And I say depicting . . . They were produced nearly 150 years ago and they do simulate an image of that time in motion when passed before the eyes of the viewer. However, even though the transit of Venus was successfully photographed by the expedition, none of those plates are known to have survived to the present day. What we have instead appears to be a set of test images taken of a model. It seems that, no matter how far back you go, motion photography is an art of illusion. There’s something decidedly poetic and strangely appropriate about that.

Why you should see it:

Look, if you don’t have 5 seconds to spend watching Passage de Vénus in its entirety, then I don’t know why you’d be reading this at all. As the quote at the top of this page says, “A film is a petrified fountain of thought.” I find a deep satisfaction in witnessing these images from so far in the past, frozen in time. I recommend letting this play through a few different times as you think about the people that made it, the world they lived in, and all the other people who have seen it across all of the years since (and the many viewers yet to come).


~ by Jared on January 1, 2023.

2 Responses to “Film History Essentials: Passage de Vénus (1874)”

  1. […] 20 years after Passage de Vénus captured the first known sequence of images of a body in motion, development of motion picture […]


  2. […] previous president, Jules Janssen (see right), whose “Janssen revolver” captured the transit of Venus in 1874, and later inspired Marey’s own “chronophotographic gun.” At about 0:02 […]


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