Dream Sequence - History


The dream sequence that Atossa narrates near the beginning of Aeschylus' Athenian tragedy The Persians (472 BCE) may be the first in the history of European theater. The first dream sequence in a film is more contested. Film critic Bob Mondello claims that the first famous movie with a dream sequence was Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. (1942). Predating this, Leslie Halpern claims that the earliest dream sequence was in Edwin S. Porter's Life of an American Fireman (1903). Earlier than either of these, James Walters points out G.A. Smith's use of a dream sequence in Let Me Dream Again (1900), but is careful to note the precariousness of claiming any film the first to feature dream sequence given the rapid transnational development of cinema in its early years and that so many films from the period have been lost.

Walters traces the dream sequence technique of revealing one thing to be another (revealing what the audience thought was a dream to actually be reality), back to magic lantern shows features "slipping" or "slipper" slides in which; some lantern slides for examples would feature two sheets of glass with different images painted on each, say a cocoon and a butterfly. The first sheet would be projected and then the second sheet slid on top of it to reveal a change, such as a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Dream sequences became very popular in the early period of film following this change of phase format. Alongside this technique, a dream sequence which is introduced by a character falling asleep and then entering the dream sequence also became popular via such films as Edwin S. Porter's Dream of the Rarebit Fiend (1906). What is important to note is these films created a model for dream sequences in which a character's inner thoughts are not represented subjectively (from the character's point of view), but from an objective camera angle that gives the audience the impression less of a character having a dream than of being transported alongside the character into a dreamed world in which the character's actions are captured by the camera in the same way they are the films' real fictional worlds.

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