As a great film fan, I’ve had enormous fun over the past couple of years trying to spot telescopes in the movies, and have been able to call it research for the book the Museum recently published on the history of the telescope.
One of my favourite is an early film called As Seen Through the Telescope, directed in 1900 by George Albert Smith. It’s a simple tale in which a dodgy old man uses his telescope to have a good look at a couple across the street. It’s also interesting as an early example of action cut across successive shots, with the viewer sharing what he sees: the young man’s hands caressing the woman’s foot and ankle, shown within a circular mask to mimic the telescopic view. In case you’re worried, the voyeur doesn’t go unrewarded – at the end of the film the younger man punches him. Perhaps that’s why it was called L’astronome indiscret in France.
For those with time to spare, here are some of the telescopic films I’ve enjoyed:
Rear Window – A classic Hitchcock which explores the ethical issues raised by our irrestistible urge to peek at our neighbours
A Short Film about Love – Krzysztof Kieslowski takes on the same issues with less laughs
Notorious – another great Hitchcock. Check out the scene at the races – a witty touch with the binoculars
Storm over Mont Blanc – Leni Riefenstahl falls in love with a meteorologist, saves his life and abandons her large telescope for the kitchen
Contact – Jodie Foster wrestles with science, faith and telescopic evidence
The Dish – you’ll believe a radio telescope can be a film star
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – not the greatest film, but it does use telescopes for some really unsophisticated humour
For those interested, I’ll be talking about some telescopic film stars in a couple of weeks at our conference, The Long View: 400 Years of the Telescope.