James Williamson (film pioneer)

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For other people named James Williamson, see James Williamson (disambiguation).
James Williamson
Excerpt from the movie Fire! directed by Williamson

James Williamson (8 November 1855 – 18 August 1933) was an early film developer and film director.


Williamson was born near Kirkcaldy, Fife, and raised in Edinburgh. In 1868, he moved to London where he was an apprentice to a pharmacist and bought his own pharmacy in 1877. In 1886, he moved to Hove in Sussex.

Williamson originally processed film for other early movie makers and then began production of his own features. Later, he went into the movie equipment manufacturing business with his son Stuart, an engineer.

Williamson's use of action continuity across multiple shots established the basic grammar of film, predating Edwin Porter's use of the same technique by two years. Williamson's films from 1901, "Fire!" and "Stop Thief!", were clearly inspirations for Porter's "Life of an American Fireman" and "The Great Train Robbery," both made in 1903.

One of his most notable and innovative films was The Big Swallow (1901), in which a man eats the cinematographer and his camera. He slowly approaches the viewer, walking into such an extreme close-up that his gaping mouth fills the screen, which goes black. In the same year he directed the film Fire!.

His pharmacy and photographic business was near G. A. Smith's St. Ann's Well Gardens, Hove, which had originally been a health spa.

Selected filmography[edit]


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