Early Parkour (Video) – Background

If you have been practicing for a while, this video has surely been shared with you lot already.
Typically it is titled “Early Parkour” and claims to show footage from the 1930s.

Where is the footage from?

The footage is from the movie “Gizmo!”. “a 1977 documentary film produced and directed by Howard Smith about improbable inventions, and uses old newsreel footage about these inventions.”(1)


Who is in it?

It features footage of “an urban acrobat, John Ciampa (the “Brooklyn Tarzan”), and a stuntman, Arnim Dahl.”(1)
“In the Gizmo! sequence, Ciampa is first seen … Arnim Dahl is then seen jumping on board a tram, and Dahl is featured for the remainder of the sequence.”(2)

When was the footage filmed?

It’s unlikely that the footage is from the 1930s. Dahl & Ciampa both were born in 1922. So only 18 years old in 1940.
The original source for the footage from John Ciampa is from a Paramount newsreel.
It’s licensed by gettyimages and can be streamed. It’s dated March 1942 by gettyimages.

Part 1: http://www.gettyimages.de/detail/video/john-ciampa-at-the-dinner-table-while-his-nachrichtenfilmmaterial/502797969
Part 2: http://www.gettyimages.de/detail/video/year-old-climber-john-ciampa-climbs-up-a-nachrichtenfilmmaterial/502797971
I guess that they are between 20 and 35 years old in the footage. Which would mean that it was filmed in the 40’s or 50’s.

I’ve not yet been able to locate the original source of Arnim Dahls footage. But I suspect it is from promotional work for one of his first movies “Klettermaxe“.
Dahl only started doing stunt-work for movies in 1949, working as a circus artist since 46. Before that he was serving during WW2 and in 1938 won the youth championship in fancy diving.(3)
So his footage most likely is from the 50s or later.
If you know more about the original source of Armin Dahls footage I’d appreciate a hint.

What else?

The movie Gizmo! features more movement related video clips, from acrobatics, people scaling buildings, balancing and so forth.
The End of the movie features two clips of the director talking about the concept of “Gizmo!” 1:12:06 and 1:17:53.

Der Spiegel published a lengthy biography of Armin Dahl, unfortunately only in German. (4)


  1.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gizmo!
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ciampa
  3. “Arnim Dahl wurde bereits 1938 deutscher Jugendmeister im Kunstspringen. Vom Stettiner Stadtgymnasium ging er ohne Abschluss ab und machte dann eine Zimmermanns- und Maurerlehre. Nach dem Kriegsdienst im Zweiten Weltkrieg trat Dahl bereits 1946 in Hamburg als Clown und Zirkusartist auf. Dabei zeigte er bereits eine Vorliebe für waghalsige Drahtseilakte, die ihn später berühmt machen sollten. Ab 1949 trat Dahl als Sensationsdarsteller auch in Filmproduktionen auf. 1952 engagierte ihn der Regisseur Kurt Hoffmann für seine Komödie Klettermaxe als Stuntdouble…” https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnim_Dahl
  4. http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-25655534.html

Research by Samson Saathoff, Februar 2016