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Lights, Camera, Lumieré
by Bob Brooke

 

Today’s projected movies can be traced back to two brothers from Lyon, France, Louis and Auguste Lumiere. As French inventors, they pioneered an early motion picture camera and projectot called the Cinématographe, from which came the word cinema.

Originally, Louis worked with his father, Antoine, in their photographic equipment manufacturing business. In 1881, 17-year-old Louis invented a new “dry plate” process of developing film, which boosted his father’s business enough to fuel the opening of a new factory in the Lyons suburbs. By 1894, the Lumières were producing some 15 million plates a year.

That year, Antoine Lumière attended an exhibition of Edison’s Kinetoscope in Paris. Upon his return to Lyons, he showed his sons a length of film he had received from one of Edison’s concessionaires; he also told them they should try to develop a cheaper alternative to the peephole film-viewing device and its bulky camera counterpart, the Kinetograph. While the Kinetoscope could only show a motion picture to one individual viewer, Antoine urged Auguste and Louis to work on a way to project film onto a screen, where many people could view it at the same time.

Auguste began the first experiments in the winter of 1894, and by early the following year the brothers had come up with their own device, which they called the Cinématographe. Much smaller and lighter than the Kinetograph, it weighed around 11 pounds and operated with the use of a hand-powered crank. The Cinématographe photographed and projected film at a speed of 16 frames per second, much slower than Edison’s device which recorded images at 48 frames per second. This meant it was less noisy to operate and used less film.

The Lumieres patented several significant processes leading up to their film camera, most notably film perforations, originally invented by Emile Reynaud, as a means of advancing the film through the camera and projector. The original cinématographe had been patented by Léon Guillaume Bouly on February 12, 1892.

The key innovation at the heart of the Cinématographe was the film transport mechanism. Two pins or claws, inserted into the sprocket holes, punched into the celluloid film strip. The pins moved the film along and then retracted, leaving the film stationary during exposure. Louis Lumière designed this process of intermittent movement based on the way in which a sewing machine worked, a tactic that Edison had considered but rejected in favor of continuous movement.

A three-in-one device that could record, develop and project motion pictures, the Cinématographe became the first viable film camera. Using it, the Lumière brothers shot footage of workers at their factory leaving at the end of the day on March 19, 1895. They showed the resulting film, “La Sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière,” or “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory,” on March 22, 1895 at the "Society for the Development of the National Industry" in Paris to an audience of 200 people, one of whom was Léon Gaumont, then director of the company the Comptoir géneral de la photographie. Louis Lumiere’s main focus at the conference was the recent developments in still color photography. But much to his surprise, the moving black and white images from his film projector got more attention than his colored stills.



After a number of other private screenings, the Lumière brothers unveiled the Cinématographe in their first public screening on December 28, 1895, at the Salon Indien du Grand Cafe on Paris’ Boulevard de Capuchines. for about 40 paying visitors and invited relations which has been traditionally regarded as the birth of cinema.

This history-making presentation consisted of 10 short films. The first, La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon—literally, "The Exit from the Lumière Factory in Lyon," lasted only 46 seconds. The longest, Le Jardinier, The Gardener, and Les Forgerons, The Blacksmiths, ran for only 49 seconds each while the shortest, Baignada en mer, Bathing in the Sea, ran for 38 seconds.

WATCH A VIDEO:  The Exit from the Lumiére Factory
 

In early 1896, they opened Cinématographe theaters in London, Brussels, Belgium and New York, as well as visiting Bombay, Montreal, and Buenos Aires. After making more than 40 films that year, mostly scenes of everyday French life, but also the first newsreel of the French Photographic Society conference and the first documentaries about the Lyon Fire Department, they began sending other cameramen-projectionists out into the world to record scenes of life and showcase their invention.

The moving images had an immediate and significant influence on popular culture with the film L'Arrivée d'un Train en Gare de la Ciotat—literally, "The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat," more commonly known as “Arrival of a Train at a Station” and #Carmaux, Défournage du Coke, or “Drawing out the Coke.” Many film historians believe these actuality films, or actualités, to be the first, primitive documentaries. They also made the first steps towards comedy film with the slapstick of “L'Arroseur Arrosé.”

WATCH A VIDEO:  The Arrival of a Train at a Station
 

However, the brothers stated that "the cinema is an invention without any future" and declined to sell their camera to other filmmakers such as Georges Méliès., upsetting many early film makers.

By 1905, the Lumières had withdrawn from the moviemaking business in favor of developing the first practical photographic color process, known as the Lumière Autochrome.

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