Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Lumiere Brothers, Auguste and Louis

The first movie poster, 1895. Actually, the headline was not the
name of the movie but that of the movie camera
Auguste and Louis Lumiere, here
photographed in color in 1914. The
Lumiere company later became
pioneers in color film development.
Yesterday I wrote exploring the venerable ancient art of movie posters (both venerable and ancient being relative). One of the more minor exhibits was the movie poster for the Lumiere Brothers' Cinematographie Lumiere (above), said to be the first movie poster ever printed. The film itself was a group of ten short clips each 38 to 49 seconds in length. The total running time was less than five minutes. The "Feature Presentation" was a cute little comedy skit titled The Sprinkler Sprinkled (or words in French to that effect). At 49 seconds in length, it gave rise to the comment that the "coming attractions" ran longer than the feature. In fact, the whole thing was something of a publicity stunt demonstrate the Lumiere camera and projector (basically one and the same). Following their successful debut in Paris on December 28, 1895, the Lumiere Brothers took their show on the road to five major cities around the world (as far away as Bombay and Buenos Aires).
A recreation of the Lumiere brothers making their film debut in the basement
of Paris's Salon Indien du Grand Café, December 28, 1895.
Cinematographie Lumiere. A huge light
source attachment and some reconfiguration
turned the camera into a projector.
Lumiere in French means "light." The two brothers, Auguste (born in 1862) and Louis (born in 1864), using light, came to their movie "careers" not by accident. Their father owned a company making cameras and film, and in fact had invented the "dry plate" process, a development critical to the advancement of motion picture technology. Both boys grew up working in the family business. It was a time in the late 1800s when photographic chemistry and camera improvement were moving forward at a breakneck pace as inventors in France, England, and the United States vied with one another to be the "first" to demonstrate various improvements, one-upping one another, often by merely a matter of days. In America, names like Muybridge, Edison, and Eastman were inventing and perfecting various critical aspects of motion picture technology on virtually a daily basis. By the 1880s, Ottomar Anschutz in Germany was producing pictures that moved (as opposed to moving pictures, which usually suggests projected moving pictures). In England, Robert W. Paul and Birt Acres created the first working 35 mm movie camera early in 1895. Their first demonstration in London of what they called the Theatrograph came less than three weeks after the Lumiere's Paris showing. However only Edison was providing the Lumiere brothers much in the way of competition. His Vitascope had its premier last, in New York in April, 1896, but eventually became the industry standard in both the U.S. and abroad.

The Lumiere Cinemagraphie projector. The wooden box in front is also part of the camera.
The Lumiere Cinemagraphe camera
like that used to shoot the workers
leaving the Lumiere factory, 1895.
What was it like, opening night in Paris as the brothers Lumiere demonstrated their new motion picture technology before a paying crowd for the first time? The klieg light hadn't been invented yet. The carpet wasn't red, there were no balcony seats, and what seats there were strongly resembled folding variety. The "screen" was a bed sheet, and their much-touted projector was something of a fire hazard. (Two years later, 125 people died in a Paris theater when ether, used to fuel the projector, caused the stage curtains to catch fire.)

The film itself (click below to view a portion of it) might best be termed "uneven." The first segment of Lumiere employees leaving work is fascinating for the first fifteen seconds or so but is overlong, and repeated twice. The second segment of the men disembarking a ferry is no better except in that it's blessedly short. The charming family scene as mom and dad feed their messy offspring would be considered cutesy and trite but for the fact it had never been done before. The comedic feature presentation, Sprinkler Sprinkled, is nothing short of a film classic. The guys playing poker are ho-hum except for the chaplinesque little waiter who, in what has to be the worst case of overacting ever filmed, nonetheless steals the show. The train arriving in the La Ciotat station is said to have been the first movie scene ever shot (March, 1895). Unaccustomed to such realism, legend has it the sight of the train appearing to bear down upon them, sent those in the front rows scrambling from their seats (probably apocryphal). Otherwise, the scene at the train station in is not much more than a Paris fashion show. Perhaps most interesting from a cinematic point of view is the segment of the workers breaking down a masonry wall. The Lumiere brothers also ran it in reverse. The wall pops back up. Six other segments have been eliminated from the clip below.

So, what did the talented Lumiere brothers do with their camera/projector and their highly successful movie debut after taking their show on the road. They dropped the ball. They decided that commercial film-making had no future, and instead, turned their attention to developing color photography. In 1903 they patented a process they called "Autochrome Lumière" (used in the portrait photo at top, left). Louis Lumiere died in 1948, Auguste in 1954. Their company continued making photographic products until its merger with the British firm, Ilford, in 1990. Ilford went bankrupt in December, 2013.

The Lumiere Maison in Lyon is now home to the Institute Lumiere,
a museum housing early films and motion picture artifacts.

No comments:

Post a Comment