Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Monkeyshines 1 & 2 (1889)


Directed by: W.K.L. Dickson and William Heise

What defines a movie? Is it simply any moving image, or does it need to have certain parameters? What about moving images created by magic lantern effects? What about shadow puppetry, such as people make with their hands or paper cutouts? At what point does a clever trick turn into a cinematic event? These brief examples of early experimentation lie on the border between “movie” and “not a movie.” These were never intended for public viewing (indeed, no projection device existed at the time of creation), they were simply laboratory experiments to see how the camera was working. I always find it a little creepy to watch them: the figures are blurred almost to the point of being non-human blobs, they look almost more like animation than filmed images of people. But, with experiments like these, the technicians at Edison moved the world closer to a new cultural medium.

Run Time: about 45 seconds each

You can watch them for free: here (or by clicking on the image to the right here)

Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station (1895)


Original Title: L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat

Also Known as: Train Coming into a Station

Director: Louis Lumière

I know I keep saying I’m going to do some old Edisons, but I felt like this needed to be covered first. The Lumière brothers, as I’ve said before, developed the first workable camera-and-projector system and this is one of their defining movies, which helped in establishing France as the center of global film production until the beginning of the First World War. This is a simple fifty-second film (the length of most film strips for the first few years), in which a train is seen pulling up to a platform, with the camera placed right at the edge of the platform for maximum effect. There are no edits or camera moves at all. This, like many early films was an “actuality” or documentary film, in which nothing was staged or pre-arranged, the cameraman simply showed up and filmed what happened. Legend has it that people were so shocked by the movement when it was first screened, that they panicked, some fainting or running out of the theater to avoid being hit by the oncoming train. This is almost certainly an urban legend, but it expresses the powerful impact that movies have on an audience, and our ability to suspend disbelief and lose ourselves in the images on the screen. I still get a thrill when I watch it, more because of its historical import than because I think I’ll be crushed by a train.

Run Time: 50 seconds

You can watch it for free: here (though I like the music a bit better here)