Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Month: September, 2017

Card Party (1895)

One of the first films shot by the Lumière brothers (although not included among the original ten screened at the first screening of their movies in December, 1895), this movie was remade by Georges Méliès and also by the Lumières themselves.

A group of three men sit at a table on a porch or patio, rapidly throwing cards down as their game progresses. One of them calls over a waiter while the others collect up the cards for a new hand. The waiter scurries off and returns with wine and some glasses on a tray, setting the whole out in front of the man who ordered. He opens the wine and begins pouring while the waiter watches the other two men playing. The wine is distributed among the men after another hand rapidly concludes, and the waiter gestures with excitement as one of them card players wins. Each man downs a good bit of wine, and the waiter continues applauding. The men set down their glasses and begin another hand as the film ends.

The waiter is really the most interesting character in the movie. He is very animated in his interest in the game, and gives the audience a kind of emotional center to what would otherwise be a pretty boring minute of footage. He seems much more invested in the outcome of the game than either of the players, and is also very eager to run and get the wine. The other men are much more subdued, although they do take a healthy draught of their wine.

Director: Louis Lumière

Camera: Probably Louis Lumière

Starring: Antoine Lumière, Antoine Féraud, Félicien Trewey, Alphonse Winckler

You can watch it for free: here.

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Snowball Fight (1897)

This short movie from Lumière depicts an outdoor scene with many people in motion, which would have been visually exciting at the time. It is typical of their ability to take cameras on location in the very early days of film making, something which their American competitors at Edison were still finding difficult.

The camera is focused on a pathway made through a snow-covered city street. On both side of the pathway, several men and women are engaged in a snowball fight. A cyclist comes forward upon the path towards the fight, and is hit by a couple snowballs as he approaches. He continues riding towards the snowball-armed melee and is struck successively by several nearby participants as he comes between them, losing control of his bicycle and falling to the ground. His cap is flung onto the pathway. One male participant in the engagement grabs a hold of the cyclist’s bicycle and lifts it off the ground, and the fallen cyclist scrambles to his feet and yanks his bicycle away from the participant. After retrieving possession of his bicycle, the cyclist gets atop and rides away from the fight in the same direction he came from. He leaves his cap behind at the scene of his fall.

When I saw the title of this film, I expected another Lumière movie featuring children, but in this case most of the characters appear to be adults or at least teenagers. Most of the men have mustaches. Unlike the Edison pillow fight movies, I don’t think that there was intended to be anything racy about this fight – the participants are heavily bundled up and the spirit of the thing seems to be mostly in good fun. It holds up in that sense 120 years later.

Director: Unknown, possibly Auguste or Louis Lumière

Camera: Unknown, possibly Auguste or Louis Lumière

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here (no music).

Poultry Yard (1896)

This simple actuality short from Lumière shows a common agricultural activity, where others like “Workers Leaving the Factory” and “Carmaux Drawing Out the Coke” show common industrial ones. This represents the life of a great many French people at the time it was recorded.

We see two small girls in a yard behind a farmhouse, throwing bits of grain among a large flock of birds, most of which appear to be ducks, although I see at least one chicken in the mix as well. A grown woman passes in the background, briefly looking at the girls as they work, then moving out of camera range. The older girl has her grain in a bucket, the younger one’s grain is in her apron. The younger girl frequently looks at her sister, seeming to try to imitate her movements, as if she is not quite certain how to perform the task.

This movie is similar to the Edison film “Feeding the Doves,” although it gives a more domestic view of farm life by showing children and (possibly) their mother as sharing in the chores. That said, it seems to have less historical interest, just showing that both companies were looking for subjects in day-to-day activities, and not yet all that worried about stories or even especially interesting images.

Director: Unknown, possibly Auguste or Louis Lumière

Camera: Unknown, possibly Auguste or Louis Lumière

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Carmaux, Drawing Out the Coke (1896)

This industrial actuality short from Lumière shows the work environment that the factory owners who invented motion pictures took as standard. We see part of the process of refining coal for fuel.

A stationary camera faces the opening of a smelter, and a large brick of coke comes out of the opening slowly while a man sprays water to cool it. Other workers hit it with rakes to break it apart and spread it out. Meanwhile, the bustle of labor goes on in the background as other workers pass through the frame.

For someone studying industrial processes from the turn of the century, this might be of some interest, but it’s not an especially outstanding Lumière brothers movie. I was hoping for a dramatic spray of steam when the water hit the coke, but there was no such reaction. The most interesting part is seeing the workers break it apart, but even at fifty seconds, this one is sort of dull. Still, where a process like this would surely be automated today, in the late nineteenth century, the work was still done with human hands, and that makes it a bit more interesting.

Director: Unknown, probably Auguste or Louis Lumière

Camera: Unknown, probably Auguste or Louis Lumière

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Transformation by Hats (1895)

This short film by Lumière confirms that the French company had realized at least some of the comedic possibilities of film, despite mostly being remembered for actualities today. Along with “The Sprinkler Sprinkled,” this movie stands as among the very first attempts at intentionally funny cinema.

A man sits on a stool and places one hat after another on his head, often adding false whiskers, noses, or wigs to transform his appearance. With each new headpiece, he displays a different personality, often obviously campy or goofy. His first performance involves driving a team of horses. His second appears to be taking or tearing tickets. The third is a sea captain or officer. The fourth wears a tall white top hat and a large nose, and he sneezes into a handkerchief. The fourth is a black top hat with a mustache, and he seems to be telling an amusing story. The final performance ages him into an old man, also interacting with someone off-screen.

All of this in less than a minute! It’s a shame that this performer’s name appears to be lost to history, because he might be said to be the first film comedian. His performances are frenzied and brief, but it’s pretty impressive how he transforms himself under the camera’s eye and instantly gets into character. The characters are often somewhat similar (the last two make nearly identical gestures, for example), but he obviously has a range of ability. It’s conceivable that the Lumière brothers imagined that one day actors would use film reels like these as resumes to demonstrate their range to producers.

Director: Probably August or Louis Lumière

Camera: Probably August or Louis Lumière

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Blogathon Announcement: Food in Film

This is just a short post to announce my participation in the “Food in Film” Blogathon, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings, November 3-5 (not sure which day I’ll be posting yet).

I will be reviewing the early Max Linder comedy “Troubles of a Grasswidower” (1908), which is a classic situational comedy in which Max’s wife goes home to mother and he has to learn to fend for himself – cleaning, shopping, and cooking. How will Max fare in the kitchen? Check back here to find out. Thanks to Kristina and Ruth for hosting!

Demolition of a Wall (1895)

This short film from Lumière shows a bit of demolition techniques from the fin-de-siécle, and gave Auguste Lumière a chance to appear before camera. Dramatic tension is built as we watch the work proceed to its inevitable climax.

Lumière stands with his back to the camera, overseeing some workers as they attempt to push over a thick section of a wall in an already-partially-demolished building. One worker is pressing the wall inwards with a jackscrew, while another is pushing it with a pick. Finally, the wall collapses, and hits the ground, throwing up a cloud of dust. The workers now begin breaking it apart with their picks, both the collapsed portion and a small still-standing section below where the wall broke as it fell.

I assume that the Lumières chose this subject as a part of their ordinary work day, bringing the camera along to document something that was going on anyway, which they hoped would provide some visual interest. They had the freedom to do this because their camera was small and light weight, while the Edison camera was pretty well confined to the Black Maria. Seeing this made me reflect on how interesting it would be to have recordings of day-to-day operations at the Edison plant, but unfortunately, no such movies were made that I know of.

Director: Probably Louis Lumière

Camera: Probably Louis Lumière

Starring: Auguste Lumière

Run Time: 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Lion, London Zoological Garden (1896)

This early short from Lumière demonstrates the conditions at London zoos at the turn of the century, and also serves as an early nature documentary. It is one of the “location” movies that the Lumière brothers made by sending men with cameras all over Europe and the world.

A male lion is shown in a cage at quite close range, while a zoo attendant tosses small pieces of meat into the cage. The lion eats them, but also takes occasional swipes at the attendant’s hand when he is too slow to toss fresh pieces inside. The attendant moves around the cage, trying to find a better position from which to toss, but has to move back when the lion follows him out of camera range.

The small lion cage will probably upset animal lovers today. It reminds me of the cages that big cats were kept in at the Central Park Zoo when I was a child, though happily that zoo has become more humane in recent years. I suspect that the zoo worker would have preferred to stand at a better distance from the cat’s claws, but for the purposes of the film he needed to be close. The animal is quite impressive and large, and looks like he could take the worker’s arm off if he wanted to. I also imagine that the small pieces of meat were a convention of the movie – surely you would usually give an animal this size something more to chew on.

Director: Unknown

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Childish Quarrel (1896)

This short Lumière film shows the propensity of the Lumière brothers for showing films of family life, which were comparably rare from Edison at the time. Two infants are shown having difficulty learning to share.

Two babies in high chairs are next to one another with trays that seem to hold food and toys. They are wearing similar petticoats and hats. One is playing with a large spoon, and the other (who seems to be slightly larger) reaches for it. When her sister will not relinquish the spoon, she starts to hit, eventually wresting the spoon away from her. Now the smaller one begins to cry, and the elder seems to feel some remorse. She tries to give the spoon back, but the other child is too deep into her tantrum to notice.

This movie will probably remind parents and others who have been around small children of many similar situations. I couldn’t tell for certain whether either of these children was Andrée Lumière, who we saw in “A Baby’s Meal,” but I suspect that one of them is. The elder child looks to the camera from time to time, and looks as though she may be receiving coaching from off camera as well. Hopefully no one told her to hit her sister!

Director: Probably Auguste or Louis Lumière

Camera: Probably Auguste or Louis Lumière

Starring: Unknown, possibly Andrée Lumière

Run Time: 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Promenade of Ostriches, Paris Botanical Gardens (1896)

This early short movie from Lumière gives a view of Parisian leisure and childhood at the fin-de-siécle. The fashions will probably fascinate modern viewers more than the animals did at the time.

A parade of animals bearing children is shown at an angle on a path in a park. First there is a cart drawn by an ostrich, with two girls and a boy in it. The ostrich is led by a man in work clothes, but the children are decked out in their Sunday dress, including large hats. Next in line is larger cart drawn by two donkeys, with four passengers, who appear to be older girls, and a male driver. They are followed by two ponies, each with a rider (one girl, one boy), also being led by a zoo worker. A camel with a very small child on top is led by the next man. She seems to be accompanied by her mother or an older sibling, but we only get to see the legs of the second camel rider. Bringing up the rear of the parade is two elephants with riders (one is a baby), but they are mostly out of frame so we only get a glimpse of the kids bouncing up and down on the platform on the larger elephant’s back. The film continues for a few seconds after the parade passes, so we get to see several Parisian adults taking strolls with parasols in the park, and also a view of this section of the park in more detail.

There is a powerful view of class at work in this movie, as we contrast the simple work clothes of the zoo workers with the elaborate frills of the children and the long dresses and silk top hats worn by some of the other park-goers. We do see a couple of men in straw hats and simple jackets who pass in front of the camera as well, giving one more view into the fashion of the time. The children all seem to be well behaved and mild – none are excited or crying – and the workers frequently look into the camera as they approach. This movie is listed as “Lumière #4” on the DVD I saw it on, but it was not one of the original ten movies screened in December, 1895, so I’m assuming that imdb is correct in identifying it as an 1896 film.

Director: Probably Auguste or Louis Lumière

Camera: Probably Auguste or Louis Lumière

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.