Dragoons Crossing the Sâone (1896)
This early short film from Lumière shows a simple military maneuver on horseback. It has some nationalistic implications, but was probably chosen as a subject mostly because it would demonstrate motion effectively.
The camera is set up on the bank from which horsemen are entering the water, facing a pier on the opposite side with two officers watching the crossing. Four horsemen enter first, all shirtless, and proceed to near the middle of the river before others follow. Some of the men fall off their horses and swim alongside as they proceed. Others are able to stay mounted. The film is not long enough for us to see any of them make it onto the other shore, it cuts off as they reach roughly the same line as the pier.
Because of the chosen camera angle, we do not see these soldiers’ faces, just their shirtless backs. In 1896, partly-nude young men might have been a bit of a thrill, at least in some quarters. The movement of the water laterally across the screen contrasts with the movement of the horses and men away from us at a slight diagonal. Simple visual effects like these were common in Lumière actualities – even the angle of the “Train Arriving at La Ciotat Station” seems to be deliberately artistic.
Director: Probably Auguste or Louis Lumière
Camera: Probably Auguste or Louis Lumière
Run Time: 50 secs
You can watch it for free: here.