Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: 1895

Children Digging for Clams (1895)

This very short film by Auguste and Louis Lumière is typical of their early films demonstrating daily life in motion. It provides a bit of a look at the world of 125 years ago, though mostly leaving you wanting to see more.

A dozen or so children are in a tide pool, using a variety of devices to try to locate clams. Fairly little actual digging takes place; the more prominent children are using something like a spaghetti strainer on a stick to strain through the watery sand and try to pick out larger objects. Some of the older children are paying more attention to the camera than to their ostensible work, though the little ones remain intent on finding clams. A group of adults, mostly women, stands in the background watching. All of the women are dressed in full-length dresses with feather hats, making me wonder if it was a cold day at the beach or if this was just how everyone in France dressed for a day on the beach at the time. The children (mostly girls) have hiked up their skirts in order to wade in the tide pool, and one or two little boys are in short pants. All of them, apart from one very small toddler, are also wearing hats, probably to protect from the sun. Early on in the movie, a mule-drawn cart passes by in the background, filled with children who are enjoying the ride. I get the impression that this represents middle-class children’s entertainment, not the tasks of hard-working French children who hunt clams for a living.

Director: August Lumière

Camera: August Lumière

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 45 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

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.

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.

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.

Leaving the Factory (Alternate) (1896)

When I read that there were “alternate versions” of some of the famous Lumière films shown at Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris, I figured we were talking about re-takes, where the Lumières just made back-up copies for safety. It turns out that they were closer to being re-makes, with completely new set-ups and locations in some cases, as in this one.

Leaving the FactoryThe film itself is, as usual, fifty seconds of workers leaving a factory gate. But, it is distinctly different from the original, which was shot in front of the Lumières’ own workshop, and showed mostly women leaving, as well as (famously) a dog and a horse cart. Here, nearly every figure is male, many of them have bicycles, and the setting is distinctly different. This is not a simple re-framing of the Lumière factory, it appears to be an entirely different factory (at minimum, it is a different exit to their factory), with different workers in the shot.

As we expect from early film, many of the subjects look at the camera with interest. Some even stop and stare, although only for a few seconds each, perhaps because the cameraman instructed them to move out of shot, or because the crowd hurried them on. A couple of women do pass through the shot (apparently walking along the street from some other origin), and the men remove their hats as they pass. Most of the men are in work clothes, but these seem very formal compared to modern dress, and everyone wears a hat or a cap. One man pushes a wheeled basket that could be (?) a pram.

Leaving the Factory1It’s interesting to speculate as to why Lumière chose to remake this movie. Perhaps the response to the first was so positive that they felt the need to provide more versions. Perhaps their limited ability to duplicate meant that they needed extra movies for distribution purposes. Perhaps they wanted to see how it worked under different lighting conditions or there was something of interest to them about the location. Or, perhaps they were simply shooting anything they could think of at the time, to get the most use out of the new camera possible.

Director: Auguste and Louis Lumière

Camera: Auguste or Louis Lumière

Cast: Unknown

Run Time: 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Cordeliers’ Square in Lyon (1895)

Cordeliers Square Lyon

The final movie of the Lumière brothers’ premiere in 1895 was this simple street scene. It’s the sort of movie that serves as photographic evidence of a place, and is thus useful, but not as interesting as most of the others from this set. The street is bustling with activity, and we can see that all of the traffic is horse-drawn, no motorized vehicles are present. Lumière has placed his camera at an angle, producing a photographically pleasing shot, where most of the American cinematographers of the period would have placed it more dead-on. We also get glimpses of nineteenth-century French fashions of the time, with stovepipe hats, long heavy dresses, and many people carrying parasols against the sun. But, because this is a public square, and not the bourgeois confines of the Lumière home, we also get to see some examples of more working-class attire, with uniforms, caps, and work suits in evidence. The architecture is also lovely, and it appears that much has been preserved today.

Alternate Title: Place des Cordeliers à Lyon

Director/Camera: Louis Lumière

Run Time: 35 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Blanket Toss (1895)

Blanket Toss

For tonight’s Lumière Cinématograph picture, we see a display of athletics and humor. Four men hold a blanket while another repeatedly attempts to do a flip over it, failing more often than not. A sixth man, in a (police?) uniform stands by and either helps the man make his flip or chastises him when he misses. Whenever he lands on the blanket, he is immediately tossed off by the men holding it. It seems that his objective is to clear the blanket after his flip, giving this the impression of a kind of training session for slapstick artists. The picture is shot out-of-doors, perhaps in a backyard or garden. The mood seems light, and the men all laugh and enjoy themselves. This is one of the more mysterious of the Lumière movies, without narration, but remains a good demonstration of their ability to reproduce movement.

Alternate Titles: Jumping onto the Blanket, Le Saut à la couverture, Brimade dans une caserne

Director/Camera: Louis Lumière

Run Time: 40 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

A Baby’s Meal (1895)

 Babys Meal

Like “Fishing for Goldfish,” this is another home-movie of the Lumière family relaxing at home. It was also shown at the first screening of Lumière movies in December 1895. Here, we see Auguste Lumière with his wife and child, Andrée. Once again, the baby is the center of attention, as Auguste feeds her from a spoon, then hands her a cracker. Just as she starts to put the cracker in her mouth, she looks up at the camera, and seems to offer it to the audience. No doubt this unexpected action gave the movie a greater emotional impact for those first viewers. For us, the fascination is seeing a child that would be well over 100 years old today. Unfortunately, Andrée was a victim of the influenza epidemic at the end of the First World War, surviving only to the age of 23.

Alternate Titles: Baby’s Dinner, Feeding the Baby, Le Repas de Bébé

Director & Camera: Louis Lumière

Starring Auguste Lumière, Andrée Lumière

Run Time: 35 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

The Blacksmiths (1895)


This is another of the movies the Lumière brothers showed at the world’s first public film screening, at the Salon Indien, Grand Café, 14 Boulevard des Capuchins, Paris on December 28, 1895, beating Edison by about four months. Whereas I’ve emphasized the difference in style between Lumière and Edison in the past, this one seems to emphasize that the Lumières had seen a demonstration of the early Kinetoscope, because it seems to be a French remake of the “Blacksmithing Scene.” This impression is particularly strengthened by the fact that both films end as a character offers a drink to one of the workers – in the American movie, a bottle of beer, in the French, a glass of wine. The other major difference is that where Edison’s people made an incomplete set and shot inside the Black Maria, Louis Lumière appears to have taken the Cinématograph on location or at least done a rather more convincing job of building a blacksmith set. Because of the importance of horses for transportation in the late nineteenth century, there were of course still blacksmiths around to be photographed.

Alternate Title: Les Forgerons

Director/Camera: Louis Lumière

Run Time: 48 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Fishing for Goldfish (1895)

Fishing for Goldfish

This is another of the films shown by the Lumière brothers at their first screening of movies in December, 1895 – the event that marks the birth of cinema. It is a brief film in which a man holds up an infant while the child attempts to grab a goldfish out of a large bowl. It is extraordinary that the baby doesn’t tip the bowl over, spilling water and fish all over. The man is Auguste Lumière, and the child is his daughter, Andrée. The movie demonstrates the “family-oriented” sensibilities of the Lumières. Rather than dancing girls and men in barber shops (as in America at this time), the French are showing us cute children in homey settings. I’m not certain if it was the case that many of the engineers working at Edison were bachelors, or if the Lumières had a stronger sense of attachment to their families, or if this is simply a result of the fact that the Cinématograph was portable, allowing the men to take it home with them, as opposed to the Kinetoscope which had to stay in the studio, and have subjects brought to it to shoot. At any rate, it’s the sort of home movie that many parents would shoot in the ensuing century.

Alternate Title: “La Pêche aux poissons rouges”

Director & Camera: Louis Lumière

Starring: Auguste Lumière, Andrée Lumière

Run Time: 50 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.