Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: 1895

Horse Trick Riding (1895)

Horse Trick Riding

Alternate Titles: La Voltige

This is an early contribution to the genre of slapstick by the Lumière brothers. Its simple plot is of a man’s repeated unsuccessful attempts to mount a horse. The would-be rider appears to be an acrobat, as his falls from the horse are, in general, quite graceful. It’s worth noting that in the world of 1895, horses were far more common, and “horseless carriages” were still novelties. That said, it hardly implies that everyone could actually ride a horse – many were relegated to riding in horse-drawn cabs, or driving horses from wagons. The true working class rode in trams, or simply went about on foot. Horseback riding in Europe was something the well-to-do prided themselves on, although the reality often was that they had little practical experience. Thus, this little vignette might be read as a gentle parody of the type of fop who boasts about his fine riding skills and then proves to have not the slightest idea how to handle himself in the saddle. In that sense, it seems to confirm that the Lumières made films with a higher class of audience in mind, although it is true that poor people like to laugh a rich people making fools of themselves also.

Director: Louis Lumière

Camera: Louis Lumière

Run Time: 46 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Photographical Conference Arrives in Lyon (1895)

Photographical Congress

This is another of the Lumière brothers’ first films, and it cleverly promoted itself to precisely the audience they wanted to market to. A conference of professional photographers was scheduled for Lyon, the city where the Lumières worked. Louis arranged to meet the arriving delegates as they disembarked from a river boat, and photographed them with his new cinematographe. That evening, the film was screened for them using the same cinematographe (which doubled as a camera and projector). All of the delegates had the chance to see themselves on the screen, in motion, as a scene they remembered from only hours before came to life. Naturally, it was a huge success. Watching the film now, it is obvious that the photographers recognize Louis – several of them take off their hats in greeting. A smaller number appear intrigued by the camera, though no one actually stops to stare, and I assume Louis or his brother was telling them to keep moving as they walked by the camera. Once again, as compared to an early Edison film, the angle is artistically arranged and the shoot is done naturalistically on location, not in an artificial studio.

Alternate Titles: Neuville-sur-Saône: Débarquement du congrès des photographes à Lyon

Director: Louis Lumière

Camera: Louis Lumière

Run Time: 48 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

La Mer (1895)

We see a tiny pier sticking diagonally out into the ocean. Some boys scamper along it and leap in, then they make their way through the surf back to shore so that they may repeat the game. That is all.

 La Mer

These few seconds of footage represent what is undeniably the first Beach Party Movie, and my contribution to the Beach Party Blogathon, being hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. I giggled a bit when I first signed up, wondering if I was “cheating” by picking a movie that was less than a minute long, but now I feel a certain obligation to expand on the theme, given that I am talking about the earliest movie in this Blogathon.


What is really going on here?

The movie is short, and it was among the first films ever to be projected before a paying audience. It was shot by Louis Lumière, on the coast of France, probably in the Summer of 1895, while the Lumières were perfecting their “cinematograph” – a device that both shot and projected moving pictures. Along with better known movies, like “Workers Leaving the Factory,” “A Train Coming into a Station,” and “The Sprinkler Sprinkled,” it was shown to a live audience on December 28, 1895, the date that many use to mark the birth of “cinema.” I’m sure that the subject was chosen to emphasize movement. What was significant about this performance is that it was not simply a projection of still images of slides, as with a Magic Lantern. Each shot was chosen to emphasize the “motion” aspect of “motion pictures.” In this case, the kids playing are complemented by the constant roll of the waves, which fill much of the screen. Whereas Edison’s kinetoscope experiments, and later movies, were shot in the cramped quarters of the Black Maria, the Lumiere’s ventured outside (the cinematograph was far more portable), and used the natural landscape as the setting for this movie.

 La Mer1

I said that the figures we see are boys, and the first impression is that they are, but actually the images are so blurred that it’s hard to say for certain. The fourth person who jumps from the jetty seems to be an older girl or woman, to judge by her shape. It’s hard to tell, also whether they are wearing bathing suits or street clothes (and bathing suits were much larger in the nineteenth century, even in liberal France), but it looks to me as if some of the kids have shoes on. While it’s hard to make out the details, what does come across is the sense of play. These figures are not “exercising,” they are not competing in a diving competition, they are having fun for its own sake – jumping into the water for the thrill of it, then bounding back up the beach to experience it once again. It may be because it’s very hot here where I live right now, but it looks to me like a joyous release on a hot summer day.

 La Mer2

We’ll be reading a lot about different kinds of beach party movies over the next few days, and they will all have very different themes and ideas behind them. But, I think there are two parts that will be common to all. First, the sea is a very photogenic subject, as Louis  Lumière realized first. It moves without being asked, it draws the eye and inspires memories and romance. And second, I think all of these movies will have something of that element of play. Oh, I realize that the classic Beach Party films were more focused on the “coming-of-age” and teenage angst and all of that, but, really, the significant thing is that they were always set during summer break, a time when the young people escaped the rigid conformity of school and the supervision of parents to indulge in having fun. That was also something  Lumière hit upon, now nearly 120 years ago.

Everyone have fun this summer.

Alternate Titles: Baignade en mer, The Sea, Bathing in the Sea.

Director/Camera: Louis Lumière

Run Time: 38 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)

Execution of Mary

Alternate Title: The Execution of Mary Stuart

The debate rages boringly on about which movie is the “first narrative film.” I don’t really think knowing which is “first” is all that important (though I’d submit “The Sprinkler Sprinkled” as a good candidate for having a beginning, a middle, and an end); what’s interesting is the way that early filmmakers seem to have constantly edged towards telling stories, even when their technology was frankly inadequate to the task. This movie probably has a good claim on being the first to recreate a historical event, and also is certainly one of the first “trick films,” which uses an edit to achieve a special effect (sorry, Méliès fans, this came before he even had a camera). What we see is a group of people surrounding a chopping block, with one dressed as Mary, who kneels and puts her head on the block as the executioner raises his axe. Then, a quick edit and he lowers the axe to chop off a doll’s head, holding the head up high for all to see. Again, interest in the kinetoscope was already waning in 1895, so the thrilling and gory subject matter may have been an effort to drum up business.

Director: Alfred Clark

Camera: William Heise

Run Time: 28 seconds.

You can watch it for free: here or here.

Princess Ali (1895)

Princess Ali

Alternate Title: Egyptian Dance

I don’t know much about this movie, but it is clearly a Kinetoscope short made in the Black Maria, and was shot in the Spring of 1895, when interest in Kinetoscopes was already starting to flag. It shows a woman in Middle Eastern dress dancing, and may be the first “belly dance video.” There are three musicians behind her, also in what looks to me like Arab costume (one has a turban, they all are in robes). Two of them, at least, are men, while the third is mostly offscreen, so it’s hard to say. According to Charles Musser in The Emergence of Cinema, these were performers brought in from Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. He also makes an allusion, in an interview for “The Invention of Movies,” to belly dancing as a “forbidden” spectacle, something that was shocking at the time. No doubt this was intended to drum up interest even as the novelty of the technology began to wear off.

Director: William Heise

Camera: William Heise

Run Time: 27 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Billy Edwards and the Unknown (1895)

Billy Edwards Fight

This is another quick round of a boxing match, which I assume would have been released along with other rounds, for viewing on a Kinetoscope in sequence. The fighters in this match are short – both noticeably shorter than the referee in the ring, and seem to be quick and determined to get as many hits in as possible before the camera times out. We see the end of the round and one of the fighters returns to his corner and gets fanned by a towel. There are a number of spectators in the background, and one gets the impression that this fight was quite an event, although we are still dealing with the small area of the Black Maria. The fashions are interesting: both fighters sport long mustaches and the ref is in an elaborate evening coat, with a style that reminds me of Severus Snape. Many of the spectators wear stove-pipe hats.

Director: W.K.L. Dickson

Camera: William Heise

Run Time: 31 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

Bauerntanz Zweier Kinder (1895)

Alternate Titles: Italienische Bauerntanz, Italian Folk Dance


I’ve given in to the idea that this week is all about short dance movies, so I thought I’d include another one from the Winterprogramm of Max Skladanowsky. This time, instead of a woman in flowing robes, we get two children in traditional “folk” dress. They move about quite a bit, somewhat alternating between dancing, hopping and running, and they go offscreen occasionally, the requirement of confining themselves to the stage probably being a bit difficult with all that energy. I might translate the title as “Peasant Dance of Two Children,” rather than “Folk Dance,” but the idea is that it hearkens to a more pastoral and innocent condition.

Director: Max Skladanowski

Run Time: 15 secs

You can watch it for free: here (first film in set).


Annabelle Serpentine Dance (1895)

Annabelle Serpentine

Continuing with my theme of 19th-Century dance videos for this week (not what I had planned, but sometimes you follow a lead where it takes you), here is a movie of the same Annabelle Moore I talked about yesterday, taken one year later and formally identified as a “serpentine” dance, as in the case of the German film reviewed on Monday. In this case, we are fortunate to have a hand-tinted color copy preserved, often shown as one of the first examples of color motion picture film. The color adds to the ethereal and unreal qualities of the dance, which again emphasizes the flowing robes of the dancer. The commentator on “Edison: The Invention of the Movies” makes the interesting point that these types of dances were popular film subjects because you could start from anywhere and end anywhere, looping it several times without really interrupting the action or making it seem to jump. This differs it to more linear films like “A Train Coming into a Station” or early narratives like “A Sprinkler Sprinkled.”

Director: WKL Dickson

Camera: William Heise

Starring: Annabelle Moore

Run Time: 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Serpentinen Tanz (1895)

Serpentinen Tanz

This was another of the short films of the Wintergartenprogramm, along with the Boxing Kangaroo and Akrobatisches Potpourri, which represent some of the first projected films in German history. They were made by Max Skladanowski who has been somewhat forgotten as an innovator since his “magic lantern” failed to be as commercially viable as the Lumière projection system. This movie is a brief clip of a woman in flowing clothing doing a “serpentine dance.” Such dances were quite popular subjects in early motion picture film, as they demonstrated motion in an exotic and interesting fashion. To me, the movement on this clip seems a bit jerky – I tried a few different online options and all seemed to be the same – which could be due to bad preservation, bad streaming, or an inferior original, it’s hard to say.

Director: Max Skladanowski

Camera: Max Skaldanowski

Run Time: 10 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Akrobatisches Potpourri (1895)

Akrobatisches Potpourri

This is another of the early films of Germany. Along with “The Boxing Kangaroo” it was shown as part of the “Wintergartenprogramm” by means of projection through a “magic lantern.” What we see is a group of acrobats creating a human pyramid and spinning on an axis. These are the “Grunato family,” who were famous circus performers in Europe at the time. The director was Max Skladonowski, who was attempting to get in ahead of the Lumière brothers as an innovator in projected film, but their camera-and-projector system was superior and he quickly faded into obscurity. Still, this is another interesting peek into 19th-century experimentation with film and nicely demonstrates the kind of “attractions” that were associated with early motion pictures.

Director: Max Skladonowski

Camera: Max Skladonowski

Run Time: 10 secs

You can watch it for free: here (advance to 2:21)