Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Lumiere Brothers

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.

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

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Playing Cards (Alternate) (1896)

This remake may be the first example of colorization of a previously-made film. However, unlike Ted Turner, the Lumière Brothers did not take a “classic” black & white movie and add color, they re-shot the whole thing and added color! Try doing that with the opening sequence to the “Wizard of Oz,” Ted!

Playing CardsAs in the original “Card Party” we see a group of three men sitting around a table, playing cards. One of them is wearing a green cap or beret and the other has a green vest. A woman in a colorful dress sits behind them, apparently kibitzing, and she is the one served wine by the maid. As the men continue their playing, she pours out several glasses of wine for them, and the one nearest her is distracted from the game to take the glass of wine. Another man stands in the background, watching the game and also passing out the glasses once the woman has finished pouring.

When I watch this, I find that my attention is on the woman for most of the movie. It could be her pink checked dress that distracts me, but I find her actions more visually interesting than those of the men, engrossed as they are in a game that I don’t know and can’t follow. The question of “what will happen with the wine” is more compelling to me than “who’s winning the game.” The colors are somewhat subdued, suggesting either deterioration or a two-color process. The colors are also limited only to certain garments, no attempt was made to hand-color the entire scene. I have compared this to the original, but I’ve been unable to identify any of the actors as being the same men, so I’m not sure who’s in this, but the Lumières often used neighbors and family members for their movies.

Director: Auguste or Louis Lumière

Camera: Auguste or Louis Lumière

Cast: Unknown

Run Time: 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Arrival of a Train (Alternate) (1896)

Again, this is a Lumière remake of one of their best-known films. As with “Leaving the Factory” there is more than enough information to make it clear that this is not a simply “re-take” done at the same time as the better-known “Train Coming into a Station,” but it also isn’t meant to be an entirely different film.

Arrival of a TrainHere, the camera is set quite far back on the platform, and the train travels across the screen at an angle away from it, toward the right corner. We only see a few seconds of the train in motion before the doors open and people flood out onto the platform. The crowd passes by the camera, and we see rows of people as they go by, making this similar to watch to “Leaving the Factory,” which also shows crowds of people as they pass. The people we see are mostly men, mostly middle-aged, and mostly well-dressed. As in “Leaving the Factory,” everyone wears a hat. Many of the men have mustaches, some have beards, and only a few younger men are clean-shaven. The women are consistently above forty five, while the men’s ages vary greatly. From the way people are dressed, it appears that this is winter – we see many overcoats and furs. Again, many people look at the camera, although no one stops to stare at it (they’d probably get knocked over by the crowd behind!).

Arrival of a Train1There is a well-known story that when the original “Arrival” was screened, people panicked, fainted, or ran away from the screen, fearful of being crushed by the moving train. It is tempting to suggest that this is the reason why the Lumières remade it with the camera at a more discreet distance, but unfortunately the current consensus is that this story is a myth. It’s still conceivable that they were trying for a less “dramatic” effect by moving the camera and emphasizing the crowd, rather than the train itself. Or, it could be that they couldn’t get permission to use the close position because this station was so much busier than La Ciotat, where the first one was filmed, and they needed to keep back from the crowd of passengers departing. At any rate, the two films make an interesting contrast and show the difference that can be achieved through a very small change in camera angle.

Director: Auguste or Louis Lumière

Camera: Auguste or Louis Lumière

Cast: Unknown

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)

Blacksmiths

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.