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A pair of French brothers, standing with a group of researchers, turned the crank on a cinematographe – a special machine capable of recording and projecting images. The screening, believed to be the first of its kind, occurred on July 11, 1895 using technology created three years before by Leon Bouly. The moving picture industry was born.
The Lumieres, like many others who have risen to fame with new technology, were not inventors by trade. Bouly’s work to invent the cinematographe had been done, but he had found little use for it and was unable to maintain the patents necessary to keep his grip on the proprietary design. In 1894, the Lumieres claimed rights to the name and set their engineers to work on replicating and refining the machine. The changes were both cosmetic and practical – the crank was moved to the side and a tripod installed for steadier shots during filming.
Showing the results of their work to scientists was just the first step for the brothers. The private July screening would be the first in history, but it would be just six weeks before a public demonstration. On September 28, 1895, the Lumieres packed up the cinematographe and made the trip to La Ciotat in the southwest of France. Setting up at L’Eden, the first cinema in the world, the Lumieres showed the fruits of their labors – most likely a short recording of workers leaving their factory which had produced earlier in the year.
Three months later, on December 28, 1895, the Lumieres made another in a series of world-changing decisions: they opted to charge admission. In just a handful of performances up to this point, the brothers had merely invited people to see the cinematographe at work. This presentation, at the Salon Indien du Grand Café, would give Parisians the opportunity to see ten short pictures for a small fee. Each of the film rolls was more than fifty feet long, an impressive length considering the fact none of the shows were longer than 49 seconds.
Audiences were stunned by the realism. Having had a successful opening in Paris, the Lumieres spent 1896 on tour – London, New York, Buenos Aires and Mumbai, amongst others, all witnessed the new technology. The brothers had incidentally invented the first genres, too: “actualites” that many consider the ancestors of the modern documentary and a comedy, The Gardener.
Though a number of contemporaries had come up with their own designs for a cinematographe, the Lumieres felt “the cinema is an invention without a future,” refusing to sell the product to budding movie directors and eventually discarding the device altogether. Eight years later, the pair would turn to a fresh idea in order to cement their legacy: the Autochrome Lumiere, a process capable of producing color photographs.
Last Updated on: July 4, 2012