The Lumière Brothers and their Fantastic Film Machines – Part 2
After Louis and Auguste Lumière introduced their Cinematograph to the world and turned its hand crank to run the world’s first film in December 1895, they had many offers to buy the dual camera-projection machine. But the brothers Lumière refused all offers. In 1896 they took their Cinématograph show on the road, opening theatres in London, Brussels, and New York and projecting their short, celluloid films.
That year they also shot over 40 “Actualités” – short films about daily life in Lyon and environs. Additionally, they filmed the first newsreel, (of the French Photographic Society conference) and the first documentary (on Lyon’s Fire Department).
First Cinema Auteurs
Next the Lumières and trained a team of operators to use the Cinematograph and to shoot scenes that were screened as “Lumière shots.” The team fanned out from Lyon to capture everyday life and events all over the world from China to Turkey to the U.S. They filmed in a particular style developed by the Lumières which dictated where to place the camera, and basic film grammar, rendering the brothers the first auteurs, according to film historians. All in all, the operators created 1428 shots, many of which run continuously at the museum. (See photo of monitors to right.)
“There’s something extremely cinematographic in the films that Louis Lumière and his cameramen made … He is “the last of the inventors but he’s the first of the filmmakers.”
Thierry Frémaux, director of the Institut Lumière and the Cannes Film Festival
In 1900 the Lumières came up the first surround theatre with the invention of the Photorama. At the museum which I visited in Lyon, you could stand inside the system and watch a street scene of horse drawn carriages and people negotiating the streets of Marseilles. The Photorama used 50mm and 70mm film placed in 12 cameras to shoot the scene. To project it the Photorama employed 12 lenses attached to a circular plate rotating 3X/second that swept past the film in a circular motion, encircling the audience.
As vaudeville theatres began adding the novelty of movies to their repertoire and filmmaking became a business with directors, actors, etc. the Lumières lost interest. “We stopped filming to leave it to the artists,” Louis stated. After 1914 the French influence declined and Hollywood took the reins.
But the Lumières dedication to image making didn’t stop there.
In 1903, after two years of work, Louis came up with what he considered the greatest invention of his life. He developed the autochrome plate, the first color photography process. Dubbed the “blue label” due to the color of the boxes the film came in, the invention allowed people to take photographs by themselves, without depending on a photographer. The process lasted over 30 years and made the Lumières very rich.
Other Lumière Inventions
The brother continued to create photographic materials and invented a precursor to the hologram but they also ventured into other areas. Louis invented a mechanical hand to replace those amputated on WWI soldiers. August came up devised a non-adhesive dressing – the Tulle Gras – that was used for decades to help burn victims. He also founded pharmaceutical laboratories and the medical review. The Frères Lumières patented over 200 inventions before Louis died in 1948 and Auguste died in 1954.
And the last word goes to …
… Thierry Frémaux: “Lumière invented the movie theater. Of course, you can watch films on watches, on iPhones, great. But the movie theater is incomparable.”