Clips of Life: The Lumiere Brothers’ First Ten

Sorry, internet. I got distracted yesterday baking cupcakes and completely forgot. Apologies.

The first commercial films were created by two brothers in France in the 1890’s. Auguste and Louis Lumière were the sons of a photographer. Louis began his career developing a commercial grade of film. Once he had the technique, he opened a factory producing these plates. He and his brother would later be inspired by his father’s visit to showing of Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope to work on combining this animation with film. After patenting their successful combination in 1895, they began working on their first run of films. Their film “La Sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière” (“Workers Leaving to Lumière Factory”) is considered to have been the earliest motion picture.

In this year, the brothers made a run of ten films. These documented aspects of daily life in France. What I find interesting is the focus on people leaving things. They have two films of workers leaving their factory and another one of some people leaving a boat. My initial reaction was that it was a strange preoccupation of the brothers, but the more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder if what we’re seeing is a the establishment of something important to the film industry. I once took a class on anime in college. One of the things we discussed was the difference in the type of motion that is characteristic of each medium. While anime is characterized by sliding motions, due to the nature of the layers of drawings moving against one another, film’s niche is really ballistic motion. With film, you can capture something as it moves towards you. You get a bit of this in most of the films seen here.

(Also, as a fun fact, the train film they did in the link below is the first movie to have played in the Ottoman Empire, according to some source I used on a project last year that I don’t remember.)

I also like these because they show simple moments of people’s lives. It cut through our notions of what the past was like and shows us moments of people’s lives as seen by at least two of their contemporaries. I find this most interesting when it comes to gender roles. A lot of people assume that women didn’t work prior to the last several decades. The films of workers leaving a factory show quite clearly that the majority of employees were female. We also see a couple feeding their baby. The husband is at least involved in this activity as the wife, who is drinking tea. Also, this video shows that graham crackers were a thing in the late nineteenth century. I knew this intellectually, but I still found it shocking when I actually saw it. The fact that these moments are just so mundane is something I find comforting. It’s good to remember that people in the past had lives that contained these very simple, familiar moments.



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