Louis Lumière Turns 150: Celebrate the Anniversary of the Movie Pioneer’s Birth

August and Louis Lumière

If you’re a cinema fan, you might want to pause today and say a silent “Happy birthday” to Louis Lumière. Sunday was the 150th anniversary of the French inventor’s birth, and movies as you know them couldn’t have existed without him.

Louis Lumière and his brother, Auguste, were among very first filmmakers. In 1895, the pair, who worked for their own father’s photography business, patented the Cinématographe, which was a first-of-its-kind machine that could shoot, develop, and then project motion pictures. It was a vast improvement on Thomas Edison’s earlier Kinetoscope, which required a viewer to stand with their face in a box to watch the action. The Lumières’ movie machine was meant for a mass audience.

The Lumières put their invention to good use and were among the world’s earliest cinematographers. When they first demonstrated the Cinematographe at the Grand Café in Paris a bit later in 1895, they showed an amazed audience 10 short films, which were each about 50 seconds long. The riveting motion pictures included “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory,” which was exactly what it sounded like (see below).

Though the little movies seem rudimentary now — they’re silent, black and white, and have no plot — they weren’t simply photographic experiments. As director and passionate student of cinema Martin Scorsese said in a lecture last year, the brothers were artists, composing and manipulating scenes from the very beginning.

Speaking about their famous film “Arrival of a Train at a Station,” (see below), Scorsese said, ”This film, by the Lumière brothers in France, is commonly recognized as the first publicly projected film. It was shot in 1895. When you watch it, it really is 1895. The way they dress and the way they move. It’s now and it’s then, at the same time.” The groundbreaking screening of the film is so key to cinematic history that Scorsese recreated it for his 2011 3-D movie Hugo. “The Lumières weren’t just recording events the way they did in Edison’s studio,” he said. “They were really interpreting reality and telling a story with just one angle.”

The screening of the film was such a big success that the brothers made more cameras and sent them on a world tour, spreading the new invention and medium. Interestingly enough, they declined to sell their Cinematographe to other filmmakers; they just didn’t think it would be a big commercial medium. Louis, who died in 1948 at the age of 83, was even alleged to have said cinema is “an invention without a future.” If the lore is true, then his powers of prediction were lacking. But he and his brother’s place in the history of film was already secure.

– Jordan Zakarin (Yahoo Movies)



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