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Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895)
"La sortie des usines Lumière" (original title)

6.9
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A man opens the big gates to the Lumière factory. Through the gateway and a smaller doorway beside it, workers are streaming out, turning either left or right. Most of them are women in ... See full summary »

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A man opens the big gates to the Lumière factory. Through the gateway and a smaller doorway beside it, workers are streaming out, turning either left or right. Most of them are women in long dresses and big hats, but some are men. Suddenly a man with a long apron rushes out through the crowd, followed by a big dog. At last some men on bikes leave the gateway. When all workers have left the factory, the doorkeeper starts closing the gates again. Written by Maths Jesperson {maths.jesperson1@comhem.se}

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Documentary | Short

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22 March 1895 (France)  »

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Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory  »

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1.33 : 1
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It was the first film ever to be projected to a paying audience. See more »

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Firsts: Actuality of Cinema
1 December 2007 | by See all my reviews

This 50-or-so-seconds-long film has held a special place in film history for being the first of ten 50-or-so-seconds-long films to be shown to a paying audience at the Grand Café in Paris on 28 December 1895. This wasn't the first commercial exhibition of cinema; the Skladanosky brothers, for example, had accomplished the feat with their Bioscope nearly two months prior. Still earlier, Charles Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat projected films to a paying audience as early as September 1895. There were also the Latham's, whose experiments in projection were aided by William K.L. Dickson, who was still employed by Thomas Edison at the time. Some historians have made even earlier claims for others. If animated pictures on discs or other non-celluloid materials are included, another host of precedents can be added. Nevertheless, this showing by the Lumière brothers changed the world. It and subsequent presentations were exceedingly popular, and the projection of the films and the films themselves displayed technological and aesthetic advancement over previous equipment and films.

We now know that the Lumière brothers made at least three versions of this film, "Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory", because these exist today. Until recently, however, it was generally believed that there was only one version. In the 1940s, Louis Lumière claimed to have made it once; he also misremembered the approximate date he filmed it. He likely made the three films separately between 19 May 1895 and August 1986. The brothers projected the first version (the one-horse version) at their first private screening on 22 May 1895. The second version (two horses) is the one that appeared on the screen on 28 December 1895. The final version (with no horses) was long believed (still confused to be by some) to be the first film and is still more widely distributed than the others. (For all three versions with the best quality transfer available, see "The Lumière Brothers' First Films" (1996).)

The lightweight of the Lumière Cinématographe, as opposed to the bulky and generally immobile Kinetograph, allowed the Lumière brothers to create a new genre with their actuality films (a genre that, at least for a while, was probably more popular than the earliest fictional story films). Moreover, other advancements made for crisper and steadier films (although contemporaries complained of excessive flickering). The Lumière brothers would consequently be the firsts to largely decide the framing for their subjects. In this one of workers leaving the factory, the framing is essentially a perpendicular long take of the action. It's not quite as interesting as, say, the diagonal framing in "L'Arrivée d'un train" (1896), but the action here doesn't call for it. The camera is also stationary, but one of the Lumière filmmakers, Alexandre Promio, would change that by the following year, such as in "Panorama du Grand Canal vu d'un bateau".

"Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory" is the first so-called actuality film, a proto-documentary genre of early cinema. It is simply a film, as its title implies, of workers exiting the Lumière photographic factory in Lyons to passing out of frame to either side. Its major spectacle is that there's movement--projected on a screen. These actuality films were very popular, for the natural and realistic settings, the variety of subjects that were available, as well as the superior picture quality of the Cinématographe films. This prompted the Edison Company to create their own actuality films, in addition to improving their camera and, eventually, moving to the projection of films. Other early filmmakers, like Robert W. Paul and Georges Méliès, would also begin making films within the actuality genre. Yet, today, it seems apparent that this film and many other so-called actualités are directed--events have been manipulated. The camera is not an invisible recorder; it influences. "L'Arrivée d'un train" and some other actuality films do appear to be undirected, though; some even achieve the metaphoric invisibility of the camera (Louis Le Prince's "Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge" (1888) appears to accomplish it).

Reportedly (including by Méliès), when this film was projected to audiences, the projectionist would temporarily freeze the first frame and then amaze audiences by running the film. Méliès later said of this: "I must admit we were all stupefied as you can understand. I immediately said, 'That's for me. What an extraordinary thing.'"

On an interesting side note, the first projectionist of these showings was Charles Moisson, who also introduced the Lumière's to film, helped them invent the Cinématographe and made some of the company's earlier films. With Francis Doublier (who claims to appear in "Leaving the Lumière Factory"), they photographed the coronation of Tsar Nikolas II, which ended in tragedy when a stand gave way and thousands of people were trampled to death in an ensuing panic. Russian authorities confiscated the film and it was never seen again. On the issue of actuality films, this was a dramatic example of the camera as a relative non-participant of events.

Anyhow, this film, "Leaving the Lumière Factory", is an important landmark in film history, for not only introducing many to cinema, but also for introducing, through their actuality films, a new way of seeing. Within and without the film, the gates were opened.

(Note: This is the fifth in a series of my comments on 10 "firsts" in film history. The other films covered are Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge (1888), Blacksmith Scene (1893), Annabelle Serpentine Dance (1895), The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895), L'Arroseur arose (1895), L'Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat (1896), Panorama du Grand Canal vu d'un bateau (1896), Return of Lifeboat (1897) and Panorama of Eiffel Tower (1900).)


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