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The Lumière Brothers' First Films (1996)

 -  Documentary | History
7.6
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Ratings: 7.6/10 from 289 users  
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A collection of short films made by the Lumiere brothers, a team of pioneering filmmakers in turn-of-the-century France.

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Title: The Lumière Brothers' First Films (1996)

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Cast

Credited cast:
Mrs. Auguste Lumiere ...
Herself (from 'Repas de bébé (1895)') (as Mrs. Margaret Lumière)
Antoine Lumière ...
Himself - Lumières' Father, Playing Cards (from 'Partie d'écarte (1895)')
Auguste Lumière ...
Himself (from 'Repas de bébé (1895)')
...
Narrator
Félicien Trewey ...
Himself - Playing Cards (from 'Partie d'écarte (1895)')
M. Winckler ...
Himself - Playing Cards (from 'Partie d'écarte (1895)')
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A collection of short films made by the Lumiere brothers, a team of pioneering filmmakers in turn-of-the-century France.

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Narrator Bernard Tavernier credits all others orally when they appear in the movie. See more »

Connections

Edited from Patineur grotesque (1896) See more »

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A Means to an End
15 April 2004 | by See all my reviews

28 December 1895 is a date of memorization for film students, but was the Lumière Brothers' Cinématographe projections of 50-seconds scenes at the Grand Café in Paris the first display of cinema to a paying audience? No, the Skladanowsky brothers accomplished the feat on 1 November of the same year with their Bioskop. In the U.S., the Lathams and the partnership of Thomas Armat and C. Francis Jenkins did likewise earlier that year. Projected reproduced motion not on celluloid film strips has a history going back further. To the credit of narrator Bertrand Tavernier and to the discredit of many historians, he didn't make the claim; he even quickly acknowledged inventors preceding the Lumière Brothers. Anyhow, this film is not a documentary about the lives and accomplishment of the two, but is a compilation of their films, most of them made by Louis Lumière, or cameramen who traveled the globe. It's an excellent source for a film student.

The Cinématographe was a vast improvement upon Dickson and Edison's Kinetograph, which was immobile. The Cinématographe, however, at 7,25 kg. (16 lb.), could be taken outside of a "Black Maria"; hence, the Lumière films are called actualities. Additionally, the Cinématographe was reversible--working efficiently as a camera, projector and printer. Contemporaries also remarked on the superior quality of its projected images (although they also complained about its excessive flickering).

Besides producing better moving pictures than Edison's company and others, Louis Lumière would master such basics as directing subjects in and out of frame, distance and composition and, thanks in large part to Alexandre Promio, tracking shots, or panoramas. The panoramas consisted of placing the camera on a moving object, such as a boat or a train. One film is in a shaky camera fashion with children chasing after the camera and cameraman who are sitting in a rickshaw. Street documentation was a particular obsession, Tavernier noted. A shot of action with the Sphinx and Pyramid as background, a scene of opium smokers, and a view of a colonist throwing grains to children are some of the most interesting films, at least from a historical perspective. The Lumière company not only made interesting films by taking their camera around the world, but also introduced the world to cinema. Additionally, there is probably the first film of a filmmaker filming. In another scene, the director waves his hand within frame to usher the passerby subjects. A trick shot involving those dangerous cars, a serpentine dance, and a puppet show of a "happy skeleton" are the more cinematically challenging productions; yet, those are attempts at duplicating the innovations of others, who had by then surpassed the Lumiéres. Louis Lumière said, "The cinema is an invention without a future", but Georges Méliès and others were proving both brothers wrong when Louis was finishing his film career.

Tavernier's narration was generally a welcomed addition to watching the films, but he did exaggerate occasionally, as do many so enthusiastic about their subject. Although my favorite film of theirs, I wouldn't err as to say "Arrivee d'un train" (1895) was the first masterpiece and the first horror film. At other times, though, Tavernier gives humorous comments. To a scene of the French Army using and abusing a horse by doing disorganized gymnastics atop and into it, Tavernier remarked, "By just seeing the film, you can see why we lost so many wars." Moreover, he provides some useful information, such as a explanation of the multiple shots of factory workers leaving, and why, for apparently 95 years, historians have been incorrect about their first film made 19 March 1895. If one wants to see the films by the Lumière brothers, this is the best means to that end that I know of--not only are their most popular handful or so films available here, but their later productions (many not made by either brother) are, as well. And, the restoration and transfer are remarkably crisp.


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