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This is an approximately 45-second long Lumiere Brothers actuality of
children digging for clams in a tidal pool on a broad beach, with
adults behind them. A donkey cart moves across the middle ground before
exiting the right hand side of the frame. Far in the distance, you can
see other scattered people on the beach, and beyond that, mountains.
This is also known as "Lumiere No. 45".
It is interesting to note the similarity in visual composition between this short and the Lumiere Brothers' Swimming in the Sea (Baignade en mer, 1895). They use the same oblique angle here, only this time it is slightly more complex, being suggested by the tidal pool (and subsequently the children traipsing up and down looking for clams), the two pairs of adults standing along one side of the tidal pool, and the mountains. As in Swimming in the Sea, the oblique exaggerates perspective, providing great depth of field, which is further enhanced by the aerial perspective of the mountains in the distance. This technique appears continually in the Lumiere Brothers actualities.
Another recurrent compositional technique is the Lumiere Brothers' fondness for cyclical action, provided in Children Digging for Clams by the titular youngsters. The action is made even more complex here by the donkey cart and the layering--there are at least four layers of visual interest, counting the mountains, five if we count the expanse of sand between the second layer of adults and the scattered people in the distance.
Unlike many actualities, this short gives a charming, "homey" feeling for the era, putting the viewer right in the middle of this recreational outing. You wish you could pick up a net and participate.
This pleasant and engaging Lumière feature is enjoyable to watch, and
it also shows the feel that Lumière had for choosing subject matter for
his pioneering movies. As simple as it is, the footage of children
digging for clams works in itself, and it can also help to conjure up
other childhood memories and activities.
The children seem to have having a great time, whether or not they catch anything. Their zeal for a simple task (which an adult would probably consider to be work) is similar to many other things that the young do in exploring the natural world, and it is worthwhile just to see such eager innocence.
It's also interesting to note that almost all of the children take no notice of the camera, intent as they are on their quest for clams. One girl, though, very obviously cannot resist an occasional peek at the camera, and it makes for some endearing moments. The nice clothing that the children are wearing (while playing in the mud) just seems to add to the overall effect.
The whole scene is set up nicely, so as to catch a lot in the camera field. It's a simple, pleasant feature of the kind that still retains its appeal even many years later.
Louis Lumiere seemed to have an innate sense of style when composing his
Cinematograph shots; but that sense seems to have failed him here.
Just as he begins cranking, to film children clamming on the beach, a man in the background (possible his brother Auguste) cues a donkey cart - on the left of the screen, loaded with children, and accompanied by adults - to start up and pass in the background as it exits to the right. The children with some deference to the camera continue clamming until the film runs out. Not one of Louis' best.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A couple of young and not-so-young children digging for clams. That includes boys and girls and they seem to be having a fun time in the water with their nets and their attempts to catch clams. Here and there they seem to be even successful and it's nice to see them smiling so happily. It's a good film about how the little and simple things in life can bring you the biggest joy. Very early in these 45 seconds a girl looks into the camera and probably wonders what this man is doing there. Otherwise outstanding are the massive hats the little girls are wearing, already like their grown-up selves in other silent short documentaries. In the end a cute donkey rounds up the picture. Decent short-film all-in-all, nothing outstanding, but the kids' joy put a smile on my face as well.
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