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Panorama du grand Canal pris d'un bateau (1896)

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1896 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Arrivée en gondole à Venise  »

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First traveling shot in cinema history: camera in a gondola. See more »

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Edited into Louis Lumière (1968) See more »

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The First Travelling Shot
15 December 2010 | by (France) – See all my reviews

This is a wonderfully elegant little film and thoroughly deserves its celebrity but it is almost certainly not the first "travelling shot" in cinema history as is so often claimed.

Alexandre Promio started his career in France in March 1986 (he was one of the men responsible for training the Lumière operators who would subsequently spread out worldwide). He himself was in Spain filming by April and stayed there until June. He was in Russia in July where he gave a command showing (one of many) for the Tsar and Tsarina (the Romanovs were themselves keen photographers).

He was in Italy at the end of the summer and almost certainly in Venice because Lumières opened a hall there in August and were definitely making films in the town. The film of Venice Lumière cat. 291 which appears on IMDb as 'Venice Showing Gondolas' was probably made at this time as was Lumière cat. 292 ('Pigeons sur la Place Saint Marc', missing from IMDb) because both of these films were being shown back in Lyon by early August (August 2 in fact). Ditto, 'Venise, tramway sur le Grand Canal' (shown at Lyon in September) Lumière cat 293. But none of these are panoramas.

There is no record of the two films shot from a Gondola, of which this is one, Lumière cat.295 and 296, being screened back in Lyon until December 1896 and January 1897.

In September Promio was in the US charged with the task of providing "American views" that Lumière could show at Keith's Union Square Theatre (very necessary since Edison and the new company American Mutoscope both finally had mobile cameras and the means of projecting films by the autumn of 1896). He seemingly made a large number of films during the month he spent in the USA (Lumière cat 319-340) and some of these are on IMDb but the remarkable thing is that, out of twenty films, not a single one is a panorama! Yet in his later career, Promio used the panorama as a sort of trademark. Everywhere he went, from Jerusalem to Liverpool, he took scenes from trains and he shot panoramas from boats on the Nile, the Bosphorus, the Mersey. So it is unthinkable that he should not have shot such panoramas in the US if he had already made his celebrated films in Venice before he went there.

In fact it is probably in the US that he first became familiar with the technique because while he was there in September 1896, American Mutoscope brought out a series of panoramas shot in Atlantic City and at Niagara Falls from trolley-cars and trains (all these are on IMDb) and it was Mutoscope who first referred to such film as "panoramas". Although he did not employ the term Edison (or rather James White and William Heise) had in fact shot a panorama earlier (June-July 1896) of the Niagara Falls with a camera fixed to the back of a train but the negatives came out badly and he had to re-shoot a new Niagara Falls series in December. So, if his was the first panorama, it has not survived.

We know that when he left the US at the end of the month, Promio went back to Italy. So it is reasonable to assume that these two panoramas shot in Venice date from this stay (September-December 1896). After that, Promio never looked back. It was panoramas all round the world.

This does not necessarily mean that either William Heise at Edison's or William Dickson at Mutoscope was the first man to take a travelling shot. The honour may still belong to a Lumière cameraman, a Swiss called François-Henri Lavanchy Clarke. He was Lumière's man in Switzerland as well as being the Swiss representative of Lever Brothers and made the first "product placement" film, Les Laveuses, showing women doing their washing amidst cases clearly marked "Sunlight Soap" in both French and German. (This film is also sometimes ascribed to Promio but there is no evidence of his ever having filmed in Switzerland). Lavanchy-Clarke was also responsible for covering the Geneva Exhibition which opened in May 1896 and ran until October. Amongst the attractions there was a "captive balloon" built by Swiss engineer Alexandre Liwentaal, which carried aloft some 400 passengers a day ten at a time (over 2000 ascents in all during the time of the Exhibition). It is entirely possible that the almost totally unknown "Panorama taken from a captive balloon" Lumière cat 995 (on IMDb however under its French title) may be the first "travelling shot" in cinema history.

Pace Orson Welles, the Swiss did not invent the cuckoo-clock (it was the Germans) but they may have invented both product placement in films and the travelling shot.


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