The Cinématographe was a vast improvement upon preceding cameras for its lightweight and, thus, easier mobility and for its crisper photography. This provided the Lumière Brothers and Company the opportunity to pioneer how to compose shots, how to treat and direct the action within and outside of the frame and to decide the position of the camera. "L' Arrivée d'un train" was one of their more endearing examples of adroit framing, of positioning of the camera. To me, however, this film, a panorama of a canal in Venice, appears to be even more of a revelation, but seems to get historically lost among the company's many filmic innovations. It is simply a single tracking shot accomplished by placing the camera, tripod and cameraman in a gondola. As they stroll down the canal, the images of buildings, fellow navigators and such shift; the image changes with the mobile framing. This film is very likely--has been credited as much by historians--the first to feature movement of the camera.
And, the man largely responsible for this innovation was Alexandre Promio. Supposedly, after witnessing the Lumière's films, he quit his job as an optician's assistant and took to making films for the Lumière Company. He travelled the world and, in the process, helped introduce cinema to the world.
The original novelty of moving pictures, that which distinguished it from other art forms, was merely that it reproduced motion. Until this film and others like it, the framing in films could just as well be done in painting or still photography. This was also at a time before films consisted of multiple shots and scenes. This was largely for technological reasons; the Latham Loop, which relieves pressure on the film and, thus, allows for more editing and longer pictures, had not yet become a standard piece of equipment. Now, however, there was the motion of the camera in addition to the motion of the subject, making the art form of cinema more unique--creating endless possibilities down the river.
Following this film, the Lumière Company produced various panoramas, affixing the camera to boats, trains, even a rickshaw. In America, reportedly beginning with "The Haverstraw Tunnel" (1897), the phantom rides began, which generally involved positioning the camera on the front of a train--giving audience's the point-of-view of the train, as it and you passed through the scenery, through tunnels and alongside mountain cliffs.
This short actuality film, "Panorama du Grand Canal vu d'un bateau", is available as part of the "The Lumière Brothers' First Films" (1996), which I highly recommend. In that film compilation, narrator Bernard Traverneir relates a story about this film. Supposedly, Promio was afraid that Louis Lumière would be upset with this innovation and apologized in a letter. Lumière, however, was impressed and instructed all of his globe-trotting cameramen to do panoramas. "Panoramas" was his preferred word for it, which was an apt word choice, indeed. "A picture rolled out before the spectator's eyes."
(Note: This is the eighth 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), La Sortie des usines Lumière (1895), L' Arroseur arose (1895), L' Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat (1896), Return of Lifeboat (1897) and Panorama of Eiffel Tower (1900).)
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