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Arab Cortege, Geneva (1896)

Cortège arabe (original title)
Not Rated | | Documentary, Short | 29 June 1898 (USA)
A stationary camera looks across a busy corner toward a store front marked "The Divan." The words "des fees" are beneath. A cortege of Arabs, about 20 persons in the party, walk past; the ... See full summary »

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Storyline

A stationary camera looks across a busy corner toward a store front marked "The Divan." The words "des fees" are beneath. A cortege of Arabs, about 20 persons in the party, walk past; the dignitaries are in front, attended by men with horns and drums. Coming in the other direction are local Swiss, who pay little attention, and a group of native-garbed Africans. The dozen or so well-dressed denizens of Geneva who are sitting on the steps of the Divan take it all in. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Documentary | Short

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Not Rated
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29 June 1898 (USA)  »

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Arab Cortege, Geneva  »

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Filmed on the cinematographe, an invention of Louis Lumiere, which focused on projecting images. It also tripled as a camera, printer and projection device. See more »

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Processionals squared
9 April 2005 | by See all my reviews

This is a Lumiere Brothers short (Lumiere No. 310) lasting approximately 30 seconds. The camera has been placed in the middle of a busy "square" in Geneva, Switzerland. A man who is dressed like an navy admiral passes by in the foreground from right to left as a group of Arab dignitaries, followed by Arab musicians, passes by from left to right. There is also a group of people standing in front of a building with prominent signs saying "The Divan" and "Des Fees". They're looking towards the camera, since the processionals are passing between. A number of presumably Swiss citizens walk in various directions. There are also a couple groups of traditionally dressed Africans passing from right to left.

A number of Lumiere Brothers actualities have a visual compositional theme of "processionals". Arab Cortege, Geneva is one of their shorts that makes the theme the most literal. Most of the action is either of a processional nature, or is of people watching processionals.

In addition to the complexity of the processionals, the composition is also interesting because of the strong sense of chaos, and the relative absence of an impression that the action was staged (as is often the case in these "documentary" shorts). Thus, Arab Cortege, Geneva is not only of great historical interest--how could it not be with so many people of different cultures passing by in such a short period of time with so many different kinds of clothing on--but there's a strong sense of mystery here. The viewer has to wonder just what is going on. Was this area of Geneva frequently like this in the 1890s? It seems more bustling and multicultural than Times Square on all but the busiest days; and the combination of formality of some processionals with the happenstance crowd seems odd to say the least.

Although a number of people do stare at the camera and make it a point to explore from a closer vantage point, the number who do not seem to pay any attention to the camera is surprising. In fact, at one point some bystanders walk right in front of the lens and block the visual composition. We see some kind of cane or pointing stick poke out of the right hand side of the frame, possibly the cameraman attempting to direct the "offenders" to the side. Likely, Lumiere's cinématographe was so novel that many just did not know what it was, and thus paid little attention to it.


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