The Lumière brothers

Four frames from the Lumière brothers’ brief comedy L’Arroseur arrosé (Tables Turned on the Gardener, 1895). The brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière are generally credited with making the first commercial breakthrough in combining the photographic and projection device into one machine in early 1895. Their camera/projector, the Cinematographe, was patented on 13 February 1895, and the first Lumière projections took place shortly thereafter, on 28 December 1895, in the Salon Indien of the Grand Café in Paris.

The brothers presented, in such landmark films as La Sortie des usines Lumière (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory), L’Arroseur ar-rosé (Tables Turned on the Gardener, in which a gardener is watered with his own hose by a young prankster), and Repas de bébé (Feeding the Baby), a world that was at once realistic and tranquil, gently whimsical, and deeply privileged. In many respects, the Lumière brothers were the world’s first documentary filmmakers, and their short films (about one minute in length) remain invaluable as a slice of upper-middle-class French society at the turn of the century that would otherwise have been forgotten. One of the Lumières’ most famous early films was LArrivée d’un train à La Ciotat (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, 1895), in which a train pulls into a railroad station.

Early patrons were so amazed that some are said to have fled the theater in fright, certain that the train would run them over. The Lumières made literally hundreds of these one-shot, one-scene films, and for several years continued to present them to an enthusiastic public captivated by the simple fact that the images moved. It was the first successful commercial exploitation of the medium.


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The Lumière brothers