movie poster

World’s first film poster (1895) for L’Arroseur arrosé – Image by Marcellin Auzolle (1862-1942) – Source: moah.org, PD-US, Wikipedia

Auguste Lumière was born in 1862 in Besançon, France. Along with his brother, they played an important role in the early history of motion pictures. Their father had been a painter who moved to photography in its early days.

Auguste and his brother Louis had studied science in Lyon and had a business producing photographic plates.

In 1894, they read about Thomas Edison’s new Kinetoscope. That device was not a “movie” but a “peephole” machine that used illuminated strips of film to create the illusion of movement. The two brothers wanted to build a device to project film images to more than one person simultaneously.

In 1895, they patented what they called the cinématographe. It was pretty amazing. The machine was a camera, developer, and projector all in one device.

They filmed workers leaving their factory in Lyon and had a public screening in December. That screening had 10 films of about one minute each.

These were not fictional “story” films but, as with Edison’s earliest films, documentary clips of everyday life. The one that has received the most attention over the years is one that showed a train pulling into a station head-on. The story is that the audience screamed and that some jumped from their seats with the illusion that the train would come out the screen into the theater.

It is strange that both Thomas Edison and Auguste Lumière didn’t think that their motion picture developments could be moneymakers. Lumière said, “My invention can be exploited … as a scientific curiosity, but apart from that it has no commercial value whatsoever.” Great inventors. Not the greatest businessmen.

The Lumière brothers wouldn’t sell their camera to other filmmakers, such as countryman Georges Méliès. Méliès would go on to produce many highly creative and innovative films on his own. The novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and the 2011 film Hugo based on it directed and co-produced by Martin Scorsese, are tributes to the later life of Méliès.

The Lumière brothers cut off their role in motion pictures and moved on to experimentation with color photography. The Lumière company was a major producer of photographic products in Europe during the early 20th century  but the Lumière faded after they merged with Ilford.

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