Charles Silver, a curator in MoMA’s Department of Film, presents a series of writings to supplement the film exhibition An Auteurist History of Film. The following post accompanies the “Actualities and Glimmerings of More”, which screens September 16, 17, and 18 in MoMA’s Celeste Bartos Theater (Theater 3).
The Lumière brothers, Louis (1864–1948) and Auguste (1862–1954), are probably the closest we will ever come to identifying the first auteurs. Their role as “directors” largely consisted of finding a subject that interested them, plunking their camera (Cinematographe) down, and turning it on. This ultra-simple method was soon discarded by others as antiquated, although Andy Warhol brought it back (to considerable acclaim in some circles) some seventy years later. By sending film crews around the world to photograph the commonplace and the exotic, the Lumières effectively shrank the globe in ways never before deemed possible.
One of the things that intrigues me in seeing the people in these films—now 115 years removed from us—is that some of them, the middle-aged ones at least, may have shaken Abraham Lincoln’s hand; some of the elderly may have seen Napoleon marching through Paris. And yet, here they are, looking and moving much as we do, denizens of a world almost as strange to us as ours would be to them. They have achieved some level of immortality, and they embody one of the best arguments for film preservation: keeping our past alive.