Louis Lumière Arrivée d'un train à la Ciotat (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat) 1895

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The success of Edison’s cinematic inventions inspired others, including French brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière, to work on taking films out of the relatively limited confines of the Kinetoscope and projecting them in spaces that could accommodate large audiences. The Lumière brothers were established photographers and photographic equipment manufacturers when, in 1894, they witnessed a demonstration of the Kinetoscope in Paris. By the end of the following year, they unveiled their Cinématographe, a combination motion picture camera, printer, and projector. One year later, in 1896, they set up the Cinématographe in the back room of a Parisian café and projected their films, creating the world’s first movie theater.

Filmmakers had to build an audience for the new medium during these earliest years of its existence. Working within the limits of technology (including heavy cameras) they reproduced live theater entertainments and documented the world around them in brief, filmic bites that the Lumière brothers called, Actualités, or, actualities. Masters and promoters of this form, they produced scores of actualities from the last decade of the 19th century to 1905.

A 45-second-long recording of a train’s arrival in the station of the French town of La Ciotat, Arrivée d’un train (à la Ciotat) was among the Lumière brothers’ early actualities. They positioned their Cinématographe on the platform to capture the advancing train from its front and side: its engine steams diagonally toward the camera (and, by extension, viewers) and then passes out of the frame, replaced by its flank of cars. The train slows to a stop, and the platform blooms into activity as passengers busily embark and disembark.

Actualities remained popular until around 1908, when newsreels, featuring news and current events, and documentary films burgeoned, soon supplanting them. These unedited slices of life shifted from stand-alone entertainments to becoming the building blocks of the structured narratives of the later forms.

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