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Advent of Cinema

Scientists and inventors set photographs into motion—and make movies.


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

Louis Lumière
(French, 1864–1948)

1895. 35mm print, black and white, silent, approx. 45 sec..

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.

A genre encompassing non-fiction films intended to document some aspect of reality, often for the purposes of instruction, education, or developing a historical record.

A combination motion picture camera, printer, and projector invented by French photographers, photographic equipment manufacturers, and brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1895. The Cinématographe was used to create the world’s first movie theater when the Lumière brothers set it up in the back room of a Parisian café and projected their films. Unlike Thomas Alva Edison’s and William K. L. Dickson’s electrically powered Kinetograph, the Cinématographe was compact and hand-cranked, so it could be easily transported to shoot films on location.

A non-fiction film, usually lasting no more than one to two minutes, showing unedited, unstructured footage of real events, places, people, or things. Actualities preceded documentaries and were popular forms of entertainment from the early 1890s until around 1908.

A person who directs or produces movies.

1. A series of moving images, especially those recorded on film and projected onto a screen or other surface (noun); 2. A sheet or roll of a flexible transparent material coated with an emulsion sensitive to light and used to capture an image for a photograph or film (noun); 3. To record on film or video using a movie camera (verb).

One who uses a camera or other means to produce photographs.

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

A spoken, written, or visual account of an event or a series of connected events.

The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).

A cabinet-like apparatus and forerunner of the motion picture film projector invented in 1891 by American inventor Thomas Alva Edison and his assistant and protégé, William K. L. Dickson. When a nickel was dropped into its slot, celluloid film recorded in the Kinetograph would roll through the Kinetoscope, passing between a lens and an electric light bulb (another of Edison’s inventions). A peephole at the top of the Kinetoscope allowed people to view the moving pictures of the celluloid as it rolled past.

Actualities in the Digital Age
Though it may seem like actualities have gone the way of the dinosaur, in fact, it could be said that Smartphone and Internet technology has brought about their resurgence. Every time we point our camera or phone at a scene before us—whether it’s the setting sun, your cat knocking over your coffee, or an incident of social unrest—we create what could be thought of as an amateur actuality. And when we post these recordings on social media platforms, we mirror the aims of early filmmakers like the Lumière brothers, who also wished to share their films with the widest possible audiences.