On 28th December 1895 the Lumière brothers, Louis and Auguste, demonstrated the first true motion picture, via a system which they called the cinématographe.
The brothers were born in Besançon, eastern France (Louis in 1862 and Auguste in 1864) but grew up in Lyon. They showed an early interest in still photography and Louis saw a career opportunity in the production of photographic plates. He persuaded his father Antoine to finance the venture, which was producing 15 million plates a year within ten years of the factory opening.
It was Antoine who first directed his sons’ interest towards motion pictures. After he saw a demonstration in Paris of Thomas Edison’s “Kinetoscope” he went home to Lyon and suggested to the brothers that they develop a means of projecting moving images on to a screen instead of the “peepshow” system that Edison had patented.
The Lumières came up with something that was to form the basis of cinematography for many years to come. They appreciated that the human brain could interpret the viewing of fifteen frames a second as motion, so they gave themselves a modicum of insurance by introducing a system that recorded and played at sixteen frames a second, which is the standard still used to the present day. By contrast, Edison’s system ran at 46 frames a second, which meant that vastly more film was needed to record sequences that ran for the same length of time.
The patrons of the Café de la Paix, near the Paris Opera, were treated to two short films, one showing a train apparently charging out of the screen at them and the other being somewhat less dramatic and bearing the title “Workers leaving the Lumière factory”. However, the brothers were to go on to make more than 1000 films over the next four years and thus give birth to a new industry and a new form of entertainment.
© John Welford