- Lumière, Louis
- (1864-1948)Cinematographer, director, and film pioneer. Louis Lumière was the youngest son of Antoine and Jeanne-Joséphine Lumière. His brother August Lumière was the eldest. Antoine Lumière was a painter turned photography equipment supplier, so Lumière and his brother Auguste literally grew up around photographic equipment. It is no surprise then that Louis and his brother both showed an early interest in the image and the process of capturing and reproducing images, but it was Louis Lumière who showed the most promise as an innovator of the technology associated with photography. He had, perhaps, more time to devote to such research, since in his late teens he, unlike his brother, dropped out of the technical school in which their father enrolled them. Lumière then spent his time examining and tinkering with his father's photographic equipment and along the way developed a new process for making photographic film plates. His work was immediately recognized and he won a Grand Prix for his innovations in the realm of visual recording at the Paris Exposition of 1889.As a result of Lumière's discovery, the family moved to Lyon, where Antoine opened a factory in order to manufacture and sell the film plates Louis had designed. This factory subsequently became the largest manufacturer of photographic plates and film stock in France. The brothers' initiation into the world of moving pictures came in 1894, when they witnessed a demonstration of Thomas Edison's recently invented Kinetoscope, a peephole camera and projector that was a precursor to the modern film camera. Enthralled by the possibility of capturing and projecting moving images with a camera, the brothers set out to create a device of their own, which, unlike Edison's, would project such images outward onto a screen, rather than inward. Thus their vision was for an inherently communal viewing experience, whereas Edison's was necessarily individual.In 1895, the brothers succeeded in developing their own camera and projector, which they called the Cinématographe, the device for which the cinema is named. The Lumières's Cinématographe had other distinctions from Edison's machine, most notably, where Edison's device relied upon the continuous movement of images through the device, the Lumière brothers were able to apply the principle of intermittent motion to their machine, thereby allowing the film to flow more smoothly through the device. Other important differences between the two devices included the number of images screened per second of viewing (the Kinetograph required forty-eight images per second to the Cinématographe's sixteen) and the size of the machines (Edison's was large and stationary, whereas the Lumière brothers' was small and portable). These and other innovations permitted the Cinématographe to be taken out of a studio and used on location anywhere.The brothers made some twenty short films, each about one minute long and most documenting daily activities around their house, and gave demonstrations and screenings to various learned and photography groups. By late 1895, however, enough interest had been generated in the Lumière invention that a public screening was arranged in Paris on 28 December 1895. The brothers screened the twenty short films of their own making, and the success of this showing was such that the cinema became an overnight sensation. They then engaged a number of cameramen and sent them out around the world to film happenings and events that might be of interest to the film public with the intention of marketing these films directly for public consumption. The event films, or actualités, constituted the first film genre.Louis Lumière was far more involved in the filmmaking end of the business than Auguste, and it was he who made the first commercially released film by the Lumière company, La Sortie de l'usine, in late 1895. This film is interesting not only because of its director, but also because of its substance. The Lumière vision of cinema is often said to have been one of a means of documenting reality, very different from the narrative cinema that dominates today. This reputation stems from the Lumières's interest in the actualités or reality films. However, it is also true that Lumière recognized very early the potential of film to represent or recreate reality. Among the first twenty films made by Lumière, there is one comic skit, L'Arroseur arosé (Watering the Gardener). More important, however, the film La Sortie de l'usine, often taken for a documentary, is also a fiction in that Lumière staged the entire exit by having his own workers pretend to leave his factory precisely so he could film it.The Lumière brothers' contribution to cinema, therefore, was not limited to technical devices or processes, or to the collective nature of the viewing experience. They recognized film's double capacity to capture reality and to supplant it—the two dominant directions the modern cinema would take. Although they are less recognized for this latter contribution, it is an important one.After several years, when they had built up enough interest in the cinema to have a reliable market for their equipment and film stock, the Lumière brothers gave up filmmaking altogether to concentrate on sales and marketing. This is perhaps explained by the brothers' belief that the cinema was a passing craze that would eventually die out. It may also be that once they had provided the equipment, they were able to yield the way to more creative and artistic filmmakers, such as Alice Guy and Georges Méliès, who witnessed their film screenings and were inspired to the point of becoming filmmakers themselves. Their studio also yielded to the more commercially successful studios like Pathé and Gaumont, which were already becoming dominant. Whatever the case, neither Louis nor Auguste ever made another film, although they did make themselves quite rich selling their invention to the world.
Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. Dayna Oscherwitz & Mary Ellen Higgins. 2007.
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