The Lumière Brothers: 120 Years of Cinema

The Lumière Brothers: 120 Years of Cinema


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Paris’ Grand Palais currently celebrates 120 years since the invention of the Cinématographe, with Lumière! Cinema Invented, an exhibition dedicated to the Lumière Brothers, which will run until June 14, 2015. 

Louis and Auguste Lumière were not only genius inventors like their contemporaries, Graham Bell (1847-1922), the father of the telephone and Thomas Edison (1847-1931) who invented the light bulb, but also successful businessmen and true artists.

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Sons of Antoine Lumière, a painter and photographer, Auguste (1862-1954) and Louis (1864-1948) were born into a privileged family that encouraged their scientific aptitudes and creativity. Their education was completed at the Ecole des Sciences et des Arts Industriels de la Martinière in Lyon, where they learned the fundamentals of Physics and Chemistry.

In 1881, Antoine Lumière showed an interest in the industrial production of film reels in Lyon while his sons, still in their teens, filed several patents and developed new dry photographic plates, known as ‘blue label’ plates that would dominate the market until 1944, and bring them wealth and fame.

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During a trip to Paris in 1894, Auguste Lumière’s curiosity was piqued  by Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope, that only allowed one person at a time to view moving sequences on 35mm film. The brothers then began experimenting with the moving image, which resulted in a patent for the cinématographe, filed in 1895.

In fact, the Lumière brothers had succeeded in making a synthesis of the research of numerous scientists around the world, like Etienne Jules Marey, Eadweard Muybridge or Thomas Edison, among others.

The novelty of the cinématographe was that it allowed both the shooting and screening of films, and was portable as it only weighed 5kg, in contrast to Edison’s 50kg Kinetoscope. The Sortie de l’Usine Lumière (1895) was the first film ever made and its first public screening took place in Paris on December 28 of the same year at the Grand Café, with an audience of thirty-three spectators, including Georges Méliès.

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The cinématographe gained an immediate success and within ten months the Lumière brothers had organized fifty ‘teams’, with operators that they had trained themselves, that were sent around the world to show their first films, while only a select few were allowed to shoot for the Lumière film catalogue. Over 1400 films of fifty seconds each were shot in thirty-one countries, with subjects ranging from royal ceremonies to the Boston tramway, Tokyo parks or Baku’s oil fields.

As short documentaries, the Lumière films announced the arrival of the twentieth century and much contributed to a change in the perception of the world.

Although the Lumière factory stopped producing films in 1901, it specialized in making celluloid films and Autochrome plates for color photography, for which the brothers filed a patent in 1903.

All in all, the Lumière brothers, whose life was entirely dedicated to science, filed around 200 patents in total, in fields as diverse as photography, film, physics, chemistry and medicine.

Louise Kissa

[email protected]

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