The Daily


The First Footage from the Cinematograph

March 19, 2014 | by

On March 19, 1895, 119 years ago, August and Louis Lumière made the inaugural recording with their newly patented cinematograph, a sixteen-pound camera made to compete with Edison’s nascent kinetoscope. The cinematograph was powered by a hand crank, and it improved on the kinetoscope in that it incorporated a projector, which allowed a large audience to take in its spectacles. (Edison’s machine had only a peephole; maybe he thought moving pictures would appeal exclusively to voyeurs. And maybe they do.) The perforated film reel in a cinematograph was easier to hold in place, which meant it produced sharper, stabler images than had ever been seen.

This first film, La Sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon, features, as its title promises, workers leaving the Lumière factory in Lyon. What’s remarkable to me is how purely documentary this footage is: no one breaks the fourth wall. Even the dog isn’t terribly curious. If I were toiling in a factory all day, about to play a part in the debut of a revolutionary new technology, I would be sure to wave at the camera on my way out.




  1. Denkof Zwemmen | March 21, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    You seem to think that these workers are restraining themselves from mugging for the camera. No. No one breaks the fourth wall in this film because it doesn’t exist yet.
    None of the people exiting the Lumière factory know there is any such thing as movies. Some of them may know about the new moving picture technology, but how could they grasp that this new sort of photography would become a performing art?
    It would not have been to the camera that someone might have waved, only to the cameraman – and in this case, it was probably one of the bosses, so. . .
    And as for the dog – even in contemporary documentaries, dogs and other non-humans find it much easier to ignore the fourth wall than people do. Hmmm, I wonder why?

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