December 28, 1895, marks a historic day in the history of the cinema,
but you won't find the movies that premiered on this day among the
Christmas schedules or in anyone's Top 10 list.
At the Salon Indien of the Grand Café in Paris, cinematography pioneers
the Lumiere Brothers effectively opened the first cinema box office,
charging the public to see 10 short films they had filmed earlier that
year projected onto a big screen.
Eager Parisians paid one franc to watch the 48-second clips in the
communal setting. Fellow pioneer Thomas Edison's coin-operated
Kinetoscope had been around for some five years before Auguste and Louis
Lumiere began their operations, but its peephole operation – akin to
the later 'What the Butler Saw' machine – meant it was hardly the shared
experience the Lumieres envisaged for their cinema.
The first of the 10 films to be shown at the performance, Workers
Leaving the Lumiere Factory (above), was recorded in March of that year
and is believed to be the first true motion picture. It was filmed on
the same cinématographe device (developed by Auguste) as it was
projected on, and showed employees leaving the brothers' film factory in
Other films on the bill, all directed by Louis, featured a clip of a
gardener using a sprinkler, one of Auguste,his wife and his daughter
Andrée having breakfast (below) and another of Andrée trying to catch
goldfish in a bowl.
The Lumieres took their films on tour over the next few months,
visiting Brussels, Bombay, London, New York and Buenos Aires to show off
The Lumiere Brothers - Did you know?
Auguste and Louis Lumiere worked at their father's photographic firm
in Lyon, taking charge on his retirement in 1892 and starting work on
Their most significant contribution was to perforate the edges of film
to advance it smoothly through the camera and projector.
The 35mm film used to make the movies was only 17 metres long. At a
hand-cranked frame rate of around 16 frames per second, this gave a
maximum running time of around 50 seconds.
Edison later conceded defeat to the Lumiere Brothers, admitting that
he hadn't considered moving pictures to be a mass-market entertainment
medium, rather a personal education device.
To celebrate the centenary of cinema in 1995, 80 of the Lumieres'
1,425 surviving films went on a world tour and were projected using
recreations of the cinématographes. The event, titled 'The First Picture
Show', ended with a 1995 recreation of their very first film, with a
few dozen film directors walking out of the same Lumiere factory instead
of a Victorian workforce.
The brothers later stated that “the cinema is an invention without any
future” and declined to sell their camera to other filmmakers. Instead
they concentrated on colour photography and in 1907 they launched their
colour photography process, Autochrome Lumiere, onto the market.
French cinema writer Georges Sadoul picked up an original
cinématographe in a junk shop in the 1940s. It worked first time,
testament to the quality of the Lumieres' product.
The Lumiere Brothers' legacy was to be tainted by associations with
fascism. Louis was enlisted by Mussolini to create propaganda films,
while Auguste sat on Lyon City Council in support of the Vichy regime in
World War II France. When it was suggested that the pair appear on a
200-franc note in the 1990s, the public outcry forced a rethink.