PARIS – Lyon’s Institut Lumière is teaming with France’s CNC film agency to organize Lumiere! Le Cinéma Inventé, a major Paris exhibition-restoration initiative marking the 120th anniversary of the invention of cinema – or at least cinema as we have known it over nearly all of the last 120 years.
Not just a commemoration, however, Lumière! will attempt to deliver a corrective to the legend of two technical geniuses of little vision, ignoring the importance of their invention, and of little art.
Presented Monday night in Paris by Thierry Fremaux – Institut Lumière director as well as Cannes Fest head – and CNC president Frederique Bredin – the Lumière! exhibition will run March 27 to June 14 at Paris’ Grand Palais, site of its 1900 Universal Exhibition, whose stars included Louis and Auguste Lumière, presenting their five-year-old invention, thanks to which France was to dominate world cinema until World War I.
Exhibition’s bow coincides with the date of the Lumières’ first film shoot – March 19, 1895 – and the first presentation of their invention in Paris on March 22 plus other Lumière shoots in Lyon, Paris and La Ciotat. One key to the Lumières’ invention was the first paid public screening of their films at the Salon Indien du Grand Café, now the basement breakfast room of the Hotel Scribe in Paris, which established cinema as mass theater-based entertainment, Fremaux argued at the presentation. The exhibition will replicate the Salon Indien, imagined by art director Jacques Grange, at the same time as, in a nod to the revolution that is now revising the habits of film viewership, 1,500 Lumière films will be offered for the first time in their entirety on iPads at the exhibition. Lumière! will also feature remakes of the Lumière’s first film, 1895’s “Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory,” shot over 2013-14 by Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodóvar, Michael Cimino, Paolo Sorrentino and Jerry Schatzberg. Exhibition will also feature large documentation, such as the Lumiére family’s archives, correspondence, and graphic material.
Lumière!’s will take in the 4K restoration of 200 Lumière movies.
The Lumieres’ description of the cinema as “an invention without any future was a ruse to discourage competition, including from Melies himself who, attending the Grand Cafe screening, sought on the spot to buy the Lumieres’ cinematograph camera-projector patent.
For Fremaux, who delivered an audio commentary over a 15-minute anthology of Lumieres’ 50-second movies, one large point of Lumière will be its vindication of the Lumière brothers as creative auteurs. “The Lumières were photographers. Like, say, John Ford, they had an instinct about where to put their camera, were very good at three things: Choice of subject, its treatment, and camera placement,” Fremaux argued.
The Lumières constantly invented, for example, the first remake – – Fremaux screened three extant versions of “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory,” one with workers and a horse; another with a carriage; yet another, more summery, but sans cheveau. Further shorts screened Monday night featured the first fiction film, first screen death, first travelling shot – which Fremaux attributed to Lumière operative Alexandre Promio’s splendid docu-short of Venice, shot from a boat in a canal, first film which made no sense at all, Fremaux quipped over a short of Spanish soldiers dancing, but seemingly to different music.
Sequence shots, the shorts might suggest a certain ingenuousness, Fremaux recognized. Rich in family scenes and children, however, records of their age, France’s ongoing industrial revolution and a Belle Epoque where people really thought that things would get better. That can be seen in some films. Caught at lunchtime, the workers leaving the Lumière Factory show a bustle, an energy that many of their contempo counterparts will not match.