The Anatomy of European Cinema
1. La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon/Workers Leaving the Factory
directed by Louis Lumière (France, 1895)

Sortie Version one
Sortie de l'Usine (March 1895)
Sortie Version Two
Sortie de l'Usine (Summer 1895)
Sortie Version Three
Sortie de l'usine (Autumn 1895)

Antoine Lumière Auguste and Louis LumièreAntoine Lumière, son of a wheelwright, was a self-made businessman who had profited from his early appreciation of the "mass-market" potential of photography. Born in 1840 and apprenticed as a teenager to a sign-painter, he had become succesively a photographer, then the owner of a modest shop selling photographic materials and then, in 1882, of a factory producing photographic plates in Lyon, France's second largest city. By 1894-1895 the Lyon factory was turning out fifteen million plates a year and employed over 300 workers. Antoine himself had retired by this time, leaving the direction of the business to his two sons, Auguste, a biologist, and Louis, a physicist, chemist and photographer. It was the father, Antoine, now a man of wealth and leisure who devoted much of his time to travelling, who spotted the potential of "sequential photography". In the autumn of 1894 he saw Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope demonstrated in Paris, immediately realised that there were potentially huge profits to be made and urged his sons to interest themselves in the project.

Louis, his younger son, had already proved his worth as an inventor in the photographic field.1 and, in obedience to the paternal command, he now set himself to develop a combined camera/projector for the production of moving or sequential photographs. There were two major weaknesses in the system developed during the 1880s in the US by the amateur British engineer William Kennedy Laurie Dickson for Thomas Edison. The camera was very heavy and could not be used for location-shooting; Edison and Dickson were restricted to making films in a small makeshift studio nicknamed "The Black Maria". Secondly the films were not projected but had to be viewed using a peephole viewer - the Kinetoscope. Edison was already well known as an inventor, and most particularly as the inventor of the phonograph and Kinetoscope customers had to go to special parlours just as they did to listen to the phonograph and watch the films one by one. In practice the two were often combined with parlours offering both machines, phonograph and kinetosocpe.

Edison was far from the only person who had interested himself in developing sequential photography. Amongst the earliest pioneers in the field, were physiologists such as Edwearde Muybridge in the United States and Étienne-Jules Marey in France who were using the tecnhique to study animal-motion, to aid in the dignosis and treatment of certain diseases (particularly nervous disorders) and even to aid in the development of sophisticated weaponry. Louis Lumière knew of the research-work of Étienne-Jules Marey at the Station Physiologique in Paris and visited Marey's assistant, Georges Demenÿ, there in December 1894. Demenÿ demonstrated the working of his projector but Lumière showed, or feigned, lack of interest, preferring to work on his own and develop his own solution. By the beginning of 1895 Lumière and the company's chief engineer, Charles Moisson, had their machine ready. As yet unnamed, it was patented on 13 February 1895 in the name of the two brothers as the « appareil servant à l'obtention et à la vision d'épreuves chronophotographiques » (machine for obtaining and viewing chronophotographic prints)

CinématographeKinetoscopeThe machine (pictured left) was first demonstrated on 22 March 1895 before some 200 invitees of La Société d'encouragement de l'industrie nationale at 44, rue de Rennes in Paris. Subsequently called the Cinématographe (although their father had wished to call it a Domitor), the Lumière camera weighed only five kilos, had enormous advantages over the cumbersome machine developed by Edison and Dickson in the USA and over the heavier machine developed by Birt Acres and Robert Paul in England. Edison was in any case still using peep-hole viewers for the exhibition of his films (pictured right) and Acres and Paul (and other rivals) had still not yet successfully cracked the problem of smoothly feeding the film through the projector.

At the first projection in March, just one film was shown, La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon, and, as far as we know, this was the only Lumière film to yet exist. A second projection followed at the Sorbonne on 16 April (Congrès des Savants) where again just the one film was shown. For an entire year, the cautious Lumières continued with these private projections (in June, July, September, November and December), gradually expanding the number of films shown, so that by the end of the year they had a small repertoire of about thirteen one-minute films, all made by Louis Lumière himself with the aid of his brother Auguste, the engineer Moisson and other employees. The number of films shown varied slightly from venue to venue but La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon was always the first film on the programme.

The Lumières made the first public projection using their Cinématographe at the Salon indien in the basement of the Grand Café in Paris, on 28 December 1895. The show was presented by their father before an audience of just thirty-three people (the hall had a capacity of about 120). Amongst the invitees were various Paris theatre-managers and other interested parties. The brothers themselves were not present, leaving the projection to Charles Moisson, assisted by two younger Lumière employes, Jacques Ducom and Francis Doublier. For a franc, the spectators could see a programme of ten one-minute films. The projection proved enormously successful and the subsequent run highly profitable.

Grand Café 1895
The First Lumière Public Projection at the Grand Café de Paris 1895

It is not in fact known precisely what films were shown on that first day but a programme that survives for the following week lists ten films and it is generally assumed that these ten (virtually all of which had previously been shown in the private projections) constituted the first public Cinématographe programme. La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon, naturally, still heads the list (with the family name in heavy capitals).

programme 1895

La Sortie de l'usine remained in some ways Louis Lumière's masterpiece as well as the prototype for all the films that followed. From the point of view of Lumière the businessman, it was a splendid publicity film - a good advertisement for the Lumières and their business that says, in a brief minute, as much as a lengthy prospectus. The pleasant ambience, the presence of cycles (still a sign of affluence), the well-dressed, smiling employees tumbling through the gate all illustrated to perfection the enlightened, liberal employers that the Lumières were and prided themselves on being.

La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon developed a rather different perspective on working life, which, as a genre, was to be particularly important in the early years of film-making. Some years later (1901), the ever down-to-earth British film-maker Cecil Hepworth would spell out the modus operandi for such a film, apostrophising his "showmen" on the good to be expected from such films: "A Film showing workers leaving a factory will gain far greater popularity in the town where it was taken than the most exciting picture ever produced. The workers come in their hundreds with all their friends and relations, and the Film more than pays for itself the first night. In other wrds this is The Greatest Draw you can have and it is Our Business to Provide it for you in Advance, for each town that you visit."2 In one sense it was an advertising film (for the Lumières and their business) but it was also an exemplar of the kind Fêtes du couronnement of film that would form the bulk of the Lumières' repertoire - what I shall call "the composed view" or "genre scene".3

Discussion of early films in English is bedevilled by an an unfortunate tendency to lump all films regarded, rightly ot wrongly, as "non-fiction" together in one single category, generally referred to as "actualities". Breslau This word, not a normal Enlish word, is in fact a mistranslation of a French word, actualités which was used then, as it still is today, to refer to news or newsreel. Such actualités (they were then correctly referred to as "topicalities" in English) were indeed subsequently made by the Lumière operators as they travelled all over the world, the most important, in 1896, being the extended coverage (some twenty films in all, although each only a minute long) of the Coronation of Tsar Nikolaus II of Russia. The core repertoire of their films remained, however, the composed view.

The difference between topicalities or news-films and composed views such as this film of workers leaving the Lumière factory in Lyon is far more important than what they have in common. The two sorts of film are made in different ways and for different purposes. A topicality can, normally speaking, only be shot at one time and in one place. It was of course possible to "reconstruct" events in a studio (and this was indeed commonly done) but such reconstructions or "false" topicalities are, in a sense, a different genre again. Genuine footage of the coronation of a Russian Tsar or of a parade or of the arrival of a foreign dignitary can only be shot at the time and in the place where the event itself takes place.

Where topicalities are concerned, the film-maker has only very partial control over the conditions of filming or over the order of events. He or she cannot know exactly what will happen or even necessarily be able to determine the angle of shot. The operators may well (as was the case with the Lumière operators in Russia) be required to occupy a particular assigned position."4 The sequences filmed can subsequently be edited but they cannot be re-filmed. None of these restrictions aply to the composed view. In this case the film can be taken at any time and re-filmed (as this particular one was on at least three occasions during 1895). The angle of shot and the time of shooting can be carefully chosen. Even when those who appear in the film are not strictly speaking "actors" or "actresses", they can nevertheless be directed very much in the same manner and even (again the case with this film) assigned specific "roles" within the action. A "composed view" can also be re-made or copied by other film-makers in a way that a topicality cannot.

Serpentine Dance A third kind of film, equally distinct,is what might be called the "televisual attraction". Both topicalities and attractions would become the province of the machine called a television but, even before the existence of that machine, it is not difficult to distinguish these films which are records of events (sporting events most commonly) or of performances (stage acts, magic shows, vaudeville routines) that are "seen at a distance", that is to say, where the film is bringing to the viewer something that they would have more difficulty in going to see for themselves. The early repertoire of Thomas Edison's kinetoscope was almost entirely of this kind. With a camera too heavy to take on location, his film-makers, William Kennedy Dickson and cameraman William Heise, were obliged to make all their films in their studio and the easiest solution was simply to invite show-stars, dancers, sharp-shooters, vaudeville acts and animal-trainers to come and exhibit their talents in front of the camera. The Lumières and their operators did occasionally produce such "attractions" - the famous "Serpentine Dance" pictured here, popularised in Paris by US dancer Loie Fuller was hugely popular was reproduced by virtually every film-maker of the time - but they were a relatively small and unimportant part of their repertoire.

Sortie Version one
Topicality: Chicago, Défilé des policemen (1896)
Sortie Version Two
Composed view: Les Laveuses (Geneva 1896)

The repertoire of the early film is extremely diverse. Film-makers had no inhibitions about what did or did not constitute a film. There were no absolutely fixed categoris of film and there was inevitably considerable overlap between the different types of film. The film of policemen parading in Chicago in 1896 was a topicality in appearance but a topicality staged specially for the camera. The Chicago police-parade did later become a regular event but in 1896 it was the French cameraman, Alexandre Promio, who persuaded them to mount such a parade specially for the camera. The composed view featuring the washerwomen (also 1896) was even more composed than such views generally were. It is the film-maker, François-Henri Lavanchy-Clarke's's own family who are doing the washing and, since he happened to be the local representative in Switzerland both for Lumière and for the British firm Lever Brothers (makers of Sunlight soap), the clearly-marked boxes were intended as a very deliberate advertisement. While the dancers in the street (in London) appear also to be such a composed view (and the man with the cap is indeed "directing" them), it is also a "televisual attraction". The Lumière operators did not have facilities for indoor filming and therefore invited their show-stars outside. The women are almost certainly dancers from the music-hall just nextdoor to the hall where the cinématographe was exhibiting.

Even if the film-makers learned very quickly to exploit these genres of films in different ways, mix and match between them and even disguise their nature, the genres remained broadly distinct and were never (in French practice) designated by one single term. The word actualités was used to describe news footage or topicalities. The attractions were typically referred to as scènes de danse et de ballet, scènes de sports et d'acrobatie, scènes de magie and so on. Such "televisual" material would not long remain in the mainstream repertoire of film-making but would be consigned to newsreel-services, where the company could afford to run them, and to film-magazines (such as Pathé-revue). They would nevertheless long remain a popular aspect of cinema and Liverpool, Church Street 1897 represent an area of cinema-going and of cinema history that has been far too little investigated or appreciated. Eventually they would both largely become the province of radio and television.

The "composed view" is quite a different matter.The use of this term "actualities" to amalgamate topicalities, attractions and composed views has contributed to a certain myth concerning early film, to wit, that it is almost entirely "non-fiction" and that it is unconcerned with "narrative". Here again it is important to distinguish between the different types of film. False topicalities can indeed effectively be fictions, even if they are not supposed to be, but, by and large, the news-film or topicality is a clearly non-fictional form. It is reportage. So, in its way, is the "attraction", recording as it does a spectacle, an act or an event. The "composed view" on the other hand lies on the border between fiction and non-fiction and is a Janus-form that looks both ways. It is the ancestor (or one of the ancestors) both of the supposedly non-fictional documentary and of the fictional film and is, in both capacities, vitally concerned with "narrative", which is not by any means, as is frequently assumed, the prerogative of non-fiction.

Consider for a moment the first fourteen films produced by the Lumières in the course of 1895. One, Neuville-sur-Saône: Débarquement du congrès des photographes à Lyon was very definitely a topicality. It showed delegates arriving by boat for the second stage of a photographic conference held at Lyon and was very deliberately shot by Lumière on the same day as he was to exhibit his films privately to that selfsame conference that same evening (12 June 1895). Its intention was to show the immediacy of which film was capable.5

La Voltige
Le Saut à la Couverture
Le Saut à la Couverture (1895)

L’IncendieA second film shot specially for the same occasion, Discussion de Monsieur Janssen et de Monsieur Lagrange might be described as a false topicality, in that it represents a political discussion, staged and rehearsed however, between the President of the Congress, astronomer Jules Janssen, and a local Lyon politician.6. A third film, not known known to have been shown to the public in December, was a reconstruction of a fire-rescue, a very typical combination of (seeming) topicality and (actual) composed view that was popular with all early film-makers.7 This kind of composition that illustrates perfectly the Janus-nature of the composed view with regard to fiction and non-fiction. It was possible for such scenes of fire to be genuine topicalities. Edison and Dickson had already produced a studio reconstruction of a fire-rescue scene in Danish film pioneer Peter Elfelt's 1897 film Brandvæsenet rykker ud/Fire Engines would seem at any rate to show a quite genuine fire. It was also possible to increase the fictional element even further as in Edwin S. Porter's The Life of an American Fireman (1903).

Les Forgerons
William Kennedy Laurie Dickson: Fire Rescue Scene (1894)
Fire Engines

Fire Engines
Life of an American Fireman
Edwin S. Porter: The Life of an American Fireman

Two further films, seemingly shot on the same occasion,La Voltige/Vaulting and Le Saut à la couverture/Jumping the Blanket, scenes of soldiers exercising or engaging in friendly horseplay, might at a pinch be regarded as a cross between attraction and composed view although the peformances involved, filmed at a local army camp,are distinctly amateur.

The remainder of the fourteen films are all composed views. There was at least one street scene in Lyon (but more probably two), the city where the Lumières had their factory, as well as the view of the factory itself.8

Place des Cordeliers
Lyon, Place des Cordeliers (1895)
Place Bellecour
Lyon, Place Bellecour (1895?)

Les Forgerons/The Blacksmiths was also filmed amongst their own workers. Of two bathing scenes, at least one (but probably both) were shot at a private jetty on the Lumière country estate at La Ciotat, near Marseille. 9

Les Forgerons
Les Forgerons (1895)
La Baignade
La Baignade (1895)
Les Baigneuses
Bains en Mer (1895 or 1896)

Two other films (Le Repas de bébe/The Baby's Meal and La Pêche aux poissons rouges/Fishing for Goldfish) involve members of the Lumière family. Le Jardinier (later better known as L'arroseur arrosé/The Sprayer Sprayed) was also shot in the grounds of their estate and features their own gardener.

Le Repas de bébe
Le Repas de bébé
La Pêche aux poissons rouges
La Pêche aux possions rouges (1895)
L'arroseur arrosé
L'arroseur arrosé

Écriture à l'enversIn 1896-97, when the Lumière operators toured the world, both showing and making films, the repertoire expanded to include topicalities (the coronation of Tsar Nikolaus II of Russia and his subsequent visit to France were the big news-items of the year in Europe in 1896) but the bulk of the repertoire remained the composed view, although every programme, like the first, would also include a palpably "non-fiction" element, either a one-minute gag (as in the case of L'Arroseur arrosé), or a short narrative (as in the case of Lumière operator Gabriel Veyre's Un duelo a pistola en el bosque de Chapultepec10, filmed in Mexico or a trick film (as in La Squelette joyeuse pictured below) or a quick-change act or a mini-magic show. The shows would often end with one such - Lucien Trewey, magician-friend drawing (backwards) his message of thanks to the audience.

La Charcuterie mécanique (1896)

Gag: La Charcuterie mécanique (1895)
Un duelo a pistola
Drama: Un duelo a pistola en el bosque de Chapultepec (1896)
L'arroseur arrosé

Trick: La Squelette joyeuse (1897)

Assassinat de KléberAnother feature of anglophone criticism that has caused confusion is the catchy but specious epithet "cinema of attractions" coined in the 1980s to describe early cinema and often used as though it defined a specific kind of cinema (broadly from 1895-1906) distinct from that which followed. There is clearly one respect in which the cinema of these early years is different. The films were only one-minute long or later two-minutes long (the running length of a single reel). Although there was nothing technically to prevent either an increase in reel-size or the making of multi-reel films, so long as the film-makers had little or no control over the distribution of films, they were reluctant to risk the expense involved in making longer films. Although films were made in series, the film companies could not be certain that they would be shown that way and the one-minute or two-minute units had still to be viewable as separate films.11 This inevitably inhibited the development of narrative films - it was easier to make series of documentary films - and limited the sort of subject-matter that could be used. Tom Gunning, the US critic responsible for the "cinema of attractions" notion, complains that the early narratives were mostly just gags12, and it is quite true that drama was relatively rare (restricted for the most part to scenes of duels or assassinations or executions) but this was simply because, until multi-reel films could be made in the certainty that they would be projected, the "gag" remained the most suitable format. The graphic strip, almost exactly contemporaneous with the cinema, exhibits the same phenomenon. Single strips were only suitable for gags but, when serialisation became a regular practise, narrative strips could develop along with the necessary captions or later dialogue-bubbles, which were the equivalent of the cinema "cartoons" (from the French carton meaning cardboard) or intertitles.

Rough Sea at DoverWhile all this is true, none of it justifies the assumption that audience expectations were intrinsically different or that film-makers would not have made longer narratives had they felt able to do so. Although Gunning's stated intention was to revalue early cinema, his comments on the so-called "cinema of attractions" often adopt a distinctly sneering tone and in the popular imagination, but also amongst many cinema-critics, the idea has taken hold that early cinema audiences were little concerned about the content of what they watched and came purely for the "attraction" that moving pictures offered. Naturally there was a "novelty" effect and one contemporary French critic, G.-Michel Coissac, famously complained of the la cinématographie-attraction13 but, however much this may have annoyed Coissac, himself at this time employed to make films for a religious press and personally committed to the concept of educational film-making, this novelty element, was in practice very short-lived. In 1895 for instance, the audience for Edison's first camera/projector, The Vitascope, were enthusiastic about and a British film that was also shown, Birt Acres' Rough Sea at Dover (a film of sea-water lapping against a breakwater) and this was purely and simply because it was a film shot on location that compared extremely favourably to Edison's own studio-bound and unimaginative repertoire. As Charles Musser, the historian of the early US cinema, has shown, the cinema-going public soon lost interest in sub-standard composition ad Thomas Edison, who himself took scant interest in the quality of the films he produced, faced ruin several times in his early career and only survived through a combination of personal prestige and power, luck and sharp practice.14 Early review of films (despite the attempts of the film-makers to ensure only favourable reviewing) and the accounts of the operators themselves, where they survive, give ample evidence of the concern of audiences for the content of what they were watching.15

Effets de Mer
Effets de Mer (1906)
Titanic (1940)
Life of Pi
Life of Pi (2012)

Cinema and visual "attractions" are of course vitally linked and have remained vitally linked, and constantly renewed, throughout its history.16 Criticisms of that "attraction" element, in the manner of Coissac, have been constant throughout that history and even pre-date it in the sense that such criticisms were previously levelled at other forms of popular entertainment. There have equally been at all times those prepared to support and even emphasise the important of that element. The interest, for instance, in movement itself, in rush of crowds and the movement of transport, in the sea and swimming, in storm and snow, in children and animals, in machinery and working life that are all to be found in the films produced by the Lumières and their operators have similarly been absolutely constant in the history of cinema.

Bataille de Boules de Neige
Bataille de Boules de Neige (1896)
The Trap
The Trap
Cold Fever
Cold Fever

All cinema is a "cinema of attractions" to a greater or lesser extent. If one looks, however, at the films made by the Lumières, one is struck not by the desire to emphasise this element of attraction, but by quite the opposite - a desire to present the familiar and the ordinary, refecting once again a very similar perspective to that of "genre painting". This is particualtly noticeable when one contrasts their repertoire with that of Edison in the US, which was very largely composed of "attractions", in the more familiar sense in which one talks of "attractions" at a fair or of attraction-parks.

Caicedo (1894)
Annie Oakley
Annie Oakley (1894)
The Boxing Cats
The Boxing Cats (1894)

Both Edison and the rival American Mutoscope and Biograph Company had close commercial links with vaudeville theatres, circuses and the new amusement parks that were growing up in Atlantic City in New Jersey (where both companies were based) and at Coney Island in New York and this had very significant repercuassions not merey for the locales chosen but also for the subject-matter itsef of the films and for the manner in which it was treated. As can be seen from the subjects pictured below,even when photographing that could clearly be defined as attractions (events such as fairs, carnivals and expositions), the Lumière approach was quite different to that of the US companies. Compare also the scene above of black break-dancers from the popular vaudeville entertainment The Passing Show with the Lumière "view" of dancers in the streets of London. By Summer 1896, when the Lumières set up an office in New York and extended their operation to include the US, ther was already a clear and marked distinction between the two repertoires. Performing in more upmarket middle-class venues, the French operators were able, with some reason, to advertise their films as "artistic" in a way the US repertoire was not.

Water Toboggan
Lumière: Water Toboggan (1896)
Shooting the Chutes
Edison: Shooting the Chutes (1896)
Shooting the Chutes
Mutoscope: Shooting the Chutes (1903)

Serpentine DanceYet another myth that the "cinema of attractions" theory encourages is the belief that early cinema has little or no sense of narrative. Yet, as the philosopher Paul Ricoeur once remarked, “we are not born into a world of children but….. as unspeaking children, we come into a world already full of our predecessors’ narratives”17 and the cinema was born into a world that already provided any number of models for narrative and did not really have to reinvent the idea. The very fact of displaying photographs sequentially itself implied narrative. Once again the confusion is confounded by a seeming belief that narrative is peculiar to fiction and therefore non-existent in the so-call "actualities" but in fact non-fiction has almost as compulsive a requirement for narrative as its fictional counterpart and the composed view, whether fiction or non-fiction or a cross between the two, almost inevitably tends towards narrative. Even a simple "attraction" of the kind represented by the Serpentine dance, the Lumière version of which was pictured earlier and the Edison version of which can be seen here, however popular in itself, required constant innovation and new contexts. The original versions may all have resembled each other but later versions innovated often in rather surprising ways. The films of a man (Leopold Fregoli) performing the dance in drag and the canine version of Loie Fuller are both Lumière films, but the Gaumont version, probably filmed by Alice Guy, is particularly interesting because, even in this simple dance-routine, a small element of narrative has been introduced by the superimposition of the dancer on a scene of lions in a cage.

Serpentine Man
Leopold Fregoli, Serpentine Dance (c. 1897)
Serpentine Dog
Dog, Serpentine Dance (c. 1897)
Serpentine Lion
Danse Serpentine (Gaumont, 1900)

Serpentine DanceIt is of course true that, as films became longer towards the end of the decade, that tendency to narrative becomes ever more pronounced but the process is clearly one of transition. This is the case with films representing the Serpentine Dance too. The Alice Guy film of 1900 is already two minutes long and requires more than just the dance to sustain it; a one and a half minute 1902 film for Pathé by Segundo de Chomón simply has a bat transformed into the dancer (click on image to see dancer) but by 1908, the same director, making a five-minute film, quite naturally embeds the dance (still a popular attraction) in an entire narrative, a (highly fictional) account of how the dance came to be. De Chomón, who was a specialist in trick-films and magic-shows (a genre still popular in the shorter films of 1908) is changing with the times but the crucial difference is quite simply the change in the length of the films of which the elaboration of narrative is a natural consequence. By 1914 the same cinematographer will be one of those responsible for shooting the two-hour long Italian epic Cabiria.

The same tendency to narrative, however limited (essentially because of the shortness of the films), is evident in other Lumière films. The film, already pictured, of the water slide or montagnes russes is different from the Edison and Mutoscope films shot at Atlantic City and Coney Park in its general treatment of the scene, it is also different in making the centre of the film not the water toboggan-ride itself but the family going for the ride. Once they return to the jetty after the ride, they appear to have lost something in the boat and the man returns to inquire about it. We do not know any details of the "story" but a story of a kind there clearly is. The films had been made at the Geneva Exposition in the Summer of 1896 by Lumière's concessionaire there, Henri-François Lavanchy-Clark, the same man who was the agent for Lever Brothers and used his films to promote Sunlight Soap. It very definitely counted as an "attraction". was a popular film and received top billing, with special mention, in Lumière shows but, even here, there is a typical emphasis on the narrative element - a family outing - rather than on the more obviously attractive element - the water-toboggan itself.

Water Toboggan
Water Toboggan: the return
Water Toboggan
Water Toboggan: something lost?
Water Toboggan
Water Toboggan: the search

This insistence on introducing a narrative element even into the simplest of scenes is very typical of the approach taken by Lumière and his operators and contrasts markedly with the practice of Edison, Kennedy and their cameraman William Heise in the US. When the latter first began to shoot films on location, having developed a sufficiently mobile camera to do so, in June 1896, just before the arrival of the Lumière operators in the US, Heise, left to his own devices - Dickson had already left Edison by this time - had the notion of filming a street-scene in New York (Herald Square) in such a way that the electric train (the "L" train) flashed by continually right in front of the camera. Although the press (rather servile at this time with respect to Edison) praised the effect, it in fact completely ruins the film because it obscures the view of what is going on - a policeman directing pedestrians. This was narrative very definitely sacrificed in favour of spectacle.18

Herald Square
Herald Square (1896)
Herald Square
Herald Square (1896)
Herald Square (1896)
Herald Square (1896)

The Lumière cameraman, Alexandre Promio, made no such error of judgement when he filmed a very similar scene in New York a month or so later.

Broadway At Union Square (1896)
Broadway At Union Square (1896)
Broadway At Union Square (1896)
Broadway At Union Square (1896)
Broadway At Union Square (1896)
Broadway At Union Square (1896)

building an iglooIn this sense, the equation made between fiction and narrative that is at the heart of the "cinema of attractions" theory is itself misleading. Both fiction and non-fiction films require narrative to work well. When making Nanook of the North (1922), one of the earliest feature-length documentaries, US film-maker Robert Flaherty abandoned his early attempts precisely because they did not contain a sufficient narrative component to make an interesting film. While not all documentary film-makers were as cavalier as Flaherty in fictionalising their work when he felt inclined for the sake of narrative, it is neverthless clear that documentary, just like the "photoplay" (to use the contemporary term) or fictional film, requires to be, in some sense or another, a story and both types of film (drama or "photoplay" and documentary) develop equally from the genre films of the early period. None of the three, neither genre film nor photoplay nor documentary, it should be said, have anything much to do with the actualité or newsreel "topicality".19

train arrivingThe "embedding" of attractions but also of quite ordinary genre elements in narrative is an unmistakeable feature of films as they become longer.Far from being some sort of converse of narrative, they in practice constitute the building blocks, the visual tropes, of which narrative, ar at least a certain kind of narrative, is composed. The US tradition (of both film and criticism) always tends to equate narrative purely and simply with cross-cutting and the fairly routine deployment of medium-shot and close-up, the elements that privilege, in US usage, enhanced continuity, and to ignore the equally important aspect of what came to be called mise en scène, the context,quite simply, that enriches narrative by giving it a sense and a meaning.20 But the tropes developed in the genre films of the Lumières (and others) - the exit from the factory, the card-players, the train arriving at the station, women doing their washing and many more examples one could quote are crucial tropes that recur in film after film. Lacking certainly in the majority of US films, which are anchored on action and suspense,they are essential to the narrative of most European films, especially those in a naturalistic tradition, intent on providing social and psychological context to the events dramatised.

leaving the factory
André Antoine: L'Hirondelle et la mésange (1920)

August Blom: Atlantis (1913)
women washing

Erich von Stroheim: Foolish Wives (1922)

La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon provides us with a very interesting test-case because there were several versions filmed during the course of 1895-1897. It was not uncommon for popular films to be remade as the original prints wore out but the film might euqally be remade for other reasons, probably to reflect the different times of year (winter, summer, autumn) so that different versions could be shown according to the season to preserve the sense of immediacy.21. Alternatively they may simply have been shot - three versions exist similarly of the gag-film L'arroseur arrosé - to try and improve the film. Whatever the case, remaking the film clearly gave an opportunity to introduce whatever changes and improvements Louis Lumière and his operators wished.

Clearly if the central purpose of films at this period were to highlight "attractions", as Gunning supposes, we would expect that particular element to be increased in each successive version. If, on the other hand, I am correct in believing that "attractions" are merely a kind of default quality of cinema and that the tendency towards narrative is present from the very beginning of film, one would equally expect the changes to reflect this. The attractions in the film are not extravagant - the emphasis as with all Lumière films is on the ordinary and the familiar - but there is the rush of people as the exit, the sheer sensation of movement and, most conspicuously the departure through the gates(in two versions of the film) of a horse-drawn carriage. With respect to narrative, one would expect some element of story, incidental to the exodus from the workplace itself, rather as we have seen in Lavanchy-Clark's film of the water-toboggan ride in Geneva and perhaps most crucially some sense of a beginning, middle and an end to the film, particularly with respect to "closure", one of the most key characteristics of all narrative.22

train arrivingIt is uncertain if the very first version of the film, shot in March 189523. survives but the earliest surviving film is believed to have been filmed just a few months later24. Of the four versions known to survive, only there are strictly speaking the same film, since the fourth, probably filmed in 1897, is filmed at a different exit altogether. Of the three films shot in the chemin Saint-Victor (now known as rue du 1er film), the first surviving version of May 1895 is the one most likely to have been made by Louis Lumière himself. The employees, mainly women at first, leave from the main exit higgeldy-piggledy, departing both left and right. A dog then enters on the right, seemingly waiting for a man, wearing a cap and riding a bicycle, who makes his way through the women. The dog barks in welcome as the cyclist crosses diagonally and both dog and cyclist exit right. While the women continue to exit as before, a man enters the other door and several people begin to exit from that door too although they are barely visible to us. A man in a boater wheeling a cycle unsteadily emerges amongst the women from the main exit. He glances back to see if he has caused any damage behind him before crossing in front of the camera to exit left. There are more men now exiting with the women, one coming out, swatting in the air at something with what looks like a newspaper, who departs right in some haste. As a carriage, pulled by two horses, emerges from the main exit, another man in a boater riding a bicycle crosses just in front of it and glances towards the camera as he too exits right. The carriage, which plays little part in the film, begins to makes its way through the exit, as a dog, barely visible, flits across in front of the camera as the film ends.

cyclist with cap and dog
cyclist with cap and dog"
cyclist in boater
cyclist in boater"
Man swatting

train arrivingThe second version, shot nearly a year later, in March 1896, commences with a solitary dog lying oustide the factory, well to the right, but immediately the employees (and another dog) start to pile out of the main exit higgeldy-piggledy, departing both left and right.The dog, still well to the right of the frame, stands up momentarily to observe, partly concealed by the passing people, then disappears abruptly (off right). A child, running, crosses in front of the camera. A woman with a basket crosses in front of the camera, looking towards it as she passses. A man comes out of a second door. As women continue to leave, more slowly now, from the main exit, further women begin to leave from the second door, one running towards the camera. Yet another dog enters right and crosses in front of the camera. Men and women are now leaving from the main exit. A child runs rapidly across in front of the camera (visible only as a vague blur in the still). Dog number three returns (from the left) and stands centrally, tail to camera, watching the exodus. A horse and carriage lumbers through the main exit and a man wheeling a bicycle sumultaneouly emerges from the second door. The dog barks and departs (off right). The carriage crosses diagonally in front of the cyclist, completely obscuring him, to exit off right. Amongst those exiting now from the main exit there is a man riding a bicycle but here the film ends rather abruptly. In this second version of the film, two dogs appear in the film and feature in no less than three separate "episodes". The first dog is poorly framed, the second neatly caught in the centre of the camera but it is merely the effect of chance; no attempt is made to give their appearance any significance within the narrative of the film. The climax of the film is the appearance of the imposing carriage. Black and rather sinister, nearly as high as the exit through which it passes, it completely dominates the attention in the latter part of the film.

hurrying woman
hurrying woman
flitting dog
flitting dog
flitting child
flitting child

In the third version, believed to have been shot in August 1896, women exit in rather more stately fashion and far more gaily dressed from both the main exit and the second door to the right at the same time. The camera-position has been changed so that it is less frontal and concentrates only on the women departing to the left. We see an employee in overalls opening the doors before the women begin to exit. Women are joined from both exits by men wearing straw boaters. As people continue to emerge, a cyclist in a boater rides out, accompanied by a dog with whom he clearly collides, and swerves so that he has to be helped upright by a colleague (all directly in front of the camera). They exit hurriedly together right and the general exodus continues. Another cylist rides out. Two more cyclists emerge simultaneously from both exits. A third and a fourth cyclist follow. The numbers thin. The door to the right closes. A last man in a boater, taking his time, comes through the main exit as the gates slowly begin to close behind him. In the very centre of the frame a dog emerges from behind the camera and lumbers slowly in the direction of the man in the boater as the film ends.

opening the doors
opening the doors
the bicyle accident
the bicyle accident

It would be very covenient if I could show that theeris a decrease in "attractions" and in increase in "narrative" with each film thatwas made. In fact, as far as the first two films are concerned, it is quite patent that the opposite is occcurring. Of the first two versions, the first, that most probably shot by Lumière himself, while it is not greatly different in style from the second, is distinctly both the better film and the more "narrative" in its content. There is less hustle and bustle, fewer dogs, with the appearance of the carriage, a smaller affair though drawn by two horses, left till the very end of the film; there are no distracting figures flashing across the face of the camera. The second version, on the other hand, privileges, as many early townscapes and streetscapes did, the hustle and bustle of movement, perceived as being a feature of interest in itself to the very first audiences. Apart from the woman running, there are several instances of people or animals flashing across the camera, probably in part at least by design. This is a technique used in some early films to enhance the effect of movement but it is an effect that does not work very well, in the sense that it merely distracts the viewer's attention from the scene and disrupts the flow of the film. We have seen earlier how the Edison cameraman William Heise, in shooting Herald Square, had the not very bright idea of positioning the camers so that "the 'L' train" (the electric train) periodically flashes across the face of the camera. Indeed the whole film in this second version bears more resemblance to US practice than it does to that of the Lumières and it is perhaps its unsatisfactory nature that led to its being remade once again just a few months later.

One feature of the first version is crucial and is indeed the focal point of the film. The cyclist in the cap, as we know from his memoirs, is François Doublier, an employee who regularly assisted Lumière in his film-making and would later spend three years as a Lumière "operator" in Russia. In other words we are talking, in a sense, of an "actor", a figurant (a convenient French word for someone who "figures" in a film, whether actor or no) whose presence is anything but incidental, who has ben placed there to fulfil a specific function and to perform a specific role in the film. The collision with the dog has, in other words, been staged, to give a particular sense to the proceedings, absent from the earlier version of the film, and to introduce what is quite patently a significant "narrative" element. It seems likely too that other fatures, notably absent from the second version, such as the clumsy cyclist in the boater and man swatting the air with his paper, are similarly "arranged" effects.

So it is true, that the second version is, in nearly every respect, more of an "attractions" film than the first, and, if only these two versions had sruvived,we would have a very misleading picture of what was going on. In fact the second film represents much less well the general policy discernible in Lumière films and the general tendency towards "narrative" that they represent. This is very clear from the third and final version of the film, where there is a very evident mise en scène at work, based on the pattern established in the Lumière original. The changed camera-angle is intended to draw the attention of the audience where the film-maker wishes that attention to be; all spurious elements that might be considered "attractions", including the carriage and the barking dog, are suppressed. The "scene" involving the cyclist, still perhaps played by Doublier, is expanded to become even more clearly the focus of the film. The opening and closing of the gates provide a clear "beginning" and "ending" to the film and the man with the boater and the waiting dog who feature in the final "scene" have a function that might be described as symbolic and which helps to give the ending a certain air of pathos.

It is reasonable to take the first version as a sort of benchmark. Louis Lumière did not himself make an enormous number of films but his role in determining policy in rgard to how the films were made was absolutely crucial. If a strong sense of mise en scène informs the work of the company and distinguishes it qualitatively in a very marked fashion from the films made by the contemorary US companies, that was becuase of Lumière's own experience and skill as a photographer and his inisistence on maintaining a strict control over the quality of the films made. And to a very large extent mise en scène is synonymous with "narrative". The more the film is controlled by the film-maker, the more it is in effect"staged", the more it will tend towards narration. While The second version is in that sense something of an aberration, the third, which returns to Lumière's own model, represents a clear development in this use of mise en scène.

Cyclistes et cavaliers arrivant au cottage (1896)Another inevitable result of mise en scène, is the supression of superfluous and distracting detail. Only in the second film is mere hustle and bustle regarded as an attraction; in the third and last film it is entirely absent. The most obvious "attraction" elemenet, the carriage, is of little account in the first film, where its appearance in the exit simply provides a finale; only in the second film does it loomwith an entirely inexplicable significance. In the third, there is no carriage at all. If there is an abdundance of bicycles in the third film, this is not just because they represent an "attraction" (although indeed they do to some extent), but because they are at the period an important symbol both of prosperity and of physical well-beingand the bicyle appears in other Lumière films of the time to similar effect.25 No doubt the intention here is also to display the Lumière workers and hence the Lumière factory at its best.

The cyclist also becmae a very typical device for introducing a "narrative"eleemnt in what might otherwise have been just another compsoed view, a technique copied also by other film-makers. The classic example is Bataille de neige (Snowball Fight), filmed in Lyon in early 1897. Snowball fights were common "attarctions" of the early cinema but here the operator has arranged for the fight to be disturbed by a passing cyclist upon whom the snowballers all fall.. The rival French company Pathé had already produced a "snowball fight" film itself in 1896, involving playful dragoons.26.In 1897 they speedily remade the film, still with dragoons, but with a cyclist intervening, just as in the Lumière film, "to add", as the Pathé catalogue has it,"a comic note to thie very active scene". The phrase makes the point perfectly. Attractions were not enough; a narrative element was required.

Bataille de neige (Lumière)
Bataille de neige (Lumière)
Bataille de neige (Pathé)
Bataille de neige (Pathé)

The narrative thrust is already clear enough in this respect in Lumière's original film but it is even clearer in the third and final version tosurvive. The emphasis has shifted from the subject-matter (the mere visual attraction of the image itself) to the subject, to its raison d'être, its significance, its purpose. It is of little importance to simply show the exit and the workers. What matters is to say something about them and their lifestyle, and by extension, to say something of course also about their noble employers. In addition to this, the various episodes involving the cyclists go further in providing an element of entertaining narrative. In both repects, what is narrated by the picture is already taking precedence over what is shown and the former is in fact increasingly determining the latter.