La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière (1895)
Director: Louis Lumière
Cast: Workers of the Lumière factory.
Synopsis: A man opens the big gates to the Lumière factory. Through the gateway and a smaller doorway beside it, workers stream out.
The next time you hand over your £10.00 to watch the latest big budget movie release, remember that this is where it all began. Without a La sortie des usines Lumière there would have been no movies. It was the first film shown at the first screening in front of a paying public in Paris on 28th December 1895. It holds an important place in the history of cinema — even more important than the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies, believe it or not — and provides the perfect starting point from which to explore the history of cinema.
The title roughly translates as Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory, and the film shows just that, the employees of the pioneering filmmakers Auguste and Louis Lumiere, pouring through the double gates of their factory in Lyon. It appears that they might have been primed about the camera waiting for them to emerge and instructed not to stare at it, but a few of course are unable to resist sneaking a peek. It’s not much to look at today, although it does of course provide a valuable insight into the clothes worn by the average worker, most of whom, it’s interesting to note, are women, but it must have blown them away on that December night in 1895. In fact, one member of the audience was Georges Melies, who was so impressed he even tried to purchase a camera from the Lumieres that very night, only to be told that it was just a novelty with no future! Fortunately, Melies refused to be discouraged and would go on to claim his own important place in the history of the cinema after producing hundreds of trick-photography movies in the years when the cinema was still finding its feet.
La sortie des usines Lumière is less than a minute long, and despite its static camerawork and mundane subject matter, there’s something endlessly fascinating about it simply because it is such an important piece of history. There are now, in fact, three different versions of the movie — that’s right, the first ever director’s cut! — each of them showing a different group of workers clocking off for the night. Interestingly, the only character amongst a cast of, if not thousands then at least dozens, that appears in all three movies is a curious dog who of course has no idea that his inquisitive nature is earning him a shot at celluloid immortality.
(Reviewed 22nd July 2014)