Carmaux, défournage du coke (1896)
In the years following the invention of cinema, the Lumières sent agent across the world in search of interesting and exotic subject matter with which to entertain their audiences. But in 1896, with the future of cinema still uncertain, they kept their cameras a little closer to home. Carmaux was — still is, actually — fairly close to Lyon, the city in which the Lumières were based. It was once an important mining town, but the mines closed in 2000, leaving this movie as a modest testimony to the industry that once thrived there.
As with most early movies, Carmaux, defournage du coke is filmed using a static camera located in a position designed to obtain the best possible angle. Far from being some illegal substance harvested on an industrial scale, the coke of the title is — it says here – the solid carbonaceous material derived from destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal, which means it’s a manufactured source of low-fume fuel used in stoves and furnaces. The film, which lasts little more than thirty seconds, shows a huge steaming block of coke slowly emerging from the furnace in which it has been manufactured. Exactly how it is pushed out is something of a mystery. It’s certainly too hot to be manually handled as we see from the way in which one plucky soul with a long forked pole cautiously stabs at the block as it emerges in an attempt to break it up. Standing in front of the coke a workmate with a hose sprays the block with water to cool it down. Meanwhile, we see other workers pushing huge trolleys — presumably used to transport coal — across the roof of the furnace.
Carmaux, défournage du coke is interesting thanks only to the unusual subject matter and its brevity. In all probability, were it much more than thirty seconds long it would quickly lose its fascination.
(Reviewed 1st August 2014)