Place des Cordeliers à Lyon (1895)    2 Stars


Director: Louis Lumière

Synopsis: A stationary camera looks across the boulevard at a diagonal toward one corner of Lyon’s Cordeliers’ Square.






Many, many films like Place des Cordeliers à Lyon were made in the earliest years of cinema. Before plot or characterisation were even thought of, a camera would simply be placed on the corner of a square or the end of a street and the cameraman would crank its handle for one minute while those caught in the scope of its lens went unknowingly about their business. But even that simple shot was enough to fascinate the audiences of the day — at least for a while. This kind of film quickly became commonplace — in fact, by the early years of the 20th Century, films were being used as ‘chasers’ which theatre managers would screen at the end of a show in order to see off stragglers who might be planning to hang around to get a second sitting for free! — but watching them today is a little like travelling back in time.

Apparently most, if not all, of the buildings seen here still remain — one comment on YouTube claims that the building on the far right of the shot is now a sushi bar — but the street itself must be drastically different. Motor cars were a relatively new invention back in 1895 and far too expensive for the majority of the population, so the only vehicles we see here are horse-drawn carriages. It would be marvellous to be able to hear what the city streets sounded like back then, just the sound of human voices, the clip of horses’ hooves and perhaps the occasional call of a bird. There’s an undeniable poignancy built into these modest little films today, a wistful glimpse of an age long past and of people long dead.

(Reviewed 24th July 2014)