Some Notes on Lumière & Co.

December 28, 1895. Around twenty people are gathered in Le Grand Café in Paris. They drink heartily, smoke stylishly and banter noisily as they await the premiere of two local industrialists fantastic contraption. Dubbed the Cinématographe, it is reputed to be able to capture the vibrant vistas of life, opening a window to places far away and times long past.

When the Lumière brothers projected L'ARRIVÉE D'UN TRAIN À LA CIOTAT, the audience saw the image of a train moving towards them. Panicked and confused, they evacuated the theater, and the first public showing of a motion picture was complete.

Fast forward one hundred years. Philippe Poulet, wanting to celebrate the Lumière brothers' achievement, came up with challenging famed world directors (and obscure French ones) to make a film using only the technology available at the dawn of the art. To this end, he restored one of the original Cinématographes and set three rules. Rule One: Each film would be a single fifty-two second shot, as Cinématographes could hold little celluloid and editing had not yet been invented. Rule Two: No synchronous sound or artificial lights. Rule Three: Only three takes would be allowed, as celluloid was an extremely expensive commodity in 1895.

Forty filmmakers accepted the venture, creating on what Roger Ebert terms a cinematic haiku. Their work, which ranges from simple to complex and fascinating to tedious, is chronicled in tonight's film. However, LUMIÈRE & COMPANY does not stop here--it intersperses documentary footage of the new Lumière films being made as well as talking heads footage of the famous filmmakers wrestling with unanswerable and pretentious questions that could only be thought of by a French film critic. "Why do you film?" "Is cinema mortal?" By and large, the interviewees respond with pompous profundity or bewildered shrugs. The only memorable comment that ascends from these digressions is from Michael Haneke, who says, "Never ask a centipede why it walks or it will stumble." Ah, that they could have heeded his advice.

While the experiment itself is fascinating, the results are largely disappointing. I enjoyed only ten of the forty films. As these ten minutes are truly amazing and the rest of the film--supercilious interviews and boring making-of clips--is so terrible, I feel compelled to give the viewer a guide to watching LUMIÈRE & COMPANY. Below is a blow-by-blow account of the movie, with indications when each segment starts. Check it out, decide what you want to see, and feel free to skip the rest. (*'s indicate the sections I liked.)

* 0m Louis Lumière A baby girl walks with help
* 4m How to use the Cinématographe
* 6m Patrice Leconte L'ARRIVÉE D'UN TRAIN À LA CIOTAT revisited
* 9m Gabriel Axel A progression through the Seven Arts
10m Claude Miller Women weighing themselves
12m Jacques Rivette UNE ADVENTURE DE NINON
16m Michael Haneke The news on 3/19/95, the 100th Anniversary of the first Lumière shot
17m Fernando Trueba A conscientious objector is released from jail
19m Merzak Allouache An Algerian woman and man stare at the camera
21m Raymond Depardon Children decorate an Egyptian statue
23m Wim Wenders Two men talking in front of war-torn ruins
25m Jaco van Dormael Adults with Down's syndrome passionately kissing
26m Louis Lumière Paris in 1895 from a train
28m Nadine Trintignant The pyramid and fountains of the entrance of the Louvre
29m Régis Wargnier François Mitterand walking through rows of trees
* 31m Hugh Hudson Small girl at the Hiroshima memorial
* 33m Zhang Yimou Traditional Chinese on the Great Wall of China
36m Liv Ullman Filming Sven Nykvist filming
37m Vicente Aranda A parade in Barcelona to Zaragosa
39m Lucian Pintilie "You can bring a horse to a helicopter, but you can't make it board."
42m John Boorman On the set of MICHAEL COLLINS (with Neil Jordan, Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, and Alan Rickman)
43m Claude Lelouch A couple passionately kisses as their camera crew gets more modern
45m Abbas Kiarostami In a frying pan, butter melts and an egg cooks
46m Louis Lumière A train goes into a tunnel
48m Lasse Hallström A woman with a baby waves to a departing train
49m Costa-Gavras Schoolkids stare into the camera
* 50m Yoshishige Yoshida Two cameramen filming
53m Idrissa Ouedraogo African natives canoeing
54m Gaston Kaboré Kids look at prints newly delivered to a movie theater
58m Youssef Chahine Men interact in front of the Pyramids
59m Helma Sanders-Brahms A light display is set up in front of a waterfall
* 61m Francis Girod A still image of a television
63m Cédric Klapisch A woman swooning into a man's arms
* 64m Alain Corneau A gypsy dances with a miraculous dress
* 66m James Ivory & Ismail Merchant A street in the 19th century
68m Louis Lumière Trolleys in New York
69m Jerry Schatzberg A bag lady argues with a dumptruck driver
70m Spike Lee Satchel Lee (infant daughter of Spike) tries to speak
* 72m Andrei Konchalovsky A picturesque canyon
74m Peter Greenaway Various images
75m J. J. Bigas Luna A woman breast-feeds her infant
77m Arthur Penn A white man in bandages lying on the ground
* 79m David Lynch Something that lurks beneath middle-class America...
81m Theo Angelopoulos Ulysses stares back at the camera

In closing, it should be noted that the films that the Lumières (and company) made at the dawn of cinema are interesting in their own right--they capture the crude awe that typifies early cinema. A restored collection, released under the title LUMIÈRE: THE FIRST PICTURE SHOW (1996) is entertainingly narrated by French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier. Through this film, one not only learns much history, but truly feels the awe that struck audiences one hundred years ago.

[Home] [Index]