Film wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the following pioneers of 19th-century cinema.
These film pioneers pushed the boundaries of what was possible, and their contributions have had a lasting effect on Film as we know it.
The Lumière Brothers (Auguste: 1862 – 1954, Louis: 1864 – 1948)
The French have been quite influential in the progression of cinema. Auguste and Louis Lumière created the Cinématographe in 1895, a device that records film stock and projects the footage on-screen. This invention marked the start of the silent era and film, as we know it. These pioneers created minute-long “views”, such as L’Arroseur Arrosé and La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière a Lyon, and played them for paying customers. This was also the first time that cinema became a business.
Another influential film of theirs was L’Arrivé d’Un Train En Gare De La Ciotat (Arrival of a Train at La Coitat Station). While it was merely a train moving quickly down the tracks, it was the angle of the shot that made all the difference. As the train moved steadily towards the screen, the audience truly believed the train was going to hit them. It was the first time that a film provoked fear in its audience. It might not impress many people in 2012, but in the 1800s, this was original and imaginative. People had never seen anything like it. If it weren’t for this film, no one would have thought of the idea of objects moving towards the screen in a realistic way, and we would never have the 3D special effects commonly found in films today.
George Méliès (1861 – 1938)
George Méliès is another influential French filmmaker. He did something that no one else had ever done; he told stories. Before Méliès, films were about very ordinary, everyday things, but Méliès’ work was imaginative. He told stories of supernatural places and used very elaborate sets and costumes (similar to those found in plays) to transport his audience to another place. His film Un Voyage A La Lune (A Trip to the Moon) still stands out amongst other films for its imagery and creativity.
Not only did he completely re-invent cinema in the silent era (and for years to come), he also invented techniques that we continue to use. In 1896, he accidentally invented stop motion. His camera got stuck during filming and when he played the footage, he noticed the special effect. This discovery paved the way for future directors such as Tim Burton, George Pal, and Henry Selick who are all famous for their stop motion animation.
If it weren’t for Méliès, films wouldn’t be about fictional things and people. Rather than being thrilling, films would be dull and unimaginative.
Edwin S. Porter (1870 – 1941)
American-born filmmaker Edwin S. Porter also paved the way. While his films were released in the early 1900s, his work was still a crucial part of early cinema.
Just like L’Arrivé d’Un Train En Gare De La Ciotat, Porter’s The Great Train Robbery also evoked fear in its audience. In a particular scene, one of the criminals is shooting directly at the camera, appearing as though he were shooting at the audience. It’s these creative ideas that led to many, many more in the future. The film was also the very first western in history.