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Happy Birthday, Cinema!

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

125 years ago today marks the anniversary of the first public cinema screening by Lumière Brothers.

Over the course of its history, cinema has survived the rise of television, the internet and pay-content platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. But now that it has to cope with self-quarantine and social-distance due to the pandemic situation, everybody is wondering if it this is going to kill it off for good.

Today marks the 125th anniversary of the first public screening of a movie. It was December 28, 1895 when the Lumière Brothers offered a movie to a paying audience for the very first time in history in the Salon Indien at the Grand Café in Paris. And this year, more than ever, it happens to be a symbolic anniversary, with many cinemas around the world forced to close their doors because of lockdowns.

Here above: the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière, inventors of the cinématographe, the first film camera which also served as a cinema projector.

That evening the concept of the cinema was born, meant as that dark room full of strangers where moving pictures are projected on silver screen. This first projection was an experience just for a bunch of people: those lucky which could afford to pay the ticket, of course. The screening program comprised ten short films by Lumière Brothers and were no more than 40 seconds long with the most well-known among them being the "Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory" (a.k.a. La Sortie de l’usine Lumière). The 46-second film showed a group of workers leaving the Lumière factory in Montplaisir, on the outskirts of Lyon.

"Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory", Lumière Brothers, 1895

"Suddenly, the life-size image becomes alive. It is the door of a factory that opens and lets out a flow of workers, with bicycles, running dogs, cars: everything is shaking, moving. It is the life itself, it is the movement shot live."

- La Poste, 30 Dicember 1895

The Salon Indien could only fit 120 people at a time, which means a crowd would gather in front of the café to be lucky enough to attend one of the projections. This new Cinématographe technology was so successful that three weeks after the premiere, between 2000 and 2500 tickets were sold every day and all without any newspaper advertising!

It was such an unprecedented success in France for the Lumières that in the following days the public became huge, halls opened everywhere and within nine months a screening was organised in the port of Shanghai. From the early days of 1896 the Lumière brothers began to capitalise their invention and their idea of collective projections. They chose not to sell the patent to Georges Méliès but to create a network of dealers, which was more economically advantageous by far.

"Cinemas died often, yet they’re still alive"

- Thierry Fremaux, Director of Cannes Film Festival

It is in the words of Thierry Fremaux that we place all our trust in science to overcome Corona virus, so that we can soon return to enjoy this pleasant experience which has now been around for 125 years.


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