Category: French History
[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 447 – quatre cent quarante-sept.
[00:00:22] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France. Everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy and news related to travel to France.
Today on the podcast
[00:00:36] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about the Frères Lumières, the Lumière Brothers. August and Louis are fascinating figures in history due to their pioneering work in early cinema, as they are credited with inventing the cinematograph and hosting the world’s first public movie screening. It’s hard to imagine a world without moving images now. What they’ve created, changed the world.
[00:01:06] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service and my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app.
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[00:01:24] Annie Sargent: If you just want to read the details about the tours and read reviews, go to JoinUsinFrance.com/Annietours.
[00:01:33] Annie Sargent: This recording with Elyse about the Lumière brothers ran long, so there won’t be a magazine part of the podcast after my chitchat with Elyse today.
Thank you, Patrons!
[00:01:44] Annie Sargent: I want to thank my patrons for making this podcast possible. You have been supporting me for a long time, thank you so much. And a shout out this week to new patrons: Karen Newlin, Colleen Miller, Tobi Carlson and David Whitehead. Thank you so much for becoming patrons or renewing as a patron and making this podcast possible.
Install the Patreon app
[00:02:09] Annie Sargent: Patrons, I would like to encourage you to install the Patreon app on your phone. It will help you enjoy your rewards while on the go, which include audio and video rewards.
[00:02:20] Annie Sargent: This week I published a video update for patrons with a question, should I add a monthly video conference as a reward? I know not all of you will be able to make it every month, of course, but it would be fun to have a regularly scheduled chitchat once a month with whoever can show up. What do you think? As always, send your feedback to Annie@JoinUsinFrance.Com.
[00:02:45] Annie Sargent: My thanks to podcast editors, Anne and Cristian Cotovan who produce the transcripts.
Next week on the podcast
[00:02:51] Annie Sargent: And next week on the podcast, an episode about the Loire Valley and Joan of Arc with Kim Loftus.
Annie and Elyse about the Lumières brothers
[00:03:07] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Elyse.
[00:03:08] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Annie.
[00:03:09] Annie Sargent: We have a very interesting topic today and one that I know just about, not much about. Nothing. Okay? Nothing. I know nothing about this, because I’m really an audio person. I love to listen to stuff. I don’t watch things so much. Movies? No. No. And so, but you are a “moviephile”. Is that a word?
[00:03:31] Elyse Rivin: That I, you just maybe made it, I don’t know if it exists already, but I will accept the title.
[00:03:38] Elyse Rivin: I will indeed. Yes.
Elyse’s love for movies
[00:03:39] Annie Sargent: You go to movies, you’ve seen all the movies, I mean, you even go to movie houses where I’m like, why would anybody go there?
[00:03:47] Elyse Rivin: Well, let’s put it this way, I feel like I was weaned of the bottle by going to the movies. So this goes back…
[00:03:55] Annie Sargent: What do you mean?
[00:03:56] Elyse Rivin: I mean, that I, as far back as I can remember, as far back as I can remember, I watched movies.
[00:04:02] Elyse Rivin: I watched them growing up on television, old movies on television. I loved the visuals. Of coursethat’s partly my background anyway. But I, from the beginning, I really, as far back as I can remember, I was in love with movies. I was in love with what they represent, the visuals of them, the stories about them.
[00:04:20] Elyse Rivin: And then as I got a bit older and starting in high school, I started going to see foreign movies, which at the time in the States was a big deal. It was very exotic, you know, nobody did things like that. And wound up becoming a real cinephile, going to see the entire works of…, and I can list the number of different filmmakers that I have seen actually every single movie that they’ve made, you know?
[00:04:48] Annie Sargent: Wow. That’s crazy.
[00:04:48] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. And so I’m not someone who’s interested so much as you are more in the technical part, you know, like how did they film that scene? I know a little bit about how they did it and can explain that, but I’m interested just like about things like painting or sculpture, the style of the different people who made movies.
History of cinema and it’s relationship to France
[00:05:07] Elyse Rivin: And in this case, what we’re going to talk about is the history of cinema and it’s relationship to France, because France is really the home of the beginning of cinema.
[00:05:19] Annie Sargent: Right. So I knew that much, it pretty much started here. Because invention of many of the machines that you need to make movies. And we’ve now been.
[00:05:34] Elyse Rivin: We were left behind by Hollywood. I mean, Hollywood is just THE place.
[00:05:38] Elyse Rivin: It’s the place. Of course, you know, there is Bollywood too, which apparently, I mean, I don’t know from a technical point of view, but if I remember something like they turn out about a film a day.It’s like eating popcorn over there.
[00:05:51] Elyse Rivin: But in fact, when we talk about this, what will be interesting to know is that from the beginning, from the get go, there was an absolute rivalry between France and the United States because the original, original, original first gadget or machine, which was called a kinetoscope, was created by Thomas Edison.
[00:06:12] Elyse Rivin: I see. Okay.
[00:06:13] Elyse Rivin: And it was a machine. Now of course, he’s the one that also is responsible for creating telephones and, you know…
[00:06:19] Annie Sargent: Yeah, just ask Americans, he invented everything. Everything. He invented everything.
[00:06:24] Elyse Rivin: We’re talking really about the 1880s. We’re talking about basically 150 years ago.
[00:06:29] Elyse Rivin: But photography itself was actuallyfirst developed in France, and that goes back to the 1830s. That was the very beginning of photography. So what we’re looking at is that 50 years later, there are these people and there are a whole bunch of them who start imagining using what was originally just still imagery, you know, as a way of making something move.
[00:06:50] Elyse Rivin: And this is where we get into the wonderful magical, to me, absolutely magical world of cinema. But from the beginning, and there are different episodes that are sometimes a little comme burlesque, I think that’s the right word to use. They’re almost burlesque, actually.
[00:07:05] Elyse Rivin: There is this absolute rivalry between who’s going to do it first, the Americans or the French?
[00:07:11] Annie Sargent: All right. Let’s see if you can settle this for us, Elyse.
[00:07:13] Elyse Rivin: We’re going to settle, see if we can, but first of all, I have a couple of questions for you. Okay. You admit to not knowing much, but I’m just, here’s my first question:
[00:07:20] Elyse Rivin: Name a French movie, and it doesn’t matter from what period of time it is, just name me a French movie that you have seen.
[00:07:26] Annie Sargent: Nikita.
[00:07:27] Elyse Rivin: Good. Okay. Do you remember who did the movie?
[00:07:31] Annie Sargent: I think it was Luc Besson.
[00:07:32] Elyse Rivin: Very good, Annie. See? So that’s not so bad.
[00:07:35] Annie Sargent: Well, it’sjust about the only one that I’ve seen more than once.
[00:07:38] Elyse Rivin: Okay. Well, but okay. But interesting, now the reason I’m asking you the question is because this is one of the things that I find, I realized that more and more as I was doing the research for this, because I find this also extremely interesting. Of course, everybody out there knows that I have an art background, but you knew who made the movie. And one of the things that distinguishes French cinema and the history of it really from American cinema is that from the beginning, and this really continues pretty much up to today, in France, we identify films by the person who made them, and there’s very few people like that.
[00:08:16] Elyse Rivin: Maybe Spielberg is one of the few exceptions.
[00:08:19] Annie Sargent: Yes, I can name a few of his movies as well. Not all of them, but…
[00:08:22] Elyse Rivin: Right.
[00:08:22] Elyse Rivin: But in Hollywood and in the United States we remember the movies, but we don’t necessarily talk specifically about the directors or what I would prefer to call the creators of the movie, you know. And in France that is exactly who we do remember. That you knew the name Nikita and you remembered who had made it.
[00:08:42] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And I also loved another one of his, Le Grand Bleu. Which is, I mean, it’s like a, almost, oh, how would I put it? When you watch it, it feels like you’re being hypnotized or something by the sea, or you know, it’s a meditation.
[00:08:57] Annie Sargent: Yes. Yes. But it’s very pleasant. Like we bought it on Blu-ray, and watched it on Blu-ray. Oh, it was so… when you have a nice sound system and a Blu-ray image, it’s lovely.
Let’s talk about the beginning
[00:09:09] Elyse Rivin: There you are, there you are. So really from the beginning,the idea of the vision of the creator is really important. So let’s talk about the beginning.
[00:09:20] Annie Sargent: All right, let’s go back.
[00:09:21] Elyse Rivin: So let’s go back. Let’s start really at the beginning, beginning, beginning, which is really in the 1880s. So there are a group of people, both in France and on the other side of the Atlantic, who are fiddling around with these gadgets.
[00:09:36] Elyse Rivin: After there’s basically photography, which of course up until that time has been on these, you know, what they call argentique plates, these very big plates they haven’t yet created, they’re beginning by the end of the 19th century to create smaller plates. And then of course, Eastman Kodak develops this process for making photography a little bit easier.
[00:09:54] Elyse Rivin: But what happens is that there are people who realize that there are possibilities for all of this, and the possibilities are in the domain of making things move. So really at the very beginning, we could say that the very first imagery was really more animation.
[00:10:13] Elyse Rivin: Not necessarily using real people and real scenes, but the idea of creating something that moves, you know?
Muiberg’s optical illusion
[00:10:19] Elyse Rivin: And there was the kinetoscope, which basically is a kind of round wheel, you know, it’s the whole idea that if,like Muiberg who created this optical illusion. He was a photographer who took hundreds of photographs of this horse running and he flipped them very quickly.
[00:10:36] Annie Sargent: Oh yeah like the little flip books that you buy for kids now, yeah.
[00:10:39] Elyse Rivin: Exactly. And what happens is you see the horse running, you know, that…
[00:10:43] Elyse Rivin: So this is how this all began. There was this idea that, oh boy, we can do this new interesting kind of thing.
[00:10:48] Annie Sargent: Right. So if you have lots of images of the something similar in action, then you… It moves, yeah.
[00:10:54] Elyse Rivin: Then you can do it. But what happened was, so Edison himself in the 1880s got a copyright for a machine that he called a kinetoscope, but it was a machine that is more similar to a pinball machine than anything else because it was a kind of console. I’ve seen a couple of photos of it, kind of ponderous, kind of weird console.
[00:11:15] Elyse Rivin: And in the center it’s this tiny, tiny little screen and you paid whatever it was at the time, probably 5 cents or whatever, and you stuck your face right up against the screen and you looked at these little things move, you know, and it lasted less than a minute, you know, maybe 50 seconds or something.
[00:11:33] Annie Sargent: Oh yeah. And they used to sell little things like that for kids.
[00:11:36] Annie Sargent: Oh, I don’t know what they were called, but sometimes you still find them in museum stores. So you have like something you can buy that weird looking images moving.
Emile Reynaud’s Optical Theater, Illuminated Pantomimes
[00:11:44] Elyse Rivin: And so this is what happened. So in the 1880s, there was a man named Emile Reynaud.
[00:11:50] Elyse Rivin: I actually had never heard of him before, to be honest, I mean, it was really interesting to read about him. He had seenEdison’s machine, and he was, he thought to himself very cleverly that it would be more interesting and more profitable to create a system where groups of people could look at these moving images at the same time rather than one person at a time.
[00:12:13] Annie Sargent: I see. So instead of sticking your head into a machine you could all sit back and watch the… Yeah.
[00:12:19] Annie Sargent: Okay, clever man Emile Reynaud. Yes. Yes.
[00:12:22] Elyse Rivin: And he decided to call, he made amachine, he invented a machine that was like a rotating horizontal band. I have actually seen a couple of photos of it on Wikipedia, and he decided to call what he was doing Optical Theater.
[00:12:35] Elyse Rivin: Well, it’s very, I don’t know what I mean, it’s not a particularly… it’s a name, yeah, it’s a name.
[00:12:40] Elyse Rivin: You know, it’s a name. And he must have known the people who had the Grevin museum in Paris because he was able to rent a room in their museum. Well, I don’t even know how long their museum has been around, but obviously it existed by that time.
[00:12:55] Elyse Rivin: And he set up this machine and he invited a group of peopleto come, I mean, he put out a little bit of publicity. And he used a wall, just an open blank wall to project what he called, Illuminated Pantomimes. And what he did was fascinating. You can actually go on internet and find some of these images.
[00:13:17] Elyse Rivin: He took plates and he did hand painted black and white drawings, and then he used some color to color in a little bit of it. So this was basically the very, very beginning of what we would call animation.
[00:13:31] Elyse Rivin: Andhe projected these, and the longest piece he ever did was three minutes, which at the time was considered extremely long.
[00:13:40] Elyse Rivin: So apparently, the first time he had 35 people in the audience and he charged them each one frank, which at the time was a huge amount of money. So he was really targeting a relatively affluent population, people who already knew about photography, who were interested in kind of new gadgets and things like that.
[00:13:58] Annie Sargent: You always pay more if you’re the first one to buy it.
[00:14:01] Elyse Rivin: Always pay more, right? And luckily for him, there were actually a couple of, I don’t know if they were newspaper critiques or something like that, but the word spread that this was fascinating. This was this new kind of gadget with these moving images.
[00:14:17] Elyse Rivin: And so he started making a lot of money. And believe it or not, between 1892 and 1900, it is estimated that his work was seen by over a half a million people. Wow. And he copyrighted this machine that he had invented.
[00:14:34] Elyse Rivin: But alas, and this is always what happens because as you and I both know, every few years somebody finds a way of refining on something that’s already been invented.
[00:14:44] Annie Sargent: Of course, of course.
[00:14:45] Elyse Rivin: One of the biggest problems with his invention, because he’d made a lot of money, he’d become very wealthy, and he was becoming very famous. But because everything was hand painted, there was no way really to make copies. So it was in this one theater in Paris that people were able to see his new thing called basically what we would now call an animated cartoon.
[00:15:11] Annie Sargent: So it was not scalable, which is a problem.
[00:15:13] Elyse Rivin: Which is a problem, and which is a very big problem.
Frères Lumière, The Light Brothers
[00:15:17] Elyse Rivin: And so what happens is along come the Frères Lumière.
[00:15:22] Annie Sargent: Excellent name, excellent name.
[00:15:25] Elyse Rivin: You know, it’s kind of ironic because I used to think that was like a pseudonym, but absolutely not.
[00:15:30] Elyse Rivin: Was their name, that was their name.
[00:15:32] Elyse Rivin: It was the Light Brothers. Right? And the Light Brothers were actually August and Louis, who were the sons of a very wealthy industrialist from Lyon. They were from Lyon. In fact, the museum that they have is of course still in Lyon. And their father had been to see these animated cartoons that were made by Emile Reynaud in Paris.
[00:15:55] Elyse Rivin: And the father, who obviously seems to have been the one who was really the visionary, he basically said to his children, Sons, you know, you are going to make us a fortune because you are going to work with me and we’re going to develop a different machine and a different way of doing this so that more and more people can see these new things called animated cartoons.
[00:16:20] Elyse Rivin: And what they did was they were inspired by what Edison had developed, which was basically your original and very first 35 millimeter film. And they made a version of it that’s slightly different. In other words, they have like different holes on the side, the spacing was not quite the same, but they were all inventors.
[00:16:38] Elyse Rivin: They were really part of this group of people who were interested in mechanics, interested in inventing new things.
[00:16:44] Annie Sargent: Right, because the notches on the side of the film is how you run the thing, you know? And so depending on the spacing between the notches, it’s going to run slower or faster.
[00:16:54] Elyse Rivin: Exactly. Yeah. Exactly.
[00:16:55] Elyse Rivin: And if you look, there’s a picture you can see online, Edison’s was a whole bunch of little holes and they were rectangular and they did almost the same thing, except they made fewer holes and they were round.
[00:17:05] Annie Sargent: So Lumière, I mean, the…
[00:17:07] Elyse Rivin: They invented it.
[00:17:08] Annie Sargent: Well, but they also copied.
[00:17:09] Elyse Rivin: Of course they copied. Yeah. Okay. But, you know, who invents what, right? You know, it’s always modifying. But what they did do, they were really brilliant at inventing and they were brilliant at creating new things to, to actually make a lot of money.
[00:17:25] Elyse Rivin: In the end, in the time that the Lumière brothers were actually working, and until they stopped, which is the beginning of the 20th century, they had over 170 copyrights.
[00:17:36] Annie Sargent: Wow. That’s, yeah. So they really wanted to make money out of this. This was not like, you know, we’re just interested in discovery and trying new things. They wanted to make money.
[00:17:46] Elyse Rivin: They wanted to make money. Their father really pushed them, pushed them, pushed them to make a lot of money. But also they were fascinated and interested by photography.
[00:17:56] Elyse Rivin: That was the basis of everything, and they were really good inventors. And so it turns out that one of the brothers, it was Louis mostly, he was the one who became much more interested in creating places where people could come and see their version of this new thing that was no longer animated cartoons because they are actually the people, they really are the first people to invent film in the sense that they used real people. And they filmed, again, it’s hard to imagine that none of these lasted longer than a minute at first, you know? But they filmed with what is called the fixed plan. In other words, they had the camera focused on one spot, the camera did not move, and they just let the action pass in front of the camera. So nothing lasts more than one minute because what you see is actually what is in front of the camera.
[00:18:49] Annie Sargent: Right, and probably to have good focus, they probably had to focus, just like manual focus with a camera. You need to focus on what’s furthest away from you, but you don’t want to have too much distance. You have to pick a focus point and you don’t want it to move too much.
[00:19:06] Elyse Rivin: Right.
[00:19:07] Annie Sargent: So it’s just very limiting.
[00:19:08] Elyse Rivin: It’s very limiting. Their first projection was in Paris again, because after all, everything happens first in Paris. Right?
[00:19:15] Annie Sargent: Well, Well, it happened in Lyon first.
[00:19:17] Elyse Rivin: No.
[00:19:17] Annie Sargent: Well, they were from Lyon.
The first “film festival” in Paris
[00:19:18] Elyse Rivin: They were from Lyon, but they projected their first works in Paris because that’s where the population was already, that knew about this kind of stuff.
[00:19:27] Elyse Rivin: And so in 1895, they had their first projection of three films. Ta ta. Each one lasted less than a minute.
[00:19:36] Annie Sargent: It was a festival.
[00:19:37] Elyse Rivin: It was a festival. It just was the, this was the very first film festival ever in the history of the world. Right? And so the names of the three, they’re hilarious. I’ve actually watched one of them.
[00:19:47] Elyse Rivin: You can still see the animation, actually. The moving picture is no longer animation online. So the three were called “L’Arroseur Arrosé”, which means the person who’s watering gets watered.
[00:19:59] Annie Sargent: Right, and we still use that expression to mean, when something is like, payback is a bitch.
[00:20:05] Elyse Rivin: Ah!
[00:20:05] Annie Sargent: You would say L’Arroseur Arrosé.
[00:20:07] Elyse Rivin: Ah, that’s interesting. Okay. I didn’t even know that. Okay. The second one, which is much less interesting is called “Le Repas de Bébé”. You can somebody feeding a baby.
[00:20:17] Annie Sargent: That’s adorable.
[00:20:18] Elyse Rivin: It’s very adorable.
[00:20:19] Annie Sargent: Do they also do puppies?
[00:20:21] Elyse Rivin: I don’t know. No, I don’t think so at the time.
[00:20:24] Elyse Rivin: Ah. See, they should have done puppies, and kittens next. And the third one, which apparently got them, they were really dissed by some critics for it. But the third one is called “La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon”, which basically is a distant, long fixed plan of people who worked at their factory in Lyon coming out. How exciting can you get?
[00:20:45] Annie Sargent: Hey, they put moving people and they probably had to be pretty strategic about where they set up the camera to have the proper lights and not have things move in and out of focus.
[00:20:56] Elyse Rivin: They were showing off. It is true. They are really credited with being the people who made the very first film using real people, not animation, and it was really an enormous, enormous, enormous success.
The first travel films
[00:21:10] Elyse Rivin: There were two things that happened though to the Lumière brothers. They basically made a huge fortune in the 1890s and into the very beginning of the 20th century. They were able, because they had so much money and because they had a factory that turned out these new camera machines, they hired a slew of camera operators to go around the world. It is amazing to think that this is a, we’re talking about 120 years ago, they actually paid for these different people to go to various countries all over the world just so that they could set their camera down in a fixed position and film something for a minute or two and bring it back to show it.
[00:21:51] Elyse Rivin: And so in fact, they are the first ones to invent the travel film.
[00:21:55] Annie Sargent: Right, and they’re also trying to create a market where there wasn’t one before. Right. So they had to get a lot of things done and yeah. Travel’s good.
[00:22:07] Elyse Rivin: And travel’s good. Now, what’s interesting is that they were not interested in fiction.
[00:22:12] Elyse Rivin: They were not interested in making stories, of creating a world of fantasy of any kind. They were very much interested in the quality of the film and in filming what you could see. And so here’s what the anecdote I was just telling you about. One of the places they sent their camera operators to was the United States, because in fact their work was very successful to a large extent in the United States, and Thomas Edison and his company were not happy with that at all.
[00:22:42] Elyse Rivin: You know, because they were really in competition even though he had long ago given up on doing this kind of film, you know? But he had these copyrights.
[00:22:51] Annie Sargent: He still felt like he owned the thing.
[00:22:53] Elyse Rivin: He still felt like he owned the thing. So apparently, what happened was there were one or two of these cameramen who set up their camera, and you can imagine this large kind of bulky thing in Central Park in New York. Because that happens to be one of the few places where there were, actually Thomas Edison had his film studios not very far away, in Flushing Queens and in New Jersey. And word got back to Edison who contacted the local police. This is really like one of these bad films of the silent era. And you can see the Keystone cops coming, you know, withtheir little wooden stick, you know, to hit…. batons.
[00:23:31] Elyse Rivin: Yeah.
[00:23:31] Elyse Rivin: Andapparently, made up some kind of weird story about how they were not allowed to do this because they had not asked for permission to film in Central Park, and I don’t think you need permission, basically.
[00:23:43] Elyse Rivin: And so they left Central Park and then went to one of the avenues in Manhattan and tried filming there and got arrested and literally got sent back to France from the United States.
[00:23:54] Elyse Rivin: And basically what happened after that was that the Lumière brothers basically went, nevermind, we will work on Europe because we’re doing very well here. We don’t need to have this particular market. And so they just kept getting richer and richer.
[00:24:08] Elyse Rivin: And this is a very strange thing. I don’t know if you know about this, because actually I’ve seen a recent TV movie in France that talks about it. Do you know about the Great Fire of the Bazar de la Charité?
[00:24:16] Elyse Rivin: Okay. Alright. So that was theoretically, apparently caused by a lamp that was using ether, that was in a projection room.
[00:24:29] Elyse Rivin: And one of the problems with what the Lumière brothers were doing, interestingly enough, was that they were very snobbish and they did not want to make films that would attract a lower class, working class population. And what happened after the Great Fire of the Bazar de la Charité, which is 1897, was that a lot of the upper class and middle class people shunned these animated film places because they were worried about the fire.
[00:24:56] Elyse Rivin: They were worried that this, it was a horrible, tragic event. There were over a hundred… for a very good reason.
Next step for Lumière Brothers
[00:25:02] Elyse Rivin: And so, strangely enough, what happened was that the Lumière brothers basically decided that they were better off making the machines and selling the machines, and that beyond a certain point, once they had invented the travel film and basically what we could call the beginning of almost documentary filmmaking, they had no imagination.
[00:25:24] Elyse Rivin: They had no idea what they could do with it, and they stopped in 1902. They stopped making film.
[00:25:32] Annie Sargent: Well, they were, you know, they had given what they were able and they move on to let the new generation take over at one point.
George Meliès and the first special effects
[00:25:41] Elyse Rivin: I mean, they were really important in the invention of the machines themselves and the idea that this is the potential that these machines could have. And the man who takes over really after that and who is really more the inspiration for pretty much a lot of what comes afterwards is George Meliès.
[00:25:59] Annie Sargent: Right. Even I had heard about him, and I haven’t even watched one of his,The Moon movie, whatever it’s called.
[00:26:05] Elyse Rivin: So it turns out that he was a magician, that was his background, he was actually a magician, but he had been a very successful magician.
[00:26:12] Elyse Rivin: He was really a man who had a certain amount of money and he had seen the projections by the Lumière brothers, and he had already seen the work done by Emile Reynaud, but he was a magician. And his idea was that this new medium could be really interesting for all kinds of people, people of the working class, even poorer people than that.
[00:26:35] Elyse Rivin: And it would be fun to make things that had what we now call special effects, and that would be funny. And so he is the man who is responsible for the whole concept. Which has now, of course, become so very sophisticated of what we call special effects.
[00:26:53] Annie Sargent: Right, his special effects were pretty basic, but they worked.
[00:26:56] Elyse Rivin: They worked.
[00:26:57] Annie Sargent: I mean, yeah, at the time they had never seen anything, nothing like it.
[00:27:01] Elyse Rivin: He was the first person to create what is called a stoppage, which is basically the term that still used in film, where you stop the filming, you put something in, and then of course, you can see one of the ones he did where it’s the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, and lo and behold, she really loses her head. And you think, how did he do this? He was really interesting and his work was very, very important in making cinema available to millions of people who otherwise would not have been able to afford it.
[00:27:31] Elyse Rivin: He also had a really fabulous imagination. In 1899, he made a six-minute long film of Cinderella.
[00:27:39] Elyse Rivin: And of course this is using real actors with all of these crazy paper mache special effects. But he created techniques of camera use that are still in use today. There is a man named George Sadoul, who is a Frenchman, who apparently, I have to see if I can find this book. He recently, in the recent past wrote a book that’s The Definitive History of French Cinema. And in the book, he is quoted as saying that George Meliès who was only interested in seeing how much special effects he could invent has basically invented everything that people do in cinema and had no idea that that’s what he was doing, you know?
[00:28:16] Annie Sargent: Well, sure. He was trying things, so another really brilliant person who was very focused on one aspect and took it as far as he could.
The first political movie
[00:28:24] Elyse Rivin: And took it as far as he could. He’s also fascinating because he is, he actually made what is considered to be the very first political movie, which is really something I did not know.
[00:28:35] Elyse Rivin: In 1899, he made a 13-minute film, which is very long for the time about the Dreyfus affair.
The first movie houses and the first cinema studio
[00:28:42] Annie Sargent: Wow. Did they have movie houses already where they did like… oh, perhaps not, this is, yeah, 1899.
[00:28:48] Elyse Rivin: Yes, they had. They had, and not only that, but he was so successful that he actually created the first cinema studio in Europe. Starting in 1897 in Montreuil, which is a right on the northern edge of Paris. And he opened a few rooms. I don’t know if they looked exactly like what the earlier cinemas that we know about from the twenties and thirties looked like, but yes, they were specifically designed small rooms in the dark for projecting these films.
[00:29:17] Elyse Rivin: So he was not only a man with a great imagination, but he was a good businessman as well. And in fact, what happened was that in 1902 when the Lumière Brothers announced that they were going to stop, he wanted to buy everything that they had produced because he had the first cinema studio and he had the means of distribution for all of these films.
Destroyed everything they had built
[00:29:41] Elyse Rivin: But they did not want anybody else to have their work. And so guess what they did? They destroyed everything except for two that are the two you can still find on Wikipedia. Rather than give it to anybody else, they stayed with their mechanical industry and they destroyed absolutely everything except for two of these tiny little films.
[00:30:04] Annie Sargent: That’s so sad because really it, I mean, you know, at one point you have to realize that there’s going to be new people taking over what you’ve done and improving on it. That’s I guess today it’s easy to see because things move so fast in any industry. Back then things moved much more slowly, so perhaps they didn’t even consider these things, that somebody else would come next and improve on what they had done.
[00:30:30] Annie Sargent: I don’t know It seems silly to me.
[00:30:32] Elyse Rivin: It seems silly. It also seems very strangely selfish in a sense that, that you don’t allow these things to exist for other people to see them. But they were more concerned with the idea, they did not want anyone else making money off of what they had made.
[00:30:45] Elyse Rivin: That’s basically what the bottom line was. So in 1902, they destroyed their work. And then Meliès, he continued using his studio, but eventually by about 1910, the cinema had become more sophisticated than that, and so he stopped making films as well. It’s like each one took over and they went from there.
[00:31:05] Annie Sargent: Right, he had done as much as he could.
[00:31:08] Annie Sargent:
Alice Guy, the first woman film director
[00:31:08] Elyse Rivin: And then we come to lo and behold, something that was my big flash discovery of this. There was a woman. And she is considered to be the very first woman film director in history in France, and her name was Alice Guy in English. And she had been hired, she apparently had a very interesting background. Her family allowed her to really develop her education, her imagination. She went to work for a man named Léon Gaumont as a secretary. And Gaumont was one of the two people who created,he was also a rich industrialist who sold projection machines. Now, he didn’t make them like the Lumière brothers did. He actually made his money selling these projection machines. Retail.
[00:31:56] Elyse Rivin: And he was interested in creating an entertainment system for the masses. And apparently, she was allowed to watch whatever they were doing, and while she did this, whatever her imagination was, her background was, she actually suggested to the young Gaumont who had the, at least the open spirit, the spirit to allow her to do this. She said she would like to try making a film.
[00:32:19] Annie Sargent: Wow. Okay.
[00:32:20] Elyse Rivin: And he said, okay, but do it on your own time. You’re still my stenographer. I mean, so in 1895, after having seen a projection of the Lumière brothers’ work, she decided that she was going to try to do something herself.
The cabbage fairy film
[00:32:34] Elyse Rivin: In 1896, she made a one-minute film called, The Cabbage Fairy.
[00:32:40] Annie Sargent: Really? There’s a fairy in the cabbage.
[00:32:43] Elyse Rivin: And the fairy, who was a real person, was seen pulling little babies out of this cabbage patch. Oh, babies, babies, babies, babies. They’re very adorable. And it is considered to be the very first in invented story in cinema. I love this because they’re all these firsts. Each one of these has come up with a new first.
[00:33:03] Annie Sargent: So she actually told the story from beginning to end.
[00:33:05] Elyse Rivin: She told the story from beginning to end, if you could imagine doing that in exactly one minute. It’s a fast story. It’s a fast story. Yeah.
[00:33:11] Annie Sargent: Well, it’s probably a story that people already know, like…
[00:33:14] Elyse Rivin: I don’t even know.
Jesus of Nazareth film
[00:33:15] Elyse Rivin: But the next one is the one that really put her on the charts and made her a part of the history of cinema. In 1899, she decided to make a film about the stations of the cross.
[00:33:27] Elyse Rivin: And she called her film very simply, Jesus of Nazareth. And she used actors, and she did it as a kind of, you know, one step at a time.
[00:33:37] Elyse Rivin: But with the filming of the movement of the people, you know, with the carrying of the cross. And it was made on 35 millimeter, the kind invented by the Lumière brothers.
The first peplum
[00:33:46] Elyse Rivin: And it is considered not only to be the first narrative film in history, but it’s also the first peplum. What is a peplum? I love peplum.
[00:33:56] Annie Sargent: I don’t know what that means.
[00:33:57] Elyse Rivin: A peplum is the term used for all of these very, sometimes silly, sometimes good films about ancient times, about the romans, the gladiators, about the crusades and all this kind of stuff. That’s the term that’s used for them. You know, there’s the one withRussell Crowe where he plays the gladiator.
[00:34:19] Annie Sargent: And Moses. And Moses. Who played Moses?
[00:34:21] Elyse Rivin: The American Moses? Charlton Heston.
[00:34:24] Annie Sargent: Yes. That one, yes.
[00:34:25] Elyse Rivin: Oh, those are called peplums.
[00:34:27] Annie Sargent: I did not know this.
[00:34:28] Elyse Rivin: And she invented it. She was the person who did it. Now, unfortunately…
[00:34:32] Annie Sargent: But see, it’s interesting because again, this is, she was telling a complex story, but based on something that people already knew.
[00:34:39] Annie Sargent: Because in almost every, in a lot of churches in France, you have the stations of the cross. If you pay attention around the walls, they will have all the different, so even common people would’ve known about this. And so it was, it’s a good way to start because if you’re going to imagine a whole new world, as in science fiction for instance, well, you have to set up your world, right?
[00:35:03] Annie Sargent: You need time to set up your world. Whereas there, she just used something that people already knew. Ithink that’s brilliant.
[00:35:10] Elyse Rivin: It was brilliant. Unfortunately, the second part of her life story is almost a classic case of a woman being kind oftaken over by a man, in this case her husband, and having her work basically being usurped. Because she married and moved with her husband, who was working kind of as a co-producer with her. They actually moved to the States. She moved to New Jersey where she set up a studio.
[00:35:35] Elyse Rivin: And what happened was that after a few years of being rather successful, I’m not sure exactly how this played out, but they got divorced and he took over.
[00:35:44] Elyse Rivin: He took all the credit. And she had two children, she went back to France and for the rest of her life, she lived to be in her late seventies or maybe even older, I don’t remember exactly. But she spent the rest of her life trying to get back the recognition of being the person who had been the inventor of these things, and being the first woman film director.
[00:36:05] Annie Sargent: That’s terrible. But it happens almost everywhere.
[00:36:08] Elyse Rivin: It’s sad. It’s sad because unfortunately this is still, we’re still talking about the beginning of the 20th century, right?
The Pathé brothers
[00:36:13] Elyse Rivin: And we’re just going to terminate this kind of whole thing by talking about the Pathé brothers.
[00:36:19] Elyse Rivin: There’s a lot of brothers in this story, interestingly enough. You know, it’s interesting, you have the Lumières brothers, the Pathé brothers. They are responsible for making the first major production company in the history, in the world we’re talking about, not just in France.France.
[00:36:35] Elyse Rivin: They are French. They were also Parisians. They had seen all these movies, they’d seen the movies by the Frères Lumières. They’d seen the movies made by Meliès. They’d probably seen the work done by Alice Guy. They were industrialists, none of these people were poor to begin with except for one somewhere along the way who made his fortune earlier.
[00:36:54] Elyse Rivin: But by the time we’re talking about them entering the world of cinema, they’re all people with money.
[00:37:00] Elyse Rivin: Money makes money, right? They were good businessmen. What they did, it’s kind of funny, but of course at the time it probably wasn’t. They were very clever. They made counterfeit versions of Edison’s phonograph machine. Not the visual machine, but the sound machine, the audio stuff.
The first sound studio in Europe
[00:37:19] Elyse Rivin: They had the first sound studio in Europe in history. And by 1896 they had studios in Paris and London, Milan and St. Petersburg that were sound studios. They built a huge fortune. And one of the two brothers became very interested in this new thing called cinema. Which was basically based on this word that had been invented calledCinematoscope.
[00:37:45] Annie Sargent: I see. And so the term cinema originates from the US?
[00:37:50] Elyse Rivin: From the Lumières brothers, as far as I remember.
[00:37:54] Elyse Rivin: Okay. I think that’s who it was that invented it. Yeah. Edison created the term film for what you look at, but the cinema term comes from this gadget that they had created. And so Charles Pathé, who was one of the two brothers, mind you, they already had these sound studios and everything. He hired a man to make films for him. A man named Ferdinand Zecca who doesn’t have as much credit in history as the Pathé Brothers, but he was actually the man who made a lot of these movies, and quite a few years. I mean, up until the 1930s actually.
[00:38:27] Annie Sargent: But he was an employee of theirs or something?
[00:38:29] Elyse Rivin: He was an employee of theirs, so he didn’t get the final copyright credit. But what the real genius of the Pathé brothers was that they realized that in order to really make cinema into an industry that will last and be that popular, you have to have a distribution company.
[00:38:47] Annie Sargent: Ah, yep.
[00:38:47] Elyse Rivin: So they were the ones who rented out copies of the films that they were making. That is, they were able, now that it was being made on 35 millimeter film, which is the film that was invented by the Lumières brothers, not by Edison. And so they started having places all over the country and then all over the world. In the early 1900s, they had the largest production company for cinema in the world.
[00:39:15] Annie Sargent: Hmm, interesting.
[00:39:16] Elyse Rivin: 40% of their films were actually shown in the United States. They even had a studio for a certain amount of time in New Jersey.
World War I pauses everything
[00:39:24] Elyse Rivin: But interestingly enough, all of this basically came to a halt, as you can imagine, by World War I.
[00:39:33] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. Now we’re talking at, of course, at a time when we are already getting into interesting silent movies.
[00:39:38] Elyse Rivin: You know, this is no longer one and two minute movies. This is really full length movies with actors and everything else. But as far as the dominance of French cinema over the entire world, it pretty much comes to a temporary halt because of World War I.
[00:39:56] Elyse Rivin: Whereas in the United States, it is starting to flourish at exactly the time that it’s starting to diminish in France.
[00:40:02] Annie Sargent: Well, not being bombed helps.
[00:40:05] Elyse Rivin: Not being bombed helped a lot. And by this time, by just about the time of the beginning of World War I, this is when all of the cinema in the United States moves from the East coast, where it had been only basically in New York and New Jersey, to Hollywood. All of these people migrate out to the West Coast because there’s more land, there’s more space, there’s more opportunity…
[00:40:27] Elyse Rivin: …and the weather is much better. And so what happens is basically at the first, let’s say the first quarter of the 20th century, we could say that it’s pretty much a dead heat between the French and the Americans for who is the most creative, who is producing the most film, and who is doing the most interesting work.
[00:40:47] Elyse Rivin: And of course, World War I pretty much stops what happens in France. And by the time we come out of World War I, we are almost into the talkies. I love that term because of course, it actually started in the early 1920s, that the talkies that they were able to include the sound of the actors speaking in the film.
[00:41:07] Elyse Rivin: And just like in the United States, certain actors that had been stars of the silent films were able to transition to sound. Some who had horrible little squeaky voices.
[00:41:20] Annie Sargent: Well, some great actors today have little squeaky voices, but that’s its style, you know.
[00:41:26] Elyse Rivin: That’s the style, right? So basically what we’re talking about is the birth and the beginning of this absolutely wonderful thing called cinema, that is really thanks to all of these people in France with a little help from Edison and the technology in the United States.
[00:41:44] Elyse Rivin: And then we go into another period and I’m ready to do another episode about what comes later. Because what happens really is that, and it’s an interesting story, but we’re not do it now.
[00:41:55] Elyse Rivin: But believe it or not, French cinema really picks up at the end of the 1930s and does continue during World War II in spite of the occupation. It’s a very controversial period in terms of French cinema for lots of reasons. But a lot of the actors, some of the most famous stars of cinema from the old days like Jean Gabin. Right, right.
[00:42:15] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. These are actors that are pretty much anybody in France knows who’s ever seen anything in cinema. They actually worked their way through the 30s, the 40s, the 50s and 60s, and still were stars of cinema. And there’s a big slump when it’s the Americans who really take over.
The New Wave
[00:42:30] Elyse Rivin: And then starting at the end of the 60s, we get this fabulous new creative period in France called the New Wave. And it’s not just basic cinema, it’s creative cinema, and that’s what the Frenchare best at.
[00:42:44] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I’m sure that’s the case. Although if you give me a choice of go see a French movie or an American movie, I will probably pick the American movie.
[00:42:56] Elyse Rivin: You like the special effects and the things like that. The truth is that the Americans, the French idea of cinema to this day, really, let’s be honest, the French idea of cinema is closer to what it was at the beginning, of telling a story and not dealing with very sophisticated special effects. It’s not their forte, it’s just not.They don’t do it well and then when they try to do it, it doesn’t come off as well because they’re, that’s not what they’re good at, you see.
[00:43:23] Elyse Rivin: ButI made a list of the names of a whole lot of people who’ve made movies.
[00:43:27] Elyse Rivin: I have not put it in any order. No alphabetical order, no chronological order, except for the first two because they’re silent movies. If people are interested in seeing the different people who made film from the very beginning of the 20th century on in France, this is a sampling, I just mentioned a film or two. It’s a good way of getting an idea of what this was like, and what is still, because there are a couple that are very recent films that I’ve added, of what the French do. It’s a different kind of cinema. I have no, personally, I love them both. I just love cinema. I just think it’s, to me, that’s why I like going to the movies still, even though even like a lot of other people, more and more we’re all watching it on little screens at home or big screens at home and computer screens or whatever. But there’s a magic to sitting in this enormous, enormous room where it’s dark and you have this gigantic screen.
[00:44:21] Annie Sargent: Really?
[00:44:22] Elyse Rivin: Oh, I love it. I absolutely love it. The cinema is wonderful.
[00:44:27] Annie Sargent: So, so I’ll grant you that it’s different, but I would much rather watch a movie at home than at the movie house. I’m so bad. I’m so bad. And it’s very true also that in recent years, because to make special effects, to make modern movies, you need very good technical skills, as far as you know, software, the software that they use is very complicated. And they do tend to hire a lot of French kids. There’s some very good schools for movie making around Paris. And in Hollywood, they hire a lot of French kids straight out of these schools because they have the technical know-how on how to do all these object manipulation and things that are really difficult to do.
[00:45:12] Annie Sargent: And youneed to be really good at math to get into those programs. I mean, France is still a place where we make a lot of movies and whatever, but the type of storytelling that these classic movies…
[00:45:25] Annie Sargent: I mean, you made a list of things and a lot of these movies, a lot of them are older, Amélie Poulain recently is excellent. Nikita, Luc Besson is excellent. I really liked Au Revoir les Enfants, obviously. So that, that’s a hard, you know, it’s hard to
[00:45:41] Annie Sargent: watch, right? Yeah. Let’s see. What else did you? Of those I’ve seen most of them, well, not all of them!
[00:45:49] Elyse Rivin: Well, like Guillaume Canet, who is of course an actor, he’s now making movies. And one of the movies he made that’s really very good, these are not movies with special effects, but he made a movie called Le Petit Mouchoir, which is really about a group of friends and the story about what happens in the history of the relationships between them.
[00:46:05] Elyse Rivin: Or, Jacque Audiard, who is actually the son of a screenwriter, who made a movie that I think is absolutely wonderful called De Rouille et D’Oswhich is a very, these are both movies that are just, that came out in the last few years. They don’t, you know, cinema to me, I love cinema. I mean, I’ve seen, I’ve started watching Korean films. I went through a phase where I watched a lot of Japanese movies.
[00:46:28] Annie Sargent: You even watch stuff like from Northern Europe and like subtitled stuff.
[00:46:33] Elyse Rivin: Absolutely. You need to get the feel of the sound and so you… yeah. You know, I grew up,… okay, final anecdote because it goes back to Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Madame Du Jardin, who was my high school French teacher when I was growing up in Nassau County in New York, okay.
[00:46:55] Elyse Rivin: And she took our French class to Manhattan one day to see a French movie. I had never seen anything but American movies. I had never seen anything but either American movies, going to the movies with my friends or watching old American movies on television. Because I was one of those, I would sit up and watch movies all night long. And it opened my eyes to the fact that every culture has a different way of telling a story. That’s what I loved about it. Yeah, yeah. And it was a movie of course, that was in French. Now, my French was not that good. So I, of course I had to look at the subtitles. Well, I just grew up going to see foreign movies with subtitles.
[00:47:35] Annie Sargent: To you it’s normal.
[00:47:37] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, perfectly normal.
[00:47:39] Annie Sargent: And I can’t stand it. So the future of storytelling in images obviously includes Netflix, right? That’s another revolution. And Netflix stories that are not in French or English are… I can’t. My daughter has a lot of patience for these things.
[00:47:58] Elyse Rivin: Well, you won’t watch the subtitles. Why?
[00:48:00] Annie Sargent: No.
[00:48:01] Elyse Rivin: Why?
[00:48:01] Annie Sargent: I don’t know. I…
[00:48:03] Elyse Rivin: Dubbing is horrible. Dubbing is awful. And you know what?
[00:48:07] Annie Sargent: Yeah.
[00:48:08] Elyse Rivin: I can tell when I’m in another room in my house, if there’s something on the television that’s been dubbed. Yeah. It’s immediate, absolutely immediate. I went through a period where I’ve seen, I’ve actually seen every one of Ingrid Bergman’s movies. Every one of Coração movies.
[00:48:23] Annie Sargent: So you complete the series, like you have to… You want to see the whole series.
[00:48:26] Elyse Rivin: And after a whileyou get the idea that, first of all, I have no problem reading subtitles, none whatsoever. But also the sound of the language somehow goes with the imagery that you’re seeing.
[00:48:38] Annie Sargent: Oh,I’m sure you’re right. I’m sure you’re right. But if you give me the choice of you have three hours, are you going to watch a subtitled movie or read a book? I would much rather read the book. But I think that’s a personal preference, because my brother and my sister, they always snuck into the family room where we had the TV to watch movies. And I just went into my room and read books.
[00:48:58] Elyse Rivin: Sweetheart, you don’t know what you’ve missed.
[00:49:02] Annie Sargent: I take your word for it, Elyse. Thank you so much. This was really interesting. Thank you very much. And of course, all of Elyse’s notes are on the website, the show notes for this.
[00:49:11] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, just to say if you want more about different movies, just ask.
[00:49:16] Annie Sargent: Yeah. She’s got the movies covered. Merci Elyse. Au revoir.
[00:49:22] Elyse Rivin: Bye.
[00:49:29] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2023 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.
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Category: French History