Film historians are still arguing today. Who invented the film? Who the cinema? Was it actually the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1895? Or should the brilliant American inventor Thomas Alva Edison be mentioned at this point? Or the German brothers Max and Emil Skladanowsky? A few other American and British cinema pioneers could also be mentioned here.
It's a matter of definition
The question is whether one uses a technical development as the date of the baptism of the cinema or rather the fact that for the first time it was not just a single person looking into a peep box in which moving images ran before his eyes. Now it was a group of people who were in a room with a film on the front of a screen: an early form of cinema. But: what is a film anyway? Is it enough to attach a few pictures to each other, which then quickly develop into a film – or should it be a game scene with a dramaturgy behind it?
If you immerse yourself in the history of the early years of cinematography, you will come across a multitude of inventors and technicians – and of places and laboratories in which development and experimentation, tinkering and experimentation took place. One thing is certain: back then, at the beginning of the last decade of the 19th century, there was something in the air: photography learned to walk. Something new emerged from the medium of photography, which was also not that terribly old: moving images. The whole thing was later called film.
The Lumière brothers are considered the inventors of cinema
Most of the film stories feature the Lumière brothers when it comes to the beginning of the "seventh art". It has become natural to call her the inventor of the film, despite all the preparatory work by Edison and Co., despite film screenings taking place almost in parallel, for example in the Berlin conservatory by the Skladanowsky brothers. It is that legendary date of December 28, 1895: the first public film screening took place in the "Grand Café" on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris.
The Lumières had asked for admission, a few dozen visitors paid – and saw ten short films that employees of the Lumière companies screened with a cinematograph: officially the first cinema screening. The French patented the device, camera and projector at the same time a few months earlier, on February 13, 1895. Now the audience was amazed at the performance and stared at the moving images in front of them. They had never seen anything like it.
Cinema myth: panic at the first film screening
It is no longer possible to clarify today whether the story of a panic that was later widely propagated in view of the film "The Arrival of the Train at La Ciotat" actually happened. The short stripe shows a train entering the station of the town of La Ciotat, which is getting bigger and bigger from a spectator perspective, which seems to overrun the visitors. Back then, they were said to have jumped up from their seats in terror and left the café in a hurry, it was said later. They thought the train was actually entering the café. The camera perspective had suggested that.
At least that's the myth. And it's also a beautiful story, of people who witness the implementation of an invention, an invention that created something that didn't exist before. Moving images, people and objects that move. Photographs that "live". How should that work? Today, 125 years later, you have to call it back to your consciousness – which may be best achieved by visualizing the first steps of the Internet with all its possibilities.
Today the future of film is discussed again
Just 125 years later, when you remember the Lumière brothers and their pioneering invention, the future of the film is discussed with great enthusiasm. Or actually: about the future of cinema. Where will it go? Will it survive at all? What happens to the classic feature film? Will it still exist, or will streaming services, the use of laptops and smartphones, ensure that traditional forms of film screenings are thrown into disarray?
Nobody will be able to give a satisfactory answer today. Just guesswork. And that leads back to the beginning of film history. Moving pictures, whether presented in a laterna magica or other early forms of film machines, were mostly shown in the context of fairs and variety shows. At the beginning, the film was an overwhelming medium, something spectacular and unbelievable, in which the people were amazed, above all, speechless.
The fathers of cinema: crazy people and hobbyists
The cinema "owes (…) almost nothing to the spirit of science", wrote the influential French film critic André Bazin in his legendary book "What is film?": "His fathers are not scholars." Edison, the Lumière brothers and all the others are "monomaniacs, madmen, hobbyists or, at best, inventive manufacturers". And there we are again in the here and now.
The cinema will survive, this thesis is once established. Why? Because people still thirst for spectacles, surprises and wonders. And who can best satisfy that? Nobody else as good and comprehensive as the modern trick technicians, special effects magicians and the authors of Hollywood. Her gigantic blockbuster films, not everyone likes that, and maybe it has nothing to do with art in a sublime sense, are the heirs of the early film pioneers from Europe and the USA.
They attract millions of people around the world to the cinemas. There they watch films. Today in color and sometimes in 3D. But they are films projected onto a screen. Hollywood still achieved record sales in the billions in 2019. You can watch almost all films on a smartphone afterwards – if you like. But this is another story.