The Difference Between the Lumiere Brothers and George Melies

Explain the main differences between the approach the Lumiere Brothers and George Melies had towards the potential of the very first cameras and projectors. Explain the impact of this difference for the history of narrative film. In 1895, two brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumiere invented a variation on Edison’s Peephole Kinetoscope film camera on the behest of their father Antoine, who had seen Edison’s effort on display in Paris a year earlier. They called it the Cinematographe and they duly patented it in February of that year.

They began to make films with the Cinematographe and displayed them to private audiences. One member of such an audience was George Melies. He was immediately taken by the phenomenon and attempted to purchase the Cinematographe from the Lumiere brothers without success and so set about trying to invent one himself, which he did by 1896, the Kinetographe Robert-Houdin. He would later discard the bulky and noisy camera only a year later choosing instead to purchase more advanced cameras that were made by none other than the Lumiere brothers amongst others.

The Lumiere brothers’ style of filmmaking was to reflect daily life with common scenes such as a train arriving at the platform and passengers disembarking as seen in their first film in 1895, L’Arrivee d’un train en gare. Another was the depiction of hundreds of their father’s employees leaving the factory after a days work. This style depicting ‘actuality’, was filmed outdoors with just one long shot and very little if any camera movement. Also in keeping with their penchant for realism, no actors were used in their films. A particular highlight of the brothers first film was the angled shot of the train oming into the station which showed a beautiful perspective to the audience. It should be noted that the audience, far from being bored by such straightforward visual capturing, was excited just to see moving images for the first time and their excited reactions reflected this. George Melies on the other hand used his affinity with magic to try to recreate plots based on fantasy that included techniques that showed actors disappearing in a puff of smoke as in his film A Trip To The Moon. Melies experimented with film to tell a story or unfold a plot using actors and special effects.

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In 1903 Edwin S Porter’s The great Train Robbery was a film that included sophisticated camera work and excellent editing. This was the first film where scenes were not shot in order and were edited to enhance storyline and dramatic effect. There was also a cast of over 40 actors working to an actual script. Porter made the film while working as a Director and Producer at Edison’s East 21st Street Skylight Studio. In order to truly appreciate the impact Melies’ approach to filmmaking had on the history of narrative film, one would only have to look at the mergence of the great film studios in the years after he started making films. In particular Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company and then Paramount Studios and Universal Studios and MGM – all of which began between 1896 and 1924. The emergence of these big studios dominated filmmaking and in so doing limited the reach of the independent filmmaker who was not attached to any of them. One could argue the style portrayed by the Lumiere brothers, that of a documentary, was being overshadowed by the more extravagant narrative style portrayed by George Melies, that was adopted by the big studios.

Not until the US Supreme Court decision in 1948, did the grip of the big studios loosen on the film industry and allow smaller independent filmmakers a path back to the cinema and a wider audience. Whilst narrative film still has the lions share of the backing from big film studios across the world, filmmakers documenting reality have made their mark in the film industry with some of the most memorable films ever made and they have solidified their place and their audience thanks largely to the growing media, and in particular the emergence of the internet and the ability to ‘do it yourself’ successfully.

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