The Oldest Cinema in the World

by M. L. Longworth

The Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, famously claimed ‘the cinema is an invention without any future.’ Born in 1862 and 1864 respectively, that statement wouldn’t have been outrageous at the time. But it is the Lumière brothers, who inherited their father’s photography factory in Lyon, who are partly credited with having invented the moving picture. Louis was a physicist and Auguste the manager, and it was Louis who made improvements to the still-photograph process, the most notable being the dry-plate process, which was a major step towards moving images.

Their first moving pictures were shown in 1895 in the basement of the Grand Café, in Paris, and their most well-known film (50 seconds long), the train arriving in La Ciotat, frightened the Parisian audience, many who thought that the train was coming in through the café’s walls.

Auguste and Louis Lumière

Their moving pictures were very influential, but it was in 1907, when they launched a color photography process to the world, the ‘Autochrome Lumière,’ that their fortune was made. The Lumière family loved Provence, especially the quiet seaside town of La Ciotat, where the family had a holiday home (a château, really) on the sea.

It is appropriate, then, that the first hall designated for watching moving pictures, a cinema, would be in La Ciotat. Last week my husband and I were lucky to be invited to a private tour of the cinema, the Eden Théâtre, which opened in 1889 and showed the Lumière films in 1899.  Closed due to disrepair since 1995, the Eden Théâtre was renovated and reopened this October to much fanfare and joy in the blue-color town La Ciotat. We were given a lecture on the fascinating Lumière family (lumière, funnily enough, means ‘light’ in French), and shown a dozen or so of their remarkable 19th century short films.

The Eden Theatre before renovations; very sad looking…

 

And now, after renovations:

The Eden now; beautiful at night.

 

But what was really fascinating that night was the discourse and slide show of history of the theatre itself, a place dear to the hearts of Ciotadens; the theater, for a century, was used for motion pictures, vaudeville acts, dances, boxing matches, political rallies (La Ciotat, a ship-building town, was Communist for many years), and it’s now back on its feet, proudly showing vintage films to sold-out audiences.

 

Towards the screen…

 

Every week the Eden shows vintage films, for free. Last week we saw a Mélina Mercouri film, La Loi, directed by Jules Dassin. It was sold out, and the atmosphere was magical; the audience gasped and laughed in all the right places, and applauded afterwards, very much how I have always imagined the first cinema goers to have behaved. It’s why you go to the cinema.

In conjunction with the Eden’s opening, an exhibition in the Chapelle des Pénitants Bleus, next door, featured the first autochromes (color photographs made on glass sheets).

Chapelle des Pénitants Bleus


The autochromes were back-lit as they are like slides (positive transparencies); beautiful in the chapel.

A few of the autochromes that we loved:

Quite a few of the autochromes in the exhibition were of ‘poilus’ (WWI French soldiers)

I’ll end this post on another Lumière film, ‘the baby’s breakfast.’ A mother and father feed their baby, outside, during a mistral wind. We were trying to work outside today during a mistral, and I remembered seeing this film at the Eden. Notice that the parents add a little something to their coffees to take off the chill!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWbbDMd0TXE