See the moving picture

FIGURE 2.22

The International Actualité

As they introduced the cinématographe around the world, Lumière cameramen shot brief “on-location” documentaries that served two purposes: (1) they were distributed from France as exotic views to complement views of local and topical events on programs throughout the world, and (2) they allowed exhibitors to feature local people and scenes in the next day’s local screening. Moscow, rue Tverskaïa (Moscow: Tverskaia Street—left) was shot in May 1896 by Félicien Doublier, who had been sent to Russia to film the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II. Note the use of the strong diagonal—a favorite compositional strategy of Louis Lumière himself. Here it enhances depth of field and stresses a form of movement—angling from foreground to background or vice versa—that’s not possible in the theater. The most dramatic compositional feature of Les Pyramides (Alexander Promio, 1897—right) is shadow. Unlike the diagonal in Moscow, rue Tverskaïa, the low-angle shot of the Great Sphynx is uncharacteristic of Lumière actualités. The massive stone profile is mostly sunlit, but the statue’s shadowed contours and representational volumes contrast sharply with the regular planes of the pyramid that looms large behind it. All the movement takes place in the shadows at the very bottom of the frame, where white-robed camel drivers move from left to right in the direction of the Sphynx’s gaze.

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