The Grand Palais exhibition’s Lumière ! Le cinéma inventé feels like my ‘Cinema 101’ university textbook came to life. Filled with the major mechanical inventions of early cinema and many projections of films, the space feels like a cabinet of wonders. The exhibition places a large emphasis on the Lumière brothers, Louis and Auguste, and their contributions to the birth of cinema. It was organized by the Institut Lumière to mark the 120th anniversary of the Cinematograph.
The Salon d’Honneur is filled with small, curious objects, many of which are interactive reproductions of early cinematic machines. I had fun testing out magic lanterns, zoetropes, photoramas, phenakistoscopes, kinetoscopes... I imagined what it must have been like to use these instruments when they were first invented, and how magical it must have all been.
All of these machines struck me with how physical and technical the process behind filmmaking is.
Around 1500 films by the Lumière brothers are projected, in one form or another, around the exhibition. For example, elegant stands display films around different themes, hundreds of films are projected on an enormous wall, and an interactive screen focuses on colors. A recreation of an early 3D film is haunting as figures from 1935 seemingly pass you by in 3D, staring at you from the past.
The exhibition even recreates the Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris where, on December 28, 1895, the first public cinema screening took place. You can sit in comfy chairs and watch endearing short silent films with silly physical humor, like a toddler fishing with his hands for goldfish or a man trying (unsuccessfully) to mount a horse. The levity of the choice of scenes for this first public screening led me to reflect on the human fascination with re-creating life through images.
The light is low (and a lovely shade of indigo), so you need to get close to the objects to properly see them. While atmospheric, the low light also has the effect of making the labels hard to read. This meant that I did not really grasp the subtleties of the curatorial discourse beyond the broad strokes. But it almost did not matter, because the films were quite capable of speaking for themselves.
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