By Sonia Chopra
It was a delicious slice of cinema history, and a special moment for any film buff. It was on 7th July,1896 that films shot by the Lumiere Brothers, Louis and Auguste, were shown in Mumbai at the Watson’s Hotel. And 117 years later, on September 28, 2013, Max Lefrancq Lumiere, the grandson of Auguste Lumiere, presented those very films to a select audience and the press, as part of the 4th Jagran Film Festival.
Max Lefrancq Lumiere grew quite emotional as he showcased a slide of the Lumiere Brothers’ patented movie camera —‘The Cinematographe’, which really looked like a wooden box with a lens— to taking the privileged audience inside the camera, explaining its inner mechanisms. An interesting fact was that this camera, with a few minor adjustments, could also be used as a projector!
“Filmmakers at that time had to work with a lot of restrictions. The camera couldn’t be moved; there was no zoom. And the picture had to be over in 45 seconds, because it was not possible to find film over 20 meters! The filmmakers must manage to finish what they had to say in that time,” he said.
Speaking about the museum— Insitut Lumiere, Max said that it’s actually built inside a castle, where the brothers shot their last film. “My grandfather passed away before he could actually live in the castle. He never slept in it.”
Interestingly, the films screened in 1896 in Mumbai, were never meant to arrive in India. But fate intervened, and thus started India’s glorious film history. This is how cinema crept into India. People paid Rs 1, to watch the six shorts.
Since those very six films were being screened at the event, Max was presented with a token of several Rs 1 coins that the audience contributed. In his trademark, humorous manner, Max quipped, “I didn’t pay!”
He expressed a desire to see the Watsons Hotel while talking about the first few screenings in Paris, “In a week’s time, over 2000 people gathered every day to watch the pictures. The police had to be called in. That was the start of cinema.”
As he presented the six films to the audience, he peppered the presentation with anecdotes and marking out his relatives in the pictures.
Here’s a snapshot of the six movies—
Exiting The Factory: This 40-second film showed workers, mostly women, literally exiting the factory gates. A lone stray dog makes an appearance, as people stream out, and some exit on bicycles.
Baby’s Lunch: This film has Auguste Lumiere and his wife feeding their baby lunch. Max informed that the baby sadly passed away in 1918 due to Spanish flu. Incidentally, the castle one can see behind, is the one where the museum stands today.
Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat: Quite simply, the film had a train arriving at a station, and the passengers scurrying about to get inside. Max informs that this film created quite a stir as people were both frightened and transfixed to see a train speeding towards them.
The Card Game (1896): This moving picture is as hilarious as it is interesting. It has the father of the Lumiere Brothers playing cards with a few buddies. But what is most striking is the waiter in an attention-grabbing, Charlie Chaplinesque role. Max pointed out that the waiter knew he was being filmed, and hence the overacting. “He was perhaps the world’s first actor!” said Max.
Kids At Tea-Time: This is a charming film with a little boy sitting and feeding two babies on high chairs. The babies are on either side, and Max pointed out that one of them was his mother.
Another film has Auguste Lumiere’s daughter playing with fish in a jug, and another where the camera captures Venice beautifully.
“The Lumiere family had a love for magic,” quipped Max as he showed us the next film. It began with a magician writing in reverse on a blackboard. “He’s really doing it, it’s not a trick,” he informed with a sense of wonderment.
Likening the invention of movies to that of airplanes, Max said, “We started with making films that could last only a few seconds and slowly kept bettering ourselves. It’s like the first plane that could only fly for a few meters. And cinema is only a 150 years old. It’s still very, very new!”
Max wears his legendary surname lightly, even as he admits he has no connection with the film industry. “People expected me to become an actor, but no one ever asked me to act!” he laughs.
Films have an innate connection with him. And as he speaks about his grandfather’s contribution to cinema, his lovely wife sitting in the audience, clicks pictures. Clearly, presenting these films, his grandfather’s legacy, is a special moment for Max and his wife.
The Lumiere family may have left films, but films are not quite ready to leave them as yet!