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Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince

Direction - Cinematography - Editing | French Republic

Le Prince found his place in the history of cinema quite late (and long after his disappearance in Dijon on the 16th of September 1890). However, by now, he has earned the acknowledgement as the undisputed father of motion pictures. His Roundhay Garden Scene (1888) is (still) the earliest proof of filmmaking from one point of view, shot with his single lens camera on Eastman’s paper film.

An artist by training, Le Prince was heavily influenced by the work of Daguerre and, later, Muybridge. From photography, he borrowed the need for a still background. The setting does not only accompany the subject, but it is an integral part of the photographed subject. The movement of the four individuals in Roundhay Garden Scene (1888) is justified only by the specificity of the place. In the case of Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge (1888), the interconnectivity between the subject and background in the film frame is more explicit, as Leeds Bridge is used both as a setting and a character in itself.

The one striking element about the films of Le Prince is the clarity of his pictures. Compared to similar attempts in the late 1880s and early 1890s by contemporary inventors, the images are as clear as the ones developed by the mid-1890s, when the technology of making motion pictures has gained a temporary stability. Moreover, the films share a strong understanding of the poetry of the image, the composition containing a good architectural balance of contrasts and shapes, overall achieving more than just the pure desire to recreate motion.

In spite of the fact that his cinematic output is small, his legacy is important. What we can see retrospectively is that the film image did not necessarily require an evolution towards text. The interrelationship between moving images and setting, framed by the film image, exposed the myth that each of the two elements can exist independently, and are thus sufficient in the creation of film as an art form. For Le Prince, film can be born only when the film image becomes a fully structured text, capable to stand as the foundation for the creation of narrative.

Arguably, Le Prince did not manage to develop a film that can truly satisfy his ambition to create a complete narrative. Obtaining a patent for his invention was central to his work. British and French patents were granted without much difficulty, however he never managed to get a full American patent, and neither did his family after his disappearance, following a rather vicious trial with Thomas Edison. The question that is left unanswered is whether he would have followed on the path of making films, as Dickson or the Lumière brothers, or whether he would have simply continued to grow his technological ambition. Despite the crispness of his films, he always maintained, according to Christopher Rawlence[1], that film should create a more wholesome experience for the spectator, an experience that would make the latter feel part of the image.

The growth of motion pictures in the last decade of the 19th century surely would have led him to disillusionment, and as such it is possible that we were never likely to see the product of Le Prince’s ideas on film come to live. After all, one begs to question why he never made a film between 1888 and his disappearance.

[1] Rawlence, Christopher. The Missing Reel: The Untold Story of the Lost Inventor of Moving Pictures. London: Collins, 1990.

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  1. Roundhay Garden Scene (1888)
  2. Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge (1888)
  3. Accordion Player (1888)
  4. Man Walking Around the Corner (1887)

  1. Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge (1888)
  2. Roundhay Garden Scene (1888)
  3. Accordion Player (1888)
  4. Man Walking Around the Corner (1887)

  1. Roundhay Garden Scene (1888)

Links: The First Film - IMDb - Wikipedia - Amazon