With the tremendous and expensive movie productions of recent years, like Marvel movies, it’s hard to believe that it was ever easier and cheaper to make a movie.
The truth is that the beginning of cinema dates back to the late 1880s. The technology of that time made moving images precarious. But, anyway, several people began to experiment with photography in those years, mixing images to give the illusion of a film.
But who made the first movie? The brothers Lumiere and Thomas Edison are often called pioneers in putting images in motion, with the cinematograph patented in 1895 and the kinetoscope developed between 1889 and 1895.
However, the reality is that the first film was shot 133 years ago and its creator, Louis Le Prince, disappeared before he could claim his place in film history.
The “Roundhay Garden Scene”
On October 14, 1888, the Frenchman Louis Le Prince filmed a sequence in the garden of his in-laws’ house, located in Leeds, England. In it, it shows four people walking: Adolphe Le Prince (her son), Sarah Whitley (her mother-in-law), Joseph Whitley her father-in-law) and Harriet Hartley (a family friend).
Le Prince produced this work with a single lens camera, which was later patented on November 16, 1888 in the United Kingdom, and a sheet of Eastman paper at 12 frames per second. This sequence is known as the “Roundhay Garden Scene” because it is actually only 2.11 seconds long.
As a precursor to Le Prince’s feat, there is a sequence from 1878 entitled “The Horse in Motion”, created by Eadweard Muybridge. He used 12 cameras in a row to photograph a racehorse as it moved and then assembled the individual images into a single moving image.
Muybridge did the sequence to answer a popular question of the time: When a horse gallops, do all four hooves lift off the ground at the same time? The video showed that they did. In addition, it marked the beginning of photography in motion.
Although the video gives the impression that the horse is galloping, it is a series of photos taken in rapid succession and does not capture movement like film cameras. Le Prince has the credit of having recorded the first film because it shows real consecutive action.
“If you look at the mechanism that the camera uses, it is a mechanism very similar to all subsequent motion picture cameras,” Toni Booth told BBC, Associate Curator of the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, where Le Prince’s camera and footage are kept.
“It is a single roll of film that moves from one reel to another through a shutter and takes sequential images, which were then designed to be projected and reproduce that movement. As it is a piece of live action motion picture recording, yes, I would say that he (Louis Le Prince) was the first to do that, ”adds Booth.
On the other hand, the “Roundhay Garden Scene” has the merit of being the oldest film that is preserved, according to the book of Guinness Records.
The mysterious disappearance of Le Prince
Le Prince was able to successfully capture a bit of action, but this was of little use if the rest of the people couldn’t see it. That is why he experimented with some projection techniques to expose it, until in 1890 he managed to schedule his first public projection in New York.
However, Le Prince never made it to the presentation of his film. It is said that while visiting his brother Albert in France with some friends, the Wilsons, he took a train from Dijon to Paris in September 1890 and was never seen again.
There are a lot of theories about his disappearance, like that he committed suicide because he was bankrupt, that his brother killed him in a fight over his mother’s will, or that Edison, his rival, had murdered him.
However, for Laurie snyder, Le Prince’s great-great-granddaughter, these theories are unlikely. On the one hand, he assures that Le Prince came from a very close family, and on the other, that Edison possibly had better things to do than have him killed.
His own theory is that Le Prince took a train later and was unable to meet the Wilsons in Paris. Left alone around midnight, he probably took a taxi and ended up being mugged and killed. According to Snyder, there are articles from that time that talked about thieves accosting lone travelers.
Be that as it may, by not making it to the presentation of his film, Le Prince failed to obtain the merit he deserved in the history of cinema for many years. If he had not disappeared, it is most likely that after the presentation he would have attracted investors to finance the development of his films and would have stood out long before the Lumiere and Edison brothers.