Lumiere & Company
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Some of the world's leading directors (David Lynch, Spike Lee, Wim Wenders, Zhang Yimou, John Boorman) use the original Lumiere picture camera to create short films all over the world. Interactive Menus, Production Notes, Scene access, Trailer, Languages: French, Subtitles: English
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As a longtime admirer of silent films I found the voiceovers during the segments rather distracting in the manner of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. One of the rules should have called for no comments made during filming to be allowed on the soundtrack. Let us supply our own voices to what we see. All in all an interesting concept that is well executed and worth seeing for any serious student of film. The DVD format is ideal for this type of omnibus film as you can easily select the segments that you want to see again and again. You should also check out the LUMIERE BROTHERS FIRST FILMS on DVD to see what was originally done with this remarkable piece of equipment.
Embracing the contributions the Lumière brother's made to cinema and technology, many directors choose to make a film in their honor. Patrice LeConte expressed her admiration directly by recreating the brother's famous L'Arrivée d'un Train à la Ciotat. Like the original Lumière films, LeConte filmed the train arrival without a single camera movement; positioning the camera in the exact spot the Lumière brother's once stood to make this memorable film. Ironically, LeConte's film was easily forgettable amongst the other films for its simplicity. Interestingly, it effectively served as a viewer Litmus test; what once made an audience run from the theater out of fear of a colliding train is now so trite that it has almost no effect. Claude Lelouch and Gabriel Axel also offer a tip of the hat by depicting the evolution of film as an art form and as a technology. Just as the Lumière brothers later realized that a moving camera makes a more interesting film, Lelouch and Axel used dollies and rotating platforms respectively to pass new subject material through the frame. Moreover, many directors chose to have fun with the project to produce the most entertainment in a short 52 second film. Zhang Yimou, along with many others, created a short skit of hilarious absurdity (graceful characters in Peking opera garb strip to reveal modern punk rock clothing and run out of the frame); a more extreme, yet clear parallel to Lumière's short with the hose trick.
Unquestionably, the most interesting and memorable film was Premonitions Following an Evil Deed by David Lynch. More than any other director, he squeezed the life out of each second to create his eerie masterpiece. He took full advantage of the grainy underexposed film look and characteristic pulsating flicker of the cinématographe coupled with a dissonant soundtrack and ingenious cutting techniques to create a fresh sense of uneasiness and sheer horror. Imagine how an audience would react to this film if it were shown 100 years ago. As Lynch demonstrates, it technically would have been possible to make such a film back then. On the other hand, directors like Spike Lee and Michael Haneke failed to make any notable contributions to the project. Lee's 52 seconds of trying to make his baby say "Dada" and Haneke's random shots of the TV screen do not demonstrate any original thinking or zest for filmmaking.
Sarah Moon gives the directors strict criteria to follow when making their film: The film must be exposed using the cinematographe, each film must be 52 seconds long with only three takes to get it right. However, one fundamental limitation she overlooked, whether intentional or not, is any rule concerning peripheral camera equipment such as a modern tripod, dolly, crane, or lights. A handful of directors exploited this loophole by mounting their cinematographe on modern equipment, notably Andrei Konchalovsky who carefully blocked his film using a crane on a dolly. Konchalovsky's sophisticated camera work alone transcended his film into another generation of film quality; making it difficult to objectively compare his work with the original Lumière films.
As a documentary, Moon attempts to extract some profound wisdom from the directors by asking them three questions: 1. Why did you choose to participate? 2. Why do you film? and 3. Is film immortal? For the latter two, she is often met with hesitation as people don't know how to respond to such open-ended questions. Based on the responses, it seemed as if the interviewer caught the directors off guard by bluntly posing the questions with no lead in or follow up to probe them further. The end result is, at times, a pseudo-portentous, romanticized one-line cliché as if they thought that was what Moon was seeking. Lynch provided an honest and straightforward answer: "I film to entertain people." The interview segments are effective as transitions between the individual films but they soon become too formulaic to the point of viewer disinterest. This criticism can also extend into the segments where Moon holds an unwavering camera on the director's face as they barks orders during the production. The strategy does, at times, capture the filmmaker's passion and we can see why they film instead of having them tell us. However many times this approach fails to reveal anything about the directors or filmmaking in general and therefore should be omitted from the documentary. Criticism aside, the documentary was overall a success because it was rooted with a great idea. For the most part, Moon chose great directors who were willing to produce some remarkable filmmaking, especially given the limitations. Lumière and Company reminds us how film was born and provides clues as to where it may be going. Like traditional art, film has come a long way; always exploring the boundaries of what is possible. What will motion pictures be like 100 years from now?