EXITING THE FACTORY (Louis and Auguste Lumière, 1895)

The Lumière brothers provided a treasure-trove of under-one-minute filmlets, one of which, showing an ostrich leading a line of humans in their Sunday finest, surely influenced the satirical tone of René Clair’s Italian Straw Hat (1927), and another that startles with its snowball fight in a wintry street because the participants, including ladies, are all adults. An especially beautiful example of early fresh, outdoor cinema is “La sortie des usines Lumière,” shot right outside the Lumières’ own factory as workers depart for the day through the main gate and an adjacent door. The silence of the silent film bolsters the sense of stiff formality that is actually the outcome of the documentary’s “arrangement,” the planning that has these workers pretending to do in the afternoon, when the light is right, what they will do for real at workday’s end and the bit of direction that has been given them, that they should not acknowledge the camera’s presence, which increases their selfconsciousness. The slowness of their gait also contributes to an overall dreamy effect.
     A few bicyclists dot the impossibly orderly pedestrian crowd (this orderliness is deliberate so that crowd-tangles do not wreak havoc with the filming time allotment), and with people moving offscreen to the right and others to the left, from implicitly confined space to spaciousness, an implication arises as to the reality of their lives, apart from work, in the directions in which they move: home.
     Since all this is a presentation for the camera, however, it is the idea of home toward which the film tends. Indeed, this filmlet blends what its successors also will blend: documentary, fiction; objectivity, subjectivity; reality, fantasy; contrivance, spontaneity. In less than a minute the future of cinema is predicted, along with the audience’s involvement in onscreen activity.

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