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June 28, 2017

"The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat" – This Silent Film by the Lumière Brothers in 1895 About a Train Really Cause Audiences to Stampede

In 1890, having made a fortune manufacturing plates for still photographs, Antoine Lumière bought a huge 90 hectare / 222 acre plot of land between the station and the waterfront in La Ciotat.

The Villa Lumiere at La CiotatOn this land, which he called the Clos des Plagues, he built a magnificent 36 room château, the Villa Lumière, pictured as it was in the early 19th century, as a summer residence for his family (which was based in Lyon for the rest of the year).

Meanwhile Antoine's two sons, Auguste and Louis, were busy developing their own new invention which they called the "cinématographe": a motion picture camera which also functioned as a developer and projector. They lodged the patent for this device on 30 March 1895 and shot numerous short films, all roughly 50 seconds long, in and around La Ciotat during this period.

These include the famous L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat), one of the world's first movies. It records a steam train, pictured top left, pulling into La Ciotat from Marseille, with the Lumière Brothers' mother Joséphine (in a tartan cape) and Louis' daughter Suzanne on the platform.

Like most of the Lumières' early shorts, the 50-second silent film consists of a single, unedited real-time view, with the camera carefully positioned so that the train seems to be coming almost directly towards it (according to legend, the first viewers, imagining themselves to be in the path of the locomotive, ducked for cover).

On the centennial celebration of the film's release, film critic Hellmuth Karasek wrote in Der Spiegel:
One short film had a particularly lasting impact; yes, it caused fear, terror, even panic.... It was the film L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de la Ciotat (Arrival of the Train at La Ciotat Station).... Although the cinematographic train was dashing toward the crowded audience in flickering black and white (not in natural colors and natural dimensions), and although the only sound accompanying it was the monotonous clatter of the projector's sprockets engaging into the film's perforation, the spectators felt physically threatened and panicked."


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