1890s – Part 1

The 1890s – The Beginnings of Cinema

The beginning of cinema essentially dates back to the Thomas Edison’s (1847-1931) Kinetoscope, a forerunner of the film projector.  But it was a pair of French brothers named Antoine and Louis Lumière who are usually credited with originating cinema as we know it.  By early 1895, the brothers had developed the Cinématograph, a combination of camera, film processor and projector, which they patented on 13th February 1895.

The Lumière’s first film the 46-seconds-long ‘La Sortie de usines Lumière’ (Workers LEaving the Lumière factory) had been shot in 1894, but was not shown until march 1895. Other film pioneers included German inventor Max Skladanowsky (1863 –1939), French theatrical showman Georges Méliès (1861-1938) and his Star Films film production company, and English stage hypnotist and showman George Albert Smith (1864-1959). It is with the latter two film-makers that we will be concerned with here, at the very birth of cinema in the 1890s.

 



Title: The Haunted Castle (US) / The Devils’s Castle (UK) –  1896. See separate page – The Haunted Castle


The Bewitched Inn 1897Title: The Bewitched Inn 
Country: France
Year: 1897
Director: Georges Méliès
Writer: Georges Méliès
Stars: Georges Méliès

 At just over two minutes long this George Méliès effort is essentially a supernatural farce. Shot outside in Méliès’s garden in the eastern suburbs of Paris, the French film pioneer used a combination of wires and film splicing to achieve the clever effects which make the Bewitched Inn still watchable today.

Brief Synopsis: A weary traveller (Méliès) attempts to lay out his things in his room at an inn. However, the minute he sets something down (his bag, his hat, a candle) it is mysteriously moved around or disappears. Is there a poltergeist at work? Bewildered  and frightened at the invisible hands at work in the room the  traveller runs out of the door in despair.

See the film here –


The Haunted Castle 1897Title: The Haunted Castle 
Country: England
Year: 1897
Director: George Albert Smith
Writer: George Albert Smith
Stars: Laura Bayley

Essentially a one minute remake of Georges Méliès’ ‘Le Manoir du Diable’ produced by Victorian English film pioneer Georges Albert Smith.  The Haunted Castle was one of thirty-one films made by Smith in 1897 alone (he made over 230 films in his career). All were produced in his studio at St Ann’s Well Garden, Hove, Brighton. The film is included here as it is probably Britain’s first film dealing with the supernatural.

Brief Synopsis: The plot of the film, which stars Smith’s wife Laura Bayley,  centres around an inn run by ghosts where a nobleman is attacked by a skeleton, a phantom suit of armour, a ghostly figure dressed in white and finally Mephistopheles himself.

See the film here –


the-x-raysTitle: The X-Rays (AKA: The X-Ray Fiend)
Country: England
Year: 1897
Director: George Albert Smith
Writer: George Albert Smith
Stars: Laura Bayley, Tom Green

One of a number of ‘trick films’ made during this period (mainly by Smith and Méliès).  Trick films were short, silent films designed to showcase special effects (based on stage magic) rather than sophisticated story lines.  Smith’s 44-second long X-Ray Fiend was made less than two years after X-rays had been discovered by German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen.

Brief Synopsis: A couple  are seen flirting with each other when an odd looking scientist appears and points his x-ray camera at them. The scientist turns on the camera and the courting couple become skeletons before our eyes. However, the enrapt pair seem not to notice that anything has happened. The camera is turned off and the couple appear as normal, only for the woman to storm off annoyed at something the man has said (or done).

See the film here –