Features and Columns · Movies

Let There Be Lumières: The Early Days of Cinema, Explained

Turns out that making bank on technological spectacle is at the backbone of movie making. Cool.
Early Cinema Edison Sneeze
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By  · Published on July 17th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that unpacks the early days of movie-making, from phonographs to the Cinématographe.


It can be difficult to wrap your head around the early days of cinema; that exploratory period between the 19th and 20th centuries where innovators were pioneering a whole new medium of creative expression.

Only, as anyone who has an interest in early film will tell you, movies weren’t originally considered to be “creative” in the way we think about them today. Not even by the big names (Thomas Edison, The Lumière Brothers, etc.) who created them. Movies were seen as disposable entertainment, which is part of the reason why so many of them are lost to history. And yet, as the following video essay argues, even despite their best efforts, filmmakers were inadvertently forging the language of a new artistic medium.

The following video essay describes not only the technologies that powered the earliest films but the emergence of business strategies and creative trends that define the art form to this day. We still see studios today appeal to the lowest common denominator to make the most money. And while back in the late 1800s, that meant “showing people entropic static shots of people doing a single task,” the principle is the same. The trajectory of cinema is tied up with technical spectacle. There’s a straight line between a 19th-century Parisian audience losing their minds over the crisp image of the cinématographe and modern-day audiences who say, “you’ve got to see Top Gun: Maverick in IMAX if you can.”

Watch “The First Movies”:


Who made this?

This video on early cinema’s first steps into the public sphere was created by Luiza Liz Bond and Lewis Michael Bond, the duo behind The Cinema Cartography. Her videos investigate the intersections of film and philosophy. You can check out The Cinema Cartography’s website here. You can check out their back catalog of videos here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).