1896 in Film

the kiss

Aside from The Kiss, this year we have some genuinely amazing work from Georges Méliès – real one-minute horror and fantasy films, a huge leap forward for the artform.

The Haunted Castle (Le Manoir du diable)

The Kiss

Le Cauchemar (A Nightmare)

Snowball Fight

McKinley at Home, Canton, Ohio


Blackfriars Bridge

Lion, London Zoological Gardens

The Vanishing Lady

La Fée aux Choux

Carmaux, défournage du coke

Une Partie de Cartes

1895 in Film



L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat

Annabelle Serpentine Dance

Repas de bébé

Barque sortant du port

Akrobatisches Potpourri

La Charcuterie mécanique

Démolition d’un mur

The Derby

L’Arroseur Arrosé

Cordeliers’ Square in Lyon

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory

Seventeen Seconds in New Jersey – The Premature Birth of Sound Film


If you were surprised to find that Thomas Edison reciting “Mary Had A Little Lamb” wasn’t the first thing in the first mix, you may also recollect that sound film started in 1927 with The Jazz Singer. But here we are 32 years earlier, and what do you know, here’s the first example of someone combining moving pictures with recorded sound.

Of course this makes sense when you think about it. If you’ve got a gramophone and an experimental film camera around, why not try using them at the same time? William Kennedy Dixon, one of the more important people in the invention of film, had two men dance while another played the violin, with a fourth man making a brief appearance in the final seconds.

Vito Russo posited that this was the first piece of gay cinema, but I’m afraid that’s probably just wishful thinking – these were different times, when it was also quite common for men to dance with men without any homosexual overtones. It’s also not a good example of either dancing or violin playing, of course.

What I do find fascinating about the clip, though, it is the picture it gives of Edison’s Black Maria Studio, especially the gigantic recording horn, suspended on a wire from the ceiling. The ugliness of the work uniforms the men wear is also very interesting – a reminder that the photos we rely on for a sense of the Victorian age are usually their Sunday best, and not a real representation of everyday life

So here it is then, sound and vision, married together as awkwardly as two studio workers forced to dance a waltz.

Pauvre Pierrot – the first animated film

Cinema was even more a sideshow attraction than recorded sound in 1892. In pre-Lumiere France, cinematic pioneer Émile Reynaud was projecting slides with moving images in front of painted backgrounds at his Théâtre Optique in Paris. In a sense this had been done for hundreds of years with magic lantern shows, but Reynaud’s innovation was that foreground figures could be pre-painted frame by frame and set on film in order to produce the illusion of movement; in magic lantern shows figures would have hand-operated puppet-like fixed movements.

Reynaud’s figures are full of life and character, and while ‘lifelike’ might be a bit of a stretch, it’s a bold leap forward, and it’s a shame that it doesn’t get more recognition.