(GIF by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

In 1895, brothers Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas and Louis Jean Lumière patented their cinematograph — a hand-cranked motion-picture camera inside a wooden box that weighed 16 pounds — and shot their first film on it, of workers leaving the Lumière factory. A century later, Philippe Poulet of the Museum of Cinema in Lyon restored the Lumières’ original cinematograph and gave it, in turn, to 41 directors, each of whom was invited to shoot a short film on it. The conditions: no longer than 52 seconds, no synchronized sound, and no more than three takes.

The resulting films — collected under the title Lumière and Company — are short, poetic riffs on the nature of narrative, often fleeting meditations on the age-old cinematic question of reality versus fiction (Roger Ebert called them “haiku.”) One of them, by French director Alain Corneau, does this particularly gracefully: it is a single, silent take of a female gypsy dancer. As she twirls and turns her wrists and flutters her arms with expert precision, her dress and veil and pants change color, shifting from subtle turquoise to bright yellow and magenta. The color was all done by hand, with Corneau (or an assistant) hand-tinting the film, and it changes at just the right moments, electrifying the dancer when she pauses for just a fraction of a second. This is live, Corneau seems to say, it’s documentary and it’s real — but it’s also mine, and you’ll never know what kinds of artificial details I’ve added.

For a less subtle but equally entertaining take on the same issue, watch David Lynch’s amazingly creepy contribution to the project.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

One reply on “Colorizing the Lumière Brothers’ Cinematograph”

  1. ?? This is not a film of a “gypsy dancer”. I’m pretty sure this is traditional indian dancing. Specifically, it looks a lot like kathak.

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