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Louis Le Prince Takes The World’s First Cinematic Photo And Then Disappears Forever. Is it murder?

One day in September 1890, a Frenchman named Louis Le Prince boarded a train in Dijon, bound for Paris. Two years ago, Le Prince, a former chemist and industrial draftsman, shot the world’s first motion picture, a two-second excerpt of several family members gambling around an area. garden in Leeds, England, where they live.

It was three years before Thomas Edison announced his Kinetograph, a motion picture device similar to Le Prince’s, and seven years before the Lumière brothers held the first advertisement of a motion picture.

Even so, Le Prince’s contributions to the history of cinema have almost disappeared in the mists of time. Because on that day in 1890, in debt and plagued by competitors, including the legendary Edison, Le Prince didn’t get off the train in Paris; he simply disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.

Did Edison kill his competitor? Did it commit suicide? Or did Alfred, Le Prince’s brother, who owed him so much money that he couldn’t pay it back, killed him? Paul Fischer, author of The Man Who Invented Movies: A True Story of Obsession, Murder, and Moviesthe second option, claiming that since Alfred never reported his brother’s disappearance, lied about his efforts to find him and discouraged his wife – who was living in the US at the time – from coming to find him. him, he is the killer.

“[Le Prince] “Colleagues and family didn’t see him despair, and he made plans for the future, including traveling to New York to announce his invention,” Fischer said.

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Film Le Prince garden scene in Leeds, Yorkshire, October 1888.

Science & Society Gallery / Getty Images

However, the mystery of Le Prince’s death is not the most interesting element of Fischer’s book, which is a comprehensively researched look at not only the life of the Frenchman but the history of photography as well. and efforts to transition from visual static to actual motion. “I hope [the book] “The only question they have is – does it move? Would you believe it? Will it get people’s attention? Is it life?” Fischer said.

To tell this story, Fischer’s book is filled with names that have become legendary in the history of photography and motion pictures: Louis Daguerre, one of the fathers of the photographic process; Eadweard Muybridge, the first to take pictures of frozen motion (before that, subjects had to be motionless for a period of time in order for them to be captured); George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, whose Kodak camera, with its foil-coated rolls, replaced glass panels and was a major breakthrough; and the lesser known John Carbutt, who perfected cellulosic film, which Eastman later featured on reels of film for his camera.

“If Le Prince lived and kept control of his invention, perhaps there would be no Hollywood.”

All of these men benefited from an era, which lasted about 1840-1890, that saw tremendous advances in technology and the invention of photography, the telegraph, the steam engine, anesthetics, phones, electric lights and more. Fischer claims much of this rapid technological advancement has been “encouraged by law, in the form of patents. If you can show you’ve invented something — if you can show you’re first — you can patent that invention and no one else is allowed to monetize it without with your permission. So now, every advancement drives the next, because it opens up a whole new field of potential for further advancement, and every one of those strides means cash. . “

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French inventor and filmmaker Louis Le Prince, right, with his father-in-law, Joseph Whitley, at the Whitley family home in Roundhay, Leeds, Yorkshire, 1887.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

even though Inventor of motion pictures going into great detail, sometimes exhausting, around the technological advancements that have made motion pictures, it’s the story of who was finally recognized for this invention and the legal issues surrounding it. around it, has the greatest resonance today. And that’s what Edison was all about, who came from a cross between Donald Trump and Steve Jobs, a man in many ways a 19th-century version of a modern tech company leader who also used Using loopholes in the legal system to defeat opponents.

Edison was a big fan of foreshadowing, a kind of foreshadowing in which an inventor declares their intention to submit a full submission soon. This can be used to set priority on a device and help someone like Edison beat competitors. If a competitor files for certification of a similar process, the Patent Office will suspend that process, notify the owner of the notice and give them three months to file a formal application. Edison used the foreshadowing 120 times.

So, although Le Prince was the first to design film reels and cameras and projectors with a single lens, thus abandoning the use of glass panels, his advances were due to sophistication. Edison’s – some would say immoral – uses patent law, which is pretty much nullified.

“A lot of the nefarious things that can be associated with Edison are not very different from the way big corporations do today,” says Fischer. “He disparages opponents and sometimes steals from them and often sues smaller competitors to the ground. He’s exploited the patent system in a way that’s not too dissimilar from how a company like Disney uses its own weight to exploit copyright law to its own advantage.”

However, what is the historical record: The short clip shot by Le Prince, now known as the Roundhay Garden Scene, is undoubtedly the oldest motion picture footage, and it is, says Fischer, a short film that he considers the inventor’s intention and hope in new technology.

Fischer says: “The first words that come to mind when I watch Roundhay Gardens are ‘family movie’. “I think that’s one thing I really love about it. Le Prince seems to really think about cinema first and foremost as something that connects people, preserves memories and allows us to relive our loved ones even after they’re gone. The [scene] really impressed me because it had that innocuous everyday quality. ”

Fisher says this to contrast Le Prince’s film with the early work of the likes of Edison and the Lumière brothers, who “primarily created small skits that could introduce the novel value of discoveries their invention,” by shooting scenes such as crowds leaving a factory or a train rushing toward viewers. Fischer said: “Le Prince knew the scene was important. “His early ideas on filming topics included the circus and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But for that first film, he chose to film his family walking silly around the garden at home.”

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This camera made by Louis Le Prince took a series of images using 16 independent shutters, taken in sequence.

SSPL/Getty Images

And that is for Le Prince. Years after his disappearance, Edison won the patent battle and, along with other companies, formed a monopoly, demanding licensing fees from all manufacturers, distributors, and exhibitors. . That forced the independent producers of the time to leave the East Coast and settle in the new town of Hollywood. Would things be different if Le Prince was still alive?

“If Le Prince were still alive and in control of his invention, perhaps there would be no Hollywood,” Fischer said. “Perhaps the indie filmmaking ecosystem will be healthier, because Le Prince seems to want his film camera to be widely available, in the same way that cameras shoot. [Or] it might not be very different, except maybe the kids would learn about Louis Le Prince in school, and maybe the movie world would stay in New York a little longer. ”

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