“The world’s oldest surviving cinema celebrated the 125th anniversary of the first screening of a film yesterday but complained that the global movie industry had ignored the anniversary,” wrote Adam Sage in The Times of London on September 21. Quite vexing, no doubt, yet such oversight is understandable. The global movie industry has a lot on its mind, much as the captain of the Titanic did when the iceberg went bump. But in a pandemic year when movie houses worldwide have sat silent and dark, the popcorn machines under wraps, cinema’s quasquicentennial ought not to go unheralded. With nearly everything on pause for the indefinite future, the consolations of history are darn near all we’ve got until the new James Bond and Wonder Woman are allowed to leave the hangar.
The birthplace of movie showing and movie-going is the aptly named Eden Theatre, in La Ciotat on the French Riviera, where every thong has a spry tale to tell. It was in this outpost of paradise, in a sun-gold building that faces forward with beckoning confidence, that the Lumière brothers, Louis and Auguste, showed a passel of home movies to a small audience in 1895, thought to be the first public viewing of moving pictures. What the Wright brothers were to aviation, the Lumière brothers were to image-ization: as entrepreneurs, they developed and patented the Cinematograph, which both recorded and projected moving images; as filmmakers, they recorded more than 1,400 films, most of them as brief as a TikTok video.
Nearly all of their films survive, as does the Eden Theatre, where it all began; among the feature films available for viewing this weekend are Citizens of the World, Delete History, and Werner Herzog’s Family Romance, LLC. So if you happen to be tootling along the French Riviera, be sure to swing by. Consider it a pilgrimage stop at the baptismal font of Our Lady of Sacred Flickers. —James Wolcott