May 09, 2007

Roundhay Garden Scene (1888)

The name of Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince is not listened often when talking about history of film, as the strange circumstances surrounding his death and the troubles his work found after his disappearance covered his achievements with a cloud of mystery; however, it is probably the most important person in the history of film-making, as Le Prince was the man responsible of the very first recording of motion images on film. A dedicated inventor, Louis Le Prince started experimenting with film as early as 1881 (years before Thomas Alva Edison or the Lumière brothers), and by 1886 he was almost ready to take the big step, as he built his first successful movie camera. Someday around October 1888, Le Prince captured on film what would become the world's first motion picture: a family scene in a garden of Roundhay, Leeds, during his time in England. Cinema was born in that garden.

The now legendary 2 seconds short features his son Adolphe walking across the garden while the family of Le Prince's wife, the Whitleys, move on the background, probably wondering if what their son-in-law is doing will work. And it work marvelously, as the images of that day at the garden were captured, and finally the photographs were moving. Sadly, "Roundhay Garden Scene" was also tainted by tragedy, as Sarah Whitley, Le Prince's mother-in-law died just ten days after the shooting of the movie, so probably she was not able to see her image moving in the background of the scene. Considering the enormous importance of this invention, it's easy to wonder why isn't the name of Le Prince better known, and why are Edison and the Lumière brothers credited as the cinema inventors.

The reasons behind this apparent forgetfulness are many, but the most important is the fact that tragically, he died before making his first public demonstration, and was not alive when the legal battles over the patent of the invention began. The mysterious death of Le Prince put him out of the picture and by the next decade, the names of Edison and the Lumières would become the ones related to film-making. While history credits Auguste and Louis Lumière as the fathers of cinema, it would be fair to give Louis Le Prince part of the credit, as while the brothers indeed invented cinema as we know it (they were the first to make public demonstrations), it was Le Prince's invention what would truly be the beginning of all. The shiny day at Roundhay garden that Le Prince captured in this film, is a fitting symbol for the shiny future that cinema had ahead.


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