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May 09, 2007

Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge (1888)

In 1888 the city of Leeds, in England, became part of history of cinema as the place where the first movies were made. It was the place where a French inventor named Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince successfully tested his invention for the first time and created the first moving images in history. Of course, history often credits either Thomas Alva Edison or the Lumière brothers as the inventors of cinema, and not without a reason, as they were the first who made public exhibitions of movies; however, it was Louis Le Prince who shot the first movies a couple of years before Edison and the Lumières. Sadly, Le Prince would die under mysterious circumstances shortly after this monumental achievement (in 1890), and so, being unable to offer public demonstrations, his name was soon forgotten when film was presented by other inventors. Despite this tragic turn of events, it's never late to give the proper credit to Louis Le Prince as the father of cinema.

In the first movie ever, "Roundhay Garden Scene", Le Prince captured his wife's family on a day at the garden, as they walked and moved in order to test his camera. For his second experiment, Le Prince went to Leeds Bridge, and shot a 2 seconds of the traffic crossing the bridge. The carriages pulled by horses are captured by Le Prince's camera in what could be considered as the very first documentary in history, as it shows another typical day at the Leeds bridge. Obviously, Le Prince's intention was to capture real moving objects to prove that his invention was not fake, so what better way to do it than filming the traffic? Despite its extremely short runtime, this movie is quite interesting as it's a small glimpse to life in the late Victorian era, almost like a time machine to a past that now, more than 100 years later feels very distant.

Watching this movie (as well as "Roundhay Garden Scene") today is a strangely mystifying experience, as while in its short runtime barely nothing happens, the fact that before this movie there wasn't anything, that this was the very first time a movie was made, gives the film an almost supernatural atmosphere. The experiment was successful and cinema was born. It's a tragedy that Le Prince didn't live to see how his invention would grow, and never witnessed his invention becoming an art form and a new way of entertainment. While he never saw the magic of Georges Méliès's movies, or the narrative methods of Edwin S. Porter and D.W. Griffith, Le Prince showed the bridge. Edison, Lumière, and the rest of the pioneers would follow him and change history for ever.

10/10