April 04, 2008

L' Arroseur arrosé (1895)

On December 28, 1895, thirty-three people were witnesses of history being written as the very first audience of the Lumières' Cinématographe, an innovative device that was able to project motion pictures on a screen. Motion pictures were not new for the people gathered on at Paris's Salon Indien Du Grand Café that day, as Edison's Kinetoscope (the "Peep Show") was a popular form of entertainment; however, nobody in the room was prepared to see the images projected on the screen to move as unlike the Kinetoscope, the Cinématographe allowed the movies to be seen by an audience. 10 short films shot by August and Louis Lumière were shown that historic day, most of them depicting everyday scenes like people walking out of the Lumière factory or playing cards, but one among those 10 short films was different: "L' Arroseur Arrosé", the first comedy film.

"L' Arroseur Arrosé", literally ("The Sprinkler Sprinkled"), is basically about a practical joke committed by a mischievous boy (Benoît Duval) to annoy a Gardener (François Clerc) who is working with his plants in Lyons. The movie begins with the Gardener watering his vegetables when the boy steps on the hose he is using to water the plants. The Gardener is surprised as the water stops flowing so he inspects the nozzle to find out what's happening. As he checks it, the boy releases the hose and the water continues flowing, spraying the gardener as it comes out of the hose with strength. Surprised by this, the Gardener quickly realizes that he's been tricked, but the boy responsible escapes running away in order to avoid being caught. The Gardener decides to chase the boy in order to punish him for his actions.

When compared to the other 9 movies shown on that first screening, "L' Arroseur Arrosé" always stand out as it was remarkably different from any of the other movies in the sense that it wasn't an "actuality film", but the very first staged fictional comedy shot on film. The Lumière brothers had a preference for documentaries (actuality films) as they weren't really interested in other uses for their invention besides the scientific documentation of real life events; so it is because of this reason that the creation of "L' Arroseur Arrosé" is truly a real oddity among Lumières' movies. Anyways, not only is this movie special for those reasons, it is also one of the best looking of the 10 (and one that has survived almost intact to this date), with the brothers showing a great early use of cinematography to frame the film.

In its barely 50 seconds of duration, "L' Arroseur Arrosé", opened the way to slapstick and pantomime in film, as the movie showed that it was possible to use the new invention to make pure entertainment, and that there was an extremely high unused potential in the Cinématographe. It wouldn't be too far of a stretch to claim that comedy films were born in this movie. While the reasons behind the inclusion of this film among 9 documentaries is odd, it was quite probably that this was the film that inspired a notable member of that first audience to make fictional movies aimed to entertain: Georges Méliès, who would later become a famous filmmaker on his own (and would direct a remake of this very film too).


Buy "L' Arroseur arrosé" (1895) and other films by the Lumière brothers and other early cinema pioneers

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