The oldest surviving film, Roundhay Garden Scene, dates back to 1888. And with that, the world’s first filmmakers got to work. Among those early pioneers were the Lumiére brothers — and one of their pieces is now going viral. The restored, colored video depicts a lovely snowball fight back in 1897.
The Lumiére Brothers
Born in the early 1860s in France, the Lumière brothers grew up to become major manufacturers of photography equipment. Working off an earlier patent by the inventor Léon Bouly, in 1895, they assembled their own similar invention called the Cinématographe Lumière: a whole motion picture system which included a movie camera as well as a film projector.
Beginning in 1895, the brothers began using the new devices to record their own footage. Their first film was Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory. But it’s another work, depicting an old-timey snowball fight that’s caught the attention of modern audiences.
The brothers’ home in Lyon eventually became the Institut Lumière, a French filmmaking academy and museum named in their honor.
We’ve come along way from the crackly, jerky silent films that made the Lumiére brothers celebs back in the 19th century. Now, we watch movies online. So it’s fitting that in 2020, this one-minute clip by the brothers was restored and colorized — and put on the internet.
The vivid film fascinated viewers worldwide.
Early photography as we know it was, typically, a serious medium. Looking old portraits, the subjects are rarely smiling. First of all, getting your photo taken was a rare opportunity. Plus, due to long exposure times, keeping straight face ensured a clearer shot. And so often, our perception of so many historical figures is colored by that gloomy aesthetic.
But this video by the Lumiére brothers flies in the face of all that. Actually, it throws a snowball in the face of all that. Look how much fun their having!
The footage shows French people in their standard Victorian dress — bowler hats and handlebar mustaches for the men, full skirts and poofy sleeves for the women — galavanting around on a snowy street. It looks like a lovely winter’s day in Lyon, and the locals are enjoying every minute of it, pelting each other with snowballs, slipping and falling into the white, fluffy ground. One guy on a bicycle really loses his balance!
Though the film is silent, it’s easy to imagine their laughter. And it’s touching to see a document from the era that’s so lighthearted. Although a video of children would have been cute too, it’s special that the people captured on film here are adults. Even in current age of non-stop documentation, it’s unusual to spot grown ups playing like this, so freely.
According to the YouTube channel, Life Before, the restoration process included increase quality to 60 frames per second, improving the resolution to high definition, plus sharpening, birhgtening and, finally, colorizing the video with machine learning software. Overall, the footage is a smooth and oh-so-clear: a moment literally frozen in time.
Pure Christmastime joy.
‘Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory’
For restoration comparison, check out the Lumiére brothers’ first film from 1895: Workers Leaving the Lumiére Factory. It’s astounding to consider how the workers walking past had a direct hand in the evolution of the film process that was literally capturing them on that weekday afternoon.