History of Cinema: origin and first films

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In day December 28, 1895, the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière, held the first public cinematographic exhibition.

However, the creation of cinema was the result of the effort of several inventors who were working to manage to record moving images.

Origin of Cinema

Getting moving images has been pursued since antiquity. Shadows have always fascinated human beings, which even led to the creation of shadow theater.

With the advent of photography, it was possible to fix the image on a surface, be it paper, metal plate or glass. In this way, we cannot understand the history of cinema without understanding the history of photography.

The very etymology of the word cinema explains this. After all, "cinema" is short for cinematograph. "Cine", comes from the Greek and means movement and the suffix "graph", here it means, record. So we have the recorded movement.

Therefore, several inventors, from countries like France and the United States, developed devices to capture and project moving images. Let's look at some of these machines:

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magic lantern

magic lantern
A Magic Lantern Home Show for Children

Invented in the 17th century, it was a darkroom that projected, through lenses and light, hand-painted drawings on glass. A narrator was in charge of telling the story and sometimes there was musical accompaniment.

The magic lantern became a major attraction at urban fairs, but it was also used in the academic environment.


In the praxinoscope each image should be carefully drawn to give the illusion of movement.

Built in 1877 by Frenchman Charles Émile Reynaud (1844-1918), the praxinoscope consisted of a circular-shaped device in which the images were successive and gave the feeling that they were moving.

Initially restricted to the home environment, Reynaud in 1888 was able to increase the size of his machine. This allowed us to project the designs for larger audiences and these performances became known as "optical theatre".

These projections achieved enormous success in the late nineteenth century. In fact, the praxinoscope was only surpassed by the Lumière brothers' cinematograph.


A man watches movies on the kinetoscope, which is open and you can see the film reels.

Launched in 1894 at the factory commanded by Thomas Edison (1847-1931) in the United States, the kinetoscope was an individual machine used to watch short films

The invention was only possible because Edison created a celluloid film capable of storing the images and thus projecting them through the lenses.


The cinematograph created by the Lumière brothers was patented on February 13, 1895

The brothers Auguste Lumière (1862-1954) and Louis Lumière (1864-1948), passionate about inventions and photography, developed the cinematograph. Unlike other devices, this one allowed recording and projecting images making the activity more practical.

Both were aware of Thomas Edison's findings and made small changes to the frames to avoid legal issues.

In this way, the invention of the French brothers surpassed its competitors and became the preferred device for those who wanted to record moving images.

First Film Screening

The Lumière brothers were sons of a manufacturer of photographic materials, whose factory was located in the city of Lyon, France.

Researched and improved the first cameras contributing to the emergence of color photography. Through the cinematograph, they began to make their first films, which consisted of capturing images with the device stopped.

On December 28, 1895, in Paris, at the "Grand Café", the first cinematographic projection as we know it was carried out. Thus, in a dark room, ten short films were screened such as "The arrival of the train at La Ciotat station" or "The workers leaving the factory".

The Exit of Workers from the Lumière Factory 1895 La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon

However, the Lumière brothers themselves did not pursue their career in cinema. Louis would still invent the fotorama and devote himself to science, while Auguste would continue his studies in biochemistry and physiology.

Narrative Cinema

Cinema was seen only for documentary purposes and to record through a static camera something that was happening in front of the lens. It would be what is called "filmed theater".

However, two pioneers will use the cameras to tell stories, create techniques and narratives that would only be possible with this device.

We highlight two precursors of narrative cinema: Alice Guy-Blaché and Georges Méliès.

Alice Guy-Blache

Alice Guy
Filmmaker Alice Guy was the first person to make a living from cinema

The first person to explore the narrative route of cinema was the Frenchwoman Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968). Author of nearly a thousand works, she made the first film based on a popular tale, "The fairy of cabbages" (1896).

Alice Guy was working as a secretary at the Gaumont factory and film producer when the Lumière brothers went to demonstrate her recent invention.

Enchanted with the device, Alice Guy began experimenting with filming with double exposure, slowing down or speeding up the camera speed in order to get interesting effects to narrate her stories. She would still be the first to use color and sound in her films.

She married Hebert Blaché in 1907, who worked as a cameraman. Both moved to the United States three years later and there Alice Guy created her own production company and built studios to film her works. After getting divorced in 1920, she returns to France, but is unable to resume her career as a director.

Alice Guy has shot over a thousand films of which only 350 have survived, including her monumental "The Life of Christ", from 1906, which featured 300 extras.

Completely erased from the history of cinema, Alice Guy-Blaché died in 1968. Now, historians are giving her the place she deserves again.

Georges Mélies

Georges Melies
Georges Mélliès and the famous poster for his film "Voyage to the Moon"

On the other hand, the French magician and actor Georges Méliès would also work on the development of the cinematographic language, introducing cuts, overexposure and zoom.

Born in Paris in 1861, Georges Méliès ran his own theater in the French capital and was invited by the Lumière brothers to attend the exhibition of the "cinematographer" in 1895.

Méliès wanted to use the device in his shows, but the brothers did not sell it. Anyway, he bought a similar machine and started writing scripts and acting. He perfected the proper tricks of theater and illusionism for the cinema and thus achieved great success.

His biggest success was the movie "Trip to the moon", from 1902, where he adapted Jules Verne's famous work for the cinema. For his innovations, Méliès is recognized as the "father of special effects".


  • The first cinema in the world was Éden Théâtre, in the city of La Ciotat, France, where the Lumière brothers used to spend their holidays and screened their films for guests.
  • Six months after the screening in Paris, on July 8, 1896, the first screening of films in Brazil took place in Rio de Janeiro.

read more:

  • History of Brazilian Cinema
  • What are Visual Arts?
  • Types of Art
  • Ways of Communication
  • photorealism
  • History of Television
  • Modern Times, film by Charles Chaplin

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