Demolishing a Wall (France, 1895) Lumière Brothers

*Seeing reality with new eyes*

Observation techniques are used since the very first days of filmmaking, at the end of the 19th century. Lumière’s early films, from around 1895, like Workers Leaving the Factory, Train Arriving at the Station, Demolishing a Wall, Lunch and A Boat Leaving Harbour show the straightforward recording of events that is typical for observation techniques. In each of these films we see an image made by a camera on a tripod, without any movement of the camera, panning or zooming. The actions shown begin and end in the same shot, no editing is applied; the films are in fact just one shot long.

Spectators were amazed by the reality of the images. One of the most astonishing facts for the audience was that the leaves of the bushes behind the baby eating in Lunch all moved – every single one of them. This strong likeliness to reality gave film its character of an accurate observer of reality, even though the images at the time were black and white and very grainy.

However, already at this very early stage of film history the capabilities of film to let us observe events in a new way were explored too. In Demolishing a Wall Lumière shows how the wall miraculously erects itself from the dust after it has been hammered down. The shot is shown in reverse; a great spectacle if you see it for the first time as people in the late 19th Century did. The film offers an early glimpse of the power that the filmmaker has even if s/he only observes. By resurrecting the wall from dust, the Lumière brothers allowed the viewers of Demolishing a Wall a new way of seeing the simple event they filmed. The Lumières added a perspective to the shot, and to the event, by reversing the shot.

This kind of experimentation was further developed by for instance Dziga Vertov with his Kino-Eye group in Kino-Eye and Man With a Movie Camera and Jean Vigo. Demolishing a Wall shows that from the beginning of filmmaking, in 1895, adding perspective to the observations made is seen as a technique that does not necessarily make the observation worthless. Rather, it can make films more interesting because it offers unexpected views and understanding of everyday situations by making them strange. This is a technique that is not unfamiliar to design research. In film for design research, it is rarely used though, if ever at all.

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