Movies from the 1890s

A collection of scenes, people, lines, props, and other details from the movies of the 1890s.

Arrivée des Congressistes à Neuville-sur-Saône

Arrivée des Congressistes à Neuville-sur-Saône (1895)

In 1895, the Lumière brothers took their camera to a meeting of the Congress of Photographic Societies. They filmed the members’ arrival at the conference, and then developed the footage and showed it to them that afternoon.

Although these were the very early days of film, the reaction of the subjects to the camera doesn’t seem all that different to the way people react today: some stare, some studiously ignore the camera’s presence, some pause to wave and show off, while others hurry past, head down.

As Arrivée des Congressistes à Neuville-sur-Saône is now in the public domain, you can watch it for yourself below.

(These early films tend to have a variety of names; this site uses the ones suggested by the British Film Institute.)

Bataille de Boules de Neige

Bataille de Boules de Neige (1896)

I’m sure that if you looked hard enough online, you’d find all kinds of nonsense written about symbolism and social order in this short film from the Lumiere brothers. Theory and analysis are all well and good, but at times they can rob a film of its more simple pleasures.

You may therefore prefer to simply enjoy watching the fine people of Lyon having a fine old time chucking show at each other in the street, probably filmed in the winter of 1896/1897:

Le jardinier et le petit espiègle

Le jardinier et le petit espiègle (1895)

Dating back to 1895, the Lumiere brothers’ Le jardinier et le petit espiègle is generally regarded as the first fictional film ever made. Some claims are more cautious, qualifying it as the first comedy ever made, or the first fully staged fictional comedy film ever made and shown to the public, but you get the idea. This was when the cinema began to make up stories.

The film is less than a minute long, and the gag is familiar enough: a gardener is watering his garden, when a boy creeps up behind him and steps on the hose to stop the water; gardener looks into hose, boy releases foot, gardener gets soaked (and, in this case, administers the boy a savage beating).

Le jardinier et le petit espiègle (also known as L’arroseur arrosé, although technically this was the title of a later in-house remake) has long since been in the public domain, you can watch it below in its entirety. The camera was in a fixed position, so the gardener has to drag the boy back to the starting point for his punishment.