Cinemaphiles will love this film
Daniel Friedman | Harrison, NY USA | 04/09/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a tribute to the spirit of motion pictures, Lumiere & Company is a tremendous achievement and a sublime experience for true cineastes who are fortunate to find a copy on DVD. Produced in celebration of the centennial of what is considered to be the first motion picture camera, invented by the Lumiere Brothers of France, the approach is similar to asking the most accomplished electric guitar player to go acoustic.The producers asked a collection of international film directors to create a 52-second piece each using the same technology as the Lumieres did more than one hundred years ago, 52 seconds being the amount of time it takes for one spool of film to run through their camera. Therefore, each of the segments is done in one take. All the directors are well respected, but among the more well-known participants are David Lynch, Wim Wenders, John Boorman, Spike Lee, James Ivory, Zhang Yimou and Liv Ullman.Each segment is intriguing. While the results are understandably uneven, the pleasure of watching this film is in discovering the remarkable diversity in the working minds of motion picture's prominent practitioners. The DVD allows for free roaming and alternative selection of each short film. Given the nearly limitless possibilities available in the modern film industry, it's worth noting how the directors make use of their limited time and yet still reveal their own styles.The subject matter ranges from miniature narratives to political statements and social documents. The locations are as varied as the directors themselves, from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Hiroshima. Although this film may seem a bit obscure and tedious to the non-enthusiast, historians and die-hard cinema fans will marvel not only at how limitations forcibly create ingenious ideas to spring forth, but also at how well the Lumiere camera still functions.The DVD release also offers production notes, a trailer, French language, and English subtitles."
A Filmmakers Dream Project
Martin A Hogan | San Francisco, CA. (Hercules) | 06/19/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"In 1885, the Lumiere Brothers perfected a hand-cranked movie camera that moved the world. This 100th year anniversary takes forty filmmakers to task with the same camera to produce a film less than a minute. It's not as interesting in its results as one might have hoped. It was a huge challenge and few really completed something of interest. Of those, David Lynch, Patrice Leconte and Alaine Corneau are the most intriguing, while well known directors like Spike Lee and Liv Ullmann are less so. However, this is subjective. Many of the directors are asked simple questions with the hopes of profound answers. "Why do you film" and "Is cinema immortal" get answers as mundane as `climbing a mountain because it is there'. Film students will, however, be fascinated with this project and historians will marvel that an invention so old can still be of artistic use. For the average viewer, this 88 minute documentary might seem boring, but at the very least, it is historic."
Robert P. Beveridge | Cleveland, OH | 05/28/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Lumiere and Company (Sarah Moon, 1995)No, Lumiere and Company is not some sort of obscure sequel to Disney's Beauty and the Beast. (And where I got that idea, which I had for years, is completely beyond me.) Instead, it's Sarah Moon's third film, and a kind of global version of her second, Contriere l'oubli. Moon took the original camera manufactured by the Lumiere brothers, set some ground rules, and asked forty world-famous directors to shoot a fifty-two second scene with it. She then made a documentary incorporating behind-the-scenes footage with the short pieces themselves.The result is a wonderful look into the mind of the filmmaker as he goes about the filmmaker's art. Each of the filmmakers does something completely different, and each answers the five questions put to him by Moon so disparately that the overall effect is one of a sort of comprehensive feeling about how films get made; one that no one director would subscribe to, but all embrace.The short films themselves are directed by such luminaries as Costa-Gavras, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Liv Ullmann, Lasse Hallstrom, and many others who are easily recognizable; the trick was to get Moon, the relative neophyte, to create a wrapper that is the equal of the movies therein. And she did so, admirably. The is a fine little gem of a film, and well worth seeing. **** ½"
Interesting experiment in filmmaking
Kenji Miwa | Boston, MA United States | 02/26/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Nearly one hundred years after the creation of the world's first portable motion picture camera, director Sarah Moon ambitiously compiles the work of forty international directors who agree to make a fifty two second film using the original Lumière brother's cinématographe. The project was an intriguing and appropriate way to commemorate the 100 year anniversary since the birth of cinema. Many directors paid their respects to the brother's ingenuity while, in a different approach, others explored the possibilities of the camera. Still, a small number merely participated with passivity. Much can be learned about the evolution of cinema through Sarah Moon's documentary, Lumière and Company.
Embracing the contributions the Lumière brother's made to cinema and technology, many directors choose to make a film in their honor. Patrice LeConte expressed her admiration directly by recreating the brother's famous L'Arrivée d'un Train à la Ciotat. Like the original Lumière films, LeConte filmed the train arrival without a single camera movement; positioning the camera in the exact spot the Lumière brother's once stood to make this memorable film. Ironically, LeConte's film was easily forgettable amongst the other films for its simplicity. Interestingly, it effectively served as a viewer Litmus test; what once made an audience run from the theater out of fear of a colliding train is now so trite that it has almost no effect. Claude Lelouch and Gabriel Axel also offer a tip of the hat by depicting the evolution of film as an art form and as a technology. Just as the Lumière brothers later realized that a moving camera makes a more interesting film, Lelouch and Axel used dollies and rotating platforms respectively to pass new subject material through the frame. Moreover, many directors chose to have fun with the project to produce the most entertainment in a short 52 second film. Zhang Yimou, along with many others, created a short skit of hilarious absurdity (graceful characters in Peking opera garb strip to reveal modern punk rock clothing and run out of the frame); a more extreme, yet clear parallel to Lumière's short with the hose trick.
Unquestionably, the most interesting and memorable film was Premonitions Following an Evil Deed by David Lynch. More than any other director, he squeezed the life out of each second to create his eerie masterpiece. He took full advantage of the grainy underexposed film look and characteristic pulsating flicker of the cinématographe coupled with a dissonant soundtrack and ingenious cutting techniques to create a fresh sense of uneasiness and sheer horror. Imagine how an audience would react to this film if it were shown 100 years ago. As Lynch demonstrates, it technically would have been possible to make such a film back then. On the other hand, directors like Spike Lee and Michael Haneke failed to make any notable contributions to the project. Lee's 52 seconds of trying to make his baby say "Dada" and Haneke's random shots of the TV screen do not demonstrate any original thinking or zest for filmmaking.
Sarah Moon gives the directors strict criteria to follow when making their film: The film must be exposed using the cinematographe, each film must be 52 seconds long with only three takes to get it right. However, one fundamental limitation she overlooked, whether intentional or not, is any rule concerning peripheral camera equipment such as a modern tripod, dolly, crane, or lights. A handful of directors exploited this loophole by mounting their cinematographe on modern equipment, notably Andrei Konchalovsky who carefully blocked his film using a crane on a dolly. Konchalovsky's sophisticated camera work alone transcended his film into another generation of film quality; making it difficult to objectively compare his work with the original Lumière films.
As a documentary, Moon attempts to extract some profound wisdom from the directors by asking them three questions: 1. Why did you choose to participate? 2. Why do you film? and 3. Is film immortal? For the latter two, she is often met with hesitation as people don't know how to respond to such open-ended questions. Based on the responses, it seemed as if the interviewer caught the directors off guard by bluntly posing the questions with no lead in or follow up to probe them further. The end result is, at times, a pseudo-portentous, romanticized one-line cliché as if they thought that was what Moon was seeking. Lynch provided an honest and straightforward answer: "I film to entertain people." The interview segments are effective as transitions between the individual films but they soon become too formulaic to the point of viewer disinterest. This criticism can also extend into the segments where Moon holds an unwavering camera on the director's face as they barks orders during the production. The strategy does, at times, capture the filmmaker's passion and we can see why they film instead of having them tell us. However many times this approach fails to reveal anything about the directors or filmmaking in general and therefore should be omitted from the documentary. Criticism aside, the documentary was overall a success because it was rooted with a great idea. For the most part, Moon chose great directors who were willing to produce some remarkable filmmaking, especially given the limitations. Lumière and Company reminds us how film was born and provides clues as to where it may be going. Like traditional art, film has come a long way; always exploring the boundaries of what is possible. What will motion pictures be like 100 years from now?