Paul Fischer’s book explores the mysterious death of Louis Le Prince

MOVIE
The Man Who Invented Motion Pictures: A True Story of Obsession, Murder and the Movies
Paul Fischer
Allen & Unwin, $39.99

From the past comes a mystery that asks who is responsible for the disappearance of the man who invented films. The sketch on the cover of Paul Fischer’s captivating book introduces him: a man dressed in the style of an 18th-century gentleman, his mutton chops and beard professing him as a man of the world while proudly gazing ahead leaning his elbow on his box-like invention, a device he called “takers” or “receivers” of animated photographs. His name is Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince.

Inside is a still of the first moving pictures ever made, a two-second epic that shows three members of his family and a friend moving outside their home in Leeds. He called it Roundhay Garden Scene. It was 1888. Two years later he was gone. While traveling in the south of France on family matters, he disappeared without a trace and his disappearance remains officially unsolved.

Still from Louis Le Prince's two-second clip showing family members in the garden, the first moving images ever filmed.

Still from Louis Le Prince’s two-second clip showing family members in the garden, the first moving images ever filmed.Recognition:SSPL/Getty

Over the years, inventors other than Le Prince have been credited with inventing motion pictures. In the USA it is often Thomas Edison, whose work earlier led to electric light and the phonograph; or sometimes the British-born Eadweard Muybridge, who invented the zoopraxiscope, which was known to capture still images of horses and human figures in motion.

Inventor of cinematography Louis Le Prince, who disappeared under bizarre circumstances.

Inventor of cinematography Louis Le Prince, who disappeared under bizarre circumstances.Recognition:Getty

In France, it is the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere who made and screened a number of (very) short films in the second half of the 1890s, including The arrival of a train at La Ciotat station. Brilliantly referenced in Martin Scorsese’s 3-D Hugo (2011), it lasted 50 seconds and featured a train traveling in the general direction of the camera, reportedly causing the audience to flee for their lives.

However, Fischer leaves little room for doubt as to who was responsible. What sets his book apart from a traditional film story is that it is essentially a crime thriller. It asks: What happened to Le Prince? Was he murdered and if so, by whom? Or did he commit suicide and end up as one of the many unidentified corpses that turned up at the Paris morgue each year?

Drawing on old newspaper accounts, the unpublished memoirs of key participants, the written testimonies of Le Prince’s research team and other witnesses, and legal files from the archives, Fischer presents what he reasonably calls “a ghost story, a family saga, and an unsolved mystery.” The style he brings is novelistic, his narrative begins with the disappearance of Le Prince and then moves back in time to flesh out the profiles of various people who were directly or indirectly a part of his life – and who maybe or maybe not was directly involved in what happened to him.

The focus, however, is the impact of her husband’s devotion to his work and his disappearance on Le Prince’s wife, Lizzie. The book traces the development of their relationship as they moved between Paris and Leeds during the Belle Epoque, where she grew up and where they eventually found a home together. Her efforts to cope with the emotional and financial burdens of being an inventor’s wife are at least as important to the story that Fischer has to tell as her husband’s work.

https://www.smh.com.au/culture/books/cinema-s-big-mystery-who-killed-the-man-who-made-the-first-ever-film-20220712-p5b0za.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture Paul Fischer’s book explores the mysterious death of Louis Le Prince

Jaclyn Diaz

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