And Then There Was Cinema: An Illuminating Exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay

And Then There Was Cinema: An Illuminating Exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay
About 130 years ago, the merest cosmic blink of an eye, a new art form was born: cinema, the Seventh Art. The French rightfully take much credit for its creation. The Lumière Brothers invented the earliest cameras and projectors, inaugurated public exhibitions of film projections, and pioneered the documentary film, while Georges Meliès essentially founded the fantasy film genre. They were not the only ones, of course. Cinema was one of those new developments that came about in several places simultaneously and independently: There was Thomas Edison in the U.S. and others in Great Britain. Likewise, cinema was the fruit of synthesizing several technologies: photography, flexible film, magic lantern projection, persistence of vision novelties that gave the illusion of “moving pictures”. The exhibit called  Enfin Le Cinéma! (literally “Finally the Cinema!”) at the Musée d’Orsay takes an interesting and original perspective on the creation of the movies. We get the expected timeline and the depiction of early technology, machines like the Praxinoscope, Phéénakistiscope, Polyorama and Mégaléthoscope, as well as projected loops of haunting film clips from the turn of the 19th century showing a Paris that has vanished. On this level, the exhibit is good but could have been better, more clearly chronological. Also, though, we see some early filmmaking apparatuses, we would have appreciated functional replicas to show how they actually worked. Caillebotte, Le pont de I’Europe (C) Musée d’Orsay What the Musée Orsay does best is something very different. It highlights the intellectual, social and cultural developments that were instrumental in turning what could have been just a carnival attraction into a revolutionary art form. This approach is more up the museum’s allée: similar to how its permanent collection combines works of genius by artists who were marginalized in their time and the more conventional portraits and other paintings that defined their society, and were a kind of contrast agent for the geniuses to struggle against. (For those who’d like an exhaustive, but probably exhausting, course in 19th-century visual culture, the basic entrance ticket, at 16 euros, covers both the exhibit and the permanent collection.) Saint-Germain-des-Prés (C) Musée d’Orsay One of the key elements the exhibit explores is the idea of new perspectives. The construction of tall buildings, and also balloons and airships, gave the public a new bird’s-eye vista of their physical surroundings. These were first exploited in paintings and photos, for example depicting views from the Eiffel Tower. In a different way, the proliferation of construction, beams and girders led to fragmentary views (for example, part of the composition in Gustave Caillibotte’s Le Pont de l’Europe consists of perspectives through the criss-crossing iron supports of a bridge). These fragmentary views were similar to (and sometimes intentionally replicated by) the view through the camera lens.

Lead photo credit : Enfin le cinema! (C) Musée d'Orsay

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Dimitri Keramitas was born and raised in Connecticut, USA, and was educated at the University of Hartford, Sorbonne, and the University of London, and holds degrees in literature and law. He has lived in Paris for years, and directs a training company and translation agency. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, including Bonjour Paris and France Today. He is a contributing editor to Movies in American History. In addition he is an award-winning writer of fiction, whose stories have been published in many literary journals. He is the director of the creative writing program at WICE, a Paris-based organization. He is also a director at the Paris Alumni Network, an organization linking together several hundred professionals, and is the editor of its newletter. The father of two children, Dimitri not only enjoys Paris living but returning to the US regularly and traveling in Europe and elsewhere.