Let There Be Light

On Thursday, February 7th, I had the opportunity to attend a screening at the High Museum as part of their Film Love series. We went on a journey of film through time, beginning with some early shorts by the Lumière Brothers, who are often credited with giving birth to modern cinema. The Lumière shorts were actually filmed in the 1890s in Lyon, France, where I lived for year. It was fascinating to see what Lyon looked like over a hundred years ago. Even after how much the world has changed in the 20th century, I could still recognize buildings and streets where I made my own memories many years later. It really helped me appreciate the power of film to bring images to life. I’ve seen countless black and white photos of Lyon in the past, but none of them resonated with me in the way the films did, with crowds of people living life and experiencing the passage of time in the bustling city streets.

After one Lumière film from the point of view of the front of a train traveling through the countryside, a present-day digital film was screened of a group of longboarders rolling down a mountain, from the point of view of a go-pro on one of their helmets. This provided a great contrast, allowing me to see how although the way we capture video has changed over time, the essential elements of film have always been present. After the transition to the modern, we also watched an artistic film of two glass panels alternating between 8 colors for 25 minutes. I had mixed feelings about that one. At one point, someone got up and left, then returned 10 minutes later and asked loudly “what did I miss?” causing everyone in the audience to laugh. Then, an old projector was set up, chairs were taken away, and fog machines were turned on. The host of the event asked the audience to gather around the beam of light that was beginning to form from the projector to the wall. At first, I didn’t think this was anything special, although a pleasant break from the usual format of screenings. I watched the dot on the wall in anticipation of whatever was about to happen. Then, slowly, the dot began to move, tracing its path and drawing a circle. That’s when I realized that the projection on the wall was irrelevant, and that the main focus should be on the light itself. Over the course of 30 minutes, as the fog filled the room and the beam of light evolved into a cone, and people began putting body parts and objects into it to create their own illusions. I realized that I was witnessing something pretty unique. Was this a film? Was this an experiment? A game? I’m not sure, but I liked it. And the same magic that caused the audience to run out of the theater during the first Lumière screening of a train entering a station, caused me to inspect and play with that barely-changing cone of light in utter wonder for a full half-hour, and be disappointed when it was over. There’s definitely something special about film.

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