I HAD NOT the honor of knowing the great inventor who has just died when I received from him in August, 1946, a manuscript consisting of some dozen pages entitled, “Observations suggested to Louis Lumière by reading Georges Sadoul’s book entitled: ‘L’Invention du Cinema.’ “In this monograph he had taken the trouble to rectify certain errors in the first volume of my “Histoire générale du Cinéma,” completing my data on a number of points.
M. Louis Lumière received me a few weeks later at Bandol. In the course of this long interview—and of those which followed—he furnished me with a large body of information concerning his Cinematograph, and this enabled me to prepare a very much augmented and corrected edition of “L’Invention du Cinéma.” . . .
In January last  M. Louis Lumière, whose health had been steadily declining since 1946, was kind enough to allow me to interview him for the French television service.
This interview was recorded and filmed by M. Bocquel. A lengthy afternoon’s work was required. M. Louis Lumière, who at that time scarcely left his bed, had to make a considerable physical effort in reading, at the cost of great exertion, the text which he held before his almost sightless eyes. However, under the projectors and in front of the microphone he maintained his usual smiling affability. This was the last time he was confronted by the apparatus on which he had bestowed the name “Cinéma.”
Last March  this interview was televised; it opened the series of remarkable broadcasts which Georges Charensol devoted to the history of the cinema, with the collaboration of Pierre Brive. It is thanks to their initiative that the cinema is able to retain among its archives a final picture—and an extremely touching one—of Louis Lumière.
SADOUL: M. Louis Lumière, what were the circumstances in which you began to be interested in animated photographs?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: It was during the summer of 1894 that my brother Auguste and I commenced our first work. At that period, the research of Marey, Edison and Démeny had caused those inventors to arrive at certain results, but no projection of film on a screen had yet been accomplished.
The main problem to be solved was that of finding a system of driving the strip of film pictures. My brother Auguste had thought of using for the purpose an indented cylinder, similar to that proposed by Léon Boully in another apparatus. But such a system was clumsy. It couldn’t work and it never did.
SADOUL: Did M. Auguste Lumière then put forward other systems?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE : No, my brother ceased being interested in the technical side of the cinematograph as soon as I had found the right driving device. If the cinematograph patent was taken out in our joint name, this was because we always signed jointly the work reported on and the patents we filed, whether or not both of us took part in the work. I was actually the sole author of the cinematograph, just as he on his side was the creator of other inventions that were always patented in both our names. SADOUL: What was the driving system you proposed? LOUIS LUMIÈRE: I was rather indisposed and had to remain in bed. One night when I was unable to sleep, the solution came clearly to my mind. It consisted of adapting to the camera the mechanism known by the name of “presser foot” in the drive device of sewing machines, which device I first carried out with the aid of a circular eccentric; this I soon replaced by the same part but triangular in shape, which is known in different applications by the name of Hornblower’s eccentric.
SADOUL: You then constructed an experimental apparatus on the principles you had just discovered?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: M. Moisson, chief mechanic at our works, assembled the first apparatus in accordance with the sketches which I handed him as the invention took shape. As it was then impossible to obtain transparent celluloid films in France, I conducted my initial tests with strips of photographic paper manufactured in our works. I cut them and perforated them myself. The first results were excellent, as you may have seen.
SADOUL: As a matter of fact I have held in my hands with considerable emotion that long strip of paper which you presented to the “Musée de la Cinémathèque Française.” The pictures are of perfect clarity.
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: Those strips were purely experimental. The negatives on paper could not be cast on the screen owing to their excessive opacity. I nevertheless succeeded in animating them in the laboratory by looking at them with the transparency effect produced by a strong arc lamp. The results were excellent.
SADOUL : Did you have to wait long before using celluloid films similar to those employed by the modern cinema?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: I would have used celluloid strips at once had I been able to obtain in France a flexible, transparent celluloid which gave me satisfaction. However, no French or British firm was then making any. I had to send one of our departmental managers to the United States, who purchased celluloid in nonsensitized sheets from the New York Celluloid Company, and brought them back to us at Lyon. We cut them and perforated them with the aid of an apparatus whose feed device was based on that of the sewing machine, which apparatus was perfected by M. Moisson.
SADOUL: What was the date when you were able to make your first film on celluloid?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: It was at the end of the summer of 1894 that I was able to make my first film, “Workers leaving the Lumière Factory.” As you may have noticed, the men are wearing straw hats and the women summer dresses. Moreover, I needed strong sunlight to be able to make such scenes, for my lens was not very powerful, and I should not have been able to take such a view in winter or at the end of autumn. The film was shown in public for the first time at Paris, rue de Bennes, before the “Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale.” This was on 22nd March, 1895. This showing ended a lecture which I had been asked to give by the illustrious physicist, Mascari of the Institute, then President of the Society. I also showed on the screen the formation of a photographic image in course of development; this involved certain difficulties which I will not go into here.
SADOUL: Was your apparatus already called the Cinematograph?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: I do not think we had already baptized it. Our first patent, taken out on 13th February, 1895, did not adopt any particular name. In that patent we merely referred to “an apparatus for obtaining and showing chronophotographic prints.” It was not until several weeks afterwards that we selected the name of Cinematograph.
However, my father, Antoine Lumière, thought the word Cinematograph was impossible. He was persuaded to adopt for our apparatus the name of DOMITOR by his friend Lechère, the representative of the Moet and Chandon champagnes.
SADOUL: What was the meaning of that word?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: I don’t exactly know; it was a portmanteau word devised by Lechère. It was probably derived from the verb “to dominate”—dominator—domitor. This name was never accepted by my brother or by myself, and we have never used it.
SADOUL: Did the perfection of your cinematograph involve you in technical problems that were difficult to solve?
Louis LUMIÈRE: One of the points which received my attention was that of the resistance of the films. Celluloid films were then, to us, a new product of whose qualities or properties we were ignorant. I therefore, embarked on methodical experiments by piercing the strips with needles of different diameters, to which I suspended increasing weights. I thus arrived at important conelusions, for instance that the hole might, without inconvenience, be larger than the pin passing through it and have equally as good resistance as if the hole and pin were the same size.
SADOUL: Did your factory undertake the industrial manufacture of your cinematograph?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: No, and what is more we did not make any apparatus, for we were not equipped to carry out such manufacture. After the lecture which I gave at Paris at the beginning of 1895, the engineer Jules Carpentier, who became one of my best friends and remained such until his death, asked if he might manufacture our apparatus in his workshops, which had just placed an excellent camera on the market. I accepted this suggestion but it was not until the beginning of 1896 that Carpentier was able to supply us with the first ten machines. Up to then I had to be content with the apparatus we had built at Lyon.
SADOUL: Since in 1895, you only had a single apparatus which served both for taking pictures and for showing them, during that year you were the sole operator taking pictures for your cinematograph?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: That is correct. All the films which were shown in 1895, either at the Photographic Congress of Lyon in June, for the Revue Générale des Sciences at Paris in July or in Paris, in the basement of the Grand-Café, from 28th December, 1895, onwards, were films in which I had been the operator. There was a single exception, “Les Brûleuses d’Herbes” was taken by my brother Auguste, who was on holiday at our estate in La Ciotat. I should add that not only did I make these films, but the first strips shown at the Grand-Café were developed by me in enameled iron slop-buckets containing the developer, then the washing water and the fixative. The relevant positives were similarly printed, and I used as source of light a white wall with the sun shining on it.
SADOUL: Can you, M. Lumière, tell us about the “Partie d’Écart”?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: The partners are: my father Antoine Lumière, who lights a cigar. Opposite him his friend the conjurer Trewey who is dealing the cards. Trewey was, moreover, the organizer in London of showings of our cinematograph, and he is to be seen in several of the films, “Assiettes tournantes” for instance. The third player, who is pouring out some beer, is my father-in-law, the brewer Winckler of Lyon. The servant, finally, was a man attached to the house. He was born at Confaron—a pure-blooded southern Frenchman, full of gaiety and wit, who kept us amused with his repartees and jokes.
“L’Arrivée du Train en Gare,” which I took at the station of La Ciotat in 1895, shows on the platform a little girl who is skipping along, one hand held by her mother and the other by her nurse. The child is my eldest daughter, afterwards Mrs. Trarieux, and she is now four times a grandmother. My mother, Mrs. Antoine Lumière, can be identified by her Scotch cape.
SADOUL: What can you tell us about the famous “Arroseur Arrosé”?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: Although my recollections are not very accurate, I think I may say that the idea of the scenario was suggested to me by a farce by my younger brother Edouard, whom we unhappily lost while an airman during the 1914-1918 war. He was then too young to play the part of the urchin who treads on the garden hose. I replaced him by a young apprentice from the carpenter’s workshop of the factory, Duval, who died after performing his duties as chief packer of the works for almost forty-two years. As regards the waterer, the part was played by our gardener M. Clerc, who is still alive after being employed at the works for forty years. He retired and is now living near Valence. SADOUL: How many films did you make in 1895? LOUIS LUMIÈRE: I must have made nearly fifty. My memory is not very reliable with regard to the number of these subjects. These films were all 17 metres long and it took about a minute to show them. This length of 17 metres may seem odd, but it was merely governed by the capacity of the spool-boxes holding the negative film when the pictures were taken.
SADOUL: Can you mention a few titles of films which you made in 1895?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: We produced a few comic films in which relations, friends, employees, etc., took part, such as “Chez le Photographe,” a little farce in which the actors were my brother Auguste and the photographer Maurice, who was soon to become the concessionnaire of our cinematograph at the Grand-Café. Then there was “Charcuterie Américaine,” in which we showed a sausage machine; a pig was put in at one end and the sausages came out at the other, and vice versa. My brother and I had great fun making this fictitious machine on our estate at La Ciotat, and we inscribed on the instrument “Crack, pork butcher, Marseilles.”
I should also mention the “Landing of Members of the Congress” at Neuville-sur-Saône, which was in a way the first news film, for I took it on the occasion of the Photographic Congress in June, 1895, and showed it next day before the members of the congress.
SADOUL: Have you made any films since 1895? LOUIS LUMIÈRE: Very few. I left this to the operators whom I had trained: Promio, Mesguich, Doublier, Perrigot and others. In a few years they had entered on our catalogues over twelve hundred films made in all parts of the world.
SADOUL: How long is it since you have ceased to be interested in the cinematograph?
LOUIS LUMIÈRE: My last work dates back to 1935, at which time I perfected a stereoscopic cinema which was shown, in particular, at Paris, Lyon, Marseilles and Nice. However, my work has been in the direction of scientific research. I have never engaged in what is termed “production.” I do not think I would fit into a modern studio. Moreover, I have been incapacitated for some time and can scarcely leave Bandol.
Originally published in Sight and Sound, XVII, no. 66 (Summer 1948), pp. 68-70.