In 1895, the Lumière brothers organized the world’s first commercial screening of films in a Parisian cafe, selling tickets for short scenes of everyday life. Soon the French capital will be home to the first major film companies, Pathé and Gaumont. Why was the city so well suited to nurture the nascent art of cinema? “City of Cinema: Paris 1850-1907,” an exhibition that opens Feb. 20 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, tries to answer that question with an exhibition of some 200 vintage posters, paintings, mechanical devices and about 45 minutes of surviving silent films.
The Parisian public had an endless appetite for technological innovations in photography and painting. The entire city was “kind of a stage,” says Lacma’s Britt Salvesen, co-curator of the exhibition, a version of a show presented in Paris last fall. Before the invention of movies, viewers could enjoy moving images on devices like the zootrope, a rotating cylinder with a sequence of images visible through slits. The exhibit includes an example from about 1860 that is about a foot wide. At the weekend, he will offer demonstrations of a replica of the Théâtre Optique, a Parisian attraction that attracted half a million ticket buyers in the 1890s with projections of hand-painted animations on perforated celluloid strips.
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