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The Oldest Cinema in the World is Renovated and Reopened

Illustrated Article by Diane Thomas - Bracknell Film Society Committee Member

Over a year ago, Bracknell film Society set up a small film study group sponsored by the BFFS (British Federation of Film Societies) and based on Mark Cousins' The Story of Film. I was part of this and as a result have learned a great deal more about film. In particular, for the purposes of this article, I learned more about the Lumiere Brothers, French early film makers. I had heard of them, of course, but had no idea how delightful their first short films, approx 50 seconds, were. Many are available to view on YouTube.

As a result I had realised that they had opened a theatre/cinema in La Ciotat a small town 20 miles east of Marseille on the French Mediterranean coast. This was in 1889 and it was named The Eden Theatre. The theatre was also a music hall and later played host to Edith Piaf and Yves Montand among many others. It accommodated boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling, opera performances and concerts. The theatre closed in 1982 because of dwindling ticket sales and after its owner was murdered by thieves trying to steal the takings. It continued to open for one week, once a year, to host small film festivals but closed in 1995 and was then left to decay.

When a visit to Marseille was planned and I explored the possibility of visiting The Eden Theatre I discovered that it was closed for renovation. The good news though was that it was set to reopen in October 2013. So a trip by train to Marseille was booked for October. I later realised that The Eden Theatre was set to reopen on 9th October. We were due in Marseille on the 12th. Great!

So we found we could get to La Ciotat by bus and duly arrived on the delightful seafront which is close to The Eden Theatre in Boulevard Georges Clemenceau.
It has undergone a €6.5m (£5.5m) refurbishment that has more than restored its former glory.
It benefited from Marseille being Capital of Culture for 2013.

EDEN THEATRE BEFORE RENOVATION.
THE SAME FRONT DOORS AFTER RENOVATION
THE MAIN THEATRE AFTER RENOVATION


More than a century on, the early black-and-white silent films made by the Lumiere Brothers and lasting less than a minute were given top billing in the newly renovated Eden, which claims to be the world's first, and oldest surviving, public cinema.

We managed to navigate the system for seeing films and got an invitation, a necessity it seemed, to see a film for free in 2 days time. We returned then and were issued with tickets for a 2012 film (not a silent short) without subtitles called Couleur de Peau Miel (Approved for Adoption) directed by Jung. We were able to understand most of it even without subtitles. I am recommending it for showing on a BFS evening.

It was a huge thrill to get inside the cinema at last. Work was still in progress with movie posters needing hanging and so on.

INSIDE THE CINEMA DURING THE RENOVATION
(Note the paper falling off the wall on the left)

 

The cinema has been painted an overall ochre colour and the seats match. These are especially comfortable as they tip backwards slightly as you sit in them.
It felt like revisiting cinema history in a very special way. Travelling a long way to see it all made it even more of an event.

AFTER RENOVATION

PUNTERS WAITING FOR THE FILM INCLUDING ME

..
THE RENOVATED BALCONY

Between the first visit to the theatre and the return to see a film, we also went by train to La Ciotat station. This was to make sure we found the place which has become famous for the short film:
The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station. This 50-second silent film shows the entry of a train pulled by a steam locomotive into the station. Like most of the early Lumière films, L'arrivée d'un Train en Gare de La Ciotat consists of a single, unedited view illustrating an aspect of everyday life. There is no apparent intentional camera movement, and the film consists of one continuous real-time shot.
There are reports that the cinema audiences were so terrified by the train coming towards them seemingly out of the screen, that they rushed out of their seats.
The moving images had an immediate and significant influence on popular culture. Their actuality films, or actualités, are often cited as the first, primitive documentaries.

A STILL FROM THE FILM SHOWING
THE ARRIVAL OF A TRAIN AT LA CIOTAT STATION. OVER 100 YEARS AGO!
LA CIOTAT STATION TODAY.....

....WHERE THERE IS A PLAQUE COMMEMORATING THE FAMOUS FILM....

....AND PHOTOS OF THE BROTHERS AND A STILL ON THE LEFT FROM THE ORIGINAL FILM SHOWING THE TRAIN.

The Lumière brothers clearly knew that the effect would be dramatic if they placed the camera on the platform very close to the arriving train. Another significant aspect of the film is that it illustrates the use of the long shot to establish the setting of the film, followed by a medium shot, and close-up. As the camera is static for the entire film, the effect of these various "shots" is affected by the movement of the subject alone. The train arrives from a distant point and bears down on the viewer, finally crossing the lower edge of the screen.
At present, the station is well served by buses going to the seafront so a trip to see the cinema also doesn't have to be by bus from Marseille.
Marseille is a great place to visit too with new museums and good public transport. The trilogy of films Marius, Fanny and Cesar (1931)were also made in the little port west of Marseille, L'Estaque. They have been remade by French actor/director Daniel Auteil. The first two are due out in the new year (2014)
For film lovers La Ciotat is a wonderful place to visit. Another three of the earliest Lumière films, Partie de Cartes, l'Arroseur Arrosé (the first known filmed comedy), and Repas de Bébé, were also filmed in La Ciotat in 1895, at the Villa du Clos des Plages, the summer holiday home of the Lumière Brothers. In 1904 the Lumiere Brothers also developed the worlds first colour photographs in La Ciotat.

Diane Thomas
November 2013
Bracknell Film Society

Click on the icon below to view a short compilation of the Lumière brothers work on You Tube.
Remember you are watching a 120 year old film that even includes 'trick' photography!
Thank you Auguste and Louis Lumière.

To return to the BFS website from You Tube - just click the left arrow top left of You Tube web page