It’s quite strange to be writing about a short film that’s now more than 120 years old and less than 50 seconds in length, but I’ve decided to go back to the very beginnings of cinema in order to watch a few silent pictures, as an educational exercise as much as anything else. To begin with I’ve selected a few that are recommended by the writer David Thompson in his book Have You Seen…?, of which L’Arroseur Arrosé is the earliest. Made in 1895 and credited to Louis Lumière (though surely his brother Auguste should have equal billing), it’s not the first film ever made, but it is believed to be the first fictional one, and the first comedy. It’s just a simple gag: a man is watering a garden; a scamp – unseen by the gardener – steps on the hose, thereby blocking the flow of water; the gardener examines the nozzle to see if he can identify the problem, the foot is removed and our poor unfortunate hose operator gets a face full of water. Thus begins…well, everything, really. Of course it’s just a bit of silly fun – and I can only presume that’s how it was considered in 1895, given that the Lumières first showed it as an extra tacked on to a collection of documentary footage they’d made around Lyon – but despite its simplicity and brevity it’s also, significantly, the key to a door, and behind that door is a huge room that filmmakers are still exploring and remodelling today. To think of what has happened in the years since in terms of cinematic development, and of what could happen during the next 120 years. (I’m filled with a mixture of hope and dread.)
François Clerc and Léon Trotobas (aka Benoît Duval and Daniel Duval) were the actors in question, though both were criminally overlooked by the Oscars that year (arf). It was filmed using the Cinématographe, the all-in-one camera the brothers developed that also served as their film developer and projector. L’Arroseur Arrosé also has the distinction of being the first film to have its own poster, and was remade several times (see, the reboot and remake culture has been there all along), most notably by Georges Méliès, who had been unsuccessful in his earlier attempts to purchase the Lumières’ invention for his own use.
Directed by: Louis Lumière.
Written by: Unknown.
Starring: François Clerc, Léon Trotobas.
Cinematography: Louis Lumière.
Running Time: Around 45 seconds.