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The Secret History of Chicago Movies: Chicago Police Parade

The “birth” of motion pictures is generally credited by historians to December of 1895, when the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere held in Paris the first public presentation of their invention the “cinematographe” (a combination movie camera, printer and projector). This is believed to be the first time large-scale film projection occurred before a viewing public (as opposed to the movies that had previously been seen only on peep-show machines like Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope). Incredibly, the first motion picture ever shot in Chicago, the still extant Chicago défilé de policemen (Chicago Police Parade), was made only months after the Lumieres’ demonstration.

The cinematographe:

The popularity of the cinematographe led the Lumieres to dispatch cameramen all over the world so audiences could see, for the first time ever, real-time moving images of how people from different countries and cultures lived, worked and played. The aptly titled Chicago Police Parade is a 45 second film of 144 Chicago Police officers walking down a wide street (possibly Wabash Avenue) and past a stationary camera. The officers are formally dressed and carrying billy clubs. Amusingly, it appears that approximately 142 of the officers are sporting large mustaches. Bringing up the rear of the parade is a horse-drawn carriage.

As with other Lumiere productions of the period (including the masterpiece Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat), the camera is positioned at an oblique angle so that the policemen appear to walk “diagonally” from the rear of the frame to the front. This perspective puts greater emphasis on the depth of field of the image, with a clear demarcation of background, middle ground and foreground, and also serves as a good example of just how well composed the Lumiere brothers’ films were. However, Chicago Police Parade was not made by either of the brothers themselves but instead by one of their favorite cinematographers, a Frenchman of Italian descent named Alexandre Promio. The very next year Promio would become a major footnote in motion picture history by effectively inventing camera movement; he took his camera to Venice and placed it on board of a gondola!

The first man to shoot Chicago and the inventor of the moving camera:

Chicago Police Parade is available on Kino Video’s wonderful DVD The Lumiere Brothers’ First Films. It can also be viewed in its entirety on YouTube here: Chicago Police Parade

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