WASHINGTON

1897

Jean-Claude SEGUIN VERGARA

CINÉMATOGRAPHE LUMIÈRE

Washington découvre le cinématographe avec un certain retard par rapport à New York et quelques autres villes nord-américaines. Nous savons que le responsable du poste est Whiting Allen, une figure connue dans le monde du spectacle et du cirque. Pour s'occuper directement de l'appareil de projection, deux opérateurs, dont Félix Mesguich, se rendent dans la capitale fédérale. Ce dernier se souvient de son passage à Washington :

Je procède encore  à des installations à Washington au Willards Hall, à Philadelphie, à Baltimore dans une église, et à Chicago.


Mesguich, 1933, 12.

C'est à la fin de l'année 1896, que la presse de Washington commence à annoncer l'arrivée prochaine du cinématographe Lumière. Le lieu choisi est le Willard Hall. L'annonce la plus originale est sans doute cette de l'Evening Star qui met en scène l'arrivée du fameux appareil : 

Willard Hall.- Three detachments of Spanish soldiers-a troop of lancers, a battery of artillery and a regiment of infantry-will arrive in Washington tomorrow. They will all be seen maneuvering at Willard Hall. French and German soldiers will also be there, and the Asiatic ambassadors sent to Moscow to represent their respective countries at the coronation of the czar will also be seen moving along with stately tread. These are but few of the many intensely and entirely realistic scenes which will make up the initial program of the Lumiere Cinematographe entertainments which will be given daily at 2, 4 and 8 p.m. These entertainments have become the one fashionable fad at the capitols of Europe and in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago in this country. “The most wonderful thing in the world,“ “The marvel of the age,“ &c., are frequent editorial expressions. No motion can be too swift nor no object too small to escape the cinematographe. Its very great success elsewhere will likely be repeated here.


Evening Star, Washingon, 31 décembre 1896, p. 12.

On retrouve dans cet article des titres classiques du catalogue Lumière, des vues militaires ou celle du couronnement du tsar à Moscou. C'est donc bien le 1er janvier 1897 que le public va découvrir le cinématographe. Comme cela est habituel, la presse vante les mérites du nouvel appareil, annoncé comme supérieur aux autres de son espèce (Evening Star, Washington, 2 janvier 1897, p. 24.). À la différence de ce qui s'est produit à New York, dès la première projection des vues de Washington sont présentées et nous en connaissons même le contenu précis grâce au Washington Times.

AT THE THEATERS
The Cinematographe.
The famous cinematographe, invented and perfected by the French scientists and inventors, the Lumieres, was yesterday placed on exhibition at Willard Hall. Three audiences were entertained, and they were well entertained, for the exhibition is one of the most amusing and instructive of its kind.
There have been many machines constructed for projecting moving pictures upon a screen, but Mr. Lumiere claims to have been the precursor of all others and that his cinematographe is the original moving picture machine. Of this there does not seem to be any dispute. But his instrument need not rest upon a claim to originality for its Laurels, it is, as a matter of fact, more perfect in its results than any which have succeeded it.
The cinematographe at present stands at the north end of Willard Hall in a green baize inclosure, and is operated by two young Frenchmen from M. Lumiere’s factory at Lyons. Though the opening whence the rays are projected is less than an inch and a half diameter, they diverge as they pass the length of the hall and are reflected upon the large screen in perfect reproduction of life, in all the details of size, shading and motion.
To one who has never seen the moving photographs the cinematographe is a marvelous revelation. Little idea of the fine effects reproduced can be obtained from a description. To one who has seen the other inventions of this character, it will commend itself for having many notable improvements. The pictures move in time with actual motion, instead of nurying unnaturally to avoid lapses. There are fewer defects in the plates of these photographs and consequently more smoothness and more realism.
Mr. Whiting Allen has the cinematographe exhibitions in charge and delivers interesting explanatory talks on each of the views. Many of the pictures shown yesterday are local to this city. One is of the Avenue in the block on the west side of The Times office. The cable cars are seen passing as naturally as life, delivery wagons and coal carts pass and repass, pedestrians hurry along and a cabman deposits a passenger in the foreground, and he hurries off of the side of the picture, evidently into the new post-office building.
Another view shows the Capitol, with Peace Monument in the foreground, and a third Washington view represents the south end of the Treasury, with the stream of travel turning from the Avenue into Fifteenth street.
Though the local scenes are interesting to look upon there are pictures from all parts of the earth. Probably the finest view shown was that in which the waves are seen rolling in and dashing against the rocks on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.
Emperor William is seen reviewing his troops; the oriental delegation pass on their way to witness the coronation of the czar; Newgate street, London, is shown as Princess Maud passes to her wedding, a pretty baby quarrel is a prime favorite, and others to the amount of about twenty complete a program which affords excellent entertainment to the audiences.
Mr. Allen is confining his advertising to the newspaper and the fruit of his wisdom was yesterday seen in the three audiences which greeted the first exhibitions of the cinematographe.


Washington Times, Washington, 2 janvier 1897, p. 3.

Si les vues existent vraiment - elles ont été projetées -, elle ne figure pas au catalogue Lumière et nous ignorons qui a pu les tourner. On pourrait penser à Alexandre Promio, mais il n'existe pas de trace de son passage à Washington, ou à un autre cinématographiste qui serait arrivé postérieurement. Félix Mesguich pourrait aussi en être l'auteur. 

1897washingtonwillardhall

The Evening Times, Washington, 8 janvier 1897, p. 4

Les séances vont ainsi se dérouler sans aucun problème particulier et les vues sont renouvelées régulièrement. Tout aurait continué de la sorte, si Whiting Allen n'avait dû s'absenter pour régler des questions professionnelles à New York, le 19 janvier. Cette absence est à l'origine du conflit qui va l'opposer aux deux opérateurs français, l'un d'eux étant très probablement  Félix Mesguich et qui est la cause de la disparition du cinématographe à Washington : 

Willard Hall.-The cinematographe which has been running for some time at Willard Hall, will be supplanted tomorrow by the mutascope, an American production, and the exhibition of this new machine -whose characteristics are about the same as those of the cinematographe-will continue for a limited reason. The reason for the charge is stated as a disagreement which arose between the French operators of the cinematographe and Mr. Whiting Allen, the gentleman who has had the machine in charge during its stay in this city, upon the latter’s return from New York Tuesday afternoon, when he found that the Frenchmen had instituted some business arrangements which did not come to his idea of what was right. As a result, he was informed by the operators that if the arrangements were changed they would not give another exhibition, and he immediately told them he would close the hall. Later, Mr. Allen had an encounter with the Frenchmen in the lobby of Willard’s, where he found them venting their indignation in no small terms, and in which he did not come off second best. Mr. Allen then telegraphed to the Mutascope Company in New York, and yesterday morning made arrangements for the exhibition of the machine. The mutascope is said to be superior to the cinematographe in that there are no flickering of light on the screen and possesses unusual power. The views to be shown during the exhibition beginning tomorrow are all American ones and will include pictures of Maj. Mc.Kinley, the Empire State express running sixty miles, and a number of other interesting and amusing sights.


Evening Star, Washington, 29 janvier 1897, p. 12.

Pendant l'absence du responsable du poste, les deux opérateurs semblent avoir modifié les règles d'esploitation sans son accord. Il resterait à savoir, précisément, sur quoi porte le différend : les recettes du poste ? Le nombre de séances ?... Toujours est-il que les choses s'enveniment rapidement et, dès son retour, Whiting Allen se met en contact avec la Mutoscope Company pour installer un nouvel appareil et reprendre ses séances... sans les deux Français. Ce changement est accompagné d'une publicité un peu outrancière, orchestrée par Whiting Allen qui dénigre le cinématographe Lumière qu'il adorait encore quelques jours auparavant. Ce qui est vrai, c'est que la concurrence fait rage et que les déboires des deux opérateurs français sont l'occasion rêvée pour la Mutoscope Company de marcher sur les plantes-bandes du cinématographe. L'affaire montre que les situations locales ne sont pas toujours très simples et que l'existence de ces pionniers peut être mouvementée.

Outre les vues figurant déjà dans les articles cités, d'autres films sont projetés au cours de ces trois semaines d'exploitation : A body of soldiers crossing a river by fording and a card fight, the crowning of the czar, the athletic sports at Milan, Spanish artillery in action, and Emperor William reviewing his troops. (Evening Star, Washington, 2 janvier 1897, p. 24), the German Lancers, dismounting with the simply marvelous living horses, The French dragoons swimming a river, A scene showing French cuirassiers charging upon the audience apparently, and so realistic is it that it had to be discontinued at New York because it several times caused women in the crowded theater to faint for fear that they might be trampled upon by the horses. This may seem incredible, but it is a fact nevertheless. It is most certainly a marvelous entertainment throughout. (Evening Star, Washington, 19 janvier 1897, p. 12).

Enfin, nous avons une serie de vues dans le catalogue sur l'entrée en fonction du président McKinley : Le Président McKinley adressant son message au peupleExecutive MansionDéfilé de l'artillerie du district de ColumbiaDéfilé du club républicain James Blaine et Défilé de la garde nationale du district de Columbia. Ces vues ont été tournées vers le 4 mars 1897, mais nous en ignorons l'auteur.

MUTOSCOPE

Ne voulant sans doute pas perdre son public, Whiting Allen, sans solution de continuité, organise la première projection avec le nouvel appareil de la Mutoscope Company, dès le 30 janvier 1897. Les journaux publient de larges publicités sur le nouvel appareil, avec une tonalité clairement nationaliste.

1897washington

AMERICA AT THE TOP !

The Acme of the Achievement of American Inventive Genius.
All Foreign Efforts Entirely Eclipsed
Mr. Whiting Allen, following the example already set by the leading managers of New York, has discarded the cinematographe and will, for alimited seadon supplant it with exhibitions at 

WILLARD HALL

Daily at 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and 8;15 p.m., the same superg, irresistible, astouding, delightful entertainment that is now the one supreme attraction in the metropolis.

THE AMERICAN BIOGRAPH

Presenting to Americans in absolute actuality an astonishing array of American Scenes, American Incidents, American Action, American Activity, American Fun and American Interest.
See President-elect McKinley walking upon the famous lawn before his residence at Canton.
See the New York Fire Brigade in action upon Herald Square.
See the Empire State Express running sixty miles an hour.
Complete descriptive explanations. Northing left to your imagination but sound.
"The various pictures were by long odds the best ever seen here. The cinematographe has been supplanted by the biograph, and the change is truly satisfactory. The lights are much clearer and stronger and the details are seen to better advantage."-Morning Times.
"At the conclusion of the entertainment Mr. Allen called for a verdict on the merits of the respective machines. Is it the cinematographe? Sillence. Is it the biograph? The storm of applause showed that the audience was a unit in favor of the biograph."-Evening Times.
"The biograph pictures are nearly double the size, clearer, steadier, and brighter than those of the cinematographe."-Post
"The biograph is a great improvement in many ways over the cinematographe, which has been operated here for some time. There are no blurring effects, ans all the views need to make them absolutely lifelike are color and sound. Every motion is there, and some of the views are startling in their trueness to life."-Evening Star.

Frequent Changes of Program.

Admission, 50c                                                Children, 25 c.

No Reserved Seats.

Washington Times, Washington, 31 janvier 1897, p. 2

 Un autre quotidien, le même jour, va compléter l'information et rappeler l'historique de The American Biograph : 

The Mutascope.-The mutascope was put on exhibition last night at Willard Hall before a large audience, consisting mainly of the press and some few invited guests of Mr. Whiting Allen, the manager of the machine in this city. The mutascope is an American invention, the product of the genius of Herman Casler of New York state, and is a great improvement in many ways over the cinematographe, which has been operated here for some time. There are no blurring effects when the pictures are shown, and all the views need to make them absolutely life-like are color and sound. Every motion is there, and some of the views that were given last night were startling in their trueness to life. Some of the pictures were,the Empire State Express, going at full speed; the New York fire department in Herald Square, the Whirlpool rapids of Niagara, President-elect McKinley and many others. The regular exhibitions were started today, the first one being this afternoon at 2 o’clock. A large crowd was present when the first view was shown, and by the time the exhibition was well under way the hall was well filled.


Evening Star, Washington, 30 janvier 1897, p. 24. 

Dans ses mémoires, Félix Mesguich évoque "un réveil de l'instinct national, si particulariste d'ordinaire aux États-Unis." (Mesguich, 1933, 13). Il parle de New York, mais l'exemple de Washington est également probant.

Bibliographie

MESGUICH Félix, Tours de manivelle, Paris, Grasset, 1933, 304 p.

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