Renewed interest in early movie history was generated this year when the first-ever film poster went up for auction at Sotheby’s. This was the poster used to promote the first public screening of the Lumière brothers’ short films back in 1895! What we didn’t expect out of this attention was the recent announcement by cinematic enfant terrible, director Wes Ravenspool, about his latest project: to reboot those Lumière brothers’ movies.
“Look, it’s a very different Hollywood today,” Mr. Ravenspool said at a press conference at Mercury Picture Studios, where he lamented, “I can’t just pitch a two-hander based on a dream I had anymore. It’s all about Intellectual Property, using pre-existing material to make ‘new’ movies. Studios only want to produce content based on previous content. That’s why we see all these remakes, sequels and sequels to remakes that were originally a single-panel New Yorker cartoon.”
“Amazingly, we have overlooked a vast source of IP: these earliest movies can be remade! It’s both a celebration of cinema’s past and an exploitation of it!”
“Look at Le Repas de Bébé from 1895. It’s a masterpiece!” The 30-second film is called Baby’s Breakfast in America but sounds classier in French. A husband and wife (uncle and grandmother? Some cousins? It’s really not made clear) feed their toddler porridge and then give him a biscuit.
“It’s all there! Suspense! Comedy! Nutrition!” Mr. Ravenspool said. “Will the baby eat? Why does he try to give the biscuit away? Why is mom futzing with the tea set?” Mr. Ravenspool admits that, at 30 seconds, the black & white silent movie will have to be expanded and updated for today’s audiences. “Yes, we will have to work on the next two acts, which is why I have terrorists come in and kidnap the baby! After that, the father, who is a former Navy Seal, is forced to hunt them down. Talk about your great inciting incidents! Also, the baby will now be a CGI character.”
When asked if he has any plans for a remake of La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon, Mr. Ravenspool replied, “Absolutely! This delightful 30-second film of workers leaving the Lumière factory is going to be a rousing tale of workers vs. the corporation, as the employees leave the factory to strike. Naturally, the owners of the factory bring in thugs, who gun all the workers down. One surviving worker, who called in sick that day, is driven by guilt to avenge his co-workers! The Lumière brothers would have totally made this film if they had invented the technology back then.”
We continued down the list of films shown and Mr. Ravenspool’s pitches:
La Pêche aux Poissons-Rouges: an infant attempts to fish in a fish bowl. “The child gets pulled in and finds himself in a magical animated world, where he must team up with the goldfish to battle an evil diver and find the lost treasure chest! It would be like a wet Jumanji. The infant will also be CGI.”
Le Saut à la Couverture or Jumping the Blanket: a man does a forward roll over a blanket held by four friends. “Ah, but it’s not an ordinary blanket!” Mr. Ravenspool began. “No, but a flying carpet that will carry the group to a small country being invaded by space aliens. It writes itself!”
And of course, the most famous of the Lumière shorts from 1895 is L’Arroseur Arrosé (Tables Turned on the Gardener), which is regarded as the first film comedy, if not the world’s first fiction film: while the gardener waters the plants, a boy steps on the hose. The water stops and the gardener confusedly looks into the hose to see what the problem is. The boy takes his foot off and the gardener gets doused. The film finishes with the gardener chasing the boy and giving him a spanking. “Actually, I see the chase being the film, as the gardener uses all his resources to track down and capture the boy, who is a master of disguise. And a cannibal. This is what the people are clamoring for!”
After that, a Mercury Studio security guard called the police, saying we weren’t supposed to be on the lot. Yet, the press announcement confirmed that everything old is new again and Hollywood wouldn’t have it any other way. Now excuse me while I finish up my spec of Fred Ott’s Sneeze.