When you click play on the above YouTube link, you’d better not blink. It’s 2.11 seconds long. You’ve just seen the first motion picture in human history, called “Roundhay Garden Scene,” and it was filmed on October 14, 1888, some 126 years ago today.
The film was shot by French inventor Louis La Prince. He was around cameras all his life, having hung around in his childhood with Louis Daguerre, a pioneer of photography for whom the Daguerreotype is named. Later in his life La Prince became a photographic inventor himself. Entranced with the idea of a moving picture, he labored to build a special camera that could shoot it. His first version, created in 1887, filmed the action from sixteen different lenses. Because the image was shot from slightly different angles, it “wobbled” noticeably when projected and was not a success. La Prince knew he needed to make a movie camera that could photograph a subject from a single lens on a number of frames whose angles didn’t vary. He succeeded, and “Roundhay Garden Scene” was his first practical test of the technology.
The test reel was filmed in the garden of an English manor called Oakwood Grange, in the town of Roundhay in England where La Prince was working at the time. The man walking around is Adolphe La Prince, Louis La Prince’s son. You can tell it’s a rather windy day. Beyond that there’s not much to it–but incredibly, this 2-second clip of film launched the entire era of world cinema.
Louis La Prince did not live much longer into this era. Only two years after “Roundhay Garden Scene” was filmed, he vanished mysteriously on a railroad trip between Dijon and Paris in September 1890. His disappearance has never been solved, but an 1890 photo of a drowning victim, resembling La Prince, was discovered in a Paris library in 2003.