Cinema of Attractions Movement

Movement No 1 (7 All)

Cinema of Attractions Movement and Film List

Article 10min to read List 20 Films

Origin France, UK, USA
Most Active Years 1894 – 1907

Introduction to Cinema of Attractions

When cinema first came out, it was just about recording motions. At the end of the 19th century, recording motions and showing this to the audience through films had a significant impact on the watching audience. The films shown had the aim of showcasing the capabilities of the camera, which was a technical invention, more than artistic concerns. Along with Cinema of Attractions, considered as the first movement of cinema, manipulating motion besides recording it, would come into the picture as the ability of the camera and film, which were the main instruments of cinema.
A Trip to the Moon

What is Cinema of Attractions

Having the audience watch the footage recorded after the invention of the camera in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was very interesting in the first few works. The motion and image in the imagery were first experienced by the audience in this period. Watching the scene of a train arriving at the station (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat – 1895) or seeing themselves and their colleagues leaving the factory (Leaving the Factory – 1895) in a film, was the most innovative visual experience had by the audience to date.

Watching the motions in the films shot before the Cinema of Attractions movement was not satisfactory enough for the audience after a while. Many of the motions that were filmed were those that could also be encountered in real life. Over time, the audience wanted to experience not only its version transmitted to the screen but more of the motion. Commonly available shows such as circuses, illusions, and the like could be much more interesting than films. And cinema began to evolve into Cinema of Attractions in order to meet the demands of its audience and keep the interest alive.

Origin of the Term Attraction

The concept of “Attraction” emerged as a result of Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein’s efforts to find a new model and form of analysis in the theatre. Eisenstein’s analyses on theatre led him to find the smallest “impression unit” of theatrics. Eisenstein came across the concept of “attraction” during his analysis.

Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein
Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein

Attraction is the unit of impression that aggressively exposes the audience to “sensual or psychological influence”. According to Eisenstein, the theatre should consist of the assembly of such attractions. The concept of “Attraction”, put forward by Eisenstein, became the descriptor of the movement after Tom Gunning used it to describe period dramas.

Brief History of Cinema of Attractions

Background

Filmmakers who produced works that can be considered as part of Cinema of Attractions either owned or had access to cinema equipment due to their connections. Lumière Brothers produced cameras and film equipment and had many patents on their equipment. Georges Méliès soon bought his own camera. Thomas Edison owned film equipment and patents just like the Lumière Brothers.

Lumière's Kinematopgraph Patent
Lumière’s Kinematopgraph Patent

Apart from equipment, there were no high figures in terms of player costs. Acquaintances and amateur actors were featured instead of professional actors. The duration of the films was pretty short and the number of set crews was little if any. With all these variables, many Cinema of Attractions films were produced in a very short time at a low cost. Apart from the artistic motivation, Cinema of Attractions movement films also aimed at introducing the cinema to large audiences and thus expanding the cinema and cinema equipment market.

Beginnings

The Cinema of Attractions movement consisted of films where cinema was not influenced by theatre or literature and did not include stories or important actors. Films in this movement were generally completed with a single camera and an editing table. Almost all of the films were experimental in nature. The films featured micro-stories and preferred to use only motion and image as a narration technique.

Cinema of Attractions’ beginning, main and end periods were intertwined with each other. Films of different scope, characteristic and quality were shot in all three periods.

Main Period

The contents of Cinema of Attractions films can be classified under different scopes.

Films Containing Images That May Be Encountered in Real Life

In these films, the events that took place in real life were included. In general, they were interesting because the cinema and the audience met for the very first time. In this context, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895) and Leaving the Factory (1895) are the best well-known examples.

Leaving the Factory
Leaving the Factory

Films Containing Exhibitionism

Most early Cinema of Attractions films quickly found the easiest way to attract attention. These exhibitionist films managed to attract the attention of the audience sometimes with a kissing scene – The Kiss (1896), The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899) – and sometimes with a bath scene – After The Ball (1897) or a dress changing scene.

Eadweard Muybridge's Photographic study of a man jumping a horse
Eadweard Muybridge’s Photographic study of a man jumping a horse

Although these films recalled the work of Eadweard Muybridge, Eadweard Muybridge’s works such as A Woman Walking (1887) and Movements (1872-1885) consisted of a series of photographs.

Documentary Films

Some films featured things that were difficult to encounter. Buffalo Dance (1894), which is about the shows of dancers performing their local dances, can be cited as an example of these films. Basically, the things that were filmed in this context were shows that could be exhibited or are actually exhibited in circuses or show areas.

Animation Films

These films featured historical events to attract the attention of the audience. For example, the execution of Queen Mary, who was beheaded centuries ago, took place in the movie called “The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots” (1895), adorned with several effects.

Films Based on Effects

In these films, events that could or could not happen in real life regardless of the concept of time were featured. It was sometimes a car accident – An Extraordinary Cab Accident (1903) – being filmed, sometimes the separation of a human’s head from his body – The Four Troublesome Heads (1898). The effects featured in these films represented the whole rather than being part of the whole. In short, these films only had effects. The presentation methods of the effects were sometimes similar to the presentation of illusion shows. In particular, the films of Georges Méliès, who was an illusionist, were films in which effects, illusions, cinema and the way they were created and displayed were completely gathered.

End of Cinema of Attractions

Cinema of Attractions continued to exist between 1895 and 1906. During this period of about 10 years, it made the camera and cinema known by large masses. In a very short time, the camera ceased to be just a technical device but also became an instrument of cinema. In 1906, although Cinema of Attractions was still effective, the story-based Film d’art productions, which started to emerge from this year onwards, pushed Cinema of Attractions into the background.

6000 seat Gaumont Palace in Paris, once the largest cinema in the world
6000 seat Gaumont Palace in Paris, once the largest cinema in the world

Film d’art would be the first movement to carry the cinema, which managed to reach large masses with Cinema of Attractions, towards an artistic value by feeding it with theatrical productions.

Characteristics of Cinema of Attractions

The movies consisted of one scene, usually one shot.

There was always a shocking emotion involved towards the end of these films short in duration, to make them memorable. Similar to climax, this was accomplished by making the impressive content shown in the film becoming more impressive towards the end or featuring a higher number of impressive actions.

There were no stories in the films, or some featured only micro-stories.

Unless an important event in history was being filmed, there was no character names, famous actors or a large set crew involved. The general motivation of the films was not about telling, but about showing things to people.

The film titles fully described their content. The films generally did not contain stories and were very short in duration and this was helping the titles do this very easily. The fact that the film titles described their content contributed to both the recognition of the films as well as to their understandability and memorability.

Editing was mainly used to create effects.

The Influences of Cinema of Attractions

Effects of Cinema of Attractions on Cinema and Today

Cinema of Attractions films represented the motivation to show, which is the basis of cinema, in its purest form. This created an important reference point for the adoption of the main motivation of the cinema in all films to be shot afterwards.

The audience’s motivation “to believe whatever they see”, which is one of the reasons for the existence of cinema, first emerged along with the Cinema of Attractions movement. The audience achieved the content in the title of the film, in other words, their expectations, through the image falling on the screen. They considered things that they knew didn’t actually happen as if they had happened. Upon acceptance and belief that started with the Cinema of Attractions movement, the consensus between film producers and the audience turned into the most important power of cinema over time.

Featured Examples in Cinema

Similar to the Cinema of Attractions movement, emerging cinema technologies also used motion to demonstrate their capabilities. Some films put the result of technical progress before everything else, similar to Cinema of Attractions, and framed it for long periods of time.

One of the most recent and well-known examples of this was CGI technology. With the spread of CGI technology, the scenes containing CGI were the most important scenes in some films. Sometimes scenes containing CGI took place in the frame for a much longer period of time than necessary. For these films, CGI ceased to be a narrative tool and became just a tool to be shown.

CGI - The Scorpion King
CGI – The Scorpion King

This was not only experienced in the case of CGI technology. Every new technology introduced to the cinema was used by the films of the period, to come to the fore. The transition to sound (talking) films, the development of make-up techniques, 8-mm cameras, Steadicam, IMAX and many other developments turned some films into a presentation platform of such developments.

The two series, in which new technologies were the basis of the film and enabled the film to be shot, and became the guarantee of the continuity of the film, are very important in this respect: “The Matrix” and “The Lord of the Rings” series. These two series attracted masses to the cinema, similar to Cinema of Attractions, thanks to their special effects.

At the turn of the millennium, there would be another development that would literally replicate and repeat Cinema of Attractions.

Cinema of Attractions and YouTube

There were strong bonds between what happened after the launch of YouTube in 2005, the rapid expansion of the camera phone market, and what happened during the Cinema of Attractions era.

The most important reason for YouTube becoming widespread and subsequently accepted was the fact that it had a young, independent creative audience. It started to produce for this audience, using only the possibilities offered by the YouTube medium, without any artistic burden and experience. The way to be visible for producers on YouTube is similar to those on search engines like Google or social media sites. In order to attract more attention, it is necessary to overproduce and be viewed more in accordance with the algorithms. Many producers who entered YouTube without much knowledge, produced interesting content similar to the Cinema of Attractions movement to be visible.

Brain Freeze Challenge - DudesonsVLOG
Brain Freeze Challenge – DudesonsVLOG

The things experienced similar to Cinema of Attractions on YouTube after almost a century can be listed as follows:

  • The main purpose of the content producers was to attract the attention of the audience.
  • The contents lacked a story, or they featured mini-stories.
  • At the end of the videos, the climax was featured.
  • The contents were short as a result of the above-mentioned items.
  • There was no criterion or authority barrier in the way of production.

While YouTube was a pioneer in Cinema of Attractions’ reflection at the beginning of the 21st century, it was not alone. Concepts such as video games, gameplay videos of video games, live game viewing were also fed from the same point as the motivation of Cinema of Attractions.

Sub-Genres of Cinema

It is very difficult for films shot in sub-genres of cinema to reach the audience due to the lack of a large market. One of the simplest solutions to overcome the awareness barrier is to cause a sensation and attract attention. Films often feature sexuality, violent death scenes, and a wide variety of disturbing content to attract the attention of the audience. A similar motivation is frequently encountered in the Cinema of Attractions movement.

Exceptions

There were many exceptions in the Cinema of Attractions movement, which started in1895 and continued until the first 10 years of the 20th century. Although period dramas generally lacked a story, films such as Persona (1904) and A Trip to the Moon (1902) were exceptions.

In the film titled “Persona” (1904), a French nobleman introduces himself with an advertisement in the newspaper and conveys that he wants to meet volunteering young women at the General Grant National Memorial. The ad becomes more popular than he expected. Women begin to chase the nobleman. One of cinema’s first chasing scenes takes place between women and the nobleman. Although this film was shot at the beginning of the Cinema of Attractions movement, it is one of the films with a storyline.

A Trip to the Moon
A Trip to the Moon

In the film titled “A Trip to the Moon” (1902), a team of astronomers under the leadership of Professor Barbenfouillis plans to go to the moon and works on that. In the end, they reach the moon in their bullet-shaped spaceships fired from a giant cannon. However, they are kidnapped by the Moon creatures and taken to the palace of the Moon King.

Like many other exceptions, this film also has cinema elements complex for their periods such as a scene-plan structure, story structure, change of places, etc. beyond the Cinema of Attractions movement.

Cinema of Attractions Film List

*Films sorted by release year, from newest to oldest.

  1. That Fatal Sneeze (1907) Lewin Fitzhamon
  2. A Fatal Sneeze

    As an older man and a youth are eating at the table, the older man decides to amuse himself by using pepper to make the boy sneeze. Later, the boy retaliates by sneaking into the older man’s room and putting pepper in his handkerchief, hairbrush, and clothing. But things quickly get out of hand when the sneezing that results begins to disrupt the whole town.

    Watch 6min    Trailer, poster, info


  3. The ‘?’ Motorist (1906) Walter R. Booth
  4. The Motorist

    A psycho motorist goes to extreme ldistance to evade the law, even to the point of interplanetary. His absurd travel ends up driving around the rings of Saturn.

    Watch 3min    Trailer, poster, info


  5. Mary Jane’s Mishap (1903) George Albert Smith
  6. Mary Janes Mishap

    George Albert Smith casts his wife as a housewife who is disappeared by lighting her oven with paraffin.

    Watch 4min    Trailer, poster, info


  7. An Extraordinary Cab Accident (1903) Walter R. Booth, Robert W. Paul
  8. An Extraordinary Cab Accident

    A man steps backward off the kerb, just as a horse-drawn cab turns the corner. He is knocked down and run over, the cabman trying to escape by driving away. A policeman and others chase the cab while the victim rises of his own accord and joins in the chase.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  9. A Trip to the Moon (1902) Georges Méliès
  10. A Trip to the Moon

    A group of astronomers go on an expedition to the Moon.

    Watch 13min    Trailer, poster, info


  11. What Is Seen Through a Keyhole (1901) Ferdinand Zecca
  12. Par le trou de serrure

    As a janitor is cleaning a hotel, he decides to peek through the keyholes to observe some of the guests in their rooms. He can’t hide her confusion. There are some interesting things going on in the rooms.

    Watch 2min    Trailer, poster, info


  13. A Photographic Contortion (1901) James Williamson
  14. The big swallow

    A man, objecting to being filmed, comes closer and closer to the camera lens until his mouth is all we see. Then he opens wide and swallows the camera and cinematographer. He steps back, chews, and grins.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  15. The One-Man Band (1900) Georges Méliès
  16. Lhomme orchestre

    A band-leader arranges seven chairs for the members of his orchestra. But the chairs are empty. He starts to assemble an orchestra by mystifying means. And then the orchestra is then ready to perform.

    Watch 2min    Trailer, poster, info


  17. A Kiss in the Tunnel (1899) George Albert Smith
  18. The Kiss in the Tunnel

    A humorous subject intended to be run as a part of a railroad scene during the period in which the train is passing through a tunnel.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  19. A Turn of the Century Illusionist (1899) Georges Méliès
  20. An Up to Date Conjuror

    A magician and his assistant perform numerous magic acts including making a woman disappear.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  21. Four Heads Are Better Than One (1898) Georges Méliès
  22. The Four Troublesome Heads

    An illusionist appears before the audience. The illusionist removes his head, and throwing it in the air, it appears on the table opposite another head, and the illusionist starts to sing with three detached heads in harmony.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  23. Turkish Dance, Ella Lola (1898) James H. White
  24. Turkish Dance Ella Lola

    A young, dark-haired woman performs a period “Oriental” dance with some Turkish styling.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  25. Pillow Fight (1897) William Heise
  26. Pillow Fight

    Four girls in their night dresses, engaged in an animated pillow fight. During the action, the pillows become torn, and the feathers fly over their heads.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  27. The X-Ray Fiend (1897) George Albert Smith
  28. The X Rays

    A romantic couple is flirting when a professor turns on an X-ray machine. After the professor turning X-ray off the two have a dispute and break up.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  29. The Arrival of a Train (1896) Auguste Lumière, Louis Lumière
  30. Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat

    A group of people is standing along the platform of a railway station in La Ciotat, waiting for a train and train arrives at La Ciotat station.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  31. The Kiss (1896) William Heise
  32. The Kiss

    Cinema’s first kiss scene.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  33. The Waterer Watered (1895) Alice Guy, Louis Lumière
  34. The Waterer Watered

    An impudent child plays a prank on a gardener, innocently watering his plants.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  35. Leaving the Factory (1895) Louis Lumière
  36. Exiting the Factory

    Working men and women leave through the main gate of the Lumière factory, a place of great photographic innovation and one of the birth places of cinema.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  37. The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895) Alfred Clark
  38. The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

    Mary, Queen of Scots is brought to the execution block and made to kneel down with her neck over it. The executioner lifts his axe ready to bring it down.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


  39. Buffalo Dance (1894) William K.L. Dickson
  40. Buffalo Dance

    Three Sioux Indians perform a ‘buffalo dance’ while two others use drums to supply a rhythm. The three dancers move around in a circle as they perform the various actions that are part of the dance.

    Watch 1min    Trailer, poster, info


Best Cinema of Attractions Directors

  • Georges Méliès
  • Louis Lumière
  • Auguste Lumière
  • George Albert Smith
  • Thomas Edison

Best Cinema of Attractions Films

References and Further Reading

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Strauven, Wanda “The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded“
Gunning, Tom. “The Cinema of Attraction: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde.” Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative. Ed. Thomas Elsaesser and Adam Barker. London: BFI, 1989.