120 Gaumont

Programme curated by Gian Luca Farinelli


Gaumont: “depuis que le cinéma existe”!
Gaumont turns 120 years old! Other companies from the same era are now just a memory, a topic for university research or part of a melancholy connected to the dawn of the 20th century. Gaumont instead is still alive today, more than ever. With distribution, production and its chain of theaters – some of which are legendary – it continues to thrive.
Léon Gaumont chose to believe in the future of film almost at the same time that the Lumière brothers invented the cinématographe. Perhaps this is why Jean-Luc Godard said that cinema was invented with the projector? That is, with the projection of images and not their recording, emphasizing how the desire for entertainment was at the root of the invention of the cinematic art and film industry? In other words, if the brothers from Lyon invented cinematograph, then Léon Gaumont created… cinema! Not surprisingly the production company’s slogan is “Depuis que le cinéma existe”, ever since the existence of cinema.
Cinemas based on a theater model were not actually the pioneers’ first initiative. Travelling shows were the first to seize Gaumont reels, which saw its primitive form of distribution under tents and on makeshift benches arranged by itinerant vendors.
Around 1907-1908 movie theaters began to pop up in cities. Léon Gaumont first favored short farce films for encouraging the sale of early projection equipment, thus becoming an architect. As of the early 1910s, serials, predecessors of today’s series, were successful with the likes of Fantômas and Vampires, which won over audiences. Appearing at the dawn of the First World War, these feuilletons that focused on human fascination with evil are enriched today with retrospective meaning.
In 2015 we commemorate a company that – whatever the choices made, the partnerships or mergers, the talent or temperament of its leaders, the influences of its artistic and economic partners – made a decisive contribution to the creation of a fictional film à la française (Louis Feuillade, Léonce Perret, Jean Durand, Victorin Jasset…). And that genre of fictional film served as an example to the pioneers of film around the world.
Is celebrating a production company equal to honoring a filmmaker or artist? We probably would not know a film was produced by Gaumont if it were not mentioned by the opening credits. The reverse would be cause for concern because it would demonstrate an inability to change with the times. Being able to go back today to the origins of a company that is still alive and kicking demonstrates its sensitivity to the metamorphosis of taste to ensure its own business development. And, therefore, to remain contemporary.

Dominique Païni