Marius Sestier, Lumière Operateur


By Jean-Claude Seguin. Originally published in 1895, June 1994, pp. 34 – 58, Association Française de Recherche sur l’histoire du Cinéma, Paris.
In the lead up to the 1995 Centenary of Cinema, Seguin, already a notable historian on the Cinématographe Lumière, reached out and located Sestier’s grandson, the late Jean Sestier (1921-2000). The result is the first important exploration of Sestier’s role as a Lumière opérateur in Bombay and in Australia. It is through Seguin’s generosity that we reprint his essay.
Translated from the French by Max Stibio
Edited by Merryn Gates

The discovery of documents [1] that had once belonged to Marius Sestier allow us not only to better appreciate the journey of an opérateur, but also to analyse the different strategic aspects of the “Cinématographe Lumière”. Other research conducted in this area shows a certain resemblance between the various, but notably different approaches, of the opérateurs.

Marius Sestier’s adventure is, at once, both unique and exemplary. Thanks to the evidence he has left behind, we are better able to grasp the fantastic phenomenon that was the arrival of the cinématographe, and especially its worldwide dissemination. After setting out the circumstances which created the opportunity for Sestier’s time as an opérateur for the Lumières, we will see how he dealt with the delicate problem of competition, which presented itself at the very beginning of his adventure. It will also lead to him developing an approach we now recognise as a ‘true’ commercial strategy. His account book (income and expenditure), which he has left us, provides a new perspective on what can be called a ‘good deal’. Finally, the “Australian views” by Marius Sestier are testimony to one of the world’s first filmmakers.

1. How does one become an opérateur?
Marius Sestier (1861–1928) was already a pharmacist in Lyon when he decided to throw himself into one of the most fantastic adventures around. He was older than most of the other opérateurs, being closer in age to the Frères Lumières, with whom there was only a few years difference. It’s important to note at this point that our picture of the beginnings of cinema has over time, and often unfairly, altered; thus the more significant and most experienced pioneers (Moisson, Promio [2] , Veyre, or Sestier) have seen their roles diminished, while others, who had greater opportunities to document their roles (Chapuis, Doublier), have ended up stealing the limelight. It is wise to remember that the Lumière brothers were prudent industrialists and very good businessmen who knew better than to place their precious invention in the hands of young men, 20 years old or less, whose role was essentially to replace the chief opérateur when he was incapable of turning the crank himself [3] . This is how Francis Doublier eclipsed Charles Moisson [4] and how Félix Mesguich led us to believe he was the first to bring this invention to the United States, usurping Alexandre Promio’s place in film history. [5]

Marius Sestier, who was a pharmacist second-class, followed the cinématographe’s progress from its earliest presentations on 28 December in Paris and on 25 January in Lyon. He collected a considerable number of press articles describing these extraordinary events, which reflects his growing interest in this new spectacle. An important question raised by the cinématographe is that of the method by which opérateurs were recruited. Several hypotheses have been put forward, but most probably there were various options as to how recruitment took place. In Sestier’s case, we know that he once belonged to a masonic lodge in which Auguste Lumière was also a member, but he was a member only from 1905, whereas Auguste Lumière had been there since 1881.

Even so, we can talk about their like-mindedness. Another similarity, and not the least, is the interest shared by Marius Sestier and Auguste Lumière in the world of medicine, specifically that of pharmaceuticals. We know that the latter carried out research but was not authorised to market his inventions, and so it was Marius Sestier, as the wholesale pharmacist, who would take charge of marketing. This explains why they remained very close, right up until after the First World War. It is likely that this interest in medicine was one possible recruitment method, but other methods have been discovered.

Unquestionably, it was Sestier’s interest in the cinématographe that led him to make a radical decision: He departs with his wife … on a honeymoon to India and Australia. To realise his plans he sells his pharmacy and takes a cinématographe and films to give many presentations.

2. Competition
From Sestier’s press cuttings, it appears that his time in India unfolded without having to face competition from other opérateurs or cinématographes. This, however, was not the case in Australia where the situation appeared much more complex. In Sydney, the city where Sestier arrived on 16 September 1896, the competition was already well established. The press, not without humour, reported on the presence of another “cinématographe”, the kinetomatograph which Joseph MacMahon was busy with:

The kinetomatograph which is the kinetoscope writ large, was on private exhibition at Sydney Cri. [Criterion] one night last week under Joseph M’Mahon’s management. The difference between the new thing with the long name and the old thing with the name that isn’t much shorter is that the latter shows the dog- fight in miniature through a glass, so that you see the whole disturbance as it really was. If it is a really cordial and enthusiastic dog-fight the effect is very gratifying; in fact, it is almost as good as the real thing, barring the yapping, and as you can have the same fight as often as you like without wearing out the dogs, it makes the pleasure go further. The new invention is to be on public exhibition shortly. [6]

We don’t know if a public screening was actually organised, but Joseph MacMahon had again made news for himself. This was not the case for another “cinématographe” which was already in operation by the time our man reached Sydney. At the Tivoli Theatre, Mr. Harry Rickards arranged, with help from James Sharp, evening sessions of cinematographic projections interspersed with acts by the magician Carl Hertz:

The Photo-Electric sensation of the world. This is a wonderful development of instantaneous photography by means of a powerful electric machine, producing every motion of real life with marvellous fidelity. [7]

The Tivoli Theatre’s cinématographe operated until 14 October, during which programmes were regularly changed [8] and then it disappeared without any obvious reason. Faced with this situation, Sestier attempted to counter the competition in two ways. On the one hand, he arranged the publication of several articles in the local press and, on 18 September, arranged a private screening at the Lyceum Theatre of Sydney to which journalists were invited:

M. Marius Sestier arrived in Sydney last week direct from Paris to exhibit in Australia the French Cinematographe, invented by Messrs. Lumière. A successful private exhibition of the machine was given at the Lyceum last Friday, and shortly a public demonstration of its power will be made. The Lumière invention is the one which was been drawing crowds at the Empire Theatre, London, and elsewhere. [9]

On the other hand, Sestier exchanged several “cablegrams” with the Lumières, which allows us to gauge both the anxieties of the first and the powerlessness of the second:

“Competitor usurping the name cinématographe. Cable orders. Dispatch new m aterial. Sestier.” (sent 21st September).

“Impossible prevent. Negative open customs. Pack carefully. Lumière.” (received 24th September).

“Urgent. Send exclusive rights for all of Australasia. Big business. Send twenty rolls of film. First post. Forty by the Australien. Begin Monday. Sestier.” (sent 25th September)

“We give exclusivity until May. Sending film. Choose best subjects. Lumière.” (received 27th September).

How can one explain the pessimism and the powerlessness of the Lumières? It is first and foremost probable that the factory in Monplaisir was unable to satisfy Sestier’s request. Besides, the cinématographe business was “juicy” enough for one not to neglect this kind of competition. For his part, Marius Sestier, aware of the danger that the Lumière’s response presented, was quick to ask for exclusive rights for Australasia, thus avoiding internal competition. But it seems that he was unable to let the matter rest, given an article published on 9 October 1896 which outlined the problems related to the name “cinématographe”:

The name “cinématographe” seems to have been devised and registered by the Messrs. Lumière before there were any rival machines in the field. Sestier, their agent in charge of the newly-arrived “Ciné”, is said to carry the power of attorney to fight the question re infringement of title, which is undoubtedly an important consideration as things are going. [10]

There is no further information available on this last matter, but the situation must have stabilised even though Marius Sestier never passed over an opportunity to remind everyone that he was the sole agent for the Cinématographe Lumière in Australasia. As soon as the cinématographe left Sydney, Joseph MacMahon was quick to take charge, after his initial failure, with a new apparatus that he presented from 26 October:

For the better achievement of his purpose, Mr. MacMahon visited all the principle cities of the continent, and finally secured in Paris the instrument of M. Deminy (sic), a French inventor. [11]

It was indeed Demenÿ’s apparatus, the Chronophotographe Gaumont-Demenÿ [12] , an improvement on Demenÿ’s first invention following the release of the Lumière. We know how Demenÿ was “pipped at the post” despite having had everything available to him for the discovery of the cinématographe. This second apparatus was later presented from 7 November, at the Salon Lumière, 337 Pitt Street, although rebaptised as the Salon cinématographe.[13]

When Marius Sestier, after a brief sojourn in Melbourne (more on this later), returns to Sydney to resume his presentations of the cinématographe, the situation had slightly changed: Joseph MacMahon was still presenting his “perfected cinématographe” and, at the beginning of 1897, a Vitascope “which partakes of the character of a cinématographe” was operating at the Edison Electric Parlor in Pitt Street.

If the situation with his Sydney rivals was complex, what can be said about the competition Sestier faced upon his arrival in Melbourne? Four other cinématographes vied for the public’s attention. At The Theatre Royal (2 November), under the direction of MM. Geo Rignold and W. Raynham, a “cinématographe” operated from 7:30 to 7:50, as the first half to Shakespeare’s Henry V, but had disappeared from Sestier’s book of press clippings for the next day. This, however, was not the case with the “cinématographe” presented at the Opera House by MM. Harry Rickards and Fred Aydon, announced as: “The most perfect cinematographe of Living Pictures, the Marvel of the 19th century”. Even here, the cinématographe accompanied singers and dancers. [14] A third machine installed in Collins Street East was announced as: “The perfected cinématographe. The greatest marvel of the Nineteenth century is the very latest machine. Direct from Paris under the direct personal control of Mons. G. Neymark” [15] ; this “perfected cinématographe” could well have been Demenÿ’s. Finally, at the Athenaeum Hall, the Edison Vitascope opened its doors from 7:30 in the evening.

During this time the situation evolved in a most singular manner. Faced with an outbreak of screening venues, Marius Sestier attempts another strategy: collaboration. His old rival, magician Carl Hertz, became his accomplice. Again, an exchange of “cablegrams” is indicative of the rapport between Sestier and the Lumière brothers:

“Send urgently Menagerie full apparatus. New films Czar.” (sent 14 October)

“Apparatus sent 15th September. Sending Lumière films.” (received 16 October)

The precise date on which the second machine arrived in Australia is unknown, but it is obvious a second machine would permit Sestier to work more than one venue, and we know that from the end of December two Cinématographes Lumières were indeed circulating in Australia; while Marius Sestier was still presenting his screenings in Sydney, a second Lumière machine was screening at the Theatre Royal in Adelaide, operated by Wybert Reeve in collaboration with Carl Hertz. This strategy marked a significant evolution regarding Sestier’s competition and allowed the Cinématographe Lumière to be better exploited in the Australian market.

The phenomena of competition [16] have rarely been studied, which is unfortunate in the sense that much could be learnt about the position held by the Cinématographe Lumière in a competitive market during these early years. If the first presentations in France and overseas had started in early 1896, then it is clear that competition already existed, aware of the existence of the Cinématographe Lumière. Yet, in taking the Australian example [17] , it is clear that the cinématographe was central to the problems concerning animated images. Its name, for one thing, was constantly imitated and modified – as was the case with Edison and his Vitascope – a situation against which the Lumière brothers, as we have seen, lowered their guard. Its programs were plagiarised, even though it was known that certain cinématographes specialised in presenting programs that were noticeably lightweight. Finally, it is impossible for us to measure the effect other cinématographes may have had in the absence of statistical data, which is severely lacking. The only indication we have at our disposal (newspaper excerpts collected by Sestier) allows us to say that, in general, the competition suffered in the face of the public’s preference for the Lumière cinématographe. [18] This very probable technical superiority leads us to delve into the commercial strategy Marius Sestier put into place upon his arrival in India.

3. Commercial Strategy
The various studies conducted as much in France as overseas leads us to believe that there was no defined marketing strategy other than the one from Lyon. The type of “contract” that bound independent opérateurs [19] like Marius Sestier was probably very vague and apparently only covered the distribution of royalties. [20] As to the programmes, they were left to the opérateurs’ discretion. [21] Furthermore, the experience of Marius Sestier should be envisaged as unique, even if it is true that, in the field, commercial strategies were sometimes similar.

Sestier’s arrival in Bombay, on 1 July 1896, after 16 days of travel, is revealing of the strategy he had for presenting the cinématographe. Apparently nothing seemed to have been organised from France. Without hesitation, Sestier engaged the press and had advertisements published in the major newspapers of the British colony: The Times of India, The Advocate of India, and The Bombay Gazette. The second, for example, announced in a most laudatory manner an upcoming presentation of the Lumière brothers’ cinématographe:

The living photography Monsieur Sestier, who arrived by the s.s. Yarra has brought to our city the Cinematograph, the wonderful invention of Messrs August and Louis Limiere (sic) of Lyon. This instrument is a wonderful improvement on the Edison Kinetoscope. We can see before it a moving panorama with living life size people.

The instrument is so perfect that is can both photograph as well as project scenes. A railway train arrives, the station master is moving about, the passengers get in or alight, etc., etc. The sea waves, the smoke that comes from a cigar or from some herbs that are burning, all this is faithfully reproduced to life and unlike the Kinetoscope, is visible to as large an audience as required.

A public exhibition will shortly be given and we in India will be able to see in work the instrument which gave a vivid life size realization of the Prince of Wales’ Derby in one of the London Music Halls the same night as the historic event was run. Monsieur Sestier is open to private engagements. [22]

We cannot be certain whether this article was written by Marius Sestier, but we know that as soon as he arrived in Bombay he paid for the services of two interpreters, and would also teach himself English, as is evidenced from a series of written exercises penned in his own hand. Moreover, the last line of the article is indicative of the need to promote the cinématographe, as to make a profit, by organising private screenings. Business grew very quickly from the 7th of July onwards, and its success could be read about in The Times of India:

A few Exhibitions will be given

Marius Sestier was responsible for the screenings while his wife took care of the ticket receipts. Thanks to his account book, which he scrupulously maintained, we can discern the type of marketing strategy he had engaged. The Watson’s Hotel was hired out for four days and the initial programme is instructive in more ways than one:

1. Entry of Cinematographe (no 250: Entrée du cinématographe)
2. Arrival of a Train (no 653: Arrivée d’un train)
3. The Sea Bath (no 11: La baignade en mer)
4. A demolition (no 40: La démolition d’un mur)
5. Leaving the factory (no 91: Sortie des usines)
6. Ladies and Soldiers on Wheels (no 257 (?): Cyclistes et cavaliers arrivant au cottage)

Firstly, his programme is fairly conventional in that he includes certain films whose success elsewhere made them obligatory for a first screening: L’Arrivée du train, La baignade en mer, La démolition d’un mur, and La sortie des usines. [24] But this presentation was also an opportunity to offer to Indian spectators two new films from Great Britain: Entrée du cinématographe and Ladies and Soldiers on wheels [25] which had, respectively, opened and closed the proposed programme. The absence of Indian films seems to suggest that Marius Sestier had not yet an opportunity to film in India; however, the English films were enough to win over the Bombay public without having to renounce the self-referential images for which the cinématographe was known. The programme was quickly updated, and on 9 July, spectators were presented with six new films where we can discern the same intent for engaging the British population, while at the same time offering them the “classics”. [26] The sojourn in India is, apparently, riddled with pitfalls, as Marius Sestier is driven to change location multiple times: he attempts to set up a venue at the Novelty Theatre from 14 July, but electrical problems bring him back to Watson’s. The problems pile up (rain, cyclones…) and bring an end to the presentation of the cinématographe in Bombay.

In Australia, Marius Sestier once again set up a strategy where the press played a crucial role, as proven by the following article:

M. Sestier will shortly exhibit this wonderful invention to the Sydney public, when an opportunity will be afforded of witnessing a series of extraordinary LIVING PHOTOGRAPHS, Perfect in Every Detail and Full Life Size. [27]

This paragraph clearly highlights the opportunistic nature of the screenings carried out by Marius Sestier. As was the case in India, he was driven to show even greater initiative in his business matters. His strategy was not dissimilar to Gabriel Veyre’s who, first in Mexico, then over a large part of the Latin-American continent, was also driven to “improvise”. Alexandre Promio’s strategy was very different, as he travelled little, but it is true that this was an “established” practice of the Lumière factories.

Finally, on 26 September, after a brief stopover in Nouméa, Marius Sestier held a private viewing of the cinématographe at the Lyceum Theatre in Sydney. An article in the Herald (28 September) underlines the extent to which the Cinématographe Lumière was a sensation:

The large audience applauded every scene with delight, but in summing up the attractions of this fascinating show the place of honour must be accorded to those pictures that had the magic power of the famous tablecloth in the “Arabian Nights”, which transported those who stood upon it to foreign lands. [28]

It is useful to compare the presentations made both in Bombay and in Sydney. Here is the programme that was presented in the latter city:

1. Leaving Lumière’s Factory (no 91: Sortie d’usine)
2. The serpent (no 90: Serpent)
3. A Game of Cards (no 73: Une partie d’écarté)
4. Empire theatre, London (no 250: Entrée du cinématographe)
5. The Cuirassiers (perhaps one of the films between numbers 182 and 185)
6. A baby’s quarrel (no 82: Querelle enfantine)
7. Parade of the guards (no 257(?): Garde montante au palais de Buckingham)
8. The hat trick (no 105: Chapeau à transformation)
9. Demolition of a wall (no 40: La démolition d’un mur)
10. Watering the garden (no 99: Arroseur et arrosé)
11. Sea bathing (no 11: Baignade en mer)
12. Arrival of the Paris express (no 653 (?): Arrivée d’un train à la Ciotat)

On first observation: the programme was well rounded, [29] but offered less variation compared to the one in Bombay. The innovation lay elsewhere: this presentation was accompanied by an orchestra conducted by W. J. Rice, manager of the Lyceum. We have here very early evidence of the association between image and sound, which demonstrates that, from cinema’s first steps, the cinématographe sought musical support for its screenings. Moreover, we should note that the press was particularly interested in the military films.

From this point the screenings were held at the Salon Lumière, 237 Pitt Street until 27 October. Much like anywhere else in the world, the cinématographe benefitted from the support of the authorities and vice regal dignitaries. [30] Thus it was Governor Lord Hampden’s attendance at one of the screenings on 16 October, which allowed Marius Sestier to publish the following article the next day:

The last nine days of the French Cinématographe are notified at the Salon Lumière, where a change of programme will introduce the tableaux of “London in a Fog”, the “Champs Élysées”, “Unter den Linden at Berlin” and other fresh subjects. Yesterday morning M. Sestier had the honour of giving a special private exhibition of the marvellous instrument before his Excellency the Governor, Lady Hampden, and suite. The Governor before leaving expressed to M. Sestier his admiration of the pictures shown. [31]

The Australian Star (17 October) even adds that thirty films were shown to the Governor. The cinématographe attracted other noteworthy figures as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald (21 October), which evoked the presence of several ecclesiastical authorities: “the Primate, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Bishop of Goulburn, the Rev. Father Ryan”. This official recognition did not, however, discourage Marius Sestier from attempting to make his apparatus more profitable and, as he had done in Bombay, he offered his services for private screenings:

Ladies and Gentlemen, Heads of Colleges, etc., desirous to arrange séances for private parties should communicate with the directors at least 48 hours previously. [32]

Finally, his portrait, photographed or drawn, was published several times in Sydney’s newspapers with comments once again praising our man:

People prominent
M. Marius Sestier

The gentleman whose photograph we publish herewith first introduced the original Lumière Cinematographe to Sydney. He came out unostentatiously in one of the French mailboats, and was immediately seized upon by Mr. Walter Barnett of the Falk Studios, who, in conjunction with Mr. C. B. Westmacott, arranged for him to exhibit his wonderful machine in Pitt Street. The result has more than exceeded expectations, for the place has been thronged daily ever since it was opened, and the pictures have become the talk of the town. The fotograph is reproduced by permission of the Falk Studios. [33]

One last piece of interesting information is offered to us by an advertisement that Marius Sestier published on 28 September, where he announced that he showed films “selected from 150 interesting subjects”. [34] The number he gave leads us to believe that here, as elsewhere, the opérateurs had at their disposal a standard body of films that belonged to the first 98 films listed in the catalogue, to which the “classics” were then added, such as Arroseur et arrosé and Arrivée d’un train à la Ciotat as well as a few “strategic” films, in this particular case, the English films. Other than these foreign films, some national films, to which we will come back to later, were also shown with the success we can well imagine.

The strategy implemented by Marius Sestier, as much in Bombay as in Sydney, helps us better understand the “Lumière system” from a particular angle. The information we possess shows that a certain amount of commotion was created once the operator arrived on the scene. This well and truly confirms the arbitrary nature of the screenings and choice of venues. Of course, we can say that Marius Sestier was interested in venues which were able to fully accommodate his cinématographe (theatres, performing rooms, photographic salons…), but for him it was essential that he begin his screenings as early as possible because, let us not forget, he was his own boss and had every interest in exploiting his machine. Moreover, his commercial politics were similar to Veyre; that is to say, he was continuously wanting to move around in order to find new venues, perhaps more profitable than the previous. This explains his time spent in various Australian cities.

4. A Business that Works
If we know that the cinématographe was a gold mine for the Lumières for at least two seasons, an absence of figures does not always allow us a full grasp of the phenomenon in its financial dimensions. Marius Sestier meticulously noted in a booklet the receipts and expenses generated by the new invention. We are thus able to appreciate the situation in Bombay as much as in Australia. Below, we offer a table summarising all the costs tied to the cinématographe. We have included the number of days of usage, the total revenue, and the daily revenue.

BOMBAY 27 4706.80 F 174.30 F
SYDNEY (1) 26 12934.85 F F 497.50 F
MELBOURNE 12 2496 F 208 F
SYDNEY (2) 43 7518.57 F 174.85 F
ADELAIDE 36 6014.70 F 167.07 F
BR. HILL 13 1611.10 F 123.90 F
PERTH 19 3790.18 F 199.48 F
COOLGARDIE 6 754.40 F 125.73 F

Despite the apparent precision of the numbers, it would be hazardous to draw hasty conclusions. Indeed, if it is clear that the “first season” in Sydney was indubitably an economic success, too many unknowns remain which prevent us from drawing further conclusions. Let’s take, respectively, the examples of India and Bombay. In the first instance, the entry fee is set at one rupee [35] regardless of the spectator, whereas in Sydney, the price varies according to age. In 27 days of work in Bombay, the revenue goes up to 3362 rupees, or an average of 124 spectators a day. To interpret this result is evidently a tenuous matter because too many parameters are missing, it is however clear enough that the choice of venues had their role to play, so, in Bombay, if the screenings at Watson’s were well attended, the screenings at the Novelty Theatre constituted a real success. It is important to also consider that the two sojourns in Sydney mark a difference due especially to the changing of venue. With regards to Bombay, we also know that the climatic conditions severely affected the screenings and put an end to them.We want to concentrate here on only the first trip to Sydney, which, limited by time, allows for a better understanding of the phenomenon. From Monday 28 September 1896 to Tuesday 27 October 1896, in 26 days of actual operation since there were no screenings on Sundays, the revenue reached up to 517 pounds sterling, which represents 12,934.85 francs according to the calculations made by the opérateur. This is how the numbers look per week:

Monday 28th September – Saturday 3rd October 2848.50 F
Monday 5th October – Saturday 10th October 3422.50 F
Monday 12th October – Saturday 17th October 2581.85 F
Monday 19th October – Saturday 24th October 2970.60 F
Monday 26th October – Tuesday 27th October 1121.85 F

What is noticeable is that during this month of screenings, the public’s interest in the cinématographe was not dulled. In the following table we have regrouped the same numbers by day of the week:

MONDAY (5) 2550 F 510 F
TUESDAY (5) 2216.80 F 443.40 F
WEDNESDAY (4) 1803 F 450.80 F
THURSDAY (4) 1865.60 F 466.40 F
FRIDAY (4) 1989.40 F 497.40 F
SATURDAY (4) 2510 F 627.50 F

What surprises us is the regularity of very high receipts, even with the exception of Saturdays where the figures are uniquely high. Such consistency, from both weekly and daily points of view, highlights how the cinématographe operated because of continuous public fascination, with rare fluctuations. This consistency shows well that the strategy for exploiting the cinématographe did not depend, in this case, on the more or less significant successes of the spectacle. Doubtless the screenings were successes and Sestier’s departure was due only to the expiry of the contract that tied him to a location for a predetermined period. [36] The total receipts for Marius Sestier’s tour is truly impressive as it reached close to 40,000 F. If we split this number and take out the cost of all salaries paid to some 360 workers who were working in the Lumière factories in 1896/97, it represents close to 11,700 working days. Evidence, if more was needed, that the cinématographe constituted a very appreciable source of revenue during the years 1895/96 and 1896/97, [37] even after the “concessionaire” system was abandoned. On the other hand, it is a more delicate matter in having to appreciate the cinématographe’s impact in terms of attendance when price of entry varied: 1 shilling for adults and half price for children. Suppose there was a 50/50 balance of admittance, we would have an average attendance of 132 spectators per day. This is simply an estimate however, and in no way a reliable measure.Marius Sestier, who left Lyon with a capital sum of 14,243 francs (of which 10,000 francs were letters of credit), realises an unquestionable profit from the cinématographe even if royalties transferred to the Lumières limit his account entries. An article published in The Bulletin provides information (perhaps transmitted by Marius Sestier himself) on the Lumière system worldwide:In London, il (sic) was speedily opposed by some 20 imitations, but this seems to have gradually lost public support. London, Paris, Manchester, Birmingham, like Australia, are understood to have each but one Lumière Cinématographe. The London one, at the Empire Theatre, is credited with paying the investors 40 pounds royalty every time it shows, and Lumière’s world’s total of 23 machines are estimated to return 5000 pounds royalty monthly. [38]We are unsure who should be accorded credit for the declarations of this journalist, but if the figures are correct, this meant a return of approximately 125,000 F a month, which is in line with the figure of 1060 805.09 F announced to the council of administration for the period 1895/96 and that of 735,119.86 F for the previous period. As regards the 23 machines, if exact this constitutes a rather interesting piece of information and shows that the number of machines operating around the world was relatively moderate in October 1896.Here as elsewhere the cinématographe had a very positive reception. Of course we must understand and take account of the fact that Marius Sestier, in his commercial strategy, regularly published advertisements in the press, for which there is the risk of having our sense of things distorted. However, there are some reports that seem to be the work of journalists who our man had not hesitated soliciting. Thus, the press in Bombay dedicated long articles to the cinématographe. The Times speaks of the invention of the Lumière brothers in these terms:It is impossible to deny that the recent invention of the Messrs. Lumière Bros. is almost the greatest scientific discovery of our age. By its means life-sized photographs are reproduced, every movement of the figure is accurate, and despite the number of changes the accuracy is maintained. [39]The other newspapers such as The Advocate of India and Bombay also announced screenings with praise. Neither did the Australian press fall short of praise. All the same, what we are able to read offers nothing different to what was said elsewhere around the globe or in France. This makes it very probable that Marius Sestier, like other opérateurs, conveyed to the journalists information that was essentially the same everywhere with regard to the functioning of the Lumière brothers’ machine.The example of Marius Sestier only confirms that the cinématographe was undoubtedly an excellent source of revenue, at least for the period of 1896/1897. Beyond these years however the situation became less manageable in the sense that more machines were sold and the screenings multiplied. The figures registered by the Lumière brothers on their balance sheet for the two financial years that interest us show that, during a short period, the cinématographe was an indisputably dynamic element of the Monplaisir factory. Even if this “lucrative line” wore out, the machine continued to promote the Lumière’s business and allowed them to sell other photographic products, as is stated the following extract from the police commissioner’s report at the General Assembly of 2 October 1897:These magnificent results make me ask you to congratulate your Council and your Managers who, through their incessant work, have quintupled your revenues and have given to your brand an incomparable reputation and who, through their discovery of the Cinématographe, have made it known around the world.Here is an essential dimension of the cinématographe, which perhaps explains why film production lasted for so long, even though the revenue had quickly waned: the cinématographe was a marvellous brand for the House of Lumière in Lyon.The Australian Films
Amongst the numerous questions that the Lumière Cinématographe has raised, there is one that remains unanswered. How did the inventors “regard” their envoys and opérateurs? Sestier’s documents provide a little information in this area; that being the message featured in the “cablegrams”, already cited, sent to Sestier by the Lumière brothers, for example:We will give exclusivity until May. Film sent. Choose better subjects. Lumière (received 27th September)Although the information is brief, it nonetheless reveals the position the inventors adopted compared to the films they received. This remark was not about the aesthetic quality of the films, but rather on their “subject”. The catalogue, over which the Lumières had the most control, appeared thus as the result of an ideological choice rather than aesthetic one. In the end, they were more concerned with content that was of suitable interest to a vast public — which moreover explains the disparity of the animated films — rather than the quality of the films. The “cablegrams” message apparently implies films by Sestier, but which don’t appear in the catalogue. This highlights the role of the ‘producer’ ahead of its time, and this was the work that the inventors of the cinématographe had undertaken.According to the information we have available, it does seem as though Marius Sestier did not film anything in India; or, in any case, they weren’t presented to the Indian public. Whereas the press clippings he collected in Australia provide a progress report on “Australian films” that appear in the catalogue, or of other films that were not in the catalogue. On 27 October, the last day of screenings in Sydney, M. Sestier offers the Australian public the first film taken on the continent, as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald (28 October):The closing day of the French cinématographe at the Salon Lumière was marked by crowded audiences at every performance. After the day’s work was ended M. Sestier exhibited the first tableau from a local subject yet made in Australia. Mr. H. W. Barnett (of Falk’s) had joined M. Sestier in preparing the films, and a fine picture of the crowd disembarking a Manly boat at Manly was the result. Afterwards the health of Messrs. Sestier and Barnett was toasted in acknowledgement of their artistic work, when the latter announced that a whole series of Australian scenes was in preparation, and that both at the Paris and London halls M. Lumière would exhibit these pictures, and would thus put Sydney and Melbourne in touch with the great capitals named in a manner which could never have been approached but for the invention of this marvellous machine. [40]This film, which it seems Sestier made in collaboration with Barnett, his Australian colleague, just like the films mentioned in the article, was not included in the catalogue since the only films which figured in it were subsequently filmed in Melbourne. It is rather, on the other hand, one of a few, very rare accounts of personalised filming in the newspapers at the time. The press from the biggest city in Australia during this period [41] reports the making of films during the Melbourne Derby, films which appeared in the catalogue (nos. 418–423). The Age (16 November) underlined the circumstances of the filming:During the recent racing festival at Flemington the Lumière Cinématographe was used for the first time in this part of the world to secure moving pictures of the Derby, the Cup race, and numerous scenes on the lawn. It was chiefly in the nature of an experiment, but many will feel gratified that most of the principal views taken have been successfully developed. When these are shown, as they will probably be next week, it is safe to say that they will attract considerable attention, for by this means those who witnessed Newhaven’s double triumph will be able to enjoy the sight over again, and those who did not see it will now have an opportunity of so doing, through the medium of this wonderful instrument. Besides this there will be various pictures of promenades on the lawn, including the arrival of the vice-regal party. The Lumière Cinématographe finishes its exhibitions at the Princess’s Theatre on Friday night, and will thereafter be on view in the city. [42]Soon after, on 17 November, several of these films were presented to the public of Melbourne, which included Flemington on cup day and The arrival of his Excellency the Governor. As soon as he returned to Sydney, Sestier was then to present the ensemble of films taken during the Derby, as written in the Star (21 November), which also announced that 15 films from the Cup would be presented along with 50 pictures from London, Paris, Moscow, and Madrid. The programme for this new season in Sydney 24 November at the Criterion Theatre gives us insight into the collection of films shot during the Melbourne Cup:1. Arrival of Train, Hill Platform
2. The Lawn near the Band Stand
3. Arrival of H. E. Lord Brassey and Suite (no 419 in the catalogue)
4. The Sadding (bis) Paddock (no 420)
5. Finish of Hurdle Race, Cup Day (no 422)
6. Lady Brassey placing the Blue Ribbon on “Newhaven”
7. Near the Grandstand
8. Afternoon Tea under the Awning
9. “Newhaven” his trainer, W. Hickenbotham, and Jockey, Gardiner (no 423)Generally speaking the films shot in Australia were made by Marius Sestier, but some newspaper clippings imply that the camera work was executed by both Sestier and H. Walter Barnett. This second season in Sydney, which would last until 23 January 1897, offers a much more “nationalistic” selection of films compared to the previous programme. The following films were on show: N.S.W. Horse Artillery at Drill, Victoria Barracks, Sydney (24 January) and Passengers leaving s.s.“Brighton”, at Manly, Sunday afternoon (24 January). [43]Of the films we have been able to view, La Foule (The Crowd) is a depiction of the comings and goings of the spectators where they enter the frame on either side of the cinématographe; a multitude of passers-by flows past while a number of the most curious stop to observe with unadulterated interest this strange machine. Built around a classic perspective, Arrivée du gouverneur does not sparkle with originality, and it is only the temporal balance between the before and after of the governor’s arrival that shows true expertise. We are far away from the form and composition of the films shot by Alexandre Promio. [44] These brief remarks should be complemented by a close study of all of Sestier’s films. It would enable us to better understand not only the regard held for Marius Sestier, but also that of the Lumière brothers whose ideological choices have yet to be defined.6. Towards an approach of the “Lumière System”
Evidently it would be hazardous to apply the example of Sestier to the whole of the Lumière system. In order to be able to drive that kind of shift, we will have to have several other experiences and documents at our disposal. Yet the information that we’ve been able to collect on other operators and the Lumière brothers themselves allows us to bring forth a few hypotheses which new discoveries, we hope, will confirm.The concept of “opérateur” in the Lumière factories is to be analysed with great caution. It is necessary to first distinguish the “opérateur-taker” of films, who we call, as they were at the time, a “cinematographer”, and the “opérateur-projectionist” whose primary role was to “turn the handle” during projections. People such as Alexandre Promio, Charles Moisson, or Marius Sestier belong to the first category, while Francis Doublier or Marius Chapuis belong to the second. It is of course not unlikely that a few of them would have temporarily moved from one role to the other, as was the case with Félix Mesguich or Marius Sestier who were sometimes both the projectionist and the cinematographer. The status of the opérateurs allows for the surfacing of two main categories of collaborators: those tied to the Lumière factories such as Charles Moisson or Alexandre Promio [45] and the independent opérateurs who, as contract employees, “borrowed” a cinématographe and transferred royalties. New discoveries will allow us to advance deeper into the matter.We know that from the beginning the competition exerted on the Lumière cinématographe was very strong and that there was no hesitation to play on confusion in attempts to grab some of the limelight. Thus, cinématographes in all forms came to encroach on the Lyonnais inventors’ machine. It is however clear that this rivalry did not worry the Monplaisir house. There must be, we believe, two reasons: the impossibility of launching multiple apparatuses and trials around the world, but especially the fact that this rivalry, far from stopping this phenomenon, did nothing but fuel its fire. Effectively, by using the same name, their competitors were attempting to make a profit from the success of the cinématographe, but on the contrary, all they did was further empower the name chosen by the Lumière brothers. This boomerang effect seems to have left its mark in the summary address given at the Assemblée générale of 1897 where it is stated that:Despite the competition which arose from all sides, the cinematograph has provided, this year, results superior to last year’s.Again it is important to add that the problem became more complex from the moment the system changed and the Lumière brothers abandoned the “concessionaires” to instead directly sell the machines and film rolls.The commercial strategy used by Sestier puts forth the random character of the screenings, which were often only organised upon arrival at a new location, while also keeping in mind the demands of the programmes. Usually the screenings only came to a halt because the projectionist found that extending a session or season was impossible (lack of material, atmospheric conditions, or planning of the venue). One cannot, however, not be astonished by Marius Sestier’s business acumen when, upon his arrival, he makes contacts, learns the language of the country or publishes several articles in the press well before he knew where his screenings would take place. Admire also his business sense when it came to the matter of “tackling” the competition. Here, once more, comparisons with other sources would be very instructive, yet the example of Gabriel Veyre in Mexico reveals an approach almost identical or at least similar.The questions that remain concern the commercial efficacy and the aesthetic success of the films. In the first case, it is clear from seeing Marius Sestier’s way of management, that the business was perfectly viable and even particularly profitable. Was this the case with other examples? Here as well, receipts or attendance numbers would allow us to learn more. But when it comes to the Lumière “production”, we believe to have shown that there was an outline or a draft of a system that gave the operator a freedom of choice for the shooting of his films and even for their presentation in situ. Furthermore, the Lumiére showcase, which the catalogues make up, was built from a need for ideological order, rather than an aesthetic purpose. Be that as it may, the example of Marius Sestier is not a mere stone in an otherwise complex edifice.


01-07-96 (Bombay) Marius Sestier’s arrival
08-07-96 (Bombay) First public and payed display of the cinematograph
15-08-96 (Bombay) Last public projection of the cinematograph
09-09-96 (Albany) Presence of Marius Sestier
12-09-96 (Adelaide) Presence of Marius Sestier
14-09-96 (Melbourne) Presence of Marius Sestier
16-09-96 (Sydney) Arrival in Sydney
21-09-96/25-09-96 (Nouméa) Marius Sestier in Nouméa (probable dates)
26-09-96 (Sydney) First private screening at the Lyceum Theatre
28-09-96 (Sydney) First public and payed display of the cinematograph
27-10-96 (Sydney) Last public projection of the cinematograph
04-11-96 (Melbourne) Cinematograph premiere
20-11-96 (Melbourne) Last public projection of the cinematograph
24-11-96 (Sydney) Beginning of the cinematograph’s second season
28-12-96 (Adelaide) First public and payed display of the cinematograph
23-01-97 (Sydney) End of the cinematograph’s second season
06-02-97 (Adelaide) Last public projection of the cinematograph
06-02-97 (Perth) First public and payed display of the cinematograph
20-02-97 (Broken Hill) First public and payed display of the cinematograph
27-02-97 (Perth) Last public projection of the cinematograph
06-03-97 (Broken Hill) Last public projection of the cinematograph
06-03-97 (Coolgarie) First public and payed display of the cinematograph
12-03-97 (Coolgarie) Last public projection of the cinematograph
17-07-97 (Lyon) Marius Sestier returns to Lyon

Notes:[1] It is these documents, lovingly shared by his family, which have allowed the reconstruction of Marius Sestier’s past, about which, to date, no other information exists that is worthy of sharing.
[2] See Jean-Claude Seguin, “The Legend of Promio”, 1895, no. 11, December 1991, pp. 94–100
[3] Francois Doublier’s famous anecdote formed during his replacement of Charles Moisson, who was at lunch, during the Parisian projections is well known.
[4] Charles Moisson built the first cinématographe and presented it in Brussels in November 1895. He also ran the first projection on 28 December in Paris. Moisson was the creator of numerous films, including those of the coronation of the Tsar (nos.300 to 306) and Félix Faure’s travels to Vendée (nos.468 to 487).
[5] Félix Mesguich, was most contradictory when he claimed, in 1925, in L’Histoire du cinématographe by G. M. Coissac, that Alexandre Promio was indeed the first to bring the Cinématographe to the United States of America: “Three months later, in May 1896, I travelled alone to New York […] When I had arrived, M. Promio, who had beaten me there, had already organised his screenings at the Keith’s, Koster and Beal Theaters, about which he has recounted their success to you.” Besides the evident confusion of dates given (the first public demonstration was held at Keith’s on Monday 29 of June 1896), Mesguich implies, in his 1933 memoir Tours de manivelle that he had introduced the cinématographe to the U.S. once Alexandre Promio, who had died in 1926, was no longer there to contradict him.
[6]The Bulletin, 12 September 1896.
[7]The Daily Telegraph, 22 September 1896.
[8] The program from 22 September to 15 October is as follow: Seascape “with waves in motion”, Scene from Trilby, Westminster Bridge, London Street Scene “with buses, cabs, pedestrians, etc., all in life-like motion”, Kempton Park Races, Military Review, Skirt Dances, Acrobats, Humorous Pictures (22.09.96), The Great Niagara Falls, The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, The Village Blacksmith, Review of the Troops, An Interrupted Game of Cards, Negro Plantation scene, Trained Cats, A Famous Danseuse, The Vendetta, Dog Serpentine Dance (03.10.96).
[9] [Sydney Morning] Herald, 22 September 1896.
[10] Unidentified periodical, perhaps The Sydney Mail, 10 October 1896.
[11]The Daily Telegraph, 26 October 1896.
[12] For greater detail see the excellent chronology by Vincent Pinel, L’invention du cinéma, Paris, Association Française de Recherche sur l’Histoire du Cinéma, 1992.
[13] The films screened are as follows: The milk-white flag. Coronation of the Czar, Persimmon winning the English derby, German emperor opening the Kiel canal, The boxing kangaroo, The Beatrice (31.10.96), The arrival of Li Hung Chang in Paris last July, The arrival of President Faure on the Longchamp racecourse just prior to the Grand Prix, Le saut du dragon (21.11.96), The dance by four girls, The street scene, The serpentine dancer Loie Fuller (07.12.96).
[14] Without being systematic, the presentations of the various Lumière cinématographes were shows in themselves, which was not the case with the others which were integrating themselves in larger spectacles.
[15] The films screened are as follows: Grand National Steeplechase, The Great Coventry bicycle race, Parisian Life, Paris express (01.11.96).
[16] It can be observed in Nice where a precise verbal strategy was put into place by the operators of the different “cinématographes”.
[17] It is far from being a unique situation. In contemporary Paris for example, a lumière (with a lower case l) cinématographe was presented, thus deliberately misleading spectators and, in turn, unsuspecting researchers who have since leaned towards doubt and questioning.
[18] We were able to verify that in Madrid, the rival projections of the animatographe were of a lesser quality. See my article “Cuand Ilegó el cine a Madrid”, Historia 16, 1994 (to be published). Elsewhere, the press in general was pleased to designate the Lumière Cinématographe as the best, even after seeing Edison’s Vitascope.
[19] It is very important to distinguish the “interior” operators attached to the Maison Lumière (Moisson, Doublier, Promio…) and the “independents” (Sestier, Veyre, Mesguich) who had a much more complex rapport with the Lumières.
[20] Despite having to take this number with care, we have found only one transfer made by Marius Sestier for the Lumière brothers’ account: 400 francs in May 1897, during the end of the Australian tour. Was it the only transfer? It is unsure. It is to be compared with the information on the provenance of the resources tied to the cinématographes which are shown further in our article. Moreover, the family has confirmed the system of the royalties to us.
[21] As is witnessed by the numerous uncatalogued films which were presented all over the world. In Lyon, the city where the Lumière brothers should have been able to control the situation, we were able to verify that hundreds of uncatalogued films were presented between 1896 and 1902.
[22]The Advocate of India, 2 July 1896
[23] Ibid.
[24] The suggested version of La sortie des usines is the first known version, the one which was presented all throughout 1895 and even beyond that, the one with the “two horses”. The version which was found at the château Lumière with “one horse” in 1987 is likely to be the third version which dates back only to September or October 1896.
[25] The date of the presentation in Lyon is an interesting indication to at least know approximately the time of filming. Thus Entrée au cinématographe is presented in Lyon on 10 May 1896 and Cyclistes et cavaliers arrivant au cottage on the 24th.
[26] The spectators may view: Baby’s Dinner (no 82: Querelle Enfantine), Rejoicing in the Market Place (no 65? : Marché), The Street Dancers of London (no 249: Danseuses des rues), and A Match at Cards (no 73: Partie d’écarté).
[27]Daily Telegraph, 22 July 1896.
[28] Ibid.
[29] It is actually a strategy frequently used by the opérateur as soon as a special night is organised. Usually, the programme rarely showed more than eight films
[30] This unanimous support hides many different motivations. Thus in Mexico, Gabriel Veyre benefits from the pro-French and anti-American politics of the dictator Porfirio Diaz.
[31]The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 October 1896.
[32] This advertisement was published in the local press in September 1896.
[33]The Referee, 14 October 1896.
[34]Herald, September 1896.
[35] The value of the rupee was then 1.40 F as Marius Sestier has indicated.
[36] The information that we’ve been able to gather confirm that the system was similar elsewhere.
[37] The total salary for the years 1896/97 were 451,842 F, or an average daily wage of 3.44 F per worker.
[38]The Bulletin, 10 October 1896.
[39]The Times of India, “Living photography”, 7 July 1896
[40] Ibid.
[41] In 1900 the population of Sydney was at 410,000 inhabitants, while Melbourne was at 451,000.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Sestier and Barnett are most likely the makers of film no. 652, which is in the catalogue under the title Arrivée d’un train à Melbourne.
[44] We thank here the Archives du Film and its manager Mme Michelle Aubert who lovingly authorised us to view these films. We also thank M. Jean-Loup Bourget for the French translation of the quotes which appeared in the original publication of this work.
[45] Alexandre Promio’s role is, to be mentioned once again, absolutely fundamental to the Lumière factories. Yet, despite being undeniably tied to these factories, we are able to notice that he would combine these activities with others, which made him atypical character.

About the Author

Jean-Claude Seguin

About the Author

Jean-Claude Seguin

Jean-Claude SEGUIN . Professeur des Universités (Classe Exceptionnelle) at the University Lumière-Lyon 2. His research focuses on Spanish cinema and the origins of cinema. Honorary president of the GRIMH (Groupe de Réflexion sur l’Image dans le Monde Hispanique) from 1999 to 2012. Participates in numerous Congresses in France and abroad. Guest professor at the UPV (Bilbao), Carlos III (Madrid), Harvard and the UNAM. He has published over one hundred and twenty articles and fifteen books including Histoire du cinéma espagnol (Armand Colin, 1994), La Production cinématographique des frères Lumière (BIFI, 1996), Alexandre Promio ou Les Énigmes de la lumière (L'Harmattan, 1999), Los Orígenes del cine en Cataluña (Filmoteca de Catalunya, 2004), Pedro Almodóvar o la deriva de los cuerpos (Filmoteca de Murcia, 2009). In 2016 he began a website to explore and document the "Origines du Cinéma 1896-1906" which is available at all posts by Jean-Claude Seguin →