Thoughts On: Je Vous Aime (I Love You, 1891)
Eyes closed, a man says, “I Love You” in French.
Je Vous Aime, or I Love You, is an early film made by Georges Demenÿ. It features a man, with his eyes closed, mouthing the words “I Love You” in French. Though this seems incredibly strange and creepy, this was a scientific film made for deaf-mute children who would use this to learn how to read lips and speak. Je Vous Aime is then significant for two reasons. Firstly, it is one of the earliest surviving examples of a close-up in cinema; Demenÿ had to use a close-up to better focus on the lips of his subject (there are multiple films like this with people saying different phrases, some featuring Demenÿ). The second reason why this film is a significant one is that it is a work of an important filmmaker and associate to Étienne-Jules Marey, the already mentioned, Georges Demenÿ.
Demenÿ was an inventor and gymnast that is most famous for his work in chronophotography. In the simplest terms, chronophotography is a form of photography uses several frames to capture a subject. In such, it is a precursor to cinema and a technology that Muybridge famously developed on, bringing it to the brink of a modern idea of motion pictures. Starting only a few decades after the invention of photography, chronograph pictures were first taken around the 1830s. This continues through the 1840s and 50s with daguerreotype photography that used metal plates. An example of this can be found through Antoine Claudet who developed a daguerreotype camera that could take multiple exposures on a plate at once…
Cameras like this would then produce ‘double portraits’ and were often needed as daguerreotype metal plate photographs could not be replicated.
Whilst this was a popular form of photography, all the way up to the 1870s this was never really considered a form of moving picture photography until Muybridge took the concept of taking multiple pictures (on glass, not metal) and brought them to life.
It was Étienne-Jules Marey that was inspired by Muybridge’s famous chronophotography and it was he who went on to study human motion with his own technology. Marey was then producing scientific works that mimicked the style of Muybridge’s…
… but, weren’t so questionable in regard to their scientific nature. Demenÿ worked with Marey in the Station Physiologique, the area and building which they built to study movement, where they shot hundreds of subjects.
In 1888, the pair would start working with celluloid which would allow them to progress past single plate or moving plate chronophotography. It was soon after this, in 1891, that Demenÿ was assigned to shoot Je Vous Aime for the French National Deaf-Mute Institute.
And around this time, he also filed a patent for a phonoscope…
This was a projector that functioned in a manner that was similar to both Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope as well as the phenakistoscope:
In such, the phonoscope featured a glass disc on which photographs would be printed that was inserted in a box with a shutter slit before being spun. With light shining through the shutter and lens, the image would be projected with the illusion of motion…
This is how Demenÿ would show his work – for example, to the deaf-mute subjects. However, this invention also signified a difference between Demenÿ and Marey. Whilst Marey was interested only in science and the study of movement, Demenÿ wanted to make chronophotography a commercial entity. In 1892, the phonoscope was presented at the Exposition Internationale de Photographie de Paris and, following its success, Demenÿ urged Marey to order the construction of more phonoscopes. However, after Demenÿ established the Société de Phonoscope, his relationship with Marey disintegrated as he refused to help him commercialised chronophotography and, 2 years later, would dismiss him from the Station Physiologique.
From this point, Demenÿ invented his own camera, pioneering a ‘beater mechanism’ (an element that would help stop and start a film strip as it passed a lens). Using this new camera, Demenÿ shot dozens of small scenes that would act as portraits or would even feature magic tricks and dances that would sometimes replicate the work of Edison’s manufacturing company. Some of these shorts can be viewed here. Later, in 1895, Léon Gaumont signed a contract with Demenÿ to rename the phonoscope the “bioscope” and sell it to the public. Though this device had the new ‘beater mechanism’, it used 60mm unperforated film, which by this time was not the standard. Because of this, the bioscope was a financial failure and Demenÿ sold the rights to his work to Gaumont.
Whilst Gaumont managed to exploit Demenÿ’s beater mechanism and made a lot of money off of it that fuelled his producing career, it was then at this point, around 1896, that Demenÿ walked away from the film industry, back to gymnastics and founded a school of sports and medical training. He would later write many papers – some of which recounted his time working with film – and went on to pass away in 1917 as an outsider, pushed away from all of those he had previously worked with.
Demenÿ is now looked back on as an important figure that attempted to commercialise chronophotgraphy and pioneered elements of camera technology.
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