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“Georges’ Marriage, 25 January 1923”

Image from the film “Georges’ Marriage” - Association Cinéam

Essonne Department - France

For 15 years, Marie-Catherine Delacroix was in charge of the Cinéam Association, which collects, maintains and shows amateur films from the Essonne Department in Ile-de-France. Today she is sharing with us the incredible story of the very first film in these audio-visual archives. 

The story begins with the discovery of a collection of films abandoned in a bike shed, at the bottom of a friend’s garden. That was 19 years ago. I was just about to set up Cinéam, with no experience of audio-visual archives or documentation. My mother was an antiques dealer, so I was familiar with the joy of discovering treasures in cellars and attics. So this would do very nicely! Cinéam was born.

Let us get back to the discovery of the large trunk! Inside were thirty two 9.5mm and 16mm films shot by Georges Moreau between 1923 and 1964; all the films were dated and had typed titles. We took them into our care and show them regularly at screenings organised by the association: the public loves them.

Over the years, Cinéam has continued to pursue its missions and keeps growing. Laurence Bazin took over the management of the association and last winter during a screening at the cinema in Palaiseau, Alain Esmery, who had been invited as an expert in amateur cinema, asked a bewildering question while watching “Georges’ Marriage, 25 January 1923". How could this film, shot on 9.5mm, be dated at the start of 1923 if the Pathé-Baby camera was marketed from July 1923?

Here was a real enigma! An investigation was launched. Laurence met with Anne Gourdet-Marès of the Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé Foundation, who, to his great surprise, was familiar with Georges Moreau, the young groom in the film! As a 9.5mm format enthusiast, she had read the accounts of his experiences in the research papers of the Pathé factories, and remembered very well an article that appeared in an industry newsletter in 1967. Here, engineer Louis Didiée gives a "brief history of the Pathé-Baby":

[] One day a camera arrived that took 9.5mm film. It was the prototype or rather one of the prototypes. So test filming commenced at the factory, [] In January, the first film was shot outside. This was the marriage of our colleague Georges Moreau in Charenton. G. Zelger turned the handle himself, arguing that he had a very steady hand that could turn two revolutions per second (to the tune of Sambre et Meuse, a French military marching song). It was also a question of getting the aperture right. A small photometer at the time referred to as an “actinometer”, which we had built and tested at length, enabled us to get the right exposure. It goes without saying that this film was developed by us with the greatest care. When the first negatives appeared - at the time we developed under red light - G. Zelger let out a cry of joy. We just had to successfully invert them. Everything went well, including the drying (along a wire in the laboratory) and we were able to project the film, which, a few days later, was shown to managers, to justify the fine tuning of the process, and to those appearing in the film to their greatest satisfaction. []

The mystery was solved and we discovered that Cinéam held the oldest 9.5mm film in the world!

Marie-Catherine Delacroix, April 2017

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Laurence Bazin also told this story through a short film of 4 minutes, viewable online (only in french) : https://vimeo.com/215546834 

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