23 December 2007 | Cineanalyst
A Visit to Cinematic Beginnings
This biopic of the Skladanowsky brothers, who were some of the first to invent cinema, began as a project for Wim Wenders's students and evolved into a feature-length film released during the centennial of the cinema's invention. Also for 1995, Wenders was one of the filmmakers who paid homage to the Lumière brothers by making their own 50-or-so-seconds-long films for "Lumière et compagnie". The Skladanowsky brothers' Bioskop film projector premièred on 1 November 1895--nearly two months before the Lumière brothers' first program. It should also be noted, however, (and it's not in this film) that a few other inventors have earlier claims than do even the Skladanowsky brothers. To count projected drawn animation or the projection of films to non-paying audiences would add a few more names. Regardless, they were among the firsts, and this film, "A Trick of Light", is a fun little tribute to their invention.
Wenders interweaves various forms of narration and film technique to tell the story. First, there are fictional scenes (and not entirely historically accurate) of the brothers and one of their daughters working on the Bioskop and their films, which they eventually show to a paying audience. This part is photographed with a silent era hand-cranked camera and two characters provide voice-over narration at different times. Second, there is a documentary interview with 95-year-old Lucie Skladanowsky, daughter of the late Max Skladanowsky. Fictional elements are further interweaved with the interview, including via trick photography. The little girl from the previous fictional episode, for example, enters the interview undetected, as does the spy who was trying to steal the Skladanowsky's invention. All of this makes for an uneven picture. That Wenders and his students made the film over three or so years probably didn't help the film's consistency, either.
Nevertheless, it's an entertaining and sometimes interesting (although not too enlightening due to taking liberties with historical facts and the mixing of fiction with nonfiction) look at one largely forgotten group of cinema's inventors and their system of projection. Reenactments of the films are even shown. Yet, one wonders if they had shown what's left of the Skladanowsky brothers original films, or if Wenders hadn't taken as many liberties with history overall, or if the interview were not interrupted by fiction, "A Trick of Light" may have been better. Still, not many have given this part of film history any attention, so this was a unique project and worth watching.