Cinema is officially born. On December 28 Auguste and Louis Lumière hold their first public screening in the Salon Indien at the Grand Café, 14, Boulevard des Capucines, Paris.
A few months later they shoot their first film about Champagne at the Moët & Chandon Champagne House in Epernay: De la Vigne au Tonneau (literally “from the vineyard to the barrel”, 1896-1897).
Was this their first advertising film? All we know for sure is that the Lumière cinematograph was so successful that the brothers sent their camera operators all over the world – and so began documentary filmmaking.
Eugène Mercier commissions the Lumière Brothers to make a film about his eponymous Champagne House. A commercial film certainly, shot in Epernay and Luxembourg by camera operator Lavesvre, but no less a testament to Mercier’s visionary thinking. It also served as a reminder of the long-standing ties between Champagne Mercier and the Lumière Brothers: Alexandre Promio, one of the Lumière Brothers’ chief camera operators, had worked as a Mercier sales representative in Lyon. Shown at the 1900 Paris World Fair, the film drew 3,723, 821 spectators and inspired other filmmakers.
The Brothers Marzen, for instance, who made another documentary film about Champagne Mercier in 1907.
Champagne Mercier is the first Champagne House to feature in a fictional film: Barbe Bleue (Blue Beard) by influential filmmaker George Méliès. Regarded as the father of special effects, Méliès was also the first to engage in product placement: in this case a giant bottle of Mercier Champagne that makes a surprising appearance in one scene, prefiguring cinema’s enduring love affair with bubbly. Unlike other drinks, Champagne plays a role in films – it isn’t just set dressing.
That same year also saw the release of Ferdinand Zecca’s Par le Trou de la Serrure (What is Seen Through a Keyhole) and Rêve et Réalité (Dream and Reality) – two films where Champagne represents the embodiment of gallantry.
Ferdinand Zecca and Gaston Velle direct L’Amant de la Lune (The Moon Lover): a gem of a short film featuring giant Champagne bottles performing a graceful dance.
The Commission Spéciale de Propaganda (special committee on promotion) of what is now the Union of Champagne Houses commissions a film titled Le Vin du Bonheur (literally, “the wine of happiness”), which is usually shown at the beginning of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights.
When thinking about a name for their new invention, the Lumière Brothers’ first choice was cinématographe. Their father Antoine Lumière meanwhile preferred the name coined by his friend, Moët & Chandon sales rep Lechère: domitor, derived from “dominator”, which was exactly what Lechère predicted this new invention would do, like Champagne itself. The Lumière Brothers however stuck to their guns and in 1895 they made it official: their newly patented device would be called a cinématographe.