In 1878, the photographer Eadweard Muybridge created what is considered the first motion picture in history with his famous series of pictures, called The Horse in Motion. Film technology developed rapidly after that, leading to Léon Bouly’s invention of the cinematograph in 1892. The filmmakers Auguste and Louis Lumière used it to produce several short films in the last years of the 19th century, one of the most notable being L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station).
Made in 1895, this 50-second silent documentary film is composed of a single continuous shot, which shows a steam locomotive train pulling into La Ciotat station. Because of the way the camera is placed, the film shows several common cinematic techniques without moving it, including long shot, medium shot, and close-up.
It is often said that when the film was first shown, the audience fell into a mass panic because they thought the life-size train on the screen was real and coming directly at them. Despite the story’s popularity, however, there’s no evidence of it being true, and it seems to be merely an urban legend.
In 1896, the Lumiére brothers showed the movie at the world’s oldest cinema, the Eden Theater in La Ciotat. They went on to produce three more shorts in the coastal town in France, including the earliest known comedy film, L’Arroseur arrosé (The Sprinkler Sprinkled).
The station is still in operation today, and cinephiles are welcome to make a pilgrimage to this little station, one of the most iconic filming locations in history.