The First Movie Ever Shot in Chicago

See Chicago’s law-enforcement splendor on parade circa 1896, captured by the first man to ever shoot with a moving camera, and who beat Edison to our town by a few months.

When I was a kid, my parents took me on a trip to see a house that had recently blown up. I still remember it pretty vividly: the charred remains next to the peaceful, man-made lake in Virginia where we vacationed. Then again, you probably do too, especially if you’re a Bill Murray fan: it got blown up for What About Bob?

I have an unavoidable fascination with seeing the places I live on celluloid: I know I’m not the only person who was comparing the geography of Chicago to the geography of The Dark Knight. (Hey, isn’t that the corner of Grand and Franklin? I go by there every day!) Or the only person to be disappointed that the sequel won’t be filmed here. I had to resist seeing The Dilemma after it was filmed, in part, a block from my apartment. It wasn’t worth $9.50 to watch a brief simulacrum of something I walked by every day… but it was close.

Why? I have no idea. Maybe it scratches some absurd but deep mental itch of the sort proposed by Descartes or stoned college freshmen.

Anyway, I got the same opaque thrill from seeing what’s almost certainly the first film ever shot in Chicago. Of course it’s of a civic parade:


According to White City Cinema, it was shot (probably in 1896) by Alexandre Promio, an employee of the Lumiere Brothers, who was the first person to shoot with a moving camera. If it was in 1896, that means Promio beat Thomas Edison by a few months. Here’s the corner of State and Madison, circa 1897:


The Lumiere brothers themselves filmed Loie Fuller, the remarkable Chicago native who became the toast of Paris with her innovations in modern dance and theatrical lighting at the Folies-Bergere, doing her serpentine/butterfly dance (the film is, for obvious reasons, hand-colored):


If you haven’t heard of her, you’ve probably at least seen the posters.



3 years ago
Posted by adamselzer

We've been trying to figure out where the police parade was over at the Chicago Unbelievable blog. Anyone recognize the building? Our best guess so far is the old Bridewell Prison, some pictures of which just about match the building in the film.

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