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.



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