Robert Paul: The showman and pioneer who was written out of cinematic history

Armed with a filming device of his own invention, the dynamic Victorian captured a world very alien to our own. David Barnett explores the figure who helped define the big screen we know today

Wednesday 20 November 2019 18:01
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Paul produced the 6min 57sec film ‘Is Spiritualism A Fraud?’ aka ‘The Medium Exposed’, in 1906
Paul produced the 6min 57sec film ‘Is Spiritualism A Fraud?’ aka ‘The Medium Exposed’, in 1906

There is a lot of debate about who was the true inventor of cinema. Was it the Lumière brothers? Louis Le Prince? Georges Méliès? Thomas Edison? William Friese-Greene? Historians and students of film have their own favourites for the title, and it’s true that all of them, to some extent, played their part in the dawn of the moving picture.

But what about the actual cinema industry itself? While those names above have gone down in history for their parts played in developing the technology that eventually led to the rise of one of the biggest industries on the planet, the credit for getting bums on seats to actually watch the films should go to a more unknown, yet no less important figure in cinema history: Robert Paul.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Paul, who went on to build the first commercially successful film projection equipment in the 1890s and set in motion the industry that would get the films from the studios of the auteurs and into the sightline of the viewing public.

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