The arrival of cinema in Cienfuegos

The arrival of cinema in Cienfuegos

In some notes published on the Internet, it is taken for granted that the "first cinematographic exhibitions took place in Cienfuegos at the Tomás Terry Theater in 1901". Apart from the grammatical and stylistic inaccuracies, the text (which cites a research carried out by four specialists of the Provincial Film Center, now retired from the institution) makes several mistakes that do not do justice to the city and the place where the arrival of the seventh art took place. When did cinema arrive in the Pearl of the South? Who is the giver of this novelty?

Since the end of the 19th century, Telesforo Alfonso de Armas has taken advantage of the facades of buildings to advertise current products, a purpose that brings him close to the work performed by José G. González and his commercial announcer in the capital, so we could consider him as an antecedent in these areas. Between 8:30 and 10:00 p.m. it offers to exhibit all the modalities to the use: announcements by the procedure of portraits, colored bottoms, views of establishments and others requested by the users; in the same way, it assures its projection in stays of societies, roofs, schools, meetings and theaters.

                                                                                                                     Newspaper clip about Edison´s vitascope

Faced with the push of the Lumiére cinema in the capital, the representatives of Thomas Alva Edison hastened their tour of the island. On the night of Saturday, March 20, 1897, one of the emissaries settles in Cienfuegos and premieres the vitascope, before the surprised group that attends the premises located on San Fernando Street, on the corner of Bouyón, where the Ferrer Palace is erected. "An infinity of people flocked there to admire the remarkable invention of the famous electrician Edison", states the chronicler F. Díaz del Vallín in his section La Semana, of the newspaper El Nacional (Cienfuegos, Sunday, March 21, 1897, p. 2).

This new invention of recreational physics had been promoted since February 13 in the Cuban capital, where it was inaugurated at the Salón de Variedades o Ilusiones Ópticas, located at 118 Prado Street. It was then shown as a strong competitor of the Lumiére cinema, projecting "vivid pictures and current scenes" on a canvas picture and advertising itself as a superior artifact to the French one. The vitascope, the creation of Thomas Armat, cynically improved by Edison himself, allowed simultaneous perception and relied on a form of film sliding, in which a period of illumination is followed by a period of darkness.

For 30 cents for adults and 30 cents for children, from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., the public could enjoy an entertaining program of views, in the style of Niagara Falls, Scenes from a Bath, The Black Diamond Express, The Cervantes Trade Pump, The Great Steamship St. Louis, The Buffalo Express and Chicago, The Spanish Marines, among others. These are the same short films exhibited in Havana a month earlier and which earned the criticism of the chronicler Jacobo Domínguez Santí: "The views are beautiful in their totality, but when projected on the canvas frame they "flicker" too much or appear blurred, dark, lacking in expression. In addition, the interludes from one view to the other are too long.

Immediately, the people of Cienfuegos did not have the opportunity to compare the quality of the images of the vitascope with that of its competitor Lumiére cinema; although they were dissatisfied with the small premises adapted due to the lack of ventilation. Seven days later, the arrival of a theater company, whose competition "forces" the American businessmen to leave the city, thus beginning the nomadic stage of cinema in Cienfuegos. It is true that on the night of Saturday, March 27, the locals barely attended the performance of the comedies Bruno the Weaver and Dorotea, both starring Ramiro la Presa, at the Tomás Terry Theater; however, they were enthusiastic about the artifact created by the  Auguste and Louis Lumiére brothers. The following day, word spread of another "lantern" capable of displaying moving photographs.

The spectators who attended the Coliseo Mayor on the night of March 29, 1897, to see the premiere of the play En la cara está la verdad and the rest of the program announced by Ramiro la Presa's company, still ended up angry with the dullness of the performances. A chronicler of the newspaper El Comercial confessed to the readers: "Yesterday the drama Juan José was staged at Terry's theater. The play was, it seems, badly rehearsed. As they say in theater parlance, the artists were doing the play al toro, that is to say: trusting the prompter. That's how it went! Mr. Presa, once again performed Dorotea. For today announces the company In the face is the age and the exhibition of the wonderful invention the Lumiére cinematograph, which will present 15 precious views ending the function with Dorotea that will play Mr. La Presa, Frégoli ten different roles". It was Frégoli, the famous transformer, who introduced the cinematograph in the city, placing the exhibitions in the middle of the scenes. The actor owned an apparatus of his own and used to use it in his shows to facilitate costume and make-up changes.

Clearly, Cienfuegos became the seventh Latin American city to enjoy one of the greatest amusements created by man.

(Taken from 5 de Septiembre)