In 1890, Le Prince was granted patents in four countries ahead of other inventors who were rushing to accomplish the same task. But just weeks before unveiling his invention to the world, he mysteriously disappeared and was never seen or heard from again. Three and a half years later, Thomas Edison, Le Prince’s rival, made the device public, claiming to have invented it himself. And the man who had dedicated his life to preserving memories was himself lost to history—until now.
Fischer adds vivid colour as he chronicles his subject’s obsession with bringing the world’s first motion picture camera to market, and sketches the revolutionary backdrop to this story of transatlantic treachery ... Fischer also gives his narrative the flavour of a whodunit, with chapters entitled ‘The Crime’ and ‘A Gun that Kills Nothing’. This ‘true tale of obsession, murder and the movies’ is an illuminating and thrilling read.
Fischer lays out his case meticulously and with many footnotes, though he takes pains to entertain. Those two aims don’t always jibe, particularly when his more poetic flights of prose come up against the granular realities of R&D ... Unsurprisingly, it’s the human elements, not the halides, that register most vividly ... Thanks to historical records, Fischer can say with assurance whether a particular day in 1883 was cold and clear or mild with an easterly wind. But when the Le Princes lose one son as a toddler and another child later under murkier circumstances, the page, as it were, goes blank. Who can know how deeply that affected the pair’s psyches, their work habits, their marriage? Barring some improbably rich paper trail, no conscientious biographer can presume to know for sure, and that’s a hazard Fischer has to navigate: the editorial line between strictly available truths and making a dead man come alive. His eloquent, sometimes excitable writing style goes a long way when it doesn’t wander off into the celluloid weeds. And the final pages offer, if not hard conclusions, a bittersweet postscript and even real catharsis — too late for Le Prince, maybe, but some kind of justice nonetheless.
... lively ... It turns out that neither Edison nor the French-born Lumière brothers—said to have been responsible, in 1895, for the earliest commercial presentation of a film—deserve their reputations as prime movers of the medium. As Mr. Fischer documents with the rigor of a historian and the flair of a true-crime writer, it was another Frenchman, Louis Le Prince, who in 1886 crossed the finish line first with his dual-camera-projector system ... Mr. Fischer milks the mystery for all it’s worth, but this book is no mere scandal sheet. The author paints a full portrait of Le Prince ... The book bogs down in necessary but dull descriptions of the technical minutiae that went into making early motion-picture cameras, but the pace picks up as Le Prince struggles to perfect his invention, remain financially solvent and contend with an interminable patents process.