Biopleograph – an experimental reconstruction

Maciek DydoŁódź

Janusz Król with biopleograph

The National Centre for film culture reconstructed one of the world’s first film devices and recreated the first Polish feature film, lost in World War II, “The Return of the Reveller”.

“Gentlemen, this man is the leader in cinematography, I am the second,” said Louis Lumière about one of the early pioneers of the film camera. No, he wasn’t talking about his brother, but about the Polish inventor Kazimierz Prószyński. Back in 1894 – a year before the Lumière Brothers presented their famous cinematograph on the world stage – Prószyński constructed his own film camera for taking photos and projecting moving images: the ‘pleograph’. Just four years later, the Pole refined his design and invented a new device with reduced flicker. This ‘biopleograph’ would prove to be a milestone in Polish cinema history, eventually being used in 1902 to shoot the first Polish fictional film, “The Return of the Reveller”.

Prószyński continued to innovate, with devices such as the handheld aeroscope camera enjoying significant commercial success. Yet with the outbreak of World War II, the inventor and his family were persecuted by the occupying German forces; his creations and films lost among the destruction of Warsaw. In 2017, the National Centre for Film Culture in Łódź embarked on a project aiming to reconstruct the biopleograph. With the help of scarce notes and only two photos of the original apparatus, industry expert Janusz Król was able to recreate a full-functional device. The project team then used the reconstructed biopleograph, alongside a 35mm film camera from 1908 and a contemporary digital camera, to reshoot Prószyński’s “The Return of the Reveller”.