Léar (Albert Kirchner)

French producer of religious and pornographic films

In the autmun of 1896 the photographer and pioneer filmmaker Eugène Pirou arranged for the filming of the striptease from Louise Willy's stage success Le Coucher de la Marie. This pioneering risqué film was directed for Pirou by one Léar (real name Albert Kirchner), and it is just possible that this is the man behind a company called Lear and Co. in Cairo which was prosecuted in 1901 for exporting pornographic pictures to Europe. Pirou himself was well known for trading in risqué postcards at this time, and perhaps the two men met through this trade. In any case the success of Le Coucher de la Marie led Léar to continue to work in the cinema, and in January 1897 he and two colleagues, Anthelme and Pacon, patented a film camera and formed a company to exploit it. Léar then teamed up with an educationalist Father Bazile, and together they made a dozen short comedy films in the summer of 1897. Such an association between a former pornographer and a priest is not quite as bizarre as it seems; the French Catholic church was very interested in visual propaganda at this time, and, through its publication division La Bonne Press, was determined to use the new medium of cinema for its own purposes. In the summer of 1897 Léar, in collaboration with Michel Coissac (later a noted film historian), made a twelve-scene version of the Passion du Christ, shot in Paris using actors who had appeared in a tableau vivant version of the Passion. This was the first film version of the Bible story, and was shown in widely (in February 1898 in the United States it formed part of an illustrated lecture given by the Revered Thomas Dixon, author of The Clansman on which D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation would be based). Though the representation of Christ on film outraged some, the theme was to be tackled by many other filmmakers at this period. In 1898 Léar opened a short-lived cinema in the basement of the Olympia theatre, but in the same year sold all his negatives to Gaumont. Soon after this he died.

Stephen Bottomore