For the love of Hitchcock

Bloggers are good people, or we strive to be, and what better evidence of this could there be than For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon. A blogathon is where bloggers each write on the same theme on each of their respective blogs, linking to other blogs doing the same. The Film Preservation Blogathon, now in its third year, takes film history as its theme but goes that much further by raising funds for film preservation (i.e. a PayPal button appears on blog posts encouraging everyone to contribute their little bit).

In its first year the Blogathon raised funds to enable the National Film Preservation Foundation to restore The Sergeant (1910) and The Better Man (1912), two of the silent-era American films whose discovery in the New Zealand Film Archive we reported at the time. Last year funds were raised to help the Film Noir Foundation restore Cy Endfield’s The Sound of Fury (1950).

The subject of this year’s Film Preservation Blogathon is Alfred Hitchcock. The aim is to raise funds to enable last year’s great discovery, The White Shadow (1923), directed by Graham Cutts with Hitchcock serving as assistant director, art director and more, to be put online by the NFPF with music score (for four months only, presumably because of ongoing hosting costs). This excellent and imaginative objective will cost in the region of $15,000.

The Blogathon runs 13-18 May 2012, and you can read more about it on the blogs of its three organisers, Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy on Films and This Island Rod. There will be more information on how to participate, and how to contribute donations, on each of those blogs as the date gets nearer, or follow all developments on the For the Love of Film Facebook page.

As said, the subject is Hitchcock, any aspect, though the organisers have expanded on this to include (and I quote)

Hitchcock, British silent films, silent film scores, film preservation and the people who do it (but please, as much as we love and revere him, no tributes to Martin Scorsese), the suspense genre, the stars of The White Shadow, Graham Cutts, and other related esoterica.

The Bioscope fervently hopes that at least one Graham Cutts blog post appears out of this (an entire Graham Cutts blogathon was always going to be a bit of a folorn hope). The man has never been so famous, and now’s the time to give him his due when people will be listening. We’ll do something for the Blogathon here at The Bioscope, and fingers crossed we’ll all be able to see The White Shadow in the not so distant future.

Looking back on 2011

News in 2011, clockwise from top left: The White Shadow, The Artist, A Trip to the Moon in colour, Brides of Sulu

And so we come to the end of another year, and for the Bioscope it is time to look back on another year reporting on the world of early and silent film. Over the twelve months we have written some 180 posts posts, or well nigh 100,000 words, documenting a year that has been as eventful a one for silent films as we can remember, chiefly due to the timeless 150-year-old Georges Méliès and to the popular discovery of the modern silent film thanks to The Artist. So let’s look back on 2011.

Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès in Hugo

Georges Méliès has been the man of the year. Things kicked off in May with the premiere at Cannes of the coloured version of Le voyage dans la lune / A Trip to the Moon (1902), marvellously, indeed miraculously restored by Lobster Films. The film has been given five star publicity treatment, with an excellent promotional book, a new score by French band Air which has upset some but pleased us when we saw it at Pordenone, a documentary The Extraordinary Voyage, and the use of clips from the film in Hugo, released in November. For, yes, the other big event in Méliès’ 150th year was Martin Scorsese’s 3D version of Brian Selznick’s children’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, in which Méliès is a leading character. Ben Kingsley bring the man convincingly to life, and the film thrillingly recreates the Méliès studio as it pleads for us all to understand our film history. The Bioscope thought the rest of the film was pretty dire, to be honest, though in this it seems to be in a minority. But just because a film pleads the cause of film doesn’t make it a good film …

And there was more from Georges, with his great-great-grandaughter Pauline Duclaud-Lacoste Méliès producing an official website, Matthew Solomon’s edited volume Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination: Georges Méliès’s Trip to the Moon (with DVD extra), a conference that took place in July, and a three-disc DVD set from Studio Canal.

For the Bioscope itself things have been eventful. In January we thought a bit about changing the site radically, then thought better of this. There was our move to New Bioscope Towers in May, the addition of a Bioscope Vimeo channel for videos we embed from that excellent site, and the recent introduction of our daily news service courtesy of Scoop It! We kicked off the year with a post on the centenary of the ever-topical Siege of Sidney Street, an important event in newsreel history, and ended it with another major news event now largely forgotten, the Delhi Durbar. Anarchists win out over imperialists is the verdict of history.

Asta Nielsen in Hamlet

We were blessed with a number of great DVD and Blu-Ray releases, with multi-DVD and boxed sets being very much in favour. Among those that caught the eye and emptied the wallet were Edition Filmmuseum’s Max Davidson Comedies, the same company’s collection of early film and magic lantern slide sets Screening the Poor and the National Film Preservation Foundation’s five disc set Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938. Individual release of the year was Edition Filmmuseum’s Hamlet (Germany 1920), with Asta Nielsen and a fine new music score (Flicker Alley’s Norwegian surprise Laila just loses out because theatre organ scores cause us deep pain).

We recently produced a round-up of the best silent film publications of 2011, including such titles as Bryony Dixon’s 100 Silent Films, Andrew Shail’s Reading the Cinematograph: The Cinema in British Short Fiction 1896-1912 and John Bengston’s Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd. But we should note also Susan Orlean’s cultural history Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, which has made quite an impact in the USA, though we’ve not read it ourselves as yet.

There were all the usual festivals, with Bologna championing Conrad Veidt, Boris Barnet and Alice Guy, and Pordenone giving us Soviets, Soviet Georgians, polar explorers and Michael Curtiz. We produced our traditional detailed diaries for each of the eight days of the festival. But it was particularly pleasing to see new ventures turning up, including the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Scotland, which launched in February and is due back in 2012. Babylon Kino in Berlin continued to make programming waves with its complete Chaplin retropective in July. Sadly, the hardy annual Slapsticon was cancelled this year – we hope it returns in a healthy state next year.

The Artist (yet again)

2011 was the year when the modern silent film hit the headlines, the The Artist enchanting all-comers at Cannes and now being touted for the Academy Award best picture. We have lost count of the number of articles written recently about a revival of interest in silent films, and their superiority in so many respects to the films of today. Jaded eyes are looking back to a (supposedly) gentler age, it seems. We’ve not seen it yet, so judgement is reserved for the time being. Here, we’ve long championed the modern silent, though our March post on Mr Bean was one of the least-read that we’ve penned in some while.

Among the year’s conferences on silent film themes there was the First International Berkeley Conference on Silent Cinema held in February; the Construction of News in Early Cinema in Girona in March, which we attended and from which we first experimented with live blogging; the opportunistically themed The Second Birth of Cinema: A Centenary Conference held in Newcastle, UK in July; and Importing Asta Nielsen: Cinema-Going and the Making of the Star System in the Early 1910s, held in Frankfurt in September.

In the blogging world, sadly we said goodbye to Christopher Snowden’s The Silent Movie Blog in February – a reminder that we bloggers are mostly doing this for love, but time and its many demands do sometimes call us away to do other things. However, we said hello to John Bengston’s very welcome Silent Locations, on the real locations behind the great silent comedies. Interesting new websites inclued Roland-François Lack’s visually stunning and intellectually intriguing The Cine-Tourist, and the Turconi Project, a collection of digitised frames for early silents collected by the Swiss priest Joseph Joye.

The Bioscope always has a keen eye for new online research resources, and this was a year when portals that bring together several databases started to dominate the landscape. The single institution is no longer in a position to pronounce itself to be the repository of all knowledge; in the digital age we are seeing supra-institutional models emerging. Those we commented on included the Canadiana Discovery Portal, the UK research services Connected Histories and JISC Media Hub, UK film’s archives’ Search Your Film Archives, and the directory of world archives ArchiveGrid. We made a special feature of the European Film Gateway, from whose launch event we blogged live and (hopefully) in lively fashion.

Images of Tacita Dean’s artwork ‘Film’ at Tate Modern

We also speculated here and there on the future of film archives in this digital age, particularly when we attended the Screening the Future event in Hilversum in March, and then the UK Screen Heritage Strategy, whose various outputs were announced in September. We mused upon media and history when we attended the Iamhist conference in Copenhagen (it’s been a jet-setting year), philosophizing on the role of historians in making history in another bout of live blogging (something we hope to pursue further in 2012). 2011 was the year when everyone wrote their obituaries for celluloid. The Bioscope sat on the fence when considering the issue in November, on the occasion of Tacita Dean’s installation ‘Film’ at Tate Modern – but its face was looking out towards digital.

Significant web video sources launched this year included the idiosyncractic YouTube channel of Huntley Film Archives, the Swedish Filmarkivet.se, the Thanhouser film company’s Vimeo channel, and George Eastman House’s online cinematheque; while we delighted in some of the ingenious one-second videos produced for a Montblanc watches competition in November.

It was a year when digitised film journals made a huge leap forward, from occasional sighting to major player in the online film research world, with the official launch of the Media History Digital Library. Its outputs led to Bioscope reports on film industry year books, seven years of Film Daily (1922-1929) and the MHDL itself. “This is the new research library” we said, and we think we’re right. Another important new online resource was the Swiss journal Kinema, for the period 1913-1919.

It has also been a year in which 3D encroached itself upon the silent film world. The aforementioned Hugo somewhat alarmingly gives us not only Méliès films in 3D, but those of the Lumière brothers, and film of First World War soldiers (colourised to boot). The clock-face sequence from Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last (also featured in Hugo) was converted to 3D and colourised, much to some people’s disgust; while news in November that Chaplin’s films were to be converted into 3D for a documentary alarmed and intrigued in equal measure.

The Soldier’s Courtship

Film discovery of the year? The one that grabbed all the headlines – though many of them were misleading ones – was The White Shadow (1923), three reels of which turned up in New Zealand. Normally an incomplete British silent directed by Graham Cutts wouldn’t set too many pulses running, but it was assistant director Alfred Hitchcock who attracted all the attention. Too many journalists and bloggers put the story ahead of the history, though one does understand why. But for us the year’s top discovery was Robert Paul’s The Soldier’s Courtship (1896), the first British fiction film made for projection, which was uncovered in Rome and unveiled in Pordenone. It may be just a minute long, but it is a perky delight, with a great history behind its production and restoration.

Another discovery was not of a lost film but rather a buried one. Philippine archivists found that an obscure mid-1930s American B-feature, Brides of Sulu, was in all probability made out of one, if not two, otherwise lost Philippines silents, Princess Tarhata and The Moro Pirate. No Philippine silent fiction film was known have survived before now, which makes this a particularly happy discovery, shown at Manila’s International Silent film Festival in August. The Bioscope post and its comments unravel the mystery.

Among the year’s film restorations, those that caught the eye were those that were most keenly promoted using online media. They included The First Born (UK 1928), Ernst Lubistch’s Das Weib des Pharao (Germany 1922) and the Pola Negri star vehicle Mania (Germany 1918).

Some interesting news items throughout the year included the discovery of unique (?) film of the Ballet Russes in the British Pathé archive in February; in April Google added a ‘1911’ button to YouTube to let users ‘age’ their videos by 100 years (a joke that backfired somewhat) then in the same month gave us a faux Chaplin film as its logo for the day; in May the much-hyped film discovery Zepped (a 1916 animation with some Chaplin outtakes) was put up for auction in hope of a six-figure sum, which to few people’s surprise it signally failed to achieve; and in July there was the discovery of a large collection of generic silent film scores in Birmingham Library.

Barbara Kent

And we said goodbye to some people. The main person we lost from the silent era itself was Barbara Kent, star of Flesh and the Devil and Lonesome, who made it to 103. Others whose parting we noted were the scholar Miriam Hansen; social critic and author of the novel Flicker Theodore Roszak; the founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael Hart; and the essayist and cinéaste Gilbert Adair.

Finally, there were those ruminative or informational Bioscope posts which we found it interesting to compile over the year. They include a survey of cricket and silent film; thoughts on colour and early cinema; a survey of digitised newspaper collections, an investigation into the little-known history of the cinema-novel, the simple but so inventive Phonotrope animations of Jim Le Fevre and others, thoughts on the not-so-new notion of 48 frames per second, the amateur productions of Dorothea Mitchell, the first aviation films, on silent films shown silently, and on videos of the brain activity of those who have been watching films.

As always, we continue to range widely in our themes and interests, seeing silent cinema not just for its own sake but as a means to look out upon the world in general. “A view of life or survey of life” is how the dictionary defines the word ‘bioscope’ in its original use. We aim to continue doing so in 2012.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 11

The Ballet Russes at the Fêtes de Narcisses, Montreux in 1928, from British Pathé

Can we make the Bioscope Newsreel a weekly occurrence, say every Friday? We’ll have a go.

Ballet Russes on film
Jane Pritchard, co-curator of the Victorian & Albert Museum’s recent exhibition ‘Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929′ writes of the amazing discovery of the first known film of the Ballet Russes lurking in the British Pathé archive. Read more.

50 years of film studies
The Guardian film blog celebrates fifty years of film studies as an academic discipline. The pioneer lecturer was Thorold Dickinson (himself a filmaker of renown); the location was University College London; the pupils included Gavin Millar, Charles Barr, Raymond Durgnat and Lutz Becker. Read more.

Modern elephant taxidermy
Rich Remsberg unearths an extraordinary 1927 film from the American Museum of Natural History that shows you how to stuff an elephant. The taxidermist in question is the multi-talented Carl Akeley, also famed as a motion picture cameraman and inventor – the Akeley camera, with its gyroscopic head, was much used by wildlife filmmakers and newsreels. Read more.

Music for silents
An interesting interview with Ken Winokur of renowned silent film accompanists the Alloy Orchestra raises the issue of venues which insist on showing silent films silently, because André Bazin pronounced that any music accompaniment was mere nostalgia. Go to the Cinémathèque Française to watch your silents to the accompaniment of coughs and the occasional rumbling stomach, and I think most will vote for ‘nostalgia’. Read more.

Farewell to the Silent Movie Blog
For the past couple of years Christopher Snowden’s Silent Movie Blog has provided witty, well-researched and strikingly illustrated accounts of American silent film history. Sadly it is being closed down, and it is not clear whether the archive will remain online (all posts before July 2010 have been removed already). Read more.

And finally
The Bioscope is four years old today. Here’s the link to post number one – a single pithy sentence.

‘Til next time!

London calling

Underground (1928), from http://www.guardian.co.uk

One of the features I regularly get asked to include on the Bioscope is a list of silent film screenings. I’ve always said no because the subject is too broad (particularly given the Bioscope’s international scope) and I wouldn’t want to offer an inadequate and incomplete service. Instead I point people to Nitrateville’s Silent Screenings list or the Silents in the Court site (for US screenings), and keep information on screenings on the Bioscope to festivals and prestige events of more than local interest.

However, that still leaves a gap, and I’m delighted to report that someone has stepped in to provide such a service for silent films in London. Silent London is a blog dedicated to silent film screenings in London. It’s only been running for a couple of months, and already it’s proving to be informative and thorough – indeed looking beyond London for its inspiration on occasion. There is also an active Twitter feed, @Silent_london.

Though the site maintains anonymity, the person behind it is Guardian subeditor Pamela Hutchinson. She has the contacts, and she has the enthusiasm – Silent London is certainly a site to keep an eye on.

Blogging the silents

Coming attraction slide for Peaks of Destiny (Der Heilige Berg or The Holy Mountain, Germany 1926), from Starts Thursday!

I was doing a bit of tidying up of the links on the right-hand column, and when I came to the blogs I noticed that a number of those listed there haven’t been updated for a while. It’s a bit of a slog keeping up-to-date with a blog (believe me), but blogs can go through fallow periods and then revive, so I won’t be removing any for the links just yet.

But what I have also noticed is a number of new blogs on silent films have been turning up. And so here’s a round-up of the best of silent film blogs old (but still active) and new that you are warmly encouraged to follow.

  • Cartoons on Film
    Tom Stathes’ blog is dedicated to ‘musings, studying, and collecting of early animated film’, though it is not updated as often as it used to be.
  • Cinegraphica
    An authoritative and well-illustrated blog on early cinema technology, written in Dutch but with English translations.
  • Cine Silente Mexicano
    A scholarly blog (in Spanish) on silent cinema in Mexico, written by Luis Recillas Enecoiz.
  • The Dorothy Gish Project
    Recently-launched blog by Donna Hill on the other Gish sister, which will document the writing of a new biography.
  • Edna’s Place
    Linda Wada’s entertaining blog on Edna Purviance also covers Chaplin subjects and silent cinema in general and is consistently informative.
  • Emma Heslewood’s Blog
    Heslewood is Keeper of History at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston, and her blog documents research into local filmmaker and film businessman Will Onda.
  • The Faux Charlot
    A fascinating photo blog on those around the world who have dressed up Charlie Chaplin’s ‘tramp’ character.
  • Ferdinand Von Galitzien
    Quite unique. Reviews of silents films (some familiar, some fabuously obscure) undertaken by a ‘German count’, written with insight and exquisite comic style.
  • Fisherscircle
    Media historian David Fisher blogs on early film and related media. A shame that he cannot post more often.
  • Louise Brooks Society
    Thomas Gladysz’s discursive, exhaustive blog on Louise Brooks, her films and her times.
  • Mack Sennett
    Billed as ‘A Celebration of the King of Comedy and his Studio, Films and Comedians’, knowledgeably written by Brent E. Walker, author of Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory.
  • Muy Blog
    Stephen Herbert’s admirable blog on photographer and founding father of motion pictures Eadweard Muybridge is both reportage and research in action, as new discoveries mingle with alerts to new events, publications, online resources and much more.
  • Observations on film art
    David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s blog on film art and film style is in a different league to the rest of us and is helping to rewrite how film studies can be done. Its frequent investigations into silent film subjects (often in the context of later film style) are essential reading.
  • Recanto Silente
    Good-looking general blog on silent cinema, written by David Holm, in Galician.
  • Ritrovati Restaurati Invisibli
    One of a number of authoritative blogs and websites on Italian silent cinema (all in Italian) maintained by the prodigious Teresa Antolin.
  • Silent Film Festival Blog
    The San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s blog covers silent film news in general as well as the festival and it has become an essential information source in just a short period.
  • Silent Film Music
    Silent film musician Ben Model’s entertaining blog including video blogging with reports on the festivals at which he plays.
  • Silent film music and other sounding off
    If only silent film musician Donald Sosin were able to sound off a little more often.
  • The Silent Movie Blog
    Christopher Snowden’s witty, mischievous blog draws on an extensive personal archive of stills and film journals to relate an alternative history of American silent film.
  • Silent Volume
    Engaging personal reviews of silent films by Chris Edwards.
  • Starts Thursday!
    This is a joy. Rob Byrne’s subject, the glass lantern slides that promoted coming attractions in cinemas from the silent era well into the sound era, takes a seemingly narrow subject and produces riches. Beautifully illustrated and unobtrusively knowledgeable.
  • Stummfilm-blog
    A bit quiet at the moment, but previously a very useful information source on silent film in German (the site is in German) and elsewhere.

There are many more silent film blogs, or part-silent, part-talkie blogs, than these, but these are mostly all being kept up-to-date, and they each stand out for their individual style and effective use of the blog form. If you have favourites of your own that should be added to the list, please say.

Moving Image

I have started up a new blog. While the Bioscope is a personal project, dedicated to early and silent cinema, the new blog – plainly but helpfully entitled Moving Image – is a product of my day job at the British Library. I’m employed there as Curator, Moving Image, and the aim of the blog is to write about moving images and the British Library. So that’s more than just the Library’s moving image collection, which is relatively small and specialised. Rather it will aim to cover general developments in the moving image field as they impact upon the Library and research, as well as talking about the British Library as a place for the study of moving images and the study of subjects through moving images.

The blog replaces an earlier initiative, Screen Research, which I’ve closed down. Moving Image will certainly touch on silent films from time to time, but it will also cover film today and yesterday, television, web video, mobile video, and all points in between. It may even feature me wielding a video camera from time to time. I hope that some of you may be able to follow it.

(That’s me top right, by the way – the silhouette figure with a cigar who appears beside my comments is film pioneer Charles Urban, whose film company trademark was Urbanora – hence the pen-name)

Update: I’ve also established a Twitter account to complement the Moving Image blog, http://twitter.com/blmovingimage.

Welcome to the Silent Movie Blog

Generic slide for Buster Keaton shorts

Generic slide for Buster Keaton shorts, from The Silent Movie Blog

It’s always good news when another silent movie blog joins the throng, so welcome to Christopher Snowden’s The Silent Movie Blog. It’s just a couple of weeks old, but the emphasis seems to be on stills and other such promotional images from the period, laced with a welcome dash of humour. The blog accompanies his DVD site, UnknownVideo.

For other blogs on silent cinema, check out the Blog section on the right-hand side menu. All of them gems, but some shine particularly brightly.

More silent film blogs

An update on some of the silent film blogs out there. Not a great many.

Cartoons on Films (http://cartoonsonfilm.blogspot.com) (mostly silent animation)

The Crowd Roars (http://silentfilmlegend.blogspot.com/) (“from the earliest silents to the dawn of television”)

Edna’s Place (http://ednapurviance.blogspot.com/) (Edna Purviance, Chaplin and other subjects)

Every Little Breeze (http://everybreeze.blogspot.com/index.html) (Louise Brooks et al)

Ferdinand von Galizien (http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com) (silent film reviews, warmly recommended)

Louise Brooks (http://louisebrooks.livejournal.com) (anything and everything on the 1920s screen icon)

Silent Films Fans’ Journal (http://community.livejournal.com/silent_films) (what it says on the film can)

And one for screen entertainments of an earlier age:

The Magic Lantern Show (http://magiclanternshows.blogspot.com)

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