The art of timing

http://www.cinemetrics.lv

Measurement is fundamental to film. In the early days of the medium, films were priced by the foot, with the content of little consequence unless it was coloured or featured a subject of particular importance, in which case the price per foot went up. The business was measured in how many feet of film were sold, competition was fiercest where cuts were made by one company in the price per foot of film, and as films grew longer they would still be measured in so many reels. Quantity overrode quality. Hold up a strip of film and you could use it as a tape measure – equidistant frames arranged in a straight line.

Films may be all digital now (or virtually so), but that has only increased their propensity towards measurement. There is duration, frame speed, file size, bit rate, and still that succession of frames that are fundamental to the nature of the time-based medium.

Then things get more complicated, because films comprise multiple shots. This was a puzzle for the earliest film producers, who started off believing that a different shot became a different film, to be catalogued, priced and sold separately. But art and the market started to demand that these shots be brought together. Films might now be measured in reels, but within those reels a complexity emerged, as the number of shots, and their length, started to vary according to the type of film or producer. This was not an issue as such for the producers of the period, but decades later it has become a matter of great interest to film scholars who would like to assess the art of film not just qualitatively but quantitively. Which is where cinemetrics comes in.

Cinemetrics graph for Battleship Potemkin, produced by Yuri Tsivian

Cinemetrics is the creation of Professor Yuri Tsivian of the University of Chicago. A renowned historian of early cinema (if his Early Cinema in Russia and its Cultural Reception isn’t on your bookshelf as yet, it should be), probably best known for introducing film scholarship to the marvels of pre-revolutionary Russian dramatic film, notably the work of Yevgenii Bauer. It was when Tsivian started doing an average shot analysis on the films of Bauer and his pupil Lev Kuleshov that Tsivian found evidence to show that “between 1917 and 1918 the cutting tempo of Russian films had jumped from the slowest to the fastest in the world”. What might previously have been intuited could, with patience, be demonstrated empiricially.

With patience, and some software, that is. Because Tsivian then did two extraordinary things. The first was (with computer scientist Gunars Civjans) in 2005 to build a software programme for measuring films; the second was to invite anyone in the world to take part and submit their data to a website – a model example of crowdsourcing in action.

Timing I think was my key thing. I was able to figure out the timing to close the gap between my opponent and myself and move back, and that was I think the key.

It is symptomatic of the imagination, as well as the playfulness, of Tsivian, that he should provide this quote from Chuck Norris on how he won six karate world titles. As Tsivian says, “much like martial arts, or like poetry and music, cinema is the art of timing”. Other scholars, notably David Bordwell and Barry Salt, has shown interest in average shot lengths as a means to measure film style, and Tsivian’s endeavour has demonstrated many scholars worldwide are similarly interested, and sufficiently dedicated to the cause to view and measure films (from any era, and of any kind) and submit the data online for all to study and share.

The Cinemetrics tool can be downloaded onto your PC or used online. The idea is that you then run your video and mark each change in shot with the click of a mouse on by hitting a keyboard button. This will then give you your data on the film’s length, number of shots and average shot length. You then upload the data to the Cinemetrics database, which produces graphs and publishes the data online for all to see. It’s that simple (an advanced option invites you to identify types of shot, such as close-up or medium shot). A more sophisticated tool, the Frame Accurate Cinemetrics Tool has recently been made available, for which you must rip a copy of the film you wish to analyse onto your hard drive (a tad contentious under some copyright regimes).

Video explaining how to use the new Frame Accurate Cinemetrics Tool (FACT)

Many have taken part, and there are many silent films that have been analyses. The database currently contains just over 10,000 titles, which can be sorted by date, country, director, submitter, average shot length (unsurprisingly the single shot Russian Ark comes out top), media shot length, and so forth. Many silent films are along them.

The Cinemetrics site hosts the database, software programme, articles (check out in particular Tsivian’s classic analysis of Intolerance), examples of Cinemetrics studies, a discussion board, and a lab section for comparing data. Most recently (and the reason for posting this now), a ‘conversations’ section has been added on film and statistics in which film scholars and statistical scientists come together to discuss their shared field arranged around particular themes.

The language of statistics is not one that appeals to most film viewers, and some of the debate may seem wilfully recherché. Talk of medians, means, datasets and outliers may seem to have little to do with the appreciation of film, reducing an art into a quantifiable commodity, just as those early film producers who only saw their product in terms of feet and reels.

But we cannot judge films by emotions alone, no matter how acutely attuned to artistic worth we may feel them to be. Data can quanitify what the eye may only sense or the heart feel. Of course there is more to film art than shot lengths, and new kinds of film analysis tools are starting to emerge which analyse action within and beyond the frame or shot (see, for example, the Gestus Project, which employs vector analysis; or Tim J. Smith’s acclaimed work on visual cognition, which maps where our eyes actually rove over the screen as opposed to where you think they might be looking). The important things in any sort of data analysis are relevance, consistency and range. The work of the cinemetricists is firmly relevant to how films are constructed, it is rigorously consistent in application, and the range of scholars worldwide who have conributed to this remarkable work enriches the data with every new contribution. Even if statistics leaves you cold, the ingenuity and dedication merit your admiration.

Acknowledgments to Nick Redfern of the Research into Film blog, a Cinemetrics contributor and film empiricist, whose blog alerted me to the new ‘conversations’ feature.

(Unfortunately the name ‘Cinemetrics’ has recently been adopted by graphic designer Frederic Brodbeck to create visualisations of films derived from their data. The results look beautiful, but do not quantify or analyse in the same way, and have no connection with Tsivian and Civjans’ Cinemetrics.)

Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections

Letter from Alexander Korda to Adoph Zukor, 16 June 1920, letter in the Margaret Herrick Library

… I am twenty nine years of age and am ten years in the prospection moving picture. Of this period I spent 3 years as an advertisement manager with the Projectograph Co. Ltd. in Budapest, for one year I was in Paris and since the last 6 years I am a stage manager. For the last five years and a half I was the administrative and stage manager of the Corvin film factory of Budapest. It was I who founded the said factory and it was under my management when it was taken over by an Hungarian bank with a capital of 8 millions of crowns, which subsequently got increased to 10 respectively to 20 millions of crowns. Budapest however offers by far no scope enough for an ambitious man to settle down there for a lifetime …

It’s a standard letter seeking employment written to a man in a position of power from a man in a humble siutation. The man of power is Adolph Zukor; what makes this such a compelling document is that the man doing the begging is his fellow Hungarian Alexander Korda, then only just establishing himself in Austrian film after having left the narrow (and politically hazardous) confines of the Hungarian film business. In a few years’ time Korda would be the man of power, though not in America but rather Britain.

The letter is just one example of the extraordinary riches to be found in the digital collections of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. You would expect the Margaret Herrick Library – one of the world’s leading film study centres – to put on a good show when it came to presenting its collections digitally, and how well they have done so.

Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections is an online database of digitised materials from the Margaret Herrick Library (named after the Academy’s first librarian – how rare it is for libraries to be named after those who care for them). It represents only a tiny proportion of the Library’s holdings, but the 2,500 or so items on offer are richly varied and presented in quite exemplary fashion. They include correspondence, photographs, periodicals, sheet music and star ephemera, along with complete copies of more than 250 Academy publications, dating back to its founding in 1927.

The site is broken down into these individual collections:

  • Academy Awards Collection
    Selected Academy Awards photographs, rule books, programs and ephemera from the Library’s extensive holdings.
  • Academy Publications
    Full text issues of member newsletters, annual reports, technical articles and other publications produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  • Tom B’hend and Preston Kaufmann Collection
    Tom B’hend and Preston Kaufmann were collectors of material related to motion picture theaters and theater organs.
  • Cecil B. DeMille Photographs
    Selection of items from the Cecil B. DeMille photographs.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Papers
    Selected items from the Alfred Hitchcock papers. The collection mostly comprises photographs, including several from Hitchcock’s silent film period.
  • Motion Picture Periodicals
    Complete issues of various publications from the library’s collections. The library’s periodical holdings include industry trade publications, fan magazines, technical and scholarly journals, and studio house organs.
  • Movie Star Ephemera
    Examples of movie star and fan ephemera and collectibles from across the library’s collections. Items include fan magazine covers, fan club publications and movie star memorabilia, as well as products endorsed by or featuring images of movie stars. The earliest materials date back to the silent era.
  • William Selig Papers
    Selection of release fliers and correspondence from the William Selig papers. “Colonel” William N. Selig (1864-1948) was an American producer active in film from 1896 to 1938. He founded the Selig Polyscope Company and co-founded the Motion Picture Patents Company.
  • Sheet Music Collection
    Selection of items from the Robert Cushman collection of sheet music. Robert Cushman was an American photograph curator. He was on the staff of the Margaret Herrick Library from 1972 until his death in 2009. He was an avid collector of silent film sheet music, which he mostly obtained from East Coast sheet music dealers.
  • Fred Zinnemann Papers
    Selection of photographs from the Fred Zinnemann papers.
  • Adolph Zukor Correspondence
    Selected letters and other items from the man who founded Famous Players Film Company and became head of Paramount Pictures.

The documents are presented superbly, with full descriptions, transcripts, assorted display options, download and print options, even the facility to view text and image alongside on another from transcribed documents. It’s a model presentation in every way.

Of particular note, given our interest in documenting digitised journals of the silent era wherever they can be found, is the collection of motion picture periodicals. Those available are Cinema Chat (1919-1920) (74 issues), Movies (1930-1934) (8 issues), Movie Monthly (1925) (3 issues) and Silver Sheet (1920-1925) (18 issues). An example of the latter series, with a mind-boggling image promotiong the 1924 film The Galloping Fish, is illustrated to the left. So far as I am aware, none is available anywhere else online, and all have been added to our ever-growing list of silent film journals available online. The journals are presented as single PDF pages (in some cases double-pages), rather than as full PDFs of the complete issue (correction – you can download a full issue), with thumbnails images arranged in a column alongside any one digitised page to aid browsing. There is full text uncorrected OCR, with word-searching within the single page, though the main site offering word-searching across all documents in any case.

The collection will no doubt grow, and certainly has opened up an important collection to those of us who are not able to visit Beverly Hills quite as often as we might like.

My thanks to David Pierce for alerting me to the site.

BFI old and new

BFI old (to the right) and new

There is a section of the Bioscope Library devoted to online catalogues and databases. One major database missing from the list that of the British Film Institute, because we knew that the BFI was planning to upgrade the database quite significantly, and so it was best to wait for the new rather than produce any sort of disquisition on the old.

Well, they’ve started introducing the new, but we’re not quite there yet. The BFI is in the process of changing its online presence quite radically, onto a more unified and simplified platform. Many familiar and useful pages have disappeared, such as the guide to distributors, the list of researchers working in film studies, and the PDFs of digitised film reference guides. One hopes that such losses are temporary. [Update: They're still there, on the old version of the site being maintained for the time being - see comments]

You will also look in vain for somewhere on the new site that says database. That’s because it is now called Explore film (interestingly Explore is the British Library now uses for its unified catalogue – we’re all so keen to be user friendly and not scare off the timid with words like catalogue or database). It’s a link on the main menu, and the front page makes striking use of film images which are links to catalogue records.

Once the website has settled down we will review it properly. There is much there that is new and of great interest, including stills, extensive hyperlinking, see also suggestions, and filtering by country, genre, subject and date, which open up the records to all manner of new kinds of enquiry and discovery. Like the old database, it still doesn’t distinguish between films that the BFI has and films about which it merely holds information, but the bringing together of filmographic and technical information has ben a major goal of the database development plans, so presumably we’ll see this in time (such unified data is avalable in the version of the database accessible in the BFI’s new library at its Southbank complex).

Some things are missing however, most significantly the shotlists or longer synopses which accompanied many archive records, particularly for older films – meaning predominantly silent – which are invaluable for the serious researcher. The synopses haven’t disappeared – they are on the version of the database in the BFI library) but they are not available online on the new database, as yet.

But the BFI continues to make the old version of its database available, though the link for this in not published anywhere on the new site. However, you can find it at http://old.bfi.org.uk/filmtvinfo/ftvdb, and there you can search all of its records as before, and find the fuller synopses where available. All of the links to BFI database records on the Bioscope (and there are many) still link through to these database records. The old version also has an Advanced Search option which the new one has jetisoned in favour of filtering. Both have their virtues – and as a researcher I’d rather have both.

How long the old database will remain available has not been said. Presumably once everything has been transferred across to the new site, then the old will be shut down – and all of the old links will become dead overnight, which is just a tad annoying. It’s also worth checking carefully between the two databases while we still have them, because they are bringing up different research results, which appears to be on account of some fields not having been copied across as yet (for instance, I searched for ‘Henville’, the donor of an important collection of early films whose name had appeared on several alternative titles, and found two records on the new database, sixteen on the old – which is not to say that those records are missing, simply that I can’t currently find them under the search term I was able to use previously).

So, to recap – the old BFI database can be found at http://old.bfi.org.uk/filmtvinfo/ftvdb. The new BFI database will be found at http://explore.bfi.org.uk. The new one has lots of exciting new features, but appears to be a work in progress. Meanwhile it’s strongly recommended that you keep referring to the old one, while you can.

So, how has the digital revolution been for you?

Domitor conference taking place at the University of Brighton

I’m taking part in a panel at the Domitor conference (Domitor being the international body for the study of early cinema, whose biennial conference is taking place in Brighton). The theme is ‘Digital Technologies and Early Cinema’ and four speakers have been asked to address the subject of the digital revolution’s impact on the study of early cinema. Each of us has been asked to kick things off by speaking for ten minutes on “how the digital revolution has changed your practice”. For me, it seems appropriate to write my response in the form of a blog post. So here it is.


Hello. I was intrigued to see in the conference programme that the affiliation given with my name was not my institution but my website. My day job is curator for moving images at the British Library, where I am mostly concerned with television, news programmes and born digital media; so, the moving images of today. My hobby is early cinema, with its chief expression being a website, The Bioscope, which I maintain as an information source on those areas of early and silent cinema that interest me – and presumably others, since it enjoys a reasonably good readership for what is – let’s face it – quite an obscure subject, even within film studies.

I have been writing The Bioscope for just over five years, during which time I have produced 1,364 posts (that is, individual pieces of writing), amounting to some 600,000 words. That’s seven or eight books’ worth, had I been so inclined to write books instead, but why put the measure in books? As I often say to people when talking about the site, more people read the Bioscope in a single day than probably have read any of the articles or books that I have written or co-edited have received in years. I’m not tied down by a need to achieve a quota of academic publication for any research assessment exercise. I simply like communicating things to people. And it gets read.

The Bioscope allows me to choose whatever subject interests me, to write in a light yet informative style which suits the online medium and certainly suits me as a writer, and it gives me responses to what I am doing. Posts receives comments, the blog’s software tells me how many people have visited each piece of writing, individual posts get cited in any online (and offline) writings, and I am in contact with people from around the world, both early film scholars and those merely curious. The Bioscope is in a constant state of communication. Write poorly, or infrequently, and the viewing figures start to fall. The price paid for the attention is constant vigiliance.

I’m not interested in reviewing films, nor in giving opinions as such. The aim of the Bioscope is to communicate information, encouraging others to explore the growing range of online research opportunities for themselves. So the site has come to specialise in information on digitised journals, newspaper sources, assessments of databases and other resources, as well as promoting conferences, festivals, publications and so on, broadly relating to early and silent cinema around the world. The emphasis is on early cinema in its different contexts – film as art holds little interest for me – and on the relevance of early cinema today. If it were purely an exercise in revisiting the past, it would be pointless. Early cinema must be of interest because it is relevant, because through its study we can learn more of the world. This, for me, is what the digital revolution is doing, showing how early cinema connects with the worlds that surround it.

So, I’m particularly interested in early cinema in its various contexts – that is, the ways in which it connects with other forms of social, political, economic or cultural activity. This has been, of course, a major feature of early cinema studies in recent years, and something which Domitor itself has helped encourage through conferences such as these, with their impressive diversity of speakers and perspectives. It also connects my hobby with my work, because at the British Library I am chiefly concerned with the moving image medium as it supports other subjects, and how the digital world is providing opportunities not simply to increase access, but to facilitate the integration of diverse resources and to encourage new forms of discovery. I want researchers to pursue a particular theme and find the book, the newspaper article, the image, the sound recording and the film on that theme all in the one place, and to make exciting discoveries through these associations. And that’s what we must want for early cinema too.

Having said all this enthusiastic stuff, there are aspects to this sort of writing that bother me. Firstly, that constant vigiliance can be wearing. One feels the need always to be finding new material, to be publishing with some degree of frequency, to stay fresh, to keep up those readership figures. These maybe entirely self-imposed pressures, but they exist all the same.

Secondly, and more importantly, there is the possible impermanance of some many of these web resources on which we increasingly depend. I wrote a recent post about websites on early and silent cinema that have disappeared recently. They included such important sites as the Ariel Cinematographica Register and The Silent Cinema Bookshelf. Most websites, even after they have been taken down, can be found archived on the Internet Archive, and national libraries are increasingly moving into web archiving – the British Library hopes soon to start archiving the UK web space, for example.

But web archives take only occasional snapshots of a site – perhaps four a year – and often they do not include associated media such as video files, while databases and other such complex underlying systems are beyond web archiving. Databases cost money to support, and more money to keep them up to date (a static database is a dead database), and we can’t depend on them to remain online forever. I have worked on a number of research databases, happily all still going, but each at the whim of uncertain funding, or change in the host institution’s priorities. Crucially, links to files and pages change when sites are changed, making citation hazardous. Fundamentally the web does not stand still, for as much as it adds such huge amounts, it also loses vast amounts, as old information is overlaid by the new.

The British Library

There are significant shifts in information power relations which may affect what we can access, and from whom. At the moment, we identify most research collections with the institutions that hold the physical originals. This makes the research web very much a reflection of the physical research environment. The website and associated resources of a body such as the British Library become an extension of its physical reality.

But what happens when everything becomes digital? Who are the owners then, when anyone might manage, host or otherwise point to digital resources if they have the means to do so? What is the purpose of a physical library in a digital world? Who will need libraries or archives at all, in the long run, if Google can do it all for us? And if the private sector largely takes over that which traditionally we have expected to be delivered by the public sector, what will the access be like, what will be the price we pay for it, what will we have lost?

Media History Digital Library

I don’t think our national libraries and archives are going to disappear, and I think access is only going to increase and to be fabulous, though we will have to pay more for it than has been the case up until now. I do think that new kinds of institutional-like sites will emerge, however, which could supplant the work of some of the traditional institutions. The Media History Digital Library, for example, a non-profit initiative which is digitising extensive numbers of classic media periodicals that are in the public domain; or even the humble Bioscope, if it wants to become a focal point for the discovery of early film research resources. But how long will the Media History Digital Library last? Will I get bored of The Bioscope tomorrow and go off and do something else instead? The web world feels so impermanent, like it has been built on a whim. The web world feels so impermanent, like it has been built on a whim. The web is not going to disappear. It is where we now discover, interpret, re-use and share our researches. It is where early cinema belongs. But we’ll never be able to be completely confident that what we find online today will still be there tomorrow. And it is hard to build scholarship on such uncertainty.

I said that the value for me in early cinema is its connection with other subjects. This is what has been so good about the digital revolution, showing how early film fits in, not only with the world that created it, but with our world today. Indeed, at times I’m surprised we still have early cinema studies and it hasn’t evolved into something else, giving the associations and connections the digital environment provides. It’s why I so enjoyed Josh Yumibe‘s paper yesterday, which talked of the use of colour in our field, but threaded together an argument that brought in Hunger Games, Harry Smith, Loie Fuller, Scriabin, Kandinsky and D.W. Griffith, making early film concerns timeless and relevant.

As an expression of this, and as sort of tribute to Yumibe’s paper, I’ll finish off with a video which I posted on The Bioscope last Christmas, when not many people saw it, so here’s a chance to do so again. It brings together our world and their world in a witty and thought-provoking fashion, and demonstrates for me that the digital revolution has been, more than anything else, such fun.

Elephant’s graveyard

http://www.hathitrust.org

I’m not sure why the Bioscope hasn’t written anything on the Hathi Trust before now. It is one of the largest repositories of digitised written content available, and with huge amounts of content relevant to silent film studies. Maybe it’s because the legality of the enterprise isn’t clear (the Author’s Guild and others have filed a lawsuit against it for copyright violation), yet much of the content is also available via the Internet Archive or Google Books, and it has an impressive list of American universities behind it.

The Hathi Trust (named after the Hindi word for elephant, hence the punning title to this post) is a catalogue and digital repository of digitised content from over sixty research libraries in the USA. It currently boasts 10,263,901 titles, including 5,422,520 books and 269,186 serials, 29% of which they say are in the public domain (in the USA). In other kinds of numbers, thats 3,592,365,350 pages, or 460 terabytes of digital files, or 121 miles of shelving, or 8,339 tons in weight (helpfully they provide a note explaning how this was calulated, basing it on “an average book having 350 pages, being 3/4 of an inch wide, containing 47 MB of information, and weighing 26 ounces”).

It’s a very clear, business-like and practical website. You can search in three ways – by catalogue record (seaching across titles, authors, publisher, year of publication etc.), by full text search (i.e. words within the texts themselves) or via ‘collections’ curated by users. Although every title listed on the database exists in digital form, copyright restrictions similar to those which constrain Google Books mean that though you can search by word across all of the text, only a proportion of the texts can be viewed as full text (presumably 29%). It is possible to narrow searches to only full text results.

As said, there is a subject search option, and if you type in ‘motion pictures’ you get 15,516 records, of which 455 are viewable in full text form. However, some spot-checking using other search terms shows that many relevant titles aren’t classified under ‘motion pictures’, so you are better off using the full-text search option.

So, using our regular test term of ‘kinetocope’, what do we get? A mightily impressive 8,619 results (i.e. books or serials that mention ‘kinetoscope’ somewhere), of which 3,512 are fully viewable. These include W.K-L. Dickson and Antonia Dickson’s History of the kinetograph, kinetoscope, & kinetophonograph (1895), Edwin George Lutz’s Animated cartoons; how they are made, their origin and development (1920), Maxwell Hite’s Lessons in how to become a successful moving picture machine operator (1908) and C. Francis Jenkins’ Animated pictures; an exposition of the historical development of chromophotography (1898).

Each full-text record is present in a ‘classic’ view which shows one page on the screen and allows you to scroll through page by page using arrow buttons, as well as zooming in or out and rotation tools. Other views on offer are scrolling, flipbook, thumbnails (handy for image-rich publications) and plain text. You can search for any word within the text, the results for which are given highlighted in a line or two of text, as in the example below taken from the unexpected source of Indian massacres and tales of the red skins: an authentic history of the American Indian from 1492 to the present time (1895). Clicking on the page number then takes you to the relevant page in the text.

Mention of the word ‘kinetoscope’ in Indian Massacres and Tales of the Red Skins (1895)

This is extraordinary stuff. On relatively quick inspection, I’ve found several key texts not available on the Internet Archive, for example Mrs D.W. Griffith’s (Linda Arvidson) When the Movies Were Young (1925) and Martin Quigley’s Magic shadows; the story of the origin of motion pictures (1948). There are many titles whose public domain status seems dubious (Ernest Lindgren’s The Art of the Film, for example, published in 1963 – though maybe the copyright wasn’t renewed in the USA), but then there are quite modern titles there presumably with the blessing of the publisher: Gregory A. Waller’s Main Street amusements: movies and commercial entertainment in a Southern city, 1896-1930 (1995), for example.

And it’s not just books. There are motion picture journals here, incuding titles not available on the Internet Archive. Bioscope reader Mirko Heinemann kindly brought the following editions of Moving Picture World to my attention, several of which are unique (digitally) to the Hathi Trust site:

These have all been added to the Bioscope’s list of silent film journals available online. There is a PDF download option provided, though in many cases it seems to be only a page at a time, unless the record specifies that the whole volume is available for download.

You can create your own collection to act as a research aide memoire or to assist others. For this you need to register with the University of Michigan, which is straightforward, select the texts under your theme, tag them, choose a title for your collection, and it gets added to the long list of collections previously created and browsable. There is already a list there for American silent film culture, listing sixty-one “Primary sources related to the history of American silent film”.

The Hathi Trust Digital Library is frankly a bit overwhelming. There’s so much there you hardly know where to start. On testing the site I felt like I need a more obscure subject to pursue (yes, there are some subjects out there more obscure than silent films) just so that I could have a manageable set of resources. I’m uncertain about its interpretation of fair use and public domain, but there are plenty of titles there for which you can search the full text but not view the full text, so legal proprietaries would seem to have been followed.

The Hathi Trust would appear to have created the optimum digital library, at least for text-based content. For advanced searching, it is ahead of the Internet Archive, with only its display tools not quite matching the IA’s excellent viewer. The limitations on downloading PDFs are a disappointment, but the ease of use, the relevance of results, and the sheer range of publications on offer (sometimes surprising, generally useful) make this essential for anyone engaged in silent film research. Moreover, as a coming together of the collections of a range of noteworthy collections, it represents what the digital library of the future means – not confined by the physical walls of any one insitution, but shared by many for the benefit of all, wherever they might be.

The Hays code

Will H. Hays c.1921, from the Library of Congress

Meet William Harrison Hays, chairman of the Republican National Committee, then U.S. Postmaster General, then president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) from 1922 to 1945, making him one of the most influential people in American film. The MPPDA (later the Motion Picture Association of America) was formed following the criticism made of the Hollywood following such scandals as the death of the drug-addicted Wallace Reid and the lurid Fatty Arbuckle case. The industry feared the imposition of federal censorship and created the MPPDA to demonstrate that it could govern itself.

The MPPDA was therefore a trade association whose chief interest was in maintaining good relations with government, church groups, and other bodies concerned at the influence – real or imagined – that motion pictures had, particularly on the young. Its best known output was the Production Code, popularly known as the Hays code, of 1930, which set down moral guidelines for the production of motion pictures, with these three guiding principles:

  • No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.
  • Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
  • Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

The Code as not mandatory at first, but became so in 1934 (hence the ‘Pre Code’ films of the era immediatelt before 1934) and would remain in force, though progressively infringed, until 1968, when it was replaced by the MPAA ratings system.

All of this makes the operations, decisions, personnel and associates of the MPPDA of huge relevance to the study of American motion pictures, in the silent era and beyond. And so the creation of the MPPDA Digital Archive is considerable importance to our field.

This is a database, with digitised documents, of the extant records of the General Correspondence files of the MPPDA, covering the period from 1922 to 1939. The MPPA microfilmed some of its archive of documents in 1965, then threw away the originals. Researcher Richard Maltby discovered the reels in 1984 and had copies made of twelve of them. Subsequently the original microfilms were donated to the Special Collections Department of the Centre for Motion Picture Study of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, by which point some had been mislaid (covering the 1920s). So some of the reels made by Maltby are the only surviving copies, and they can be found on the MPPDA Digital Archive.

There are some 35,000 pages available. Owing to the poor quality of the microfilms, the use of optical character recognition for converting the documents into word-searchable text wasn’t possible. Instead – and thanks to assorted research grants – Maltby as fellow researchers at Flinders University, Australia (notably Ruth Vasey) have transcribed, described or otherwise annotated huge numbers of the documents, as well as having them digitised and ordered in a form that respects their original arrangement and enables reliable citation for scholars. It is a model piece of database construction.

An advertisement for Daughters of Today (1924) which caused an uproar by mentioning Leopold and Loeb (see http://mppda.flinders.edu.au/records/137)

So what will you find? You will find the essential minutiae of an industry protecting its reputation through the subtle arts of public relations. As the website puts it:

The documents in the MPPDA’s General Correspondence files are an immensely rich source of information about the history of the motion picture industry. They describe the organization and operation of the industry’s trade association, and include extensive correspondence and other documentation relating to industry policy and public relations, distributor-exhibitor relations, censorship and self-regulation. The great majority of this material is unavailable from other sources.

You will find letters, telegrams, memos, press releases, speeches, official statements, newspaper cuttings, and much more. The search apparatus is extraordinary. As well as being able to search for any term, you can search by frame reference, year, record type, keyword, organisation, film, or person. In each case a drop-down menu is provided, with the number of records held under each term, so straight away you can see that there are, for example, 75 press releases available, 13 documents on audience research, 30 records relating to United Artists, 10 documents on Battleship Potemkin, and 986 document that reference Will H. Hays himself. Some of the classification employed (i.e. for the keywords) is idiosycratic or unevenly applied (only one record keyworded under ‘sex’?), but it makes the database compulsively browsable as well as useful.

The database is open to all, but the document appear in low resolution form unless you are registered with the site (which is free). The higher resolution images come with a helpful zoom option for examining documents in closer detail. There is much background information on the MPDDA, its archives and the construction of the database, with quick links to featured records, people and organisations available on the front page for these needing a flavour of what the site contains (so, for example, the entry on Harry Warner gives you a short biography, links to organisations and links to all association records where he is mentioned). Although the archive is advertised as covering 1922-1939, there are a few documents going back to 1912.

Richard Maltby, Ruth Vasey and the Screen and Media Department of Flinders University, Australia continue to work on the database, adding new transcriptions and supporting descriptive information. It is an extraordinary achievement and a huge boon to moving image research, for the silent era and beyond.

Go explore.

Historical colours

Recreated Kinemacolor image from With Our King and Queen through India (1912), showing the Elephant Gate at Delhi, from Cinémathèque Française, reproduced on the Historical Film Colors timeline

Historical Film Colors is a timeline of motion picture colour systems and their antecedents. It has been put together by Professor Barbara Flueckiger
of the Institute of Cinema Studies, University of Zurich, as part of her research into the remastering of historical film into the digital age.

The timeline presents colour processes (240 of them), from Thomas Young’s paper on trichromatic vision published in 1802 through to Eastman Color High Speed Negative, type 5297 (1987). It is presented as a work-in-progress, with the promise of more detailed information to be added to each process, and an invitation to scholars to collaborate in building up the resource.

Each entry gives the year, name of the colour system, the person on company involved, illustrative images (taken from a variety of secondary sources), the principle expounded by the process (e.g. aditive three-colour), any relevant patent, and references to papers, articles and books. So you will find Kinemacolor, Technicolor, Prizmacolor, stencil colour, Cinecolor, Kodacolor and a great deal more, famous and not so famous. It’s more of a timeline than a database, so you can’t search for individual systems or combine search requests, but there is a drop-down menu letting to select systems by some of the categories on offer, and it is possible to present the entire timeline on one web page.

Entry for Kodachrome Two-color 1915 (Fox Nature Color)

It’s a vivid demonstration of the huge efforts made by inventors to come up with a workable motion picture colour system in the silent era, a race won – as we know – by Technicolor – but which is all the more interesting before they got it right, when assorted competing, imperfect systems struggled to convince the public and exhibitors that they had achieved the epitome of colour reproduction. None had, though the artifical colour systems of Pathé and Gaumont delighted with their painterly effects, and the ‘natural’ colour system Kinemacolor thrilled many with actualities of pomp and pageantry.

Flueckiger writes on her website that all of this work, producing the database, clearing rights in images, and collating all of the bibliographic references, has been very time-consuming and largely self-funded. So she is inviting not only contributions of ideas and texts, but financial support as well, through a crowdfunding campaign. She hopes to raise $10,000 in 90 days. Most of us not otherwise supported by universities ending doing this sort of thing for free, but maybe the more fool us if there’s money out there from principled individuals keen to support good research that can be shared with everyone. So good luck to her.

All of which makes me think it is high time the Bioscope returned to its Colourful Stories series of posts, each of which tackled a different colour process. Well, maybe I will. Eventually.

The rejected

Nosferatu, rejected by the BBFC in 1922, from DVD Beaver

Last week we wrote a post on the British Board of Film Classification, whose centenary occurs this year, and whose website includes a database of the films it has examined since 1912. The films can be searched by date and classification, and so it is possibile to produce a list of all of the films of the silent era rejected by the BBFC as being unsuitable for screening in the UK.

There are 208 of them, but the database provides little more than English language title, the date of examination, the distributor who submitted the film, and the classification (R for Rejected). Some of the films are familiar titles (Battleship Potemkin, America, The Seashell and the Clergyman) others much less so, and while most are American there are films from several other countries less easy to identify. It should be noted that this is not a complete list of all films rejected by the BBFC in the silent era, records for the rejection of some films (such as Lois Weber’s abortion drama Where Are My Children?) apparently no longer existing. Other films (such as Auction of Souls) were never submited to the BBFC, which would have rejected them otherwise.

It would be good to know the correct title, date and country of origin for each film. There records at the BBFC that may say more, though in most cases the films are simply listed in annual reports and give no more information than is provided on the database. So we have produced a list and started to identify them. This has mostly involved cross-checking with the Internet Movie Database, plus books written on the BBFC which discuss particular titles. But there are many gaps, and the Bioscope invites you to help fill them.

Each record below gives the title as submitted to the BBFC (hyperlinked to the BBFC database record), the date of examination, the name of the distributor, and then the true title, country, year, director and production company where I have been able to find these. Certain producers and distributors recur with interesting frequency: Fox Films, Nordisk, Cines, Trans Atlantic (European agents for Universal), Thanhouser and Pathé Frères among them, while there are some obscure companies involved, such as Inter Ocean, about whom it would be good to know more. The BBFC records have been copied as they appear, including typos and anachronistic references to film companies that only came into being after this period (Gaumont-British, 20th Century-Fox).

As for the kinds of film censored, the BBFC’s website does not give the reasons for rejection and to give plot summaries where these exist could be misleading, as the reason for rejection was not always so obvious (Nosferatu, for example, was probably rejected – under the title Dracula – on account of a copyright claim in Germany from the estate of Bram Stoker rather than for its horrific content). But there are films on prostitution (The White Slave Traffic), drugs (The Case of the Doped Actress), venereal disease (The Spreading Evil), politics (Irish Destiny), childbirth (The Mysteries of Birth), racial prejudice (Free and Equal) and religion (Leaves from the Book of Satan). Some of these were not so much rejected for their content as for being propagandist in tone, the BBFC having decided to rule against films which solicited public opinion. There are newsreels from the wartime period, the only time topicals were subject to censorship. There are films whose offensive character it is now hard to see (how did Hal Roach come to upset them so often?).

If you can help to identify any of the films (or correct y identifications), please say so through the comments and I’ll add the details to the post. The films are listed in the alphabetical order offered by the BBFC database, with definite articles (A and THE) recognised.

A BACHELOR APARTMENT – 24/03/1922 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = perhaps Bachelor Apartments (USA 1921 d. Johnnie Walker p.c. Georgia Hopkins)
A DAUGHTER OF THE DON – 25/09/1922 – Inter Ocean Photoplays Ltd = possibly The Daughter of the Don (USA 1916 d. Henry Kabierske p.c. Monrovia)
A FOOL THERE WAS – 06/06/1916 – Fox Film Company Ltd = A Fool There Was (USA 1915 d. Frank Powell p.c. Fox)
A HERO OF GALLIPOLI – 27/09/1916 – A1 Features & Exclusives = perhaps The Hero of the Dardanelles (Australia 1915 d. Alfred Rolfe p.c. Australasian Films)
A MAN WITHOUT A SOUL – 21/07/1916 – London Film Co Ltd = The Man Without a Soul (UK 1916 d. George Loane Tucker p.c. London)
A PARISIAN ROMANCE – 20/07/1916 – Fox Film Company Ltd = A Parisian Romance (USA 1916 d. Frederick A. Thomson p.c. Fox)
A ROYAL BULL FIGHT – 24/04/1923 – Tayers Ltd
A SALVAGE – 11/07/1913 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
A SCREAM IN THE NIGHT – 05/01/1923 – Ward’s Productions Ltd = possibly A Scream in the Night (USA 1923 d. Leander De Cordova, Burton L. King p.c. A.H. Fischer Features)
A SHOP GIRL’S PERIL – 15/10/1913 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
A SNAKE’S MEAL – 15/10/1913 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
A SPLENDID WASTER – 12/07/1917 – International Variety Agency Lt = The Splendid Waster (South Africa 1916 d. Harold Shaw p.c. African Film Productions)
A TRUTHFUL LIAR – 22/10/1924 – W & F Film Service Ltd = A Truthful Liar (USA 1924 d. Hampton el Ruth p.c. Hal Roach) (or possibly The Truthful Liar, USA 1922)
A WOMAN – 08/01/1915 – Cines Co
A WOMEN’S [i.e. Woman's] FATE – 14/01/1924 – M & F Film Agency Ltd
ACROSS NO MANS LAND WITH TANKS – 23/04/1917 – Screen Plays Co
ADVENTURES OF MAIZIE CH 10 “LITTLE ANNIE LOONIE” – 16/07/1926 – Wardour Films Ltd = The Adventures of Mazie: Little Andy Looney (USA 1925)
AIR RAID ON LONDON – 01/06/1915 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd
ALL MAN – 30/04/1919 – Vitagraph Film Hiring Co. Ltd = All Man (USA 1918 d. Paul Scardon p.c. Vitagraph)
ANIMALS LIKE HUMANS – 31/08/1923 – Gaumont Co Ltd
ARRIVAL OF SINN FEIN PRISONERS OF DUBLIN – 14/07/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
ARRIVAL OF THE GUNTESS MARKEIVING [i.e. Countess Markievicz] ON HER RELEASE – 14/07/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
AS MAN MADE HER / 04/05/1917 – Gaumont British Dist = As Man Made Her (USA 1917 d. George Archainbaud p.c. Peerless)
AS THE SHADOW FALLS – 11/02/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = As the Shadow Falls (USA 1915 d. William Worthington p.c. Universal)
AT THE MERCY OF MAN – 18/09/1919 – Littleton Park Film Prods = possibly At the Mercy of Men (USA 1918 d. Charles Miller p.c. Select Pictures)
BATTLING BUNYAN – 30/04/1925 – Ideal Films Ltd = Battling Bunyan (USA 1924 d. Paul Hurst p.c. Crown)
BELOW THE DEADLINE – 15/09/1929 – Argosy Film Co Ltd = probably Below the Deadline (USA 1929 d. J.P. McGowan p.c. Chesterfield)
BEYOND THE BARRICADE – 15/12/1921 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd = Har jeg Ret til at tage mit eget Liv? (Denmark 1920 d. Holger-Madsen p.c. Nordisk)
BIRDS OF PREY – 07/06/1927 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = probably Birds of Prey (USA 1927 d. William James Craft p.c. Columbia)
BLINDFOLDED – 07/08/1918 – Gaumont British Dist = probably Blindfolded (USA 1918 d. Raymond B. West p.c. Paralta)
BOLSHELVISM ON TRIAL – 21/03/1922 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères]
BOSTON BLACKIE – 27/06/1923 – Fox Film Company Ltd = Boston Blackie (USA 1923 d. Scott R. Dunlap p.c. Fox)
CABARET NIGHTS – 10/09/1928 – First National Pathe Ltd
CAPTURING WILD ANIMALS IN THE ROCKIES – NOS 1, 2, 3, 4 – 22/07/1920 – Gaumont Co Ltd
CAPTURING WILD ANIMALS IN THE WILDERNESS – NOS 1, 2, 3, 4 – 22/07/1920 – Gaumont Co Ltd
CASANOVA’S SON – 11/02/1929 – Leon Wynbergen Ltd
CHILDREN OF DESTINY – 05/01/1923 – Ward’s Productions Ltd = maybe Children of Destiny (USA 1920 d. George Irving p.c. Weber Productions)
COCAINE – 12/05/1922 – Astra Films Ltd = Cocaine (later While London Sleeps) (UK 1922 d. Graham Cutts p.c. Master)
CONSCIENCE – 09/11/1917 – 20th Century Fox Film Co. Ltd = Conscience (USA 1917 d. Bertram Bracken p.c. Fox)
CORALIE & CO – 30/07/1914 – Cines Co = Madame Coralie & Co. (Italy 1914)
CUPID ARTHUR & CO – 22/11/1915 – Cines Co
DAMAGED GOODS – 21/11/1919 – Royal Film Agency = Damaged Goods (UK 1919 d. Alexander Butler p.c. Samuelson)
DEALERS IN HUMAN LIVES – 18/09/1914 – Ruffles [i.e. Ruffell's] Imperial Bioscope Ltd
DON’T FLIRT – 14/05/1925 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = presumably Don’t Flirt (USA 1923 d. Len Powers p.c. Hal Roach)
DRACULA – 11/12/1922 – Y Froehlich = Nosferatu (Germany 1922 d. F.W. Murnau p.c. Jofa-Atelier Berlin-Johannisthal)
EAGLE’S EYE,THE – 29/10/1918 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = The Eagle’s Eye (USA 1918 d. George Lessey et al p.c. Wharton)
ECLAIR JOURNAL NO.13 1ST EDITION ARMOURED MOTOR CARS – 27/03/1915 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd = newsreel
ECLAIR JOURNAL NO.25 1ST EDITION – A CITY OF FIRES – ANTI GERMAN SCENES IN JOHANNESBURG – 19/06/1915 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd = newsreel
ENGLISH AVIATOR IN THE FAR EAST – 12/05/1916 – Urban Trading Co Ltd
ENGLISH SEAPLANE AT SALONIKA – 12/05/1916 – Urban Trading Co Ltd
FEAR – 18/01/1917 – Llanhouser Films Ltd [i.e. Thanhouser] = Fear (USA 1917 p.c. Thanhouser)
FIT TO MARRY – 22/03/1923 – Joseph Klein
FLYING WHEELS – 08/06/1926 – Famous Players Film Co Ltd = Flying Wheels (USA 1926 d. Edward Ludwig p.c. Century)
FOUR IRISH GIRLS – 22/02/1917 – Western Import Co Ltd
FREE AND EQUAL – 25/03/1919- Stoll Film Co Ltd = possibly Free and Equal (USA 1918 d. Roy William Neill p.c. Thomas H. Ince)
FRENCH FISHING SMACKS MOUNT QUICK FIRES AGAINST THE PIRATES – 12/03/1915 – Gaumont Co Ltd = newsreel
FRENCH HOWITYERS [i.e. Howitzers] – 13/08/1915 – Gaumont Co Ltd
FRENCH TROOPS LEAVING MARSEILLES FOR THE EAST – 19/03/1915 – Gaumont Co Ltd = newsreel
FROU FROU – 14/06/1913 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd (There were American film adaptations of the play Frou-Frou in 1914, 1917 and 1918)
FUNNICUS THE MINISTER – 27/01/1913 – Tyler Film Co Ltd = Gavroche remplace le ministre (France 1913 d. Romeo Bosetti p.c. Éclair)
GERMAN KULTUZ [presumably Kultur] – 16/06/1917 – Kineto Ltd
GETTING STRONG – 25/02/1924 – Regent Film Corp Ltd
GLITTERING BROADWAY – 11/12/1916 – Pathe Freres Ltd
GOD’S LAW – 24/04/1918 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = probably The People vs John Doe (USA 1916 d. Lois Weber p.c. Universal)
GREATER THAN LOVE – 15/12/1921 – Associated Producers Ltd = Greater than Love (USA 1921 d. Fred Niblo p.c. J. Parker Read Jr. Productions)
GREED NO. 14 – 19/05/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
GRIT – 11/02/1925 – George Smith Films Ltd = probably Grit (USA 1924 d. Frank Tuttle p.c. Film Guild)
HANDCUFFS AND KISSES – 22/02/1922 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = presumably Handcuffs or Kisses (USA 1921 d. George Archinbaud p.c. Selznick)
HEARTS IN EXILE – 09/08/1915 – Clarion Film Agency Ltd = Hearts in Exile (USA 1915 d. James Young p.c. World)
HER DANGEROUS PATH EPISODE 9 – 21/01/1924 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = Her Dangerous Path [serial (USA 1923 d. Roy Clements p.c. Hal Roach)
HER WHITE GOD – 20/05/1919 – Essanay Film Service Ltd
HIS MODEL WIFE – 10/01/1918 – Oppidan Film Productions Ltd = possibly His Model Wife (USA 1917 d. Al Christie p.c. Christie)
HIS ONLY SON – 30/05/1913 – Pathe Freres Ltd = possibly His Only Son (USA 1912 d. Jack Conway p.c. Nestor)
HONOR’S CROSS – 01/08/1918 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = Honor’s Cross (USA 1918 d. Wallace Worsley p.c. Selexart Pictures)
HUMAN WRECKAGE – 16/01/1924 – R C Corporation ltd = Human Wreckage (USA 1923 d. John Griffith Wray p.c. Thomas H. Ince)
HUMAN WRECKS – 08/04/1915 – Davison’s Film Sales Agency = possibly Wykolejeni (Poland 1913 d. Kazimierz Kamiński p.c. Sfinks)
HYPOCRITES – 18/05/1917 – Western Import Co Ltd = probably Hypocrites (USA 1915 d. Louis Weber p.c. Hobart Bosworth Productions)
I ALSO ACCUSE – 24/04/1923 – Foyers ltd = Moi aussi, j’accuse (France 1923 d. Alred Machin, Henri Wulschleger p.c. Les Films Alfred Machin/Pathé)
INNOCENT – 24/03/1915 – Cines Co = L’Innocente (Italy 1912 p.c. Cines)
INSPIRATION – 19/05/1916 – Thanhouser films ltd = Inspiration (USA 1915 d. George Foster Platt p.c. Thanhouser)
INTERRUPTED – 24/01/1913 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd
IRISH DESTINY – 21/04/1926 – Eppels films ltd = Irish Destiny (Ireland 1926 d. George Dewhurst)
IRISH REBELS ARRIVE IN LONDON AND ARE INCASCERATED IN – GAOL – 09/05/1916 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = newsreel
IT MAY BE YOUR DAUGHTER – 10/02/1917 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd = It May be Your Daughter (USA 1916 p.c. Moral Uplift Society of America)
JUST AS HE THOUGHT – 30/11/1917 – American Film Co = Just as He Thought (USA 1916 p.c. American Film)
LA CULOTTE DE RIGADIN – 05/12/1913 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd = La culotte de Rigadin (France 1914 d. George Monca p.c. Pathé Frères)
LAWFUL CHEATERS – 30/11/1925 – Vitagraph Film Hiring Co. Ltd = presumably The Lawful Cheater (USA 1925 d. Frank O’Connor p.c. B.P. Schulberg)
LEAVES FROM THE BOOK OF SATAN – 15/12/1921 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd = Blade af Satans bog (Denmark 1921 d. Carl Th. Dreyer p.c. Nordisk)
LIFE’S SHADOWS – 03/05/1927 – Wardour Films Ltd
LITTLE MONTE CARLO – 15/12/1916 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
LITTLE WHITE SLAVES – 03/07/1914 – Tyler Film Co Ltd = Kleine weiße Sklaven (Germany 1914 d. Oskar Ludwig Brandt p.c. Lloyd-Film)
LOVE – 15/12/1921 – Assoc. Ind. Producers Ltd
LOVE AND SACRIFICE – 21/07/1924 – Allied Artists Corpn. Ltd = America (USA 1924 d. D.W. Griffith p.c. D.W. Griffith Productions)
LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT – 20/02/1929 – Wardour Films Ltd = Love at First Flight (USA 1928 d. Edward F. Cline p.c. Mack Sennett)
LOVE IS BLIND – 28/10/1913 – Gerrard Film Co Ltd = probably Love is Blind (USA 1913 d. Allan Dwan p.c. American Film Manufacturing Company)
MARRIAGE – 19/12/1929 – Pro Patria Films Ltd
MEPHISTS [presumably Mephisto] – 03/03/1913 – Elite Sales Agency Ltd
MIRACULOUS WATERS – 23/02/1914 – New Agency Film Co
MOTHER’S CONFESSION – 21/01/1916 – A. Reid & Co = A Mother’s Confession (USA 1915 d. Ivan Abramson p.c. Ivan Film)
MOTHER, I NEED YOU – 23/10/1919 – L. Zimmerman = Mother, I Need You (USA 1918 d. Frank Beal)
MY WIFE AND I – 07/04/1914 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
NABBED – 19/05/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd (There were two films titled Nabbed in 1915, one USA, one UK, neither connected to Universal/Trans Atlantic)
NIGHT LIFE – 16/02/1928 – British Exhibitors Films Ltd
NIGHT OUT, A – 08/09/1916 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd
NOBODY – 30/04/1923 – Associated National Pictures
NOBODY WOULD BELIEVE – 11/03/1913 – J. Frank Brockliss Ltd
NORTH OF 50-50 – 14/05/1925 – Pathe Freres Ltd = North of 50-50 (USA 1924 d. Len Powers p.c. Hal Roach)
OPEN ALL NIGHT – 27/11/1924 – Famous Players Film Co Ltd = Open All Night (USA 1924 d. Paul Bern p.c. Famous Players-Lasky)
OUR LITTLE NELL – 14/05/1925 – Pathe Freres Ltd = Our Little Nell (USA 1924 d. Len Power p.c. Hal Roach)
OUTSIDE THE LAW – 25/03/1927 – European Motion Picture Co Ltd
PATHE DAILY GAZETTE – 03/10/1914 – Pathe Freres Ltd = newsreel
PATHE GAZETTE – “BOMBING SCHOOL OF THE 10th MIDDLESEX” – 11/10/1915 – Pathe Freres Ltd = newsreel
PATHE GAZETTE- “AFTER AN ADVANCE” AND “THROWING A GRENADE” – 12/10/1915 – Pathe Freres Ltd = newsreel
PLUSCH AND PLUMOWSKI – 18/11/1927 – Butchers Film Service Ltd = Plüsch und Plumowski (Germany 1927 d. Hans Steinhoff p.c. Georg-Jacoby-Film)
POTEMKIN – 30/09/1926 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = Bronenosets Potyomkin (USSR 1925 d. Sergei Eisenstein p.c. Goskino)
RELIGION AND SUPERSTITION IN BELOOCHISTAN – 19/09/1913 – New Agency Film Co
RIDERS OF THE NIGHT – 09/09/1919 – David Mundell = Riders of the Night (USA 1918 d. John H. Collins p.c. Metro)
ROSE OF THE TENEMENTS – 10/06/1926 – Ideal Films Ltd = Rose of the Tenements (USA 1926 d. Phil Rosen p.c. Robertson-Cole)
SALWATER [i.e. Saltwater] JANE – 10/06/1927 – Ideal Films Ltd
SEALED LIPS – 30/03/1917 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = possibly Sealed Lips (USA 1915 d. John Ince p.c. Equitable Motion Pictures)
SHOOTIN’ FOR LOVE – 07/12/1923 – European Film Dist Ltd = Shootin’ for Love (USA 1923 d. Edward Sedgwick p.c. Universal)
SINS OF YOUR YOUTH – 16/06/1914 – Oscar Rosenberg = possibly Ekspeditricen (Denmark 1911 d. August Blom p.c. Nordisk)
SKIRTS – 26/02/1917 – Western Import Co Ltd = Skirts (USA 1917 d. Al Christie p.c. Christie)
SPANISH BULL FIGHT – 14/03/1913 – Gerrard Films Ltd
STORY OF SISTER RUTH – 11/04/1913 – Gaumont Co Ltd
STRAFING THE KAISER – 03/02/1917 – Walturdaw Co Ltd = Pimple Strafing the Kaiser (UK 1916 d. Fred Evans/Joe Evans p.c. Piccadilly)
SUBMARINE FOR ENGLAND’S NAVY LAUNCHED AT QUINCY MASS – 18/08/1915 – Gaumont Co Ltd = newsreel
TANKS – 14/10/1916 – Kineto Ltd
THE ACE OF BADS - 21/03/1927 – Famous Players Film Co Ltd = The Ace of Cads (USA 1926 d. Luther Reed p.c. Famous Players-Lasky)
THE BACHELOR GIRL – 03/10/1923 – London & Counties Film Bureau
THE BATTLE OF LIFE – 12/03/1917 – Fox Film Company Ltd = The Battle of Life (USA 1916 d. James Vincent p.c. Fox)
THE BLACK TERROR – 12/06/1917 – Thanhouser Films Ltd = The Black Terror (USA 1916 d. Fred Kelsey p.c. Thanhouser)
THE BLUE ROOM – 07/04/1914 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
THE CASE OF THE DOPED ACTRESS – 11/02/1919 – Life Dramas Ltd = The Case of a Doped Actress (UK 1919 d. Wilfred Carlton p.c. Life Dramas)
THE CITY OF SIN – 20/09/1926 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères]
THE COMPANIONATE MARRIAGE – 29/10/1928 – First National Pathe Ltd = Companionate Marriage (USA 1928 d. Erle C. Kenton p.c. C.M. Corporation)
THE CRIMSON CROSS – 08/10/1913- Eclair Film Co. Ltd = The Crimson Cross (USA 1913 p.c. Eclair)
THE CRIMSON STAIN – 08/03/1918 – Ideal Film Renting Co Ltd
THE CRIMSON STAIN MYSTERY – 03/07/1919 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = The Crimson Stain Mystery (USA 1916 d. T. Hayes Hunter p.c. Consolidated)
THE DIVA IN STRAITS – 23/03/1914 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
THE DIVIDED LAW – 13/05/1919 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd
THE DOUBLE ROOM MYSTERY – 12/03/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Double Room Mystery (USA 1917 d. Hobart Henley p.c. Universal)
THE DOWNFALL – 18/06/1924 – Regent Film Corp Ltd
THE DRAGON – 31/05/1916 – F. Simmonds
THE EEL – 26/02/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Eel (USA 1916 d. Harry F. Millarde p.c. IMP)
THE END OF THE ROAD – 01/10/1925 – Carcopal Film Co Ltd
THE FIRE – 11/02/1916 – McEnnery Syndicate Ltd
THE FOUR FEATHERS – 03/10/1917- Albion Cinema Supplies Ltd = probably The Four Feathers (USA 1915 d. J. Searle Dawley p.c. Dyreda)
THE FOURTH ESTATE – 14/06/1917 – Fox Film Company Ltd = The Fourth Estate (USA 1916 d. Frank Powell p.c. Fox)
THE GIRL FROM CHICAGO – 22/02/1917 – Players Management Ltd = The Girl from Chicago (USA 1916 p.c. Thanhouser)
THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE – 11/12/1928 – Wardour Films Ltd = The Girl from Everywhere (USA 1927 d. Edward F. Cline p.c. Mack Sennett)
THE GOOD PRECEPTRESS – 28/01/1913 – New Agency Film Co
THE GREAT PHYSICIAN – 21/01/1913 – Thos. A. Edison Ltd = The Great Physician (USA 1913 d. Richard Ridgely p.c. Edison)
THE GREAT SHADOW – 27/05/1920 – Walturdaw Co Ltd = The Great Shadow (USA/Canada 1920 d. Harley Knoles p.c. Adanac)
THE HAND THAT RULES THE WORLD – 23/07/1914 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Hand that Rules the World (USA 1914 d. Edwin August p.c. Powers)
THE HAUNTED SHIP – 16/02/1928 – British Exhibitors Films Ltd = The Haunted Ship (USA 1927 d. Forrest Sheldon p.c. Tiffany-Stahl)
THE INHERITED BURDEN – 24/05/1915 – Dominion Exclusives
THE KISS OF HATE – 22/09/1916 – Ruffles [presumably Ruffell's] Exclusives Ltd = The Kiss of Hate (USA 1916 d. William Nigh p.c. Columbia)
THE KITCHENER FILM – 13/04/1922 – Mr A Freeman = How Kitchener Was Betrayed (UK 1921 d. Percy Nash p.c. Screen Plays)
THE LAND OF THE FOREFATHERS – 10/02/1917 – Gaumont Co Ltd
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH – 27/11/1924 – Fox Film Company Ltd = The Last Man on Earth (USA d. John G. Blystone p.c. Fox)
THE LAST SUPPER – 17/04/1914 – American Film Co = The Last Supper (USA 1914 d. Lorimer Johnston p.c. American Film Manufacturing Company)
THE LIBERTINE – 09/05/1917 – Bolton’s Mutual Films = probably The Libertine (USA 1916 d. Joseph A. Golden, Julius Steger p.c. Triumph)
THE LOST BAG – 23/05/1913 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd = Naar Fruen gaar paa Eventyr (Denmark 1913 d. August Blom p.c. Nordisk)
THE LOVE ADVENTURES OF FAUBLAS – 19/06/1913 – Paramount Film Service Ltd = Les aventures du chevalier de Faublas (France 1913 d. Henri Pouctal)
THE LURE – 30/08/1915 – Elasion Film Co Ltd = possibly The Lure (USA 1914 d. Alice Guy p.c. Blaché Features)
THE MARIONETTES – 29/10/1917 – Vitagraph Film Hiring Co. Ltd = The Marionettes (USA 1917 d. Thomas R. Mills p.c. Vitagraph)
THE MOTHER – 06/12/1928 – Brunel & Monatgu Ltd = Mat (USSR 1926 d. Vsevolod Pudovkin p.c. Mezhrabpom-Rus)
THE MYSTERIES OF BIRTH – 18/02/1929 – L. Wechsler
THE NEW MOON – 16/02/1922 – Pathe Freres Ltd
THE NIGHT BEFORE – 11/03/1913 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
THE ONE WOMAN – 10/07/1919 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = probably The One Woman (USA 1918 d. Reginald Barker p.c. Mastercraft
THE PRICE OF YOUTH – 24/03/1921 – L. Zimmerman = probably The Price of Youth (USA 1922 d. Ben F. Wilson p.c. Berwilla)
THE PRIEST AND PETER – 06/02/1913 – Universal Pictures
THE RACK – 24/05/1916 – American Film Co = probably The Rack (USA 1915 d. Emile Chautard p.c. William A. Brady)
THE RACKETEERS – 19/12/1929 – Producers Releasing Corp Ltd = possibly Love’s Conquest (USA 1929 d. Howard Higgin p.c. Pathé Exchange)
THE RED KIMONA – 15/01/1926 – A Claresing [probably Clavering] = The Red Kimona (USA 1925 d. Walter Lang p.c. Blanc de Chine)
THE SCARLET MARK – 12/03/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Scarlet Mark (USA 1916 d. Lucius Henderson p.c. Victor)
THE SEASHELL & THE CLERGYMAN – 13/11/1929 – Cinema Exclusives Ltd = La coquille et le clergyman (France 1928 d. Germaine Dulac p.c. Délia Film)
THE SPREADING EVIL – 16/10/1919 – James Keane Productions = The Spreading Evil (USA 1918 d. James Keane p.c. James Keane Feature Photo-play Productions)
THE UNPAINTED PORTRAIT – 10/05/1916 – Western Import Co Ltd = The Unpainted Portrait (USA 1914 p.c. Majestic)
THE WAGER – 18/01/1917 – Ruffles [i.e. Ruffell's] Exclusives Ltd = The Wager (USA 1916 d. George D. Baker p.c. Rolfe Photoplays)
THE WEAVERS – 25/07/1927 – Pathe Freres Ltd = possibly Die Weber (Germany 1927 d. Friedrich Zelnik p.c. Friedrich-Zelnik-Film)
THE WHELP – 01/03/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Whelp (USA 1917 d. Millard K. Wilson p.c. IMP)
THE WHISPERED NAME – 18/06/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Whispered Name (USA 1917 d. Donald MacDonald p.c. Rex)
THE WHITE SLAVE TRAFFIC – 25/07/1927 – F. Alfred = Mädchenhandel – Eine internationale Gefahr (Germany 1927 d. Jaap Speyer p.c. Liberty-Film)
THE WOMAN HOUSE OF BRES[C]IA – 23/03/1921 – Elijah Day & Sons Ltd = Das Frauenhaus von Brescia (Germany 1920 d. Hubert Moest p.c. Moset-Film)
THE WORD THAT KILLS – 25/02/1914 – Cines Co
THE WRECKED ZEPPELIN – 03/10/1916 – H.D. Girdwood [i.e. Hilton DeWitt Girdwood]
THE YOKE – 31/12/1915 – International Cine Corpn-Ltd = The Yoke (UK 1915 d. James Warry Vickers p.c. International Cine Corps)
THE ZEPP[E]LINS LAST RAID – 20/02/1918 – Lionel Phillips
THOSE WHO TOIL – 20/07/1916 – J.F. Brockliss Ltd
THREE MEN AND A MAID – 22/06/1914 – Nordisk Films Co.Ltd
THROUGH THE DARK – 11/02/1924 – Jury Metro-Goldwyn Ltd = Through the Dark (USA 1924 d. George W. Hill p.c. Cosmopolitan)
TOIL AND TYRANNY – 31/05/1916 – Pathe Freres Ltd = Toil and Tyranny (USA 1915 d. Harry Harvey p.c. Balboa Amusement Producing Company)
TRAPPED FOR HER DOUGH – 18/01/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
TWO’S COMPANY – 03/08/1928 – Brunel & Monatgu Ltd = possibly Tretya meshchanskaya (Bed and Sofa) d. Abram Room p.c. Sovkino)
TWO-TIME MAMA – 05/05/1927 – Ideal Films Ltd = Two-Time Mama (USA 1927 d. Feed Guiol p.c. Hal Roach)
UNDER THE BED – 18/06/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = Under the Bed (USA 1917 d. Louis Chaudet p.c. Universal)
VERA – 30/12/1915 – Cines Co
WHAT HAPPENED AT 22 – 12/06/1917 – Bolton’s Mutual Films = What Happened at 22 (USA 1916 d. George Irving p.c. Frohman Amusement Corp.)
WHAT THE CURATE SAW – 12/05/1916 – Regal Films International
WHY MEN LEAVE HOME – 18/07/1913 – Imperial Film Co Ltd = Why Men Leave Home (USA 1913 p.c. IMP)
WOMAN, WOMAN – 20/05/1919 – Fox Film Company Ltd = Woman, Woman! (USA 1919 d. Kenean Buel p.c. Fox)
WONDERFUL NEW ARMOURED MOTOR CAR THAT DEFIES ALL ATTACKS – 09/07/1915 – Pathe Freres Ltd= newsreel
YOU CAN’T BEAT THE LAW – 09/05/1928 – First National Pathe Ltd = You Can’t Beat the Law (USA 1928 d. Charles J. Hunt p.c. Trem Carr Pictures)
ZEPP[E]LIN’S VISIT LONDON – 01/06/1915 – Gaumont Co Ltd

What the censor saw

The notorious crucifixion scene from Auction of Souls (1919), shown uncertificated in the UK

If you look up the British Board of Film Classification in The Encylopedia of British Film, you are given a cross-reference to ‘censorship’. That’s a little hard, indeed misleading for an organisation which since 1985 has had the C in its initials standing for Classification rather than Censorship. They do not censor films as such (though some cuts are made where films infringe guidelines or actually break the laws of the land), they rate films according to social expectations. Those expectations are reflected in guidelines which have changed down the years as society and society’s relationship to the screen have changed. To follow the BBFC’s journey from censorship to classification is to understand how much films are profoundly connected to the temper of their times.

The British Board of Film Censors was formed one hundred years ago in 1912. Ever since motion pictures first appeared in Britain, the authorities sought to control them, though primarily they were concerned with how and where films were shown rather than what they showed. Tragic deaths at Newmarket in 1907 (where two woman and a girl died in a film fire) and Barnsley in 1908 (when sixteen children were crushed to death at crowded cinematograph show) demonstrated that film shows had to be brought under local authority control, though equally there was concern at the young, the mixed sexes and the working class being brought together in the dark where you couldn’t keep a proper eye on them. The fire risk was real, but it was also an excuse for the exercise of moral censure.

Existing legislation did not cover cinema shows, so in 1909 the Cinematograph Act was passed, which required cinemas to be licensed. Now attention turned to the films themselves. There was considerable social disquiet at the content of some films, particularly as a large part of the cinema audience consisted of children. Films were accused of encouraging children to steal, of corrupting morals, of transgressing the bonds of society.

There were calls for government censorship, and local authorities started to censor films for themselves, applying widely different standards. It was to bring about uniformity of decisions nationally, and to avoid the perils of state-imposed censorship, that the British film industry decide to police itself. So in November the British Board of Film Censors was formed, head by George Redford. The Secretary was J. Brooke Wilkinson, and there were four examiners. Every film to be screened in Britain had to be passed by the BBFC, though it had no statutory authority, those powers remaining with the local councils (who also administrated cinema licences) and who could override the BBFC’s decisions if they so chose. Topicals, or newsreels as they were to become, were made exempt from censorship (except in wartime). Film companies had to pay for films to be registered, which funded the service (and does to this day).

The BBFC began work on 1 January 1913, and there were two categories of certificate that it could assign to a film: U, for Universal exhibition, and A, for Adult only. Some films were subject to cuts; others were rejected entirely. In its first year of operation the BBFC examined 7,488 films, passed 6,681 as U, 627 as A, took exception to 166, and completely rejected 22 (figures from Rachael Low, The History of the British Film 1906-1914).

Originally there were only two rules applied by the BBFC to films, which were that they must not show the living figure of Christ, and that they must not show nudity. Otherwise they simply followed their sense of what would offend against morals or upset all or part of a cinema audience. No formal code was ever drawn up (in contrast to the Hayes Code in the USA), but gradually a set of guidelines grew and grew, as revealed by T.P. O’Connor in 1916 at an enquiry into cinema-going undertaken by the National Council of Public Morals, which listed, sometimes comically, all those scenes in a film which would cause them to reject a film in part or in its entirety:

1. Indecorous, ambiguous and irreverent titles and subtitles
2. Cruelty to animals
3. The irreverent treatment of sacred subjects
4. Drunken scenes carried to excess
5. Vulgar accessories in the staging
6. The modus operandi of criminals
7. Cruelty to young infants and excessive cruelty and torture to adults, especially women
8. Unnecessary exhibition of under-clothing
9. The exhibition of profuse bleeding
10. Nude figures
11. Offensive vulgarity, and impropriety in conduct and dress
12. Indecorous dancing
13. Excessively passionate love scenes
14. Bathing scenes passing the limits of propriety
15. References to controversial politics
16. Relations of capital and labour
17. Scenes tending to disparage public characters and institutions
18. Realistic horrors of warfare
19. Scenes and incidents calculated to afford information to the enemy
20. Incidents having a tendency to disparage our Allies
21. Scenes holding up the King’s uniform to contempt or ridicule
22. Subjects dealing with India, in which British Officers are seen in an odious light, and otherwise attempting to suggest the disloyalty of British Officers, Native States or bringing into disrepute
British prestige in the Empire
23. The exploitation of tragic incidents of the war
24. Gruesome murders and strangulation scenes
25. Executions
26. The effects of vitriol throwing
27. The drug habit. e.g. opium, morphia, cocaine, etc
28. Subjects dealing with White Slave traffic
29. Subjects dealing with premeditated seduction of girls
30. ‘First Night’ scenes
31. Scenes suggestive of immorality
32. Indelicate sexual situations
33. Situations accentuating delicate marital relations
34. Men and women in bed together
35. Illicit relationships
36. Prostitution and procuration
37. Incidents indicating the actual perpetration of criminal assaults on women
38. Scenes depicting the effect of venereal disease, inherited or acquired
39. Incidents suggestive of incestuous relations
40. Themes and references relative to ‘race suicide’
41. Confinements
42. Scenes laid in disorderly houses
43. Materialization of the conventional figure of Christ

Some might look at such a list and wonder what on was left that would make going to the cinema any fun at all. The BBFC started to gain for itself a reputation for extreme fuddy-duddy-ness, exemplied by the famous pronouncement on Germaine Dulac’s experimental work The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928):

The film is so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable.

which stands as one of the most memorable lines of film criticism ever written.

The Seashell and the Clergyman (La Coquille et le clergyman)

This reputation is not entirely fair. The BBFC took its work seriously, and when it took upon itself not to allow films that could be ‘calculated to demoralise an audience … or undermine the teachings of morality’ then it only did so after careful consideration of each film, measured against what it sensed to be the prevailing feeling of society. The problem was that the society familiar to the BBFC’s examiners in the 1920s was a narrow one, constrained by class and social prejudice. They tried to dictate the behaviour of society at large by muffling the films that people wanted to see, but banning the film did not halt the public taste for what it showed, nor did it halt the vice from happening in real life. The BBFC thought it was protecting society, but really it was protecting itself from that society – and it was fighting a losing battle.

Various decisions made by the BBFC in the 1920s have become renowned for what they reveal of the governing class’s fears and assumptions. Damaged Goods (1919), a coy drama about the dangers of venereal disease, was rejected outright (despite appeals from some authorities to allow screenings beause of the lessons the film made) as much because it was propagandist in tone as because of its subject matter. The same producer, Samuelson’s, subsequently submitted Married Love (1923), scripted by family planning pioneer Marie Stopes, which decorously approached the subject of birth control. This was passed with cuts once its propagandist tone had been cut down, Marie Stopes’ name had been removed, and the title was changed to Maisie’s Marriage.

On the subject of drugs, the BBFC rejected Mrs Wallace Reid’s impassioned Human Wreckage (1923), not wishing to countenance any film on the theme of drug addiction, yet it passed Graham Cutts’ Cocaine (1922), once its sensational title had been changed to While London Sleeps and after the producer Herbert Wilcox had defied the BBFC by securing screenings of the film in Manchester. Another Wilcox production, the ponderous Dawn (1928), on Nurse Edith Cavell (executed by the Germans during the war for helping Allied soldiers escape), which was denied a certificate because it might revive anti-German feeling. Political pressure was probably exercised, but many local authorities passed the film for screening anyway, demonstrating how the BBFC’s rulings were, after all, only guidelines.

Battleship Potemkin

Battleship Potemkin (1925) was a notable victim of the BBFC’s timorousness (the film had been screened without trouble in the USA), rejected because it forbade films that addressed issues of ‘political controversy’. As the BBFC website’s case study notes on the film state:

No doubt at the back of the BBFC’s mind was the nine day British general strike in May 1926 which had provoked fears amongst some quarters of society of a potential revolution in the UK.

It was claimed that the violence scenes in the film were further reason for its rejection, but no cuts were ordered for these, making its unwelcome political theme the real reason why it was refused a certificate, though it was shown in its uncertificated state at the London Film Society (it was eventually passed by the BBFC in 1954, with a X certificate).

Another example of a film screened in Britain despite hot having been passed by the BBFC was Auction of Souls. This semi-drama semi-documentary told of the Armenian genocide as experienced by escapee Aurora Mardiganian. It featured scenes of massacres, tortures, brutalities of every description, culminating in an horrific scene of a row of crucified naked women. It is hard to imagine such a film being made, still less being offered as a commercial proposition, yet it had been widely shown in America where it was produced. The film was shown at the Albert Hall in London by the League of Nations Union, before the BBFC had viewed it, and when the distributor refused to countenance any cuts the BBFC said it was inevitable that the film would be rejected (though it never actually reviewed the film formally). It was not just the shocking scenes but a fear expressed through the Foreign Office that the film could endanger ongoing peace talks with Turkey that influenced their thinking. Subsequently a London cinema showed it in defiance of its local authority which said that all films shown in its district needed a BBFC certificate. The cinema won the ensuing court case, but in the end the Home Office instituted a system whereby almost all local authorities agreed not to permit the screening of any film rejected by the BBFC. This decision helped cement the position of the BBFC at the heart of British film exhibition, a place that it retains to this day.

Many have mocked the BBFC of the 1920s, seeing it as an out-of-touch institution peopled by retired colonels and maiden aunts gently bent on maintaining the values of a past age which had probably never existed in the first place. The BBFC was unduly concerned by contentious moral issues, it did display political bias, and though ostensibly independent it did bow to political pressure from the Home Office. But it could also be argued as having helped save the British film business, carefully managing the conflicting interests of distributors, audiences and society’s guardians, in a manner that helped establish the cinema as an accepted feature of British life rather than the threat that many felt it represented back in 1912.

The British Board of Film Classification, as it now is, rarely rejects films outright these days. It demands cuts, certainly, measured against a regularly reviewed set of guidelines, but it seldom bans outright, despite films of a nature that would make Messrs Redford or O’Connor faint dead away with shock. It has to maintain a balance between those who abhor being told what they can or cannot see and protest at any cuts and those revolted or upset by cinema’s latest extremes and who call for such films to be banned. Striking a balance has always been at the heart of the BBFC’s work, even if the organisation of today is predicated on a trust in the audience’s good judgment that the BBFC of earlier decades was not.

The BBFC’s website is well worth visting. It has a history of the organisation, explanation of its guidelines, statistics, the law, and information on recent decisions. There are supplementary websites for parents, schools, and students of media regulation and film. Above all there is its database – a listing of films or videos that the BBFC has examined. Using the Advanced Search option with the date delimiters, the database turns out to have 4,590 titles for the silent era (1912-1929). This cannot be anywhere near the number of films that were actually examined by the BBFC for the period, but it is a rich resource nonetheless.

The records are a little on the spartan side. Mostly you get title, date submitted, distributor (i.e. the company that submitted the film for examination), length of cuts made (but no details of wat the cuts were or why they were made) and three categories – U, A or R for Rejected. Refining the search to Rejected titles only brings up 208 results. It is fascinating mixture of the familiar and the little known, identification of which is sometimes difficult because English titles are given for what were often foreign releases. But because this post has gone on long enough, further analysis of the 208 rejectees will have to be the subject of a follow-up post.

From the front cover of the 1912 pamphlet introducing the British Board of film Censors to the film business

The BBFC is marking its centenary in a number of ways. There is a centenary section of the site, which includes outlines various celebratory activities taking place and has an archive section looking back at past highlights and items of interest. Post number one in the archive contains a downloadable facsimile of a 1912 pamphlet introducing the BBFC to exhibitors and promising “absolutely independent and impartial censorship”.

There is to be a film season at the BFI Southbank marking the centenary later in the year, and a book marking “100 years of film classification” (they don’t say censorship) will be published in the Autumn. This is going to be particularly welcome, since it’s been a while since we had a good book published on British film censorship (or classification). If you do want to read more, a good place to start is James C. Robertson’s The British Board of Film Censors: Film Censorship in Britain 1896-1950 (1985) and The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action, 1913-1972 (1989). For those interested in the legal side, Neville March Hunnings’ Film Censors and the Law (1967) is an exceptional work, exhaustive and illuminating, covering not only Britain but the history of film censorships in the USA, India, Canada, Australia, Denmark, France and the USSR. Also recommended is Annette Kuhn’s sophisticatedly argued Cinema, Censorship and Sexuality 1909-1925 (1988) and Picture Palace: A Social History of the Cinema (1974), written by Audrey Field, a BBFC examiner, who reveals that comonsense and a sympathetic understanding of people were hallmarks of at least some at the BBFC far earlier than many might suspect.

Update: A follow-up post identifying the 208 films rejected by the BBFC during the silent era is at http://thebioscope.net/2012/03/22/the-rejected.

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.

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