On location

Well, this is good to see. Having bemoaned the fact that there were few silent film-related conferences on the horizon, here’s news of another. It’s the Second International Berkeley Conference on Silent Cinema, happily building on the promise of the First from last year. It’s entitled On Location, and the conference runs 21-23 February 2013 at the University of California Berkeley, with complementary film screenings at the Pacific Film Archive. The call for papers has just been issued, and here it is:

Call for Papers

Format: A two-and-a-half day conference that combines plenary lectures, concurrent paper panels, workshops, and film screenings with live accompaniment at the Pacific Film Archive.

Concept: This conference will address the emergence and historical development of “location” as a cinematic concept as it underwent a series of important transformations in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Concepts of location have become more interesting in recent years as digital artists increasingly render well-known and entirely fictional urban and natural landscapes using sophisticated digital tools. Studio sets have given way to green-screen spaces, and iconic landmarks are subject to new forms of digital manipulation. Reflection on contemporary media practices has created intellectual curiosity about the idea of cinematic place as a historical phenomenon in all of its various manifestations.

During the silent era, filming moved from interiors to exteriors, and from low-tech production sites such as the Black Maria to studio cities like Cité Elgé, Babelsberg, and Universal City. Whereas some national and regional cinemas became closely associated with natural location settings, others were identified with the manufacture of locations through in-studio simulations or the effects of montage— “creative geography” in the widest sense. In turn, location-dependent genres such as Westerns, travelogues, ethnographic films, documentaries, and city films developed specific attachments to place. Exhibition locations shifted from vaudeville theatres to nickelodeons to picture palaces and from urban centers to small towns. Hollywood’s simultaneous development as a real and imagined place affected models for studio filmmaking and cinematic geography around the world.

This conference asks: How was the idea of “location shooting” developed alongside and sometimes in opposition to “studio set”? When and how did “location” emerge as a complex site of production, a lure for audiences, a generic rubric, and a guarantee of realism, as well as a site of artifice and fantasy? How was the cinematic articulation of a broad range of locations influenced by pictorial traditions such as the picturesque, landscape painting, and photography? What are the social and political implications of these varied sites of production and exhibition?

We welcome proposals from scholars in a variety of disciplines and will consider both silent-era and historically comparative approaches. International perspectives are especially welcome.

Possible lines of inquiry include but are not limited to:

  • Audience localities
  • Hybrid exhibition places and practices
  • The historical development of “on-location” shooting
  • “Universal geographies” (as in: California contains all landscape types)
  • “Creative” geographies (as in: Kuleshov’s montage-produced “artificial landscape”)
  • Shooting locations vs. studio locales
  • “Site-specific” film aesthetics and practices
  • Ethnographic framing of film location
  • The phenomenology of the film set (tricks, facades, mixed-media mise-en-scène)
  • The production of place through genre
  • Imaginary places/animation locations
  • Censorship and locality
  • Studio cities
  • The registration and production of landmark locations
  • The locations of film distribution
  • The relationship between “diegesis” and “location” in film-analytic discourses
  • Depth, stereoscopy, and place
  • “Place” as enduring history in psycho-geography

Submission process: Proposals should include a title, an abstract (500 words max), a short bio (150 words max), and mention of any A/V needs. The papers themselves will be limited to 20 minutes, including any audio-visual material. Proposals should be submitted by October 15, 2012 to theconference@berkeley.edu, with notification by mid-November.

So there you are. Get scribbling (if you are so inclined), and let’s hope that the Berkeley conference becomes an established part of the silent film studies landscape.

The time machine

Demonstration video for the Manchester Time Machine

Now here’s a really enterprising initiative, and a sign of where things will be going for archive film. The North West Film Archive in Manchester has just issued what is probably the first iPhone app using archive film. The Manchester Time Machine marries archive film of the city with GPS data, so that wherever you are in Manchester you can check your phone and see film of that place from decades past.

It doesn’t quite operate at street level – there are eighty video clips ranging from the 1910s to the 1970s, so you have to be in the right place, but it’s a natural way of connecting people today with a place’s moving image heritage. There isn’t a list of all the films used (unless you download the app of course), but the silent films include a Whit Walk in Market Street in 1911, and policemen marching in front of the Town Hall in 1914. The films are grouped by decade from the 1910s, or you can select a location from an interactive Manchester map, or just use your GPS to locate whichever archive film is near you. the clips come with background information and a ‘virtual compass’ so you can orient yourself to be facing in the same direction as the film was shot.

The app, which is free, can be downloaded from the iTunes app store, and versions for Android and iPad are to follow soon. Obviously it can only be used effectively by people in Manchester, but I’m pretty sure it’s an idea that is going to be emulated, in the UK and elsewhere. Just imagine how it might be used for silent film locations…

While we’re on the subject of the North West Film Archive, they also have a DVD out March 13th, Preston and its Guild 1902 to 1992. This is a history of the Lancashire town of Preston through its rich legacy of archive film. That there were so many local newsreel made of Preston in the early years was down to the superabundant energy of local filmmaker and impresario Will Onda, who is the subject of a research project by Emma Heslewood, who keeps up an engaging blog on her discoveries.

The North West Film Archive is one a of number of regional film archives in the UK whose great enterprise and whose important collections we have highlighted on these pages before now. Such archives have always had to think quickly on their feet, and the various ways in which they are grasping the opportunities of new media platforms is truly heartening to see.

New York, New York

A rare photograph showing the interior of a film business preview theatre, at the offices of American Cinephone Co., 124 East 25th Street, NYC, in 1910, from the MCNY Collections Portal

Now here’s an excellent resource for you. In 2010 the Museum of the City of New York launched its Collections Portal, opening up nearly 100,000 archival images of New York City to the web world. The collection is being added to all the time – a substantial collection of digitised postcards has just been added – and needless to say it offers plenty for the researcher interested in silent films.

The site is simple to use. The front page offers a striking browse option, where you can scroll laterally through images on the themes of Bridges, People, Waterfront, Skylines or Prints for Sale; or else by Borough (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan etc.), or featured photographer. There is a simple search option, with the advanced search giving you the options of keyword, artist/maker, subject term, excluded subject term, or accession number. There is a lightbox facility for registered users. Each image has a title, description, original dimensions given, date, and is subject indexed under a variety of terms, encouraging further browsing as each term is hyperlinked to further search results (though note that, for example, ‘motion pictures’ as a linked term gets 81 hits, but ‘motion pictures’ simply typed into the search box gets 257 hits. Classification is helpful, but always selective). There is powerful zoom function, though paradoxically you have to squint to find it (look out for the mini magnifying glass bottom left of any image).

Interior of the Automatic Vaudeville theatre, 48 East 14th Street, NYC, c.1904. Mutoscope viewers can be seen on the right-hand side

There is plenty on film-related subjects, and a lot of them from the silent period. It is best to keep search terms simple, and using the terms ‘movie’, ‘film’ or ‘motion picture’ yield the best results (our traditional test term, ‘kinetoscope’, brings up four images). The emphasis is not so much on production as on the distribution, sales and exhibition side of things. So there are are some fascinating interiors of New York film businesses, including American Cinephone, Mutual, Empire Film Co., Pathescope and others, plus exteriors of cinemas and other venues – among the earliest film-related images is a set showing an amusement arcade from c.1904, the Automatic Vaudeville, which includes a line-up of peepshow Mutoscopes among its visitor attractions – a handy reminder that not all films of the period were experienced in cinemas. All in all one gets a picture of the early film business somewhat stripped of its glamour, but very much a part of the ebb and flow of the business life of a great city.

What should be especially interesting for researchers is to seek out film-related subjects which the MCNY people have not identified. Among the many street views and postcard images of early 20th century New York City, there are going to be those which show cinemas, nickelodeons, variety theatres which showed film, and so on, which may not be the main subject of the image. It’s an activity worth undertaking, as I know from having searched not unprofitably for similar images of early London film venues in postcards.

A motion picture industry employees’ ball, New York, c.1910. Among the companies whose pennants can be seen are Moving Picture World, Nicholas Power Co., Hog Reisinger, Thanhouser, Great Northern, Lux, Lumiere, Imp, Buffalo and Rex

If you do find anything new, you should tell the people at MCNY. Their website invites interested users to submit new information or corrections, and I can confirm that they reply promptly, and make amendments quickly.

Finally, although the site is partly aimed as the commercial market, with the lightbox and information on rights and reproduction fees, they also say that any image can be reproduced for non-commercial purposes on personal blogs, for research or other academic study. Good for them, and thank you.

Go explore.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 32

Carla Laemmle and Gary Busey, from Hollywood Reporter

Here in the scriptorium at New Bioscope Towers we’re setting the staff to transcribing our scarcely decipherable notes made in the dark (of course) at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, in readiness for the first of our diary reports – we hope not to keep you waiting too long. Meanwhile, other events have been taking place in the world of silent film. These are five of them.

Carla’s second century
Carla Laemmle, niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle, has will be 102 on October 20th, and is not just one of the few silent film performers still alive, but very probably the only one still acting. She appeared as a prima ballerina in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and plays alongsde Gary Busey in the forthcoming feature Mansion of Blood. Read more.

A dog’s life
The silent star of the moment, however, has four legs. Susan Orlean’s cultural history Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend has gained much acclaim and aroused new interest in silent cinema’s leading canine star. The book tells a “powerfully moving story of Rin Tin Tin’s journey from orphaned puppy to movie star and international icon”, telling a history that is as much about American entertainment and society as it is about the dog. Read more.

Silent cinema and the secrets of London
The Daily Telegraph site has a thoughtful article by Neil Brand on his experience of London through the medium of silent film and his music accompaniments, from Siege of Sidney Street newsreels, to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger, to his own orchestral score for Anthony Asquith’s Underground (premiered on October 5th at the Barbican). Read more.

Louis Louis
Louis, Dan Pritzker’s modern silent film on the childhood of Louis Armstrong, with Wynton Marsalis’ jazz score, has its European debut on 13 November, as part of the London Jazz Festival, at the Barbican (again). Marsalis himself won’t be there, but the eight-piece group, led by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, includes saxophonist Wes Anderson, and drummer Herlin Riley. Tickets are now on sale. Read more.

La Parade est passée
One of the quite essential silent film books, Kevin Brownlow’s 1968 The Parade’s Gone By, is to be published in French for the first time. Its translator is Christine Leteux, the knowledgeable soul behind the highly commendable Ann Harding’s Treasures blog. It is to be published by Acte Sud/Institut Lumière on 19 October (according to Amazon.fr). Brownlow himself is a guest of honour at the Lumière 2011 film festival in Lyon this week, marking the publication of his book. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Cine-tourism

Google Map showing locations of films made in the early 1900s by R.W. Paul in the Muswell Hill and New Southgate area, produced by the Cine-Tourist

My favourite website of the moment is the Cine-Tourist. The site has been created by Roland-François Lack of University College London as a home for his studies into cinema and place. It’s a model example of how to use the Web as a home for research in forms to which the Web is best suited.

The Cine-Tourist, as Lack bills himself, is interested how films record and depend upon place, both literally and metaphorically. He demonstrates the interrelationships in a number of engrossing ways. For example, his site has sections on cities: that on Paris has 63 frame grabs from Jacques Rivette’s Paris s’en va (1981), identifying the specific locations; that on London has a series of frame grabs rather playfully showing maps that appear in films depicting police stations. That all sounds rather little bit trainspotter-ish, but in practice pinpointing the specifics of place somehow deepens the sense of depth in a film, in the way that it always leads our imagination away from the literal.

This is made clearer in the Cine-Tourist’s blog, The Daily Map, which posts daily frame grabs from a wide range of films, each showing a map significantly positioned in the background, often with an engrossing quotation underneath, from studies of image, place and cultural history. Several of the examples so far are from silent films, as in this frame still from Jean Epstein’s La chute de la Maison Usher (1928):

‘The face is a map’: frame still from La chute de la Maison Usher (1928)

There are other elements to the site, including thoughts on methodologies, a biographical account of his local cinemas, links and a helpful bibliography of “books and essays that read maps in films or films through maps or films as maps …” But I want to draw particular attention to the section Local filmmaker: local film subjects. The Cine-Tourist lives in the Muswell Hill area of London, and one hundred years ago the area was home and workspace for British pioneer filmmaker Robert W. Paul.

Paul lived and maintained a studio and film laboratories in the Muwsell Hill and New Southgate areas. The Cine-Tourist has photographed the intriguingly mundane buildings that were Paul’s homes in the area, but then has studied Paul’s films closely (both those extant and lost films nevertheless indentifiable to a degree through catalogues) and matched locations to film scenes. So far, this is much like the work done by John Bengtson at his Silent Locations blog (recently reported on by the Bioscope). The Cine-Tourist however goes further by subjecting the images to greater topographical and filmographical analysis, and by mapping the locations of some of Paul’s films of the 1900s onto Google Maps, as demonstrated at the top of this post. From this map you can go to the locations specific films, which you can additionally view on Street View or as a satellite view. Additional links take you to detailed information on Paul’s domestic and professional addresses, with further links to the London Project database on pre-First World War film businesses in London.

Robert Paul’s 1903 home ‘Malvern’, now the ‘Muswell Hill Food & Wine’,”the shop to which I go for last-minute, late-night supplies of wine and sundries” (the Cine-Tourist)

This isn’t just a piece of diverting local history. It links up the personal to the professional to the geographical to the Web. Lack begins with himself as London resident, or London traveller; traces his personal history of filmgoing and filmwatching in London (and other cities); documents this through the films in which people are themselves mapped in various ways; then brings all this together into a website which links out again to the greater world of film studies, area studies, and the co-ordinates of place in general. What it may all signify in the end, I couldn’t tell you exactly – but the journey is engrossing.

The Cine-Tourist is an example of an increasing trend in the scholarly study of the mysteries of place. Its inspiration goes back to the flâneur of 19th century Paris, the man in the crowd who was a part of the city yet by perambulating through it was somehow distanced from it, as Baudelaire described:

To be away from home and yet to find oneself everywhere at home, to be at the centre of the world, and yet remain hidden from the world.

The flâneur is a reader of the city through which he passes. Other inspirations for what has become a modern movement are Walter Benjamin’s Arcades project and the ‘situationist’ Guy Debord, who came up with the somewhat loose term ‘psychogeography’ often used to describe such preoccupations. Most recently there is the London writer Iain Sinclair, author of such richly allusive works as London Orbital (a tour of the M25 which circumnavigates London) and Lights out for the Territory, works to be found placed prominently in the London section of many a bookshop, doubtless bewildering the unsuspecting tourists who purchase them. Sinclair, like Debord, is also a filmmaker, and another member of the same ‘school’ is documentary filmmaker Patrick Keiller, whose 2007 exhibition placing images from early films onto the same locations today was covered by the Bioscope.

What is interesting is how such ramblings (literally so) have found their natural home on the Web; indeed are being encouraged by the Web, which by its very nature brings together that association of ideas that psychogeography seeks to achieve. Google Maps, Google Earth, Street View, OpenStreetMap (a free, editable world map), HistoryPin (mapping of people’s historical photos) and Geograph (a project inviting anyone to help document every square kilometre of the UK and Ireland with photographs) each encourage us to explore and share what we have explored.

London Sound Survey‘s mapping of sounds (the orange squares) from the London of today to the Booth maps of 1898, colour-coded to show levels of welath and poverty

Interestingly, many psychogeographical or semi-pyschogeographical sites are rather bad at using the Web. Among some of the better examples, check out Classic Cafes (London and seaside cafes), Derelict London (the strange poetry of abandoned corners of London), Urban Squares (city squares around the world), Mythogeography (“for walkers, artists who use walking in their art, students who are discovering and studying a world of resistant and aesthetic walking, anyone who is troubled by official guides to anywhere …”) and the excellent London Sound Survey (systematically mapping the city though its sounds).

For silent films, we are fortunate in having two outstanding examples of the use of mapping tools, though neither is strictly psychogeographical in intent. Going to the Show documents the experience of movies and moviegoing in North Carolina to the end of the silent film era, bringing together Sanborn fire insurance maps of the period and Google Maps; while Cinema Context documents cinema-going and films seen in the Netherlands, linking its database records to Google Maps and the Internet Movie Database. Both have been highly praised on these pages before now (see here and here). I shall be writing about Cinema Context again soon. For other such empirical studies of cinemas and their place, see the HOMER project website (though some of the links no longer work).

Roland-François Lack has another blog, The BlowUp moment, dedicated to frame stills showing the use of cameras in films, with a new image daily.

Go explore. Literally so.

The place of the past

Venice, California today and inset the same location as featured in Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. (1914), from a PowerPoint presentation of famous Chaplin filming locations on http://silentlocations.wordpress.com

John Bengtson is the author of Silent Traces, Silent Echoes, and Silent Visions, three books which take a fresh look at classic silent comedy films by revisting their locations today. Traces covers the films of Charlie Chaplin; Echoes covers Buster Keaton; and Visions (published May 2011) covers Harold Lloyd. The publications have gained much praise for their novel, illuminating approach to film history and simply because they are such a delight to look at.

Bengtson has now gone online with Silent Locations, a blog that promises to cover ‘Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)’. It’s early days for the site as yet, but already there are some fascinating then-and-now photographs for films of each of the three stars, with instructive background information on location and production, plus the promise of other kinds of content to follow. For example, there is a downloadable PowerPoint presentation on classic Chaplin locations, with a frame still from the film inset within a photograph of the location today, which is as beautiful as it is informative. It’s going to be a site to keep an eye on.

We can be so engrossed in what we see on the screen that we can forget that there is more to the movies than stars and stories. Every film made is a time capsule. The way people look, dress, talk, interact with one another, the social assumptions that are made, the places they live in, visit, work in, the functions and histories of those places, the transport they use, their hopes, fears, loves and hatreds. Few history books are able to pack in as much as a film does, if we are prepared to look.

This was the great theme of the late Colin Sorensen, museum curator and cultural historian. In building up the modern collection at the Museum of London, he became fascinated by film’s capacity to impart the history of London. By this he didn’t just mean documentaries, but more particularly fiction films, because of their frequently deeper resonances. Films show both a literal and an imaginary past. There are actual locations and buildings still standing or now lost, of course, and Sorensen was very good at pointing out buildings shown standing in films that exist no more, so that the film becomes a precious record of a place’s appearance and social functions. But film is also a dream of how people imagined the city was, and embeds a rich set of associations with other histories. As he wrote in his book London on Film (1996):

This unique accumulation of insight and information, of fact and fantasy, has created a vast resource for the study and appreciation of London. It offers us a largely unprobed field for a new kind of urban archaeology: the archaeology of recorded action rather than of surviving artefact.

It was Colin’s great frustration that he could mostly only present his ideas through still images, and that even when a film was running he could not find the means to fix associations between what was on the screen and the links he detected with other histories that lay in his head (he might have been able to do so much more with today’s computer software). It isn’t that films belong in the museum so much as films are a museum – it’s just that we so seldom take the time to look at them in that way.

London (1926), from London on Film

See, for example, this still from the lost British film London, directed by Herbert Wilcox in 1926, which comes from London on Film. It’s a studio setting, but a precisely recreated one of a part of London life that once was. He writes:

The ebb and flow of city life continues throughout the day and night. Paths cross and the diverge as people go their different ways … [T]he coffee stall, now a vanishing feature of London life, once provided a unique meeting place where people of all types and classes rubbed shoulders for a few moments, refreshing themselves with a drink and a sandwich.

So the setting has a historical, symbolic and practical function – the latter being that it makes for a good point at which to bring together disparate characters, and one with strong character recognition. Of course, there is much more. There are the dowdly, well-worn clothes of the Londoners. Everyone wears hats, all the man have buttoned-up shirts with ties. There is the stall itself (evidently horse-drawn even though this is the 1920s), its pavement location, its wares and its advertisements. But also running through the image is a history of British filmmaking, from the assertive Britishness of the film’s title, to the contrary fact that the lead performer is an American (Dorothy Gish, on the left), typical of many an American star with a career on the wane being snapped up on the cheap by a British studio. But she is a Gish sister, so embedded in her image is a whole history of narrative cinema that comes out of D.W. Griffith. And London was based on the London stories of Thomas Burke, another of whose novels inspired Broken Blossoms). Or we can just look at the coffee cups and think that, apart from the size of the cups, maybe there’s not that much about London life that has changed after all.

John Bengtson has done an excellent job showing how traces of the past exist in the locations of today, and by showing past and present side by side he makes us think historically. But it’s not just the stills but the films themselves that we need to annotate in a far richer form than we have achieved so far. Film’s special capacity for encapsulating times past and creating associations between where we are now and where we once were needs not just to be acknowledged but to be documented. Otherwise the history will be lost.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 18

The Ten Commandments (1923), from DVD Talk

Chinese American
The Chinese Film Forum UK is a network based in Manchester, UK that exists for the research and promotion of transnational Chinese film. It organises regular film screenings at the Cornerhouse in Manchester, and in early April there are some silent films: Piccadilly (GB 1929), staring Ann May Wong (5 April); a talk, ‘Beyond Dragon Ladies and Butterflies: Anna May Wong’s Stardom’, given by Mina Suder (5 April); and The Curse of Quon Gwon (US 1916-17), the earliest known example of Chinese-American filmmaking, shown as a double bill with the documentary Hollywood Chinese (US 2008), which looks at the ways the Chinese have been imagined in Hollywood movies, from silents to contemporary cinema (12 April). Read more.

The Ten Commandments – and The Ten Commandments
We must be grateful for our silents where we can find them, and sometimes they turn up on the extras rather than as the main attraction. So it is that Paramount’s six-disc (count’ em) limited edition Blu-Ray release of Cecil B. de Mille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) includes his 1923 The Ten Commandments, with extras all of its own – audio commentary, hand-tinted footage and a two-strip Technicolor sequence. Read more.

Thanhouser – it’s official
The Bioscope somewhat jumped the gun when we announced that the Thanhouser collection of films was appearing online (via Vimeo), but now the news is official, and you can find a list of all the films, with supporting information (and an invitation to help support their online access with PayPal donations) on the Thanhouser site. Read more.

London matters
London Rediscovered is a one-day event on programming and presenting archive films of London, from silents to today, with talks by Patrick Russell (Curator of non-fiction at the BFI), Luke McKernan (a mere blogger), filmmaker Ron Peck, London Screen Archives’ Angela English, and Ian Christie, director of the London Screen Study Collection, curator and film historian. It takes place 29 March at Birkbeck College. Read more.

Last of the silents?
Who will be the last person living who was a silent film performer? Mickey Rooney, who appeared in ‘Mickey McGuire’ silent comedy shorts from 1927, is still with us, but the way she’s going it could well be the indefatigable Diana Serra Cary, who made her first film at the age of two in 1921, under the name Baby Peggy. The Los Angeles Times has an illuminating interview with her, which concludes with the family tragedy that followed when her fame slipped away. “I could never be important to my father again after I became ‘me.’” Read more.

Flicker alley

No. 8 Cecil Court, formerly home of The Bioscope film trade journal, now Tim Bryars Ltd bookshop

I was wandering through central London today, something I’d not had a chance to do for quite some while, and I ended up at Cecil Court. It’s a favourite spot, a short street of great charm linking Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane, close by Leicester Square, and filled with bookshops of the antiquarian and first edition kind. It is also the first home of the British film industry, because it was here, between 1897 and 1911, that many of the film businesses then operating in London chose to have their offices – producers, distributors, agents, equipment manufacturers and more. It was nicknamed ‘Flicker Alley’, a name recalled with affection in many subsequent memoirs, and now of course the name given to an American DVD company specialising in silent film.

What caught my eye were the blue plaques. London is filled with blue plaques placed on the walls of buildings which were previously home to great names of the past. The traders of Cecil Court have taken this idea and placed pseudo blue plaques in their windows, each one noting the name of a film business that used to be based in that building. That they have been able to do so is thanks to the work of Simon Brown, now of Kingston University, who has undertaken detailed research into early London film businesses, and wrote a paper on the history of ‘Flicker Alley’ for the journal Film Studies, a paper which happily is freely available online.

Simon’s paper provides an understanding of the early London film industry, in all its many forms, viewed through the history of the businesses that came and went in Cecil Court. He provides tables which name each one, what their business was, and which was their address. You must turn to his paper for the full details, but the companies there from 1897-1906 were Biograph, Gaumont, Hepworth and New Bioscope, then from 1907-1911 New Bioscope, Vitagraph, Hepworth, Graham and Latham, Cinematograph Syndicate, Kamm, Williamson, F.A. Fullager, Nordisk, Williamson Dressler, Central Electric, Globe, Precision, Paragon, International Film Bureau, Rosie, Globe, Tyler, Films Ltd, New Kinematograph Enterprises, Biograph Theatres, Mansell, Theatre Chocolate Co., American Film Releases, Cinema Halles, and more. It was the more that interested me in particular, because at no. 8 Cecil Court there were plaques for Bioscope Press i.e. the original Bioscope film trade journal, and Ganes, publishers of the journal and its annual directories.

Every other shop in the short street has these plaques in their windows, and one would be hard pressed to think of anything to compare with it in terms of modern-day buildings marking their cinema history heritage (or indeed any other heritage) in such a concentrated and compehensive form. The plaques were put there following a Cecil Court festival held last year, and it is terrific to see how the street has taken to its special place in film history. You can read all about the street’s history, going back to the seventeenth century, on the Cecil Court website, which also provides details of every shop there today.

For more of Simon Brown’s research into the early London film business, check out the London Project database, which lists practically all of the film businesses and film venues in London before the First World War – Simon did the businesses, I did the cinemas. What a great project that was – just a year (2004-5, six months each) and we produced a database, several papers, a touring exhibition, a show (turning up at the Barbican next month), and changed the look of an entire street. Meanwhile I’m still working on the book…

Now, will someone do the same sort of research for the street to which the film businesses then gravitated, once they got too big for Cecil Court, namely Wardour Street?

London calling

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

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

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

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

A trip down Market Street

Last night CBS’s 60 Minutes programme had an item on A Trip Down Market Street, a ‘phantom ride’ view taken from a cable car travelling down San Francisco’s Market Street a month or less before the earthquake of 18 April 1906. The film, three copies of which survive, and which can be viewed on the Internet Archive or on the Library of Congress’s American Memory site, was previously thought to have been made in 1905, but film historian Dave Kiehn presents evidence in the programme (including weather reports and car registration numbers) to demonstrate that the film was probably made in March or early April 1906. The producers were the Miles Brothers, and two of their descendants appear in the programme as well as film archivist Rick Prelinger, owner of one of the surviving copies (that which appears on the Internet Archive).

We’ve covered the film on the Bioscope before now. There was a post on Bioscopist Joe Thompson’s discovery of a 1907 newspaper article on the film and more recently a post on the overlaying of a YouTube video of the film on top of present day Google Street View images of Market Street on the innovative There and Then site.

The SFGate blog has a full account of Kiehn’s research into the film’s correct dating.

The 60 Minutes piece includes footage of Market Street after the earthquake taken by a different filmmaker. Recently filmmakers Dan Meyerson and Matt Peterson put together a compilation of post-earthquake views of San Francisco, focussing on another travelling shot down Market Street. The post-nuclear landscape is all the more extraordinary for the matter-of-fact way in which people are seen to be still going about their daily business. Looking at pre- and post-earthquake films, the buildings are transient, fragile constructions, but ordinary people endure.

Who shot the post-earthquake films I don’t know. Some of the footage appears in a unidentified series of films of San Francisco in 1906 to be found on the Internet Archive (again from the Prelinger Archives). The main journey down Market Street appears to be unique, however. Anyone know who the filmmaker, or filmmakers, might be?

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