Bioscope Newsreel no. 37

Trailer for Sailcloth

Here we are at the end of a blustery week, and once again we have for you the latest edition of the Bioscope’s infrequent, but never irrelevant, round-up of some of the recent happenings in our world of silent films.

Méliès on Blu-Ray
Georges Méliès’s Le voyage dans la lune / A Trip to the Moon (1902) is to get the Blu-Ray treatment. Lobster Films have just announced that their famous colour restoration of the film is to be the centrepiece of a Blu-Ray release to be issued (in France at least) on 26 April. There aren’t many details as yet, but the disc will include these other Méliès titles: Le Chevalier mystère / The Mysterious Knight (1899), L’antre des esprits / The House of Mystery (1901), Le royaume des fées / Fairyland: A Kingdom of Fairies (1903), Le tonnerre de Jupiter / Jupiter’s Thunderballs (1903), Les cartes vivantes / The Living Playing Cards (1904), and Le chaudron infernal / The Infernal Boiling Pot (1903). Read more.

Poland online
Poland’s minister of culture has announced that (apparently) the entirety of the country’s existing pre-war film archives are to be digitised and made available on the Internet via Europeana, the European Commission’s ambitious digital portal project, just as soon as the relevant copyrights have expired. When this all may be happening has not been said as yet. Read more.

Silents at the Oscars
It may not have escaped your attention that a silent film is being talked about as a favourite for a Academy Award, but what about the other silent film in contention? Sailcloth is a British short film starring John Hurt, made entirely without dialogue, which is in contention for the Oscar for live action short. Do we have a trend emerging here? Read more.

60 seconds of solitude
We could very well have a trend. 60 Seconds of Solitude in the Year Zero is the somewhat portentous title of a collaborative film made in Estonia employing 60 filmmakers from around the world who were each asked to shoot something of one-minute’s length on the theme of the death of cinema, choosing as a motif one of five elements: earth, wind, fire, water, spirit. While you ponder what cinema about the death of cinema actually means, there’s the information that all but two of the films are silent, and in performance the film has been shown with live musical accompaniment. Read more.

What the Dickens
Charles Dickens is enjoying his 200th anniversary, so to speak, and the Bioscope will be joining in with the festivities with a suitable post in due course. Meanwhile, the British Film Institute has kicked off a three-month season of adaptations of the man’s great works, including a number of silents: a programme of pre-1914 shorts, Jackie Coogan in Oliver Twist (1922), Cecil Hepworth’s charming David Copperfield (1913) and John Martin Harvey recreating his famous stage role in The Only Way (1926), an adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. Read more.

Keep up with the news on silent films every day via our regular news service.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 36

Spot the difference

It is hard for any news provider to offer a full service at Christmas time, but even harder for the person trying to document silent films when there is only one story on everyone’s minds. The newsfeeds are choc-a-bloc with reviews of The Artist and thought pieces on what it all means when a silent film gets made in 2011. Part of the same silent mania is Martin Scorsese’s cine-nostalgic Hugo, and it only takes two films on a broadly similar theme for the world to discover a trend and seek to explain it. But we shall do our best to report what is worth reporting. And so we start with …

Silent films after The Artist and Hugo
Daniel Eagen at the Smithsonian’s rather fine Reel Culture blog takes a wry look at the impassioned debates both The Artist and Hugo have caused, viewing with amusement both those instant experts on silents who have hitched onto the bandwagon and the ‘film geeks’ who are agonising over the fine details. What is it that is so different about silent films? Eagen suggests that there probably isn’t anything different at all. Maybe they are just films, much like films of today. Read more.

Toronto Silent Film Festival
The schedule for the Toronto Silent Films Festival (one of the newer festivals out there) has been published. Lined up include Clara Bow in Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Murnau’s Tabu (1931), Rudoph Valentino in Blood and Sand (1922) and E.A. Dupont’s much-cited but not all that often seen Variety (1925). The festival runs 29 March-3 April 2012. Read more.

The birth of promotion
New York Public Library is currently hosting an exhibition on promotional and distibution materials from the silent era, entitled “The Birth of Promotion: Inventing Film Publicity in the Silent-Film Era”. The exhibition runs until January and has a cheerful promotional video. The New York Times has a fine survey of the exhibition and history its documents. Read more.

Life in the air
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley are putting on a series of silent films devoted to aviation in its broadest sense. “Dizzy Heights: Silent Cinema and Life in the Air” takes place 23-26 February 2012 and has been imaginatively curated by Patrick Ellis, with such titles as High Treason (UK 1929), A Trip to Mars (Denmark 1918) and rarity The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower (France 1927). Read more.

Keaton in colour
Kino has been doing a great job releasing Buster Keaton’s work on Blu-Ray. Their latest release is Seven Chances (1925), with its Brewster’s Millions-style plot (Buster must marry before 7pm to inherit $7M) and the famous scene when Buster is pursued downhill by an absurd number of boulders. This ‘ultimate edition’ is of especial interest for including the film’s two-colour Technicolor opening sequence. It also comes with the classic shorts Neighbors (1920) and The Balloonatic (1923). Read more.

Now where have I seen that before?
A sixth item for once, and it’s another Kino release, this time a boxed set of some of its silent classics cheekily packaged to look like the poster for for a certain Oscar favourite and entitled The Artists. Full marks to somebody in their marketing team for the sheer nerve of it. Read more.

All these stories and more on our daily news service.

‘Til next time!

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.

Georges Méliès 1861-2011

Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès, the magician of early cinema, was born this day one hundred and fifty years ago. Though it seems to be pure coinicidence, his 150th year has been marked by a succession of notable Mélièsian events, culminating in the release this month of Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo, in which Méliès (played by Ben Kingsley) features as a leading character, and in which the production of Méliès’ films is lovingly created.

In celebration of the French master’s 150th, here is a set of links to the main DVDs, websites, publications and past Bioscope posts on Georges Méliès.

DVDs

Websites

Publications

Past Bioscope posts on Méliès

I’ve not provided any links to online videos, because we have a rule here at the Bioscope about not linking to films which have been ripped from DVDs, and practically every Méliès available on YouTube has indeed been ripped in this way. The films are in the public domain (though their new soundtracks are not), but it’s a shame to see, especially when the producers of such DVDs have gone to such trouble and expense to compile their productions in the first place. But for those who don’t know, don’t care, or who believe as a matter of principle that everything should be for free and online anyway, there is plenty to be found – and doubtless Georges would be thrilled that his productions continue to delight new generations.

Some of that delight is demonstrated by the many remakes of Méliès’s films or filming techniques that can be found online. It’s practically a genre in itself. So as a different sort of tribute we’ll show you one of these instead; most of them show more enthusiasm than skill, but I quite like this one for its simplicity and Mélièsian spirit:

And finally, a quotation, written by yours truly when reviewing the 5-DVD set back in 2008, which says all that I need to say on the matter.

Georges Méliès is confirmed here as among the pre-eminent artists of the cinema, perhaps the most exuberant of all filmmakers. The films display imagination, wit, ingenuity, grace, style, fun, invention, mischief, intelligence, anarchy, innocence, vision, satire, panache, beauty and longing, the poetry of the absurd. Starting out as extensions of the tricks that made up Méliès’ magic shows, to view them in chronological order as they are here is to see the cinema itself bursting out of its stage origins into a theatre of the mind, where anything becomes possible – a true voyage à travers l’impossible, to take the title of one of his best-known films. The best of them have not really dated at all, in that they have become timeless, and presumably (hopefully) always will be so. Méliès in his lifetime suffered the agony of seeing his style of filmming turn archaic as narrative style in the Griffith manner became dominant, but we can see now that is his work that has truly lasted. The films will always stand out as showing how motion pictures, when they first appeared, in a profound sense captured the imagination.

Bonne anniversaire, Georges.

Viewing matters

OK folks, after last week’s suggested reading list for some of the highlights among books published on silent film in 2011, here’s a selection of the best DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the year (at least in the Bioscope’s humble opinion).

  • The O’Kalem Collection 1910-1915
    This double-DVD set from the Irish Film Institute and BIFF Productions brings together eight productions made and set in Ireland by the American company Kalem (and associated producers), including The Lad from Old Ireland (1910), Rory O’ More (1911), The Colleen Bawn (1911), plus the recent documentary on what became knows as the ‘O’Kalems’, Blazing the Trail. A model package, archive-wise, scholarship-wise and entertainment-wise.
  • Hamlet & Die Filmprimadonna
    After a long, long wait, Edition Filmmuseum was finally able to bring out this year the 1920 German Hamlet, starring Asta Nielsen as Hamlet, from the German original version, with rich colour tinting and toning, and an exceptional new score from Michael Riessler. The two-DVD package includes the 1913 Nielsen film Die Filmprimadonna, documentaton on Hamlet‘s production and restoration, and an Asta Nielsen home movie compilation. Hamlet is so much more than a curiosity; an intelligent, deeply-felt and thoroughly thought-through reinterpretation of the Hamlet story.
  • Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938
    The fifth boxed set in the National Film Preservation Foundation’s series of restored film classics takes as its theme the American West. Drawn from leading archives in America and New Zealand, the collection amply lives up to its ‘treasures’ billing. Highlights incude Beatriz Michelena in Gold Rush tale Salomy Jane (1914), Clara Blow in Mantrap (1926) and real-life outlaw Al Jennings recreating his exploits in Lady of the Dug-Out (1918), a rediscovered classic if ever there was one.

  • Screening the Poor 1888-1914
    2011 has been something of a year for innovative DVD releases, and none more so than Edition Filmmuseum’s Screening the Poor, which brings together early films and magic lantern slide sets depicting issues of poverty and poor relief from the period 1888-1914. The two-DVD set not only makes an important point in showing how we should consider the films of this period in their social as much as their aesthetic contexts, but that we need also to see how film was (and remains) only one part of a wider screen culture.
  • Laila
    Flicker Alley caters for the discerning silent film enthusiast (a Criterion in miniature), and such is the trust with which it must now be held that many will have purchased a Norwegian silent film of which they knew nothing simply because they trusted the label’s judgement. They won’t have been disappointed. This 1929 tale of a lost child and native destiny has won friends wherever it has been shown, simply for telling its thrilling, romantic story in the way that only the very best of silent films can achieve.
  • Gaumont Treasures Volume 2 (1908-1916)
    Kino’s follow-up to its Gaumont Treasures volume 1 is this fabulous three-disc set (based on a six-disc French original from 2009). The set covers the work of ingenious animator Emile Cohl, proto-surrealist and adventure storyteller Jean Durand and the elegant and witty Jacques Feyder, plus some synchrononised sound films (Phonoscenes) and examples of Chronochrome, Gaumont’s own pre-WWI natural colour process. A set to savour for its variety and quality.

  • The Great White Silence
    Among the best silent film reasons for making 2011 the year to invest in a Blu-Ray player has been the British Film Institute’s release of its restored version of The Great White Silence, Herbert Ponting’s 1924 re-edit of his original 1910-11 footage of the doomed Anatarctic expedition of Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Apart from the peerless quality of the polar images, the film demonstrates, not unlike Screening the Poor, the importance of considering photographic still images alongside motion pictures, as Ponting’s work is actually at its most powerful when he no longer has films to fall back on to tell his tragic story.
  • Max Davidson Comedies
    Don’t watch this compilation alone. It is essential that you enjoy the comedy shorts of Max Davidson in company (the larger in number the better), when the shared comic effect comes over best. Davidson’s Jewish-themed comedy had been rather lost to history when he was rediscovered through film festivals and he has now had the double-DVD set treatment from Edition Filmmuseum (label of the year, without a doubt). Pass the Gravy (1928) alone is as delirously funny a film as you will find anywhere.
  • Coffret Albert Capellani
    It has been quite a year or two for early French cinema on DVD. On top of some superb releases curating Gaumont, Georges Méliès and Segundo de Chomón, this four-DVD set from Pathé presents the work of one of the leading directorial masters of the pre-war cinema period. The set has four longer films including the Capellani masterpieces Germinal (1913) and Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge (1914) and seven short films from 1906. An education in the ambition, creativity and artistic range of the early cinema.

  • Albert Capellani: Un cinema di grandeur 1905-1911
    But that’s not all we’ve had from Albert Capellani. Also in 2011 was the Cineteca di Bologna’s disc-and-booklet set on Capellani’s work 1905-1911, not overlapping with any of the content on the Pathé collection. This is one of a series of DVDs coming out of the 100-years-ago programme curated by Mariann Lewinsky for Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato. An illuminating and captivating compilation, with excellent booklet notes (in English, Italian and French).
  • Landmarks of Early Soviet Film
    Most of these choices have been multiple disc sets, but it really has been a year for curated collections bringing in films from mulitple sources, aimed at the afficionado willing to invest a little more for a definitive set likely to take some while to view and absorb in its entirety. Flicker Alley’s collection of eight silent Soviet films widens our understanding of this period (i.e. beyond Eisenstein), including Boris Barnet’s The House on Trubnaya (1928), Lev Kuleshov’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924) and Mikhail Kalatozov’s eye-popping Salt for Svanetia (1930).
  • Silent Naruse
    And finally, from Criterion’s Eclipse series, five silents from the Japanese director Mikio Naruse: Flunky, Work Hard (1931), No Blood Relation (1932), Apart from You (1933), Every-Night Dreams (1933) and Street without End (1934). These are the only films among Naruse’s twenty-four silents now known to exist, and display Naruse’s emerging interest in the marginalised role of women in Japanese society. A fine set for watching Naruse gradually discover the style and theme that would make him one of the masters of Japanese film.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 29

Part of DVD cover for Metropolis, from Ain’t it Cool News

We’re publishing a little infrequently at present, both the regular posts and the newsreel, but the main thing is that we’re still publishing. Here’s a round-up of some of the recent silent news and events coming up.

Morodor’s Metropolis
The silent film version that many love to hate, while for others it is the version that was a welcome introduction to silents, is to come out on Blu-Ray. Electro-disco composer Giorgio Moroder’s score for Metropolis came out in 1984, and was controversial both for presenting a cut-down version (80mins) and for throwing pop songs on top of it (Freddy Mercury sings “Love Kills”, Pat Benatar sings “Here’s my Heart” – yep, it’s the 1980s). It’s become something of a cult favourite and now Kino are bringing it out theatrically in October and on Blu-Ray late 2011 or early 2012. Read more.

One-minute wonders
The Toronto Urban Film Festival (known as TUFF) brings new one-minute silent films, entered in competition, to be seen by 1.3 million daily commuters on the ONESTOP TTC subway platform screens. This year the guest judge for the festival is Atom Egoyan. It runs 9-18 September, and there are examples of some of the truly ingenious and creative videos submitted on the festival site. Read more.

Silents in New Zealand
A silent film festival offering more traditional fare is New Zealnd’s annual Opitiki Silent Film Festival, which this year takes place 2-4 September. The emphasis is on comedy and rugby, and there haven’t been too many silent rugby film programmes, to my recollection. The festival features Lloyf, Langdon, Keaton, Pollard and more, plus a one-hour silent film compilation All Blacks which features “footage of the 1905 Originals NZ touring team plus the 1924/1925 Invincibles”. Read more.

Où est Max?
Once again the Cine-Tourist website beats all competition in the cine-blogosphere with an engrossing (if very long) post, handsomely illustrated, on Max Linder, the films he shot in the streets of Vincennes, and what the locality says about him. None of these films can ever be called accidental in their choice of geography, because everything that we see makes the film that plays before us. Read more.

More journals online
More and more silent film journals are appearing on the Internet Archive, courtesy of Bruce Long of the Taylorology site and David Pierce of the Media History Digital Library. Long has added nine issues of Picture-Play for 1922-23 and one of Screenland for 1923; Pierce has added extra volumes of Moving Picture World for 1913, all of 1914, most of 1915, and three months each of 1916 and 1918. Copious thanks to both. Another Pierce upload is going to be the subject of a special post. Read more (Pierce) and more (Long)

‘Til next time!

The O’Kalem collection

A while ago we told you about Blazing the Trail, a new documentary by Peter Flynn about the American film company Kalem and the films it and associated companies made in Ireland 1910-1915. Now the documentary and eight surviving ‘O’Kalem’ films have been issued on a double DVD set by the Irish Film Institute and BIFF Productions. The O’Kalem Collection 1910-1915 comprises The Lad from Old Ireland (2 versions) (1910), Rory O’ More (1911), The Colleen Bawn (1911), You Remember Ellen (1912), His Mother (2 versions) (1912), For Ireland’s Sake (1914), Come Back to Erin (incomplete) (1914), Bold Emmett, Ireland’s Martyr (1915) and the feature-length documentary Blazing the Trail. The second DVD also contains an O’Kalem image gallery. Some of the films have replacement English titles as they only survive in foreign-titled versions. There is piano and violin accompaniment.

O’Kalem was the nickname given to the Kalem filmmakers who made these tales of romance, rebellion and escape, which overturned all the crude stereotypes of stage Irish which had featured in films to that date. They were innovative in being American fiction film productions shot overseas, making handsome use of Kerry locations, and A Lad from Old Ireland was the first fiction film made in Ireland. O’Kalem means more than just the Kalem company itself. Its leading lights Sidney Olcott and Gene Gauntier stayed on in Ireland and filmed as the Gene Gauntier Feature Players (Come Back to Erin and For Ireland’s Sake) and the Olcott alone as Sid Films (Bold Emmett, Ireland’s Martyr). This is an important collection, for what it represents of Irish and early American cinema, and for the charming, fresh quality of the films. It has been lovingly put together and is warmly recommended (the delightful Blazing the Trail we have already praised – together they make make the ideal package).

And there’s more. Should you be so charmed by the films that you wish to visit Ireland, then an O’Kalem trail will await you. Last Monday Ireland’s Minister for Arts, Jimmy Deenihan launched the O’Kalem Film Trail, a tourist trail in Kerry which takes you through the two twons most associated with the filming, Beaufort and Killarney. The ten stops are:

  • The Beaufort Bridge
  • The Beaufort Bar (where the film company stayed)
  • The O’Sullivan Field
  • The Churchtown graveyard and St Mary’s Church
  • The River Laune
  • The Gap of Dunloe
  • Muckross Lake and the Colleen Bawn Rock
  • Muckross Abbey
  • Dinis Cottage
  • Torc Waterfall

A 20-page booklet has also been produced. One fervently hopes that there will be American tourists heading over to Ireland in search of their roots who come home clutching a DVD of early cinema titles. All in all, enterprise has been shown to match that of the original O’Kalems.

The O’Kalem Collection: 1910-1915 is available from the Irish Film Insitute as a multi-region NTSC 2-DVD set, price 21.99 euros, including postage and packing.

Female Hamlet

Asta Nielsen in Hamlet (1921)

The second notable Edition Filmmuseum DVD release to tell you about is Hamlet & Die Filmprimadonna, to be issued on 10 June 2011. It was 2009 when the DVD label first announced that a DVD of Asta Nielsen’s Hamlet (1920), from the coloured print discovered in 2005, was forthcoming. Whether it was licensing issues, or technical matters that held up the release I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter – all that matters is that such a key film, from a fine restored print, and with a highly commendable score, is available on DVD at last. It certainly ought to have an impact.

The Danish actress Asta Nielsen was probably the leading European film performer of the 1910s. Though her dark demeanour and unconventional beauty probably led to a lack of success in the USA, in European countries, especially Germany, she was revered, with films such as Afgrunden (The Abyss) (1910), Balletdanserinden (1911), Die Suffragette (1913) being among the most iconic and forward-looking of their age. She and husband/director Urban Gad moved to Germany in 1911 and it was in that country, after she had established the Art-Film company, that Nielsen (now parted from Gad) embarked a radical film interpretation of Hamlet. Possibly by this time Nielsen’s star was a little on the wane, but her taste for the bold and challenging was undimmed.

It was a bold enough decision to film Shakespeare, whose plays had lost favour with cinema audiences and producers once feature films had come in. But Nielsen and her directors Sven Gade and Heinz Schall went further. Though the essential structure of the film was taken from Shakespeare’s play, they went back to Shakespeare’s source material, in particular Saxo Grammaticus, to rid the play of its Renaissance trappings. And then they went further by making Hamlet a woman. The scriptwriter Erin Gepard apparently found justification for this in a obscure work of Shakespearean criticism, The Mystery of Hamlet (1881), by one Edward P. Vining. Vining’s earnest expressed thesis was that the deep-rooted mysteries lying at the hear of the play and particularly the character of Hamlet could be readily explained if you understood that Hamlet was a woman, forced to disguise her sex for political expediency, with the added complication of being in love with Horatio.

Here is some of Vining’s argument:

There is not only a masculine type of human perfection, but also a feminine type; and when it became evident that Hamlet was born lacking in many of the elements of virility, there grew up in him, as compensation, many of the perfections of character more properly the crown of the better half of the human race. All mankind has recognized the deep humanity of the melancholy prince, and many have been puzzled to find that they were instinctively compelled to bow before him in admiration, while still finding in him so many faults and weaknesses. The depths of human nature which Shakespeare touched in him have been felt by all, but it has scarcely been recognized that the charms of Hamlet’s mind are essentially feminine in their nature.

One has only to argue that Hamlet could have his feminine side and yet remain a prince to put Vining’s arguments in their place, but it is true that there have been a number of female Hamlets on the stage from the 18th century onwards. Among the stage performers who were not content to be confined to playing Ophelia have been Sarah Siddons in the 18th century, Charlotte Crampton, Clare Howard, Alice Marriott and Alma Murray in the 19th, and in more recent times Frances de la Tour and Angela Winkler. The evidence of such performers suggests both something particularly feminine in the character of Hamlet, but also a desire to lay claim to an iconically male role.

Perhaps the most notable female stage Hamlet also became the first film Hamlet when Sarah Bernhardt was filmed in 1900 in the duel scene from Hamlet. Not only was it the first film Hamlet but it was the first Shakespeare sound film, as it was made for the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, with the film synchronised to a phonograph recording. Female screen Hamlets post-Nielsen have been rare, though the Turkish actress Fatam Girik was the star of İntikam Meleği (1977), English title the helpfully literal Female Hamlet. It is perhaps because it is so often such a struggle just to get Shakespeare filmed that few producers or performers have felt any need to takes things further and explore such gender reversal. Opportunities on the stage have been that much greater in number, as Tony Howard documents in his excellent Women as Hamlet: Performance and Interpretation in Theatre, Film and Fiction.

Nielsen’s interpretation was therefore part of a clear (if marginal) stage tradition, but was something of a bolt out of the blue for film. There was nothing really to compare it to in 1921, and little since – it is a film that stands on its own. It is Nielsen’s great accomplishment that we immediately accept her as Hamlet. Her androgynous looks help to a degree, but crucially she is not trying to be a man playing Hamlet (as Bernhardt and her predecssors had done) – she plays a woman who must disguise herself as a man. There is no questioning of the rightness of the idea when we watch the film, and little sense of any forcing of the narrative to fit the thesis. It works on its own terms. It has its absurdities, inevitably, particularly when Horatio discovers that the dying Hamlet has been a woman all along, but that may simply be a fault of our modern eyes. Technically the film is no masterpiece. It is plainly directed, somewhat meanly produced, and not memorably performed aside from Nielsen. But it does succeed as a consistently imagined world, where people live, work, rule and affairs of state take place. As I wrote previously here about seeing the film in 2007, “there is a keen sense of palace life going on while the central figures progressively, and madly, destroy one another”. Moreover, there is no sense at all of something translated from stage to screen. The best Shakespearean cinema is invariably where cinema comes first.

The Edition Filmmuseum DVD derives from the colour version (i.e. tinted and toned) discovered in 2005 and restored by the Deutsches Filminstitut. It comes with a new score by Michael Riessler which I found especially haunting and appropriate when I heard it in 2007. The release is a two-DVD set. Disc 1 is the film (110 mins). Disc 2 has Die Filmprimadonna (1913), starring Nielsen and directed by Urban Gad; Nielsen home movies, films on the restoration process and a short entitled Der elektronische Hamlet 2007 (2008).

Poor people

Screening the Poor 1888-1914

Two posts are coming up on two important DVD releases from that excellent label Edition Filmmuseum. Post number one is on an innovative two-DVD set of magic lantern slides and early films, Screening the Poor 1888-1914.

Cinema was the ‘poor man’s theatre’ (to use a common phrase of the time); it also spoke to and documented the lives of the poor. In doing so it built on a tradition of social concern filtered through visual entertainment that had its roots in the magic lantern. In church halls, schools and missions throughout the late Victorian period, audiences were presented with sentimental but often heart-rending tales of the hardship suffered by those at the lowest rung on the ladder. The showmen, lecturers and propagandists who put on such lantern shows swiftly adopted the cinematograph as an additional weapon in their armoury, with early projectors often capable of presenting both film and slides. This multimedia nature of early ‘cinema’ shows is well-known, but is seldom reflected in modern-day exhibition of early film, still less in DVD releases. And that is what makes Screening the Poor so unusual – it brings together the lantern and the cinematograph on DVD in a conscious echo of the programmes of the late 1890s/early 1900s. The blurb for the DVD explains this further:

Around 1900, the issues of poverty and poor relief were the source of heated controversy. This DVD illustrates in seven chapters how examinations of the ‘Social Question’ were presented in magic lantern slide sets and early films. On the screens of auditoriums, Sunday schools, music-halls, cinemas and churches, visitors could witness orphans freezing to death in the snow, drunkards plunging their families into misery and helpless old people begging for a scrap of bread. Audiences experienced poignant moving pictures in performances with music, singing and recitations. The
photographic and film industries delivered glass slide sets and films in very large runs on a variety of themes relating to poverty.

This DVD recalls the forgotten art of projection and presents it anew on the modern electronic screen: drawing on original images and using authentic projection equipment, Ensemble illuminago shows enchanting Victorian slide shows and films in a live musical performance at the Munich Film Museum. Digital slideshows reconstruct the interaction between slide sets und text recitals, and early silent films are accompanied with music as they were a century ago: piano and violin underscore the moods that find visual expression in the films.

Nowadays it is rather unusual to find both films and slide sets presented on one DVD. Around 1900 it was common knowledge that the “moving pictures” in a film had evolved from photographic slide sets. Showmen, touring lecturers, music-hall entrepreneurs and cinema operators often used both projection media alternately in their live shows.

It is also unusual to compile DVDs thematically, according to social themes, rather than in a form that reflects pure film history (such as the output of a studio, director or actor). So this is a curated DVD, and the words below are from the DVD booklet, written by Martin Loiperdinger and Ludwig Vogl-Bienek. Whether an item is a film or a set of magic lantern slides is identified at the start of each description. Often the same subject from the same literary source (particularly the poems of George R. Sims, a once highly popular and influential documenter of the lives of London’s poor) cross from lantern to cinematograph. So, if you have tears, prepare to shed them now …

Comment les pauvres mangent à Paris

DVD 1
Slumming

Charitable organisations and dedicated journalists decried the misery of the slums in industrial cities. ‘Slumming’ was the term used to describe tourist outings or philanthropic day-trips to witness the poverty. Those who eschewed direct confrontation could visit magic lantern shows or the cinema: the photographic and film industries provided a constant supply of new material covering diverse issues of the ‘Social Question’.

  • Magic Lantern: The Magic Wand (GB 1889). Producer: York & Son, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard. – During an excursion through the slums of London, an author hears the story of an 8-year-old girl who discovers a magical way to cope with her mother’s death.
  • Film: Comment les pauvres mangent à Paris / How the Poor Dine in Paris (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – The first film reportage about the ‘clochards’ of Paris: it is difficult to distinguish the extras acting in the film from the real homeless people.
  • Film: Le Violoniste della carità / The Two Violonists (IT 1910). Producer: Cines. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – Two elegant young ladies embark on a slumming adventure: they swap their clothes with two poor sisters and perform as street musicians in their place.
  • Film: La Tournée des Grands Ducs / Seeing the Real Thing (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé, Director: Yves Mirande, Cast: Armand Numès, Gaston Sylvestre, La Polaire. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano ) – This film parodies the slumming trips made by members of Paris high society. An acting troupe satisfies the demand for entertainment by playing ‘real Apaches’.

Children in Misery
The huge number of poor children was a central issue of the ‘Social Question’. They were not to blame for their wretched situation – and their need of help was obvious. Nonetheless, they were often suspected of being petty criminals. Slide shows and film screenings, however, usually presented impoverished children to their audiences as needy creatures deserving of help and affection.

  • Magic Lantern: Ora pro nobis (GB 1897). Producer: Bamforth, Text: A. Horspool, Music by M. Piccolomini. Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Piano: Judith Herrmann – Ignored by passing churchgoers, an orphan girl freezes to death at her mother’s grave – an appeal to the Christian duty to provide help and alms to the poor.
  • Film: Le Bagne des gosses / Children’s Reformatory (FR 1907). Producer: Pathé. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – An orphan boy flees from a correctional institution in which children aged between eight and twelve are mistreated in the manner of prisoners in a penal colony.
  • Film: Bébé veut imiter St. Martin / Baby Pantomimes St. Martin (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé, Director: Louis Feuillade, Cast: Clément Mary. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – Cinema’s very first child star gives a freezing girl half of his overcoat and learns that half a coat is of little help against the cold.
  • Magic Lantern: Billy’s Rose (GB 1888). Producer: York & Son, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – Death and salvation in the slums: a girl goes in search of a rose for her dying brother, but she freezes to death in the process and hands him the rose in heaven.

Child Labour
Impoverished children were made to work as street peddlers, shoe-shines, and messengers to help support their families. The labour unions, social reformers and charitable organisations were particularly critical of the perilous conditions faced by child labourers in factories.

  • Film: The Cry of the Children (US 1912). Producer: Thanhouser, Director: George O. Nichols, Cast: Marie Eline, Ethel Wright, James Cruze, Lila H. Chester, Text: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1843). Score by Andrew Crow (Wurlitzer organ) – A moving appeal against child exploitation featuring highly realistic staged film footage. The story of a young girl’s death in a textile factory became a manifesto of the American reform movement against child labour.
  • Magic Lantern: The Little Match Girl (US 1905). Producer: McAllister, Text: Hans C. Andersen (1845), Images: Joseph Boggs Beale (1905). Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Karin Bienek
  • Film: The Little Match Girl – Print title: Het Luciferverkoopstertje (GB 1914). Producer: Neptune Films, Director: Percy Nash. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – The young street vendor in H.C. Andersen’s fairytale The Little Match Girl (1845) is one of the most famous and enduring icons of poverty. The story of her death and salvation has inspired countless book illustrations, magic lantern shows and film productions to the present day.

Rigadin a l’âme sensible

Charity and Social Care
Controversies concerning the justification, necessity and limits of aid surrounded the public discussion on the ‘Social Question’ from the beginning: able-bodied poor people of working age were generally suspected of being themselves to blame for their poverty due to negligence, idleness, or alcoholism, or even of deviously abusing
the benevolence shown to them. Slide sets and early films on the issue of poor relief addressed such prejudices – and also made fun of over-enthusiastic benefactors.

  • Film: Le Chemineau / Print title: De Zwerver (FR 1905). Producer: Pathé, Director: Albert Capellani, according to Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862). Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – A tramp who has stolen the holy silverware is acquitted. The pastor places charity before the law and claims that he had given the tramp the plundered goods. The missing scene at the end of this film can be seen on a postcard in the ROM section of this DVD.
  • Film: Rigadin a l’âme sensible / Whiffles Has a Sensitive Soul (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé / S.C.A.G.L.,Director: Georges Monca, Cast: Charles Prince, Gabrielle Chalon, Andrée Marly. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano, viola & violin) – In this comedy, our sympathy is not directed at the poor, but rather at the aristocratic benefactor who cannot bear to see suffering: he hands out all of his money – and even gives away most of the clothes on his back.
  • Magic Lantern: In the Workhouse (GB 1890). Producer: Bamforth, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – During Christmas celebrations at the workhouse, an old man attacks the British poor relief system: his sick wife had died of starvation the previous Christmas because the care authorities had ruthlessly stuck by their regulations.
  • Film: Christmas Day in the Workhouse (GB 1914). Producer: G. B. Samuelson Productions, Director: George W. Pearson, Text: George R. Sims. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – In the film version of this ballad, the old man dies just as he finishes his lament.
  • Film: Ahlbeck. Der Kaiser bei den Berliner Arbeiterkindern in dem von ihm gestifteten Heim / Ahlbeck. Wilhelm II visits a Working-Class Children’s Home (DE 1914). Producer: Eiko-Woche. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – At the Baltic Sea spa town of Ahlbeck on the island of Usedom, Kaiser Wilhelm II becomes convinced that playing in the sand of the dunes is beneficial to the recuperation of children.

Enter not the Dram Shop

DVD2
Drink and Temperance Movement
Alcoholism was often blamed as the cause of poverty. However, many social reformers emphasised that it was instead a consequence of poverty. In their war against the ‘demon alcohol’, the Temperance Movement relied on the persuasive power of projected images. Tales of drunken fathers who drove their families to ruin were part of the standard repertoire in early cinema and magic lantern shows.

  • Film: Manchester Band of Hope Procession (GB 1901). Producer: Mitchell and Kenyon. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – The Temperance Movement held street parades to rally support for their cause among the local populace.
  • Magic Lantern: Enter not the Dramshop (GB 1890). Unknown Producer. Text & Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek. – The pub threshold marks the crossroads between well-being and downfall: victims of alcohol are presented for purposes of pedagogical instruction. Medical diagrams illustrate the devastating effects of alcoholism on the human body.
  • Film: Les Victimes de l’alcoolisme / Victims of Drink (FR 1902). Producer: Pathé, Director: Ferdinand Zecca. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – Based on Émile Zola’s novel L’Assommoir, this film depicts the gradual decline of a labourer who starts out as a decent family man and ends up an inmate of a madhouse wracked by delirium tremens.
  • Film: Une Vie gaspillée (Print title) / A Life Wasted (DK 1910). Producer: Continental Films. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin). Original title not known. – A drunkard’s daughter likewise falls victim to alcoholism and freezes to death because her parents refuse to take her in.
  • Magic Lantern: Buy Your Own Cherries! (GB 1905). Producer: Bamforth, Text: John W. Kirton. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – The landlady of a pub refuses a carpenter the cherries that are standing on the bar. He thus renounces alcohol, instead spending his money on his family, and starts his own business.
  • Film: Buy Your Own Cherries! (GB 1904). Producer: Robert W. Paul. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano, viola & violin) – The film version foreshortens the ending: instead of continuing to drink, the carpenter buys gifts for his wife and children.
  • Magic Lantern: Dustman‘s Darling (GB 1894). Producer: Bamforth, Text: Matthew B. Moorhouse. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – At the door of a tavern, a widowed dustman tells the story of how his little daughter inspired him to give up drinking.
  • Film: A Drunkard’s Reformation (US 1909). Producer: American Biograph (US 1909), Director: David W. Griffith, Cast: Arthur V. Johnson, Linda Arvidson, Adele DeGarde, Robert E. Harron, Florence Lawrence, Mack Sennett. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – While visiting the theatre with his young daughter, a drunkard is cured of his alcoholism. By cross-cutting between the Temperance Movement play on the stage and the reactions of the father and his daughter in the auditorium, D.W. Griffith makes visible the psychological process of an internal catharsis.

Don’t go down the mine, Dad

Perils of Wage Labour
Poor people who were able to work received no support. The working classes were forced to take on poorly-paid and dangerous jobs in order to survive. Mining accidents spread fear and terror among mining communities. Sensational special effects on the screen, such as firedamp explosions, helped reinforce demands by the labour unions and charitable organisations for safer working conditions and improved support for surviving dependants.

  • Magic Lantern: A Bunch of Primroses (GB 1889). Hersteller / Producer: York & Son, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – A bunch of primroses lies on the death bed of a young female worker and tells of how she blossomed in the country and met an early death doing factory work in an industrial city.
  • Film: Au Pays noir / Tragedy in a Coal Mine (FR 1905). Producer: Pathé, Director: Ferdinand Zecca. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & viola) – Mining accidents used to be part of daily life for miners: Pathé, the leading film company of the time, condemned this scandalous situation by releasing this melodramatic social reportage which was shot partly on location at a mining site and partly on a recreated set in a film studio.
  • Film: Die Beerdigung der Opfer des Grubenunglücks auf der Zeche Radbod bei Hamm i. W., den 16. Nov. 1908 / Funeral of the Victims of the Radbod Mine Desaster near Hamm in Westfalia, Nov 16, 1908 (DE 1908). Producer: Welt-Kinematograph. Score by Günter A.Buchwald (piano) – The mourners pass by the camera, silently following the coffins of colleagues killed in the accident: they start to move – they are alive! They escaped with their lives once more …
  • Magic Lantern: Don’t Go Down in the Mine, Dad (GB 1910). Producer: Bamforth, Text: Robert Donnelly, Score by Will Geddes. Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Score by Judith Herrmann (piano) – Dramatic slides illustrate a popular miners’ song: the sick son senses an impending accident and thus saves his father’s life.

Escape
Magic Lantern shows and early films about the ‘Social Question’ rarely tell of a successful escape from poverty, and the elimination of poverty is not an issue. The flood of emigrants was addressed by slide sets used by charitable organisations to prepare the migrants for an uncertain future. However, other means of escape from poverty were at hand: salvation in the afterlife or in the world of fantasy.

  • Film: The Two Roses (USA 1910). Print title: Les Deux roses, Producer: Thanhouser, Cast: Marie Eline, Frank Hall Crane, Anna Rosemond. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – Tony Prolo is a track worker, and his son is run over by a car driven by the company boss: the boy recovers and the worker’s family is given a nice new home as a gift.
  • Film: Deux petits Jésus / The Foundling (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé / S.C.A.G.L., Director: Georges Denola, Cast: Jeanne Delvair, Jeanne Grumbach, Georges Paulais. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – Abandoned by the father of her child, a young mother is confronted with ignorance when she goes begging: in desperation she seeks refuge in an abbey church, lays her baby in the nativity crib – and dies.
  • Magic Lantern: The Emigrant Ship (GB 1890). Unknown Producer. Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Score by Judith Herrmann (piano) – This magic lantern show about the departure and sinking of an emigrant ship was extremely popular due to its motion and dissolve special effects. It is accompanied with emigrant songs, slides of the blessings of the New World and a dazzling light show – the Chromatrope …
  • Film: Geheimnisvolle Streichholzdose / A Match Box Mystery (DE 1910). Deutsche Bioscop, Director: Guido Seeber. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano, viola & violin) – A man without legs sells matches: in a surprising animation, the matches group together to form a variety of forms, until ultimately a small windmill made of matches burns down.

This is an excellent compilation, which illuminates the visual media of the late 19th/early 20th centuries and illuminates what concerned society and how it chose to express that concern. Like the best of the magic lantern and cinematograph shows, it imparts a strong impression upon the mind, teaching us of the sorrows of an age not so far away. I hope the DVD finds its way to new audiences.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 19

http://gawker.com

The Bioscope Newsreel failed to hit your screens last Friday, as the entire editorial team was in Spain. But we have returned, with items curious and diverting for your delectation and instruction.

100 Years of YouTube
In case you missed it, one of Google’s contribution to April Fools’ Day was to add a “1911” button to YouTube that allowed users to convert videos into faux silent films, complete with sepia tone, scratches (naturally) and tinkly piano (of course). Unfortunately the joke fell somewhat flat for some, as many videos of serious note (9/11, the Japanese tsunami etc.) hardly lended themselves to facetious treatment. Read more.

We have an app for that
More on faux silents, as we now have Silent Film Director, a new app made by MacPhun for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad and available on the iTunes App Store. It allows you to convert your videos into “classic silent movies”. There are six themed filters: an “old and grainy 20s-era movie filter”, 60s home video, 70s-era home video, standard black-and-white, sepia-toned, and “Vintage Sepia” with extra graininess and signs of wear and tear. There are soundtracks you can add, then upload your video to YouTube, share it on Facebook, or enter the developers’ “International Silent Film” content. Read more.

Silent Naruse
Eclipse has issued a three-disc set that brings together the five surviving silent films of Japanese master Mikio Naruse, pre-eminent in studies of women’s lives. They are the short film Flunky, Work Hard (1931), No Blood Relation (1932), Apart From You (1933), Every-Night Dreams (1933) and Street Without End (1934). The films are presented silent, with optional soundtracks, and come with English subtitles. Read more.

The Garbo note
Greta Garbo is going to be on a banknote. She is one of six prominent Swedes (including Ingmar Bergman) whose faces have been selected to appear on Swedish bills scheduled to come into circulation around 2014-15. Is she the first film person (and of course she was a silent film person) to be so honoured? Read more.

Fascinating Chomón
One of the items we brought with us from Spain was the English version of Joan M. Minguet Batllori’s Segundo de Chomón: The Cinema of Fascination. It’s a pleasing critical biography of the leading Spanish of the early cinema period, someone whose reputation as a master of the fantastical continues to grow. See for instance Chris Edwards’ detailed appreciation of Sculpteur moderne (1908) over at the fine Silent Volume blog. Read more.

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