Ah, silence

Things are a little on the quiet side here at New Bioscope Towers after a thunderstorm wreaked havoc on the TV and then shortly afterwards (coincidence or otherwise) phone and internet went down.

The result is very peaceful, but it does make communicating with the outside world a bit of a challenge. Normal service (they assure me) will be resumed as soon as possible.

When silents were silent

D.W. Griffith’s Those Awful Hats (1909) depicts a conventional film show with piano accompaniment. Most film shows at this time were like this – but not all. Image from http://www.journeybyframe.com

I read it again the other day. Someone explained how silent films were accompanied by music by starting with the phrase, “Of course, silent films were never silent …” We’ve all used those words, or something like them, explaning the basics of silent film to those new to or indifferent towards the medium. It’s corny, but it’s useful. Kevin Brownlow has a chapter in The Parade’s Gone By entitled ‘The Silents Were Never Silent’. But is it true? Well, if you are going to be historically exact about such things, then the answer is no. Some of time, if not very often, silent films were silent. At the risk of sowing seeds of confusion, we shall attempt to explain when, where and why.

Films from the so-called silent era were ‘silent’ because for the most part there was no soundtrack included on the film print. Although Eugene Lauste patented a sound-on-film system as early as 1907, the first films with soundtracks did not appear, in a few experimental shorts, until the early 1920s. Sound-on-film as we know it was effectively devised by the American Lee De Forest, whose De Forest Phonofilms (short films chiefly showing dramatic or musical sketches) were shown in some cinemas from the mid-1920s. Also during the silent period there had been numerous efforts at synchronising films with disc recordings, chiefly for songs. The concept first became prominent in 1900, and enjoyed much success around the 1907-1910 period, to the extent that it became common for many film programmes to include one song title using synchronised recordings. The concept was revived and improved by Warner Bros for The Jazz Singer (1927), which introduced the idea of sound film (specifically sound feature films) to a mass audience, though it was sound-on-film that would soon take over and give us the talkies.

But for the most part a silent film was silent unless accompanied by live music. But was the music always there? When films were first exhibited commercially, in 1894, via the Edison Kinetoscope peepshow, they were silent. You peered down into the machine, paid your cent or penny, and thirty seconds of so of silent miniaturised action played before your eyes. Edison wasn’t happy with this, and in 1895 introduced the Kinetophone, an adaptation of the Kinetoscope with accompanying (though not synchronised) phonograph recordings. Yet for the most part people started seeing silent films silently.

This continued with the first Lumière presentations around the world in 1895/96, which generally took place without music in salons before select audiences, introducing the concept, before the films would then be transferred to variety theatres where they could be commercialised. Here they would be accompanied by music, since every variety theatre came with a house band or orchestra. Films needed music to be commercially palatable, and because the musicians were on hand. So the idea of films needing music to bring them fully to life was established very soon.

Then films grew longer, and more dramatic, and more popular, and started to demand dedicated auditoria. Film shows in American nickelodeons or British electric theatres (we’re talking about the mid-1900s here) were 45 minutes to an hour long, with several films on the programme. It was a long time for an audience to sit in silence, or so it might seem to us, and many have assumed that because later practice was to have music accompaniment for even the humblest item in the film programme, then it was naturally so during the earlier, nickelodeon period.

Rick Altman, in Silent Film Sound (2004), startlingly overturned this assumption. He argues that music was commonplace in nickelodeon shows (i.e. around 1905-09) but that it was performed between the films, and often only then. He cites evidence from film journals, guides to managing film shows and memoirs to show that if a pianist was used at a film show, it might simply be to accompany a singer performing to illustrated song slides – and if you had a synchronised film to provide the song (usually with the audience joining in too) then there was no need for the expense of the musician. Music was also handy for keeping the audience amused during the change of reels, but there was no necessity for music to be played throughout. Even when musical accompnaiment started to be introduced, it wasn’t necessarily ubiquitous, with Altman citing evidence for film shows where the dramatic films were show with music, while the comedies played silently.

How widespread was this practice? Altman isn’t able to say, though there is enough incidental evidence to suggest that it was common enough not to require any kind of comment at the time as being anything out of the ordinary. Not was it restricted to America. In his pioneering articles for Film History on film exhibition in London 1906-1914, Jon Burrows shows that there were some London cinemas in the pre-1910 period which showed films without any musical accompaniment, though here the circumstances were slightly different. In the period before the Cinematograph Act was introduced, the London Country Council licensed entertainments as music, drama or music an drama. A simple way of dodging the censorious eye of the L.C.C. was not to have any music (or dancing) at all.

My own researches in this field have uncovered some indirect evidence for the practice, but no direct evidence. For example, in December 1910 The World’s Fair (a journal for fairground showmen which had a lot of interest in the emerging cinema business) gave these sample weekly costs for an independent showmen running a film programme:

Film service (two changes weekly) £12 0s
Singing pictures (with hire of synchroniser) £2 10s
Rental £3 5s
Rates £0 12s
Electricity £5 0s
Staffing £12 0s
Printing £2 0s
Billposting £1 0s
Advertising £1 10s
Sundry costs £4 0s
Total £43 17s

So, money for a synchronised sound picture, but no money for a musician. That doesn’t mean that a musician might not have been an extra cost just not accounted for here, but compare such an assessment of the needs of the exhibitor with the list of requirements from c.1912 given in our series How to Run a Picture Theatre, where it is assumed that a film show will have a musician providing accompaniment throughout.

However, I have done a fair amount of research into memoir evidence of cinema-going at this period, and I have not come across a single person recalling going to a film show where the films were shown silently. But memoirists (like film historians) can easily confuse later practice with earlier experiences of film-going, and imagine that what they became used had always been so. Moreover, one only has to think of how cheaply some of the first London shop shows or American nickelodeon shows were run, and how long they screened films for (from morning til might) to realise that have a musician playing all day was a luxury that not all could afford.

There is other evidence of the occasional nature of musical accompaniment in London film shows 1907-09. Police reports on film shows in the East End in 1909 reveal that one show had a mechanical piano that played throughout, irrespective of what was going on the screen; another had a piano with a sign saying that anyone in the audience was invited to play if they were able to; another gave no indication of any music being played at all. Other kinds of film show did without music – for example, the immensely popular Hale’s Tours of the mid-1900s (films shot from the front of moving trains projected in a carriage-like space to create the sensation of travelling) had no music, only the sound of the machinery and a ‘ticket collector’ telling the audience what views were on show. And many a special lecturer with films designed to illustrate a place visited or a cause requiring support got by without music (which would have drowned out what they wanted to say in any case).

Up to 1910, audiences at film shows expected music, but not necessarily music to accompany films. How widespread this practice was we do not know, but it was common enough among some of the humbler shows (which were greatly in the majority) to pass without comment. That it was not entirely desirable, however, is demonstrated by the fact that the practice rapidly died out after 1909. Film shows moved out of converted shops into larger, more luxurious auditoria, and audiences could no longer be expected to endure mean entertainment on hard benches, without raking, and in silence.

The preview theatre at Urbanora House, London, 1908. No music is being played

However, silent films did not stop being silent on occasion thereafter. Previews of films, for prospective buyers and later for critics, were generally conducted without music. Audiences had come to expect film and music to be indivisible, but the industry saw the two as separate. There might be the occasional time when a weary pianist would set down their hands for a while and no doubt get jeered by the audience while the film played on in silence, but that just confirms the expectation that audiences now had, in the 1910 and 20s. Silence could only be accidental – or just once on a while something done for dramatic effect. The best-known example of the latter was the British film Reveille (1924), a First World War drama which reaches it climax with the two-minute silence, which was presented without musical accompaniment, as the director George Pearson recalled:

Emotional music had illuminated the film throughout, led by that master of his crafty, Louis Levy. At the vital instant, his baton stopped. Melody ceased with lightning suddenness … dead silence in that great packed auditorium … the screen telling only of things that spoke to the heart alone. An old quavering mother at a little open window, old eyes seeking the heavens, worn hands against her aged breast … silence … and then a faint breeze stirring the thin muslin curtain, wafting it gently to touch her cheek … to kiss it … and wipe away a tear … and falls as silently as it had lifted … and still, the silence … exactly two minues … an audience seemingly spellbound. Then Louis Levy’s baton lifted … struck … and the Reveille broke the magic of silence …

It is an extraordinarily powerful piece of filmmaking and – so far as I know – the only part of the film that survives today.

Silent films are sometimes silent, even today. Anyone who has been to a screening of a silent film at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris will have been obliged to experience the film in silence, as they have a firm rule based on the belief that any musical acompnaiment to a silent that we might come up with now would be a distracting pastiche, and it is better to be without the music at all, so that the film may be experienced in its purity. Anyone who has sat through a silent feature film in silence will be aware that such purity is difficult to achieve, and the rumbling stomach of our neighbour is more of a distraction than musical pastiche might have been. In the earlier years of the Pordenone silent film festival, when they had fewer musicians (and sometimes just the one), then you had to expect periods of silence when the pianist took a well-earned rest and we the audience sat through the rest of the film in silence, conjuring up tunes in our heads as best we could. And in the mid-1990s, at the National Film Theatre, I presented several programmes of Victorian cinema (i.e. pre-1901) without musical accompaniment at all, just me talking over the films. A mixed blessing for the audience, possibly.

So, silents were sometimes silent, and sometimes they are silent still. But (doctrinaire spirits at the Cinémathèque Française notwithstanding) we are all the better for the silents not really being what they are until they are silent no more.

Iamhist in Copenhagen

If it’s Tuesday it must be Copenhagen. Yes, your jet-setting scribe had no sooner returned from Bologna then he was off on his professional travels once again, this time to attend the Iamhist conference (Iamhist being the International Association for Media and History), on the engrossing theme of ‘media and cultural memory’. Some of it will touch on silent film subjects, some of it will relate to general film history, and other bits probably won’t have all that much relevance at all but, heck, we’ll report on them anyway. It’s all knowledge.

So, as before, I’ll be doing live blogging on the conference with my trusty Blackberry, updating what will be daily posts with relevant stuff as it happens. So expect posts on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Information on the conference, with the provisional programme, is here.

I hope you’ll enjoy following it all.

Crumbling pile

Apologies for the silence from your silent film service, but we have been moving. Yes, though I say it with a heavy heart, the time came to depart Bioscope Towers for a sturdier, more commodious edifice. The crumbling pile that is the Towers has served us well, but well no longer. So we have piled all the reference works, papers and other paraphernalia of the Bioscope scriptorium into a pantechnicon and journeyed but a few yards across the road to … New Bioscope Towers. From whose imposing, ivy-clad walls we hope to have things up and running for you very soon.

In the swim for 2011

Joan Crawford and Dorothy Sheridan limbering up for 2011, from the June page of the Silent Movies Calendar

There’s a new year looming, would you believe, and for silent film buffs in need of friendly guidance throughout year as to which day is which, there is only one place to turn. For the 2011 Silent Movies Benefit Calendar, produced by Rodney Sauer of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, is now available, with photos for each month of silent film stars in swimsuits, and each day noting marriages, death dates, film opening and other notable events from the silent period.

As in previous years, proceeds from the calendar will go to benefit film preservation. For example, the 2010 silent film calendar benefitted the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, the 2009 calendar funds supported an internship in film preservation through the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and funds from the 2008 calendar supported the video restoration of Bardelys the Magnificent through Film Preservation Associates and Lobster Films.

The calendar costs 1 calendar: $14.74, with two calendars $27.59 and three $40.90. Details on how to order copies from the Monto Alto website.

Chaplin’s time traveller

Currently a short piece of silent film from the extras on a Charlie Chaplin DVD is a YouTube hit. At the time of typing, it has been viewed 1,569,512 times. The DVD is the MK2 boxed set of Chaplin feature films, specifically The Circus (1928). The extras footage shows a scene outside Graumann’s Chinese Theater where The Circus is being screened. There is a model of a zebra outside. A man walks past. Then a woman walks past, talking on a mobile phone.

Hang on, rewind – what was that? Graumann’s Chinese Theater, zebra, man, woman with … a mobile phone? Well that’s what it looks like, as she holds her hand to her ear as though clutching something, and she is clearly talking. It looks for all the world like someone using a mobile phone some sixty years before they were invented (and a small-sized one too, not like something Michael Douglas wielded in Wall Street).

So what’s going on? It’s fascinating to look all the theories proposed in the comments or by the person who spotted the clip and who introduces it on the video. His conclusion is that it’s an example of time travel. Since there is no such thing as time travel (I feel quite confident on this point), then we must look for other solutions. It could be digital trickery on the part of its discoverer – I don’t have the DVD to hand but presumably others would have checked this and discounted it. Some have said that she is holding a purse (and talking to it?). Some say that she has a hearing aid, of the bulky kind that then existed (but hearing aids don’t talk to you). Some say that she is simply shielding herself from the camera, or from the sun. Some say that she is not a she at all but a man in drag, though that just adds to the mystery. Perhaps she is just talking to herself.

The video is a bit long-winded, but he does shows us the clip repeatedly, slowed up and zooming in. The Bioscope has toyed with the theory that she’s a traditional folksinger with hand cupped to her ear, but maybe she is just shielding her face from the sun. And talking to herself.

Hmm.

Pordenone diary 2009 – day one

gcmapertpre08

The keen-eyed may have noticed that your editor was not at Pordenone this year for the Giornate del Cinema Muto, the world-renowned festival of silent cinema. Alas this is true, as pressing matters demanded that I be elsewhere this time around. But that does not mean that the Bioscope was not represented, nor that it cannot bring you its by now traditional daily report on the festival’s screenings. For we put a reporter on the case, who has most diligently supplied us with a 2009 Pordenone diary. The reporter has requested that he or she remain anonymous, and that these reports are billed simply as coming from our own correspondent.

Here, therefore, is the report on day one (Saturday 3 October):


So here we are again, in the North of Italy, to gorge ourselves on Silent Film for another celebration of Giornate Del Cinema Muto … but would this, as the first post-credit-crunch Giornate, be different? The memories of last year, when the world economy seemed to be hurtling to Hell in a handbasket as we tried to glean information from Italian headlines and hotel CNN screens, dark mutterings of invading the Verdi, and barricading ourselves in with the prints and the pianists, and never going home … had receded a bit, and most of us had found a way of getting here once more. There were some subtle differences; the Book Fair, billed as not happening this year, actually did but on a smaller scale; and shared the office premises. And at the Posta, opposite the Verdi, the tipples of choice had altered with the exchange rate as British fans of ale were faced with a £7.80 bill for a pint of Birra Rosso, or £4.40 for a lager. Red wine was suddenly the drink of choice. That, and it seemed to me, correctly or not, that this year more people had opted for part-week trips rather than the full week marathon; not however, your intrepid reporter … here for the duration.

The first-day routine is unchanged; to the office, hand over the donation if applicable (seems rude not to, it’s great value and helps keep the show going) and gather up the armful of freebie books and the all-important catalogue; half an inch thick of bilingual essays, context and technical details of every film and clip to be shown, divided into this year’s festival threads; a retrospective of the Franco-Russian studio Albatros; a look at the silent tellings of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and their influence worldwide; a round-up on new discoveries and restorations; and the start of a multi-year revisiting of Silent Classics that have been shown here before, but perhaps twenty or more years ago … and therefore well before the arrival of many of those now attending … a look at some Silent Divas; tributes to the British Silent Film Festival and the Jugoslav Archive, plus some early cinema, a Cesare Gravina tribute, and some documentaries on silent personalities to be shown at the Ridotto, the Verdi’s annexe. Grab the timetable, head to the Posta and decide on your week’s movements while racking up the caffeine levels … and most importantly, greeting the friends you may not have seen since the previous year.

And plunging into the first film, with no formalities, from the Albatros thread (which starts with the earlier Ermolieff films); La nuit du 11 septembre (France 1919) … which sounded good on paper but didn’t quite excite in reality. A melodrama concerning the slow revenge Fate takes on a man tempted into a crime, the film, as it survives at least, is episodic and blighted by a huge number of wordy intertitles derived from the works of Victor Hugo – which the film story wasn’t. Severin-Mars (La Roue, J’Accuse) doesn’t so much act as pose, and you cannot invest any sympathy for a single character, so come the eventual denouement of the unlikely circumstances, you’re frankly not that bothered; a pity, as when the camera ventured outside the studio sets into the landscape, as in an early sequence on a battlefield, or a seaside scene (where a hero saves the heroine from knee-deep water) the sequences are beautifully shot.

A livelier film next up from the BSFF thread; an unpretentious thriller from Stoll based on Edgar Wallace’s breakthrough novel; The Four Just Men (UK 1922). No ambitions for High Art, but a decent Mission Impossible-style tale of four slightly ambivalent upper-class crusaders for justice, taking on a businessman employing sweated labour, despite various warnings. Effective camerawork, good sharp editing and terrific use of London locations; the film is almost stolen by a cockney pickpocket used for comic relief – but the climax as the urepentant businessman awaits the deadline is imbued with real tension; a great performance from Teddy Arundell, helped by the aforementioned editing and increasingly claustrophobic camerawork.

To the opening gala, where we do get the formalities; welcoming speeches from David Robinson and local dignitaries representing the layers of local government who help subsidise the event – more importantly than ever these days.

merrywidow2

John Gilbert and Mae Murray in The Merry Widow, from Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (Fotocollection, Filmmuseum, Wien)

The main event, though, is the Erich Von Stroheim version of The Merry Widow (USA 1925), introduced by Leatrice Joy Fountain and featuring a new orchestral score by Maud Nelissen. The film itself is almost a checklist of Von’s obsessions; militaria, aristocrats at play, wedding processions, grotesques, fetishes and matters of honour; how close it all is to the source material I’m not qualified to say, but it’s a superior piece of froth; the score, using Lehar lightly but effectively matched it to perfection. And every new film I see John Gilbert in, my perception of him changes; not just the star of legend, I’m realising what a really fine actor he was too, and what a waste his loss was to cinema.

The final film of the first (half) day, Le Bonheur Conjugal (France 1923) was a pleasant enough but flaccid rom-com with a newly-married-for-money playboy finding true love – with his wife. Gabriel Thibaudeau gave his all, but couldn’t lift it above the pretty ordinary. Again, it was hard to feel any empathy with the protagonists, and the final redemption felt hollow.

So a curate’s egg of a first day, but there is so much more to come … a small stiff drink and a good night’s sleep required. See you tomorrow.


Many thanks to our mystery reporter (doubtless those who were there will already be poring through the text in search of clues as to the scribe’s identity), and look out on the morrow for the report on day two.

Report on day two
Report on day three
Report on day four
Report on day five
Report on day six
Report on day seven
Report on day eight

Silent Screen Slots

http://www.onlinecasinoreports.com

So far in our investigations of the worlds of silent cinema past and present, somehow we have managed to avoid the online betting phenomenon. No more! For William Hill Casino have just announced the creation of Silent Screen Slots, a new video slot game based on silent cinema, “a tasteful and exciting window into the cinema of yesteryear”.

As you can see from the above preview, generic images of your favourite silent screen cliches are accompanied by the inevitably tinkly piano music. The full experience reportedly brings you “many big movie stars such as Charlie Chaplin” and, they promise, “fitting tributes to many classic films”. We could have a certain amount of fun imagining what such fitting tributes could have been (The Gold Rush, Pay Day), but the major features are an unidentifiable actress as the wild symbol (offering you the “top-line winning of 5,000 coins”) and “the Scatter symbols that also provide excitement, with 5 scattered cameras paying some 200 times a player’s bet, or 5,000 coins if 25 coins per line are wagered”. Finally there’s a “Movie Mayhem” jackpot feature, with golden movie tickets hidden in the concession stand (which looks decidely not from the silent era), with four “generous progressive jackpots” to aim for. “Overall, there’s excitement and top-class Silent Screen entertainment awaiting players at this video slots game”.

Exciting, entertaining and tasteful – what better way could there be for you to lose your money?

Any more for Metropolis?

metropolisimage

Metropolis

You will remember the great excitement earlier this year when a 16mm copy of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis turned up in Argentina, with scenes missing from existing 35mm prints. We await the outcome of whatever restoration will eventually bring those scenes to us, but now we hear of more on Metropolis from South America.

A 9.5mm print of the film has turned up in Chile, specifically at the Cinemateca de la Universidad de Chile. A report in the Ecuadorian newspaper El Telégrafo (never let it be said that The Bioscope does not search far and wide in its quest for the best news and information for you) says that the print was uncovered in 2006, though it had been in their vaults for years, but wasn’t immediately recognised as a priority. Now they have sent it to the folk at Murnau-Stiftung, which already has care of the Argentinian material.

We shouldn’t be throwing our hats up in the air over this one, as Pathé-Baby 9.5mm copies for the home market were generally cut-downs from full releases. In any case, no examination has been undertaken of the print, and it will be at least six months before we get any news concerning its contents, as the report states (you can get the drift of it through Google Translate’s English interpretation):

Apareció original de Metrópolis

La cinta en formato 9,5 milímetros de Fritz Lang fue hallada en Chile

Una edición presumiblemente original de la película Metrópolis, realizada por el alemán Fritz Lang en 1926 y uno de los símbolos del cine expresionista, fue descubierta en la Cinemateca de la Universidad de Chile.

La cinta, en formato de 9,5 milímetros, permaneció durante decenios en las bodegas de la Cinemateca y solo en el año 2006 se constató que se trataba de una edición similar a la que se exhibió en Alemania para su estreno comercial, en 1927.

Así lo confirmó al diario La Tercera Luis Horta, restaurador y encargado técnico de la Cinemateca, que precisó que las latas que guardan el filme solo decían Metrópolis en la cubierta.

“Chequeamos y vimos que era una rareza; se trataba de una versión en 9,5 milímetros, formato que está obsoleto, y que tiene una perforación al medio y no al costado como el de 35 milímetros, lo que hace imposible proyectarla”, dijo.

El experto explicó que el descubrimiento no se hizo público de inmediato, (en 2006), porque la Cinemateca tenía como prioridad la recuperación de cintas de los chilenos Raúl Ruiz, Helvio Soto y Miguel Littin.

En todo caso, anunció que la próxima semana la película será enviada a Alemania, a la Fundación Murnau, dueña de los derechos de Metrópolis, para su verificación.

A juicio de Horta, solo en esa fundación podrán determinar si la encontrada en Chile es la edición de 1927, tras un proceso de verificación que durará entre seis meses y un año.

Sostuvo que hasta la década de los 40’s, circuló una edición de 120 minutos realizada por la compañía estadounidense Paramount, pero en 2001 la Fundación Murnau hizo una restauración en base a varias copias y logró agregarle algunas escenas, que aumentaron su duración a 147 minutos.

Sin embargo, recordó que esa versión, estrenada el 10 de enero de 1927, era una reducción hecha por el propio Lang, cuyo original duraba 210 minutos.

Horta manifestó que la película fue olvidada por décadas, porque tras el golpe militar de 1973, época de quema de libros y destrucción de la cultura en Chile, el entonces director de la Cinemateca, Pedro Chaskel, cambió los rótulos de algunas películas para evitar que fueran destruidas por los militares.

My thanks to regular Bioscopist David Pierce for bringing this to my attention, and acknowledgment to DVD Savant where he spotted it.

Lost sites

Here at The Bioscope we do our best to alert you to interesting new web resources on the subject of silent cinema, or indeed sites that have been around for a while but aren’t necessarily well known. But what about sites that are no more? We’ve all experienced the frustration of the dead link, discovering that some site or page has been taken down because the domain registration wasn’t kept up, the page was taken down because the owner thought it no longer of interest, or the web links on a site have all been changed. Whatever the reason, the Net is an impermanent place, and many worthwhile sites in our field are around no more.

Happily we have the Internet Archive and its ‘Wayback Machine‘, which has archived a great deal of the Internet (85 billion web pages from 1996 to 2008), taking ‘snapshot’ records of sites periodically (usually every few months). Images are not always retained, and you can’t find movie files, databases or other such complexities in the archive, but you will find the plain HTML. But how do you know what to look for? There is no subject guide or keyword searching (yet). You have to know the web address, and even then that only find you what you knew was there to find. What about those lost sites that you never knew were lost?

Despair not. The Bioscope presents this initial guide to some of the silent cinema sites and web pages which can no longer be found on the Web as such, but do lurk within the Internet Archive. There will be many more than those listed below, of course, but it’s a start (do let me know if you know of any). All links will take you to the Internet Archive record.

The Silents Majority
Old hands will have recognise the gentleman at the top of this post as ‘Merton of the Movies’, the silent town crier who featured on Diane MacIntyre and Spike Lewis’ The Silents Majority, the essential silents information site before it disappeared in 2003 and Silent Era took its place. Here you can still find biographies, reproductions of articles, featured books and videos, photo gallery, guest articles and Cooking with the Stars. Not everything remains (some images and the QuickTime movies won’t be found there), but it’s still a treasure trove. Check also for the final year of its existence when it changed its URL and became www.silentsmajority.com.

A Trip to the Moon
A simple but engaging site dedicated to Georges Méliès’ Voyage Dans La Lune, with an essay on the film, Méliés’ own outline and commentary for the film, film stills (not of terribly high quality, unfortunately), and extracts from the associated imaginative literature of Wells, Verne, Poe and others.

Questions Regarding the Genesis of Nonfiction Film
A stimulating essay on early non-fiction filmmaking, its essence, problems of definition, and neglect by film scholars, by renowned Japanese scholar Komatsu Hiroshi. It does exist elsewhere in print in the journal Documentary Box, but a key text like this ought not to be lost to the online research community.

The Human Motor
This stems from a scientific project to map the human body by the University of Colorado, and was part of a larger site, Building Better Humans. It has sound information on the chronophotography of Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge, complete with a fine selection of images.

Les Frères Lumière et le Japon 1895-1995
This site accompanied a touring exhibition of films shot in Japan in the 1890s by the Lumière cameramen François-Constant Girel and Gabriel Veyre. It comprises an excellent essay (in French) on the first films and filmmaking in Japan by Hiroshi Komatsu.

Eadweard Muybridge: Father of Motion Pictures
An imaginative, beautifully-designed site on the master photographer who captured motion. Some of the photographs no longer appear, but there some animated gifs of Muybridge sequences, and the whole thing is just done with such style.

Dive cinema muto
Italian site (in Italian) devoted to silent film actresses, especially the Italian ‘divas’ such as Lyda Borelli and Francesca Bertini, plus other femme fatales such as Asta Nielsen and Theda Bara. With biographies, essays and illustrations.

Archiving the Internet is becoming a subject of increasing concern. The Internet Archive leads the field, of course, but the UK Web Archiving Consortium is building up to the day when every UK website will be archived as a matter of legal deposit. For those intrigued by dead sites in general, take a look at Ghost Sites of the Web (these are sites that still exist on the Web, but which have been abandoned).

Please let me know of any lost sites (as opposed to dead ones that just aren’t updated any more) on silent cinema, and I’ll update this list. Note also that not every lost site may necessarily be found on the Internet Archive – the website whose passing I most regret, Charl Lucassen’s beautiful Anima site on chronophotography and other optical delights, once one of the genuine treasures of the Web, is nowhere to be found at all. Such a loss.

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