Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections

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

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

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

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

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

The site is broken down into these individual collections:

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

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

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

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

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

The stereograminator

GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at http://stereo.nypl.org/gallery/index
‘The pool, with the Old Man (1865?)’, animated GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator

Now here’s something of tangential interest to us, but of interest nonetheless. The New York Public Library has a collection of around 40,000 nineteenth century stereophotographs – that is pairs of photographs designed to be looked at through a stereo viewer to give an illusion of depth. Such stereo viewers were hugely popular, and large numbers of stereo cards survive in archives and libraries.

The NYPL has opened up its collection online in an ingenious way. It has digitised the entire collection for anyone to browse, but the great pleasure of course is in seeing the images in 3D, as originally intended. So they have created an online tool, the Stereograminator (great name), enabling anyone to select a pair of images, to crop and resize them as appropriate, then to convert them into an animated GIF (you can choose slow, medium or fast for the alternation of the images) and 3D anaglyph (requiring 3D glasses, of course), with the results viewable to all via their online gallery.

Anaglyph version of the above

It’s an ingenious bit of popularisation through innovation, with a bit of what we in the library world rather painfully call ‘crowdsourcing’ i.e. getting you the public to do some of our documentation work for us. Here, with the help of site visitors, the NYPL will hope to have its entire collection converted into animated GIFs, such as the one above – and over 15,000 have been created already. Having created your GIF, you can then embed it in your blog or website, as I have done above. The resultant online gallery makes for odd viewing, with all of these images wobbling at you, but it’s addictive fun.

Other, static, nineteenth century stereograph images can be found online courtesy of the Library of Congress, Boston Public Library, and the University of Washington Libraries.

Movie title stills

http://annyas.com/screenshots

I’ve written here before now (though it’s hard to believe it was three-and-a-half years ago) about the appeal of capturing film title frames grabs as a cataloguing record. The last time was on the occasion of discovering Steven Hill’s Movie Title Screens Page, an heroic enterprise documentating and displaying screen grabs of every film title frame that he can, mostly from VHS and DVD copies, giving title, year, director, image source, aspect ratio and Amazon link. To date he has 7,614 films so recorded, a number of them silents, and he’s still going.

Now I’ve found another site doing the same. The Movie Title Stills Collection does much the same, but is rather more stylishly designed, if not quite as encyclopaedic as Hill’s site – yet. The MTSC is he work of web designer Christian Annyas, and documents movie titles from 1902 to 2011. There’s not as much information at Hill provides – simply image, title, director, year and link to Amazon – but it’s a lot easier to find the silents, with the site being divided up into decades, including 1900-1919 and 1920-1929. There are some curated sections, on such themes as the typography of Jean-Luc Godard (which looks fabulous) and Saul Bass’s title sequences (ditto).

It has to be said that we have got better at film titles as the decades have gone on, so the silent era examples tend towards the functional (with one or two eye-catching exceptions, such as Greed and The Lodger). But the site makes for compulsive browsing, a great way of surveying film history and seeing how the medium has commanded our attention down the years.

Go explore.

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.

Reading matters

Well, it’s coming to that time of year again, and to help you get through the rigours of Christmas, we thought we come up with a selection of the books published this year on silent film which might be the sort of presents you’d rather like to get for yourselves as opposed to those you can expect from the nearest and dearest. So here’s an idiosyncractic selection of some of the publishing highlights of 2011:

Andrew Shail (ed.), Reading the Cinematograph: The Cinema in British Short Fiction 1896-1912 (University of Exeter Press). One of the most novel and interesting silent film books of the year is this mixture of anthology and critical history, which brings together eight short stories about early cinema, published at the time, paired with scholarly essays in each. Pieces such as Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Mrs Bathhurst’, George R. Sims’ ‘Our Detective Story’ and Mrs H.J. Bickle’s ‘Love and the Bioscope’ are introduced by Tom Gunning, Stephen Bottomore, Andrew Higson and others. The stories are facsimile reprints with the original illustrations, and the essays are illuminating, cogent and enthusiastic.

Bryony Dixon, 100 Silent Films (BFI/Palgrave Macmillan). The book surely no silent fan can resist is this knowledgeable, slightly polemical account of 100 representative silent films. Not the 100 best, but 100 that cover the great range of silent films, so encompassing not just the best-known feature films, but equally early cinema, documentary, newsreels, animation, natural history, actuality, advertising films and the avant garde. A book full of discoveries, with great knowledge expressed in an easy style.

Matthew Solomon, Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination: Georges Méliès’s Trip to the Moon (State University of New York Press). It really has been Georges Méliès’ year, and two of the year’s most notable publications concern his iconic 1902 film, Le voyage dans la lune. Fantastic Voyages is a collection of essays that cover the many different aspects of the film, from its production history, to its contemporary contexts, to its meanings today. It also comes with a critical edition DVD. It’s a whole scientific adventure in itself.

La couleur retrouvée du Voyage dans la Lune / A Trip to the Moon Back in color (Capricci Editions / Technicolor Foundation). This 192-page book was produced by the Technicolor Foundation to accompany the sensational colour restoration of Le voyage dans la lune. Written in English and French, it is gorgeously illustrated and jam-packed with essential information on the film’s history, Georges Méliès himself, and the restoration. It is available for free as a PDF from the Groupama Gan Foundation website; hard copies can be purchased in France, but I got mine just by writing to Technicolor and asking.

Martin Loiperdinger (ed.), Early Cinema Today: The Art of Programming and Live Performance (John Libbey). One of the themes of silent film publication this year, at least as far as this selection is concerned, is pushing the subject out into new territories. I don’t recall seeing before now a whole book devoted to the presentation and performance of early cinema today. This fascinating selection brings together essays by academics, programmers and archivists who are discovering new meanings in the films of a century ago in the act of thinking how best to put them before the audiences of today.

Charles Drazin, The Faber Book of French Cinema (Faber). This, as the title indicates, is not solely devoted to silent films, but rather takes in the whole of French cinema. Single volumes recounting the history of a national cinema for a general audience rather than specialist academic have become something of a rarity, so an acessible and useful overview like this is particularly welcome. Drazin shows due and knowledgeable attention to French silent cinema, even the complexities of the earliest period when Pathé and Gaumont first set up their multinational empires, connecting it all to the latter years of Renior, Pagnol, Duvivier, Godard, Truffaut and Audaird.

John Bengston, Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd (Santa Monica Press). John Bengston’s photographic volumes illustrating the real locations used in the great silent comedies are innovative classics. Following on from his much acclaimed volumes on Chaplin and Keaton, here he illuminates the artistry of Harold Lloyd through an understanding of the locations used in Safety Last, Girl Shy, The Freshman, Speedy and others. A delight both for the film historian and any enthusiast for social or urban history.

Aubrey Solomon, The Fox Film Corporation 1915-1935 (McFarland). A solid, really useful acount of Fox before it was Twentieth Century-Fox, this studio history covers its foundation by archetypal mogul William Fox, the man who turned a “$1600 investment into a globe-spanning $300 million empire”, the production of such classics as The Iron Horse and Sunrise, and contains a comprehensive filmography. A film book publication of the traditional and entirely reliable kind.

Caroline Frick, Saving Cinema: The Politics of Preservation (Oxford University Press). As is becoming increasingly clear, cinema history is at a crossroads, as celluloid comes to the end of its natural life and digital takes over. This makes archiving riven with practical, aesthetic and politicial choices to be made, which are the subject of huge debate. This thoughtful and well-researched book shows the dilemmas but also the great opportunities that digital brings to film archives, especially in opening up previously invisible corners of our moving image heritage. Are we saving cinema, or are we saving something else?

These are just my suggestions. If you have favourites of your own from 2011, do let us all know.

New York, New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go explore.

The Turconi project

Ali Baba et les 40 voleurs (1907), Amleto (1910) and Au pays de l’or (1908), stencil coloured film clippings from from www.progettoturconi.it

Just over one hundred years ago, a Swiss priest had an unusual idea. Abbé Joseph Joye was a Jesuit and taught children at a Basle school. Around 1902-03 he had the idea that one way to capture the attention of his charges would be to show them films. He was not particularly unusual in this alone. A number of clerics around the world about this time decided to add moving images to the magic lantern shows and lectures, noticing how much the young were attracted to the visual, and simply adding another element to their evangelical armoury.

What was remarkable about Joye (pronounced Jwa, by the way) was the scale of his endeavour. While others ordered a few films from an exchange and then returned them, Joye bought his films, kept them, and built up an archive of over a thousand titles over the period 1905-1914. He purchased them second-hand, and as he lived in the German-speaking quarter of Switzerland, the films (some of which he smuggled over the German border, according to legend by hiding them in the folds of his cassock) all had German titles, though they came from countries all over the film-producing world. Joye showed the films to child and adult audiences, and though his interest was educational, he was broad (not to say catholic) in his tastes, selecting dramas, comedies, fantasies, travelogues, newsfilms, industrials, trick films, science films, animation films – the whole rich panoply of early cinema.

Joye died in 1919, but his film collection remained at the Basle school (the Borromäum – which still exists). It was in the 1960s that Italian film historian Davide Turconi (1911-2005) came across the collection in Zurich, where it had been moved by Jesuit Father Stefan Bamberger to better storage conditions. Turconi recgonised the huge historical importance of the collection, but could find no institution locally able to take on a collection of such a size, and fearing that the films would be entirely through deterioration, he decided to clip a few frames from each print and save these at least, as a record of what once had been.

Turconi’s fears were, happily, misplaced. In 1976 the British filmmaker David Mingay came acros the Joye collection, and through him the collection was taken in by David Francis, Curator at the National Film Archive in London, which had the resources necessary to manage such a large nitrate collection. Around 1,200 prints were copied, catalogued and preserved, and today form one of the most important of all early film collections.

Frames from three unidentified films in the Turconi collection: images 4999, 6925 and 4955

But meanwhile, what of Turconi’s frames? Progressively he handed these over to film archives, archivists and historians: to Paolo Cherchi Usai, to the Cineteca del Friuli, to the Arts and Culture Department at the Province of Pavia, to the Cineteca di Bologna, and to Italian film historians Aldo Bernardini and Riccardo Redi. In 2004, Cherchi Usai was at George Eastman House and donated his frame stills to GEH for long-term safekeeping; Bernardini, Redi and the Cineteca del Friuli later followed suit (the frames in Pavia and Bologna are now held by the laboratory La Camera Ottica at the University of Udine and the Cineteca di Bologna). In 2000 the Giornate del Cinema Muto and the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House initiated a project to conserve, catalogue and digitise the entire Turconi collection. Undertaken by various Selznick students and now managed by Joshua Yumibe in collaboration with Paolo Cherchi Uai, the results of the project have just been published.

The Turconi Project is a database of 23,491 film clippings taken chiefly from the Joye collection (c.1897-1915), though some later clippings from unidentified sources date up to 1944. Each image has been digitally scanned and data added to an online database, given (where known) title, country, date, production company and technical details. The entire collection has been made freely available in this way, hosted by the Cineteca del Friuli, and searchable either in its entirety or by the fields named above, including items showing hand-colouring, stencil colouring, tinting, toning, intertitles, splices, and image deterioration.

Though there is something a little odd about a collection of clippings taken from a fully preserved collection of the films themselves being offered as a resource in its own right, this is nevertheless a marvellous offering. There are any number of combinations of fields that you can come up with, though take note not to fill into too many fields when searching, because not every field has been filled in for every record – there are many unidentified films, and many without country or date records. But what most are going to want to do is to browse through the database as a whole and savour the Aladdin’s cave of rich images. There is no easier way of getting a sense of the look and vaeitry of early film than by browsing through the collection, and there will be interest here not just from film historians but students of design, culture, art history, photography and much more. There are also copious cataloguing notes (under ‘details’) which note everything the cataloguer has found out about the images, both technical and filmographic. For the specialist, these will be engrossing reading. The project naturally invites any corrections that those knowledgeable in the subject can supply (email them at turconi.collection@gmail.com).

What one senses, however, is that a great many of these films have been identified by the BFI National Archive, which had the advantage of cataloguing from entire films (or rather films entire except for a few frames missing). How much work has been done to marry up the two collections? The website does not say. How wonderful it would be if there could be a bringing together of clips, data, catalogue records and films into a single online resource. It’s the sort of project that forward-thinking educationalist Joseph Joye would take today if he could. Let’s hope that the Turconi Project is a first step towards something even greater.

In the lobby

Lobby card for The Covered Wagon (1923), part of the Western Silent Films Lobby Card Collection

For decades lobby cards were an integral part of the cinema-going experience. While posters appeared outside the cinema to lure you in, the cinema lobby or foyer would house sets of cards – effectively mini-posters – usually arranged in grid form, promoting films on show and films to come. Lobby cards played an important part in making the very process of going to the cinema something special. Though they had been replaced by plain black-and-white stills by the time I started going to the cinema, you still scanned the forthcoming attractions with delighy, like being in a sweetshop or a toyshop, each image extraordinarily filled with promise as you lived out the drama it depcited in your mind’s eye. You saw an entire film bound up in a single, evocative image. Expectation has always been the engine which has kept the cinema going.

Lobby cards appeared in the 1910s, produced first in sets of four, later usually appearing in sets of eight, and acquiring colour by 1917 (even if the films were black-andwhite they were neverhtless promoted in colour). The standard size was 8″x11″, and they would be shown on free-standing boards or easels, or else framed on the lobby walls. They have become a favourite subject for collectors, and they record not only the emotional import of films but frequently document films that do not survive in any other form. They ceased to be produced for American exhibition at some point in the 1980s (around the time that multiplexes became the norm), but still get made for film exhibition in other territories.

All of which is premable to the bringing to your attention of the Western Silent Films Lobby Cards Collection, part of the digital library of Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The collection comprises 86 lobby cards and 19 printed fliers used to promote sixty-eight silent Westerns produced between 1910 and 1930. Each image is available as as thumbnail, then x4 and x8 size, plus a zoomable file if you have the right softare for viewing .sid files. The descriptive data is meticulous if dry, telling you all about the card but nothing much about the film that it promotes. Nevertheless, the site a delight to browse. The films featured include The Mollycoddle, The Covered Wagon, The Bronc Stomper, The Pony Express and The Thundering Herd, with stars such as Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, William Farnum and Fred Thomson.

The collection is part of the Yale Collection of Western Americana at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and to discover more about the broadcder contexts in which the silent Western sits, do try out other image sets from the Western Americana collection, such the Detroit Photographic Company’s Views of North America, ca. 1897-1924, Ruckus! American Entertainments at the Turn of the Twentieth Century or Mammoth Plate Photographs of the North American West.

My thanks to Brad Scott for bringing the collection to my attention.

Pordenone pictures

Verdi theatre, Pordenone, with trailer for the Giornate del Cinema Muto projected on the outside

Work has started on the Pordenone diary, which will take a little while to produce. In the meanwhile, I have uploaded a collection of photographs from the Giornate to the Bioscope’s Flickr site (scroll down to the bottom to find the Pordenone 2010 images) or else browse through my photostream (as they call it) starting here.

The Bioscope on Flickr

For some while now I’ve thought that it would be a good idea to have some sort of image gallery to go alongside the Bioscope. It wouldn’t really work as part of the blog itself, so instead I have established a set of images as part of my Flickr account and called it The Bioscope, surprise surprise.

It’s got 445 images there so far. Most of them come from two sources. One are illustrations taken from David S. Hulfish, Cyclopedia of Motion-Picture Work (1914), which is freely available in PDF form on the Internet Archive; the other is Charles Donald Fox and Milton Silver (eds.), Who’s Who on the Screen (1920), again available from the Internet Archive (and included in the Bioscope Library). In both cases I have copied and pasted images (for the later book with their descriptions as well), so the image quality isn’t high but I hope in this form they will serve as a handy reference source. Some may remember that the Who’s Who on the Screen images were originally made available on the Screen Research site that I launched a year or so ago and which I unceremoniously dumped last month. They have all been moved to the Flickr set.

The Niece and the Chorus Lady (Edison 1911), from David S. Hulfish, Cyclopedia of Motion-Picture Work (1914)

Additionally, I have added some photographs taken by myself, relating to the Pordenone silent film festival and Kinemacolor, some images from a silent era directory whose title I have mislaid (for the time being), and a few oddments like cinema postcards. I am no collector, and there are others who have made far more interesting silent film images available on Flickr (memo to self: must write post on these soon). But what I will do from now on is add images in full size from Bioscope posts where I have had to reduce them to fit the blog, where it is legitimate to do so.

There is now a link for the Bioscope Flickr set on the right-hand side under ‘Other Bioscope Sites’. The other Bioscope associate sites are the Bioscope Bibliography of Silent Cinema (records extracted from the British Library catalogue), the Bioscope on Twitter (a feed from the blog – I don’t add any additional material as tweets, at present) and Urbanora’s Modern Silents, a collection of modern silent videos on my YouTube site. So the Bioscope grows and grows.

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