Britain can make it

Spot the Urbanora Dog (not a competition, by the way – ah, the old jokes are the best)

Well, how could I possibly resist publishing this iconic image? Anyone who knows your scribe’s nom de plume or particular interest in the exploits of dogs in silent films will no doubt be cheering, and very probably rushing off to book hotels and transportation at the very thought of the legendary Charles Urban-produced film A Canine Sherlock Holmes (1912) turning up at the British Silent Film Festival, which takes place in Cambridge, 19-22 April 2012.

The festival is in its fifteenth year, and being in celebratory mood it has put together a sort of greatest hits programme, which looks remarkably ambitious for a four day event. It is certainly packed with treasures and diverting oddities. The festival started out fifteen years ago as a quaint mix of academic papers and obscure British silents, appealing to a select if dedicated bunch of people. It hit hard times a few years ago, but a shift in programming to feature films with some special events, combining imaginatively selected British silents with world classics looks to have paid dividends. Among the better-known titles in the programme below, there are Turksib, Visage d’Enfants and The Great White Silence, while the Dodge Brothers accompanying Abram Room’s The Ghost that Never Returns is bound to be popular. But let me recommend also The Blackguard, directed by Graham ‘The White Shadow’ Cutts; the programme of Fred Paul’s proto-horror short films (especially The Jest); the modestly pleasing W.W. Jacobs films (including The Head of the Family, filmed in fair Whitstable, the town where I grew up); another Fred Paul film, Lady Windermere’s Fan (not exactly Lubitsch, but well worth watching) and the What the Silent Censor Saw programme, which should show some of those extant films we recently highlighted as having been rejected by the BBFC for screening in the UK. There are tributes to Charles Dickens and P.G. Wodehouse, and more dog-centred entertainment with the tear-jerking feature film Owd Bob (surely the loyal old sheepdog can’t be a killer…?) and a programme of shorts that includes the heartening Dog Outwits the Kidnappers, with Cecil Hepworth’s Rover driving a car with aplomb.

Here’s the full programme.

19.04.2012

09.00 – 17.00 Registration (Arts Picture House)

10.30 The Bachelor’s Baby (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Romantic comedy about a bachelor who discovers an abandoned baby whilst on a motorcycle tour of the Lake District. Uncertain of what to do with the foundling, he hands it to a retired captain living next door to his unrequited childhood sweetheart and her young niece. Meanwhile, assuming it stolen, the child’s mother and an array of interfering busy-bodies set out to look for the child in a series of comic interludes, mistaken identities and baby swaps. Does the mother want the baby back and what of the attractive niece who catches the eye of the eponymous bachelor?

Dir: Arthur Rooke. With: Malcolm Tod, Tom Reynolds, Peggy Woodward, Constance Worth, Haidie Wright. GB 1922, 67mins.

Plus

Ordeal by Golf
The first of our P.G. Wodehouse golfing tales about two golfers and their ‘eternal caddy’, a man who supplements his income by stealing ‘lost’ balls and selling them back to their original owners. Inevitably, golf is much more than just a game here and when an elderly boss seeks to appoint a new company treasurer, he challenges the two potential candidates to a golfing match as ‘the only way to judge a man’s true character’. But is beating the boss really such a good idea?

Dir: Andrew P Wilson. With: Harry Beasley. GB 1924, 26mins

13.15 The Only Way (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
The final major Dickens adaptation of the silent era, The Only Way is a lavish adaptation of the popular stage play of the same name, itself a rather free adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. Produced and directed by the ambitious Herbert Wilcox, it stars legendary theatre actor-manager Sir John Martin Harvey as Sydney Carton, the English advocate who is given the chance to redeem his wasted life by saving the life of his near double, a French aristocrat in exile from revolutionary France threatened with the guillotine.

Dir: Herbert Wilcox. With: John Martin-Harvey, Ben Webster, Madge Stuart, Jean Jay. GB 1926, 107mins

13.30 Young Woodley (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
One of the most impressive and sensitively directed British films of the late silent era, Young Woodley is based on John Van Druten’s controversial stage play of 1925 which had already fallen foul of the Lord Chamberlain. Its the story of a dreamy young college boy who falls for the Headmaster’s wife, the beautiful Laura Simmons (Madeleine Carroll), herself trapped in a stale marriage. Originally shot in 1928 as a full-blooded silent, (the version screened here), the film remained unreleased until 1930 when it was refashioned into an early sound feature. Somewhat reminiscent of both Tea and Sympathy and The Browning Version, this little seen gem is more than deserving of a much belated reappraisal.

Dir: Thomas Bentley. With: Frank Lawton, Madeleine Carroll, Sam Livesey, Aubrey Mather

GB 1928, 1hr 33mins

Plus Young Woodley Sound Trailer. 1930. 3.5mins

15.30 Grand Guignol – The Last Appeal + The Jest + A Game for Two (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
Fred Paul’s Grand Guignol short films, A Game for Two, The Jest, The Gentle Doctor and The Last Appeal stand out for their remarkable plots, all with a cruel twist in the tale, and their fatalistic atmosphere. Fred Paul himself declared ‘I attempt to show life as it really is, its sordidness and cruelty; the diabolical humour of the destiny we call fate, which plays with us as it will, raises us to high places or drags us to the gutter; allows one man to rob the widows and orphans of their all and makes a criminal of the starving wretch who in his misery has stolen a mouthful of bread. The four surviving short films are here presented with a script by Michael Eaton.

Dir Fred Paul: GB 1921. Running time approx 70mins

17.30 The Boatswain’s Mate + A Will and a Way (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
At the Beehive Inn, the widowed landlady Mrs Waters has no shortage of gentlemen admirers willing to ‘marry a pub’. But she wants to marry an ‘ero and pub regular George sets out to prove himself by rescuing her from a fake burglary which he stages with an itinerant Victor Maclagen, who turns up looking for work. But the plan goes awry when the feisty landlady proves that she’s more than a match for either of them.

Dir: Manning Haynes. With: Florence Turner, Victor Maclagen, Johnny Butt. GB 1924,26 mins.

Plus

A Will and a Way
In the peaceful village of Claybury a wedding takes place and two locals set the scene for this delightful romantic comedy when they announce ‘This be a rare place for a wedding. Not as the gals be better lookin’ than others – they be sharper’. Meanwhile the recently deceased, Sportin’ Green, leaves his fortune to his nephew Foxy on the proviso that he marries the first woman to ask him. Cue an array of fortune-seeking widows, elderly spinsters and men in drag, all vying to pop the question first and a series of hilarious interludes with echoes of Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances.

Dir: Manning Haynes. With Ernest Hendry, Johnny Butt, Cynthia Murtagh, Charles Ashton. GB 1922, 45mins

19.00 Gala Screening – Visages D’Enfants (Faces of Children) (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 1)
An astounding portrait of tragedy from one of the founding masters of French poetic realism and filmed through the eyes of a young boy haunted by the death of his mother. Set in a Swiss alpine community the film opens with her funeral and deals with the aftermath as the boy, brilliantly played by child actor Jean Forest, tries to come to terms with this life-changing event, his own grief and the prospect of a new stepmother and sister. Compared to Truffaut’s 400 Blows in its sympathy for the child’s eye view, historian Jean Mitry could give no higher accolade when he said, ‘If I could select only one film from the entire French production of the 1920s, surely it is Faces of Children that I would save’ .

Dir: Jacques Feyder.With: Jean Forest, Victor Vina, Arlette Pevran, Henri Duval. France 1925, 114mins

20.04.2012

09.00 New Discoveries: (The Ones that got away) Tony Fletcher (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A tantalising programme of rare Edwardian short films selected and presented by long-term Festival collaborator Tony Fletcher, and displaying the rich diversity held in the BFI National Archive. This selection includes comedies such as The Cheekiest Man on Earth (1908) and A New Hat for Nothing (1910), Arthur Melbourne Cooper’s mechanical animation Road Hogs in Toyland (1911), moral tales like A Great Temptation (1906), visual spectacles such as Wonders of the Geomatograph (1910) and Pageant of New Romney (1910) an early colour experiment by pioneer G.A. Smith, to the Edison Company’s adaptation of the Tennyson poem Lady Clare (1912) filmed at Arundel Castle.

Presented by Tony Fletcher

Dir: Various. Running time 85mins

11.00 – 12.30 The Woman’s Portion – IWM event (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A fascinating programme of films about women’s contribution during the Great War, including recruitment films for the Land Army and Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, propaganda films encouraging the use of National Kitchens and extolling the virtues of frugality. The programme includes the recently restored version of c1918 fictionalised propaganda film The Woman’s Portion about the need for women to accept separation from, and loss of, their husbands fighting on the Front. The IWM has recently re-edited, tinted and provided a new piano score by the composer, Ian Lynn.

Programme will be presented by Matt Lee and Toby Haggith

Dir: Various. GB 1917-1918. Running time approx 80mins

11.00 Tansy (Emmanuel College)
Alma Taylor stars as Tansy, a shepherd girl caught up in a love triangle between two brothers which results in her eviction from her beloved farm. Played out against the backdrop of the beautiful Sussex Downs, and based on a popular novel of the time by Tickner Edwardes, the film displays all the pictorial beauty and naturalism for which Hepworth was renowned. Tansy was a lucky survivor among Hepworth’s feature films when the majority of his work was seized and tragically melted down following his bankruptcy.

Dir: Cecil M. Hepworth. With: Alma Taylor, James Carew, Gerald Ames, Hugh Clifton. GB 1921, 63 mins

13.30 The Long Hole + The Clicking of Cuthbert (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Two classics from P.G. Wodehouse’s golfing tales here presented with readings from the original stories. Originally presented in 6 parts The Clicking of Cuthbert was the first. Set in the suburban paradise of Wood Hills where two rival camps, The Golfers and The Cultured, vie for supremacy. When Cuthbert is forced to retrieve a ball, accidentally smashed a ball through the window into a literary society meeting, he falls for the charms of the cultured poetess Adeline. But she wants an intellectual, so Cuthbert attends readings of Soviet ‘misery lit’ by a famous visiting Bolshevik in the hope of becoming one. But when the Bolshevik announces his own love of golf, the Cultured Adeline is forced to rethink her own prejudices against the game.

Plus

The Long Hole
Two rival golfers compete for the attention of an attractive young woman, each convinced that they would stand a chance if the other were out of the way. So they decide to settle the matter with a round of golf comprising a single hole, teeing off from first green and ending in the doorway of the Majestic Hotel the following day. But en route, the pair are forced to play fast and loose with the rules as they deal with the mud of an English summer and balls accidentally chipped into motorcars and boats. What a pity that neither of them had considered whether the object of their mutual desire was interested in them.

Dir: Andrew P. Wilson. With Roger Keyes, Harry Beasley, Charles Courtneidge, Daphne Williams. GB 1924, 25mins/32mins

13.30 The Lure of Crooning Water (Emmanuel College)
Romance and melodrama mingle in this tale of a city seductress who lures a farmer away from his wife and family. Ivy Duke plays a famous actress ordered by her doctor-lover to take a rest cure at the idyllic Crooning Water Farm. But she’s unable to resist flirting with the unworldly farmer (Guy Newall) under the nose of his hard-working wife who can do little to distract him from her spoilt love-rival. The British countryside has never looked more glorious and there are some comedy moments –including the ‘smoking baby’ sequence. The film was a critical success on its release with Kinematograph Weekly proclaiming it as ‘a triumph for the British producer. It disposes once and for all the ridiculous argument that good films cannot be made in this country’.

Dir: Arthur Rooke. Starring: Guy Newall, Ivy Duke, Douglas Munro, Mary Dibley. GB 1920 104mins

15.30 The Head of the Family (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Set in a Kentish seafaring community, Mrs Green is horribly bullied by her second husband who threatens to sell off the family home that belonged to her son, who was lost at sea and presumed dead. But when the despairing woman meets a friendly sailor looking for lodgings, the two hatch a plan to thwart her husband’s schemes by pretending that the young man is her long-lost son, back to claim his place at The Head of the Family. The locations are a delight and the cinematography praised by contemporary critics who claimed that W.W. Jacobs, with his international reputation, would be enough to draw the crowds – a poignant reminder of how popular tastes in literature have changed.

Dir: Manning Haynes. Starring Johnny Butt, Daisy England, Charles Ashton, Moore Marriott. GB 1922 73 mins

With

Rough Seas Around British Coasts
A mesmerizing actuality film displaying the power of high tides and rough seas.

GB, 1929, 9 mins

15.30 Lady Windermere’s Fan (Emmanuel College)
The first film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic satire on Victorian marriage and society. Lady Windermere, convinced that her husband is being unfaithful with a certain Mrs Erlynne, is further distressed to discover that the ‘other woman’ has been invited to her birthday ball. So she embarks on her own affair to get even. But all is not what it seems and, Mrs Erlynne sacrifices her own reputation to save Lord and Lady Windermere’s marriage with the final plot revelation, explaining her motives.

Dir: Fred Paul. With: Milton Rosmer, Irene Rooke, Nigel Playfair, Netta Westcott. GB 1916, 72 mins

17.30 What the Silent Censor Saw! (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
To celebrate 100 years of film classification by the BBFC we look at the history of this remarkable institution and its decision making processes. Featuring clips from films illustrating various censorship issues – sex, drugs and bullfighting as well as the wonderful Adrian Brunel spoof, Cut it Out: a Day in the Life of a film Censor.

Introduced by Lucy Betts of the BBFC and Bryony Dixon of the BFI

Dir: various. Running time approx. 90mins.

17.30 The Man Without Desire (Emmanuel College)
Adrian Brunel’s first feature film is a fascinating curio, filmed on location in Venice, bearing hallmarks of German Expressionism and shifting between the 18th and 20th Centuries. Novello’s other-worldly beauty and sexual ambiguity is perfect for the role of Count Vittorio Dandolo, an 18th Century Venetian nobleman, put into a state of suspended animation following the murder of his lover, who is revived into the present with unexpected consequences.

Dir: Adrian Brunel. With Ivor Novello, Nina Vanno, Sergio Mari, Christopher Walker. GB 1923, 107mins

19.15 The First Born – Gala Screening (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 1)
With new musical score from Stephen Horne

A tour de force of late silent filmmaking and a heady mix of politics, infidelity, sex and passion, The First Born was adapted by Miles Mander from his own novel and play with a script by Alma Reville, Alfred Hitchcock’s talented wife. It concerns the relationship between Sir Hugh Boycott (Mander) and his young bride Madeleine, sensitively played by a pre-blonde Madeleine Carroll. Their passionate relationship founders when she fails to produce an heir. The print has recently been fully restored by the BFI National Archive with its original delicate tinting.

Dir: Miles Mander. With: Miles Mander, Madeleine Carroll, John Loder. GB 1928, 88mins.

21.04.2012

09.00 Livingstone (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A rare screening of this fascinating biopic starring actor, director and explorer M.A. Wetherell in the title role. The film traces Livingstone’s physical and spiritual journey from his humble Scottish home to Africa and his fight against slavery. Wetherell travelled over 25,000 miles to produce the film, which is largely shot on location in the places visited by Livingstone with the indigenous African Tribes people playing themselves. The film was highly praised on its release for combining drama, sensitive performances with stunning scenery and travelogue. The Cinema News and Property Gazette stated, ‘The picture was warmly received at its Albert Hall presentation last week, and the audience seemed particularly pleased with the magnificent views of the Victoria Falls. As for the crocodiles, no disciple of Ufa could have made them more terrible or more worthy to be respected’ It is here presented in the only known extant 16mm print courtesy of the Archive Film Agency.

Dir: M.A. Wetherell. With M.A. Wetherell, Molly Rogers, Douglas Cator, Robson Paige. GB 1926, 62mins

Presented in association with the Archive Film Agency

09.00 Mist in the Valley (Emmanuel College)
Produced and directed by Cecil Hepworth, based on the original novel by Dorin Craig, this is a story of a lonely heiress, played by Alma Taylor, who runs away from an unhappy home. She meets her future husband whilst destitute and they soon marry. However, their happiness is short-lived as her father is murdered and our heroine becomes the prime suspect! A Courtroom drama ensues with an unexpected twist at the end.

Dir: Cecil M. Hepworth. With Alma Taylor, G.H. Mulcaster, James Carew, Esme Hubbard. UK, 1923 75mins

11.00 Fun Before the Footlights: The Origins of Undergraduate Humour (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
The British tradition of absurdist humour didn’t start with The Goons, Pete and Dud, or Monty Python – not by a long chalk. The slightly silly antics of the so-called intelligentsia are to be found in a series of short films of the 1920s which delight in anti establishment cheek and a desire to take the **** out of cinema itself (outrageous!) with a pastiche travelogue, a bogus newsreel (the Typical Budget) and a send up of the Censor himself. With an introduction by Jo Botting (BFI)

Dir: various. Running time 90mins

11.00 Family Matinee – Silent film fun with Animal Stars (Arts Picture House)
The Artist’s ‘Uggie’ proved how important it is to have a clever dog in your silent movie and we’ve got a kennel full – driving cars, doing tricks and getting their owners out of scrapes along with assorted parrots, monkeys, horses, insects and goodness knows what else – fun silent comedies for the whole family with films from crime-fighting dogs in 1906 to Charley Chase trying to bath a Great Dane in 1927, all introduced, explained and accompanied by Neil Brand.

Dir: various. Running time approx 80mins

13.30 Fante Anna (Gypsy Anna) (Emmanuel College)
Presented in association with The Norwegian Film Institute and Lillehammer University

One of the great films of the Norwegian silent canon, starring Asta Nielsen, one of the greatest actresses of the period. Anna, a gipsy child is discovered in the arms of her dead mother by a farmhand and adopted by the Storleins, his employers. But Anna (Nielson) grows into a wild child, constantly getting her step brother into trouble, until mother Storlein can take no more and Anna is forced to leave. As the years pass, Anna falls in love with her step brother, but Jon, the farmhand has also fallen for Anna. Their fate is bound together and one of the rivals will be forced to save her life. This newly restored film is here presented by composer Halldor Krogh whose new symphonic music score will be played with the film.

Dir: Rasmus Breistein. With Asta Nielsen, Einar Tveito, Johanne Bruhn Norway 1920

15.30 The Bohemian Girl (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Based on William Balfe’s operetta of the same name, Knoles’ lavish production stars Ivor Novello as Thaddeus, an exiled Polish officer who joins a gypsy community in Bohemia to escape the Austrian military. Here he meets and falls in love with Arline, a young woman of noble birth stolen as a baby and brought up as a gypsy. But the Queen of the Gypsies has also fallen in love with Thaddeus and, jealous of the younger woman, she has Arline arrested for theft. Notable for its cast of theatrical luminaries, and with a tantalizing and rare glimpse of Helen Terry, the film was praised for its staging, but criticized for its overall lack of drama.

Dir: Harley Knoles. Starring Ivor Novello, Ellen Terry, Gladys Cooper, Constance Collier. GB 1922, 70mins.

15.30 The Great White Silence (Emmanuel College)
In 1910, Captain Robert Falcon Scott led what he hoped would be the first successful team to reach the South Pole. But the expedition also had a complex (and completely genuine) scientific brief. Scott’s decision to include a cameraman in his expedition team was a remarkable one for its time, and it is thanks to his vision – and to Herbert Ponting’s superb eye – that, a century later, we have an astonishing visual account of his tragic quest. The film built on Ponting’s lecture, introducing intertitles, as well as his own stills, maps, portraits and paintings, to create a narrative of the tragic events. The film was lavishly restored by the BFI National Archive in 2010 for the centenary of the expedition with original tints and tones and a newly commissioned score by Simon Fisher-Turner.

Dir: Herbert G. Ponting. With: Capt. Robert Falcon Scott. GB 1924, 108mins.

17.30 A Couple of Down and Outs (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
In this timely reprise for the War Horse of its day, a man recognizes the horse that he cared for on the battlefields of the First World War as it is being led off to the knackers yard. Man and horse go on the run in a beautifully told tale of official brutality and individual compassion. Print courtesy of the EYE Film Institute Amsterdam.

Dir. Walter Summers. With: Rex Davis, Edna Best. GB 1923, 64mins

19.00 Turksib – Gala Screening (Emmanuel College)
With live music from Bronnt Industries Kapital

This masterpiece of Soviet film making describes the construction of the great Turkestan-Siberia railway as it progresses 1445km through the vast Steppes and deserts of Kazakhstan. The railway was one of the great achievements of the Soviet Five Year Plan and Turin’s film captures the revolutionary fervour of the endeavour with it’s symphonic form and rhythms, backed up by Bronnt Industries fabulous new score. ‘A lyrical, humane, superbly edited masterpiece’ The Guardian.

Dir: Viktor Turin, USSR 1929, 78mins

21.00 Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow – Gala Screening (Emmanuel College)
A cornucopia of short films from the acclaimed BFI DVD release, Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow, featuring a century of folk customs and ancient rural games from mummers and morris dancers, to extreme sports and village customs. The programme will include some of the earliest known film footage of English folk traditions from around the country, some collected by pioneer folk revivalist Cecil Sharp in 1911. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by renowned musicians, concertina player Rob Harbron with Miranda Rutter on fiddle in what promises to be a unique and unmissable event.

Dir: various. GB. Total running time approx 80mins.

22.04.2012

09.00 The Blackguard (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Based on Raymond Paton’s 1923 novel about a penniless and wounded violinist who saves a young Russian princess from execution during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The film was shot at UFA’s Babelsberger Studios in Germany as a co-production with Gainsborough, and is noteworthy for Hitchcock’s contribution as Art Director. The Blackguard is a good example of big 1920s European film making with impressive crowd scenes, and it never looks less than fabulous.

Dir: Graham Cutts. With Jane Novak, Walter Rilla, Frank Stanmore. GB/Germany 1925. 80mins

09.15 Owd Bob (Emmanuel College)
Taken from the novel by Alfred Ollivant, Edwards’ charming film is a tale of love and rivalry in the Cumbrian hills. With his loyal dog Bob close by his side, young farmer James Moore is new to the valley, much to the annoyance of long-standing land owner Adam McAdam. However, real trouble comes to this close-knit community with the discovery of the bodies of savagely killed sheep. Acrimony and accusations ensue causing a deep set family feud. Who is to blame? Could Bob really be the culprit? Featuring some evocative location photography of the Lake District.

Dir: Henry Edwards. With: Ralph Forbes, James Carew, J. Fisher. GB 1924 68mins

11.00 Ask the Experts – Silent film in the 21st century (Emmanuel College)
The worldwide success of The Artist has focused attention on silent cinema like never before. Will this phenomenon translate into greater interest in silent film? Or is it in fact the result of increased interest in silent cinema rather than a cause? In this panel session specialists from the ‘British Silent Film Festival’, explain their passion for silent film, look at other examples of silent film in the 21st century and trace the development of silent film in the 20th century to explain its enduring appeal. Here is your chance to find out all you ever wanted to know about silent film, but never dared ask.

11.00 The Golden Butterfly/Der Goldene Schmetterling (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
The final of our P.G. Wodehouse silent film adaptations is an altogether different affair from his golfing tales and this time, directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz before his migration to Hollywood. This is the story of a young restaurant cashier (Damita) who longs to be a dancer and each evening after work, she heads off to practice. One day she meets a handsome impresario who promises to make her a star, so she abandons her job and the boss who has fallen in love with her. But things go horribly wrong when an accident at the London Coliseum threatens to ruin her life. Some scenes were filmed on location in Cambridge.

Dir: Michael Curtiz. With: Lily Damita, Jack Trevor, Hermann Leffler, Nils Asther. Germany 1926, 95mins

13.30 Short films from Desmet Collection at EYE – Netherlands (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A cornucopia of delights from the Desmet Collection held in the Netherlands Film Archive. This selection of British shorts includes Didums and the Bathing Machine in which the eponymous nightmare-child torments a hapless bather by stealing his clothes and the mad-cap Tilly girls in Tilly in a Boarding House. Also featuring are, A Canine Sherlock Holmes, Charley Smiler is Robbed, The Adventures of P.C.Sharpe and Picture Palace Pie Cans.

Dir: various. Running time approx 80mins

13.30 Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul (Emmanuel College)
A sensitive adaptation of H G Wells gentle comedy of social manners with a near perfect, and totally natural performance by George K Arthur (which was praised by Charlie Chaplin who attended the preview with H G Wells himself) in the lead role. Other things to enjoy are the nicely photographed seaside locations, the performance by the director’s wife, Edna Flugrath who plays the girl next door despite being clearly too old for the younger Ann, and the intriguing possibility that Josef Von Sternberg was involved with the production. He was certainly in London assisting Shaw around this time.

Dir. Harold Shaw. With: George K Arthur, Edna Flugrath, Teddy Arundell. GB 1921, 88mins

15.30 The Annual Rachael Low Lecture – Britain could make it! (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
Fifteen years of British Silents discoveries, and why we need to dig further into the mysterious ‘teens .

When the British Silent Festival began fifteen years ago, very little was known or seen from the silent era in British production beyond Hitchcock. Now silent film is booming, and it’s clear that Britain had some outstanding talents, even though many of the films are lost. In this Rachael Low lecture, Ian Christie will be looking back at some of the festival’s discoveries, and taking a closer look at the period we still know least about – the mysterious ‘teens.

Ian Christie is a film historian, critic and curator, who teaches at Birkbeck College and regularly appears in television coverage of film history. He wrote the BBC Centenary of Cinema series, The Last Machine, presented by Terry Gilliam, and curated the BFI DVD of Robert Paul’s collected films.

17.30 The Ghost that Never Returns with the Dodge Brothers (West Road Concert Hall)
In an unnamed South American country, Jose Real is jailed for his activism at an oil refinery. Exasperated at his power and his popularity with the prison inmates, the authorities decide to eliminate him by promising him one day’s freedom and then sending an assassin to follow him. Together they ride trains and track across desert landscapes in a deadly game of cat and mouse which only one can survive. The movie looks and feels like a piece of Americana directed by Wim Wenders – and that is how the Dodge Brothers and Neil Brand have scored it. Following on from their triumphant score for ‘Beggars of Life’ the Dodges return to breathe rhythmic life into a classic of Soviet cinema full of moving characters and striking visuals, a movie you may never have heard of but, after seeing it, one you will never forget.

“There are those rare moments in life where you are privileged to bear witness to a unique event, this, for me was one of them. Should they saddle up and recreate this triumph at any time in the future, then my advice to anyone, is buy your ticket early.”

Dir: Abram Room; With B. Ferdinandov, Olga Zhizneva, Maksim Stralikh. USSR 1929. Performance will last approx 80mins.

20.30 Highlights of the British Silent Film – Closing Event (The Varsity Hotel – Rooftop)
Over the past 14 years the British Silent Film Festival has uncovered a host of fascinating films almost unknown by the British public – this selection of feature films, actualities, animations, comedies, adverts local films, travelogues, nature and exploration film aims to inspire you to know more about the first 35 years of your film heritage. With live music from the best silent film accompanists in the world.

More information, as always, on the festival website.

The death of poor Joe

The Death of Poor Joe

The BFI has scored a considerable coup, revealing that it has uncovered a copy of what is not only the earliest surviving film based on a Charles Dickens character (in this the bicentenary of Dickens’ death birth), but a film that apparently no-one had identified as being Dickensian before now. The film was discovered by the BFI’s silent film curator Bryony Dixon while she was investigating early films of China. She spotted the connection between a film in the archive entitled Man Meets Ragged Boy with a late 1900/early 1901 (the exact production date is uncertain) film The Death of Poor Joe, made for the Warwick Trading Company by Brighton director G.A. Smith, the title of which made Dixon think of the character Jo the Crossing Sweeper in Dickens’ novel Bleak House. The film was donated to the BFI back in the 1950s by collector Graham Head, who was a friend of Smith’s. The previous earliest surviving Dickens film was Scrooge; or, Marley’s Ghost, issued by Robert Paul in November 1901, as also held by the BFI.

So why was it missed all this time? Well, I don’t know why Man with Ragged Boy was overlooked, except that I don’t remember the title at all from the dim and distant days when I was at the BFI, so maybe it was lurking in some neglected corner for the past sixty years. But the reason no one seems to have spotted the Dickens connection is that Jo was written as Joe. Jo the Crossing Sweeper is a minor character in Bleak House, a pathetic, homeless boy who sweeps horse manure from the streets, knowing nothing but the wretched small life to which he is condemned, a metaphor for neglected childhood. In the novel, Jo collapses outside the gates of Tom-all-alone’s Cemetery before dying at a shooting gallery.

The character in the film we now have is partly Dickens, partly something else (Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl, suggests the BFI press release). Here he dies in the snow outside the gates of an unspecified building, attended to by a nightwatchman who shines a lantern in the face of the dying boy, who clasps his hands together in prayer. There is no nightwatchman in the novel, and no snow, but Joe/Jo is carrying a broom which makes the identification with Dickens fairly certain (Jo in the novel also dies in mid-prayer).

The Biokam camera-projector, from a Warwick Trading Company catalogue

The film is a Warwick Trading Company production (manager one Charles Urban, of whom you will have heard me speak before now). At this time Warwick were issuing some films in both 35mm standard format and cheaper narrow gauge 17.5mm format for its Biokam camera-printer-projector, which was aimed at the domestic market. The Biokam, invented by Alfred Wrench, was originally designed for people to shoot their own films when it was launched in 1899, but Warwick soon started supplying ready-made films for people to project in their own homes. The Death of Poor Joe was one such film, though it is the 35mm version that survives, not the 17.5mm. The 17.5mm copy would either have been optically reduced to the narrower gauge, or possibly could have been restaged entirely for the different format, as sometimes happened with Biokam films. It is listed in the 1901 Warwick catalogue (catalogue number 1021), which was issued around March 1901. What is also intriguing about Biokam films is who made them. G.A. Smith himself was certainly in charge of their production, but there is this intriguing snippet from an October 1899 interview with Smith in the Brighton Herald which indicates a joint responsibility. The reporter complains that films look to be too expensive for the humble amateur:

“All in good time,” said Mr Smith. He brought out a small hand-camera. “This is a camera in which I am interested and which I expect will soon be all the rage. Films are being made for this that will cost only 3s. 6d. a minute.” Then Mrs Smith came in to borrow the identical camera, to go off and photograph the waves breaking over the Hove sea all.

Mrs G.A. Smith, film director? Quite possibly. Her name was Laura Bayley, and it looks like her who plays Joe/Jo in the film (or just possibly her sister Eva), though it has to be said she is rather too robust and tall to convince much as a neglected waif. The nightwatchman is possibly played by another Brighton performer, Tom Green, a regular in Smith’s films.

The film was very likely to have been based on a stage original (Bayley was a stage actress and pantomime artist in Brighton) or possibly a magic lantern slide set. It has that look of deliberation which comes when something is being followed closely, particularly the actions of the nightwatchman. Further investigation of the film’s production origins may reveal just how closely or tangentially it is related to Dickens’ novel. The film is also interesting for the effect of the nightwatchman’s lamp light (created by a light shining off-screen) and for the wind-blown backdrop with the shadows of branches – the film was clearly made in the open-air (probably St Ann’s Well Gardens in Hove, when Smith had an open-air studio).

Anyway, it is a cleverly timed discovery which has captured the news media’s attention. The film featured this evening at the BFI South Bank as a surprise extra item in a programme of silent Dickens film shorts, which will be repeated on 23 March. It’s already turned up on YouTube, as you will have seen, and the Bioscope must now adjust its Dickens on silent film filmography to incorporate this latest discovery.

Meanwhile let’s all look out for The Death of Nancy Sykes, made by the American Mutoscope Company in 1897 and starring Mabel Fenton as Nancy and Charles Ross as Bill Sykes, from Oliver Twist. The very first Dickensian film remains a lost film.

Pordenone promises

Oliver (Jackie Coogan) meets the Artful Dodger (Edouard Trebaol) in Oliver Twist (1922), from http://www.cinetecadelfriuli.org/gcm

It’s nine months away, but for those of you planning your year ahead, it’s well worth noting the programme for the Pordenone silent film festival, for which quite a lot of detail has been advertised already. The festival takes place 6-13 October, and very interesting the lead theme is Charles Dickens, whose bicentenary the world is celebrating. The Giornate del Cinema Muto normally goes in for programmes on performers, filmmakers or national output, but a couple of years ago it broke the mould with its Sherlock Holmes and related detectives strand, and now Dickens is the main attraction for the 31st festival. It’s a welcome widening of the festival’s approach.

Other strands promised are rediscovered Italian films from the Komiya Collection of Tokyo and the Desmet Collection of Amsterdam, the Ukranian/Swedish acress Anna Sten (the rival to Garbo who never quite was, but someone you sense is ripe for rediscovery), German animation (Lotte Reiniger, Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann etc), more once again from Australia’s excellent Corrick collection of early films, and the Canon Revisited strand of classics more read about than seen by most, such as Storm over Asia, Ménilmontant and Hands Up! Here are descriptions of some of the strands from the Pordenone site:

IL BICENTENARIO DI DICKENS/THE DICKENS BICENTENARY
During the silent era about a hundred films were made from the works of Charles Dickens. These were produced, not only in his native country and in the USA, unsurprisingly, but also by companies from Italy, France, Germany, Hungary, Russia and, especially, in Denmark. What further proof is needed of the international popularity of these stories and characters, the importance of these writings on the development of cinematic story-telling and the influence of this work on the greatest of film-makers: Griffith, Chaplin, Eisenstein? For Dickens has been adapted for cinema and subsequently for television arguably more than any other great writer. Many of these early productions are now, unfortunately, lost; nevertheless, nearly a third of the silent films can still be found in archives throughout the world.

Dickens was born in 1812 and, during his bicentennial year, the continuing significance of the greatest English novelist will be celebrated throughout the world. So it is entirely appropriate that in 2012 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto should present a programme dedicated to silent versions of this great body of work. An extensive retrospective will include both rarely seen films and some that have recently been restored. The earliest extant adaptation is Scrooge, Or Marley’s Ghost, R.W. Paul’s version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ made in 1901, in which cinematic ‘special effects’ had to be mobilised to represent the temporal and psychological complexities of the original story. The last Dickens silent was The Only Way, Herbert Wilcox’s version of ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’ made in 1925, providing today’s spectator with an insight into the acting and staging techniques of late 19th century theatre. In between there are films from companies such as Gaumont, Vitagraph, Edison, Thanhouser, Hepworth and from directors such as Walter Booth, J. Stuart Blackton, Maurice Elvey, Marton Garas, Frank Lloyd. Some might object that these are of varying quality. Taken together, however, they chart a history of developing approaches to cinematic adaptations of literary texts. Perhaps the most exciting revelation in this bicentennial year will be long-awaited restorations of A.W. Sandberg’s Danish films for Nordisk which lovers of both Dickens and the silent screen will finally be able to assess. Eisenstein went so far as to claim that the very prose style of Dickens somehow prefigured the language of cinematic narration. In 2012 we look forward to engaging with this fruitful, contentious assertion.

CINEMA ITALIANO/ITALIAN REDISCOVERY
The 31st Giornate del Cinema Muto will further pursue its mission to retrieve long lost masterworks of Italian cinema. Italian film history is documented better than any other, but a comparatively small proportion of the actual works are known to audiences. We are working both with Italian archives and the great international collections to retrieve works that have lain, often unrecognized, in the vaults. Last year Pordenone audiences saw hitherto unseen Italian films restored by the archives of Amsterdam, Rome and Turin. This year we are privileged to have the first sight of the Italian treasures from the Komiya Collection of Tokyo, opened up to the West for the first time in Pordenone, and a further instalment of the extensive Italian holdings of the Desmet Collection of Amsterdam.

ANNA STEN (1908-1993)
Swedish actress who was known as “the Russian Garbo”. With a startlingly photogenic beauty and a wide dramatic range that easily took in comedy and high drama, she was lucky or shrewd in always choosing fine directors and highly original subjects. This complete retrospective includes her debut in Boris Barnet’s classic comedy The Girl with the Hatbox, and Yakov Protazanov’s The White Eagle, in which Sten appears alongside two of the most legendary figures of Russian theatre, Vasili Kachalov and Vsevolod Meyerhold. Most remarkable is the international premiere of the rediscovered My Son, for 80 years believed lost, and directed by Yevgeni Chervyakov, long forgotten but now recognized as one of the most original and influential masters of the Soviet cinema. Sten’s last silent film, Lohnbuchhalter Kremke was shown, to an enthusiastic critical reception, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in January 2011. Sten was subsequently taken to Hollywood by Sam Goldwyn, who planned to make her a star to eclipse Garbo and Dietrich. Her accent was against her, and though it lasted until 1964, her Hollywood career was undistinguished.

CINEMA D’ANIMAZIONE TEDESCO/GERMAN ANIMATION
At the 2012 Giornate del Cinema Muto, the Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin will present two programs of German silent animation films. In Germany, animation received its initial boost with propaganda films made to support the war effort in World War I. The post-war period saw a proliferation of animation artists, and in the 1920s the variety of animation techniques used was greatly extended: hand-drawn, stop-motion with models, cut silhouette, experiments with molten wax. Avant-garde artists like Walter Ruttmann and Hans Richter used animation techniques for groundbreaking abstract films. Most animation films however were made for a rather baser reason: to sell things. Yet the illustrators involved in making animated commercials succeeded in creating elegant, humorous little masterpieces that often quite transcend their original purpose. The Pordenone programs illustrate a wide selection of animation and colouring techniques, with work by the famous masters like Hans Fischerkoesen and Lotte Reiniger alongside lesser-known but no less gifted graphic artists.

All praise to the Pordenone people for unveiling so much of the programme so early, but such promises do help for those who need to plan ahead – especially those wondering whether to make 2012 the first year that they visit the festival. Already it would seem to be more than worth your while.

Charles Dickens, filmmaker

Charles Dickens portrayed in Dickens’ London (UK 1924)

Let Dickens and the whole ancestral array, going back as far as the Greeks and Shakespeare, be superfluous reminders that both Griffith and our cinema prove our origins to be not solely as of Edison and his fellow inventors, but as based on an enormous cultured past; each part of this past in its own moment of world history has moved forward the great art of cinematography.

Sergei Eisenstein

As I write this, in Rochester, Kent, I can look out of my window at the corner of St Margaret Street where, ninety-nine years ago, John Bunny drove past in a carriage, dressed as Mr Pickwick for the turning camera handles of the Vitagraph Company of America. And yesterday and today, on BBC television, we saw a fevered The Mystery of Edwin Drood, much of it filmed fifty yards away in the grounds and centre of Rochester cathedral. Here is the heart of Dickens, and the heart of a grand cinematographic tradition.

Charles Dickens was born two hundred years ago, and his great legacy is being celebrated with books, exhibitions, festivals, conferences, programmes and film seasons. His superabundant influence on cinema and television has been recognised in particular, with a three-month film season at the BFI Southbank underway, an Arena documentary Dickens on Film (with copious examples from the silent cinema) and new television productions of Drood and Great Expectations. Dickens remains something to see.

Dickens was hugely important to the silent cinema, as Eisenstein noted in his famous essay, ‘Dickens, Griffith and the Film Today’, which points out the principle of montage inherent in both Dickens’ novels and D.W. Griffith’s films. Every one of his novels was filmed during the silent era, most more than once. There were specialist Dickens filmmakers, such as Thomas Bentley and A.W. Sandberg. Charlie Chaplin (perhaps the most Dickensian of all filmmakers) loved his works, reading Oliver Twist many times over. It was not just Dickens the novelist who inspired the first filmmakers but Dickens the lover of theatre and the many stage dramatisations of his work. Dickens’s work naturally spilled out of the pages that could not fully contain them onto other dramatic platforms – the stage, the recital, the magic lantern, the cinema. Like all good works of the imagination, they transcend the boundaries of any one medium.

As a contribution to the Dickens bicentenary, and by way of demonstrating his great importance to early film, we have put together a filmography for Dickens and silent cinema. It may be the most extensive yet published; it certainly tries to clear up some of the confusion to be found in listings elsewhere, though there are still problematic corners, and doubtless films still to be identified. It lists both fiction (arranged under the works that inspired them) and non-fiction films, and notes where films still exist (as far as I can discover), and if they are available online or DVD. Where it says afilm is lost, this should not be taken as definitive, as some films will be held privately (noted here as Extant where I have information on these). Please let me know of any errors or omissions.


Barnaby Rudge

  • Dolly Varden (UK 1906) d. Alf Collins p.c. Gaumont
    Cast: not known
    Length: 740ft Archive: Lost
    Note: It is not entirely certain this is based on anything more than the name from Dickens’ novel (Gifford does not list it in his Books and Plays in Films 1896-1915)
  • Dolly Varden (USA 1913) d. Charles Brabin p.c. Edison
    Cast: Mabel Trunnelle, Willis Secord, Robert Brower
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
  • Barnaby Rudge (UK 1915) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Hepworth
    Cast: Tom Powers (Barnaby Rudge), Violet Hopson (Emma Haredale), Stewart Rome (Maypole Hugh), Chrissie White (Dolly Varden)
    Length: 5325ft Archive: Lost

Bleak House

  • The Death of Poor Joe (UK 1901) d. G.A. Smith p.c. Warwick Trading Company
    Cast: Laura Bayley (Joe), Tom Green (?) (nightwatchman)
    Length: 50ft Archive: BFI
    Note: Apparently based on the character of Jo the Crossing Sweeper [see comments for news of the discovery of this film]
  • Jo, the Crossing Sweeper (UK 1910) d. not known p.c. Walturdaw
    Cast: not known
    Length: 450ft Archive: Lost
  • Jo, the Crossing Sweeper (UK 1918) d. Alexander Butler p.c. Barker
    Cast: Unity More (Jo), Dora de Winton (Lady Dedlock), Andre Beaulieu (Tulkinghorne)
    Length: 5000ft Archive: Lost
  • Bleak House (UK 1920) d. Maurice Elvey p.c. Ideal
    Cast: Constance Collier (Lady Dedlock), Berta Gellardi (Esther Summerson), E. Vivian Reynolds (Tulkinghorne)
    Length: 6400ft Archive: BFI
  • Bleak House (Tense Moments from Great Plays) (UK 1922) d. Harry B. Parkinson p.c. Master
    Cast: Sybil Thorndike (Lady Dedlock), Betty Doyle (Esther)
    Length: 3100ft Archive: Extant (see comments)

The Chimes

  • The Chimes (UK 1914) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Hepworth
    Cast: Stewart Rome (Richard), Violet Hopson (Meg Veck), Warwick Buckland (Trotty Veck)
    Length: 2500ft Archive: Lost
  • The Chimes (USA 1914) d. Herbert Blaché p.c. US Amusement Corps
    Cast: Tom Terriss (Trotty Veck), Faye Cusick (Meg)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Lost

Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901), the earliest surviving Dickens film

A Christmas Carol

  • Scrooge; or, Marley’s Ghost (UK 1901) d. Walter R. Booth p.c. Paul’s Animatograph Works
    Cast: Unknown
    Length: 620ft Archive: BFI Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD
  • A Christmas Carol (USA 1908) d. not known p.c. Essanay
    Cast: Thomas Ricketts (Scrooge)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
  • Il sogno dell’usuraio (Italy 1910) d. not known p.c. Cines
    Cast: not known
    Length: 675ft Archive: Lost
    Note: English release title The Dream of Old Scrooge
  • A Christmas Carol (USA 1910) d. J. Searle Dawley (?) p.c. Edison
    Cast: Marc McDermott (Scrooge), Charles Ogle (Bob Cratchit) Viola Dana
    Length: 1000ft Archive: BFI, George Eastman House Availability: A Christmas Past DVD, Internet Archive
  • The Virtue of Rags (USA 1912) d. Theodore Wharton p.c. Essanay
    Cast: Francis X. Bushman, Helen Dunbar, Bryant Washburn
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Very loose adaptation of Dickens’ story
  • Scrooge (UK 1913) d. Leedham Bantock p.c. Zenith
    Cast: Seymour Hicks (Scrooge)
    Length: 2500ft Archive: BFI
  • A Christmas Carol (UK 1914) d. Harold Shaw p.c. London
    Cast: Charles Rock (Scrooge), Edna Flugrath (Belle), George Bellamy (Bob Cratchit), Mary Brough (Mrs Cratchit)
    Length: 1340ft Archive: BFI
  • The Right to be Happy (aka Scrooge the Skinflint) (USA 1916) d. Rupert Julian p.c. Bluebird
    Cat: Rupert Julian (Scrooge), John Cook (Bob Cratchit), Claire McDowell (Mrs Cratchit)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Lost
  • My Little Boy (USA 1917) d. Elsie Jane Wilson p.c. Bluebird
    Cast: Winter Hall (Uncle Oliver), Zoe Rae (Paul), Ella Hall (Clara), Emory Johnson (Fred)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Lost
    Note: Based on A Christmas Carol and the nursery rhyme ‘Little Boy Blue’
  • Scrooge (Tense Moments with Great Authors) (UK 1922) d. George Wynn p.c. Master
    Cast: H.V. Esmond (Scrooge)
    Length: 1280ft Archive: Extant (see comments)
  • Scrooge (Gems of Literature) (UK 1923) d. Edwin Greenwood p.c. British & Colonial
    Cast: Russell Thorndike (Scrooge), Jack Denton (Bob Cratchit)
    Length: 1600ft Archive: Lost

The Cricket on the Hearth

  • The Cricket on the Hearth (USA 1909) d. D.W. Griffith p.c. Biograph
    Cast: Owen Moore (Edward Plummer), Violet Mersereau (May Fielding), Linda Arvidson (Sister Dorothy)
    Length: 985ft Archive: MOMA, George Eastman House, Library of Congres Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD
  • The Cricket on the Hearth (USA 1914) d. Lorimer Johnston p.c. American
    Cast: Sydney Ayres, Vivian Rich
    Length: 2000ft Archive: Lost
  • The Cricket on the Hearth (USA 1914) d. Lawrence Marston p.c. Biograph
    Cast: Jack Drumeir, Alan Hale
    Length: 2 reels Archive: George Eastman House, MOMA Available: Grapevine Video DVD-R
  • Sverchok na Pechi (Russia 1915) d. Boris Sushkevich and A. Uralsky p.c. Russian Golden Series
    Cast: Grigori Khmara, Yevgeni Vakhtangov
    Length: 710m Archive: Lost
  • Le grillon du foyer (France 1922) d. Jean Manoussi p.c. Eclipse
    Cast: Charles Boyer, Marchel Vibart, Sabine Landray
    Length: ? Archive: Lost?
  • The Cricket on the Hearth (USA 1923) d. Lorimer Johnston p.c. Paul Gerson
    Cast: Josef Swickard (Caleb Plummer), Fritzi Ridgeway (Bertha Plummer), Paul Gerson (John Perrybingle)
    Length: 7 reels Archive: UCLA (1 reel only) [see also comments]

David Copperfield

  • Love and the Law (USA 1910) d. Edwin S. Porter p.c. Edison
    Cast: Edwin August, Charles J. Brabin
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
  • David Copperfield: part 1; The Early Life of David Copperfield (USA 1911) d. Theodore Marston p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: Flora Foster (David as a boy), Anna Seer (David’s mother), Marie Eline (Emily as a girl), Frank Crane
    Length: 950ft Archive: Museo Nazionale del Cinema (incomplete?)
  • David Copperfield: part 2; Little Emily and David Copperfield (USA 1911) d. Theodore Marston p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: Ed Genung (David), Florence La Badie (Emily)
    Length: 950ft Archive: Museo Nazionale del Cinema (incomplete?)
  • David Copperfield: part 3; The Loves of David Copperfield (USA 1911) d. Theodore Marston p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: d. Ed Genung (David)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Museo Nazionale del Cinema (incomplete?)
  • Little Emily (UK 1911) d. Frank Powell p.c. Britannia
    Cast: Florence Barker (Emily)
    Length: 1254ft Archive: Lost
  • David Copperfield (UK 1913) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Hepworth
    Cast: Kenneth Ware (David Copperfield), Eric Desmond (David as a child), Len Bethel (David as a youth), Alma Taylor (Dora), H. Collins (Micawber), Jack Hulcup (Uriah Heep)
    Length: 7500ft Archive: BFI Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD, 8mins extract
  • David Copperfield (Denmark 1922) d. A.W. Sandberg p.c. Nordisk
    Cast: Gorm Schmidt (David as a adult), Martin Herzberg (David as a boy), Karen Winther (Agnes as a woman), Else Neilsen (Agnes as a girl), Frederik Jensen (Micawber), Karina Bell (Dora), Margarete Schlegel (David’s mother), Rasmus Christiansen (Uriah Heep)
    Length: 3095m Archive: Danish Film Institute Availability: Clips on www.dfi.dk

Dombey and Son

  • Dombey and Son (UK 1917) d. Maurice Elvey p.c. Ideal
    Cast: Norman McKinnel (Paul Dombey), Lilian Braithwaite (Edith Dombey), Hayford Hobbes (Walter Dombey)
    Length: 6800ft Archive: George Eastman House

Store Forventninger (Denmark 1922) directed by A.W. Sandberg, from http://www.dfi.dk

Great Expectations

  • The Boy and the Convict (UK 1909) d. Dave Aylott p.c. Williamson
    Cast: Unknown
    Length: 750ft Archive: BFI Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD
  • Great Expectations (USA 1917) d. Robert D. Vignola p.c. Famous Players
    Cast: Jack Pickford (Pip), Louise Huff (Estella), Frank Losee (Magwitch), W.W. Black (Joe Gargery), Grace Barton (Miss Havisham)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Lost
  • Store Forventninger (Denmark 1922) d. A.W. Sandberg p.c. Nordisk
    Cast: Martin Herzberg (young Pip), Harry Komdrup (adult Pip), Marie Dinesn (Miss Havisham), Emil Helsengreen (Magwitch)
    Length: 2527m Achive: Danish Film Institute Availability: Clips on www.dfi.dk

Hard Times

  • Hard Times (UK 1915) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Transatlantic
    Cast: Bransby Williams (Gradgrind), Leon M. Lion (Tom Gradgrind), Dorothy Bellew (Louisa), Madge Tree (Rachael)
    Length: 4000ft Archive: Lost

Little Dorrit

  • Little Dorrit (USA 1913) d. James Kirkwood p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: Maude Fealy, Alphonse Ethier, Harry Benham
    Length: 3 reels Archive: Lost
  • Klein Djoorte (Germany 1917) d. Frederic Zelnik p.c. Berliner
    Cast: Lisa Weisse (Djoorte), Karl Beckersachs (Geert), Aenderli Lebius (Batarama)
    Length: 4 reels Archive: Lost
  • Little Dorrit (UK 1920) d. Sidney Morgan p.c. Progress
    Cast: Joan Morgan (Amy Dorrit), Lady Tree (Mrs Clenman), Langhorne Burton (Arthur Clenman)
    Length: 6858ft Archive: Screen Archive South East (20mins only) Availability: SASE website
  • Lille Dorrit (Denmark 1924) d. A.W. Sandberg p.c. Nordisk
    Cast: Karina Bell (Amy Dorrit), Frederik Jensen (William Dorrit), Gunnar Tolnæs (Arthur Clennam)
    Length: 3245m Archive: BFI

Martin Chuzzlewit

  • Martin Chuzzlewit (USA 1912) d. Oscar Apfel and J. Searle Dawley p.c. Edison
    Cast: Guy Hedlund, Harold Shaw, Marion Brooks
    Length: 3 reels Archive: Lost
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (USA 1914) d. Travers Vale p.c. Biograph
    Cast: Alan Hale, Jack Drumeir
    Length: 2 reels Archive: George Eastman House

Mrs Lirriper’s Legacy

  • Mrs Lirriper’s Legacy (USA 1912). d. not known (Van Dyke Brooke?) p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Mary Maurice (Mrs Lirriper)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost

Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgers

  • Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgers (USA 1912) d. Van Dyke Brooke p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Mary Maurice (Mrs Lirriper), Clara Kimball Young (Mrs Edson), Courtney Foote (Mr Edison), Van Dyke Brooke (Jackman)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (UK 1909) d. Arthur Gilbert p.c. Gaumont
    Cast: Cooper Willis (Edwin Drood), Nancy Bevington (Rosa Bud)
    Length: 1030ft Archive: Lost
  • [The Mystery of Edwin Drood] (France 1912) d. not known p.c. Film d’Art
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1970ft Archive: Lost
    Note: As a Film d’Art production this would have been made by Pathé, but I have not traced a record of it or an original title in the Pathé catalogue
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (USA 1914) d. Herbert Blaché and Tom Terriss p.c. World
    Cast: Tom Terriss (John Jasper), Vinnie Burns (Rosa Bud), Rodney Hickock (Edwin Drood)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Lost

Thanhouser’s 1912 Nicholas Nickelby, with Harry Benham as Nicholas

Nicholas Nickleby

  • Dotheboys Hall; or, Nicholas Nickleby (UK 1903) d. Alf Collins p.c. Gaumont
    Cast: William Carrington (pupil [Smike?])
    Length: 225ft Archive: BFI
  • A Yorkshire School (USA 1910) d. James H. White p.c. Edison
    Cast: Verner Clarges
    Length: 800ft Archive: Lost
  • Nicholas Nickleby (USA 1912) d. George Nicholls p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: Harry Benham (Nicholas Nickelby), Mignon Anderson (Madeline Bray), Frances Gibson (Kate Nickelby), David H. Thompson (Squeers), Justus D. Barnes (Ralph Nickleby)
    Length: 2 reels Archive: BFI Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD, Thanhouser Vimeo channel

The Old Curiosity Shop

  • Little Nell (UK 1906 d. Arthur Gilbert p.c. Gaumont
    Cast: Thomas Nye
    Length: ? Archive: Lost
    Note: Chronophone film designed to be synchronised with disc recording
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (USA 1909) d. not known p.c. Essanay
    Cast: Marcia Moore (Little Nell)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (USA 1911) d. Barry O’Neill p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: Marie Eline (Little Nell), Frank Hall Crane (Grandfather), Marguerite Snow, Harry Benham
    Length: ? Archive: BFI
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (UK 1912) d. Frank Powell p.c. Britannia
    Cast: Not known
    Length: 990ft Archive: Lost
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (UK 1913) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Hepworth
    Cast: Mai Deacon (Little Nell), E. Fleton (Quilp), Alma Taylor (Mrs Quilp), Willie West (Dick Swiveller), Warwick Buckland (Grandfather Trent)
    Length: 5300ft Archive: Lost
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (UK 1921) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Welsh-Pearson
    Cast: Mabel Poulton (Little Nell), William Lug (Grandfather), Pino Conti (Quilp)
    Length: 6587ft Archive: Lost
  • La bottega dell’antiquario (Italy 1921) d. Mario Corsi p.c. G. Salvini
    Cast: Gustavo Salvini, Robert Sortsch-Pla, Egle Valery
    Length: 1987m Archive: Lost

Oliver Twist

  • The Death of Nancy Sykes (USA 1897) d. not known p.c. American Mutoscope
    Cast: Mabel Fenton (Nancy), Charles Ross (Bill Sykes)
    Length: Archive: Lost
  • Mr Bumble’s Courtship (aka Mr Bumble the Beadle) (UK 1898) d. not known p.c. Paul’s Animatograph Works
    Cast: not known
    Length: 60 ft Archive: Lost
  • Oliver Twist (France 1905) d. not known p.c. Gaumont
    Cast: not known
    Length: 750ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Pointer gives 1906 date, Gifford says 1905
  • A Modern Day Fagin (UK 1905) d. not known p.c. Walturdaw
    Cast: not known
    Length: 250ft Archive: Lost
  • The Modern Oliver Twist; or The Life of a Pickpocket (USA 1906) d. not known p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: not known
    Length: 475ft Archive: Lost
  • Oliver Twist (USA 1909) d. J. Stuart Blackton p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Edith Storey (Oliver Twist), Elita Proctor Otis (Nancy), William Humphrey (Fagin)
    Length: 995ft Archive: BFI
  • L’enfance d’Oliver Twist (France 1910) d. Camille de Morlhon p.c. Film d’Art
    Cast: Renée Pré (Oliver Twist), Jean Périer (Fagin), Marie Dornay (Rose)Length: 295m Archive: Lost
  • Storia di un orfano (Italy 1911) d. not known p.c. Cines
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1424ft Archive: Lost
  • Oliver Twist (USA 1912) d. not known p.c. General Film Publicity
    Cast: Nat C. Goodwin (Fagin), Vinnie Burns (Oliver Twist), Mortimer Martine (Bill Sykes), Beatrice Moreland (Nancy), Charles Rogers (Artful Dodger)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Incomplete print exists (according to Silent Era)
  • Brutality (USA 1912) d. D.W. Griffith p.c. Biograph
    Cast: Walter Miller (young man), Mae Marsh (young woman), Joseph Graybill (victim of anger)
    Length: 2 reels Archive: Library of Congress, MOMA
    Note: Plot features an abusive husband who sees the error of his ways after seeing Bill Sikes in stage production of Oliver Twist
  • Oliver Twist (UK 1912) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Hepworth
    Cast: Ivy Millais (Oliver), John McMahon (Fagin), Harry Royston (Bill Sykes), Alma Taylor (Nancy), Willie West (Artful Dodger)
    Length: 3700ft Archive: Lost?
    Note: Clips from this film, all that may survive, are included in the travelogue Dickens’ London (UK 1924), held by the BFI
  • The Queen of May (USA 1912) d. not known p.c. Republic Film Company
    Cast: not known
    Length: c.800ft Archive: BFI
    Note: Drama about a poor mother and her daughter, who performs in a stage production of Oliver Twist.
  • A Female Fagin (USA 1913) d. not known p.c. Kalem
    Cast: not known
    Length: 910ft Archive: BFI
    Note: Probably only marginal relationship to Oliver Twist
  • Oliver Twist Sadly Twisted (USA 1915) d. not known p.c. Superba
    Cast: not known
    Length: ? Archive: Lost
    Note: Presumably a parody of some sort
  • Oliver Twist (USA 1916) d. James Young p.c. Lasky
    Cast: Marie Doro (Oliver), Hobart Bosworth (Bill Sykes), Tully Marshall (Fagin), Elsie Jane Wilson (Nancy), Raymond Hatton Artful Doger), W.S. Van Dyke (Charles Dickens)
    Length: 5 reels p.c. Lost
  • Oliver Twisted (UK 1917) d. Fred Evans, Joe Evans p.c. Piccadilly
    Cast: Fred Evans (Pimple)
    Length: 2360ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Probably parodying USA 1916 Oliver Twist
  • Twist Olivér (Hungary 1919) d. Márton Garas p.c. Corvin
    Cast: Tibor Luinszky (Oliver), Sári Almási (Nancy), Gyula Szöreghy (Sikes), László Z. Molnár (Fagin)
    Length: 6 reels Archive: Jugoslovenska Kinoteka (incomplete, 4 reels)
  • Die Geheimnisse von London – Die Tragödie eines Kindes (Germany 1920) d. Richard Oswald p.c. Leyka/Richard Oswald
    Cast: Manci Lubinsky (Percy), Louis Ralph (Jim), Adolph Weisse (Fagin)
    Length: 2137m Archive: Lost?
  • Oliver Twist Jr. (USA 1921) d. Millard Webb p.c. Fox
    Cast: Harold Goodwin (Oliver Twist Jr), Clarence Wilson (Fagin), G. Raymond Nye (Bill Sikes), Scott McKee (Artful Dodger), Irene Hunt (Nancy)
    Length: 5 reels p.c. Lost
  • Nancy (Tense Moments with Great Authors) (UK 1922) d. Harry B. Parkinson p.c. Master
    Cast: Sybil Thorndike (Nancy), Ivan Berlyn (Fagin)
    Length: 1578ft Archive: Lost
  • Fagin (Tense Moments with Great Authors) (UK 1922) d. Harry B. Parkinson p.c. Master
    Cast: Ivan Berlyn (Fagin)
    Length: 1260ft Archive: Lost
  • Oliver Twist (USA 1922) d. Frank Lloyd p.c. Jackie Coogan
    Cast: Jackie Coogan (Oliver), Lon Chaney (Fagin), George Sigmann (Bill Sikes), Gladys Brockwell (Nancy), Joan Standing (Charlotte), Edouard Trebaol (Artful Dodger)
    Length: 7761ft Archive: Film Preservation Associates, LoC, UCLA Available: Dickens Before Sound DVD, Image Entertainment DVD

Our Mutual Friend

  • How Bella Was Won (USA 1911) d. not known p.c. Edison
    Cast: George Soule Spencer
    Length: ? Archive: Lost
  • Eugene Wrayburn (USA 1911) d. not known p.c. Edison
    Cast: Darwin Karr, Richard Ridgeley, Bliss Milford
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: A third Edison adaptation from Our Mutual Friend, entitled Bella Wilder’s Return is listed by www.dickensandshowbiz.com but the film was never made
  • Vor fælles Ven (Denmark 1921) d. A.W. Sandberg p.c. Nordisk
    Cast: Peter Fjelstrup (Hexam), Karen Caspersen (Lizzie), Peter Malberg (Eugene Wayburn)
    Length: 4664m Archive: Lost

The Pickwick Papers

  • Mr Pickwick’s Christmas at Wardle’s (UK 1901) d. Walter R. Booth p.c. Paul
    Cast: not known
    Length: 140ft Archive: Lost
  • Gabriel Grub, the Surly Sexton (UK 1904) d. James Williamson p.c. Williamson
    Cast: not known
    Length: 400ft Archive: Lost
  • A Knight for a Night (USA 1909) d. not known p.c. Edison
    Cast: not known
    Length: 370ft Archive: Lost
  • Mr Pickwick’s Predicament (USA 1912) d. J. Searle Dawley p.c. Edison
    Cast: Charles Ogle, Mary Fuller, Marc McDermott
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Extant
  • Pickwick Papers: episode 1; The Honourable Event (USA 1913) d. Larry Trimble p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: John Bunny (Pickwick), James Piror (Mr Tupman), H.P. Owen (Sam Weller)
    Length: 1 reel Archive: BFI Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD
  • Pickwick Papers: episode 2; The Adventure of Westgate Seminary (USA 1913) d. Larry Trimble p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: John Bunny (Pickwick), James Prior (Mr Tupman), H.P. Owen (Sam Weller)
    Length: 1 reel Archive: BFI

  • Pickwick Papers: episode 3; The Adventure of the Shooting Party (USA 1913) d. Larry Trimble p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: John Bunny (Pickwick), Fred Hornby (Winkle), H.P. Owen (Sam Weller)
    Length: 1 reel Archive: Lost?
    Note: The first two episodes (which were also shown together as a two-reeler) were released February 1913, and the third episode in September 1913.
  • Pickwick versus Bardell (Clarendon Speaking Pictures) (UK 1913) d. Wilfred Noy p.c. Clarendon
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Dramatisation to accompany stage recital
  • Mr Pickwick in a Double-Bedded Room (UK 1913) d. Wilfred Noy p.c. Clarendon
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Dramatisation to accompany stage recital
  • Mrs Corney Makes the Tea (UK 1913) d. Wilfred Noy p.c. Clarendon
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Dramatisation to accompany stage recital
  • The Adventures of Mr Pickwick (UK 1921) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Ideal
    Cast: Fred Volpe (Pickwick), Mary Brough (Mrs Bardell), Ernest Thesiger (Mr Jingle), Hubert Woodward (Sam Weller), Bransby Williams (Sgt Buzfuz)
    Length: 6000ft Archive: Lost

Sketches by Boz

  • Mr Horatio Sparkins (USA 1913) d. not known p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Courtenay Foote (Horatio Sparkins), Flora Finch (Teresa Halderton)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost

A Tale of Two Cities

  • A Tale of Two Cities (USA 1908) d. not known p.c. Selig
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
  • A Tale of Two Cities (USA 1911) d. William Humphrey p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Maurice Costello (Sidney Carton), Norma Talmadge (Lucy Manette)
    Length: 3021ft Archive: BFI, MOMA, UCLA Availability: Grapevine Video DVD-R
  • A Tale of Two Cities (USA 1917) d. Frank Lloyd p.c. Fox
    Cast: William Farnum (Charles Darney / Sydney Carton), Jewel Carmen (Lucie Manete), Charles Clary (Marquis St. Evremonde), Rosita Marstini (Madame De Farge)
    Length: 7 reels Archive: UCLA
  • The Birth of a Soul (USA 1920) d. Edwin L. Hollywood p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Harry T. Morey (Philip Grey/Charles Drayton), Jean Paige (Dorothy Barlow)
    Length: 4986ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Loose adaptation in American setting
  • A Tale of Two Cities (Tense Moments with Great Authors) (UK 1922) d. W.C. Rowden p.c. Master
    Cast: J. Fisher White (Dr Manette), Clive Brook (Sidney Carton), Ann Trevor (Lucie Manette)
    Length: 1174ft Archive: Lost
  • The Only Way (UK 1926) d. Herbert Wilcox p.c. Herbert Wilcox
    Cast: John Martin Harvey (Sidney Carton), Madge Stuart (Mimi), Betty Faire (Lucie Manette), J. Fisher White (Dr Manette)
    Length: 10075ft Archive: BFI

Other fiction

  • Leaves from the Books of Charles Dickens (UK 1912) d. not known p.c. Britannia
    Cast: Thomas Bentley (multiple roles)
    Length: 740ft Archive: Cinémathèque Française, Gaumont Pathé Archives
  • Master and Pupil (USA 1912) d. J. Searle Dawley p.c. Edison
    Cast: Harry Furniss (The Master), Mary Fuller (his daughter), Harold Shaw (pupil)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Story about an impoverished artist who illustrates the works of Dickens
  • Dickens Up-to-Date (Syncopated Picture Plays) (UK 1923) d. Bertram Phillips p.c. Bertram Phillips
    Cast: Queenie Thomas
    Length: 1900ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Comedy burlesque

Uncertain titles
Some sources give a Barnaby Rudge (USA 1911) directed by Charles Kent. Kent was working at this time for Vitagraph, and there is no record of such a Vitagraph production. Denis Gifford, in Books and Plays in Films 1896-1915, lists a one-reel Oliver Twist apparently made in Denmark in 1910, but no such production can be found in the online Danish filmography. Some sources list a German Oliver Twist directed by Lupu Pick in 1920, but this appears to have been a production announced but not completed. Magliozzi lists an American 1922 Scrooge held by UCLA, but this is probably the UK title from the Tense Moments with Great Authors series. The 1924 Bonzo cartoon Playing the Dickens in an Old Curiosity Shop (UK 1925) uses only Dickens’ title. The UK 1904 film Mr Pecksniff Fetches the Doctor has no connection with Martin Chuzzlewit.

The Pickwick Coach halts near to the future New Bioscope Towers, from the newsreel Mr Pickwick (Pathé Gazette) (1927), from British Pathe

Non-fiction

  • In Dickens’ Land (France 1913) p.c. Pathé / Travelogue / Archive: Lost [original French title not traced]
  • The Royal City of Canterbury (UK 1915) p.c. Gaumont / Travelogue / 610ft / Archive: BFI
  • Americans Place Wreath on Dickens Tomb at Westminster Abbey (Gaumont Graphic 719) (UK 11-Feb-18) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: Lost?
  • Dickens’ Birth Anniversary (Pathé Gazette) (UK 1918) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Dickens’ Fair at Botanic Gardens for Home for Blinded Sailors and Soldiers (Gaumont Graphic 783) (UK 23-Feb-18) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: Lost?
  • Homage to Dickens (Pathé Gazette) (UK 1919) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Dicken’s [sic] Anniversary (Pathé Gazette 641) (UK 12-Feb-20) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • untitled (Around the Town no. 15) (UK 11-Mar-20) p.c. Around the Town / Cinemagazine / Archive: Lost
  • Sir John Martin-Harvey Now Appearing in “The Only Way” (Around the Town no. 105) (UK 01-Dec-21) p.c. Around the Town / Cinemagazine / Archive: Lost
  • Dickens Procession and Confetti Carnival – Southport (Gaumont Graphic 1184) (UK 27-Jul-22) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: Lost?
  • The All-Lancashire Dickens (Pathé Gazette) (UK 1922) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Dickens Pageant at Camden Town. Famous Author’s Boyhood Home the Scene of Costume Carnival (Gaumont Graphic 1212) (UK 02-Nov-22) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel/ Archive: Lost?
  • 113th Dickens’ Anniversary (Pathé Gazette 1163) (UK 12-Feb-22) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Dickens’ London (Wonderful London) (UK 1924) p.c. Graham-Wilcox / Travelogue / Length: 780ft Archive: BFI Available: Dickens Before Sound DVD
  • Within the Sound of Bow Bells (Wonderful London) (UK 1924) p.c. Graham-Wilcox / Travelogue / Length: 839ft / Archive: BFI
  • No. 3 Char-a-banc Tour to Rochester (UK 1924) p.c. London General Omnibus Company / Travelogue / Length: 1066ft / Archive: BFI
  • As in the Days of Dickens (Topical Budget 762-2) (UK 05-Apr-26) p.c. Topical / Newsreel / Archive: BFI
  • Dickens Golden Wedding (Empire News Bulletin 43) (UK 27-Sep-26) p.c. British Pictorial Productions / Newsreel / Archive: Lost?
  • The Golden Wedding of Sir Henry Fielding Dickens and Lady Dickens, 25th September 1926 (UK 1926) / Actuality / Archive: BFI
  • Pickwick Club (Empire News Bulletin 109) (UK 16-May-27) p.c. British Pictorial Productions / Newsreel / Archive: Lost?
  • Frilled Cravats and Flowered Waistcoats (Topical Budget 820-2) (UK 16-May-1927) p.c. Topical Film Company / Newsreel / Archive: BFI
  • Mr Pickwick (Pathé Gazette) (UK 16-May-27) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Ye Dickens Coach 1827-1927 (unreleased?) (UK 1927) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: ITN Source Available: ITN Source
  • Literature’s Loss (Gaumont Graphic 1756) (UK 19-Jan-28) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: ITN Source Available: ITN Source
  • To the Royal Hop Pole Hotel for Dinner! (Pathé Super Gazette) (UK 30-Jul-28) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Mr Pickwick and Party (Topical Budget) (UK 30-Jul-28) p.c. Topical Film Company / Newsreel / Archive: BFI
  • Pickwick Centenary at Tewkesbury (unreleased?) (UK 1928) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: ITN Source Available: ITN Source
  • Lorry as a Stage: Dickensian Tabard Players Perform Outside the ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ (Empire News Bulletin) (UK 7-Feb 1929) p.c. British Pictorial Productions / Newsreel / Archive: BFI
  • 1812-1970 – Is Wisions About? (Gaumont Graphic 1868) (UK 14-Feb-29) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: ITN Source Available: ITN Source
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (Pathé Super Gazette) (UK 12-Jun-300 p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé


This filmography is indebted to the American Film Index volumes, Denis Gifford’s British Film Catalogue and Books and Plays in Films 1896-1915, Ron Magliozzi’s Treasures from the Film Archives, the Silent Era website’s Progressive Silent Film List, Filmportal, the Danish national filmography, the American Film Institute Catalog for silent films, the Pordenone Silent Film Festival’s Vitagraph Company of America catalogue, the BFI Film & TV Database, News on Screen, the IMDb and other sources. Only when I had exhausted these did I turn to the filmography in Michael Pointer’s Charles Dickens on the Screen. This had two or three titles that had eluded me, a number of film lengths that I hadn’t tracked down, and all in all is a fine piece of research. I commend it to you.

Update (12 February 2012): My thanks to friends at the BFI for some corrections and additions now made to this filmography.

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!

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.

Thanhouser on Vimeo

As many will know, the name of the Thanhouser Film Company – a mid-ranking American company of the early cinema period – has been kept very much alive by the efforts of the Thanhouser family, with DVD releases, research and publications. Now Ned Thanhouser has gone one step further by releasing a number of Thanhouser films previously available on DVD through the Vimeo online video site.

Above, for example, is the famous The Evidence of the Film (1913). Discovered in 1999 on the floor of a Montana projection booth, it is a crime tale typical of the period made especially fascinating on acount of its filmmaking background. It has acquired the status of a classic, and in 2001 was selected inclusion in the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. It comes with original music composed and performed by Ray Brubacher.

Some fifty videos have been made available on the Thanhouser Vimeo channel over the past few weeks. They include The Voice of Conscience (1912), the five-reeler Woman in White (1917) based on Wilkie Collins’ novel, the Wagner-based Tannhäuser (1913), She (1911) with Marguerite Snow and James Cruze, a number of Shakespeare titles including The Winter’s Tale (1910), Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1912) with James Cruze in the dual role, and perhaps the most celebrated of all Thanhouser films, The Cry of the Children (1912), on child labour reform, which uses an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem (Thanhouser was notable for its dedication towards the literary classics) to highlight the wretched living and working conditions of the contemporary poor.

Each of the videos comes with informative but not too extensive background notes, and all in all this is a bold and welcome move on Thanhouser’s part. Quite probably it’s a reaction to the several examples of these films which can be found on YouTube, which have been ripped from the DVD releases by other hands. Far better, of course, that the videos come from a legitimate source, and hopefully it will help promote DVD sales in any case and further the preservation and promotional work of the Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc.

Update: There is now a page on the Thanhouser site which lists all 56 films, provides links to the videos, and supplies useful background notes. See www.thanhouser.org/videos-online.htm.

Pen and pictures no. 9 – The cinema novel

Images from the 1930 stage production of Jules Romains’ Donogoo Tonka ou Les Miracles de la science: conte cinématographique (sorry about the music)

Our series on the relationship between literature and silent film has so far mostly taken the biographical approach, looking at the particular experiences of Thomas Hardy, J.M. Barrie, Evelyn Waugh, John Buchan, Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy and Arthur Conan Doyle. But for post number nine we’re taking a thematic angle on things and looking at the cinema novel.

The cinema novel does not mean novelisations (which began in the silent era and may well be the subject of another post). Rather I mean a phenomenon identified by the American cultural critic Gilbert Seldes in his 1924 book, The Seven Lively Arts. Seldes wrote:

[I]t is interesting to note that the cinema influence in literature in France is almost exactly opposite to what it is here [in America]. There it seems to make for brevity, hardness, clarity, brilliance. You will find it in the extraordinary stories of Paul Morand and Louis Aragon; and you will find in neither of these those characteristic sloppinesses which American authors are beginning to blame on the movies. If they would take the trouble of studying the pictures, instead of trying to make money out of them, and discover the elements in the cinema technique which are capable of making their own work fruitful, we might have better novels, and we certainly would have a few less bad pictures.

Two Frenchmen have, at the same time, used the scenario as a method of fiction, and each of them has written a highly ironic piece which is capable of being transferred to the film, but which reads sufficiently well to be considered as an end in itself.

Seldes was excited by what looked like an emerging trend – writers of the modernist school seeing exciting possibilities in transferring the dynamism and visual quality of cinema to literary works. There were plenty among the modernist, Futurists, Cubists and other sorts of ists whose imaginations had been fired by cinema (especially Chaplin, Keystone and serial films). Some, such as the Futurist Anton Giulio Bragaglia managed to put their ideas into film; others, like Apollinaire, Kandinsky and Schoenberg theorised about the possibilities of combining their art forms (poetry, painting, music) with film.

None was more enthused than the first of Seldes’ examples, Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961). Cendrars was a poet, journalist, novelist and creative autobiographer (much of what he wrote about his personal history needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt). He was an arch modernist, as experimental in his life as he was in his works. Like many French intellectuals of the period, he was excited by cinema’s possibilities as a new and universal language, but unlike most he was able to get involved in production itself. He served as an all-round production assistant on Abel Gance’s J’Accuse (1919), appearing briefly in the film as an actor, and was assistant director on Gance’s La roue (1923), for which Cendrars directed the innovative (and extant) promo film Autour de la roue. He went on to write an impressionistic theoretical text, L’ABC du cinéma (1926), which expounded his ideas on the ways in which cinema’s multifariousness captured the very essence of modern life. His 1925 novel of the American west, L’or, attracted interest in Hollywood, with Sergei Eisenstein trying to get Paramount to produce it during his American phase. Eventually James Cruze directed it as Sutter’s Gold in 1936 while Luis Trenker made an unofficial adpatation, Der Kaiser von Kalifornien, in Germany the same year. Cendrars also wrote a quirky, perversely observant account of two weeks in Hollywood, Hollywood: La Meque du cinéma (1936).

What Seldes highlighted, however, were two works, La Fin du monde (1919) and La Perle fiévreuse (1921), in which Cendrars brought the cinema into his writing. La Fin du Monde, filmée par l’Ange N.-D. [The End of the World, filmed by the Angel of Notre-Dame] was conceived of as a film-novel and is ostenibly organised as a film scenario. It tells of God as a ruthless businessman, for whom business has been good in the war because it has yielded up so many souls. God travels to Mars, visits all manner of plagues upon earth and kills off mankind all in the name of business, only for the story to rewind like a reel of film back to the beginning to reveal human life starting again, only this time God is bankrupt.

It is not your average novel, and it did not look like one. Published by Éditions de la Sirène, which specialised in innovative designs, the book was illustrated with abstract designs and colourful lettering by the artist Fernard Léger (see example right), who also designed the typography. Léger would of course go on to turn filmmaker with Ballet mécanique in 1924. There is no English translation available, but the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (the Dutch national library) provides a background history in English and what’s more a multimedia presentation on the book (in Dutch, French or English) which outlines the narrative, illustrated with many of the original images.

Cendrars next wrote La Perle fiévreuse [The Feverish Pearl] in 1921, a work with a curious history. In his imaginative autobiography, The Astonished Man, he says that he was responsible for an Italian film which he calls La Vénus noire,

starring Dourga, the Hindu dancer from the Opéra Comique, and using all the animals from the zoological gardens.

He says that he fell victim to a financial scandal which led to the collapse of the Italian film industry, personally losing 1,250,000 francs and ruining any opportunities the film might have had. Long thought of as a piece of Cendrars fantasy, the late Italian film historian Vitorio Martinelli, discovered that the film was indeed made and reviewed, as La Venere nera (1923), though little evidence of it can be found thereafter. It may be possible that the film was destroyed by Cendrars himself, as he himself claimed.

But before the film had been made, Cendrars had published his script in serial form, subtitled a ‘roman cinématographié’. This was La Perle fiévreuse. It is a spoof on detective fiction, with a host of renowned fictional detectives engaged in frantic pursuit of two women. The text is presented as though a director’s script, with precise filming instructions. Richard Abel (in Dada and Surrealist Film) provides a translated example of the effect:

1. Iris in on a small statue of Shiva dancing. Hold, then pan slowly over to the maid Co-Thaô, standing in a simple black dress. Hold; then track-dolly (in the same direction as the pan) until the camera reaches the door, which opens.

2. Now dolly through the doorway toward the meeting of the Hindu dancer Rougha and Miss Ethel Berkshire, who enters with an armful of flowers.

3. Close shot of Miss Ethel, surprised and delighted, brightly lit, a little in front of the door.

And so on, for around 850 ‘shots’. Gilbert Seldes was rather dismissive of the results:

American movie technique … M. Cendrars has evidently learned all too well, because he uses it, in all its tedious detail, in La Perle Fievreuse, for which he is publishing not a scenario but a director’s script, with the cutbacks and visions and close-ups all numbered and marked. It is in the manner of the old Biograph movies with what may turn out to be not such innocent fun at the expense of the detective film. Among its characters are Max Trick, director of Trick’s Criminal Courier, the great daily which specializes in criminal news. He is marked “Type: le President Taft” and is first shown in his office with twenty-five telephones in front of him; among his collaborators are Nick Carter and Arsène Lupin, Conan Doyle and Maurice Leblanc.

There is a long tradition of unfilmed screenplays published as texts, often because the demands of the writer’s imagination were too much for those who needed to finance such films and put them before an audience. One can either sees these as absurdities rightly turned down by level-headed producers, or a longing for a truly imaginative cinema unconstrained by the petty demands of the money man. Some French film theorists and avant garde-ists such Jean Epstein and Marcel L’Herbier did successfully bridge the gap between dreams and reality to become noted film directors, and of course Cendrars’ La Venere nera was produced. But diverting as his text may be, it is not truly a new work of the imagination.

Rather more to Seldes’ taste, because his cinema-novel was more fully realised and a genuine breakthrough in literary creation, was the work of his second example, Jules Romains (1885-1972). Romains was a poet, novelist and prosletyser for a literary movement of his own devising, Unanimism, which was concerned with a collective state of mind. He wrote many books, showed rather too much interest in Fascism, but what interests us here is one work with an extraordinary title: Donogoo-Tonka ou Les Miracles de la science: conte cinématographique, in English Donogoo Tonka or The Miracles of Science: A Cinematographic Tale (1920).

Donogoo had its genesis in a Blaise Cendrars initative. In 1918 Cendrars invited Jean Cocteau, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jules Romains and other to collaborate on a ‘cinema book’ which would bring together putative filmscripts by leading experimental writers. The book never happened, but Romains completed his scenario. However, although he argued that the text could be taken as a perfectly serviceable film script, in reality it was something halfway between the two media, and artfully achieved to be just so.

Romains’ cinema novel tells of a famous geographer, Yves Trouhadec, whose reputation depends on the discovery of the South American gold mining town Donogoo-Tonka which he placed on the map but unfortunately doesn’t exist. A would-be suicide Lamendin offers to float a company and lead an expedition to discover the lost town and save Trouhadec’s reputation. Lamendin creates fake films of the supposed town, sparking off a gold-rush. Adventurers come from all over the world to find Donogoo-Tonka, and having failed to find the town, build one anyway. Lamendin arrives to discover that the imaginary town exists after all, in which a religion is established, dedicated to scientific error (Romains’ main theme). Trouhadec is now a revered figure.

This is entertaining satire, but what is most interesting is the technique. Romains sets out his agenda in a prefatory note:

The framed portions of the text are to be projected on the screen. All the rest should be represented by the actors’ movements and by the possibilities of the staging.

Except when indicated in the text itself, the scenes should unfold with the normal rhythm of events in life. One should be especially wary of that unvarying and lamentable speed that too many people seem to see as one of the essential conventions of the cinematographic art.

Where there is some doubt on this point – in the scenes, for example, where the only events that unfold are the thoughts of the characters – it is better to err on the side of excessive slowness and overly scrupulous attention, so as to bring out all intentions and nuances.

These are, of course, instructions for reading, not viewing. Romains makes it clear that this is a cinematograph of the mind, though he does indeed have framed portions which serve as intertitles (though they are far more than that, serving as commentary and providing verbal illustrations), and the present tense narrative gives the sense of watching a film – yet it is a film where one sees equally the outward show and what is going on inside someone’s mind.

The technique is apparent in this extract:

A rapid succession of short scenes, each lasting barely a minute, shows us the propaganda for Donogoo-Tonka, insidious, rich in detail, irrepressible.

1. A fat fifty-year-old man has his morning hot chocolate in a pleasant dining room. The maid brings in the mail. The first envelope, when opened, lets out the prospectus for Donogoo-Tonka. The man skims it, without ceasing to eat his bread and butter. But watch how the twelve letters Donogoo-Tonka rise up, tear themselves free, escape from the paper and start scurrying, one after another, on the table, like a band of little mice …

… 3. A man struggles up the steps of an underground staircase. On the edge of each step: DONOGOO-TONKA. The inscription, at first lifeless and neutral, becomes more glistening, more active, from stair to stair. By the end the letters bulge out, corrode, burn. The man half-turns his head and through his no longer opaque skull we make out his brain, marked, like the shoulder of a convict, with twelve small, cracking letters.

We move from the literally visual (we’ve seen films like this before), to the arrestingly visual (OK, you could achieve that with animation, I’ve seen it done somewhere before) to the psychically visual (sorry M. Romains, but these sort of special effects won’t be around for another sixty years). It is avant garde cinema, before avant garde cinema existed.

Pages from the 1932 Dutch edition of Donogoo Tonka, with illustrations by Jo Spier, showing the ‘intertitle’ style on the left-hand page. From Markplatts.nl

Donogoo-Tonka is rather too obvious as satire, but it is an entertaining read and a constant stimulus to the imagination. It makes you think how you apprehend things, when reading, when watching, when simply living. Its dramatic possibilities did not interest film producers at the time, but a stage version was produced in Paris in 1930 and in Delft in 1931, the latter having filmed sequences shot by Joris Ivens, no less (sadly it is a lost film). It has been occasionaly staged since. In 1936 a German film version was produced, Donogoo Tonka, die geheimnisvolle Stadt, loosely based on the stage version but with a romantic plot. It was directed by Reinhold Schünzel and starred Anny Ondra. Romains disowned it.

Seldes is ringing in his praise of Romains’ achievement:

In the scenes which exploit the shares in Donogoo-Tonka we enter into the minds of individuals, of groups, of crowds; at the end the very framework of a building succumbs to the madness of the idea. And then, with a technical mastery not yet put into practise, M. Romains directs that the various scenes just projected be shown again, side by side, with a gradually accelerated rhythm. In the scenes of the adventurers we get glimpses at Marseilles, London, Naples, Porto, Singapore, San Francisco; then we see the groups starting out; the lines of their voyage converge. These scenes are projected first in succession and then simultaneously. Each time we see them we recognize some of the individuals we have seen before “And when by chance the faces are turned towards us, we have a feeling that they, too, recognize us.” The cinema has not yet accomplished that; chiefly, I fancy, because it never has been asked to.

Happily Donogoo Tonka was published in an English translation for the first time in 2009, with a knowledgable afterword by Joan Ockman.

There were other attempts at marrying the film text with the literary text at this time, for example Pierre Albert-Birot’s 2 x 2 = 1 (1919) and the dadaist poet Ivan Goll’s Die Chapliniade (1920). But the best known example from our period comes not from the French avant garde but from the English novelistic tradition, H.G. Wells‘ novel The King who was a King (1929).

The King who was a King is not one of Wells’ best works. It had its origins in an idea of his to produce a propaganda film on the subject of world peace, and it is as portentous and hectoring in tone as that might suggest. The film was never made, so Wells turned his ideas into a novel. What is interesting is its critique of cinema. In a long preface expressing disappointment with cinema story-telling, he expresses arguments that the literary modernist would have shared:

[T]he idea that the film was just a way of telling stories in moving pictures dominated the cinema theatre entirely for nearly a couple of decades, and still dominates it. It satisfied a hitherto unsuspected need for visual story-telling. It worked out lucratively … Can we get off the ground of the realistic story-film?

Wells set out to write a novel that demonstrates what he believes film should be able to achieve, as a vehicle for Wellsian ideas. Unfortunately he chose the wrong subject, and with insufficient appreciation of the method he was adopting. He shows some imaginative touches, describing the action throughout as though it is a film that we are watching, giving some indication of camera movements and scene-setting, but it remains novelistic in its thinking and in its unfolding. It lacks Romains’ wit. It makes the mistake of trying to correct film rather than trying to re-imagine the novel. The effect can be seen in this passage:

The film now plunges into the midst of Dr. Harting’s Steelville lecture upon The Causes of War.

Dr. Harting is an old distinguished-looking American, lean and tall, after the type of the late President Eliot of Harvard. He uses glasses to read his notes, and holds them in his hand while he speaks, often tapping the papers. He stands upon a platform at a reading-desk. Behind him are diagrams, indistinctly seen at first, and a chairman sits beside him. The picture is photographed with the camera turned somewhat upward in such a way as to make Dr. Harting slenderly dominant, like the prow of a ship.

A glimpse is given of Zelinka and Margaret sitting together in the front row of the audience, and then one sees a few other figures in the audience. Man the Destroyer is present, hostile and critical, and several commonplace and excitable types.

The lecturer says:

Do not imagine you can secure the Peace of the World by good resolutions. So long as you have national flags, national competition, national rivalry, you will have war.”

Man the Destroyer in the audience shouts, “Traitor,” and an old gentleman sitting near him says, “My country, right or wrong!” and looks round excitedly for approval.

A middle-aged man rises, points to the lecturer and says:

You go too fast and too far.”

The picture centres back on the lecturer.

This thinks that it is cinematic, but it isn’t. It simply sets out that which one might find in an ordinary novel, with the addition of camera placements. We would see the action anyway, without these additions. The use of present tense masks what is actually quite conventional. Wells understood film well enough, but he was too much the novelist to be able to express such understanding in words.

The cinema novel was an interesting by-product of the enthusiasm of the literary intelligensia for film in the late teens and early 1920s, as modernist ideas were evolving. It did not turn into a genre, because avant garde cinema emerged in the mid-1920s to fill the need. The true successors of La Fin du monde and Donogoo-Tonka were L’entracte (1924), La Coquille et le Clergyman (1928) and Un chien andalou (1929). However, the cinema novel did return three decades later through the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose concept of the ciné-roman presented the film script as a text which had an independent existence as a literary work. L’Année dernière à Marienbad is an example.


This post is indebted to the introduction by Garrett White to Blaise Cendrars, Hollywood: Mecca of the Movies (University of California Press, 1995), Joan Ockman’s afterword to Donogoo Tonka or The Miracles of Science (Buell Center/Princeton Architectural Press, 2009) and Richard Abel, ‘Exploring the Discursive Field of the Surrealist Film Scenario Text’, in Rudolf E. Kuenzli (ed.), Dada and Surrealist Film (MIT Press, 1996).

Roll away the reel world

And roll away the reel world, the reel world, the reel world!

So says James Joyce in Finnegans Wake, thereby giving a handy headline for anyone producing anything relating to Joyce and film, something which has grown as a subject of scholarly interest in recent years. Its most recent expression is Roll Away the Reel World: James Joyce and Cinema, a collection of essays edited by John McCourt and published this month by Cork University Press.

The book brings together talks given at last year’s conference, exhibition and film festival on James Joyce held at Trieste in Italy, which the Bioscope reported on at the time. The book includes an essay by myself on James Joyce’s management of the Volta cinema in Dublin December 1909-January 1910 (Ireland’s future literary giant was looking for a get-rich-quick scheme and thought that cinema management was the answer. It wasn’t). I’ve also contributed a filmography of all the film shown at the Volta from December 1909 to mid-April 1910, previously published in an obscure Irish journal and now updated and now a lot more accessible for the assorted Joyceans who have been emailing me for years now in pursuit of a copy of the original list.

There is more on silent cinema in the book, which makes it worth seeking out for anyone interested in the relationships between early film and literature. Indeed it is exciting to see how very well the current generation of literary scholars engage with both media. Erik Schneider writes on the history of the Volta from the Trieste angle (Joyce teamed up with some Triestine businessmen to launch the Volta initiative); Katherine Mullin writes on “Joyce, Early Cinema and the Erotics of Everyday Life” (on Edison, Biograph and peephole movies); Maria DiBattista and Philip Sicker each write on Georges Méliès in “The Ghost Walks: Joyce and the Spectres of Silent Cinema” and “Mirages in the Lampglow: Joyce’s ‘Circe’ and Méliès’ Dream Cinema” respectively; Carla Marengo Vaglio looks at a joint music hall and cinema relationship in “Futurist Music Hall and Cinema” while Marco Camerani explores the stage performer-turned-film perfomer angle further with “Circe’s Costume Changes: Bloom, Fregoli and Early Cinema”. And other writers carry on the argument into the sound era, from John Huston to Jean-Luc Godard to Mel Brooks.

A Glass of Goat’s Milk, from BFI National Archive

And if all that wasn’t enough, and if in particular you want to see the films shown at the Volta, then do take note of the December 1910 Centenary Conference being held in Glasgow, 10-12 December 2010, which takes as its theme Virginia Woolf’s notorious pronouncement that “on or about December 1910 human character changed”. As part of this event, on 10 December at 20:30 at the Glasgow Film Theatre I will be presenting “At the Volta with James Joyce” – an introductory talk followed by a screening of thse films, shown at the Volta during Joyce’s period of involvement with the cinema:

Une Pouponnière à Paris (France 1909, p.c. Éclair)
A Glass of Goat’s Milk (Great Britain 1909, d. Percy Stow p.c. Clarendon)
The Way of the Cross (USA 1909, p.c. Vitagraph)
Aviation Week at Rheims (Great Britain 1909, p.c. Pathé
Come Cretinetti paga i debiti (Italy 1909, d. André Deed p.c. Itala)
Bianca Capello (Italy 1909, d. Mario Caserini p.c. Cines)
Pêche aux Crocodiles (France 1909, p.c. Pathé)
Une Conquête (France 1909, d. Georges Monca p.c. Pathé)

The BFI National Archive has put together a compilation of the Volta films it holds (the BFI holds the majority of the surviving films known to have been programmed at the Volta). This is available to researchers able to get to its central London site (do book ahead, as with all BFI viewings). If you want live music accompanying the films and me burbling on about the history, then come to Glasgow.

Pen and pictures no. 8 – Arthur Conan Doyle

Here in the UK we have been enjoying the latest screen incarnation of Sherlock Holmes. Hot on the heels of Robert Downey Jr’s steampunkish feature film interpretation, Benedict Cumberbatch has starred in the BBC’s Sherlock as a modern day consulting detective. It is a compelling portrayal of a self-described ‘high-functioning sociopath’, and of course is just latest in over a century of screen and stage interpretations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s character. Doyle is the next subject in our series on literary figures and silent films (see earlier posts on Thomas Hardy, J.M. Barrie, Evelyn Waugh, John Buchan, Bernard Shaw and Leo Tolstoy), where each figure is seen to have faced faced up to the upstart phenomenon of motion pictures in a different way. For Doyle, key matters were seeing a character you had created turned into film while you were still writing the stories, and the vexed issue of copyright.

Note: This post is accompanied by a separate filmography for Arthur Conan Doyle and silent era film.

Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was a physician and a prolific author of novels, short stories, plays, pamphlets, non-fiction books and poetry. His historical and romantic adventure novels included Micah Clarke (1889), The White Company (1891), The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (1896, originally a set of short stories), Rodney Stone (1896) and The Lost World (1912, the first of a series of Professor Challenger tales). His plays included The Story of Waterloo (1907) and The House of Temperley (1912); influential pamphlets included The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct (1902) and The Crime of the Congo (1909). He wrote much else besides.

For all his prodigious literary output, Doyle became predominantly known in his lifetime – and ever since – for the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels. Beginning with the novel A Study in Scarlet (1887), Doyle produced fifty-six Sherlock Holmes short stories (mostly published first in the Strand Magazine) collected in several volumes, and three further novels, The Sign of Four (1890), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) and The Valley of Fear (1915).

Though a number of his plays and adventure novels were filmed during the silent period, it was the Sherlock Holmes stories that attracted film producers the most. The last Sherlock Holmes story was not published until 1927, so Doyle witnessed the extension and wider distribution of his character into other media (there were stage interpretations as well) even as he was still having to think up new stories. He saw the character he had created take on a life of its own, appropriated by other media, embedded in popular culture, to a point where he ceased to have full control over it. Even when he wanted to kill off Sherlock Holmes his public forced him to bring his creation back to life.

Viggo Larsen (right, appearing from a hole in the floor) as Sherlock Holmes in Den grå dame (1909), from http://www.dfi.dk

The separation of character from creator was demonstrated by the first Sherlock Holmes films, which used the name but not the stories. The American Mutoscope and Biograph Company kicked things off with a fleeting comedy, Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900), where the detective on-screen clearly owes nothing more than his name to Doyle’s invention (in the film a cigar-smoking detective is unable to capture a house thief who keeps on disappearing by magic). Other such name borrowings followed, culminating in a 1908-1911 series of Danish films, mostly made by and starring Viggo Larsen as Holmes, for the Nordisk company. Highly popular, the series pitted Holmes against another literary detective, Raffles, as well as featuring Moriarty, though no Dr Watson. The results owed little to Doyle and everything to standard detective thrillers of the period, such as Éclair’s Nick Carter series, with Sherlock Holmes seen as just anothermaster detective without any of his individual characteristics. Only one film from the survives, Sherlock Holmes i Bondefangerklør (1910)

It is not clear whether Doyle was aware of the Danish series specifically, but he was certainly aware in general of films being made which featured his character, which raised the vexed problem of copyright. To what degree did Doyle have any ownership over the character he had created? The situation was unclear, particularly if someone avoided using one of Doyle’s stories or copying the look of Holmes from the Sidney Paget illustrations. In the film world copyright in creative works adapted for the screen had only been recognised since 1911 (in the USA), following a celebrated case concerning a film of Ben Hur (1907), where the producers Kalem had not paid any fee to the author’s estate. In the UK the Karno v Pathé Frères case of 1908 had shown that a film of a dramatic work was a copy of that work, but the situation remained unclear until the Copyright Act of 1911, which recognised motion pictures are works in their own right (and potentially infringing works) for the first time.

As a professional author, Doyle naturally recognised the commercial value of his literary properties and the importance of asserting rights, particularly when it came adaptations. He had seen the value of stage adaptations following the American actor William Gillette’s renowned 1899 stage production Sherlock Holmes, which had been a considerable success in the USA and Britain (where in 1903 the part of Billy was played by a certain Charles Chaplin, then aged fourteen). But the cinematograph promised greater returns for the future. Andrew Lycett, in his biography of Doyle, records this letter that Doyle wrote to fellow author Mrs Humphrey Ward:

… our rights is an asset which is rising in value, no one knows quite how much. English cinemas films are in their infancy, but promise well, and it is there that our hopes lie. Unhappily the higher literature of thought and pathos is handicapped as compared to mere plot and action.

Doyle therefore saw limited opportunities for his grander novels given the supposed limitations of the silent film, but for lower literature (which is how he viewed his Holmes stories), the films offered opportunities – for authors prepared to wait, as the fees they could command got higher.

George Tréville as Sherlock Holmes in the Éclair/Franco-British production The Copper Beeches (1912), from http://www.silentera.com

Doyle’s answer to the challenge posed by the Nordisk films was to sell the film rights to some of the Holmes stories to a film company on a one-off basis, not long after the Copyright Act came into force. For reasons that are unclear, he did a deal with the French company Éclair (though a producers of the Nick Carter series the company may have asserted particular expertise in detective dramas). After an initial foray with Les aventures de Sherlock Holmes (1911), the first official Sherlock Holmes film (Holmes was p;layed by Henri Gouget), Éclair filmed eight two-reelers in Bexhill-on-Sea in Britain in 1912 through a subsidiary, Franco-British Film. With titles such as Le ruban moucheté aka The Speckled Band and Flamme d’argent aka The Silver Blaze these were the first film adaptations of Holmes stories, though indications from reviews are that the results bore scant relation to Doyle’s plots. The films’ producer Georges Tréville is understood to have played Holmes himself. Two episodes of the eight survive (The Copper Beeches and The Musgrave Ritual).

Doyle had more luck with producers adapting his other novels (at least accuracy-wise), with the British company London Film Productions producing prestigious feature film versions of The House of Temperley (1913) and The Firm of Girdlestone (1915). Films borrowing the Sherlock Holmes character continued, with Viggo Larsen, star of the Danish series, moving to Germany for five titles in the Arsène Lupin contra Sherlock Holmes series (1910-11), while the American company Thanhouser made Sherlock Holmes Solves ‘The Sign of Four’ (1913) without any certain acknowledgment of Doyle’s ownership. But it was in Germany where copyright infringement was most flagrant, with Jules Greenbaum (producer of the Arsène Lupin series) making a massively popular six-part series (strictly speaking he wasn’t involved in part four) very loosely based on The Hound of the Baskervilles, which ran 1914-1920, with Alwin Neuss and others playing Holmes.

Doyle really only had control over what was produced in Britain, and the next offical Holmes film was A Study in Scarlet (1914), directed by George Pearson for G.B. Samuelson, with James Bragington playing Holmes (he was not previously an actor but an office worker picked for his Holmesian looks). In the same year the same novel was adapted in the USA in a completely unauthorised version, directed by and starring Francis Ford, brother of John Ford.

In 1921 Doyle finally did a deal with ‘English cinema films’ that matched his expectations financially while satisifying his hopes for a respectful adaptation from page to screen. The Stoll Film Company was the leading film company in Britain, newly established by theatre magnate Sir Oswald Stoll with high ambitions to raise the quality of British films. Central to Stoll’s plans was adapting popular novel and plays with a ready-made audience, while its strongest suit (outside Sir Oswald’s money) was director Maurice Elvey, easily the most talented filmmaker in Britain at the time.

Eille Norwood in a Pathe Pictorial cinemagazine item, shown preparing to appear on stage in The Return of Sherlock Holmes at the Princes Theatre, London in 1923, from www.britishpathe.com

However, what made the Stoll Holmes series such a success was its choice of Holmes. At the age of sixty, Eille Norwood was hardly ideal for the role, and with an average stage and occasional screen career behind him, his name alone was not a draw. But his somewhat cadaverous features echoed the Sidney Page illustrations of Holmes in the Strand, and on screen the transformation was complete. Norwood’s subtle portrayal was grounded in a close reading of the original stories yet was equally attuned to the needs of the screen. Plot sensations (the hallmark of earlier Holmes films) were kept in moderation; now the drama could be read in the detective’s eyes. For the first time one could see the mind of the great detective at work. It helped greatly that Norwood had the ideal foil in Hubert Willis as John Watson – a genial, loyal companion perpetually dumbfounded by the workings of the brighter, deeper mind of his companion.

The series of two-reelers (approx. twenty minutes each), entitled The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and set in the 1920s, ran to fifteen episodes and was issued throughout 1921. It was enthusiastically received in Britain and the USA, with Norwood’s pinpoint interpretation the focus of the praise, though one would now want equally to highlight Elvey’s deft, filmic handling of the material. A rousing feature film followed, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1921, a powerful influence on the young David Lean). Elvey left for other duties to be replaced for two further Stoll Holmes series, The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1922, fifteen episodes) and The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1923, fifteen episodes) directed by the plainer talent of George Ridgwell. Elvey returned in 1923 to direct a second Holmes feature film, The Sign of Four. All films in the Stoll series starred Eille Norwood, who also took his successful interpretation of Holmes to the stage. Of his screen successors, only Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett have been his equal for inhabiting the spirit of Doyle’s creation.

However, the Stoll series raised the thorny issue of copyright once more. Doyle had instructed his literary agent to check the validity of his copyrights in the USA before he signed his deal with Stoll in 1920, but American interests challenged the Stoll series nonetheless. The Goldwyn Corporation argued that Doyle had sold the dramatic rights to the Holmes stories when William Gillette had created his stage version in 1899, rights which then passed on to the Essanay company in 1916 when a feature film was made of Gillette’s play (starring Gillette), and then to Goldwyn, which produced the feature film Sherlock Holmes in 1922, with John Barrymore as the detective. The case was thrown out by the New York Supreme Court, but it demonstrated the muddle that Doyle (or his representatives) had created and the difficulty the law had in separating stage from screen.

The Lost World (1925)

Doyle’s other literary works were also filmed during the silent era. Aside from the London productions of The House of Temperley and The Firm of Girdlestone mentioned above, there were British films made of Brigadier Gerard (1915), Rodney Stone (1920), The Croxley Master (1923) and The Tragedy of Korosco, filmed as Fires of Fate (1923). In France, Éclair returned to filming Doyle with Un drame sous Napoléon (1921), based on Uncle Bernac, while in the USA First National made the hugely successful The Lost World (1925), with its Willis O’Brien-animated dinosaurs and Wallace Beery as Professor Challenger, while Rod La Roque starred as Brigadier Gerard in The Fighting Eagle (1927).

By the time of the great successes of his works in the film world in the 1920s, Arthur Conan Doyle had turned much of his attentions to spiritualism. This side of his personal history is remarkable for the stubborn credulousness he displayed (for example, refusing to believe that Harry Houdini did not have supernatural skills, even when Houdini carefully explained how his tricks were done), but there are few crossovers between his passion for spiritualism and motion pictures. However there are some. Although Doyle only became heavily involved in spiritualism after the First World War, he had shown interest in it and in the allied areas of hypnotism, seances and psychic research as far back as the 1880s. Fascinatingly, Andrew Lycett notes that in 1888 Doyle was in contact with Frederick Myers, a leading figure in the Society for Physical Research, who introduced Doyle to George Albert Smith, then a stage hypnotist whose fraudulent ‘second sight’ act conned the naive SPR members much as Doyle would be willingly conned by spiritualist evidence twenty years later. Whether Doyle actually met Smith Lycett does not say, but Smith would soon abandon his stage career and become a leading filmmaker in Britain in the 1890s (including making films that mocked his former associations, such as The Mesmerist, 1898) and the inventor of the world’s first successful motion picture colour system. This intriguing association aside, in 1922 Doyle used rushes from The Lost World to startle an audience of magicians who could not rationalise what these living pictures of dinosaurs were, while a 1923 documentary, Is Doyle Right?, made by Cullom Holmes Ferrell, purported to explore Doyle’s theories (Doyle had no connection with the film himself).

Finally there are the silent films of Doyle the man. He appeared in at least two American films as himself, when actuality film was taken of him on his visit to the USA in 1914. His friend the American detective William J. Bryan filmed him for a drama in which Bryan starred as himself, The $5,000,000 Counterfeiting Plot (1914), while through the same association with Bryan Doyle also found himself appearing in episode 26 of the serial Our Mutual Girl (1914). In both cases Doyle was briefly filmed as himself, not taking part in the drama in any way. Doyle also appeared in a prologue to The Lost World, once again as himself (a sequence missing from existing copies). He also appeared in some newsreels, notably a 1929 Fox Movietone sound interview (released 1929 but filmed in 1928, according to Greg Wilsbacher’s research in the 2009 Pordenone catalogue), where he spoke about spiritualism and helped usher in the talkies.

Like any professional author of his age, Arthur Conan Doyle was necessarily bound up with the motion picture industry. The movies wanted to film his works, wanted to appropriate his characters, and wanted to film him. The filmography of Doyle and silent era films that acompanies this post has been a challenge to compile, because of the elusiveness of some of the information but also because of problems of definition. When is a Holmes film not a Holmes film? The so-called first Sherlock Holmes film, Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900) is a knockabout spoof with seemingly minimal connection with Doyle’s detective. The first ‘genuine’ Holmes film would not be made until 1911, but with the name rapidly becoming a generic term for anyone on the detective trail, the great number of films that allude to Holmes in one way or another (most famously Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr.) are a part of the film history of Arthur Conan Doyle, if only because they show how tenuous an author’s hold can be on his original creation, once the public has taken it to their hearts.


This post owes much to Andrew Lycett’s Conan Doyle: The Man who Created Sherlock Holmes, Alan Barnes’ Sherlock Holmes on Screen: The Complete Film and TV History, and Jay Weissberg’s notes for ‘Sherlock and Beyond:The British Detective in Silent Cinema’ in the 2009 Pordenone Silent Film Festival catalogue. There is further information on the films described above, and several other films not otherwise described here, in the filmography for Arthur Conan Doyle and the silent era of film which accompanies this post.

The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary Estate provides a present-day copyright statement for the European Community and the United States.

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