Watching with Ben

I think we’ve said before now that silent film accompanist Ben Model is probably the most web savvy among his peers, with a smart grasp of social media and an infectious keenness to share the silent film medium with everyone. His latest venture is a case in point.

His YouTube channel already features a number of great silent comedies to which Model has supplied new musical scores taken (with permission) from DVD releases. Now Model is taken 16mm silent films from his personal collection, which are primarily obscure comedies of the kind unlikely ever to be programmed or released on DVD, so the best chance anyone is going to get of seeing them is if someone does a video transfer and sticks them on YouTube. This Model is doing, as the delightful introductory video above explains. Just subscribe to www.youtube.com/silentfilmmusic and every other Wednesday you’ll receive notice of the latest video he’s uploaded, with his own piano or organ score, naturally.

There’s just the one video there so far, Cook, Papa, Cook (1928) a typical example of a minor knockabout comedy of the period (in this case starring Henry Murdock, Lucille Hutton and Eva Thatcher). It’s no masterpiece, but it’s cheerful fun, and certainly whets the appetite for further fortnightly treats.

To keep up with Ben there’s
his website (http://www.silentfilmmusic.com)
his blog (http://www.silentfilmmusicblog.com)
his Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/silentfilmaccompanist)
his Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/silentfilmmusic)
his YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/silentfilmmusic)
his Vimeo channel (http://vimeo.com/benmodel)
his Tumblr (http://silentfilmmusic.tumblr.com)
his SoundCloud page (http://soundcloud.com/silentfilmmusic)
and probably a lot more that I’ve missed [update: indeed I did - see comments]. Anyway, a great initative from someone who’s just at home online. Do sign up, or just keep visiting the YouTube channel regularly.

Casting a shadow

Last week saw the For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon, in which bloggers around the world took on the themes of Hitchcock or silent film or film preservation, or combinations thereof. Organised by organisers the blogs Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy on Films and This Island Rod, the inspiration was the recent discovery of part of The White Shadow (1923), the film on which Hitchcock served as art director and assistant director (the director was Graham Cutts), the goal being to raise funds through donations to enable the National Film Preservation Fund to put the film online with music score, for us all to enjoy.

The sum required is $15,000, and sadly as of today the campaign has raised $2,140 [Update: as of 21 May it is $6,490]. This is disappointing, especially as previous such preservation blogathons have achieved their targets. Maybe it’s the global economy; maybe people out there like reading about Hitch but don’t feel too passionately about watching Cutts; or maybe there’s simply been so much to read that they haven’t had time to donate as yet.

Well, there is still time, and with a 100 or so bloggers who signed up to the blogathon, each of which should easily be getting 150 viewers per post (and in some cases a great deal more), it only requires each reader to donate one dollar to hit the target. Do the math, then hit the Hitch to your left.

As encouragement, here’s a listing of the For the Love of Film posts which have related to silent Hitchcock or silent films in general. If I’ve missed out any relating to silent films, do let me know, and I’ll add them to the list.

So no one took up the challenge of Downhill or even Always Tell Your Wife, eh? Nor the silent Blackmail, which is the greater surprise.

You can find all of these posts listed and illustrated on The Bioscope’s sister news site courtesy of Scoop It.

Update: Here are other silent-related posts from the bloagthon that I missed:

The Artistifier

Christopher Nolan meet Michel Hazanavicius, courtesy of The Artistifier

I have to tell you about this. Though your scribe has been resisting the general hoohah surrounding the Academy Award for The Artist, charming though the film is and amazing though it may be that a silent film has won the Oscar for best picture, we have to draw your attention to a wonderful new website. The Artistifier takes any YouTube video and turns it into an award-winning silent film. So your video appears in black-and-white, projected on a cinema screen, with your title and director credit, and a caption option so you can add your own intertitles, and then save the film for others to enjoy.

All praise to whoever were the bright, quick minds behind this one. It works particularly well with trailers, as in the clever adaptation of Christopher Nolan’s Inception illustrated above. Have a go – and have fun.

For the love of Hitchcock

Bloggers are good people, or we strive to be, and what better evidence of this could there be than For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon. A blogathon is where bloggers each write on the same theme on each of their respective blogs, linking to other blogs doing the same. The Film Preservation Blogathon, now in its third year, takes film history as its theme but goes that much further by raising funds for film preservation (i.e. a PayPal button appears on blog posts encouraging everyone to contribute their little bit).

In its first year the Blogathon raised funds to enable the National Film Preservation Foundation to restore The Sergeant (1910) and The Better Man (1912), two of the silent-era American films whose discovery in the New Zealand Film Archive we reported at the time. Last year funds were raised to help the Film Noir Foundation restore Cy Endfield’s The Sound of Fury (1950).

The subject of this year’s Film Preservation Blogathon is Alfred Hitchcock. The aim is to raise funds to enable last year’s great discovery, The White Shadow (1923), directed by Graham Cutts with Hitchcock serving as assistant director, art director and more, to be put online by the NFPF with music score (for four months only, presumably because of ongoing hosting costs). This excellent and imaginative objective will cost in the region of $15,000.

The Blogathon runs 13-18 May 2012, and you can read more about it on the blogs of its three organisers, Self-Styled Siren, Ferdy on Films and This Island Rod. There will be more information on how to participate, and how to contribute donations, on each of those blogs as the date gets nearer, or follow all developments on the For the Love of Film Facebook page.

As said, the subject is Hitchcock, any aspect, though the organisers have expanded on this to include (and I quote)

Hitchcock, British silent films, silent film scores, film preservation and the people who do it (but please, as much as we love and revere him, no tributes to Martin Scorsese), the suspense genre, the stars of The White Shadow, Graham Cutts, and other related esoterica.

The Bioscope fervently hopes that at least one Graham Cutts blog post appears out of this (an entire Graham Cutts blogathon was always going to be a bit of a folorn hope). The man has never been so famous, and now’s the time to give him his due when people will be listening. We’ll do something for the Blogathon here at The Bioscope, and fingers crossed we’ll all be able to see The White Shadow in the not so distant future.

Online matters

So far in our end-of-the-year posts, we have looked at some of the leading books published in our field over the year, and some of the top DVD releases. We’ve also reviewed the year in general. Now let us turn to a selection of some of the best in silent-themed videos that have either appeared online this year, or which we have discovered for the first time this year in the course of writing the blog. It’s an entirely personal choice, and limited also to those titles that can be embedded here. But just enjoy.

Variation: The Sunbeam, David W. Griffith, 1912 (2011)

This inspired interpretation by Aitor Gametxo of D.W. Griffith’s The Sunbeam (1912) deconstructs and reconstructs the film according to its spatial logic by showing the different floors and rooms of the tenement in their respective areas of the screen. As my post on the video says, it’s an object lesson in seeing how silent films (or any other kind of film) works.

Raymond Rohauer presents The Sneeze (1970)

I learned about this comic gem through the Nitrateville site. It was made by David Shepard in 1970 and gleefully spoofs the over-presentation of silents from another age (thankfully), pointing the finger not only at notorious collector Raymond Rohauer (who reportedly found the film hilarious) but at the ponderous long introductory titles which some archives (notably MOMA) used to give to silents. The film being given the weighty introduction is Edison’s Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (1894), featuring Fred Ott.

The Force That Through The Green Fire Fuels The Flower (2011)

It’s only a 24-second trailer for what is an eight minute film, but this modern silent by Otto Kylmälä caused a sensation at Pordenone, as the audience saw just what a modern silent can be. Let’s hope it appears in its entirety for all to enjoy before too long.

The Evidence of the Film (1913)

One of the highlight online video collection of the year has been the Thanhouser Vimeo channel. Ned Thanhouser, who works tirelessly to promote the appreciation and preservation of the Thanhouser film company’s surviving work has made all of their surviving films to which he has access available online. Here’s a classic self-referential drama from 1913.

Clog Dancing for the Championship of England (1898)

This was my favourite discovery from the Huntley Film Archives’ YouTube Channel, a joyous 1898 Robert Paul film of the world clog dancing championships, won by James G. Burns, as we learned after family members got in touch. I can’t really say what it is about very early films that delights me so, except that this is the kind of film that delights me in particular. It’s just a happy film.

Rêverie (2011)

A welcome discovery this year was the Silent Stories channel which curates modern silent films of the non-pastiche kind, which is the kind we much prefer. Rêverie by Jaro Minne is a wistful, skilful example of how to tell stories through looks.

Percy Pilcher (1897)

I made my own contribution to YouTube this year, a re-animation of the seven frames that survive (reproduced in a newspaper) of the British aviator Percy Pilcher taking off on his glider for a few seconds on 20 June 1897, discussed in our post on early aviation films. Fleeting it might be, but even seven frames is enough to gain some sense of history brought back to life.

The Bicycle Animation (2011)

A favourite post this year was one on the Phonotrope animations inspired by the work of animator Jim Le Fevre, which re-imagine pre-cinema technologies such as the Zoetrope to create new forms of animation. The video above, by Katy Beveridge, is a title discovered since, which went viral after it was picked up on the Boing Boing site and has now had over a million views. It just goes to show how we all delight in visual illusion.

The Magician (2009)

And then there’s my favourite video discovery of the year. Warm applause to Richcard Hinchcliffe for a witty piece that takes less time to watch than it took to type this sentence. It’s only five seconds long, but has such underlying truth. Watch, sigh, then move on.

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.

Films from the fens

Stencil colour film of Blickling Hall, Norfolk, from Eve and Everybody’s Film Review (1929)

A significant release of archive films online, many of them silent, was announced recently. The East Anglian Film Archive, founded by David Cleveland in 1976, funded by the University of East Anglia, and now located in the Archive Centre, Norfolk, has published online 200 hours from its film collection, the outcome of a major cataloguing and digitisation project undertaken as part of the UK’s Screen Heritage programme which has been doing much to support public sector film archiving in the UK.

The search, browse and highlight options can all be accessed via the front page of the site. The site design is unusual, in a plain sort of way, but not ineffective and undoubtedly user friendly. It is certainly easy to find silent era films – you simply go to the browse option, where there is a timeline with sliders which you can drag for dates anywhere between 1895 and 2010, something I’ve not seen on many other sites and which is such a simple, sensible way of guiding people to a time period. Select 1895-1930, and you get around 150 items, all of them instantly playable, and with some some real treasures, surprises and at least one major discovery.

The films all come from those English counties covered by the East Anglian region, including Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. So there are many films of primarily regional interest only (which is of courses the raison d’être of a regional film archive), though equally they are encouragement to anyone interested in film history and history through film to consider the importance of place and regional (not just national) identity in film culture. For example, John Grierson’s celebrated documentary Drifters (1929) is generally lionised for its early position in the history of the art of documentary film, but it turns up here (in its entirety) because it was partly shot in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Drifters is, fundamentally, and importantly, a regional film.

There are many other records of the East Anglian region, from interest, travel, amateur and newsreel films of the period. The latter include probably unique examples of the rare Warwick Bioscope Chronicle and British Screen News newsreels, and local newsreel the Bostock Gazette (a number of UK towns and cities in the silent era had local news services, often maintained by an indiviual cinema where the projectionist doubled as camera operator, though other such ‘newsreels’ were produced by local enthusiasts on an amateur basis). There is 1929 stencil colour film of Blicking Hall in Norfolk, from Pathé’s cinemagazine Eve and Everybody’s Film Review; film pioneer Birt Acres’ 1896 film of Yarmouth fishing trawlers, the first film made in the region; an experimental work by George Sewell, one of the founder members of the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers, whose The Gaiety of Nations (1929) is a visually inventive comment on world politics; and several delightful examples of silent advertising films, including a number advertising Colman’s Mustard, which were based in Norwich (see for example the spoof 1926 newsreel The Mustard Club Topical Budget, featuring a popular set of characters from an advertising campaign of the period).

Jackeydawra Melford (wearing witch’s hat) as Jackeydawra in The Herncrake Witch (1913)

The major discovery is The Herncrake Witch (1913), which I had believed to be a lost film. It is a drama starring Jackeydawra Melford, one of the first women to direct a film in Britain. We have written about Jackeydawra Melford before now, in one of the earliest Bioscope posts, noting that she produced and starred in The Herncrake Witch (1912), The Land of Nursery Rhymes (1912) and The Inn on the Heath (1914), directing the last of those (her actor father directed The Herncrake Witch). None was known to survive. The EAFA catalogue record doesn’t give that much information about the film, which is intriguing in theme if quaintly produced, noting that it was made by Heron Films, a company founded by Andrew Heron who worked with Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, of whom more in a moment. The film is described as an ‘excerpt’, though there can’t be too much missing (it runs for 8 minutes, and the original length was 710 feet). Anyway, it is a major discovery for those interested in British silent women filmmakers, of whom there are a number.

Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle (c.1901), possibly filmed by Laura Bayley using the 17.5mm Biokam system (note the distinctive central perforations). The cat is playing its fiddle and the cow is jumping over the moon

Another welcome surprise is from another woman filmmaker. Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle (c.1901) is an example of the 17.5mm Biokam films issued by Brighton filmmaker George Albert Smith, for which there reasons to believe that the director was his actress wife Laura Bayley. What its East Anglian connection might be I’m not sure, but it’s a precious example of a pantomime act filmed on stage (the practice seems to have been that Smith made a 35mm film of a subject, then his wife shot the 17.5mm version, possibly simultaneously, but sometimes at a different time, as there are noticeable differences between the few examples where both 35mm and 17.5mm subjects survive).

A third example of a woman filmmaker is the amateur comedy Sally Sallies Forth (1928), directed by Frances Lascot, working with producer/editor Ivy Low, which is a well-produced example of the considerable number of amateur film dramas made at this time by hobbyist individuals and film clubs. It would have been nice to have a bit more information about the film’s production on the catalogue (not least where it was shot).

From pleasant surprises to not so pleasant surprises. There are several films in the collection attributed to the aforementioned Hertfordshire filmmaker Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, indeed there is a special section of the site devoted to him. Cooper is an interesting figure, involved in British films as assistant to Birt Acres from the earliest years, and later an important pioneer of the animation film. Unfortunately, his daughter and later some film historians took up his cause as a neglected master of early film, and claimed for him a number of films that he never made, or misdated other films to make them seem earlier examples of film innovation than is in fact the case. In some cases it seems Cooper told his family that films in his collection were ‘his’, when they were only so insofar as he may have exhibited them once and now owned them. I won’t go down the tedious route of pointing out which titles are wrongly identified and which aren’t (and there a quite a number that are genuinely his). It’s just really surprising that a responsible archive such as the EAFA put up these films with their dubious attributions to the fore, especially when their catalogue notes usually give pointers to the correct identification.

This abberation aside, the East Anglian Film Archive‘s new website is a very welcome new resource. It not only documents the East Anglian region so well, but for the silent film specialist it present the great variety of films of filmmaking from our period: dramas (professional and amateur), newsreels, travelogues, trick films, advertising films, industrials, magazines. It celebrates the medium in all its inventive richness, while reminding us of the particular meanings films have for particular people.

If you ae interested to find out more about the UK regional archives, visit the Film Archives UK website, or else read the 2009 Bioscope post on some of the UK regional film collections to be found online, including the Yorkshire Film Archive, Screen Archive South East and the Media Archive for Central England, all of whom have signficant silent films collection available to view online. And if you want to find them all (or at least a lot of what they hold) in one place, they you must try the new Search Your Film Archives portal hosted by the BFI (another UK Screen Heritage output). There is so much out there now to be found – do please reward the archives and those who have funded these initiatives by browsing, viewing, and taking film journeys down routes that you may not have expected.

The impact of silent film

http://sms.cam.ac.uk/institution/CRASSH

Just a short note to alert you to the existence of a video made of a talk Kevin Brownlow gave to the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge on 20 October 2011. Entitled ‘The Impact of Silent Film‘, it is a lecture with film clips and runs for 93 minutes.

When I saw the title I wondered whether Kevin had been cajoled into delivering some bold piece of socio-economic analysis which would seek to prove to government that watching a silent film a day will make each one of us healtheir, wealthier and wiser (and who’s to say if that might not be true?). But instead it is an account of silent films as the progenitor and pinnacle of motion picture art (“every visual advance, except CGI, was invented before talkies”), demonstrating innovation from “single-shot films of 1893 to the monumental epics of the 1920s”. It is illustrated with clips from his celebrated Hollywood series (albeit filmed from the screen in the Cambridge lecture theatre) and shows that his great belief in the medium continues completely unshaken.

Sunbeam variations

Kristin Thompson has written a fine post on the blog she shares with David Bordwell about a singularly inventive video by a Spanish student, Aitor Gametxo. He has taken D.W. Griffith’s little-known film Sunbeam (1912), which takes place in a tenement building on multiple floors and rooms, and arranged the scenes that take place in each room in a grid format, so that what takes place in the upstairs room on the left occurs on the upper left-hand corner of the screen, and so on. The performers then move in and out of the spaces, respecting Griffith’s editing ploys.

The result is as delightful as it is informative. I’m not going to go into the fine details of Griffith’s handling of simultaneous action or his intuitive understanding of naturalistic film cutting, because others – such Thompson or video essay enthusiast Kevin B. Lee – can do so very much better than I. I’m just doing what Thompson asks, which is to help spread the word about an imaginative piece of film analysis and a rather beautiful piece of work in itself, reminiscent in its way of Mike Figgis’ four-screen Timecode or the celebrated multi-roomed HBO promo video Voyeur.

Aitor Gametxo’s visual exposition of Griffith’s artistry is an object lesson in understanding how some silent films (indeed other films) work. It is one of a growing number of video essays to be found online, particularly on the Vimeo site, which film scholar Catherine Grant, of the Film Studies for Free blog, has been gathering together under the Audiovisualcy channel. Such essays analyse film texts in video form, making their arguments by illustrations from the films themselves, in a variety of often highly creative ways. What is noticeable is that none of the essays she has uncovered so far, with the one exception of Variation: The Sunbeam, David W. Griffith, 1912, is devoted to a silent film. I’ve gone looking for examples and not found them. Why is this? Are silent films insufficiently understood as being a part of film studies? Do the films not interest students and lecturers as much as they might? Do they lack the sense of cool that may come from deconstructing the cinema of today?

Or will the reimagining of Sunbeam help inspire further such investigations into early film form and strategies?

Parlons cinéma

Maurice Gianati speaking on Alice Guy at the Cinémathèque Française

How’s your French? Regular Bioscopist Frank Kessler has kind sent me a listing of video on silent cinema and pre-cinema subjects which are available on the Cinémathèque Française website as part of its ‘Parlons cinéma‘ series. This is a series of videos (all in French) recording talks, conferences, debates, interviews and such like held at the Cinémathèque. They are knowledgeable and well-presented, with clips and PowerPoint slides interspersed among the talking heads.

This is list of some of the talks that fall within our area, covering such subjects as the Phantasmagoria, Alice Guy, Emile Reynaud, the phonograph in France, and introductions to Sergei Eisenstein and Laurel and Hardy:

From the little I’ve sampled, these are people who take their cinema seriously, and who can say that they’ve really tried cinema until they’ve tried it in French?

Aller explorer.

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