Victorians in motion

VISAWUS, the Victorian Interdisciplinary Studies Association of the Western United States is holding its annual meeting 25-27 October 2007 in Boulder, Colorado, USA. The theme of the meeting this year is “Victorians in Motion”, and there is a call for papers whose broad range of topics includes not just travel and transportation but “vicarious motion: moving panoramas and other technologies that simulated travel”, “representing mobility” and “performative motion”, each of which seem to offer promise to someone interested in the motion picture in all its many forms in the nineteenth century. Proposals are invited for twenty-minute papers, deadline 8 May 2007.

Reel Baseball

Reel Baseball

Coming soon from Kino Video is a real labour of love – Reel Baseball, a compilation of baseball films from the silent era. The 2-DVD set (Region 1) features mostly fiction films of baseball from 1896 to 1926. The set includes two features: The Busher (1919), featuring Charles Ray, Colleen Moore, and John Gilbert; and Headin’ Home (1920), starring baseball’s greatest, Babe Ruth. The eleven shorts include Casey at the Bat or The Fate of a “Rotten” Umpire (1899), How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game (1906), John Bunny in Hearts and Diamonds (1914), a Felix the Cat cartoon, Felix Saves the Day (1922), and a 1922 Phonofilm sound short of the evergreen poem Casey at the Bat, recited by DeWolf Hopper. The DVD is released on 3 April, and promises to be a real gem (but what a shame all they had room for on the actuality side of things was a single minute-long Kinograms newsreel of Babe Ruth).

Kansas Silent Film Festival

The 2007 Kansas Silent Film Festival takes place 23-24 February 2007 at the White Concert Hall on the campus of Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas. The event features Denise Morrison, film commentator; Dr Marvin Faulwell and Greg Foreman, organ accompanists, with Bob Keckeisen, percussion, and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Films featured include Harry Langdon’s The Strong Man (1926), Mary Pickford in Rosita (1923), Richard Barthelmess in Tol’able David (1921), and Chicago (1927), with Phyllis Haver.

Ancestors on board

An important new resource has been released by the UK’s National Archives and Ancestors on Board is a record of everyone who sailed out of a British port (including all Ireland to 1921) on long-distance voyages from 1890 to 1960, taken from the records of the Board of Trade. The first tranche of data released covers 1890-1899, and there is obviously material there of interest to those interested in the movement of the first filmmakers. For example, it is possible to trace the trans-Atlantic travels of film businessmen, and cameramen setting out to film the Anglo-Boer War in 1899. The name search is free, but there is a charge for viewing images of the ships’ lists or transcripts (it can be a bit pricey unless the person you are searching for had a distinctive surname).

The growing number of online family history resources offer great opportunities for the film historian seeking out data on individuals. Other importance sources include FreeBMD (UK births, marriages and deaths, largely complete for 1837-1900, all freely available) , (the world’s leading geneaology source, a paid for service but with free trial periods available), (another form of, with emphasis on American states), (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ vast geneaological database, to be used with caution), and Ellis Island Records (a free service with records of all those arriving at New York’s Ellis Island 1892-1924).

Cinematographing in the Southern Seas

Trawling through The Bioscope (see previous post) one is always coming across fascinating snippets of news stories, any one of which would be well worth pursuing to find out what truth lies behind them. Here’s a snippet from the issue of 29 April 1909, p. 21.


Difficulties of an Expedition to Southern Seas

Mr Leopold Sutto, the representative in Australia of Messrs. Pathé Frères, London and Paris, is on his way back to Paris with a fine batch of negatives, the result of an expedition to the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and other South Sea Islands. Speaking to an Australian Press representative, Mr. Sotto said:

We only took five pictures in all, and it was terrible work. The public thinks a picture is easily taken. We have to think out every detail; but I venture to say that these five pictures will be found to be of unique interest. In the Solomons we got up an attack of the natives on a house which all of us gallantly defended. I even induced Mr Jack London, the celebrated writer, to assist in the defence.

Mr Sutto described the hardships he and his party underwent in the Solomons. People, he said, who stay at home can have no idea of the difficulties which an expedition such as ours had to encounter. Remember, we had first of all to persuade the Solomon Islanders, who are practically savages, that we did not mean to harm them, and this was no easy task. It was the first time in the history of the cinematograph that such an expedition had been attempted. We were amongst cannibals yet we went further than any white man had been before. We left the memorial erected in memory of the members of the Australiasian expdition, who were massacred some years ago, a long way behind. The worst was that no good road exists, and we had to walk for days in the rivers. The banks were so thickly covered with trees that they were impassable.

Was Jack London associated with the productions, or even filmed? At least one of the films from the expedition survives, PÊCHE À LA DYNAMITE DANS LES ÎLES SALOMON, held in the BFI National Archive. As the title indicates, it shows Solomon Islanders fishing with the less-than-traditional means of dynamite (though it is an European who throws the dynamite).

The Bioscope


More on the word Bioscope.

The Bioscope was a British film trade journal, published weekly between September 1908 and May 1932. It provided news on the activities of the British film production, distribution and exhibition busineses, ‘reviewed’ new films (for the early years these are little more than plot descriptions supplied by film companies), reported on exhibition around the country, and published practical articles and interviews. Thanks to the complete run held at the British Film Institute library, The Bioscope has given huge impetus to the study of silent British film, being cited in countless books and articles, most notably in Rachael Low’s The History of the British Film series. Also published under the Bioscope name were the Bioscope Annual and Trades Directory (from 1910 onwards) and individual guides such as The Modern Bioscope Operator (1910). It was originally published by Ganes Ltd.

Early Hitchcock

Hitchcock Collection

Alfred Hitchcock was an exceptional silent filmmaker before he moved to sound (and one could argue he remained a pre-eminent silent filmmaker throughout his career). This Region 2 DVD set of early Hitchcock films has just been released, containing two of the ten silent features that he made (if you include the silent version of Blackmail). The nine-DVD set features the silents The Ring and The Manxman, and the sound films Blackmail, Champagne, Murder, Rich and Strange, The Skin Game and Number Seventeen. The extras include a scene from the silent version of Blackmail, an alternative ending to Murder, archive footage of actress Anny Ondra, and a 50-minute documentary Hitchcock’s Early Works.

Bird’s Eye View

The Bird’s Eye View film festival “showcases the very best work from women filmmakers” and takes place at London’s NFT, Barbican and ICA from 8th -14th March. Below is the programme description from the festival web site:


Two programmes of short silent films made by women directors from early pioneers to contemporary artists taking place at the Barbican on Sunday 11th March and NFT as part of the Optronica Festival on Sunday 18th March with specially composed & original soundtracks performed live by cutting-edge women musicians including ERROLLYN WALLEN, SEAMING TO, JOANNA MCGREGOR and RITA RAY. Expect a variety of styles and genres for both ears and eyes: innovative and inspirational.

SOUNDS AND SILENTS 1 Sunday 11th March, 3PM, Barbican 1.


Made by one of the first female directors, Germaine Dulac, in the 1920’s, The Smiling Madame Beudet is lauded as the first feminist film ever made. It is the story of an intelligent woman trapped in a loveless marriage. Her husband is used to playing a stupid practical joke in which he puts an empty revolver to his head and threatens to shoot himself. One day, while the husband is away, she puts bullets in the revolver. However, she is stricken with remorse and tries to retrieve the bullets the next morning. Her husband gets to the revolver first only this time he points the revolver at her.

Specially commissioned soundtracks performed live by Errolyn Wallen.


One of the most influential works in American experimental cinema. A non-narrative work, it has been identified as a key example of the “trance film,” in which a protagonist appears in a dreamlike state, and where the camera conveys his or her subjective focus. The central figure in Meshes of the Afternoon, played by Deren, is attuned to her unconscious mind and caught in a web of dream events that spill over into reality. Symbolic objects recur throughout the film; events are open-ended and interrupted. Deren explained that she wanted “to put on film the feeling which a human being experiences about an incident, rather than to record the incident accurately.”

Specially commissioned soundtracks performed live by Seaming To.

SOUND AND SILENTS 2 Sunday 18th March, 5:30PM, NFT OPTRONICA Festival.

Daisy Doodad’s Dial (UK 1914, 6’) – Florence Turner
Brilliantly entertaining British comedy, featuring Turner herself as rubber-faced Daisy.

Jetsam (UK 2002, 2’ 30”) – Sonia Bridge
A fascinating high-speed experimental short celebrating the everyday.

Sap (UK 2002, 8’) – Hyun-Joo Kim
Animation in the style of a Korean folk tale that makes use of delicate oil-on-glass animation techniques.

Suspense (USA 1913, 8’) – Lois Weber and Philip Smalley
Innovative early thriller using groundbreaking split-screen techniques.

Missing People (UK 2003, 6’ 30”) – Kathy Hinde
A hypnotic film from one of Joanna Macgregor’s most frequent collaborators.

The Grasshopper and the Ant (UK 1954, 11’) – Lotte Reiniger
Remarkable shadow-puppet animation from the first filmmaker, male or female, to direct a full-length animated feature film.

Lights and shades on the South Bank

The British Film Institute has rebranded its exhibition operations on London’s South Bank as BFI South Bank. The National Film Theatre is still there, in the guise of the three cinemas NFT 1, 2 and 3, but there is a new entrance adjacent to the National Theatre, and major new space occupying part of what was previously the Museum of the Moving Image. At the centre of this new space is the Mediatheque, and the March/April programme for BFI South Bank indicates some of the programming that will be available for free via its ‘viewing stations’.

The films, all from the BFI National Archive, include some eye-catching silent material. The full list of Mediatheque titles has yet to be published, but the programme promises us such gems as A Kiss in the Tunnel (1899), Bradford Coronation Procession (1902), Pimple’s Battle of Waterloo (1913) (a hilarious Pythonesque spoof of the British and Colonial film The Battle of the Waterloo) and Anna May Wong in E.A. Dupont’s marvellous Piccadilly (1929). But it is in the ‘Pandora’s Box’ section that the real gems may be found. Here are some of the hidden favourites of the Archive. They include the mindboggling Lights and Shades on the Bostock Circus Farm (1911), a conventional ‘interest’ film about a circus which suddenly veers into high drama when the circus’ favourite elephant dies, and The Scarlet Woman (1924), a lurid amateur-made satire of the Catholic church starring Evelyn Waugh and Elsa Lanchester, before either became famous. The programme gets published online on 14 March.


The British Comparative Literature Association and the Centre for Film Studies, University of Essex are organising a conference on 24-25 March 2007 entitled ‘Cinematicity’ 1895: Before and After. The themes of the conference are the history of pre- and early film, the previsions of cinema as both technology and cultural form, and early cinema’s influence on twentieth-century art, literature and culture. The conference is to be held at the University of Essex, Colchester, and the keynote speakers are Ian Christie, Tom Gunning and Marina Warner. A registration form is now available, with programme to follow.