More silent film blogs

An update on some of the silent film blogs out there. Not a great many.

Cartoons on Films ( (mostly silent animation)

The Crowd Roars ( (“from the earliest silents to the dawn of television”)

Edna’s Place ( (Edna Purviance, Chaplin and other subjects)

Every Little Breeze ( (Louise Brooks et al)

Ferdinand von Galizien ( (silent film reviews, warmly recommended)

Louise Brooks ( (anything and everything on the 1920s screen icon)

Silent Films Fans’ Journal ( (what it says on the film can)

And one for screen entertainments of an earlier age:

The Magic Lantern Show (

Ten essential silents

Kevin Brownlow’s “Silents Please” article, published today in The Times, concludes with a list of “ten essential silents” (with his comments):

The Birth of a Nation, 1915 The most influential and controversial of all silents

Broken Blossoms, 1919 Poetry on the screen

The Phantom of the Opera, 1925 Inspired hokum

Variety, 1926 Dazzling sex drama set among trapeze artists

Flesh and the Devil, 1927 Garbo and Gilbert fell in love on this picture – and it shows

Metropolis, 1927 The silliest great film yet made

Napoléon, 1927 The most technically innovative film yet made

Sunrise, 1927 Masterly use of the camera

The Crowd, 1928 A young couple’s fight against poverty

The Wind, 1928 Lillian Gish enduring relentless Texan storms

Those are Kevin’s choices. These are mine:

Satan’s Merry Frolics (Les Quatres Cents Farces du Diable), 1906 Georges Melies’ most dazzling trick film

A Corner in Wheat, 1909 D.W. Griffith’s finest

The Battle of the Somme, 1916 The pity of war

The Rink, 1916 Charlie Chaplin, poetry in motion

Our Hospitality, 1923 Buster Keaton in sweetly nostalgic mood

An Italian Straw Hat (Un Chapeau de Paille d’Italie), 1927 The funniest silent of them all

Hindle Wakes, 1927 Stunning slice of Northern life

The Manxman, 1929 Underrated Hitchcock, technically flawless

Umarete Wa Mita Keredo… (I was Born But…), 1932 Ozu’s wry, sympathetic view of childhood

Tianming (Daybreak), 1933 Chinese emotional masterpiece

Brownlow and the Kelly Gang

There’s a fine article by Kevin Brownlow in today’s edition of The Times, on silent films. It’s called ‘Silents Please‘ and it’s a distillation of Brownlow’s thoughts and feelings about the pre-eminent entertainment medium that is silent film. It focuses more on the technical innovations than the stars, and it is a great piece for waving in front of sceptics to show they why silent films matter. It should certainly make a convert or two.

The piece has been written to coincide with the Silent Film and Live Music series running at the Barbican in London, which today is screening the surviving footage (some 20 minutes) of the world’s first fiction feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), made in Australia, with live piano accompaniment by John Sweeney. Also showing is The Life of John Lee: The Man They Could Not Hang (Australia 1921).

The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded


The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded is new publication from Amsterdam University Press, edited by Wanda Strauven. Here’s some blurb:

Twenty years ago, Tom Gunning and André Gaudreault introduced the concept of attraction to define the quintessence of the earliest films made between 1895 and 1906. As ‘cinema of attractions’ this concept has become widely adopted, even outside the field of early cinema. Ranging from the films of the Lumière brothers to The Matrix by Andy and Larry Wachowski, from trains rushing into the audience to bullet time effects, the ‘cinema of attractions’ is a cinema that shocks, astonishes and directly addresses the film spectator.

This anthology traces the history of the ‘cinema of attractions,’ reconstructs its conception and questions its significance for early cinema, avant-garde cinema, (New) Hollywood cinema, up to recent media applications such as virtual reality and computer games. With contributions by Christa Blümlinger, Warren Buckland, Scott Bukatman, Donald Crafton, Nicolas Dulac, Thomas Elsaesser, André Gaudreault, Laurent Guido, Tom Gunning, Malte Hagener, Pierre-Emmanuel Jaques, Charlie Keil, Frank Kessler, Germain Lacasse, Alison McMahan, Charles Musser, Viva Paci, Eivind Røssaak, Vivian Sobchack, Wanda Strauven, Dick Tomasovic.

Unknown Behind the Lens

Having recently spent a day digging through the historic motion picture records of the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the National Archives, I was constantly coming across the name of George R. Goergens. Mr. Goergens began his career as a still photographer and then transitioned into the position of motion picture cameraman when the Moton Picture Division began in 1914. I have found over 80 titles in existence that he lensed from 1914 through 1936. He shot every type of film: industrial, training, and educational films for the Department of Agriculture Federal Extension Service. With titles such as Cotton Manufacturing (1919), Last Days of the Prairie Dog (1920), Dynamite-Concentrated Power (1926), Highways of Peru (1930), his experience in the area of non-fiction film was unparalleled. He was severely injured at least twice in his career, once while filming an explosion at a grain elevator, and once in a biplane crash about the time of WWI. He was not only an accomplished cameraman, but he also held a patent for a high speed motion picture camera. He produced some animation sequences as well as developed time lapse work to show plant and germ growth. He retired in the mid 1940s, and passed away in 1952. George Goergens is another of the pioneering cameramen who while time has long since forgotten, shows us the film industry was developed in many ways, by many people, some famous, some not, but all left their mark.

Silent Shakespeare


A first of some kind has been announced by the Shakespeare’s Globe theatre on London’s South Bank. On 23 April (Shakespeare’s birthday), the white walls of the Globe will be effectively converted into screens, as a 45-minute programme of silent Shakespeare titles from the BFI National Archive will be projected on the outside of the theatre. The films, already known through the BFI/Milestone Silent Shakespeare DVD, will be accompanied by Laura Rossi and Fourth Dimension string quartet – Rossi composed the score for the DVD. The screenings take place at 7.00 and 8.00 pm.

How to Run a Picture Theatre – part 3

More from How to Run a Picture Theatre (1910) [correction – probably 1912]. Having chosen the building and taken care of the outside appearance, we turn to the interior and the first places to be seen by the prospective customer – the lobby and waiting room. The comments on the lobby indicate how many drab cinemas (usually shop or other such conversions) there still were, with bright lights outside but dismal within:

The Lobby or Entrance Hall. A dingy lobby betokens in the minds of many a poor entertainment. How often the mistake is made that all the public expect for outside appearance is a blaze of light.

Nothing short of 18ft. should be devoted to the lobby. Nor is this waste of space, for it enables an advertising display to be made to advantage, and the passers-by who stop to read the program boards or day bill are well against the pay-box before they realise that their curiosity has already got them almost inside the theatre.

The flooring should be of tiles or cement. A board flooring is an abomination suggestive of hasty construction and a fleeting stay …

Greater variety of material is permitted in walls and ceilings. As a general thing, plaster casting is to be preferred to imitation marble. The last may be sparingly used in the large lobbies, but is almost too heavy to be in keeping with the style of performance. A plaster cast lobby, is tastefully done, finished in white and gold, and kept always fresh by the use of paint and gold leaf is much to be preferred.

White and gold is advocated as a general colour scheme …

A waiting room is considered a necessity on account of the prevalent system of the ‘continuous show’, whereby the same programme of an hour or so would be repeated eight or more times per day, with people able to come in at any time, and often to stay as long as they liked. This contrasted with a more theatre-based policy of two or three longer shows per day with set opening hours, which would become the model a few years later.

The Waiting Room or Lobby Adjunct. … A waiting room has another advantage which should be seriously considered by the exhibitor. With the present system of continuous performance and of allowing anyone to enter or leave the auditorium while a picture is on the screen, you discourage many devotees of motion pictures who, deeply interested in a scene, have either to move to allow someone to pass in front of them or to have some newcomer making the view while looking for a seat, or a lady removing her hat as slowly as possible, and at this most pathetic moment. More than one spectator has expressed disgust when reading a sub-title, to have someone pass in front of him and shut off the view, and the moment he cannot read the sub-title on the screen, he loses the thread of the story and becomes dissatisfied with the show.

… A waiting or ante-room would be a genuine remedy to this drawback …

Product placement


This photograph shows Joseph De Frenes, cameraman for the Charles Urban Trading Company, filming in Africa around 1908. De Frenes is using a hand-cranked Urban Bioscope camera, and the camera case with the product’s name is placed prominently in this publicity photograph for use in the company’s catalogues and promotional literature. De Frenes was an Austrian who filmed with three of the most notable creators of travel films in the early period of cinema: Burton Holmes, Lyman Howe and Charles Urban. He was Urban’s head cameraman when they made the celebrated Kinemacolor film of the 1911 Delhi Durbar ceremonies. After the First World War he established his own film business, which ran successfully for decades.

American Memory

Among the very best resources on the web is the Library of Congress’ American Memory site. The purpose of American memory is to provide “free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience”. Its Motion Pictures section is a marvellous example of this, offering users access to a wide range of predominantly early cinema subjects, all available for viewing and downloading, in MPEG, QuickTime and RealMedia formats.

Each collection is usefully contextualised and indexed, and there are impeccable cataloguing records. The collections with silent film material (both fiction and non-fiction, but chiefly the latter) are:

Needless to say, this is all non-copyright material, one of the consequences of which being that eBay is full of DVDs of early film materials which are simply repackaged downloads from this site.

How to Run a Picture Theatre – part 2

More from How to Run a Picture Theatre, the guide to setting up your own cinema, published in 1910 [correction – probably 1912]. Having chosen our site, we now have to consider the building:

The Building and its Fittings. If your venture is to be a “converted” building, either shop premises, a public hall, or a chapel, make certain that the alterations planned are practicable before you sign a lease …

… In the early days of the picture theatre, the mistake was frequently made by those who should have known better, of thinking that anything was good enough for such a place, with the result that ofttimes endless expense had to be incurred after it was opened, to the dislocation of business and irreparable financial loss to the proprietors.

Strange to say, from the very start a certain type of construction has been adopted and has been followed by nearly everyone; a white exterior, a long hall with very little light, bad ventilation and no gallery, a waste of space for a lobby, open to the winds and decorated with a profusion of plaster reliefs and white and gold paints.

The “converted” is now almost a thing of the past. The successful picture theatre of to-day must not only be especially arranged for the purpose, but it must present as pleasing an architectural and decorative aspect as it is possible to make …