Restoring Norman Studios

The Flying Ace

A project is underway to restore the Norman Studios in Jacksonville, Florida, as the Jacksonville Silent Film Museum at Norman Studios. The Norman Studios, run by Richard Norman, are most notable in silent film history for being where a number of feature films and shorts with all-black cast and crews were made during the 1920s. Only one title now survives, The Flying Ace (1926).

The studio complex still remains. A project to restore it begins next month and is due for completion in 2008. There’s background history on filming at Norman Studios and Jacksonville in general on the planned museum’s website, plus some terrific posters. The history of early black cinema has been much investigated of late, particularly the work of Oscar Micheaux, and the handful of surviving films given public screenings. The key source for finding out more is Pearl Bowser, Jane Gaines and Charles Musser’s Oscar Micheaux and His Circle: African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era (2001).

Paul Merton on tour

Paul Merton

[Note: This is the 2008 tour – for the 2009 tour dates, click here]

These are the dates I’ve traced for Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns show, which will be touring the country later this year when his book Silent Comedy is published. The links are to booking details at each of the venues. I’ll add more if I find them (there are 22 dates in all). Neil Brand will be providing the piano accompaniment.

10 November – Warwick Arts Centre
11 November – The Anvil, Basingstoke
13 November – Cambridge Corn Exchange
14 November – St David’s Hall, Cardiff
16 November – Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells
17 November – Cheltenham Town Hall
18 November – Hackney Empire, London
20 November – The Royal Centre, Nottingham
21 November – Bournemouth International Centre
23 November – St George’s Hall, Bradford
24 November – Buxton Opera House
25 November – The Hexagon, Reading
27 November – Plymouth Pavilions
28 November – Royal and Derngate, Northampton
30 November – De Montfort Hall, Loughborough
1 December – The Lowry, Salford
2 December – Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
3 December – Villa Marina, Douglas, Isle of Man
5 December – Portsmouth Guidhall
7 December – Perth Theatre and Concert Hall
8 December – Caird Hall, Dundee
9 December – Aberdeen Music Hall

As the blurb says, “The funniest silent comedians of the 1920’s on a big, big screen with live accompaniment from the wonderful Neil Brand. Paul introduces a selection of clips from stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Roscoe Arbuckle and Charley Chase. Finishing fantastically with a complete showing of a silent comedy masterpiece. Guaranteed to rock the house with laughter.”

Update: The list of dates above is now complete. Download the promo leaflet here (PDF).

U.S. Government Enters Film Industry

The U.S. Government began its entrance into the motion picture industry as early (if not earlier) as 1908. Early on, Government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Army Signal Corps, the Bureau of Reclamation and others began their foray into this arena. In the beginning, Government offices relied on outside commercial studios for their productions, but early on they realized in order to control costs, maintain creative control and eventually set up their own distribution systems, it was in their best interests to set up their own production units.

The Department of Agriculture began producing films officially as a motion picture unit late in 1913. They had even purchased processing equipment and cameras and had the first Government motion picture lab initially hidden away in an 8 x 12 room as it had yet to be funded. In 1917 the U.S. Signal Corps began training soldiers in cinematography at Columbia University in New York. The U.S. Reclamation Service (Department of the Interior) began filming in 1908-09 using the medium to document their efforts in irrigation in the Midwest. The list goes on and on: the Bureau of War Risk Insurance , the National Forest Service, Bureau of Mines, etc. all utilized this medium in an effort to educate and inform the masses. It is a long neglected segment of film history which is well worth a new look.