Continuing with the subject of British women filmmakers of the silent era, one remarkable name – literally – is Jackeydawra Melford. She was almost but not quite the first first women to direct a fiction film in Britain (that honour usually goes to Ethyle Batley). She produced and performed in The Herncrake Witch (1912), The Land of Nursery Rhymes (1912) and The Inn on the Heath (1914), the latter of which she also scripted and directed. None is known to survive. [Update (December 2011): a copy of at least part of The Herncrake Witch exists – see comments]
She was the daughter of actor and author Mark Melford (c.1851-1914), who towards the end of his stage career turned to film production. His daughter Jackeydawra was born around 1890 (I haven’t been able to find a birth record), possibly getting her extraordinary name from a comedy opera Jackeydora, or The Last Witch, which toured Britain in 1890. Her name seems to be written differently in every source: Jakidawdra, Jackeydawra, Jackeydora, Jackiedora. She acted in her father’s stage productions from a young age, sometimes billed just under first name. She married Wallace Colegate in London in 1915, and then slips out of history. But we have the above picture of her which accompanied this short profile from The Cinema, 19 March 1913, p. 37:
This young lady, but just out of her teens, is the only daughter of Mark Melford, and, developing an ambition to master the mysteries of the camera, she has acquired that technical knowledge of the art of film-making that, coupled with her artistic gifts in dress, colour, light, &c., has rendered her an invaluable assistant to her able chief. Her clear-cut features and pathetic face are indispensable to the pictures, and her experience of acting from an early age has given her that ease, repose, grace, and power of expression so necessary to ensure good results in this department of her profession.
Miss Jackeydawra Melford has played all the principal parts in her father’s plays and sketches throughout the United Kingdom, and will prove an invaluable addition to the acting staff of this enterprising firm – nay, more, Miss Melford is so admirably adapted to picture work that she will, we think, make a name in the cinema world as she has upon the stage, and Jackeydawra will become a household word.
How much might we want to pursue someone none of whose films are known to survive? Or is the story of lost films and those who made them a special kind of history? Who needs films to write film history anyway?
Alas, having posted items on the British Pathe newsreel site telling people about the free downloads (with lots of silent material, including some fiction films), the service has changed. The agreement the company had with the Lottery Fund was that it would make its collection freely available online for three years, and then might charge. Well, it’s been a bit more than three years, and the charging has been brought in. It is no longer possible to download low resolution copies for free. Instead you are offered high resolution (512Kb/per sec) copies which can be downloaded for £25 (plus VAT). You can still search the database and view the preview stills for free, but the free downloads have gone.
But do not despair! Because the British Pathe films are also available from ITN Source, ITN currently having the rights to manage British Pathe footage sales. And there, if you go to the Advanced Search option, and select British Pathe from the Collection drop-down menu, you get access to the entire library with free video streams (but not downloads). How long this situation will continue, I’ve no idea, but for now it’s all there to view from ITN – but not to keep.
I am poorer but richer. I have forked out for Antonia Lant’s Red Velvet Seat: Women’s Writing on the First Fifty Years of Cinema, as already promoted here. It is full of riches. The notes alone are a map to a marvellous world, with a host of tempting pathways down which to travel.
There’s so much that one could say about the texts in the volume, but the first thing to catch my eye was two pieces written by women who saw the film of the World Heavywieght Championship bout at Carson City, Nevada, between James Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons, on 17 March 1897. One is a short, anonymous piece, ‘The Matinee Girl’, from the New York Dramatic Mirror, 12 June 1897; the other is a longer piece by Alice Rix, ‘Alice Rix at the Veriscope’, from the San Francisco Examiner, 18 July 1897, which is about women spectators of the film.
The film was made by the Veriscope Company, which employed three cameras in parallel, housed in a wooden cabin, so that when the film ran out of one the next door camera started (as the picture above shows). The result was a seemingly continuous, single-position record, which ran for well over an hour (there were fourteen rounds). The film was 63mm wide, giving a ‘widescreen’ effect which was shaped to the size of the ring:
The film was widely shown and enthusiastically watched by audiences worldwide most of whom had never seen a boxing match (boxing was illegal in every American state except Nevada). There was clearly a number of women who went to see the film. And another of them wrote about the experience. Lady Colin Campbell, who wrote a column in The World, on 20 October 1897 wrote about seeing the film at the Aquarium in London (using the pen name Véra Tsaritsyn), under the title ‘Modern Gladiators’:
In spite of all that the humanitarians may say or the Peace Society may preach, the love of fighting will endure to the end of time … it is with satisfaction that I note the number of people who are crowding into the theatre of the Aquarium to see the cinematograph version of the great fight between Corbett and Fitzsimmons, which took place last March in Carson City, Nevada.
It certainly was an admirable idea to have got up this historic encounter for the sake of the pictures to be obtained of it. It is given to comparatively few to see a real prize-fight; but these pictures put the P.R. ‘on tap,’ as it were, for everybody. It is the real thing: the movements of the men, the surging of the crowd, the attentive ministrations of the backers and seconds, are all faithfull represented; only it is so bowdlerised by the absence of colour and noise that the most super-sensitive person, male or female, can witness every details of the fight without a qualm. Evidently the fair sex appreciate such an opportunity, for there are plenty of those tilted ‘coster-girl’ hats adorned with ostrich feathers that would delight the heart of a ‘donah,’ which are fashion’s decree for the moment, to be seen in the theatre … The five-shilling ‘pit’ (which are the lowest-priced seats for this peep-show) is soon filled up; the half-guinea stalls are not long behindhand; and the only part of the auditorium which remains partially empty is the back row of the stalls, which, for some mysterious reason, is thought to offer such exceptional advantages that the seats are priced at a guinea. The seats being exactly the same as the half-guinea abominations in clinging red velvet, and the point of view being precisely similar to that of the front row of the pit (which is only divided off by a rope), we ponder over the gullible snobbishness of the world, while a well-meaning but maddening lady bangs out ‘The Washington Post’ out of an unwilling and suffering piano in the corner. We have nearly arrived at the point of adding our shrieks of exasperation to those of the tortured instrument when the show begins and the ‘Washington Post’ is mercifully silenced.
We are first gratified with a little slice of statistics; the two miles of films on six reels, containing one hundred and sixty-five thousand pictures; the prize of 7000l. which went to the victor; the names of the referee, the timekeeper, and various other details, to which the audience listens with ill-concealed patience … [T]he first picture is thrown upon the sheet, and, having wobbled about a little to find the centre of the canvas, settles down into an admirably distinct view of the platform, with the two champions wrapped in long ulsters, each surrounded by his backers …
Here she goes on to describe the fight in great detail, commenting on the odd effect of the silence, complaining about clinching, and describing the dramatic end where the defeated Corbett in a rage tried to attack Fitzsimmons, causing mayhem in the ring.
The two miles of pictures have taken an hour and a half to pass before our eyes; but though we leave the theatre with aching heads, we regret that so little that we determine to return as soon as we can, to witness again this combat of modern gladiators.
And though here at the Bioscope we’re wary of pointing people to stuff published illegally on YouTube, you can see edited highlights of the bout from a 16mm print probably dating from the 1960s. The intertitles are an obvious modern addition, as is the use of slow motion where they repeat the shot of the knockout blow, where the original film has been damaged. About a third of the film survives today – disappointingly, the scenes showing the uproar at the end of the fight are missing.
Some of the most interesting work going on in early film studies (in fact, film studies in general) at the moment is the empirical work being done on audiences. There is an international organisation, HOMER, devoted to the subject, and Cinema Context in Amsterdam (subject of an earlier post) is one only example (albeit a spectacular one) on the work that is going on internationally. This call for papers for a conference is therefore particularly interesting:
The Glow in Their Eyes
Global perspectives on film cultures, film exhibition and cinemagoing
International Conference, Brussels, 15-16 December 2007
The aim of the conference is to review the current state of research in the history of moviegoing and film exhibition and distribution. We seek to bring together scholars dealing with these subjects from all over the globe. The growing number of case studies in local film history increases the need for comparative studies of cities, regions, and nations, while the relationship between micro and macro history(ies) is becoming a major issue for the field. The analysis of patterns and networks in film culture also calls for special attention to methodology. The conference aims to bring European perspectives on cinemagoing and film exhibition into dialogue with British, American and Australian research, and with research elsewhere in the world, in Africa, South America and Asia.
The conference aims to explore and map several crucial tensions arising from the issues of exhibition and cinemagoing, including:
- The attention given to “top down” forces of industry, commerce and ideology as against “bottom up” forces of experience, consumption and escapism;
- Contesting concepts of public and private space in media experience;
- Questions relating to cinema’s integration into to the metropolitan experience of modernity, compared to its role in the construction of community in less urbanised and rural areas.
In line with the ECREA film studies section philosophy (www.ecrea.eu) the conference approaches the phenomenon of cinema in a broad, socio-cultural sense: cinema as content, as cultural artefact, as commercial product, as lived experience, as cultural and economic institution, as a symbolic field of cultural production, and as media technology. On a methodological level, the conference is open to multiple approaches to the study of historical and contemporary cinema: film text, context, production, representation and reception. Cultural studies perspectives, historical approaches, political economy, textual analysis, audience research all find their place within this scope.
The conference also signals the completion of two major interuniversity research projects, one in Belgium (‘The Enlightened City. Screen culture between ideology, economics and experience. A study on the social role of film exhibition and film consumption in Flanders (1895-2004) in interaction with modernity and urbanisation’), and one in Australia (‘Regional Markets and Local Audiences: Case Studies in Australian Cinema Consumption, 1927-1980’). These research projects use a combination of oral histories, archival documentation, demographic data and media reportage and personal papers to examine the audience experiences and business practices of cinemas in Belgium and Australia.
The conference is supported by the International Cinema Audiences Research Group (ICARG), and will be the second international gathering of the Group’s work on the HOMER (History of moviegoing, exhibition and reception) Project, following the successful ‘Cinema in Context’ conference held in Amsterdam in April 2006. The conference will be preceded by an ICARG workshop.
Confirmed Keynote Speakers: Annette Kuhn (University of London); Richard Maltby (Flinders University)
Possible topics for papers are e.g.:
- Film exhibition, cinemagoing and film experience in relation to theories of imperialism, postcolonialism, etc.
- Long term tendencies such as the rise of cinemas in rural and urban environments, the boom of cinemagoing, the decay and subsequent closure of many (provincial and neighbourhood) cinemas and the rise of multiplexes
- Tensions between commercial and/or ‘pillarised’ film exhibition, between urban and rural areas, and between provinces and regions
- Institutional developments, geographical location and programming trends
- Audience and film experiences in urban and rural contexts
- A comparative international perspective on cinemagoing and exhibition
- Diasporic cinemagoing practices
- Representations in films of cinemagoing, film exhibition, film culture(s)
- Reflections on methods: How to reconcile/combine large scale analysis vs in depth case study? How to link up national or regional databases on exhibition and cinemagoing?
A selection of papers presented on the conference will be published in an edited volume in 2008 (publisher to be confirmed). Please submit abstracts (500 words) with short bio to Gert.willems2 [at] ua.ac.be and Liesbeth.vandevijver [at] @ugent.be before 6 July 2007. Speakers will be notified of acceptance by 31 July 2007.
Website (under construction): www.cinemagoingconference.ugent.be
Following on from yesterday’s post on women silent filmmakers in Britain, today I came across Red Velvet Seat: Women’s Writings on the First Fifty Years Of Cinema, edited by Antonia Lant and Ingrid Periz. I really should have noted it before now. It is an excellent, huge (872 pages) compilation of contemporary texts by women on film in the first half of the twentieth century. These come from women filmmakers, actresses, social reformers, journalists, critics, sociologists, poets, and spectators, many from the silent period.
The texts are divided into sections, which demonstrate the range: Seeing or Being Seen; Touring the Audience; Why We Go to the Movies; The Spectatrix; Film Aesthetics and the Other Arts; Futurology; Captive Minds; Enlightment without Tears; Means of Control; Naming the Onject; Reviewing; The Star; Film as the National Barometer; In the Shadow of War; The Limits of Criticism; A Job for Whom?; The Actress and Adventuress; The Screenwriter; The Director; Working in the Autiorium.
Among the more familar names are Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Dorothy Richardson, C.A. Lejeune, Iris Barry, Lotte Reiniger, Betty Balfour, Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian Gish, H.D., Maya Deren, Marie Stopes, Anita Loos, Germaine Dulac, Rebecca West, Dilys Powell, Zelda Fitzgerald, Winifred Holtby and Elizabeth Bowen. What is so impressive, apart from the range of writers and themes, is the choice of some little-known yet hugely interesting rarities alongside the expected ‘classics’. How did they find the 1918 piece by Marie Stopes on the purpose on cinema in a Tokyo journal? There are two pieces by female spectators of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons boxing film of 1897. There are many riches here for anyone interested in the first decades of cinema, quite apart from the special emphasis on women’s roles in cinema and women’s view of the medium.
It’s a real treasure trove.
I have been adding texts of my talks, essays, filmographies and other work on to my personal website, www.lukemckernan.com, where I am free to do so. Do take a look at the Publications, Talks, Shows and Research sections for assorted interests of mine in the worlds of early and silent cinema, which I hope may be of use to others.
The latest text to go up is Women Silent Filmmakers in Britain. This is a filmography of films directed, shot, produced, scripted or edited by women in Britain in the silent era – a full filmography in each case, not just the handful of films that survive. It’s something that I first put together some time in the late 1990s, and it’s still very much a work in progress, so any comments, corrections or additions (especially new names) will be most welcome. Among the names listed are scriptwriters Muriel Alleyne, Lydia Hayward, Alma Reville and Blanche McIntosh; directors Ethyle Batley, Frances E. Grant, Dinah Shurey, and Jakidawdra Melford; camera operators Jessica Borthwick and Mrs Aubrey Le Blond; scientific filmmaker Mrs D.H. Scott, editor Adeline Culley, executive Ada Aline Urban, and many more.
It’s an area ripe for more research. British silent cinema itself is still an undervalued and neglected field, and the significant role of women in film production at that time is scarcely known. A pioneering piece of writing is Katherine Newey’s essay ‘Women and Early British Film’ in Linda Fitzsimmons and Sarah Street (eds.), Moving Performance (Trowbridge: Flicks Books, 2000). However, there is much new activity in the field, including an ongoing ‘Women in Silent Britain’ project which was discussed at the recent British Silent Cinema Festival. More news on this work as and when we get it. I’ll also be posting pieces on individual women filmmakers (and not just British) in the future.
(By the way, the image at the top of this post comes from a 1911 booklet, The Golden Book of Motion Photography, advertising the use of home movie cameras. It comes from Barry Anthony’s The Kinora: Motion Pictures for the Home 1896-1914).
There’s a new book by Brian Clegg, The Man Who Stopped Time: The Illuminating Story of Eadweard Muybridge – Father of the Motion Picture, Pioneer of Photography, Murderer, published by National Academy Press. It’s time we had a good, popular, up-to-date account of Muybridge’s achievements, and Clegg’s book seems to fit the bill. Read the positive review by Stephen Herbert on his Muybridge site, or hear from the author himself via the Popular Science site:
And what a story it is! A passionately-driven man struggling against the odds; dire treachery and shocking betrayal; a cast of larger-than-life characters set against a backdrop of San Francisco and the Far West in its most turbulent and dangerous era; a profusion of technical and artistic advances and discoveries, one hotly following on another; the nervous intensity of two spectacular courtroom dramas (one pitting Muybridge against the richest man in the West and staring ruin in the face, the other sees him fighting for his life) … and for the opening act, a foul murder on a dark and stormy night …
It’s all true.
Some while ago I posted an item on the British Pathe website, concentrating on the silent fiction films that unexpectedly can be found there. Now here comes the follow-up post, on the newsreels and other non-fiction films to be found there.
In 2002 British Pathe, owners of the Pathé newsreel library, put up the whole of its collection, thanks to a grant from the New Opportunities Fund‘s NOF-Digitise programme. It was a controversial decision, because a commercial company was being given public money to do what some felt the company might have done for itself, but others welcomed a new kind of public-private initiative. The result for the public was 3,500 hours of newsreel footage from 1896 to 1970, available for free as low resolution downloads. Later 12,000,000 still images were added, key frames generated as part of the digitisation process. It was, and remains, one of the most remarkable resources on the net, and a major source for those interested in silent film.
Charles Pathé established the Société Pathé Frères, for the manufacture of phonographs and cinematographs, in 1896. A British agency was formed in 1902, and its first newsreel (which was the first in Britain), Pathé’s Animated Gazette, was launched in June 1910. This soon became Pathé Gazette, a name it retained until 1946, when it was renamed Pathé News, which continued until 1970. These newsreels were issued twice a week, every week, in British cinemas, and were a standard feature of the cinema programme in silent and sound eras.
Pathé also issued other films. It created the cinemagazine Pathé Pictorial in 1918, which ran until 1969. Eve’s Film Review, a cinemagazine for women, was established in 1921 and ran to 1933, while Pathétone Weekly ran 1930-1941. There were other film series and one-off documentaries.
All of this and more is on the site. Pathé were distributors of others’ films, some of which turn up unexpectedly on the site. For example, there are some of the delightful Secrets of Nature natural history films made by Percy Smith in the 1920s. There are also actuality films from before 1910 which Pathé seems to have picked up along the way, though not all of them are Pathé productions by any means – for example, assorted films from the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.
For the silent period, researchers should note that the collection is not complete. For the First World War and before (what British Pathe calls Old Negatives) the surviving archive is patchy, and the cataloguing records less certain with dates. For the 1920s, the record is substantially complete – indeed, there is unissued and unused material as well as the standard newsreels. These of course show events great and small throughout the decade, with an emphasis on sport, celebrity, spectacle and human interest. Look out in particular for the women’s magazine Eve’s Film Review, a delightful series with an emphasis on “fashion, fun and fancy”. For silent film fans, there are newsreels of Chaplin, Valentino, Pickford, Fairbanks etc. There are all sorts of surprise film history discoveries to be made, such as a Pathé Pictorial on feature film production in Japan in the 1920s.
You can find the British Pathe collection (the company doesn’t use the accent on the e) at other places online. British Pathe is now managed by ITN Source, one of the world’s major footage libraries, and all of its films can be downloaded from that site in the same manner. You can also find many of them on the British Universities Newsreel Database, which is a database of all British newsreels and has substantial information about each of the Pathé newsreels, the people who worked for them, and histories of newsreels and cinemagazines in Britain in the silent and sound eras.
There are also versions of the Pathe delivery for schools – Beyond Pathe, Teaching & Learning with the British Pathe Archive, and Shapes of Time.
It’s a hugely important resource, and it’s all still free, though it’s now beyond the date British Pathe agreed with the New Opportunities Fund to keep the collection freely available to all. Long may it continue to be so.
Got £90,000 spare? Charlie Chaplin’s Bell & Howell camera is being auctioned by Christies in London on 25 July, and is expected to fetch a price between £70,000 and £90,000. The silent Bell & Howell 2709 model camera was bought by Chaplin in 1918. It was used by Chaplin throughout the 1920s (The Kid, The Gold Rush, The Circus etc) and into the 1903s for City Lights and Modern Times. It continued in use up to the 1950s for animation work and shooting titles. It’s part of a motion picture equipment sale, and will be on view at Christies’ showrooms from 21 July.