Doug and Buster

The programme for the 15th Annual Buster Keaton Celebration has been announced, held as always at Iola, Kansas, 28-29 September. This year the theme is Buster Keaton & Douglas Fairbanks: “Disciples” of Teddy Rooseveldt’s Philosophy for Pursuing the Physically Strenuous Life, which sounds bracing. The full programme is on the festival site, but the main features are Keaton’s The Love Nest (1923), The Saphead (1920, which happens to be a remake of Fairbanks’ first film, The Lamb), Mooching through Georgia (1939, a Keaton sound short) and Fairbanks’ The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916), Down to Earth (1917), The Black Pirate (1926), and When the Clouds Roll By (1919). Music accompaniment will be by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Crazy Cinématographe on DVD

As promised, a little more information on Crazy Cinématographe, released this month by Edition Filmmuseum. Crazy Cinématographe is a concept centred around the programmes of touring fairground film shows in the early years of the twentieth centuy. It is a touring show, the inspiration for a conference (Travelling Cinema in Europe, 6-8 September 2007, Luxembourg), and now a DVD.

It is a 2-DVD set presenting a European “cinema of attractions” 1896-1916, such attractions including piano-playing dogs, contortionists, circus acts, trick films, serpentine dances and animated toys. It’s an odd mishmash, and it’s unlikely that all the titles were shown in fairground shows (for example, Dr John Macintyre‘s X-ray films of 1897), but it’s the spirit of the thing that counts. This is the line-up of titles:

DVD 1: Europäisches Kino der Attraktionen

* Will Evans, the Musical Eccentric GB 1899, 1′
* Anarkistens Svigermoder DK 1906, 4′
* Dansa Serpentina F 1900, 1′
* Le Roi des Dollars F 1905, 2′
* L’Homme mystérieuxF 1910, 6′
* Le Réveil de Chrysis F 1897-99, 1′
* Premier Prix de violoncelle F 1907, 3′
* Agoust Family of Jugglers GB 1898, 1′
* Les Tulipes F 1907, 4′
* Dr. Macintyre’s X-Ray Film GB 1896, 1′
* Dr. Macintyre’s X-Ray Cabinet GB 1909, 1′
* Bain des dames de la cour F 1904, 1′
* 13 The Adventures of “Wee Rob Roy” No. 1 GB 1916, 4′
* Les Kiriki, acrobates japonais F 1907, 3′
* The ? Motorist GB 1906, 3′
* Photographie d’une étoile F 1906, 2′
* Les Chiens savants F 1907, 5′
* Horrible Fin d’un concierge F 1903, 2′
* A Peace of Coal GB 1910, 3′
* Miss Harry’s femme serpent F 1911, 3′
* Bain de pieds à la moutarde F 1902, 2′
* Scène pornographique F 1909, 2′
* L’Amblystôme F 1913, 7′
* Le Barbier fin de siècle F 1896, 1′
* Lèvres collées F 1906, 2′
* The Tale of the Ark GB 1909, 6′
* Fâcheuse Méprise F 1905, 1′
* Sculpteur moderne F 1908, 6′
* Acrobati comici I 1910, 5′
* Fox terriers et rats F 1902, 1′
* Saïda a enlevé Manneken-Pis B 1913, 7′
* Au revoir et merci F 1906, 2′

DVD 2: Lokalfilme aus der Großregion Luxemburg/Trier/Saarbrücken

* Das malerische Luxemburg 1912, 6′
* Übertragung der Gebeine des Hl. Willibrord 1906, 2′
* Echternacher Springprozession 1906, 5′
* Schlussprozession Octave 1911, 3′
* Kavalkade 1905, 2′
* Blumenkorso 1906 1906, 3′
* Trauerzug für Großherzog Wilhelm IV 1912, 5′
* Eidesleistung der Großherzogin Marie-Adelheid 1912, 5′
* Marie-Adelheid im Kino 1912, 1′
* Ein Besuch in der Champagnerfabrik Mercier 1907, 9′
* Autofahrt durch Trier ca. 1903, 2′
* Domausgang zu Trier 1904, 2′
* Domausgang am Ostersonntag 1909, 3′
* Fronleichnamsprozession in Trier 1909, 3′
* Bilder aus Trier 1902-1909, 5′
* Leben und Treiben auf dem Viehmarkt 1909, 2′
* Blumenkorso 1914 1914, 3′
* Straßenszenen in Saarbrücken ca. 1908, 5′

Musical acompaniment is by John Sweeney and Günter A. Buchwald, there is audio commentary in German, English, French, Luxemburgish and Trier dialect, and an eight-page booklet written by early film scholar Martin Loiperdinger. And it’s Region 0, so all DVD players can play it. The DVD is released on June 25th. Further details from the Edition Filmmuseum site.

Edition Filmmuseum

Nathan der Weise

Edition Filmmuseum is a joint project of film archives and cultural institutions in the German-speaking part of Europe. Its intention is to publish “film works of artistic, cultural and historical value in DVD editions that both utilise the possibilities of digital media and meet the quality demands of the archival profession.” Essentially this means a set of DVDs of archive film treasures, professionally presented, which would not normally get a public release. All of the DVDs come with English subtitles (and some with other languages too).

There is a ‘silent’ strand within Edition Filmmuseum, which includes these titles:

Blade af Satans Bog / Leaves Out of the Book of Satan (Denmark 1920)
Carl Dreyer’s vision of Satan walking the earth, tempting men to do evil.

Anders als die Andern / Different from the Others (Germany 1919)
One of the first gay-themed films in cinema history, directed by Richard Oswald and starring Conrad Veidt.

Blind Husbands (USA 1919)
Erich von Stroheim’s directorial debut.

Die elf Teufel (The Eleven Devils) & König der Mittelstürmer (King of the Centre Forwards) (Germany 1927)
Two football-themed feature films, both from 1927.

Ella Bergmann-Michel: Dokumentarische Filme 1931-1933
Five documentary films by artist, photographer, and filmmaker Ella Bergmann-Michel.

Friedrich Schiller – Eine Dichterjugend (The Poet as a Young Man) (Germany 1923)
Curt Goetz’s biopic of the poet Schiller’s adolescence.

Crazy Cinématographe. Europäisches Jahrmarktkino 1896-1916
Already trailed by The Bioscope, this is a compilation of early films shown across Europe in fairgrounds. A separate post will cover its remarkable contents.

Nathan der Weise (Germany 1922)
Manfred Noa’s appeal for religious tolerance, set in 12th-century Jerusalem.

Alfred Lind: The Flying Circus & The Bear Tamer (Denmark 1912)
Two dramas directed by Alfred Lind.

And there is more (see the Danish Film Classics strand), and more releases to follow.

This is a superb initiative. Edition Filmmuseum DVDs will be available at the Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna (June 30 – July 7) and at the International Silent Film Festival Bonner Sommerkino in Bonn (August 9 – August 19), and can be ordered from the website. And the website is in English as well as German.

Cinesation 2007

The Great Lakes Cinephile Society is hosting its Cinesation festival over 27-30 September at the Lincoln Theatre in Massillon, Ohio. The festival covers silent and early sound films, and the silents advertised so far (subject to change) are:

Where the North Begins (1923)
Directed by Chester Franklin
Stars: Rin Tin Tin, Claire Adams, Walter McGrail

The Matrimaniac (1916)
Fine Arts Film Company
Stars: Douglas Fairbanks, Constance Talmadge

Soul of the Beast (1923)
Thomas H. Ince Corporation
Directed by John Griffith Wray
Stars: Madge Bellamy, Cullen Landis, Noah Beery

Rubber Tires (1927)
DeMille Pictures Corporation
Directed by Alan Hale
Stars: Bessie Love, Erwin Connelly, May Robson, Harrrison Ford

A Daughter of the Poor (1917)
Stars: Bessie Love, Max Davidson, Carmel Myers

Daughters Who Pay (1925)
Directed by George Terwilliger
Stars: Marguerite De La Motte, John Bowers, Bela Lugosi

The Golden Bed (1925)
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Stars: Rod La Rocque, Warner Baxter, Lillian Rich

The Willow Tree (1920)
Directed by Henry Otto
Stars: Viola Dana, Edward Connelly, Pell Trenton

More details as usual from the festival site.

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton

There are numerous websites out there dedicated to the leading stars of the silent era, but probably none is better than, the site of the Damfinos, the International Buster Keaton Society (The ‘Damfino’ is the name of Buster’s vessel in his 1921 short The Boat).

It is a beautifully-designed site, which is not only richly informative but filled with the look and spirit of Keaton’s work. There is news, a detailed biography, a filmography with thorough credits and synopses, a guide to books on Keaton, memorabilia for sale, and a discussion forum. There are also articles, both commissioned and reprints, again gorgeously designed (by Victoria Saint-Claire), which show the richness of Keaton studies. There is much to discover, not only about his films, but about his background in vaudeville, his family life, and in the lives of those who worked with him. And there’s a ‘step back in time’ feature which tells you what Keaton and his family were doing 100 years ago.

Of all the great comedians of the silent era, it is Keaton’s reputation that is currently at the highest. He is sometimes unfairly compared to Chaplin, to the latter’s detriment, when each worked to significantly different ends. Chaplin was the great symbol of his times, the downtrodden everyman who spoke (silently) to anyone in the cinema audience, done down by the system but aware of his individuality and the power that that represented. Keaton was the supreme ironist, in gesture, action and theme. We see our modern selves in him, battling against the indignities of an absurd world. In Chaplin we see what is past; in Keaton what endures.

Interview with the Marchioness Townshend

Gwladys, Marchioness of Townshend

Returning to the theme of British women filmmakers in the silent era, meet Gwladys, Marchioness of Townshend. The humble British film industry was more than a little flattered when the Marchioness Townshend (1884-1959), born Gwladys Ethel Gwendolen Eugénie Sutherst, later Mrs Bernard Le Strange, agreed to provide scenarios for the Clarendon Film Company. The films for which she supplied stories were Behind the Scenes, The Convent Gate, The House of Mystery and A Strong Man’s Love, all made in 1913. Sadly, none survives.

The Marchioness of Townshend was a playwright, novelist and poet, as well as a celebrated socialite. Her plays included The Story of an Actress (1914) and The Fold (1920), and her novels Married Life: The Adventures of Herbert and Mariana (1914) and The Widening Circle (1920). She wrote an autobiography, It Was – and it Wasn’t (1937) and a collection, True Ghost Stories (1936), which was still in print in the 1990s.

We can only speculate about the films with which she was involved, but her opinions are interesting. This interview with her, from The Bioscope in July 1914, hints at someone who had possibly turned to the lowly cinema through frustration at not getting her plays produced on the stage, but she was alert to the potential of the medium, and claims to have been inspired by early films of waves breaking on a sea coast, no less. Whatever her actual abilities, it was unusual at this time for a film scenarist to be given any credit at all, and it indicates a new significance which was being given to the craft.

In view of the great interest aroused by the announcement of three new dramas by the Marchioness Townshend, to be shown to the Trade next Friday, we begged her ladyship to favour our readers with a few of her ideas on the subject of writing for the film, and were kindly granted an interview at the offices of the Clarendon Film Company, where Lord and Lady Townshend had called to inspect the recently completed films. Lady Townshend’s views are of partiular interest, not only on account of the great success achieved by “The Convent Gate,” “The House of Mystery,” and “A Strong Man’s Love,” but by reason of the cordial reception given to the one act play now running at the Coliseum.

In answer to our question as to what first turned her thoughts to writing for the cinematograph, Lady Townshend said she had been deeply interested in moving pictures ever since her childhood, when she first saw a picture at the Palace Theatre of waves breaking on the sea-shore.

“As far as I can remember,” said Lady Townshend said, “it must have been quite a bad picture, but I immediately realised the possibilities of this new medium, and fully believed that the time would come when its range would be enormously increased. I have always taken a keen interest in the stage and have written many plays which have been produced for charitable purposes. I felt the fascination of this new form of silent drama, partly because of its great advantages in the way of stage setting and realism, and partly perhaps, because when writing for the stage I always seem to see thesituations as I create them. Another advantage is the extent of its appeal, for although the nature of that appeal is in some respects more restricted than that of the stage, and must necessarily be more simple, it reaches a far greater public, and if nothing can equal the power of human speech, on the other hand, nothing can equal the eloquent silence of the cinematograph.”

“Then you are not in favour of the speaking picture, Lady Townshend?”

“Not of the mechanical speaking picture. I am too fond of the stage to wish for the cinematograph to enter into direct competition with it. For the same reason I do not care to see the stage adaping itself to the film, for neither great plays not great actors can always be represented adequately on the screen. I think that youth has its chance in the film play, and it is better to build up a reputation as a film actor than to give an inadequate record even of a world-renowned success.”

“What do you consider the most suitable subjects for the film play?”

“As far as my own experience goes, I believe that the public requires melodrama, though not that class of melodrama which merely consists in piling up of impossible situations as a test of it’s [sic] author’s ingenuity in evolving a successful happy ending. I think a plot should contain more of a problem than the abstraction of some papers of ambiguous value and the chase over two continents for their recovery. By problem I don’t mean the morbid dissection of some social question which is left involved at the end. In my new play, “The Story of an Actress,” for example, the problem is whether a young peer should marry an actress who is a thoroughly good girl or sacrifice his happiness and hers out of consideration for the feelings of his relatives. The moral is the foundation of the play, but its main object, of course, is to interest the public, and that object, I believe, is best gained with the help of melodrama, which is an ingredient of nearly every great play.”

“Then I believe also in absolute realism. If I write of the doings of the people of the slums, I want them to look and behave like real slum people; just as when I bring in members of the aristocracy, I want them to look and behave like ladies and gentlemen. That is the kind of realism which appeals to the public and also has a certain educational influence.”

“You believe, then, in the educational value of the cinematograph?”

“Most decidely, and have always taken the greatest interest in that branch of the subject. I think the time is certainly coming when much more will be done in that direction, in which, at present, we are rather behind other countries. I heard only yesterday that the Crown Prince of Siam had a private theatre in which he gives his soldiers practical instruction in manoeuvres and military matters, a notable example to come from so small a state. With regard to dramas, I believe that every good play which is true to life has a certain educational influence, and I should like to think that the influence of my plays will be a good one. I have written one or two costume plays, but they have not been produced as yet, as there seems to be not great demand at present for that class of work, though certainly the Clarendon Company has produced some very successful costume dramas.”

“Have you written plays for any other company, Lady Townshend?”

“No, the Clarendon Company produced my first work, and so far I have written exclusively for them. Indeed, I have been so pleased with the result of my first works, that I have no wish to change, and have, in fact, just signed a contract for six new plays. Everybody concerned has worked hard to ensure success, and I hope that the new ones will be received as well as the earlier ones.”

“You find no difficulty in inventing original plots?”

“Is there such a thing as an original plot? I certainly have no difficulty in weaving stories, and I think I have always been in the habit of doing that in dramatic form, but, after all, I think originality of treatment is the main thing, and that is essential in all classes of literary work. I find time to write a good many magazine articles, and have even contributed articles dealing with the cinematograph.”

It is gratifying to learn that the company engaged to play in these new dramas has the advantage of Lady Townshend’s personal supervision and advice.

The Bioscope, 30 July 1914, pp. 430-431.

Nothing seems to have come of the six new ‘plays’ she was to have written for Clarendon, and so far as is known she had nothing further to do with the film business.

Silent film festivals

I’ve just come across this excellent directory of silent film festivals worldwide, entitled Stummfilmfestivals. Yes, it’s in German, but it’s basically a set of links to festival sites plus a calendar which marks every day in which a silent film festival is taking place, as well as sorting them month by month. it covers Germany, USA, UK, France, Italy, Austria, Poland, the Netherlands and Finland. And it goes back to 2005, so you can find out about all the ones you missed.

I’ll have more on upcoming festivals in due course, but from Stummfilmfestivals you can find out more about the Regensburger Stummfilmfestival (2-11 August), the Internationale Stummfilmtage in Bonn (9-19 August), the Stummfest in Prague (30 August-1 September), Cinesation in Ohio (27-30 September), and of course Le Giornate del Cinema Muto at Pordenone, Italy (6-13 October).

A Continuous Now

The Bioscope

Every now and again I pursue the etymology of the word Bioscope. It’s a word which has enjoyed multiple applications over the years, and which has been applied to cinemas, cameras, projectors, fairground shows, a film journal, microscopes, a theme park in France, and of course a blog.

As has already been reported, it was first used by a religious writer, Granville Penn, whose The Bioscope; or Dial of Life (1812) you can download from the Internet Archive. The reason for returning to this is that I have now a copy of the image of the bioscope which accompanies Penn’s text. And, indeed, the bioscope was originally a dial, which came with the book, but on a separate card. The dial was marked from nought to seventy, representing the various stages of life, with eternity waiting before and after. The card came with a movable pointer (which seems remarkably modern as a sort of publishing gimmick). The idea was that the reader would place the pointer as whatever his or her age might be, and contemplate what was to come. Penn wanted his readers to avoid being lulled into the beief ‘that life is a continuous now’. Which is, if you think of it, a prescient description of the illusion that motion pictures create. Penn would have hated them.


Marvel Rea, Ford Sterling and Alice Maison

The above image shows Marvel Rea (left), Ford Sterling and Alice Maison in a Mack Sennett Studios publicity photograph c.1919. It’s just been published on one of my favoutie sites, Shorpy, which describes itself as the “100-year-old photo blog”. Essentially it’s a collection of random photographic images from bygone ages (many of them more recent than 100 years ago), derived from a wide variety of sources (contributed by users), and posted simply for love of the beauty of old photographs. It hasn’t much to do with silent cinema, except for the occasional image like this, but it’s a sister art and many of the images inhabit the same world (and evoke the same feelings) as films of the silent age. So take a look, and sign up for your daily feed of haunting, surprising and generally beautiful images from days gone by.

(Shorpy was a very young coal miner, images of whom from a century ago helped inspire the site)

Motion Pictures – Not for Theaters

Motion Pictures - Not for Theaters

Now this is important. The Prelinger Archives are digitising the whole of the American journal The Educational Screen, and putting it up on the Internet Archive, volume by volume, 1922 to 1962. The journal reported on the educational film in America, and is an important source for learning about the non-theatrical film business and the rise of 16mm.

But its particular importance comes because between 1938 and 1944 The Educational Screen published Arthur Edwin Krows’ vast history of the non-theatrical film, Motion Pictures – Not for Theaters. It was published one chapter at a time, issue by issue, though it was never completed. It would probably never have found a publisher as a book, being of such length, rambling in style, and specialised in theme, but it is a fabulous store of information on filmmakers, films and film businesses working to make films that instructed, advertised, propagandised or educated, which simply cannot be found anywhere else. Sometimes the history is dubious, or too bound up with anecdote, and relevant information on people is often scattered across the chapters (the word-searchable text files supplied on the Internet Archive will be a huge help).

Caveats aside, it has a huge amount of information on the silent era, from the 1890s onwards, including such key figures as Charles Urban, Lyman Howes, Burton Holmes, Percy Smith, George Kleine, Jean Comandon, Max Fleischer, Joseph De Frene, James A. Fitzpatrick and Alexander Victor. Once again Rick Prelinger has done scholarship a marvellous service.