Potemkin restored

Battleship Potemkin


Kino International have announced the release, on 23 October, of a two-DVD boxed set of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, with the original Edmund Meisel score, played by the Deutches Filmorchestra. This is from a new restoration of the film by the Deutsche Kinematek, and it’s a deluxe presentation, as the Kino blurb indicates:

Odessa – 1905. Enraged with the deplorable conditions on board the armored cruiser Potemkin, the ship’s loyal crew contemplates the unthinkable – mutiny. Seizing control of the Potemkin and raising the red flag of revolution, the sailors’ revolt becomes the rallying point for a Russian populace ground under the boot heels of the Czar’s Cossacks. When ruthless White Russian cavalry arrives to crush the rebellion on the sandstone Odessa Steps, the most famous and most quoted film sequence in cinema history is born.

For eight decades, Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 masterpiece has remained the most influential silent film of all time. Yet each successive generation has seen BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN subjected to censorship and recutting, its unforgettable power diluted in unauthorized public domain editions from dubious sources. Until now. Kino is proud to join the Deutsche Kinematek in association with Russia’s Goskinofilm, the British Film Institute, Bundesfilm Archive Berlin, and the Munich Film Museum in presenting this all new restoration of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. Dozens of missing shots have been replaced, and all 146 title cards restored to Eisenstein’s specifications. Edmund Meisel’s definitive 1926 score, magnificently rendered by the 55-piece Deutches Filmorchestra in 5.1 Stereo Surround, returns Eisenstein’s masterwork to a form as close to its creator’s bold vision as has been seen since the film’s triumphant 1925 Moscow premiere.

From the Series “The Year 1905”
Russia 1925 B&W/Color 69 Min. Full-frame (1.33:1)
Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein
Screenplay by N.F. Agadzhanova-Shutko
Head Cinematographer: Eduard Tisse
Music by Edmund Meisel (1926)
Courtesy of Ries & Erler, Berlin
Adaptation and Instrumentation by Helmut Imig
Performed by the Deutsches Filmorchestra (2005)
Restored under the direction of Enno Patalas in collaboration with Anna Bohn
Presented in association with Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen
supported by Bundesarchiv, Berlin; British Film Institute, London; Gosfilmofond, Moscow; Film Museum, Munich
Licensed by Transit Film
Copyright 2007 Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek

The extras are Tracing Battleship Potemkin, a 42-minute documentary on the making and restoration of the film, the restored film either with newly-translated English intertitles or with original Russian intertitles (and optional English subtitles), the Meisel score presented in 5.1 Stereo Surround, and a photo gallery. There’s pre-ordering from September. The DVD set is, of course, Region 1.

The Theatre of Science

The Theatre of Science – hard to imagine a general guide to the cinema having such a title nowadays. But Robert Grau’s The Theatre of Science: A Volume of Progress and Achievement in the Motion Picture Industry was published in 1914, when cinema was seen as a home of knowledge as much as place of entertainment (at least among commentators), a product of science and a technical achievement par excellence.

Grau’s book, published in a limited edition of 3,000, has become a standard reference source for the early cinema period. It provides an extraordinary amount of detail on the history and development of motion pictures in America to 1914 – their technological, economic, social and artistic changes, and the key events and personalities involved. Grau (a theatrical agent) was witness to much of the history he describes, and if his understanding of the development of the pictures towards the ideal of the theatre, he was a keen observer who provides hugely useful factual information on histories such as the rise of the nickelodeons and the emergence of a film trade press which scarcely exist elsewhere. He champions the names of pioneers of the industry who would otherwise be forgotten, the run-of-the-mill performers as well as the stars, and the book is rich in portrait photographs. It has much information on the leading and not so leading film companies of the period, and is at all points particularly interested in the business of making pictures. It is thrilled with how motion pictures were made, sold and exhibited, and for that enthusiasm alone it is strongly recommended.

It’s available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (21MB), PDF (66MB), b/w PDF (23MB) and TXT (711KB) formats, and it’s been added to the Bioscope Library.

Licensing Charlie


There’s a new Charlie Chaplin site that’s just appeared, Simply Chaplin. It’s been set up by the Carlini Group, whose business is usually managing music artists. It does all the usual stuff in giving you the potted history, then ample opportunity to buy DVDs, books, music etc. Video clips and a forum are promised, but the news page is simply items from other sites which have been harvested automatically. You can send an electronic Simply Chaplin postcard, should you so wish. It also has a singularly naff cartoon image of Chaplin on its front page. It’s not the only such site out there with license to sell official Chaplin merchandise – see, for example, www.discoverchaplin.com – quite apart from the official site, www.charliechaplin.com. Presumably the little fellow is still reaching corners of the global market that other silent stars can’t touch.

Kansas Silent Film Festival

Kansas Silent Film Festival

Summer is not yet o’er, and yet there is already news of the silent film festivals coming up for 2008. The Kansas Silent Film Festival, for instance, takes place 22-23 February 2008, at Washburn University, Topeka, and a provisional programme has been announced:

Fri. Feb. 22, 2008, starts at 7 p.m.

A Harem Knight (20 min.) (1926) with Ben Turpin
Only Me (15 min.) (1929) with Lupino Lane
The Kid Brother (84 min.) (1927) with Harold Lloyd
—music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

Sat. Feb. 23, 2008, starts at 10 a.m.

Jack the Kisser (10 min.) (1913) a film by Porter/Edison
Bad Boy (20 min.) (1925) with Charley Chase
Clash of the Wolves (78 min.) (1925) with Rin Tin Tin
—music by Greg Foreman, organ
Coney Island (20 min.) (1917) with Buster Keaton/Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle
Leap Year (56 min.) (1921) with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle
—music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
The Mothering Heart (20 min.) (1912) directed by D.W. Griffith, with Blanche Sweet
Dancing Mothers (66 min.) (1926) with Clara Bow
—music by Marvin Faulwell, organ
The Bond (5 min.) (1918) with Charlie Chaplin
The Sinking of the Lusitania (10 min.)(1918) by Winsor McKay
The Big Parade (140 min.) (1925) with John Gilbert/Renée Adorée
—music by Marvin Faulwell, organ, & Bob Keckeisen, percussion

There will be a short break within the final feature film to include a tribute in memory of the 90th Anniversary of the end of WWI

More information, and updates, on the festival website. The festival is free and open to the public.

A little bird tells me…

…that the BBC4 series The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn is due for a repeat soon on BBC2, though this time in half-hour episodes (presumably BBC2 viewers have less of an attention span than the sturdy folk who patronise BBC4). I also hear that there isn’t going to be a DVD release of the series, presumably owing to licensing issues, but that the Albert Kahn Museum in Paris is planning to produce some DVDs of its Autochrome colour photographs (and its films?) which will be available from the museum itself next year… More news as and when I hear it.

Lost and Found no. 2 – Dawson City

Number two in our occasional series of heartening tales about early film collections that have been found against the odds. Lost films have been uncovered in many peculiar places, but none so odd as in a Canadian swimming pool, close to the Arctic Circle.

The now famous Dawson City collection was uncovered in 1978 when a new recreation centre was being built. A bulldozer was working its way through a parking lot when a horde of film cans was dug up. The films had been stored in a disused swimming pool, which had been paved over. The films dated largely from before the First World War, when Dawson City was still a gold rush town, and the final distribution centre for films sent out to the cinemas attended by the ten of thousands of prospectors in the area. Film historian Sam Kula tells us that touring showmen first brought film to Dawson in 1898, while the former Orpheum Theatre re-opeened as the town’s first cinema in 1910, while films could also be seen at the Arctic Brotherhood Hall. Films took a long time to get to Dawson (the newsreels were always hopelessly out of date), but got there they did – but, it seems, they tended not to make the journey back.

Films therefore built up in Dawson, and were eventually stored in the basement of the local library. In 1929, the decision was made dispose of the inflammable nitrate films, which no one wanted to see any longer. It is easier said than done to get rid of nitrate film, and eventually it was decided to place them safely underground. Hence the burial in the swimming pool, where the permafrost ensured their survival in what were, in principal, ideal archival conditions (basically the thing to do with nitrate films is to keep them very cold) until their rediscovery fifty years later.

There were over 500 films in the collection. While none was a most masterpiece as such, they formed a marvellous selection of common cinema fare of the period – titles from studios such as Essanay, Rex, Thanhouser and Selig; obscure titles starring Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks and Lon Chaney; and many newsreels (including rare Canadian examples). The collection is particularly storng on serials with women heroines: Pearl White in Pearl of the Army (1916-17), Helen Holmes in Hazards of Helen (1915), Marie Walcamp in The Red Ace (1917-18), and Grace Cunard in Lucille Love (1914), The Girl of Mystery (1914) and The Purple Mask (1917), which she also directed.

The Dawson City films have been preserved by Library and Archives Canada and the Library of Congress.

There’s an entertaining essay on their discovery and preservation by Sam Kula, ‘Up from the Permafrost: The Dawson City Collection’, in the excellent book This Film is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film (2002), edited by Roger Smither.

Pandora’s Box

Pandora’s Box

Die Büchse der Pandora, from http://www.watershed.co.uk

That excellent venue the Watershed in Bristol is marking its twenty-fifth anniversary with a screening of G.W. Pabst’s quintessential silent Pandora’s Box (Die Büchse der Pandora), starring Louise Brooks. The screening sees the premiere of a new orchestral score by Paul Lewis, and will be held at Colston Hall, and hosted by actor Paul McGann. The score will performed by twenty-five members of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, and conducted by Lewis himself. The show takes place on 25 September, and is a joint collaboration between the Watershed, Bristol Silents and the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Further details are available from the Watershed site. Print and score will then feature the following month at Pordenone.

Prakash Travelling Cinema

Part one

Prakash Travelling Cinema is a delightful short film, posted on YouTube by the filmmaker, Megha B. Lakhani. She made the 14-minute film while at the National Institute of Design, India, and it has gone on to win festival awards.

The film documents two friends who maintain a travelling bioscope show on the streets of Ahmedabad. The ramshackle outfit, which they take around on a hand-cart, comprises a genuine c.1910 Pathé projector, adapted for sound, with peep-holes all around the mobile ‘cinema’ itself (which they call their ‘lorry’), through which children watch snippets plucked from popular Bollywood titles. One of the amazing sights of the film is either of the two men hand-cranking their sound projector at exhausting speed.

Part two

Although they are not showing silent films, the whole enterprise is imbued with the spirit of the original travelling bioscope operators of India, and of course the technology hails from the silent period. The word ‘bioscope’ still persists in places in India for cinema, as it does in South Africa. However, the film wants to do more than show a quaint operation, and it is very much about friendship, conviction, Indian society, and the persistence of a human way of doing things in the face of modern media technologies.

There are an estimated 2,000 mobile cinema shows in India today, and the travelling bioscope has been made the subject of other recent films. There is Andrej Fidyk’s 1998 documentary film Battu’s Bioscope, on a modern travelling show in rural India; Vrinda Kapoor and Nitesh Bhatia’s short film Baarah Mann Ki Dhoban (2007), on modern bioscope workers whch also touches on the history of India film exhibition; and Tim Sternberg’s film Salim Baba (2007), again about a modern travelling bioscope show, this time with an adapted 1897 Bioscope. Plus there’s Tabish Khair’s acclaimed novel Filming, published this year, which moves from a travelling bioscope show in 1929 to the Bombay cinema of the 1940s as a means to examine the rise of modern India. Clearly there’s a metaphor in the air.

Prakash Travelling Cinema was made in 2006, and there’s a full set of credits here. The film is in Hindi, with English subtitles, and on YouTube, owing to its length, it comes in two parts.

And there’s Cinecon too

The Patent Leather Kid

The Patent Leather Kid (1927)

There are so many festivals coming up, it hard to keep track of them all. I should have told you about Cinecon before now. This major event in the silent/early souns film calendar takes place in Hollywood 30 August-3 September. As the festival blurb says:

Cinecon is a five day celebration of the movies, screening nearly thirty rare silent and early sound feature films and as many short subjects from the nation’s leading film archives and Hollywood studio vaults, and is dedicated to showcasing unusual films that are rarely given public screenings. Celebrity guests will attend a screening of one of their films and participate in question and answer sessions following the film. You can buy great movie memorabilia in our six fabulous dealers’ rooms and the Cinecon Career Achievement Award celebrity banquet takes place on Sunday evening.

Silent films featuring at this year’s Cinecon include Colleen Moore in Her Wild Oat (1927), William S. Hart in Branding Broadway (1918), Richard Barthelmess in The Patent Leather Kid (1927), Henry King in The Devil’s Bait (1915), and Man, Woman and Wife (1929), a rare Universal late silent with added Movietone score.


More from Scandanavia. Mykkäelokuvafestivaalit, or the Forssa Silent Film Festival, takes place in Forssa, Finland, over 31 August-1 September. The silent film festival is now in its eighth year, and this year focusses on the French silent film. Featured screenings include Abel Gance’s Au Secours! (1924) and La Dixième Symphonie (1918), Jean Renoir’s Le Tournoi dans la Cité (1928), Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed (1924), and Chaplin’s The Pawnshop (1916) and The Immigrant (1917). Finnish films featured are Teuvo Puro’s Vaihdokas (1927) and Jaakko Korhonen’s Aatamin Puvussa ja vähän Eevankin (1931), the first Finnish sound film. And a ‘surprise’ archive film is also promised, a nine-part Western serial. The festival site is mostly in Finnish, but has a summary page in English.