Neil Brand at Edinburgh

You can catch the indefatigable Neil Brand – pianist, composer, writer, actor, passionate advocate of the silent film – at the Edinburgh Festival this month, in two separate fringe shows.

Firstly, there’s The Silent Pianist Speaks, where Neil reveals the secrets of the profession of silent film pianist, acompanied by film clips. The show is running at the Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh daily until Monday August 27th.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s a staging of Neil’s original radio play, Joanna, performed the Invisible Theatre company, at the Jazz Bar. The blurb reads: “One grand piano. One secret. Joanna tells her tale of being encased in wood for a century, revealing more than just a few notes …”. There are tickets still available for the 17th, 18th and 19th.

Both shows have enthusiatic online reviews from audiences.

Diaries of a working man

As regular readers will know, I’m very interested in testimony of the film-going experience in the silent era. I’ve done a lot of research into the experience of cinema audiences in London before the First World War, using memoirs and oral history recordings, but what is really precious is original testimony from the time. For this, we have to turn to letters and diaries.

Alexander Goodall diaries

Needless to say, references to film and the cinema-going experience in these is hard to track down. But not impossible, and there are some precious examples to be found online. I’ll be posting assorted examples of these, as I find them, and I’ll start off with the diaries of Alexander Goodall (1874-1901). Goodall was a post office clerk in Western Australia, who died sadly young of tuberculosis. He kept up a diary from the age of seventeen, which he illustrated with delightful drawings as well as observant comments on the passing scene. The diaries are held by the State Library of Victoria, and have been published in facsimile form online by Pandora, Australia’s web archive.

Goodall took a sharp interest in the scientific developments of his day, and the diaries record his encounter with the Edison Kinetoscope (1 July 1895), the Edison Kinetophone – a combination of Kinetoscope peepshow and Phonograph music – which he calls the Phonoscope (2 July 1896) and the Cinematograph (3 May 1897).

To transcribe the short texts would be to spoil the visual effect. The picture above gives you some idea of the diaries, but you should follow the links to see them in their full glory.

More diaries in the near future.