The Lodger on HD

The Lodger

The opening images from The Lodger (1927), from 1000 Frames of Hitchcock

This Friday sees what I think is a first for a silent film – exhibition in HD format. The US channel MGMHD is showing Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (1927) at 4.20am on February 1st. It is, I believe, derived from the BFI National Archive’s restored print, and was transferred in the UK by Granada International. I have seen a bit of it, on a non-HD screen alas, but even so the image quality looks quite stunning.

The image above of the opening frames of the film comes from 1000 Frames of Hitchcock, “an attempt to reduce each of the 52 available major Hitchcock films down to just 1000 frames”. It’s an offshoot of the remarkable HitchcockWiki, which I commend to you. 1000 Frames of Hitchcock provides the same service for The Pleasure Garden (1925), Downhill (1927), The Ring (1927), Champagne (1928), Easy Virtue (1928), The Farmer’s Wife (1928), The Manxman (1929) and Blackmail (1929, but the sound version only). And all the others, of course.

100 years of Russian cinema, sort of


Aelita, from

There’s a season of Russian and Soviet cinema being held at the Curzon Mayfair in London to accompany the Royal Academy’s From Russia exhibition. It bills itself as commemorating 100 years of Russian cinema. Film had of course been exhibited in Imperial Russia since 1896, and there was an active cinema business and foreign interest from the Pathé and Gaumont firms throughout the early 1900s, plus some local non-fiction film production, but Russian fiction film production did not start until 1908.

Here’s the blurb:

100 Years of Russian Cinema: 1908-1925 Archive Cinema Season

The year 2008 will see the centenary of Russian cinema. To present its rich history and progress Academia Rossica will be launching a series of screenings and events, starting with a programme of early pre- and post-Revolutionary films.

The 1908-1925 Archive Cinema Season is organised by Academia Rossica in association with the Royal Academy of Arts and the From Russia exhibition, the latter sponsored by E.ON.

Sunday 3 February
Triple bill:

Sten’ka Razin (PG)
Director: Viktor Romashkov
Starring: Evgenii Petrov-Krayevsky
Imperial Russia 1908/ 10mins
Often referred to as the first Russian film, Sten’ka Razin tells of the legendary Russian hero’s romantic adventure with a captured princess.

The Young Lady and the Hooligan (PG)
Director: Evgenii Slavisky and Vladimir Mayakovsky
Starring: Vladimir Mayakovsky, Aleksandra Rebikova
Soviet Union 1918/ 35mins
Written and directed by Vladimir Mayakovsky, an outstanding Revolutionary poet and a playwright of the early-20th century, who also stars as the enamoured hooligan.

After Death (PG)
Director: Evgenii Bauer
Starring: Vera Karalli, Vitold Polonski
Russia 1915/ 46 mins / DVD
This adapation of a romantic young photographer, whose solitary life is haunted by the memory of his dead mother, is based on Turgenev’s novel. The film reflects upon the central themes of the director’s work: love and death.

Sunday 10 February
Double bill:

Chess Fever (PG)
Director: Vsevolod Pudovkin
Starring: Boris Barnet, Jose Raul Capablanca, Vladimir Fogel
Soviet Union 1925/ 20 mins
Chess fever sweeps the nation with disastrous romantic consequences.

Strike (PG)
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Starring: Grigorii Alexandrov, Yudif Glizer, Mikhail Gromov
Soviet Union 1924 / 73 mins
Strike epitomises the essence of the 1917 Revolution, a key avant-garde cinematic masterpiece.

Sunday 24 February
Double bill:

The Cameraman’s Revenge (PG)
Director: Wladyslaw Starewicz
Imperial Russia 1912/ 12mins
One of the earliest animation films, Starewicz’ work is also considered to be the first film to deliberate over the role of cinema (set here in the kingdom of insects).

Aelita (PG)
Director: Yakov Protazanov
Starring: Yulia Solntceva, Igor Ilinsky, Nikolai Tsereteli
Soviet Union 1924/ 77 mins
The first Soviet Sci-fi film tells the story of engineer Los, who travels to Mars leading an uprising against the dictator King, aided by Aelita, the disempowered romantic Queen.

More details from the Curzon Cinemas site or the Academia-Rossica site.

Clowning glories

Clara Bow

Clara Bow in The Wild Party, from

The Birds Eye View Film Festival returns 6–14 March 2008. This is the UK’s festival of women filmmakers, and as was the case last year it includes a silent film strand.

This year the festival features ‘Clowning Glories’, a retrospective of women in film comedy before 1930, to be held at the BFI South Bank. The titles being shown are:

  • 7 MarMy Best Girl (USA 1927 d. Sam Taylor). With Mary Pickford
  • 8 Mar Ich möchte kein Mann sein (I Don’t Want to be a Man) (Germany 1918 d. Ernst Lubitsch). With Ossi Oswalda + The Danger Girl (USA 1916 d. Clarence G. Badger). With Gloria Swanson
  • 10 Mar – The Vagabond Queen (UK 1929 d. Geza von Bolváry). With Betty Balfour
  • 11 MarShow People (USA 1928 d. King Vidor). With Marion Davies + Mabel’s Dramatic Career (USA 1913 d. Mack Sennett). With Mabel Normand
  • 12 MarThe Love Expert (USA 1920 d. David Kirkland). With Constance Talmadge, Natalie Talmadge + Blue Bottles (UK 1928 d. Ivor Montagu). With Elsa Lanchester
  • 13 MarThe Wild Party (USA 1929 d. Dorothy Arzner). With Clara Bow + A House Divided (USA 1913 d. Alice Guy)

There’s a complementary season of screwball comediennes of the 1930s, the UK premiere of Cannes hit Expired starring Samantha Morton, LFF critics’ choice Unrelated, and documentaries from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Nepal. Plus mobile phone filmmaking, women in video games, music vids, fashion films, and “a one off Whitechapel Gallery Late Night event starring a high profile all girl line up of live artists, VJ’s and DJ’s”. More details from the festival website.

Colourful stories no. 4 – The unbearable effect

Edward Turner three-colour system

Three examples of the Lee and Turner three-colour process, c. 1901, from D.B. Thomas, The First Colour Motion Pictures (1969). Note the different tonal effects (e.g. the girl’s sash on the left-hand film) for the same image taken through red, green and blue filters.

The first patent for colour cinematography was that of the German Hermann Isensee, in 1897, but activity in this field now moved to Britain.

There were four names actively pursuing the goal of practical colour cinematography. One was William Friese-Greene, a figure who used to turn up in many film histories as one of the ‘inventors’ of cinema, and whose supposed discovery of motion pictures was romantically dramatised in the film The Magic Box (1951). That complex story can be told at another time. Suffice to say that Friese-Greene did not invent motion pictures (though he and his supporters claimed loudly that he did), and he turned his attention to colour cinematography. He patented a system (British Patent no. 21,649) in 1898 which posited use of a rotating disc with red, green and blue sectors, which echoed Isensee’s ideas but showed little comprehension of how the theory might work in practice. The other inventor was Captain William Norman-Lascelles Davidson, an experimenter in colour photography as well as cinematography, who in the same year patented (B.P. 23,863) a triple-lens camera with three filters (red, green, blue) behind each of the lenses. This was a step nearer in its thinking, though it led to no working model. There will be more on Friese-Greene and Davidson, who would soon be working together, later on in this series.

Lee and Turner three-colour projector

Lee and Turner three-colour projector (1901), from D.B. Thomas, The First Colour Motion Pictures

The first patent to be followed by a working model was B.P. 6,202 of 22 March 1899. The patentees were Frederick Marshall Lee of Walton-on-Thames, a racehorse breeder and financier of the project, and Edward Raymond Turner, of Hounslow, London. Turner had previously worked for Frederic Ives, inventor of the Kromskop, the device which employed the additive principle to create still colour photographic images. Ives wrote the following in 1926 about Lee and Turner:

The first recorded suggestion is the British patent of Lee and Turner, two young men who were employed in my workshop in London, and who with my consent patented a scheme which I disclosed to them but which I told them was of more theoretical than practical interest at that time. I considered it a great joke when their patent rights were afterwards sold for real money; but, as I predicted, the method was not practically satisfactory.

There is no evidence nor likelihood that Lee worked for Ives, but the latter was in effect right that Turner’s invention owed a lot to his ideas. Turner took a conventional cine camera and had its shutter replaced by a rotating disc with red, green and blue filters, interspersed with opaque sections, in synchronisation with the movement of the film through the camera. The black-and-white film passing through the camera would therefore record in succession a red, green and blue record. The film was to be shown through a three-lens projector (illustrated above), with each frame projected through each lens in turn, and again a rotating shutter was used to reintroduce the colour.

As with Isensee, Friese-Greene and Davidson, what looked fine in theory proved to be far more difficult to put into practice. Lee and Turner were certainly able to take films – some sample frames from three of the films they made around 1901 are illustrated at the head of this post – for which they employed a unique 38mm-wide film. What they could not do was project the results. If you look at the lenses of the projector you will see that there are three of them, arranged vertically. Each frame of film had to be projected through each lens in turn (the lenses had to be perfectly aligned so that the separate images whould synchronise on the screen). This was to avoid the huge strain on the film were each frame to be projected once, because the film would have to move three inches intermittently. As it is, the strain was still too great. If the original film had been shot at a likely 16 frames per second, the required projection speed would be a manic 48 f.p.s (i.e. successive red, green and blue records shown simultaneously). There is an eye-witness account of the results:

It was when we came to superimpose the pictures on the sheet through three-coloured glasses that we found the process unworkable. As soon as the handle of the projecting machine was worked the three pictures refused to remain in register, and no knowledge that any of us could bring to bear upon the matter could even begin to cure the trouble. The difficulty is mainly due to the fact that cinematograph pictures are small to begin with, and they have to be enormously magnified in exhibiting, as you all know. The slightest defect in registration it pitilessly magnified, and when the minute defects of registration in the first three pictures are followed by minute defects of another sort in the next three, and by yet another sort in the succeeding three, and so on throughout the length of a film, the effect on the observer is almost unbearable.

The witness is George Albert Smith (writing in 1908), a Brighton-based filmmaker and film processor, who processed Lee and Turner’s films and who would go on to invent Kinemacolor.

Synthesized Turner three-colour image

Computer-synthesized colour image of a Lee and Turner experiment, created by Martin Hart

How do you bring three successive frames of the same image into synchronisation by such mechanical means? Lee and Turner’s invention seemed only to show that it was impossible – certainly unwatchable. That there was a colour record there that in theory be uncovered is shown by the above simulation, taken from the black-and-white separations illustrated at the top of this post (the two children may be those of G.A. Smith). A strip of Lee and Turner film exists in the BFI National Archive, which shows a goldfish in a bowl and then a parrot on perch (see top of this post, right-hand image). But it cannot be projected, and would not work even if it could – it is the oldest motion picture colour film in the world, but we cannot see it.

Lee and Turner turned to the Warwick Trading Company to support their work. With the unfortunate results reported above, Warwick and Lee lost interest. However, Warwick’s manaing director, Charles Urban, was not one to give up so easily. He sunk his own money into the futher development of Turner’s invention, though this hit a problem when Turner dropped dead of a heart attack in his workshop on 9 March 1903. Sadly we still know very little about Turner – there does not seem to be a photograph of him. Urban handed on the problem of making the Turner system work to G.A. Smith, with whom he had worked at Warwick. Could the three-colour records be brought into synchronisation, or was there some other solution?

Recommended reading:
D.B. Thomas, The First Colour Motion Pictures (1969)

The first wizard of cinema

Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema

Georges Méliès: The First Wizard of Cinema, from

2008 is not four weeks old, and yet what will have to be the silent DVD release of the year has already been announced. It won’t become available before 3 March 2008, but that just gives you a month’s worth of delicious anticipation, awaiting Flicker Alley’s thirteen-hour, five-disc DVD release, Georges Méliès: The First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913).

The collection brings together over 170 films, comprising nearly all the surviving films of Georges Méliès (he made just over 500), from his first 1896 production Une partie de cartes (discovered by yours truly some twelve years ago – my very modest claim to early cinema fame), to his uproarious final film, Le voyage de la famille Bourrichon (1913). It includes such classics as Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), Les quatres cent farces du diable (Satan’s Merry Frolics) and A la conquète du pôle (The Conquest of the Pole). Fifteen of the films are reproduced from partial or complete hand-colored original prints, while thirteen are accompanied by the original English narrations meant to accompany the films, written by Méliès.

The collection has been put together by the pre-eminent preservationist-producers Eric Lange (of Lobster Films) and David Shepard, from archival and private holdings in eight countries. A major extra is the half-hour documentary, Le Grand Méliès (1953), made by Georges Franju, which features Georges Méliès’ widow and star of many of his films, Jehanne d’Alcy and André Méliès portraying his father.

The Moon

Le voyage dans la lune

Georges Méliès (1861-1938), the pre-eminent artist of early cinema, a creator of ingenious fantasies coming out of his magicianship background, but which employ the cinema’s own entrancing trickery to the full. The sheer joy of filmmaking that his films express means that his best work does not date and continues to delight each generation that comes across him (just take a look at some of the admiring comments made of the many films of his to be found on YouTube). He is particularly deserving of the complete box set treatment, even if the majority of the films that he made are now lost (though more titles keep turning up). It is seventy years since his death, and presumably it is no accident that the DVDs are appearing this year, since under European law his films should be coming out of copyright in 2008 i.e. the rule that says copyright remains in a film production until seventy years after the death of the author. What the position is of the Méliès family, who have been so protective of his heritage up until now, I don’t know. Perhaps one of our knowledgeable readers might be able to say.

At any rate, warmest congratulations to Messrs. Lange and Shepard for a herculean piece of work, and to Flicker Alley for issuing such an ambitious release. It’s available at special pre-order price of $71.96 (do note that it will be Region 1 DVD). I’m off to pre-order mine.

(There will be more on Méliès on the Bioscope in a couple of months or so’s time, if I ever finish a small project I’m working on)

Laterna Magica – Magic Lantern

Porcelain figures

Porcelain figures of 18th/19th century magic lanternists, from

A major new book on the magic lantern has just been published. Laterna Magica – Magic Lantern (vol. 1), by Deac Rossell, is the first in a two-part history which, as the publisher’s blurb indicates, looks at the subject not simply as a precursor of the cinema but as a phenomenon with a rich cultural history of its own:

This first volume covers the 17th and 18th centuries, plus the travelling lanternists – often Savoyards – who brought projected entertainment across Europe through the turn of the Nineteenth century. “Laterna Magica / Magic Lantern” is an attempt to bring together into a single narrative parts of lantern history that have previously been treated separately. It follows the central theme of the projected image in depth while simultaneously recognising the diverse and multifaceted offshoots produced by magic lantern culture.

We often think of the magic lantern today as the “precursor” of the movies and modern digital media; this it undoubtedly was. But at the same time, the magic lantern in its day was not a precursor of anything, but was a sophisticated instrument through which news, entertainment, and visual delight was projected for families, informal groups, and, ultimately, public audiences at fixed shows who enjoyed the elaborate and extraordinary visual rhetoric produced by highly skilled showmen.

The book is published by Füsslin Verlag in a bilingual (German/English) edition (the publisher’s website is bilingual too), and looks set to become a standard work. It also has 113 illustrations, most of them in colour. Deac Rossell is one of the world’s leading historians of the popular optical media of the nineteenth century and before, as well as having been at one time head of the National Film Theatre in London.

Buy one, and have your friends look upon you in awe at your erudition and taste…

Slapsticon 2008

A provisional list of titles for this year’s Slapsticon festival has been published. The annual festival of early film comedy takes place this year 17-20 July, Arlington, Virginia. The festival site says that the programme is still being selected, but nevertheless they are already promising (subject to change, of course) a remarkable line-up:

* Why Detectives Go Wrong (1928) — Poodles Hanneford
* Springtime Saps (1929) — Snub Pollard, Marvin Loback
* Winning Winnie (1926) — Ethelyn Gibson
* Three Stooges Rarity Show, hosted by Paul Gierucki
* Sally of the Sawdust (1925) — W.C. Fields
* Number One (1915) — Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew
* Pretzel and Flanagan (1914) — Lloyd Hamilton
* Taking Things Easy (1919) — Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran
* Nearly Spliced (1916) — Leon Errol
* Mishaps of Musty Suffer: Going Up (1916) — Harry Watson Jr.
* All Jazzed Up (1919) — Dan Russell, Hughey Mack
* It’s a Hard Life (1915) — Heinie and Louie (Jimmy Aubrey and Walter Kendig)
* The Bogus Booking Agents (1916) — Ham and Bud
* Sweeney’s Christmas Turkey (1913) — Hughey Mack
* Billy McGrath on Broadway (1913) — Augustus Carney
* Monkey Shines (1922) — Campbell Comedy
* The Tin Hoss (1925) — Hey Fellas
* Open Spaces (1926) — Malcolm “Big Boy” Sebastian
* A Pleasant Journey (1923) — Our Gang
* Among the Mourners (1915) — Chester Conklin, Syd Chaplin
* Are Waitresses Safe? (1917) — Ben Turpin, Charlie Murray
* Trimmed in Gold (1925) — Billy Bevan
* A Rainy Knight (1925) — Raymond Mckee, Eugenia Gilbert
* Taxi Dolls (1929) — Jack Cooper
* Doubling in the Quickies (1932) — Lloyd Hamilton, Marjorie Beebe
* Vacation Waves (1928) — Edward Everett Horton
* The Golf Bug (1923) — Monty Banks
* Golf Widows (1928) — Harrison Ford, Vernon Dent, Will Stanton
* Councel on de Fence (1934) — Harry Langdon
* See America Thirst (1930) — Harry Langdon
* Rush Orders (1921) — Snub Pollard
* Sherlock Sleuth (1924) — Arthur Stone
* Rough on Romeo (1921) — Paul Parrott
* The Rummy (1933) — Taxi Boys
* Harry Langdon Documentary (Paul Killiam) — never released Paul Killiam documentary from the late 1950’s, featuring rare clips and an interview with Vernon Dent.
* The Silent Partner (1955) — Buster Keaton, Joe E. Brown
* The Scribe (1966) — Buster Keaton’s last film
* An Aerial Joyride (1916) — Raymond Griffith
* His Foot-Hill Folly (1917) — Raymond Griffith
* Changing Husbands (1924) — Raymond Griffith and Leatrice Joy
* The Barnyard (1923) — Larry Semon
* Ladies Night in a Turkish Bath (1928) — Dorothy Mackail, Jimmy Finlayson
* Grass Skirts (1930) — Lloyd Hamilton
* Share the Wealth (1936) — Andy Clyde
* Dumb’s the Word (1937) — Edgar Kennedy, Billy Franey
* Alibi Bye Bye (1935) — Clark and McCullough
* Fiddlin’ Around (1938) — Monty Collins, Tom Kennedy
* Pistol Packin’ Nitwits (1945) — Harry Langdon, El Brendel
* Dangerous Females (1929) — Marie Dressler, Polly Moran
* Tomalio (1933) — Roscoe Arbuckle
* The Brown Derby (1926) — Johnny Hines
* His Private Life (1926) — Lupino Lane
* No Father to Guide Him (1925) — Charley Chase

Le Cinéma Expressionniste Allemand

Expressionismus und Film

Rudolph Kurtz’s Expressionismus und Film (1926), from

I’ve just learned about an online exhibition on German Expressionisst cinema, which was published by BiFi (La Bibliothèque du film) towards the end of 2006.

The exhibition is entitled Le Cinéma Expressionniste Allemand, so yes it’s in French, but I encourage you to look even if you’re not able to read much. The exhibition was put together by regular Bioscopist Frank Kessler, of Utrecht university, and it examines the idea of Expressionism as it found expression in German cinema of the 1920s, and as it was interpreted subsequently by critics.

The exhibition is in two main parts: Exposition – which takes us through the history, the ideas, their realisation, and their critical exegesis; and Les repères documentaires, which proides supporting information and documentation, including a filmography, bibliography, a text by Laurent Mannoni on film historian-critic Lotte Eisner (author of The Haunted Screen), links and a glossary for such terms as Cubisme, Futurisme and ‘Caligarisme’.

It is handsomely illustrated with stills and documents, and is well-laid out and easy to navigate. Well worth investigating.

William Haggar’s phantom ride

William Haggar

William Haggar, from

Talking, as we have been, about lost films, here’s an interesting piece from the South Wales Echo (we cast our investigative net widely here at the Bioscope) on a theatre show devised by performance group Good Cop Bad Cop:

Haggar remembered in ‘rough and ready’ show

WILLIAM Haggar was one of the first pioneers of cinema in a silent age where actors ‘spoke’ volumes with just a simple frown or smile.

A travelling entertainer from Essex, he settled in Wales and transformed live entertainment into the cultural industries of the early 20th Century.

Now his work is being resurrected by two-man company Good Cop Bad Cop, which has been commissioned by Chapter for three nights of experimental theatre.

In what has been described as a rough-and-ready production, John Rowley and Richard Morgan, who set up Good Cop Bad Cop in 1995, take to the stage for their performance of Phantom Ride.

Based on a series of lost silent footage, Phantom Ride aims to rejuvenate memories from a selected 32 of Haggar’s films in a creative leap of faith by the theatre group.

The two actors, who met when they worked with Welsh theatre company Brith Gof, have brought on board newcomer Louise Ritchie for the project.

The show will be performed purely through stand-up acting on a stage which has been stripped bare of scenery, props and bright lighting.

Each will give a brief synopsis of Haggar’s work and recount memories of those switched-on enough to have handed down thoughts about his films so that future generations could get an insight into a disappearing film era.

It will then be up to audiences to visualise the rest, albeit prompted by storytelling monologues and a background soundtrack.

John Rowley, co-artistic director of Good Cop Bad Cop, says they are still making changes to the production which is how the pair usually work best.

He said: “We are still working on it.

“Although the show is on Wednesday we’ll piece it together right up until Tuesday night.

“It’s rough and ready in a way. It’s not like going into the theatre seeing bright lights, scenery and costumes. It’s based on a series of lost films which do not exist any more.

“In the silent movie era after the people watched the film they didn’t care what happened to the footage which was combustible, so they went to powder.

“A lot of work has been done to restore them in different parts of the world but a lot have been lost. I think only eight exist at the moment and they are in fragments.”

During the 70-minute show the audience is expected to play its part by using imagination and imagery.

John added: “What we are interested in is the live raw experience of an audience member, and the relationship between the audience and the performer which is often kind of negative in traditional theatre.

“We will be using the same space as the audience as it’s not a built-up stage.

“It could be some of the audience end up standing next to the actor listening to them as if it was a personal conversation.

“That part of the audience is then turned into part of the performance.”

I like the idea of getting the audience to contribute to the imaginative recreation of a lost film. That sort of engagement with the audience is very much in the spirit of Haggar, who toured the fairgrounds with his films and knew that it was those who came to see the show that really made the films what they were. William Haggar is the great pioneer of Welsh cinema, responsible for such lively works as A Desperate Poaching Affray (1903) and The Life of Charles Peace (1905), and the subject of Peter Yorke’s recent biography. Yorke has also produced a website about Haggar and his book, at

Good Cop Bad Cop: Phantom Ride can be seen at Chapter, in Cardiff, Wednesday, January 23, to Friday, January 25, at 8pm. Further information from the Chapter website.

Welcome to the Silent Movie Blog

Generic slide for Buster Keaton shorts

Generic slide for Buster Keaton shorts, from The Silent Movie Blog

It’s always good news when another silent movie blog joins the throng, so welcome to Christopher Snowden’s The Silent Movie Blog. It’s just a couple of weeks old, but the emphasis seems to be on stills and other such promotional images from the period, laced with a welcome dash of humour. The blog accompanies his DVD site, UnknownVideo.

For other blogs on silent cinema, check out the Blog section on the right-hand side menu. All of them gems, but some shine particularly brightly.