The instruction of disabled men in motion picture projection


Motion picture projectors for instruction at the Red Cross Institute

It’s been a while since we added anything to the Bioscope Library. The latest addition is James R. Cameron’s The Instruction of Disabled Men in Motion Picture Projection (1919). Cameron was Instructor of Projection at the Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men, in New York. The Institute sought to instruct soldiers disabled during the First World War in suitable professions, and motion picture projection was one of them. As Cameron tells us, “almost any man with both hands intact could, with a course of study of about two months in duration, acquire sufficent knowledge to enable him to enter an operating booth, and take charge of the machines”.

Twelve pupils joined the inaugural class in May 1918 – “Most all were leg cases, either paralysis or amputation”. Cameron tells of the success of most of those undertaking the course, their earnings, and the elements of training that they received. The remainder of the booklet is then concerned with the practicalities of motion picture projection, with illustrations, terminology and lengthy question-and-answer sections, all presumably derived from the course itself, though little further mention is made of disability. The booklet therefore serves as a standard technical guide to projection at this period.

However, there is more to the history than this. There is an exceptional website, Project Façade, based on a 2005 National Army Museum exhibition, which looks at the treatment of facial injuries of British soldiers during the First World War. Some men had injuries so terrible that they were unrecognisable to family and friends, and, as the site says, “unable to see, hear, speak, eat or drink, they struggled to re-assimilate back into civilian life”. The site celebrates the pioneering plastic surgery undertaken by Sir Harold Gillies, but even with surgery and prosthetics etc., some men remained so disfigured that they felt they could not return to normal society. The site tells us that one profession that remained open to them was that of projectionist. Such men could arrive for work before anyone else, spend their working day on their own, shut away from society, and then return home in darkness. This sad revelation may be what partly lies behind the Red Cross Institute’s interest in the profession, though Cameron’s booklet, perhaps not surprisingly, makes no mention of it.

Tin facial prosthetics film

Tin facial prosthetics film (c.1916), from Project Façade

Project Façade also has a remarkable film on the making and fitting of tin masks and facial prosthetics for injured servicemen, from around 1916. There is no information on who made the film, or where it came from, but I do encourage you to see it (it requires QuickTime and is available in small and larger versions). It is gentle and inspiring. It contains nothing particularly unsettling, but do be warned that there are images elsewhere on the site which might upset some.

The Instruction of Disabled Men in Motion Picture Projection is available from the Internet Archive, in DjVu (4.3MB), PDF (14MB) and TXT (161KB) formats.

The Great War in Colour

The BBC is putting on more for the Albert Kahn and autochrome addicts among you. This Monday BBC2 starts a three-part series The Great War in Colour: The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn, which looks at the First World War through the colour photographs in the Kahn collection. Part one is on 21 January, at 19.00. The programmes are streamed online via BBC iPlayer for one week after transmission.

Note: If you are new to this site and looking for background information on Albert Kahn, please visit the Searching for Albert Kahn post.

Footnotes to the festival

Bioscope Festival of Lost Films

Now that the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films is over, here are a few notes on some of the sources used, credit having to be where credit is due.

For A Study in Scarlet and its partnering short, The Great European War, the chief source is the autobiography of its director George Pearson, Flashback: An Autobiography of a British Film Maker (1957). This is an evocative and at times inspiring account of dedicated creative endeavour amid the general poverty of budgets and imagination that existed in the British film industry in the silent era. There’s more information (which I didn’t have access to) in Harold Dunham and David Samuelson’s voluminous Bertie: the life and times of G. B. Samuelson, an unpublished biography of the film’s producer, a copy of which is held in the BFI Library. I also used contemporary reviews and David Meeker and Allen Eyles’ Missing Believed Lost: The Great British Film Search (1992), which was the source of the main photograph of Sherlock Holmes (the other photo, of the Mormon trek at Southport, comes from Pearson’s book).

For Ein Sommernachtstraum, my chief source was Robert Hamilton Ball’s incomparable Shakespeare on Silent Film: A Strange Eventful History (1968), which was also the source of information on the 1907 Hamlet, and the source of both photographs. Ball is so thorough in citing and quoting from his source (such as the Close-up review) that there wan’t much need to look elsewhere, but I did also used a review of the film in Variety.

The prime source of information on Human Wreckage was Kevin Brownlow’s Behind the Mask of Innocence: Sex, Violence, Crime, Films of Social Conscience in the Silent Era (1992), one of the essential sources on silent film. Images came from here and from Mark A. Viera’s Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood (2003). Also useful was James C. Robertson, The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action, 1913-1972 (1989). I also referred to assorted reviews of the film. I could find very little on Dorian Gray, the 1913 Wallace Reid film, and in the end turned to an Oscar Wilde filmography I’d compiled years ago and trusted that I’d got my facts and figures right then.

There is plenty of information available on The Mountain Eagle, inevitably. The best source is the warmly recommended English Hitchcock, by Charles Barr. Further information came from editions of the renowned Hitchcock journal, MacGuffin and Missing, Believed Lost. Stills from the film are handsomely reproduced in Dan Auiler, Hitchcock’s Secret Notebooks (1999) and can be found on the commendable Hitchcock Wiki’s Hitchcock Gallery. The famous François Truffaut interview book, Hitchcock, was the source of information on Number 13, including the unexpected still.

Drakula halála was the most difficult film to research, as there is so much that is not known about it, so much has been misreported, and such key sources as exist are in Hungarian – and even they make little mention of it. Sources vary over whether it should be 1921 or 1923, but in the end I went for 1921 as it is listed as such in the filmography given in the standard work, István Nemeskürty, Word and Image: History of the Hungarian Cinema (1974). My chief source, however, was The main site is – bizarrely – about cats, but click on the link on the front page and it takes you to a enthusiastic site on Hitchcockiana (in Hungarian), with offshoots on subjects such as silent horror, which is where I found a short history of the film, images, and reproductions of original texts – all in Hungarian, of course, and translation software can only do so much with one of the world’s more challenging languages, but I think I extracted the basics. Information on the Hungarian industry came mostly from Filmkultúra (rather good, in English). Christopher Frayling’s Mad, Bad and Dangerous?: The Scientist and the Cinema (2005) had some information on Life Without Soul, while the poster for the film is reproduced on the Frankensteinia blog.

Grateful acknowledgments to all those sources.