Modernism and visual culture

And another call for papers and conference coming up. You have to look a little harder at this one to see the silent cinema connection, but it’s there.


1st-2nd November 2008
Oxford University, UK

Keynote Speakers
David Trotter (Cambridge University)
Laura Marcus (Edinburgh University)
Maggie Humm (University of East London)

“A writer … has need of a third eye whose function is to help out the other senses when they flag.” (Virginia Woolf, 1925)

In the wake of recent analyses of the landscape of visual cultures at the end of the nineteenth century, new contexts have become available for understanding the emergence and shape of modernism. This conference seeks to unpick our tangled model of the relationships between the established arts in the modernist period and between modernism and popular culture, and to illuminate the types of reactions occasioned in the established arts by the emergence of modern mass media. Papers on any aspect of the relationship between modernist literatures and cultures with visual culture, including cinema and fine art, are welcome.

Possible questions to consider:

  • Are recent claims for modernism’s affinity with popular culture anything new?
  • Was Cubism’s debt to chronophotography a model for – or an exception to – modernism’s relationship with photo-chemical reproduction?
  • Was the ‘modernity’ to which the established arts responded actually the emergence of a rival new cultural landscape comprised of cinema, variety theatre, instantaneous photography, stage illusions, the moving panorama, mass spectator sports, moving-image lantern shows, the illustrated short story and the cartoon strip?
  • Did literary modernism emerge in emulation of the innovations occurring in modernist painting?
  • What role did modernism play in altering established theories of visual culture?
  • Can modernism and late-nineteenth-century popular visual culture be seen as the twin products of a single preceding historical development?
  • What singular and identifiable properties, if any, did such related forms as cinema, cartoon strips or shadowgrams have in impacting on the existing arts?
  • Were the different modernisms of the various established arts the product of their varying vantage points on new media forms?
  • If new visual media generated modernism, did they do so by threatening to become art forms themselves, or by throwing the distinct qualities of the existing arts into relief?
  • Were modernists already modernists when their work adopted the traits of various new forms of visual culture?
  • Is realism in cinema equivalent to modernism in the existing arts?
  • Was the reflexivity learned by the group of polymedia practitioners we call modernists the basis of modernist form in all of the arts?

Speakers are encouraged to use visual material in their presentations. Send 300-word abstracts for 20-minute papers to Andrew Shail (andrew.shail [at], by 1 April 2008. Panel proposals are welcome – please include contact details and affiliations for all speakers.

Heady stuff.

Funny people these foreigners

A call for papers has been issued for ‘Funny People these Foreigners’, an international conference on international comedy, organised by the Communication, Cultural and Media Studies Research Centre, the University of Salford. After the success their conference last year, ‘What Have You Got In That Box? – Comedy and Regional National Identity’, they are inviting proposals for papers that investigate any aspect of comedy with an international perspective. Suggested topics might include:

* Breaking language barriers – successful comedy crossovers
* Les Visiteurs
* Roberto Benigni
* Asterix
* M. Hulot
* USA/UK transfers: successes and failures
* Silent Cinema
* National/International Comedy stars
* Dubbing vs subtitling debate
* British Comedy in international markets
* Comedy co-productions
* Film and TV Comedy and national identity
* Viva Los Simpsons! Universality of humour

And all points in between. Proposals (maximum 300 words) should be sent to Dr C.P. Lee (c.lee [at] or Dr Andy Wills (a.willis [at], by 17 March. The conference will take place 5-6 June 2008.

Colourful stories no. 3 – The first patent

Isensee diagram

Diagram accompanying Hermann Isensee’s 1897 patent, from DEPATISnet

There was colour on film as soon as there was projected film. The Edison Kinetoscope, a peepshow device which introduced commercial motion pictures in 1894 presented too small an image to the viewer for hand-painted colour to be seen distinctively. But once films were shown upon a screen, colours started to be added – including some subjects originally exhibited through the Kinetoscope. Edward Henry Doubell, slide painter at the Royal Polytechnic in London, is known to have painstakingly added colours to Robert Paul films, at a rate of two or three frames per day. Paul showed coloured films at the Alhambra music hall on 8 April 1896, and on 23 April a coloured Serpentine dance was included on the debut programme of the Vitascope projector in New York.

A history of artifically-coloured films would follow, which we shall return to later in this series. For now, we are interested in the dream of the inventors, natural colour. Achieve true colour on the motion picture screen, and fortunes would be made.

And so the history of natural colour cinemaography begins in 1897 with a patent passed on 17 December 1897, in Germany. The inventor was Herman Isensee, and it reads (in translation) as follows:

Imperial Patent Office
Patent Specification
No. 98799
Class: 57: Photography
Hermann Isensee, of Berlin

Device for the Depiction of Coloured Animated Photography
Patented in the German Reich from 17th December 1897

With the help of this device, image projections that could hitherto only be shown in monochrome will, by means of a very quick succession of consecutive frames that are projected in the colours red, green and blue at regular intervals, appear to the eye of the beholder in their true natural colours.

For this purpose a disc with three sectors r, g and b, made up of red, green or indigo blue glass (or else any other suitable films), is placed eccentrically in front of the lens o of a series apparatus.

The movement of this disc is regulated in such a manner that for the duration of a photographic recording a coloured section moves past in front of lens o each time, so that the film strip consists of a regular succession of negative images generated by red, green and blue light-rays.

From these negatives, positives are made and the same are projected with the help of the series apparatus.

During this, in a way similar to the process that takes place during the photographic recording, the red, green, and indigo blue sectors move past in front of the lens, so that on the screen red, green and blue pictures develop in quick succession, in correspondence with the said negatives generated by the coloured rays.

While the known analogous procedure for the attainment of coloured pictures, for example the Ivesian Heliochromy (cf. Eder’s Jahrbuch der Photographie 1891 [Yearbook of Photography 1891], p. 174 ff., and Krone, Die Darstellung der natuerlichen Farben durch Photographie [The Representation of Natural Colours Through Photography], Weimer 1894, p. 103 ff.) involves the successful reproduction of three differently coloured pictures of one object from the same period of time, in this case differently coloured images from consecutive periods of time follow each other with sufficient speed, and it is in such a way that an animated picture in its natural colours is seen by the eye of the beholder.


Appliance for apparatus used for the exhibition of animated photography, for the presentation of images in their natural colours, characterised by the fact that in front of the lens a disc with three light-filters in primary colours necessary for the creation of three-colour pictures moves in such a way that with every new recording, as well as projection of the same, a differently coloured section appears in front of the lens.

Attached 1 sheet of drawings.

(My grateful thanks to Eve for providing the translation)

As will be clear enough from the drawing reproduced above which accompanies the patent, this is not the most detailed of patent specifications. It outlines in general and idealised terms the principle of three primary colours being brought together additively, with the optimistic assumption that this could readily produce a motion picture colour record in the same way that Frederic Ives (inventor of the Kromskop, which employed the principle of ‘Heliochromy’) had demonstrated could be achieved practically for still photography. Nevertheless, it does establish the key idea of using a rotating colour shutter in front of camera and then projector, which others would soon adopt.

There is no evidence to suggest that Isensee had any sort of a working model to back-up his claims, and he disappears from this point on as far as colour cinematography is concerned (though he went on to patent other motion picture devices). Because he only patented his idea in Germany, it had no bearing on the experiments that were to take place in Britain the following year which (unwittingly) took up Isensee’s ideas and led to the first practical results in colour cinematography, in 1899. Which you’ll hear all about next time.

Recommended reading:
Adrian Klein, Colour Cinematography (1936)

Isensee’s patent is available online from DEPATISnet, the online German patent service (search under reference number DE000000098799A).

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.

Drakula halála

Bioscope Festival of Lost Films

Hungary 1921

Director: Lajthay Károly
Production company: Corvin Filmgyár
Cinematographer: Eduard Hoesch
Scenario: Lajthay Károly, Mihály Kertész (Michael Curtiz)
Based on the character created by Bram Stoker

Cast: Paul Askonas (Drakula), Margit Lux (Mary Land), Elemér Thury (Doctor), Lajos Réthey (Fake doctor), Aladár Ihász (Assistant), Karl Götz (Funny man), Dezsö Kertész (George), Lajos Szalkay, Zoltán Dezső, Hatvani Károly, Oszkár Perczel, Károly Hatvani, Anna Marie Hegener, Paula Kende, Lene Myl, Magda Sonja, Béla Tímár

Five reels
Distributor: Jenö Tuchten

Drakula halála poster

Poster for Drakula halála

Welcome all to the final screening in the inaugural Bioscope Festival of Lost Films. This evening we find ourselves in Leicester Square, in the cinema that has the honour of being the first such venue to have opened in London’s motion picture heartland. It was the 5th June 1909 when it first opened its doors, as the select Bioscopic Team Rooms. Soon it changed its name to the Circle in the Square, which name we rather prefer to its later name of the Palm Court Cinema, still more to its eventual fate – conversion into an Angus Steak House. There is room for 250 of you (if some stand), and the music is provided by the indefatigable and certainly inimitable Ena Baga.

And what a chilling offering we have for you tonight. It is with some pride (and not a little trepidation for fear of the effect it might have on some of the more nervous among you) that we present Drakula halála, a Hungarian tale of horror and fantasy as mysterious in its history as it is in its subject matter. Mystery, for example, surrounds the date of its production, but we are assured that – despite the several claims for it to have been made two years later – Drakula halála was produced in 1921 and was reportedly first shown in Vienna that year, though it was re-exhibited in Budapest in 1923. So the estimable F.W. Murnau in Germany who we hear is planning a film based on the legend of Dracula may have more resources at his disposal, yet he will be second with his subject matter. But finding any certain facts about our film’s production has been difficult (having no one on the Festival staff with a working knowledge of Hungarian has been a handicap).

Paul Askonas (Drakula) and Margit Lux (Mary)

Paul Askonas (Drakula) and Margit Lux (Mary)

The title of the film translates as The Death of Dracula, but the story is not that of the novel by Bram Stoker. Instead it tells of the orphaned Mary who is sent against her will to a psychiatric hospital. There one of the inmates claims to be the undead Dracula, and he begins to haunt her dreams. Although she escapes from the hospital and eventually marries a noble forester, visions of Dracula still fill her mind, and she remains unsure whether all that happened to her was some awful dream or horrid reality.

The Hungarian film industry is a modest one, and one that has suffered greatly under the political turmoil in that country. In 1919, the revolutionary Béla Kun established a Communist government, which collapsed after just a few months, to be replaced by the brutal military regime of Miklós Horthy. Kun had nationalised the film industry and an ambitious plan of production was drawn up. But the anti-Semitic Horthy despised the film industry, and persecuted many filmmakers (the unfortunate director Sándor Pallós was tortured to death for having made a film based on a novel by Gorky). Many in the industry fled, such as Sándor László Kellner (Alexander Korda) and Mihály Kertész (Michael Curtiz), who is believed to have contributed to the script of Drakula halála. The industry continues, but in a greatly reduced state, close to the point of bankruptcy.

Paul Askonas as Drakula

Paul Askonas as Drakula

Thus Drakula halála is one of just a handful of films being made in Hungary at this time. Most are based on light popular novels, but this film is very different. Its star, Paul Askonas, has appeared in both Hungarian and Austrian films, usually of a fantastical or horrific nature, such as Labyrinth des Grauens (1921, Labyrinth of Horror). It is tempting to see this vision of dark threats, uncertainty and nightmares as somehow reflecting its troubled land and film industry, a place where reality may be a still greater nightmare than those encountered in one’s dreams. Director Lajthay Károly, a specialist in thrillers and someone praised for his uniquely atmospheric style, never directed another film – why, and whatever happened to him? (There are rumours of a drink problem) So many mysteries, so many more fantasies than certain facts…

Hungary is the land of lost silent films. 600 films made between 1912 and 1930, and just forty-five complete films survive. Drakula halála is not among them – or is it? Are we to believe the claims of a dubious Italian site dealing mostly in adult films, which claims to know of a 16mm print with a thirteen-minute fragment of the film? We choose not to believe it. The internet is awash with such fantasies. Here at the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films we deal only with true loss. Only when a film can no longer be seen does it, for us, become strangely, truly alive. Undead, even.

Life Without Soul

Publicity sheet for Life Without Soul, from

To accompany this film we have broken our rules somewhat and gone for another five-reel feature rather than a short. But what a double-bill, to be able to offer you: Drakula halála and Life Without Soul. This 1915 film, made by the Ocean Film Corporation of New York, is similar to our main feature in that it presents the story of Frankenstein as a dream that explores the borderland between life and death. Frankenstein’s name has become William Frawley, a doctor living in modern times who dreams that he creates a humanoid monster (played by Percy Darrell). Despite acclaim for Mr Darrell’s chilling portrayal of a man without a soul that yet catches the audience’s sympathy, the film has not been a success. We hear that its 1916 re-edited re-issue included extra scenes taken from scientific films about the reproductive habits of fish. It is unclear why.

Do not believe the fantasist who on that modern innovation the Internet Movie Database, writes about this film as though he has seen it. He has not. It is lost, as have been all the films in this Bioscope Festival of Lost Films. We hope that you have enjoyed our selections. Please leave the cinema quietly, and a safe journey home to you all.

Pleasant dreams.

The Mountain Eagle

Bioscope Festival of Lost Films

UK/Germany 1926

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production company: Gainsborough Pictures/Münchner Lichtspielkunst AG (Emelka)
Producer: Michael Balcon
Assistant director: Alma Reville
Scenario: Eliot Stannard, Max Ferner
Story: Charles Lapworth
Art direction: Ludwig Reiber, Willy Reiber
Cinematography: Baron Ventimiglia

Cast: Bernard Goetzke (Pettigrew), Nita Naldi (Beatrice Brent), Malcolm Keen (John Fulton, known as Fearogod), John Hamilton (Edward Pettigrew), Ferdinand Martini

7,503 feet
Distributor: W & F

The Mountain Eagle

Bernard Goetzke (Pettigrew), in The Mountain Eagle

Good evening once again, and welcome to the latest screening at the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films. Today we find ourselves in London’s Tottenham Court Road at the Cambridge Circus Cinematograph Theatre (recently renamed the Super, but we prefer the old name), a marvellous venue which seats 1,000 of you, and has room for full orchestra and a pipe organ, which will be played for us by that nonpareil of silent film accompanists, Florence de Jong. Prepared to be stirred!

Our film this evening is the second feature film to be directed by a most promising talent for our British film industry, Mr Alfred Hitchcock. The film is The Mountain Eagle, which follows his The Pleasure Garden of the previous year. Mr Hitchcock has been a little dismissive of his latest work, something that we prefer to ascribe to a commendable modesty.

The film is excitingly set in the Kentucky hills, though you may be surprised to learn that the production was in fact filmed in the Austrian Tyrol, with studio scenes taken in Munich (we understand that some interiors were also filmed in Paris). The film’s producer Mr Michael Balcon has been keen to encourage co-productions with Germany, and many of you will remember that excellent film The Blackguard, made in 1925.

But what story does it tell? We can do no better than to provide you with the synopsis given in The Bioscope (a journal naturally close to our hearts):

Beatrice Brent, school teacher in a small mountain village, incurs the enmity of Pettigrew, the local Justice of the Peace and owner of the village stores, because he believes that she encourages the attentions of his son Edward, a cripple, who takes evening lessons. Pettigrew, while questioning Beatrice, is himself influenced by her charm and attempts liberties which she strongly resents. He is so furious at the rebuff that he proclaims her as a wanton and she is driven from the village by the inhabitants. Beatrice is saved from their fury by a mysterious strange known as Fearogod, who lives a solitary life in a cabin to which he takes her for shelter. To stop all scandal, Fearogod takes Beatrice down to the village and compels Pettigrew to marry them, explaining to her that he will help her to get a divorce. Beatrice, however, is content to leave the situation as it is, but Pettigrew, furious with rage, takes advantage of the fact that his son has left the village and arrests Fearogod for his murder.

In spite of the fact that there is no vestige of evidence that young Pettigrew has been murdered, Fearogod is kept in prison for over a year, whe he decides to escape. He finds that his wife has a baby and he goes off with them to the mountains. When they find that the baby is taken ill, Fearogod goes back to the village for a doctor, where he sees old Pettigrew. Some doubts as to which of them men is going to attack the other first is settled by an onlooker firing off a gun which wounds Pettigrew in the shoulder. The sudden return of his son Edward convinces the old man of the futility of proceeding with his accusation of murder, so he makes the best of matters by shaking hands with the man he has persecuted and all is supposed to end happily.

The Mountain Eagle

Production crew for The Mountain Eagle on location in the Austrian Tyrol

This is a remarkably intense, elemental drama of family passion. Mr Hitchcock has produced a powerful melodrama clearly inspired by its rugged mountain surroundings. Some critics have complained that the direction is a little too slow, and that Mr Hitchcock has perhaps not quite grasped the German style he has aimed for, while others complain that the supposed setting in Kentucky seems more than a little implausible. But if British films are to succeed in America they must tempt that huge potential audience with American subjects. This also explains the presence of that up and coming star Nita Naldi (you will remember her from Blood and Sand), even if she does appear less than comfortable with her role. Praise is due to that talented yet strangely underrated Italian cinematographer, Baron Ventimiglia, who has contributed so much to the film’s brooding expressionism. That thoughtful and sophisticated scenarist Eliot Stannard has a way of binding character and narrative that helps bring out the nascent genius that we suspect lies in Mr Hitchcock – even if some feel that the number of intertitles are excessive. This is the work of a strong team, even if the subject matter has not perhaps quite brought out the best in each of them.

In America, the film is to be known as Fearogod, while in Germany it is Der Bergadler. Here it has become The Mountain Eagle, though we must confess we are unsure who or what the mountain eagle is supposed to be. In truth, this has been a somewhat troubled production, but undoubtedly an essential part of the learning process for the promising Alfred Hitchcock, who now tells us he is working on an adaptation of Mrs Belloc Lowndes’ thrilling novel, The Lodger, which sounds to be a property ideally suited to this young man’s talents. We shall follow his progress with interest.

Number 13

Ernest Thesiger and Clare Greet in Number 13

The lost short that accompanies our main feature is something of a coup. Gainsborough Studios has made available to us the rushes from Alfred Hitchcock’s uncompleted Number 13, which was to have been his first solo film as a director (he had taken over the direction of the two-reel Always Tell You Wife, one reel of which survives). Filmed at Islington Studios in 1922, this drama (also given the name Mrs Peabody), was to have starred Ernest Thesiger and Clare Greet. The shoot was a troubled one, and production on the two-reeler was halted after only a few scenes were shot.

Do join us tomorrow for the final screening of the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films, when we shall be at the Circle in the Square, in Leicester Square. We can promise you something truly sensational with which to round off the festival…

Human Wreckage

Bioscope Festival of Lost Films

USA 1923

Director: John Griffith Wray
Production company: Thomas H. Ince Corporation
Director of photography: Henry Sharp
Script: C. Gardner Sullivan

Cast: Mrs Wallace Reid (Ethel MacFarland), James Kirkwood (Alan MacFarland), Bessie Love (Mary Finnegan), George Hackathorne (Jimmy Brown), Claire McDowell (Mrs Brown), Robert McKim (Dr Hillman), Harry Northrup (Steve Stone), Victory Bateman (Mrs Finnegan), Eric Mayne (Dr Blake), Otto Hoffman (Harris), Philip Sleeman (Dunn), George Clark (The Baby), Lucille Ricksen (Ginger Smith), George E. Cryer (A city official), Dr R.B. von Kleinsmid (An educator), Benjamin Bledsoe (A jurist), Louis D. Oaks (A police official), Martha Nelson McCan (A civic leader), Mrs Chester Ashley (A civic leader), John P. Carter (A civic leader), Mrs Charles F. Gray (A civic leader), Dr L. M. Powers (A health authority), Brig. C. R. Boyd (Salvation Army worker)

7,215 feet
Distributed by Film Booking Offices of America

Human Wreckage

Mrs Wallace Reid and Bessie Love (right), in Human Wreckage

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening, and welcome to the third screening of the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films. Today we find ourselves at the Casino de Paris in London’s Oxford Street. This small but fine building, which first opened its doors on 18 September 1909, seats just 175 of you. The venue has been chosen for its select nature, as only an invited and carefully vetted audience could be allowed in to see this evening’s sensational production which – as you will know – has been banned by the British Board of Film Censors. It is only under special licence from the London County Council that we are able to show it to you at all. The music comes from that legend among silent film pianists, Mr Arthur Dulay (round of applause).

What is also special about this evening’s main film is that it is to be shown in the presence of its principal performer, Dorothy Davenport, previously a popular film actress but now perhaps best known to you all as Mrs Wallace Reid (murmurs of sympathy). For it was the unfortunate death of her husband, the much-loved Wallace Reid, as the result of a wretched morphine addiction, that led her to produce Human Wreckage, and she has been tireless in presenting the film herself at its screenings across America. She is in this country to promote the film’s serious message, and we welcome her (warm and prolonged applause).

The history of Wallace Reid you will know well. The highly popular American star of such popular films as The Affairs of Anatol and Forever, became addicted to morphine, it is said after he suffered injuries in a railroad crash in 1919, while making The Valley of the Giants. What was at first medical expediency became an increasing habit, to the extent that it is believed that Wallace had morphine administered to him by a doctor at Famous Players-Lasky studios, to ensure that he could complete the many motion pictures that were demanded of such a popular star (expressions of shock and dismay). Many among you will recall the apathetic look that Wallace bore in his later pictures – only now do we know why! His death came on 18 January 1923, aged just thirty-one (deathly silence).

Human Wreckage is not the story of Wallace Reid. Instead it is a product of Mrs Wallace Reid’s determination, following her husband’s death, to campaign against the evils of drug pedling and addiction. Of course, its theme of drug addiction runs against the normal American censorship codes, but the picture’s serious intent has seen it gain a special dispensation from Mr Will Hays, and it was made under the guidance of the Los Angeles Anti-Narcotic League. You will have noted the various civic and health figures included in the cast (murmurs of approval).

Bessie Love in Human Wreckage

Bessie Love as Mary Finnegan in Human Wreckage

The film tells of the evils of drug addiction as they affect several people. Jimmy Brown, a heroin addict, is arrested by the police but successfully defended in court by attorney Alan MacFarland. Jimmy is sent to hospital (where he endures the pains of withdrawal symptoms), while MacFarland, exhausted by pressure of work, is offered morphine by a friend. He gradually becomes addicted. Meanwhile his wife, Ethel, notices that a young girl, Mary Finnegan, living in the same tenement as Jimmy’s mother, is injecting herself with morphine. She is also putting morphine onto her breast to quieten the baby she is nursing. Mary tries to kill herself, but ends up in hospital and separated from her baby. Alan MacFarland is hired by Steve Stone, who is his own dealer, and manages to keep him out of jail. Ethel is unable to save her husband from his addiction, but then he discovers that despair has apparently led her to her own drug addiction, and this brings him to a shocked realisation of what he has put her through. Her ruse works, and he gives up morphine. Jimmy Brown takes Steve Stone on a mad taxi drive through the city, and both are killed in a crash. The film concludes with a plea from the MacFarlands for stronger laws to confront the evil of drugs.

The film has caused a sensation in the United States. Those uncertain about the film’s motives have been shaken by its sincerity and the power of its telling. Mrs Reid herself has been tireless in promoting the film, often introducing it herself, and using her profits to support the Wallace Reid Foundation Sanatorium, as well as establishing her own film production company (warm applause). It is no cheaply-made exposé; instead it has been handsomely produced by the Thomas Ince Corporation, and boasts some remarkable sets inspired by The Cabinet of Dr Caligari for one fantastical sequence. The producers’ confidence has been rewarded by the film’s noted financial success in America.

Here in Britain, where the American context of the story means less, the censors have been less accommodating. Our BBFC rejected the film in January 1924. Mrs Reid has organised some screenings for private individuals – our screening this evening is one of these – but this seems to have shocked the BBFC still further. The chief censor, Mr J. Brooke Wilkinson, has gone on to say:

There have been few, if any, films submitted to the Board since its inception which the examiners look upon as more dangerous than this film ‘human wreckage,’ and we see no possibility of altering it so as to make it suitable for public exhibition in this country.

And so it remains banned, and unseen (cries of ‘shame’).

The lost short accompanying our main feature is Dorian Gray (1913), also known as The Picture of Dorian Gray. How bitterly ironic it is that the young Wallace Reid should have starred in this film, playing Oscar Wilde’s seemingly unblemished young man, whose true, corrupted nature is revealed through a deteriorating portrait of him. The film was directed by Phillips Smalley and written by his talented wife Lois Weber, both of whom also appear in the film. It was made by the New York Motion Picture Corporation.

This has been a harrowing evening. We thank you all for you attention, and particularly to Mrs Reid for having graced us with her presence (loud applause). Tomorrow we will move around the corner to the Cambridge Circus Cinematograph Theatre, for a compelling Anglo-German production. Do join us.

Ein Sommernachtstraum

Bioscope Festival of Lost Films

Germany 1925

Director: Hans Neumann
Production Company: Neumann-Film-Produktion GmbH (Berlin)
Producer: Hans Neumann
Screenplay: Hand Behrendt, Hans Neumann
Titles: Alfred Henschke
Cinematographer: Guido Seeber
Camera assistant: Reimar Kuntze
Costumes and sets: Ernö Metzner
Original music: Hans May

Cast: Theodor Becker (Theseus), Paul Günther (Egeus), Charlotte Ander (Hermia), André Mattoni (Lysander), Barbara von Annenkoff (Helena), Hans Albers (Demetrius), Bruno Ziener (Milon), Ernst Gronau (Squenz), Werner Krass (Zettel), Wilhelm Bendow (Flaut), Fritz Rasp (Schnauz), Walter Brandt (Schnock), Armand Guerra (Wenzel), Martin Jacob (Schlucker), Tamara (Oberon), Lori Leux (Titania), Valeska Gert (Puck), Alexander Granach (Waldschraff), Rose Veldtkirch, Adolf Klein, Hans Behrendt, Paul Biensfeldt

2,529 metres

Ein Sommernachtstraum

The tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, from Ein Sommernachtstraum

Welcome to day two of the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films, and to our special venue this evening, the Court Electric Theatre in London’s Tottenham Court Road. Opened in 1911, this select venue seats 420, and normally its patrons are entertained by an Italian orchestra. For this evening, however, to play the special music composed by Hans May for our lost film, we have Eric Borchard’s American jazz band, brought over at great expense following their acclaimed performances accompanying the film in Berlin.

And what a treat we have for you. Ein Sommernachstraum is a fascinating film, strangely and undeservedly forgotten by the posterity that is to come. It is, of course, based on William Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is the title it has been given in America, though in Britain it has been rather curiously renamed Wood Love. It is the last silent film to be made of a Shakespeare play, and one of the oddest of that distinctly odd genre.

The plot, as you will know, revolves around two pairs of Athenian lovers, whose fortunes are mixed up with the fairy band of the forest and a group of comic workmen rehearsing a play, whose performance forms the uproarious conclusion to both film and play. However, the film takes numerous liberties with Shakespeare, as you will see. The character Shakespeare calls Bottom is here called Zettel, and is played by the great Werner Krauss (who you will recall played Iago in the 1922 German version of Othello and Shylock in the 1926 Der Kaufmann von Venedig). Oberon is played by a woman, the Russian ballet dancer Tamara. A battle between Greek warriors and the female Amazon army is shown, such as Shakespeare never thought to stage. Theseus is seen using a telephone.

Indeed this is not a conventional, nor respectful interpretation. It satirises the performance of Shakespeare, and the rather confused critics have variously described it as being ribald, charming, stagey, sincere, magical, dull, and grotesque. The Berlin censors pronounced it as being forbidden to juveniles. That this is intentionally a radical production can be seen from the presence of contributors such as the well-known poet and critic Alfred Henschke, writing the titles which slyly parody Shakespeare, while director Hans Neumann has been previously distinguished as a producer of titles such as Robert ‘Caligari’ Weine’s strikingly expressionist Raskolnikov. Yet some critics see it only as being conventionally charming, with such magical features as double exposures for appearing and disappearing fairy folk.

The British critic Oswald Blakeston has had some curious things to say about the film in the journal Close-up:

We all know the respectable whose lives are led in a patch of arid ground shut in by a complicated geometrical pattern of lines. Valeska Gert [playing Puck] steps beyond the lines as a hierophant to show what fun one can get from being released; Krauss steps beyond the lines to show what a great actor he is. The Gert puts out her tongue at the audience in devilment; the Krauss puts out his tongue for the audience to see how well he can act the part of a devil … There are more things in this picture more ineluctably Rabelasian that I have ever discovered in the most boisterous Rabelasian comedy … The heartiness in this picture is not biased, it spreads to the simple pleasure of hacking a man in two with a battle-axe.

We are not entirely sure what Mr Blakeston is on about (and we will leave you the pleasure of seeking out a dictionary to find out what ‘hierophant’ means), but clearly the film is a challenge to the senses.

And let us not forget the music. Hans May’s music, performed by jazz band with strings, has divided opinion, but Variety calls it “a real advance in scores for accompanying comedy pictures”. May playfully combines Wagner with Tin Pan Alley, closely scoring for such comic scenes as the battle with the Amazons, and frequently in performance the audience has burst into applause at the musical flourishes alone. As with the intertitles, the music forms an ironic commentary on Shakespeare’s play.

The film has enjoyed a long run at Berlin’s Nollendorf Platz theatre, where it has appeal for a discerning audience, but doubts must be expressed whether it can enjoy a similar kind of success in America or Britain. We are very pleased to be screening it here this evening, but feel that no film burdened with the title Wood Love will last long in the British cinemas.

Hamlet (1907)

Georges Méliès contemplates Yorick’s skull

The lost short that accompanies Ein Sommernachtstraum is an appropriate one: Hamlet (France 1907). How wonderful to see the great Georges Méliès play the Dane! How wonderful too to have Shakespeare’s greatest, but undoubtedly lengthy play, brought to a far more manageable and agreeable length of ten minutes. All the essential details are there: Hamlet at the graveside, his madness aggravated by the sight of visions, Hamlet meeting his father’s ghost, Hamlet meeting the ghost of his love Ophelia, the duel before King Claudius, and the death of Hamlet. Clearly the film displays a bold use of flashbacks and much of M. Méliès’ favoured use of camera trickery. One great artist putting his distinctive stamp upon the work of another.

So ends our screening for this evening. Be sure to return tomorrow, when we shall be at the Casino de Paris to see a truly sensational American production.