Colourful stories no. 6 – Inventing Kinemacolor

Urban and Smith

Charles Urban (left) and George Albert Smith

Kinemacolor, the world’s first successful motion picture colour system, was invented by George Albert Smith. Smith (1864-1959) is one of the most fascinating figures in early cinema, and had already enjoyed a remarkable career prior to his work on colour cinematography.

In 1881, when aged seventeen Smith began a career as a stage mesmerist. He joined up with journalist Douglas Blackburn in a ‘second sight’ act. In such an act, very popular during the 1880s, the performer ‘transmitted’ information, ostensibly by thought alone, to his blindfolded accomplice about objects presented to him by members of the audience. The act attracted the attention of the credulous Society for Psychical Research. Smith took up with the SPR, becoming the subject of many of its experiments in hypnosis over the next few years, as well as being made private secretary to the SPR’s honorary secretary, Edmund Gurney. Leaving the SPR, in 1892 Smith developed a pleasure garden at St Anne’s Well, Hove, where people could encounter refreshments, lawn tennis, fortune tellers, a monkey house and Smith himself giving lantern shows. It was probably only natural that Smith would show a keen interest in moving pictures, and by 1897 he had acquired a camera and was making films. The creative imagination behind such titles as Grandma’s Reading Glass (1900), As Seen Through a Telescope (1900), The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899), Santa Claus (1898) and Let Me Dream Again (1900), with their use of cross-cutting, close-ups and subjectivity, has seen Smith acclaimed today as one of the important filmmakers of the period.

Let Me Dream Again

G.A. Smith’s Let Me Dream Again, with Tom Green and Smith’s wife Laura Bayley, from

Smith’s most significant film work of the time, however, and certainly the most profitable, was his film processing business. It is unclear how Smith, with his background in psychical research, magic lanterns and pleasure gardens, came to acquire the necessary technical knowledge to pursue such a business with such success, but – already selling his films through them – he took on the processing work of the Warwick Trading Company in November 1898, as well as dealing with a number of independent filmmakers.

It was through this work that Smith came into close contact with Charles Urban, Warwick’s managing director. As already described, Urban had encouraged and then personally invested in the Lee and Turner three-colour system, and when Turner died in 1903 Urban turned to Smith to try and make the stubborn system actually work.

Smith knew his colour photography. He had an Ives Kromskop (covered in an earlier post), and he was well aware of the experiments on still and motion colour photography by his Hove neighbours William Davidson and Benjamin Jumeaux. They had come up with the idea of employing two rather than three colour filters to create a motion picture colour record, and though their efforts met with failure, Smith recognised that here was the germ of a practical solution.

It took him three years. His breakthrough was not simply in choosing two-colour filters (red and green, or close variations on those basic colours) but in his understanding of the sensitizing chemcials needed. Film stock at the time was orthochromatic; that is, it was not fully sensitive to the full colour spectrum. It was good for the blues and greens, but excluded oranges and reds. This was fine enough for monochrome results, but fatally flawed for convincing colour. For that they needed panchromatic stock, which would be sensitive across the whole visible spectrum, but such stock did not exist at the time.

So Smith had to panchromatise his own film stock, and he was fortunate that at the very time he began his experiments, German chemists were coming up with satisfactory sensitisers. However, the right way forward was far from instant, and the method of bathing the negative stock in the dyes frequently yielded very uneven results. Smith worked his way through a wide range of colour sensitisers, finally achieving an acceptable balance that in particular had a sensitivity to red.

Charles Urban recorded the moment when their trials achieved success. There are a number of suspect features in his account (he seems to be confusing the scene with the earlier Lee and Turner experiments), but he is surely right in recalling the emotion of the moment:

One Sunday – we were ready for the first real two-colour test. It was beautiful sunshiny day. Smith dressed his little boy and girl in a variety of colors, the girl was in white with a pink sash, the boy in sailor blue waving a Union Jack; we had the green grass and the red brick house for a setting. This was in July 1906. It took about thirty seconds to make the exposures on a specially prepared negative film after which we went into Smith’s small dark room to develop the results in absolute darkness. Within two hours we had dried the negative, made a positive print of the 50 feet length, developed and dried it – and then for the grand test. Even today – after seventeen years, I can feel the thrill of that moment, when I saw the first result of the two-colour process – I yelled like a drunken cowboy – ‘We’ve got it – We’ve got it’.

Smith patented his colour system in November 1906 (it would only become known as Kinemacolor in 1909). This is the outline description from the patent:

1. An animated picture of a coloured scene is taken with a bioscope in the usual way, except that a revolving shutter is used fitted with properly adjusted red and green colour screens. A negative is thus obtained in which the reds & yellows are recorded in one picture, & the greens & yellows (with some blue) in the second, & so on alternately throughout the length of the bioscope film.

2. A positive picture is made from the above negative & projected by the ordinary projecting machine which, however, is fitted with a revolving shutter furnished with somewhat similar coloured glasses to the above, & so contrived that the red & green pictures are projected alternately through their appropriate colour glasses.

3. If the speed of the projection is approximately 30 pictures per second, the two colour records blend & present to the eye a satisfactory rendering of the subject in colours which appear to be natural.

The novelty of my method lies in the use of 2 colours only, red and green, combined with the persistence of vision.

This patent was later to cause no end of trouble, and eventually would be revoked, owing to the imprecision of its language. But that was nine years away. The full text of the patent (B.P. 26671 of 1906) can be found on the esp@acenet web site or in its American version (issued 30 November 1909) from Google Patents.

Kinemacolor camera

Kinemacolor camera, showing the red and green rotating filter

Kinemacolor therefore worked like this. Black-and-white film was exposed through a camera which was equipped with a rotating red and green filter. The film had to be taken at approximately double the normal speed, thirty frames per second. Thus successive frames recorded a ‘red’ and a ‘green’ record (a consequence of this was colour fringing when filming an object in motion, because what were supposed to be exactly adjacent records were slightly separated in time). The result was then exhibited through a projector similarly equipped with a rotating red and green filter, at thirty f.p.s. The result, after much experimentation with the exact type of filters and chemicals (not covered in any detail by the patent), was a motion picture colour record with a remarkably convincing natural colour effect. It could not be natural colour, of course (there was no blue, in effect), but it was convincing enough for most purposes, and what is more audiences became convinced that they could see the colours that were not there. Smith, the former mesmerist and trick filmmaker, knew all about the propensity, even the need for audiences to be fooled by what appeared on the screen. He described the illusion thus:

One has a very curious illustration about that with flags. I very often amuse myself about it, because this matter of blue has been on my mind a good deal, and I have discussed it a good deal. There is a rather curious thing that crops up in everyday life about blue, and that is in the Union Jack. You will find a Union Jack is very often indeed in a shocking state; it is a sort of dull drey [sic], red and black almost, and yet if you were to say to anybody, What colour is that? he would say, Red and blue; but when you took it down you would find there was no blue in it, it is red and black and dark grey, but no blue at all. I do not deny that you do get blue in Union Jacks, but it is called blue often when it is not; it is described as the good old blue and red Union Jack.

Kinemacolor was to be as much an act of faith as it was a plain technical achievement. It was the nurturing of that faith in audiences that was to bring out the genius in Charles Urban, as the entrepreneur behind Kinemacolor, and it is with Urban that we will take the story out of the inventor’s laboratory and on to its spectacular appearance on the world stage.

Recommended reading:
Brian Coe, The History of Movie Photography (1981)
D.B. Thomas, The First Colour Motion Pictures (1969)

Note: The quotation by Charles Urban comes from an unpublished (at the time) 1921 paper, ‘Terse History of Natural Colour Kinematography’. The Smith quotation on the colour blue comes from the documents accompanying the 1913 court case Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Limited (in liquidation) v Bioschemes Ltd.

Rohauer for sale

Sherlock Jr

Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., from

Got a million or two spare? Or maybe three? I’m not sure how much these things cost. Anyway, one of the world’s major commercial collections of silent films is up for sale. The Rohauer collection of some 700 titles, including many Buster Keaton titles, is being offered for either licensing deals or for a buyer to take the whole collection. The legendary collection was built up over three decades by collector Raymond Rohauer, around whom many a story has revolved but who has been rightly credited with bringing Keaton’s name back into public recognition.

The collection was bought by Gary Dartnall in 1995, who formed Douris to manage it, but they went into administration last year. So now the collection is on the market, and as The Guardian report says of the administrators Deloitte:

It sees potential buyers among those looking for steady income streams from licensing deals to the DVD, TV and video-on-demand industries as well as from film festival royalties. It also believes the collection could catch the eye of academics or a film enthusiast.

If you are interested in the story of Rohauer’s restoration (in more than one sense) of Keaton’s reputation, there’s an informative piece by David Shepard, ‘Polishing the Stone Face’, which discusses the problems involved in creating authentic restorations, because Rohauer had an unfortunate habit of ‘improving’ the prints in his care, rewriting titles and making editorial alterations.

But don’t let that put you off seeking that steady income stream, if you happen to be an academic or film enthusiast with a few pennies tucked away somewhere…

British silent cinema festival


Chicago (1927)

The first news has been published of the feature films and main events taking place at this year’s British Silent Cinema Festival. As usual, the festival is being held at the Broadway, Nottingham, and runs 3-6 April.

This year the main theme is ‘Rats, Ruffians and Radicals: The Globalisation of Crime and the British Silent Film‘. The festival is a mixture of films, papers and special presentations, and usually pulls of the trick of attracting both an academic and an ‘enthusiast’ audience. Anyway, here are some of the delights on offer:

Chicago (USA 1927), sparky silent film version of the story that later became the musical Chicago. Directed by Frank Urson under supervision of De Mille this is a vibrant telling of the tale of Roxie Hart and her attempts to beat a murder rap in the most cynical city in the world. See the film that inspired the musical that inspired the film of the musical …

Red Pearls (UK 1930), Walter Forde’s psychological drama about a Japanese merchant who tries to drive his victim mad by sending him letters from beyond the grave.

Henry Edwards’ The Bargain (UK 1921) starring Chrissie White and actor/director Edwards in a tale of fraud, deception and family ties as a man purporting to be a long lost son returns from the Australian outback to claim his inheritance from his dying father.

At the Villa Rose (UK 1920), director Maurice Elvey’s classic locked-room murder mystery set in the fashionable and decadent expatriate community in Monte Carlo.

Die Carmen von St Pauli (Germany 1928), German director Erich Waschneck’s brilliant drama set in Hamburg’s dockside gangland featuring German stars Willi Fritsch and the delicious Jenny Jugo – who rivals Clara Bow for sheer screen presence. The film also shows there is more to German film than expressionism.

René Clair’s Le Fantôme du Moulin Rouge (France 1924) combines Grande Guignol, surrealism and playful avant garde film tricks. It’s the tale of a man whose spirit is released from his body to allow him to torment and trick his family but ultimately there’s a race against time when his spirit needs to get back into his lifeless body before the autopsy begins …

The Whip (USA 1917): more horse nobbling courtesy of Maurice Tourneur, based on the famous British stage play by Cecil Raleigh and Henry Hamilton. In the words of the legendary Tallulah Bankhead: “The Whip was a blood-and-thunder melodrama in four acts and fourteen scenes imported from London’s Drury Lane Theatre. It boiled with villainy and violence. Its plot embraced a twelve-horse race on a treadmill (for the Gold Cup at Newmarket), a Hunt Breakfast embellished by fifteen dogs, an auto-smash-up, the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks, and a train wreck with a locomotive hissing real steam. It boasted a dissolute earl and a wicked marquis, and a heroine whose hand was sought by both knave and hero. It was a tremendous emotional dose for anyone as stage-struck and impressionable as our heroine.”

The Hill Park Mystery (Denmark 1923) (aka Shattered Nerves) features a detective trying to clear the name of a woman accused of murder, who finds matters complicated when he becomes romantically attached to his client.

Other highlights will include episodes from The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and tales from The Old Man in the Corner, Luke McKernan’s illustrated presentation to mark the centenary of the 1908 Olympics in the UK, a session on Melodrama along with a packed programme of presentations, screenings and social events.

So, yes, I’m one of the star turns (on Saturday the 5th), giving a glossy show on film and the Olympic Games, 1900-1924, with special attention given to the the London Games of 1908, whose centenary it is, of course. As for the feature films, there’s some fascinating choices there, though the British content seems a bit elusive in places. The festival website doesn’t have any programme details as yet, but further information will get published here in due course.

European film treasures

Daisy Doodad’s Dial

Florence Turner in Daisy Doodad’s Dial (1914), from

Announced today is a plan by Lobster Films of Paris, with a number of partner organisations, to release up to 500 film titles from thirty-seven European archives, online and for free, with 50% funding from the European MEDIA programme, which is all about expanding markets for films and exposing content to new audiences. The partners include the British Film Institute and the Danish Film Institute. The project, European Film Treasures, launches in April.

Here’s a Reuters press report:

PARIS (Hollywood Reporter) – Where do you go if you want to watch rare archive films such as a 1916 document about life on a German submarine or John Ford’s 53-minute Western “Bucking Broadway” from the following year?

Until now, the answer would have been a trip to one of the film archives that house these prints, respectively London’s Imperial War Museum and the French Film Archive.

But that is about to change with the launch in April of a Europe-wide video-on-demand platform bringing together content from 37 film archives and cinematheques across the continent. And the good news for film buffs is that it’s free.

European Film Treasures, as the site will be known, is the brainchild of Serge Bromberg, founder of Paris-based historic film and restoration specialist Lobster Films. The European Union’s MEDIA Program has pledged to put up half of the approximately 500,000 euros ($725,000) needed to fund the project for its first year.

European Film Treasures is hoping to tap into a chunk of the huge audience for free on-line video sites like YouTube and Bebo. “The difficulty today is not so much to find old films and restore them, it’s finding an audience for them,” Bromberg says. “These are some of the best films shot in Europe over more than 80 years, but it’s often difficult to convince people to see films like these.”

Each partner archive will propose films, and a jury of historic film specialists will decide which to include on the VoD site based on criteria such as historical interest and artistic quality. Footage will be accessible for streaming only, not download, but the site may in the future extend to associated DVD sales.

Films will be available in their original language with translation where needed into English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

The site is expected to launch with about 100 titles, but the aim is to include as many as 500 films once fully loaded. Lobster is coming up with original music to accompany silent films.

It took two years to convince all the archives to come on board. “They thought it was a good idea but considered it was impossible. The idea is not just to show their films, but also to present the archives and their work,” Bromberg says.

The only major national archive that decided not to be represented was from Belgium. “That is to their great shame,” Bromberg opines.

Bryony Dixon, curator (silent film) at the British Film Institute’s National Archive, says that VoD is a well-adapted platform for these early and short films, which are otherwise difficult to program. “Theatrical, you may get a few thousand viewers. On the Web, you can get hundreds of thousands or even millions. If you put it out there, people will find it. You get that long-tale effect.”

As with the other partner archives, the BFI is not putting in any financing but simply making films available. “We’re in a good position to do that as probably the biggest film archive in Europe,” Dixon says.

Among films the BFI is submitting are “Daisy Doodad’s Dial,” a 1913 British-made comedy starring U.S. actress Florence Turner, and a rare film of a French boxing champion. “We’ll pick things that have appeal, like the boxing film, which will be really interesting for the boxing community because it’s not seen before,” Dixon contends.

For its part, the Danish Film Institute is submitting a 1923 Danish film that is one of the earliest examples of a viable talking film; an animated sausage commercial film from the mid-1930s that uses Dufay Color, a mosaic screen additive system that predates Technicolor; and a raunchy 1910 one-reeler about Copenhagen nightlife.

“These are films that we restored recently. They’re all entertaining films, one about color and cinema, one about sound and cinema. It’s broadening people’s idea of the development of cinema,” said Thomas Christensen, curator of the DFI.

“It’s great that there’s this kind of channel for content that is otherwise sitting fallow in the archive,” said Christensen. “I don’t expect it to become a blockbuster phenomenon. It might never be more than marginal but it’s an interesting channel to be represented on. I think this is very much a transition time, and we have to explore the possibilities.”

This is exciting news, though it doesn’t explain where the other 50% of the money has come from, or what happens after the first year. Also, some of those films may have been already made available online elsewhere (Daisy Doodad’s Dial is being offered by the BFI for free downloading on its Creative Archive site). But the more exposure the better, because it is all about finding those new audiences.

So roll on the 1910 scenes of raunchy Copenhagen nightlife, and shame on Belgium.

Update (June 2008): The site is now available, from An initial review of the site fom The Bioscope is here.

What happens next?

Sleep with me series, Pihla, Nanna Saarhelo, 2007

Sleep with me series, Pihla, Nanna Saarhelo, 2007, from PM Gallery

Occasionally on the Bioscope we look to cinema’s roots in chronophotography, optical toys, magic lanterns and such like, and a new exhibition has just opened which both takes us back to chronophotography and up to the present day.

What Happens Next? is an exhibition dedicated to the photographic sequence. It takes as its inspiration the work of the nineteenth century photographer, Eadweard Muybridge, whose sequence photography – or chronophotography – of the 1870s/80s did so much to inspire the creation of cinema. The exhibition runs at the PM Gallery in West London 8 February-15 March 2008, and it explores the work of artists working in sequence photography from the nineteenth century to today. The artists featured are John Blakemore, Julie Cassels, Matt Finn, Steffi Klenz, Mari Mahr, Edweard Muybridge, James Newton, Nanna Saarhelo, Andrew Warstat, Sally Waterman and Cary Welling.

Coinciding with the exhibition is an article on Muybridge in this week’s New Scientist magazine (only an extract is available online). It’s a thoughtful piece (certainly a lot more thoughtful than its dire title, ‘Lights, camera, action!’ would seem to promise), with more emphasis on Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope discs that one normally finds. The Zoopraxiscope was Muybridge’s proto-animation device, whereby he transferred some of his photographic sequences in silhouette form onto the edges of a glass disc so that they could be projected as fleeting animated images.

What Muybridge did not do was ever show his photographic sequences themselves as projected images in motion – he wasn’t able to. And yet how often to we see something like the animated sequences featured in this video?

This short piece on the exhibition has been posted on YouTube by the New Scientist, which rather goes to show that there are some limits to its knowledge of science. Muybridge’s photographic sequences were never seen in motion like this. To make them move he had to produce silhouettes derived from the photographs, making him a genuine pioneer of the animation film. The pure photographs he only displayed like so:

Ascending Stairs

Ascending Stairs

Of course, it is hugely tempting to animated Muybridge’s images, as has been done ever since Thom Andersen’s 1975 film Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer. Animated Muybridge sequences are found all over the Web, and have become an iconographic staple. But they falsify history – unless one argues that they display what Muybridge wanted to have displayed but was unable to achieve himself. In which case, they are a form of virtual history, which is all well and good, so long as we do not foget the true one.

As What Happens Next? demonstrates, chronophotography or sequence photography is alive and well today, practiced both as an art and as a science (either equally appropriate for Muybridge), for a sequential series both demonstrates a process and betrays a narrative. Chronophotographic sequences were used to striking effect for analysis in the BBC’s coverage of the last Winter Olympics, and there are numerous artists’ sites which display the possibilities of the medium. Some choice examples include P.J. Reptilehouse, Sequences, and my particular favourite, David Crawford, who photographs sequence of people on tube trains and at airports.

There’s also this review of What Happens Next?, which connects Muybridge with The Matrix, on the Telegraph‘s website.

When the Barbican put on Molly

Molly Picon

Molly Picon in East and West (Ost und west), from Barbican Film

The home for silent film in London is now the Barbican centre, whose Silent Film and Live Music continues to demonstrate imaginative programming in the titles selected and the music chosen to accompany them.

Apart from highlighting the current series, I wanted to draw particular attention to the film showing on Sunday February 17, Ost und West (East and West) (Austria 1923). This features Molly Picon, the great star of Yiddish stage and screen, and gives me the opportunity of reproducing the splendid still above. The diminutive, round-eyed Molly Picon (1898-1992) was a New York Yiddish theatre star, on the stage from the age of six, and massively popular among Jewish and on-Jewish audiences in the 1920s. She made made a handful of films in the 1920s and 30s, before returning to the screen more regularly in the 1970s (she’s most familiar to general audiences for playing the matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof). Ost und West is the earliest of her films that survives. I’ve not see the film (yet), so here’s the Barbican’s blurb for it:

Featuring Molly Picon, one of the great stars of Yiddish cinema, it tells the story of streetwise New York flapper Mollie, who travels to her cousin’s wedding in a traditional Polish shtetl. Contrasting sophisticated city values against those of simple village life, the film contains classic scenes of the irrepressible Picon lifting weights, boxing and teaching young villagers to shimmy, and eventually meeting her match in a young yeshiva scholar.

The music comes from Lemez Lovas of Oi Va Voi and guest musicians Moshikop and Rohan Kriwaczek, taking in “traditional klezmer to contemporary electronica, from liturgical melancholy to party pop kitsch and from vaudeville to breakbeat.” Directed by Sidney M. Goldin and Ivan Abramson, the film is screening at 16.00 and runs for 85mins.

Bridge of Light

For anyone interested in the history of Yiddish film, the essential source is J. Hoberman’s Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Wars (1991), which apart from its commendable written content, is just one of the most beautifully-produced books on film history that I know. Check out also Sylvia Plaskin, When Joseph Met Molly: A Reader on Yiddish Film (1999) (Joseph being the Polish director Joseph Green), Judith N. Goldberg, Laughter Through Tears: The Yiddish Cinema (1983), or Eric A. Goldman, Visions, Images and Dreams: Yiddish Film Past and Present (1984).

Other titles being screened in the Barbican series are:

9 MarchOn Our Selection (Australia 1920) – homely, landmark Australian comedy-drama about the pioneering Rudd family. With piano accompaniment by Neil Brand.

3 AprilChang: A Drama of the Wilderness (USA 1927) – King Kong creators Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B Shoedsack’s classic dramatised documentary set in the jungles of Thailand (and producing background footage that went on to pad out a number of Tarzan movies). With live accompaniment by Italian group Yo Yo Mundi.

20 AprilThe St Kilda Tapes – a collection of silent films from the Scottish Screen Archive, including the topical St. Kilda – Britain’s Loneliest Isle (1923-28), Da Makkin O’ A Keshie (1932), and A New Way to a New World (1936), all set to music by acoustic guitarist David Allison.

4 MayNanook of the North (USA 1922) – the so-called first documentary film (if you’ve got a couple of hours I’ll give you chapter and verse on how wrong all the text books are), directed by poet of cinema Robert Flaherty. Music from the Shrine Synchrosystem, featuring Max Reinhardt, DJ Rita Ray, world music kora master Tunde Jegede and Ben Mandelson on guitars, which ought to steer us away from the siren temptations of too much authenticity (like Flaherty?).

17 MayThe Wind (USA 1928) – one of the cast-iron classics of silent cinema, Victor Sjöström’s visual masterpiece stars Lillian Gish living a hard life in dust-bowl Texas, and is guaranteed to convert even the stoniest-hearted sceptic into acclaming silent cinema. With the Carl Davis symphonic score (sadly, not with actual orchestra).

1 JuneThe Passion of Joan of Arc (Denmark 1928) – somehow not convinced even by The Wind? Carl Theodore Dreyer’s astonishing, overpowering work, with Falconetti as Joan, will do the trick. With music by In the Nursery.

15 JuneStella Dallas (USA 1925) – classic weepie from Henry King, starring Ronald Colman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Belle Bennett. Remade with Barbara Stanwyck in 1937, but this is the version to see. With piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Through Savage Europe

Harry de Windt

Harry de Windt

Just added to the Bioscope Library is Through Savage Europe: Being the narrative of a journey (undertaken as special correspondent of the “Westminster Gazette”), throughout the Balkan States and European Russia. This is an account of a journey through the states of Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Servia (as the book has it), Bulgaria, Rumania and Russia in 1907. This was the area that was soon to experience conflict through the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, then to be the powder keg that helped start off the First World War.

Of interest to us is that the author, journalist and adventurer Harry de Windt, took a motion picture cameraman with him. This was John Mackenzie of the Charles Urban Trading Company, to whom De Windt refers throughout:

My sole companion was Mr. Mackenzie, of the Urban Bioscope Company, a canny Scotsman from Aberdeen, possessed of a keen sense of humour and of two qualities indispensable to a “bioscope” artist – assurance and activity. Nothing daunted my friend when he had once resolved to secure a “living” picture, and I trembled more than once for his safety in the vicinity of royal residences or military ground. For the bioscope was a novelty in the Balkans and might well have been mistaken for an infernal machine!

Relatively little is said of Mackenzie’s actual work (he left before de Windt went on to Russia), but the interest is in his very presence, in the tie-up with a British newspaper (the Westminster Gazette), and in the Balkans as a topic of sufficient interest to audiences at home to justify the expense of organising such a venture. Here is the motion picture medium as a news and documentary force, bound up with the other news media, reporting on a remote locality of pressing interest to British audiences (Urban had sent out a cameraman to the same area in 1903 to film a Macedonian uprising against the Turks) who could read it up in the papers and then, suitably briefed, see it all with interested eyes on the motion picture screen.

For the record, this a list of the films taken by Mackenzie (sadly, none is known to survive today):

Roumania: Its Citizens and its Soldiers (22 scenes, 420 feet)
Herzegovina, Bosnia and Dalmatia (22 scenes, 710 feet)
Montenegro and the Albania Alps (14 scenes, 350 feet)
Life and Scenes in Servia (17 scenes, 435 feet)
Bulgaria and its Citizens (18 scenes, 800 feet)
Bulgarian Infantry (18 scenes, 410 feet)
Bulgarian Cavalry and Artillery (17 scenes, 415 feet)

Mackenzie would go on to become a leading Kinemacolor cameraman, shooting many of the earlier productions demonstrating the colour process.

Through Savage Europe is available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (14MB), PDF (38MB), b/w PDF (17MB) and TXT (439KB) formats.



CineFiles is the film document image database of the Pacific Film Archives, Berkeley, California. The database comprises reviews, press kits, programme notes, newspaper articles and other documents from the Archive’s library collection. The documents cover world cinema, past and present. Over 25,000 films are represented, and their target figure is 200,000 documents, with more being added daily.

You can search by document (under title, author, date or publisher, or for documents about specific films, people, or subjects) or filmographic data (under title, subject, genre, director, year, country, or studio). There doesn’t seem to be any easy way of isolating silent films (typing in ‘silent’ into the subject field only brings up three titles), so you will have to search by title, director or specific year for the best results.

The collection is particularly strong on Russian and Soviet cinema, so, as an example, the record for Protazanov’s Pikovaia dama (The queen of spades) (1916), erroneously given as a Soviet Union production (in 1916 the country was still Russia), provides the researcher with the following:

Title: Pikovaia dama (The queen of spades)
Director: Protazanov, Iakov Aleksandrovich
Country of Prod.: Soviet Union
Year: 1916
Language: Russian
Production Co.:
Genre: Adaptation, Horror
Subject: Gamblers — Drama, Ghosts — Drama

Related Documents:

1. Silent witnesses — excerpt – Tsivian, Yuri – British Film Institute – 1989 – 3 pages – – book excerpt

View full description of this document
View page images: Pg. 1, Pg. 2, Pg. 3

2. Costumes and classics – – National Film Theatre (London, England) – 1990 Feb 04 – 1 page – – program note

View full description of this document
View page images: Pg. 1

3. Pikovaya dama (the queen of spades) – Borger, Lenny – Variety – 1990 Mar 21 – 1 page – – review

View full description of this document
View page images: Pg. 1

4. Queen of spades – – Mary Pickford Theater (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.) – 1992 Apr – 1 page – – program note

View full description of this document

5. The queen of spades – – Pacific Film Archive – – 2 pages – – program note

View full description of this document
View page images: Pg. 1, Pg. 2

6. The queen of spades – Svolkein, N. – – – 4 pages – – intertitles

View full description of this document
View page images:
Pg. 1, Pg. 2, Pg. 3, Pg. 4

7. The queen of spades – Svolkein, N. – – – 1 page – – intertitles

View full description of this document
View page images: Pg. 1

8. The queen of spades – Bolotnikov, Vladimir – – – 4 pages – – intertitles

View full description of this document
View page images:
Pg. 1, Pg. 2, Pg. 3

9. Mosjoukine — excerpt – – – – 3 pages – – book excerpt

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View page images: Pg. 1, Pg. 2, Pg. 3

The page image references are links to GIF or JPEG images of book extracts, programme notes etc. The document search option has some very useful means to narrow a search, including type of document (advertisement, bibliography, book excerpt, correspondence, obituary etc.), and further options are provided to search by documents with box office information, production costs, illustrations etc. Some of the documents are surprisingly long, though it is a little frustrating that the pages are provided as separate image files rather than brought together, for example in PDF format.

There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of older original documents (e.g. posters, press materials, lobby cards for silent films) but the database offers a very handy guide to the critical literature (copyright clearance has been obtained for all the page images they publish). It’s plainly set out and simple to use. Go explore.

It’s only nine months away…


Sparrows, from

Let’s not wish away all the joys that 2008 in sure to bring, but the first news on the Pordenone Silent Film Festival (4-11 October) is out.

Among the main festival features will be

  • Aleksandr Shiryaev (Russian ballet dancer and producer of puppet dance films)
  • French comedy of the post-war silent era
  • Hollywood on the Hudson
  • Viktor Tourjansky
  • The Griffith Project, 12 (1925-1931)
  • The Corrick Collection, 2 (Australian collection of early actualities)

And the opening music event is to be a gala screening of the Mary Pickford classic Sparrows (1926), with score by Jeffrey Silverman, performed live for the first time by the Orchestra Sinfonica del Friuli Venezia Giulia, conducted by Hugh Munro Neely.

OK, October is a little time away, but a little closer is the 25 May deadline for applications to sign up to this year’s Collegium at Pordenone. This is a week-lomng programme of study into film history and film archiving with special sessions from notable expert visitors to the festivals. There are twelve places available, and applicants should preferably be under thirty years of age and pursuing education in cinema in some form. Collegians are given free hotel accommodation and breakfast during the week, but are responsible for their own travel arrangements, meals, and all other expenses. More information, including how to apply, from the festival site.

Happy birthday, Bioscope!

A cake for the Bioscope

Yes folks, it was one year ago to the day that the Bioscope first opened its eyes, put its fingers to the keyboard, and produced these words:

Welcome to The Bioscope, the place for news, information, documentation and opinion on the world of early and silent cinema.

And here we are, some 500 posts, 10,350 deleted spam messages, 61,200 visitors and somewhere over 100,000 words later, still dedicated to the cause. And for my amusement, if no one else’s, these are the top twenty posts by number of visits over the past year (excluding visits to sections such as About and Library):

1. Searching for Albert Kahn
2. Paul Merton on tour
3. The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn
4. The Twenties in Colour
5. The Invention of Hugo Cabret
6. Slapstick, European-style – part 1
7. 100 years of the Autochrome
8. Crazy Cinématographe – Travelling Cinema
9. The silent films of Alfred Hitchcock
10. Paul Merton’s Silent Comedy
11. A Tour of the Cinema Museum with Ronald Grant
12. The Great War in Colour
13. Edwardian hoodies
14. Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns
15. The Silent Worker
16. The Bioscope Festival of Lost Films
17. Lost and Found no. 2 – Dawson City
18. Times past
19. Visiting the Volta
20. Picasso, Braque and Early Film in Cubism

So thank you to Messrs. Kahn and Merton for having attracted so much custom, and thank you dear readers for all your comments and collaboration. Let’s hope for new adventures and passions in year two.