Projection Box Essay Awards

The winners have been announced for the inaugural Projection Box Essay Awards 2007-2008 for research into the projected and moving image to 1915.

The judges awarded the first prize of £250 and publication in Early Popular Visual Culture, to Dr. John Plunkett for his essay ‘Selling Stereoscopy 1890-1914: penny arcades, automatic machines and American salesmen.’

“ A thorough and well sustained argument … convincing and very well written … highly original.”
“ A clear and impressive piece of work.”

Second and third prizes of Projection Box books worth £100 went to: Professor Erkki Huhtamo, for ‘Penetrating the Perestrephic: an unwritten chapter in the history of the panorama’

“A fascinating piece of re-constructive archaeology.”
“The range of sources is remarkable …”

and to Christian Hayes for ‘Phantom Carriages: reconstructing Hale’s Tours and the virtual travel experience’.

“… has a good balance between the historical facts and the theorising. A good read.”

The titles of the other entries received and judged were (in no particular order):

  • ‘Early Days of Cinematograph Projection’
  • ‘Hidden History: exploring the lost world of early cinema’
  • ‘From Dioramic Views to a Dissolving Partnership: Banks and Grieves and the “sensation of the age”‘
  • ‘The Outside-in Machine: the Kinetoscope, its films and the Kinetoscope experience in London’
  • ‘Returning to Fear: new discoveries in E.G. Robertson’s Fantasmagoria’
  • ‘Tillie’s Punctured Celluloid’
  • ‘Between Narrative and Expressive Value: notes on deep staging in early cinema’

The aims of the Award for 2008-2009 are to encourage new research and new thinking into any historical, artistic or technical aspect of popular optical media up to 1900; and to promote engaging, accessible, and imaginative work. The deadline for entries of between 5,000 and 8,000 words is 24 January 2009. All details including rules and application form can be found at

Time running out for the Cinema Museum

Cinema Museum

As was reported a few months ago on The Bioscope, the Cinema Museum in south London comes to the end of its lease this month, and has no new home to move to. Its current home is a former Lambeth workhouse (the same one that once incarcerated Charlie Chaplin’s mother), but this is owned by an NHS trust and it wants to sell the dilapidated property. The Cinema Museum is privately-owned and not open to the general public. It only keeps going financially through its commercial stills business. It is an absolute treasure trove of cinema memorabilia – posters, designs, seats, uniforms, costumes, books, journals, equipment, and a sizeable film collection, as well as a million stills.

The Cinema Museum may be struggling to find a base, but it is doing very well at drumming up publicity. There have been press reports, such as this account in The Times, and yesterday there was a report on Channel 4 News, which you can see on its site (as well as the uncut original interview with owner Ronald Grant, no less).

The lease runs out on March 25, and no one knows what will happen thereafter. Anyone with a large (10,000 sq ft) space in London not doing that much who might like to provide a home for the collection should get in touch with Ronald Grant or Martin Humphries asap. It’s an irony that while the Cinema Museum faces eviction, on London’s South Bank we have the peculiar, opportunistic Movieum of London just opened, dedicatd to British cinema, sort of, though I doubt much that it devotes much space, if any, to the silent era.

If you want to see what’s held in the Cinema Museum, take a look at their wonderful promo film available on YouTube.

Update (23 March): The Cinema Museum reports that the NHS Trust which owns the building has given them a two-month reprieve (i.e. to the end of May). Meetings are taking place regarding the museum’s long-term prospects, but this will still leave them needing to find a new home in the short-term. Also their website is active again, having gone down for a short while. More news as I find it.

The world’s oldest movie

Burnt City’s Wild Goat

The Wild Goat of Burnt City, from

Those of us steeped in early film know all about the pre-history of cinema, with the optical toys, Zoetropes, Phenakistiscopes and so on of the nineteenth century and a history of screen practice going back to the seventeenth century and the emergence of the magic lantern. And many have argued that the history can go back as far as you like, some even asserting that cave paintings demonstrate a proto-cinematic imagination.

But here we have a candidate for the world’s oldest piece of animation, even the world’s oldest movie – an ‘animation’ from 2,600 B.C. In the 1970s an Italian archaeological team uncovered a pot in the 5,200-year-old Burnt City of ancient Iran. It was Iranian archaeologist Dr Mansur Sadjadi, who discovered that the five images on the pot, showing a wild goat leaping up to eat the leaves of a tree, formed a related series. Now a documentary film has been made by Mohsen Ramezani which animates the sequence.

Wild Goat

The original five images of the wild goat, from

Of course, the ancient Iranians did not invent the animated GIF, and in any case there has been some jiggery-pokery to make the animation succeed (there are more than five images to the animated sequence, the images have been cleaned up, and the background trees are unfeasibly rocksteady). So it’s an animation of an animation. Nevertheless, it’s delightful to see, and does make you think that the wish to capture life in art has always included a need to suggest motion, so that cinematic urge has always been there, in some form. It’s a fundamental human need. Now, were any other such pots made, and where are they?

Find out more about the pot and film from the Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization site. Acknowledgment also to the commendable Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, where I found the story.