Moving pictures going around London

Whitehall, Cheam

Whitehall, Cheam, from http://www.friendsofwhitehallcheam.co.uk

The touring exhibition, Moving Pictures Come to London, already reported on here, continues on its tours around London. Currently it can be found at the Whitehall, Cheam (which looks a delightful spot), where it runs until 30 March. Based on research carried out at Birkbeck College, the exhibition focuses on the history of moving pictures in London before World War I, looking at the filmmakers, the technology and the audiences. It’s a fine small exhibition, not least for showing how academic research can – indeed should – find a popular outlet. Each version of the exhibition has had a section reflecting the area of London where it is being put on. It’s already been to Camden, Hornsey, Hampstead and Westminster, plus a whirlwind couple of days in Leicester Square, and other venues that I think I’ve missed. Take a look if you can.

Colour, colour and more colour

A call for papers has been issued for a special issue of the Journal of British Cinema and Television on colour in British cinema and television. Organised by the University of Bristol’s ongoing AHRC-funded project on the history of colour cinematography in Britain, the call asks for proposals of 400-750 words to be sent to the editors Simon Brown and Sarah Street by 1 April 2008. Each article (subject to your proposal being accepted, of course) should be no more than 8,000 words and no less than 5,000 words. They are interested in any area that relates to colour and British cinema and television from any period, but are particularly interested in articles on the following themes:

  • Particular colour processes that were used in Britain
  • Early colour television
  • Colour and home movies
  • Colour in feature films
  • Colour and British animation and/or documentary and/or avant-garde
  • Issues of colour restoration
  • The use of colour in contemporary television series such as The British Empire in Colour
  • An interview with someone who has worked with colour or who has particular views on the use of colour in film and/or television (this should not exceed 5,000 words)
  • Textual analyses of the use of colour
  • Colour and theory
  • Colour and audiences

Omnivorous stuff. Details on house style, length and other issues can be found on the Edinburgh University Press website, and the contact details of the editors are simon.brown [at] kingston.ac.uk and sarah.street [at] bris.ac.uk.

Lost and found no. 4 – The Henville collection

Yarmouth Fishing Boats Leaving Harbour (1896), from http://www.youtube.com/user/BFIfilms

The appearance of the above film on the BFI’s YouTube site has inspired me to revive the Lost and Found strand on this blog (film collections once lost that have now been recovered), and to tell you something of the remarkable story of the Henville collection.

Cast your minds back to 1995. It was the year of the Oklahoma City bombing, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, the Aum Shinrikyo cult relased sarin gas on the Tokyo underground, Jacques Chirac became president of France, Eric Cantona attacked a football fan in the crowd, a new moving image format, the DVD, was announced, and in film archives and cinematheques across the globe those dedicated to film history and numerology sought various ways to mark the centenary of cinema.

It was a busy time for me, as the British Film Institute’s pet early film enthusiast, if not quite expert, with screenings, events, conferences and writing a book on Victorian cinema. And somewhere early on in that manic year, a collection of films turned up. There were some seventeen cans, single reel subjects, non-standard perforations, all readily identifiable as films from the 1890s. Films from the 1890s generally only turn up in dribs and drabs, so seventeen titles in one go was quite a coup. And the archivist who took in the films let me inspect a few (they were in a very fragile state), and one I looked at was clearly filmed at Epsom. ‘Oh no’, I said, ‘it’s another Derby’. We had other early Derby films, all looking very much the same, and it was a pain in the neck trying to tell one from another. I set it to one side…

The collection had come from one Ray Henville, a collector of vintage radios. At an auction he picked up some vintage radios and with them acquired some cans of unidentified films. Henville knew nothing of old film, but one of them featured a sailing boat, so he sent in a photograph to a yachting magazine in the hope that someone might be able to identify it. Happily the photograph was seen by Bill Barnes, film historian and twin brother of John Barnes, author of the esteemed The Beginnings of the Cinema in England series.

Bill alerted that BFI, we took them in, and I ended up trying to identify them. This was a slow process, not least on account of the fragility of the films which meant that for a long period I only had frame stills to go on. But it soon became clear that here was a remarkable collection of films from the 1890s, several of them likely to have been taken by Birt Acres, the first person to take a 35mm cinematograph film in Britain.

Birt Acres filming the 1895 Derby

Birt Acres filming the 1895 Derby

What distinguished these Acres films was an indistinct frameline and a lack of sharpness to the image. These were characteristics of the Derby film, and the more I looked at it the more I felt that it could be the Derby of 1895, which would make it an extraordinary coup in the centenary year. But how to identity it for certain? There were no contemporary frame stills that I could use to compare, but the angle of the camera matched the position known to have been taken by Acres in the above photograph. Then, having checked race reports and horse racing sources, I looked at the colours of the jockeys (albeit in black-and-white), which matched the winner for 1895, and the fact that it showed a close finish between three horses, such as featured in 1895 but not any other Derby 1896-1900.

It wasn’t quite a eureka moment, and there were arguments against the identification. The film had perforations which suggested it was a later production by Acres’ great rival Robert Paul, who was effectively the producer of the 1895 Derby (it turned out to be a reprint), and once a dupe print had been painstakingly created by archivist João Oliveira and we could screen it, we discovered the film ran satisfactorily at 24 fps, when a film shot for the Kinetoscope peepshow (which was the case with the 1895 Derby) ought to have run at 40 fps. There isn’t space here to go into the complexities of this particular argument – suffice to say that one should judge things by what one finds, not what one expects to find, and that though some doubts were raised over the film’s identity I believe I was right, and the discovery recently of further Acres films from this period which similarly run at a speed seemingly too slow for the Kinetoscope tends to verify the original identification.

1895 Derby

What is believed to be the Derby of 1895, filmed by Birt Acres

It took a while to identify all the films in the Henville collection, and in some cases original identifications were overturned, but here’s the list of films, with titles in brackets for those still unidentified (links are to their entries on the BFI database):

Bataille de Neige (France Lumière 1896)
Blackfriars Bridge (UK Paul 1896)
(Blacksmith) (France? 1896?)
(Boy tormenting gardener) (France? 1896?)
Carpenter’s Shop (USA Edison 1896)
(Circulaire Train Arriving at Paris Station) (1896?) and Depart de Jerusalem en Chemin de Fer (France Lumière 1896) [two films on one reel]
Cologne: Sortie de la Cathédral (France Lumière 1896)
A Corner of Barnet Fair (UK Acres 1896)
(Crude Set Drama) (UK 1895?)
The Derby (UK Acres/Paul 1895)
(Military Parade) (UK? Paul? 1896?)
Niagara Falls (UK Acres 1895)
La Prise de Tournavos (France Méliès 1897)
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (UK Paul 1896)
(Workers Leaving a Factory) (France Méliès? 1896?)
Yarmouth Fishing Boats Leaving Harbour (UK Acres 1896)

I remember the Yarmouth film in particular because David Cleveland, then head of the East Anglian Film Archive had asked me what the likelihood was of this, the earliest film taken his region, ever turning up. I said it was next to impossible. A few weeks later, we had a copy. Now it’s on YouTube.

But what is also of interest is what happened next. A huge fuss made was made about the collection, especially the Derby film. The BFI went to town on it. We had reams of press coverage, television news reports, even a mention on Barry Norman’s Film 95. But this in turn raised the interest of the donor, who felt that there had to be great commercial value in these films, and eventually he took back the nitrate originals, with the BFI retaining the dupe copies it had made. The films were put up for auction in Germany, where I think one or two titles were sold (including the Georges Méliès dramatisation of a scene from the Greco-Turkish War, La Prise de Tournavos, I think), and then the remainder went up for auction at Sotheby’s in 2000. As I recall, the collection was bought by a London antiquarian bookdealer apparently without any knowledge of film.

And then what? A mystery. Perhaps the films lie crumbling on that same bookseller’s shelves, or maybe they have passed on to other hands, convinced that the great excitement generated by the films’ discovery had to mean that they had a great commercial value. Of course, they did not, except what one might get for them at auction – in all other respects, there was nothing to be made from them. This is a folly which has been repeated again and again, dreaming of treasures when all one is left with is unshowable, inflammable and not even necessarily unique (at least six of the Henville films were duplicated in other collections), fascinating to the specialist but of only passing interest to the general viewer. And arguably of minimal aesthetic interest.

But the duplicate copies remain, and so the 1895 Derby is preserved for posterity, until some bright spark comes along and tells me it was the 1896 Oaks all along…

Update (2019):

In September 2019 theatre and film historian Barry Anthony uncovered an image taken from the Acres Derby film which clearly corresponds with the print held by the BFI. The image, which is heavily retouched and printed the wrong way round, with the background removed, was found in The Field, 21 September 1895, p. 510, submitted by one IMPECUNIOSUS (a horse-racing enthusiast), who writes that it shows the closing stage of that year’s Derby. In a later issue of the same journal (5 October) Acres complains that the image had been used without his permission. The Field is available on the British Newspaper Archive subscription site.

So it was the 1895 Derby all along. Here are the original image, the image flipped, and a still from the film:

Cinéma muet dans les Hautes-Pyrénées

Anères

Some news of the 10th Festival d’Anères, an annual festival of silent films which takes place in the Hautes-Pyrénées, France. This year’s festival will run 7-11 May, and while the full programme has not been published as yet, the featured performers and filmmakers will include Fritz Lang, Luitz-Morat, Jean Epstein, Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton, André Antoine, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, D.W. Griffith, Ernst Lubitsch, Jacques Feyder, Gennaro Righelli, Nemesio M. Sobrevila and Vsevolod Pudovkin.

The festival is new to me, but the site has useful information on past festivals, including programme details, lists of all films shown, directors featured and musicians. More news on the programme when I get it.

Between page and film

The Manxman

Anny Ondra in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Manxman (1929), based on the Hall Caine novel, from 1000 Frames of Hitchcock

The Institute of English Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London is hosting a one day event with the imposing title of Cross-media cooperation between the publishing, theatrical and film industries: an interdisciplinary colloquium. The event takes place Saturday 12 April, and is an output of an AHRC-funded project on cross-media cooperation in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s.

The project is looking at the origins of the syndication or marketing of an author’s rights across several media, so common today, which it locates in the 1920s and 1930s. The aim of the colloquium is to draw together research from different disciplines to examine the extent of cross-media cooperation between media professionals, agents, and authors and ask how the past has shaped practices of the present day.

And here’s the programme, which has plenty on the cross-relationship in Britain between popular literature and film in the silent era:

Panel 1
Prof Alexis Weedon (University of Bedfordshire)
Some observations on cross-media co-operation in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s
Dr Vincent L. Barnett (University of Bedfordshire)
Elinor Glyn. The Novelist As Hollywood Star
Dr Mary Hammond (University of Southampton)
Hitchcock and Hall Caine: the Victorian Bestseller on the Silent Screen

Panel 2
Dr Amy Sargeant (Reader in Film, University of Warwick)
Frederick Britten Austin: Boy’s Own Stories, Girls’ Romances and Interwar Politics
Nathalie Morris (University of East Anglia)
Eminent British Authors and the Stoll Film Company
Dr Caroline Copeland (Napier University)
Katherine Cecil Thurston’s Chilcote

Panel 3
Dr Simon Frost (Institute of literature, media and cultural studies, University of Southern Denmark)
A Toga Tale of Ingomar the Barbarian: in print, in drawing rooms, at fairgrounds and in Hollywood
Dr Lawrence Napper (University of Greenwich and at King’s College, London)
‘Not over-exercising our intellectual powers in the choice of subjects’: The Gainsborough scenario department, 1929-31

Panel 4
Dr Simone Murray (recorded presentation from Monash Australia)
What Are You Working On?: the shifting role of the author in an era of cross-media adaptation
Prof Juliet Gardiner
Talk: Contemporary adaptation of Atonement

No indication on the colloquium web page as to when it starts or ends, or whether those panels overlap, but it does tell you that it is priced at £30 standard; £20 members/concessions, that the venue is Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E, and that spaces are limited so early booking is advisable.

Registration forms are on the site, and more information can be got from Jon Millington, Events Officer, Institute of English Studies, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU; tel +44 (0) 207 664 4859; Email jon.millington [at] sas.ac.uk.

… and London screen history

Angel Islington

The Angel cinema in Islington, 1917

Hot on the heels of that last post on the East Finchley Phoenix comes news of a one-day event at Birkbeck College on London’s screen history. Organised by the University of London Screen Studies Group, in association with the London Screen Studies Centre, Birkbeck College and Film Studies journal, the event on Friday 14 March brings together a range of recent work on London’s heritage of film production and particularly reception. Here’s the programme:

London Screen History

Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London WC1
9.30–18.00 Lecture Theatre B33

  • Ian Christie: Introduction
  • Michele Daniels: The Coming of Talking Films to London, 1928-29
  • Jude Cowan: ‘The First Film Studios at Ealing: Warwick Trading Company 1907-1909 and Barker Motion Photography 1909-1918’
  • Pierluigi Ercole: ‘Little Italy on the brink: London Italians and War Films, 1915-1918’

11.00-11.30 tea and coffee

  • Brigitte Flickinger (Heidelberg): ‘Living and leisure: Cinema-going in London in the 1910s and 1920s – a view from outside’
  • Luke McKernan (British Library): ‘Children’s cinemagoing in London before WW1’

13.00-14.00 Lunch

  • Charlotte Brunsdon (Warwick): ‘Shaping the Cinematic City: Three London Journeys’

15.00

  • Toby Haggith: Early London housing films
  • Angela English, Jenny Davison: ‘Their Past Your Future and working with London community groups’
  • Roland-Francois Lack: ‘Still Point of the Turning World: Piccadilly Circus in Film’

16.30-17.00 Tea and coffee

  • John Sedgwick (London Metropolitan): ‘The commercial significance of London’s West End cinemas’
  • Richard Gray (CTA): ‘London’s cinema buildings’

The programme has been published a bit late in the day, but it’s a terrific line-up (your humble scribe notwithstanding), so do come along (there’s a small charge for tea and coffee) and see if we can get the audience to outnumber the speakers, at least by a little bit.

Silents at the Phoenix

Picturedrome

The Picturedrome, East Finchley, from http://www.phoenixcinema.co.uk

The Phoenix in East Finchley is believed to be Britain’s oldest continuously running cinema. It was founded in 1910 as the Picturedrome and has operated as a cinema ever since. It has been independently owned for most of that time, and after being known as the Coliseum and then the Rex it became the Phoenix in 1975. It now run by a non-profit-making trust and is a Grade II listed building.

This independent cinema proudly keeps up a tradition of showing independent films, and is now looking back to its roots by showing a season of silents, Into Great Silents – The Best in Silent Cinema. So do go along if you can to support them – on Sunday 9 March they are showing Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger, accompanied by Ivor Montagu’s Bluebottles, with piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne and an introductory talk by film historian Gerry Turvey. Later screenings will be Sunrise (8 June), Pandora’s Box (21 September) and Battleship Potemkin (28 November).

Seconds out

Fight Pictures

http://www.ucpress.edu

The mere mechanical construction of a film projector has been overestimated … it was boxing that created cinema.

So someone once wrote (actually it was me), and even if the statement was done for effect, there’s some truth to it. Cinema was created for a purpose, which was to make money by amusing an audience, and many of the first viewers of motion pictures wanted to see boxing. The Edison peepshow Kinetoscope (first exhibited commercially in 1894) recorded several bouts, albeit specially staged for the camera; the first projected film to be shown commercially was the Lathams‘ Young Griffo v Battling Charles Barnett (first exhibited in New York on 20 May 1895); and films first extended for over an hour when Enoch Rector‘s Veriscope Company filmed the world heavyweight championship of 1897 between Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons with three camera in parallel, the 63mm film stock being specially designed to frame the full view of the boxing ring – boxing in a very real sense creating cinema.

The history of boxing and early cinema is now to be given its first thorough history with the publication of Dan Streible’s long awaited Fight Pictures: A History of Boxing and Early Cinema. Published by the University of California Press next month, the book covers the rich period where the new medium of cinema collided, or colluded, with the ignoble art, as the the former built up its mass appeal and the latter sought to drag itself out of a state of illegality into legimatised entertainment. It’s a story of technical innovation, exploitation, criminality, fakery, brutality, star power, racial tension, and the rise of mass appeal sport and the media in the early twentieth century.

This history has been researched by Streible for many years now, and it seemed for too long that the book would never come out. It ought to be a crossover seller, appealing both to the early film studies community and the sports history afficionados, to go by his previous writings on the subject.

Boxing

But that’s not all. Because in May the enterprising Reaktion Books publishes Kasia Boddy’s Boxing: A Cultural History. I know nothing of the provenance of this work, but it sounds tempting enough from the blurb:

Throughout this history, potters, sculptors, painters, poets, novelists, cartoonists, song-writers, photographers and film-makers have been there to record and make sense of it all. In her encyclopaedic investigation of the shifting social, political and cultural resonances of this most visceral of sports, Kasia Boddy throws new light on an elemental struggle for dominance whose weapons are nothing more than fists. From Daniel Mendoza to Mike Tyson, boxers have embodied and enacted our anxieties about race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Looking afresh at everything from neo-classical sculpture to hip-hop lyrics, Boddy explores the way in which the history of boxing has intersected with the history of mass media, and sheds new light on the work of such diverse figures as Henry Fielding and Spike Lee, Charlie Chaplin and Philip Roth, James Joyce and Mae West, Bertolt Brecht and Charles Dickens. This all-encompassing study tells us just how and why boxing has mattered so much to so many.

It probably isn’t going to go into the practical details of how many arc lights the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company employed to photograph indoor fights in 1900, but it does sound like it will give us an eclectic and entertaining cultural history, outlining boxing’s special resonance and appeal, and placing film’s role within that history.

I’ve never been to a boxing match. I can’t watch televised bouts of today. But the history, the characters, the themes of boxing in the past are just so compelling, and – to be honest – the distancing effect of seeing brutal fights only in black-and-white and silently helps sanitise the subject.

To finsh off, here’s an example of how YouTube can serve as an archive bringing life to films you might never expect to see again. Dan Streible himself brought this to the attention of a film archiving list I subscribe to: the Selig Polyscope Company’s 1900 film McGovern-Gans Fight Pictures. It features the lightweights Terry McGovern and Joe Gans, the first native-born black American to win a world title (in 1900). This bout wasn’t for the world title, and it became controversial (and still is, judging from the comments accompanying the film) for Gans reportedly admitting to taking a dive. See what you think.

The film comes from a 1930s or 40s short produced by Forrest Brown, no longer existing in its original 1900 form, so far as is known. Amazing to be able to see such things still, and there’s many more such early fight pictures on YouTube, generally taken from sports shorts made decades later – see, for example, Joe Gans v Kid Herman in 1907 – though many more are lifted from programmes by ESPN, which has the world’s largest collection of archive boxing films, mostly gathered by Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton of Big Fights Inc., who when they weren’t amassing an amazing collection of fight films were managing the young Mike Tyson. Tyson has probably seen more archive films of boxing matches than anyone. He’s going to love Streible’s book, I’m sure.

Oldest Korean film screened once more

Cheongchun’s Sipjaro

Cheongchun’s Sipjaro (1934), from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr

Silent films continued well into the 1930s in many Asian countries, notably China and Japan, which is why the recently-discovered oldest surviving Korean dramatic film dates from 1934, yet is a silent.

Cheongchun’s Sipjaro (Turning-point of the Youngsters or Crossroads of Youth), directed by An Jong-hwa, was given its first screening in eight decades by the Korean Film Archive, after having been given to the archive by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. The Archive has a helpful website (in English) with a fine database of Korean films, which supplies this synopsis for the film:

It breaks Yeong-bok’s heart to leave his old mother and younger sister home to leave his hometown. He married into Bong-seon’s family and worked for seven years but when Joo Myeong-goo snatches Bong-seon away, he decides to leave town. Blaming his cursed fate for everything, he gets a job as a luggage carrier in Seoul. That is when he meets Yeong-hee who works in the vicinity. Yeong-ok also leaves home to come up to Seoul after their mother passes away but she cannot find her brother. Instead, she meets Gae-cheol, an old friend from her hometown and also a good friend of Joo Myeong-goo. Yeong-ok loses her virginity to Gae-cheol and when Yeong-bok finds out about this, he gives Gae-cheol and Myeong-goo a good beating and starts working harder for a better tomorrow.

A report in The Korean Times provides some snippets of information about early Korean film, though it’s a little misleading in places.

It tell us that the the oldest (dramatic) Korean film was Uilijeogguto (Fight for Justice), first screened on 27 October 1919, while the first feature-length drama was Weolha-ui Mangseo (The Vow Made below the Moon), directed by Yun Baek-nam and shown in 1923. Neither survives.

The Korean Film Archive says that seven native films were produced between 1910 and 1920, and sixty-one films from 1920 to 1930, of which they hold no examples at all, while between 1930 and 1940, there were seventy-three films produced, but only five are held by the Archive. It finishes off the sorry tale by telling us that around 5,500 films (presumably dramatic films) have been produced in Korea, and some 40 percent are lost.

Cheongchun’s Sipjaro beats by two years the previously oldest surviving film, Mimong (Sweet Dream) (1936), which was itself only discovered in 2005. Let’s hope for more.

Update: There’s a nice piece on the film’s restoration and the work of the Korean Film Archive in this piece from JoongAng Daily.

Women and British silent cinema

Woman and Silent British Cinema

Women and Silent British Cinema

Congratulations and welcome to the latest silent cinema blog on the block, WSBC – Women and British Silent Cinema. Not so much a blog, though, more a focal point for the growing research interest in women and silent cinema generally. It has information on conferences past and future, and links to external resources, including a promised WSBC Wiki site. Of most interest probably is the long list of British women involved in film in various ways from the silent era (just a handful so far with biographies attached), which covers relatively well known (in this narrow field) figures as Betty Balfour, Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), Elsa Lanchester, Caroline Lejeune, Blanche McIntosh, Joan Morgan, Alma Reville, Marie Stopes and Virginia Woolf, while also providing many names of which few as yet know anything. I look forward to finding out in due course just who were Mrs K. Beck, Elise Codd, Nellie Tom Gallon, Jean de Kirharski, Edith Nepean and Jane Tarlo.

Some you will have already met through the pages of the Bioscope: Jessica Borthwick, Gladys, Marchioness of Townshend, Jakidawdra Melford. More, I can promise, will follow.