Pen and pictures no. 1: Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1913), from

Time for a new series, I think. And its theme is the crossover between literature and film, looking at how the silent cinema tackled the works of assorted authors – and how authors came to terms with this strange new medium, which challenged their claims upon the popular imagination, frequently mangled their works as screen entertainments, yet also offered riches, either through selling the rights or through contributing their own screenplays. It’s an engrossing history, where every author’s experience is just that little different to anyone else’s. And we’ll start with Thomas Hardy.

Hardy seems so much a Victorian (if late Victorian) author, that it comes as a bit of surprise to release that he lived long into the era of film – long enough to see, somewhat to his bemusement, his novels adapted as films. There were four silent films made of Hardy’s work: Tess of the D’Urbervilles (US 1913), Far from the Madding Crowd (UK 1916), The Mayor of Casterbridge (UK 1921) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (US 1924). Details of each can be found in the ‘Lost Hardy Adaptations’ section of the website Thomas Hardy: The Films Page.

The entertaining story of Hardy’s personal engagement with film is told in Matthew Sweet’s book Inventing the Victorians. Hardy was first approached by a film company in 1911. The Warwick Trading Company, a British business, wanted to film Tess of the D’Urbervilles, offering Hardy ten per cent of the gross turnover. Hardy told his agent:

I should imagine that an exhibition of successive scenes from Tess (which is, I suppose, what is meant), could do no harm to the book, & might possibly advertise it among a new class.

Scarcely overwhelming enthusiasm at the prospect of seeing his work filmed, though Hardy did sign the contract (the film did not get made). He also accepted money from Hubert von Herkomer, the artist turned filmmaker, who wanted to film Far from the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Castebridge. Neither was produced, and Hardy was onto a nice little earner without a film having made it to the screen.

It was the Americans who first put Hardy on the screen. Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players produced Tess of the D’Urbervilles in 1913, with Broadway actress Minnie Maddern Fiske as a somewhat mature Tess – she had first played the role on stage in 1895 – David Torrence as Alec and Raymond Bond as Angel Clare. The film was shot in New England, and generally given an American look throughout, as well as having a softened ending (Tess goes to prison rather than being hanged). Hardy attended a press screening of the film at Pyke’s Cinematograph Theatre in London’s Cambridge Circus (today a fashionable bar named after its former cinema owner, the Montagu Pyke) on 21 October 1913. Matthew Sweet records Hardy’s bemused reaction:

It was a curious production, & I was interested in it as a scientific toy; but I can say nothing as to its relation to, or rendering of, the story.

In other words, the movies had produced some kind of bewildering aberation (at least as far as his work was concerned), but it was hard to complain about the money.

The clash between old arts world and new continued with Far from the Madding Crowd, made in 1916 as a five-reel feature by the British company Turner Films, whose great star was the American actress Florence Turner. Turner played Bathsheba Everdene, and her regular co-star Henry Edwards was Gabriel Oak. As with all other Hardy silents, the film is lost, and all we can glean from reviews is that the film did not look like it was filmed in Wessex. This was undoubtedly true, but films of literary properties needed to be true to their own medium first, not to the printed page, a lesson that was starting to be learned as films grew longer and the movie industry grew more assertive, and became richer.

Such riches, and such attitudes, were evidenced by Metro Pictures, which optioned Tess for an astonishing $50,000, but the next Hardy film came from a far humbler source, the Progress Film Company of Shoreham-by-Sea on England’s south coast. The tale of the artist/theatrical community in what was affectionately known as ‘Bungalow Town’ is charmingly told on the Bungalow Town website. The Mayor of Casterbidge was made there in 1921, directed by Sidney Morgan and starring Fred Groves as Michael Henchard. Hardy was receiving more and more offers from film companies, and seems to have selected according to the degree to which the treatment indicated a sympathetic understanding of his original. For the Progress proposal he wrote:

The general arrangement seems as good as is compatible with presentation with cinemas.

Hardy was invited to see the film in production (it was filmed in Dorset, which may have helped secure his approval), and so enjoyed the peculiar experience of seeing his characters come to life, as it were, writing in a letter:

This morning we have had an odd experience. The film-makers are here doing scenes for “The Mayor of C” and they asked us to come as see the process. The result is that I have been talking to the Mayor, Mrs Henchard, Eliz. Jane, & the rest, in the flesh … It is a strange business to be engaged in.

The last film to be made of his work while Hardy was still alive was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, in 1924. This was a top-notch Hollywood effort (evidenced by that $50,000 payment for the rights), with Blanche Sweet as Tess, Conrad Nagel as Angel Clare and Stuart Holmes as Alec. Scenes were filmed in Dorechester, but Hardy never saw the film. Given that the film updated much of the action to the 1920s, with motor cars and nightclubs, it is perhaps best that he did not. Interestingly, it seems to have been made with two endings, exhibitors being given the option whether to choose Tess being hanged or Tess escaping the gallows.

And that’s Thomas Hardy and film. He displayed an intriguing tension in his letters between keenness to profit from the film rights and concern over how his work was represented. In Hardy’s personal engagement with the motion picture industry we see films move from being a peculiar distraction which might help book sales, to a medium which challenged the author’s hold upon the work of his imagination. Meeting the Mayor of Casterbridge in the flesh must have been an unsettling experience – evidence that the creative work had a life outside the printed page on which it first appeared.

None of the Hardy silent films are known to exist (there are rumours of a surviving fragment of the Progress Mayor of Casterbridge). Apart from Matthew Sweet’s book and, check out T.R. Wright’s Thomas Hardy on Screen or Paul J. Neimeyer’s Seeing Hardy: Film and Television Adaptations of the Fiction of Thomas Hardy, each of which tells much the same story about the silent films.

Despite having lived until 1928, Hardy does not seem to have been filmed himself. The nearest we get is film of his funeral, which you can see on

Rockin’ with Nanook

Sumner McKane, right, and bass player Josh Robbins, from

This report from Maine Today on some local rock groups taking it turns to provide scores for silents rather appealed:

The members of the Sumner McKane Group composed their latest musical work while watching grainy, black-and-white footage of an Inuit man hunting seals to keep his family alive in the frozen Hudson Bay region of Canada 86 years ago.

Not exactly your typical pop-song fodder.

“There’s sort of a desperate sadness to some of it,” said McKane, guitarist for the Portland instrumental trio.

McKane and his bandmates – Josh Robbins on bass and Todd Richard on drums – have been working for three weeks on creating an original score to the classic 1922 silent documentary “Nanook of the North.”

They’ll perform the music live while the 79-minute film is shown next Wednesday and Thursday at One Longfellow Square in Portland as part of the 200-seat venue’s monthly series, “Local Scores, Silent Films.”

Each month, a different local band picks a silent film and composes a score for live accompaniment. This will be the fourth concert/film showing in the series, following Buster Keaton’s “The General,” scored by Samuel James; Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” scored by the Improvisational String Quartet; and the classic German vampire film “Nosferatu,” scored by the jazz group Tempera.

Tom Rota, manager of One Longfellow Square, said he contacts bands to find out if they are interested, then gives them a list of classic silent films from which to choose.

The venue presents a mix of live music, dance, film and other performances and was known as the Center for Cultural Exchange before the current owners bought the building and reopened as One Longfellow Square last July.

In a sense, the venue is recreating the theater experience of the silent film era, when live musicians, usually a pianist, performed onstage or in an orchestra pit while the movie played onscreen. By using modern scores, it’s giving the tradition a modern twist.

McKane said when he was approached about the series, he immediately thought of “Nanook of the North.” He had seen it, was fascinated by it and thought its slow pace and human themes would fit his band’s brand of instrumental music, which includes rock, country and ambient music.

“There are a lot of still shots of the landscape, which allow for some spacious music. That’s better for us than something that’s action-packed,” said McKane, 31.

Considered the first full-length anthropological documentary, the film follows a year in the life of Inuits in Arctic Canada. It was made by Robert Flaherty, who went to Hudson Bay looking for iron ore on behalf of the Canadian Northern railroad. While there, he became intensely interested in capturing Inuit life on film.

In the film, Nanook takes his family on a hunting expedition to try to get enough food to survive another winter. The family travels on dog sled, hunts with spears and sleeps in igloos that have to be made on the spot every night.

Being a documentary, it’s very different from most of the classic silent films that often get shown today with live musical accompaniment. Horror films, epics and slapstick comedies are the usual suspects for this kind of silent film/live music series.

To compose the score, McKane, Robbins and Richard have been gathering in the basement of McKane’s North Deering home. They got a copy of the film from Netflix and watched it on a laptop computer as they composed and played. When they got a piece they liked, they went back to make sure it matched up with a segment of film.

It’s a fairly slow process. At a recent rehearsal, band members estimated it took maybe four hours or more to get about 25 minutes’ worth of music for the film.

During rehearsal, the band focused on part of the movie that takes place in the heart of the Arctic winter, when the family has little food left.

While the family slowly travels over a barren, icy landscape, the band plays music that’s spacey and full of echo, with Mark Knopfler-like guitar work. When Nanook traps a small fox, the music becomes faster and joyous.

Another scene where the music mimics the mood is when the family struggles to get its dogsled through a field of ice boulders. Once the sled goes up and over the last hill and can travel freely, the band explodes into a fast, thumping, rock ’n’ roll passage.

Matching music to scenes is a challenge, as is remembering all 79 minutes of the piece in sequence.

“For us, a long song is maybe 10 minutes,” said Robbins, 33. “And it’s all structured. There’s no jamming in the middle of this.”

The Maine Today report provides a sample of the Nanook music.

Women and the Silent Screen conference

Tsuru Aoki and her husband Sessue Hayakawa in Courageous Coward (1919)

The Fifth International Women and the Silent Screen Conference is being held at Stockholm University, Sweden, 11–13 June 2008, and a full programme with screenings has now been published. The aim of the conference is to “celebrate the diversity of women’s engagement with silent cinemas across the globe”, and it’s very interesting to see the current issues being covered by the papers and some of the unfamiliar films which are being put back on the screens in response to such new debates. This is why we have research; so we can see more.

Here’s the outline conference programme:

Wednesday, June 11

Keynote address
Jane Gaines – Women and the Cinematification of the World

Parallel Sessions 1.1
National and Transnational
Rosanna Maule – Feminist Film History and the (Un)problematic Treatment of Trans-nationalism in Early Cinema
Christine Gledhill – Mary Pickford: Emerging Stardom and Transnational Circulation
Sanjoy Saksena – Image of Women in Colonial and Post-Colonial Indian Cinema
Phil Powrie – Josephine Baker and Pierre Batcheff in La Sirène des tropiques (1927)

Sharpened Pencils
Domenico Spinosa – The didactic-instructive task of cinema (1907-1918) in the Italian women writings
Luca Mazzei – Going to movies wearing a skirt and handling a pen. Women writing about cinema 1898-1916
Luigia Annunziata – Matilde Serao and the cinema
Louis Pelletier – Ray Lewis and the Birth of Canadian Film Culture

Germaine Dulac
April Miller – Pure Cinema, Pure Violence: Murder as Avant-Garde Aesthetic in Germaine Dulac’s La Coquille et le Clergyman and La Souriante Madame Beudet
Tami M. Williams – An Invitation to a Voyage: Cross medial spatial metaphors, modes of transport and sexual liberation in the cinema of Germaine Dulac
Catherine Siberschmidt – The concept of spectatorship in Germaine Dulac’s film theory
Sarah Keller – “Optical Harmonies”: Sight and Sound in Germaine Dulac’s Integral Cinema

Parallel Sessions 1.2
Conceptualizing “Female Pioneers”
Shelley Stamp – Lois Weber’s ”Feminine Hand” at Rex
Karen Ward Mahar – Working Girls: The Masculinization of American Business in Film and Advice Literature in the 1920s
Isabel Arredondo – Forgetting Women Film Pioneers: Juliet Rublee and the Myth of the Avant-Garde
Mark Lynn Anderson – The Real Dorothy: Mrs. Wallace Reid, the Newspaper, and Feminist Film Historiography
Monica Dall’Asta – What Means to Be a Woman: Theorizing Feminist Film History Beyond the Essentialism / Constructionism Divide

Case Studies in Stardom
Tijana Mamula – Ideal Situation: Projecting Knowledge in Prix de Beauté
Miya Tokumitsu – f(Swoon): The Function of the Female Swoon in Silent Film
Nicole Beth Wallenbrock – The Hollywood Flapper dies an Expressionist Death (Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box)
Galen Wilson – Performance of Anxiety: Les Vampires and the Crisis of Gender in the Fin-de-Siecle
Hélène Fleckinger -“The wicked woman” On the character of Irma Vep in Les Vampires of Louis Feuillade

Authorship and Screenwriting
Vincent L. Barnett – The Novelist as Hollywood Star: Author Royalties and Studio Income in the 1920s
Alexis Weedon – Elinor Glyn the Author On Page and Screen
Stephan Michael Schröder – The conditions of freelance script writing – example Harriet Bloch
Claus Tieber – Between Sentimentalism and Modernity: The narrative structure of Frances Marion’s screenplays
Anke Brouwers – The Name Behind the Titles: Women, Authorship and Silent Screenwriting

Thursday, June 12

Parallel Sessions 2.1
Cross-Gender Casting and Lesbian Characters
Astrid Söderbergh Widding – Flickan i frack – A Case of Cross-Dressing
Laura Horak – Edna/Billy Foster, the Biograph “Boy”
Fiona Philip – Veiled Disclosures and ‘Speaking Back’: Borderline (1930) and the Presences of Censorship
Susan Potter – Opening up Pandora’s Box

American Stardom
Mary Desjardins – A Method to this Madness? The Myth of the Mad Silent Film Star
Charlie Keil – ’Studio Girls’: Female Stars and the Logic of Brand Names
Jeannette Delamoir – Mary Pickford and Louise Lovely: The silent motion-picture star in the age of reproduction
Tricia Welsch – From Pratfalls to Glamour: Gloria Swanson at Triangle

(Re)discovering Female Filmmakers 1
Nathalie Morris – “Alma isn’t Talking”: The Early Career of Alma Reville aka Mrs Alfred Hitchcock
Claudia Preschl and Elisabeth Streit – Making Noice (Proud to be loud). Women in the Silent-Period of Austrian Film History
Anne Bachmann – Parallel stories? Ebba Lindkvist’s brief career and the film version of a
theatrical play
Annemone Ligensa – “A Cinematography of Feminine Thought”: The Novel The Dangerous Age (1910) by Karin Michaelis and Its Filmic Adaptations

Parallel Sessions 2.2
(Re)considering Genres and “Feminine Tastes”
Lea Jacobs – On Hating Valentino: The Rejection of the Romantic Drama in the American Cinema of the 1920s
Annette Förster – Humorous reflections on acting, filmmaking and genre in comic film productions by Adriënne Solser, Musidora, and Nell Shipman
Kristen Anderson Wagner – “Ever on the Move”: Silent Comediennes and the New Woman

Fashion and Fandom
Mila Ganeva – Women between Screenwriting and Fashion Journalism: The Case of Ruth Goetz
Therése Andersson – Beauty Box – Film Stars and Beauty Culture in Early 20th Century Sweden
Andrea Haller – “Flimmeritis” and Fashion – Early intermedial practices of female movie fandom in Imperial Germany
Lisa Stead – “It costs nothing to wish!” Female Fan Writing and Self-Representation in the British Silent Cinema

(Re)discovering Female Filmmakers 2
Marcela de Souza Amaral – Alice Guy and the narrative cinema
Mike C. Vienneau – The discursive Art of Alice Guy: The cinema and the feminine silent word
Jindiška Bláhová – “The lady crazy about film” – demystifying Thea 􀀀ervenková, the mystery woman of the early Czechoslovak cinema
Micaela Veronesi – A woman wants to create the world. Umanità by Elvira Giallanella

Parallel Sessions 2.3
Stardom and Intermediality
Anne Morey – Geraldine Farrar: A Film Star from Another Medium
Victoria Duckett – A new anachronism: Sarah Bernhardt and the modern theatrical film
Elena Mosconi – The Star as an Artist: Italian Divas between Symbolism and Liberty
Maria Elena D’Amelio – Damned Queens. Two case studies on the dark ladies in Cabiria and Maciste all’inferno films

(Re)discovering Female Filmmakers 3
Begoña Soto Vázquez – How to research the exception: the power of the unknown
María Cami-Vela – Women, bullfighters and identity in Spanish Silent Cinema: Musidora
Bárbara Barroso – Virgína de Castro e Almeida: writing, producing and envisioning film
Nadi Tofighian – Isabel and José – the pioneer tandem filmmakers of the Philippines

More than Filmmakers
Anne Marit Myrstad – Film censorship, morality and female identity: Fernanda Nissen, a case study
Joshua Yumibe – The Gendering of Color and Coloring of Films: Female Film Colorists of the Silent Era
Christopher Natzén – Greta Håkansson – a female conductor in a time of change during the transition to sound film in Sweden 1928-1932
Tony Fletcher – Laura Eugenia Smith and the Biokam Films

Parallel Sessions 2.4
Film Festivals and Screening Networks
Kay Armatage – Women’s Cinema, Film Festivals and Their Contribution to Women’s Film History
Ingrid Stigsdotter and Kelly Robinson – ‘Clowning Glories’: A Case Study of a Festival Programme and its Audiences
Rebeca Ibanez-Martin and Andrea Gautier Sansalvador – Women as Archivers of Films Made by Women: the Project of Envideas

Russian Pioneers
Dunja Dogo – Re-editing History in the Works of Esfir’ I. Šub (1927-30)
Ilana Sharp – Esfir Shub’s Costructivist Non-Fiction Film and Soviet Silent Cinema
Lauri Piispa – Vera Kholodnaia: Queen of Screen, Slave of Love
Michele Torre – A woman of all trades: Zoia Barantsevich, a pioneer in early Russian cinema

Asta Nielsen
Ansje van Beusekom – Asta Nielsen in the Netherlands in 1920
Annette Brauerhoch – Between Pleasure and Pain: Asta Nielsens Acting Acts
Heide Schlüpmann – Playing History – Asta Nielsen in Early Cinema
Karola Gramann – Screening and discussion

Friday, June 13

Parallel Sessions 3.1
Three Histories, One Archive
Jennifer Horne – Premediations: Previewing for Better Motion Pictures, 1916-1930
Mark Garrett Cooper – The Universal Women: An Institutional Explanation
Richard Abel – Unexplored Margaret Herrick Library Resources, 1910-1916

Chinese Stardom
Yiman Wang – Between “Yellowface” and “Yellow Yellowface” – Anna May Wong and Her Chinese Audience during the Interwar Era
Erin Kelley – Dance, Stardom, and the Trans-National Celebrity Status of Anna May Wong
Qin Xiqing – Pearl White and the New Female Image in Chinese Silent Cinema
Yuan Chen – Wang Hanlun, a ‘successful’ Runaway Nora in Early Chinese Film Industry
Ruixue Jia – Silence can kill: rethinking Rua Ling-yu’s tradgedy

Images of Women
Constance Balides – Moralizing Typologies to Sociological Personalities: Delinquent Women in Early Social Problem Films
William Van Watson – Enrico Guazzoni’s Marcantonio and Cleopatra: The Feline-Feminine Construct and the Colonial Dangers of Heavy Petting
Selin Tüzün Gül – From stage to the screen: Actresses as one of the symbols of Turkish modernization project
Tommy Gustafsson – The Significance of the New Woman in Swedish Silent Film

Parallel Sessions 3.2
Politics of Ethnicity
Denise McKenna – What Happened to Myrtle? Latina Stars in Early Hollywood
Ora Gelley – Race and Gender in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915): Patterns of Narration and Vision
Nina Cartier – I Get Lifted?: Delineating Uplift’s Restrictions Upon Black Female Desire in Silent Era Race Films
Kyna B. Morgan – The First African American Woman Film Producer: Maria P. Williams and The Flames of Wrath

European Stars and Audiences
Dominique Nasta and Muriel Andrin – Engaging National Emotions on Screen: European Silent Women in “strikingly effective” Melodramas
Anna Cabak Rédei – Garbo as ’Greta’ in Pabst’s The Joyless Street (1925)
Irina Novikova – Female Stars of Cinematic Peripheries – Lilita Berzinja (Latvia)
Silvia Horváth – Feminine (self-)staging in the Hungarian Silent Film of the 1910th

Strike a Pose: Female Models and Magicians
Cynthia Chris – Censoring Purity
Pierre Chemartin and Nicolas Dulac – The pose as performance: Early cinema acting and the female stereotype
Matthew Solomon – Women and the Trick Film

An extraordinary line-up indeed. And here are the films scheduled for evening screenings, with the conference organisers’ notes and comments. Note in particular the premiere of the restoration of the recently rediscovered Mary Pickford title, The Dawn of Tomorrow:

35mm b/w print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
180 meters, 5 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Pathé Frères / SCAGL
Director: Georges Monca
Script: unknown
Cast: Mistinguett, Andree Pascal, Charles Lorrain

This comedy offers us the music-hall star and future ‘queen’ of the revue, Mistinguett, in the role of a maid that is mistaken for her American mistress while visiting Paris. Mistinguett makes a parody of the
attractiveness of American women and lampoons Parisian men’s idolatry with them. The film’s inclusion in the program serves three purposes: first, because the print is incomplete, it may be taken as an example of a fragment, one of the core topics of this conference; second, bringing the existence of this rare print of a Pathé-SCAGL comedy with Mistinguett to the attention of feminist film historians; and third, calling attention to Mistinguett’s significance to the relations between French music-hall and cinema in the early 1910s, which deserves more research.

35mm (Desmet method) colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
540meters (ca)., 26mins (18fps)
German intertitles
Prod: Treumann-Larsen Film GmbH
Director: Dr. R. Portegg aka Rosa Porten and Franz Eckstein
Script: Rosa Porten
Cast: Rosa Porten (Isa), Franz Verdier (Caspar Freiherr), Max Wogritsch (Jürgen von Oesterlingk)

Isa’s father, a wealthy gentleman of the countryside, wants her to marry Jürgen. However, Jürgen is rather prejudiced towards country women. Furthermore, he is attracted to a rich girl from the city. Upon hearing this, Isa, who doesn’t want to get married anyway, swears to teach Jürgen a lesson. For this purpose, she leaves her house and applies for a job (disguised as a boy) at Jürgen’s household. This fast-paced comedy, written and directed by Rosa Porten herself, appears in almost no written sources. It is therefore no surprise that this film was lost for many years, until this incomplete print appeared in the Nederlands Filmmuseum collection, carrying the original German titles. Die Landpomeranze has been preserved in 2008 in order to be presented for the very first time at this conference. Given the impossibility to complete the missing ending, due to complete lack of written sources, the preserved print has an open end, in hope that the missing reel(s) get discovered somewhere in the future.

Trailer DIE GESUNKENEN / THE SUNKEN (Germany, 1925)
35mm b/w print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
65 meters, 3 mins (18fps)
German inter-titles
Prod: Aafa Film
Director: Rudolf Walther-Fein
Script: Ruth Goetz and Leo Heller, based on the novel by Luise Westkirch
Cast: Asta Nielsen, Olga Tschechova, Hans Albers, Wilhlem Dieterle, Otto Gebühr

Dutch trailer from the presumed lost Asta Nielsen film Die Gesunkenen (1925), a drama based on a scenario by Ruth Goetz after the novel Diebe (Thieves) by Luise Westkirch. The Dutch censorship board noted about the film (2340 meters, + 117 minutes): ‘rough milieu’, ‘cocaine abuse’, ‘prostitution’, ‘ladies and gents of suspect repute’. In addition to Nielsen, the film featured the actors William Dieterle, Otto Gebühr, Olga Tschechowa and Hans Albers.

35 mm colour print restored by Associazione Orlando (Bologna), Cineteca Nazionale (Rome) and George
Eastman House (Rochester, USA), with the endowment of the Italian Ministry of Culture.
1250 meters, 61 mins (18 fps)
Italian inter-titles
Prod: Films Dora (Neaples), “Serie grandi lavori popolari.”
Director: Elvira Notari
Script: Elvira Notari, based on the song ‘A Santanotte by Eduardo Scala (words), Francesco Buongiovanni
Photography: Nicola Notari.
Principal cast: Rosè Angione (Nanninella), Alberto Danza (Tore Spina), Eduardo Notari (Gennariello), Elisa
Cava (madre di Tore), Carluccio, a student of Notari’s school of acting.
Original length: mt. 1285.

Based on a popular Neapolitan song by Eduardo Scala and Francesco Buongiovanni, ‘A santanotte was one of the greatest hits of Elvira and Nicola Notari’s Dora Films. It tells the tragic story of Nanninella, a waitress who supports her alcoholic and abusive father Giuseppone. She is in love with Tore, but her father prefers the deceptive Carluccio. When Giuseppone accidentally dies, Carluccio accuses Tore of murder. Nanninella is forced to accept Carluccio’s marriage proposal hoping that this will convince him to withdraw his accusations against Tore. As she tries to escape with Tore on the day of her wedding, the film ends in death and misery. The story has several points in common with that of Assunta Spina, a popular theatrical drama by Salvatore Di Giacomo that Francesca Bertini had adapted into a film in 1915. Yet Notari’s film surpasses its predecessor in its crude representation of patriarchal oppression, offering a powerful melodramatic interpretation of the everyday experience of so many Italian working class women at the beginning of the century.

35mm colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
1090 meters, 52 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Neutral Film
Dir: Edmund Edel
Script: Edmund Edel
Cast: Asta Nielsen, Aruth Wartan, Willy Kaiser-Heyl

Asta Nielsen plays the proprietor of a copper mine on the verge of ruin. After the plant manager has traced a new copper vein, she buys the almost worthless shares and therewith secures the finances of the mine and herself. Gratefully, she makes the manager, with whom she is also in love, a share-holder. But when he deceives her with another woman, she takes revenge with great sovereignty. The film is particularly interesting for its setting – the male-dominated milieus of an industrial plant and of the stock-exchange – and for Nielsen’s superior role in it, which she plays with both style and gusto.

Trailer VADERTJE LANGBEEN / DADDY LONGLEGS (The Netherlands, 1919)
35mm b/w print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
32 meters, 1 min (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Mary Pickford Co.
Director: Marshall Neilan
Script: Agnes Johnson, based on the novel by Jean Webster
Cast: Mary Pickford (Jerusha Abbott), Milla Davenport (Mrs. Lippett)

Among the few silent trailers of the Filmmuseum collection, this stylish trailer is remarkable for the drawings it contains. Discovered and preserved in 2004 during the international Mary Pickford research project by Christel Schmidt, this film has only been shown in Amsterdam during the Pickford program. Although the trailer shows nothing of the film itself, it constitutes an important evidence to prove the
popularity of Mary Pickford with Dutch audiences.

35mm colour print from the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute
1283 meters, 66 mins (17 fps)
Swedish inter-titles
Prod: Famous Players Film Co.
Director: James Kirkwood
Script: Eve Unsell, based on the novel and the play The Dawn of a Tomorrow by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Principal cast: Mary Pickford (Glad), David Powell (Dandy), Forrest Robinson (Sir Oliver Holt), Robert
Cain (his nephew)

This conference screening will be the premiere of the restored Mary Pickford film The Dawn of a Tomorrow, a film that was considered lost until a tinted nitrate print with Swedish inter-titles surfaced in 2005. The film is set in London and Pickford plays Glad, ”the poorest and happiest of all orphans”. During the course of the film, this angel in a Dickensian world gives shelter to an evicted mother and child, prevents a suicide, intervenes to inhibit domestic violence, and convinces her sweetheart to reform. The beauty of the close-ups displays an extraordinary preciseness of expression that makes this long lost Pickford film a revelation to watch.

35mm colour print from the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute
2506 meters, 115 mins (19 fps)
Swedish inter-titles
Prod: AB Biografernas Filmdepôt
Director: Karin Swanström
Script: Hjalmar Bergman, Ivar Johansson, based on the novel Flickan i frack by Hjalmar Bergman
Principal cast: Einar Axelsson (Ludwig von Battwhyl), Magda Holm (Katja Kock), Nils Arehn (her father),
Georg Blomstedt (Starck, the headmaster), Karin Swanström (Hyltenius, the vicar’s wife), Erik
Zetterström (Curry, Katja’s brother)

An early example of cross-dressing in Swedish film, a restored version of the comedy Flickan i frack will be screened at the conference for the first time ever. Magda Holm plays Katja, a bright, small-town daughter of an inventor who cares more for the upbringing of his son than his daughter. When Katja’s request for money to buy a new dress for the examination ball is turned down by her father, she decides to attend the ball dressed in tails, creating a further scandal by drinking and smoking cigars. Flickan i frack was Karin Swanström’s fourth and last film as a director, and she also plays one of the leading parts in the film. The film was remade in 1956.

35mm b/w print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum, courtesy of the AFI.
290 meters, 14 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Biograph
Director: D.W. Griffith
Script: George Hennessy
Cast: Edna Foster (Billy), Wilfred Lucas, Claire McDowell, Inez Seabury, Robert Harron, William Butler

Billy and his sister are home with their grandfather, while their parents are out working. Their house gets attacked by the Indians, who get past the grandfather. However, Billy has a plan; he finds a way to get out of the house and blows up the house with the Indians in it. This Griffith film, starring Edna Foster as Billy, was repatriated from the Nederlands Filmmuseum archive to the USA, through the AFI, back in 1974. The film was then restored by the AFI, and a projection print, still carrying Dutch titles was kindly donated to the Filmmuseum Collection.

35mm (Desmet method) colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
283 meters, 14 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Haworth Pictures
Director: William Worthington
Script: Frances Guihan, based on a story by Tom Geraghty
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa (Suki Iota), Tsuru Aoki (Rei Oaki)

Suki Iota, a young Japanese-American lawyer, is investigating a murder case and is secretly in love with his custodian’s niece, Rei. When Suki realizes that Rei’s boyfriend Tom is involved in the murder case, he drops it, despite being called a coward for his actions. The only surviving fragment of this long lost film is its last reel. Despite the fact that most of the action is lost, Nederlands Filmmuseum decided to make a presentation print of this fragment, since it is still worthwhile to watch Tsuru Aoki and her real-life husband Sessue Hayakawa in the few romantic scenes that have survived. Another point of interest is the way in which Aoki’s character gets criticized in the film as a young woman of Japanese origins who in her eagerness to become Americanized neglects her own roots.

35 mm colour print restored by Associazione Orlando (Bologna) and Cineteca Nazionale (Rome), with
the endowment of the Italian Ministry of Culture.
720 meters, 35 mins (18 fps)
Italian inter-titles
Prod: Liana Film (Rome)
Director: Elvira Giallanella
Script: Based on Vittorio Emanuele Bravetta’s poem Tranquillino dopo la guerra vuol ricreare il mondo
Principal cast: a little boy (Tranquillino), a little girl (Serenetta)

Presented in an introductory title as a “humoristic-satirical-educational” work, the film is centered on two young siblings, Tranquillino and Serenetta, who get up during the night to steal from the jam jar and play with Daddy’s cigarettes. The smoke gives Tranquillino a terrifying dream: the world has been destroyed by a terrible war and his attempts to recreate the world only makes him retrace and redo the mistakes of humankind during the course of history, from dictatorship to war. The backward trip throughout the pastmakes the kids realise that history has been built on arms and war. Desperate and frightened, they seek help in prayer and are finally saved by a bearded God, who appears in the sky and takes them in his arms. Based on a poem for children by Vittorio Emanuele Bravetta, Umanità is the only title in Elvira Giallanella’s filmography as a director. A quite mysterious figure, Giallanella was involved in film production since 1913, when she participated in the founding of the Vera Film company, which produced one of the first Futurist films, Mondo baldoria (1913). It is uncertain whether Umanità was ever screened, as it’s not listed in the censorship archives and never mentioned in period film magazines.

35mm colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
260 meters, 13 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Nordisk Films Kompagni
Director: Leo Tscherning
Script: Harriet Bloch
Cast: Else Frölich, Oscar Stribolt

Kaerlighed og penge is a comedy after a scenario by Harriet Bloch in which men’s intentions with women are getting spoofed. Both the situation and the plot are rather surprising. The main character, Karen, is a well-to-do single mother with a son. She has three admirers courting her: a lieutenant, a poet and a wealthy man. This amuses rather than impresses her, and she candidly questions if they are after her love or her money. One day, her friend from America, Ebba, visits Karin, who seizes the opportunity to throw a party. Together they concoct a test to find out about each man’s true intentions… and they are having a ball while evaluating the outcome.

PAS DE FEMMES! / NO WOMEN! (France, 1920)
35mm (Desmet method) colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
506 meters, 27 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Film Denizot, Marseilles
Director: Vincenzo Denizot
Script: unknown
Cast: unknown

This comedy is exceptional in two respects: first, it seems to be an unknown French production by the Italian director Vicenzo Denizot, known from Maciste-films; and most importantly in the context of this
conference, it seems a rare counterpart to the many anti-suffragette films of the time: it ridicules antifeminism. A luxury hotel by the sea is occupied by a bunch of spoiled girls eager for excitement beyond their daily routines of gourmet dining and playing tennis. The chief rascal among them is Suzy, who preferably drives her governess to despair with her unruliness. One day, a notorious anti-feminist arrives together with his nephew, to recover from the stress of campaigning against furious women. He demands to be served only by men and chases the chamber maid from his room. The girls agree that this is an affront to women’s dignity and Suzy is appointed by lot to scheme and lead their vengeance…

35mm colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
920 meters, 45 mins (18fps)
French inter-titles
Prod: Treumann-Larsen Film GmbH
Director: Dr. R. Portegg aka Rosa Porten and Franz Eckstein
Script: Wanda Treumann
Cast: Wanda Treumann, Heinrich Schroth, Marie Grimm-Einödshofer

This is a film produced by and starring German comedienne Wanda Treumann, and co-written and co-directed by Rosa Porten. Rosa Porten made films in the 1910s together with her husband Franz Eckstein, using the pseudonym Dr. R. Portegg. According to contemporary press, they were known for their proficient direction. The film mixes comedy with romance and social drama. It focuses on the interrelations of gender and class and on a factory girl’s independent spirit, business competence, and sense of humour. The plot has a serious undertone, but both its comic twists and Treumann’s guileless acting lend it a striking breeziness and a pro-lib edge.

A remarkable selection, with a palpable sense of exciting discovery. All details of the conference and screenings, including registration, accommodation, location and so forth, can be found on the conference website.

Brighton beach memoirs

G.A. Smith’s Brighton studio in 1902, with the rooftop set for Mary’s Jane’s Mishap

It is probably not possible to pick up a book on early film studies and not find mention of the symposium ‘Cinema 1900-1906’ held at 1978 FIAF congress in Brighton. This formative, and now practically legendary event, took place thirty years ago, and the Giornate del Cinema Muto at Pordenone is going to mark the anniversary by having a special programme at this October’s festival where some of those who participated in 1978 each choose a couple of films that were shown at the original symposium.

The programme notes are on the Pordenone site, and John Barnes, Eileen Bowser, Michael Chanan, Tjitte de Vries, Jon Gartenberg, André Gaudreault, Tom Gunning, David Levy, Charles Musser, Barry Salt, Martin Sopocy and Paul Spehr each choose the two titles, provide their explanations and sometimes their misty memories of thirty years ago. Each demonstrates the extraordinary rich field that early cinema represents for those with the eyes to see, and the undimmed enthusiasm among those who have been working on this territory for three decades and more.

The International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) holds annual congresses, and in 1978 in was Britain’s turn. David Francis, the Curator of the National Film Archive, decided to hold a symposium on film 1900-1906, reflecting both the active academic and archival interests in this area, and the role of Brighton (where the congress was held) as a hot-bed of creative filmmaking at this period (the so-called ‘Brighton School’ of filmmakers such as G.A. Smith, James Williamson and Esme Collings). 548 films were shown in Brighton, either during pre-screenings or at the symposium itself. These were contributed by film archives around the world, many of which, as David Francis notes in his memoir of the event, had not been preserved, so two negatives and two prints were produced of each title (one set for the donating archive, one set to stay at the NFA). The two-volume proceedings of the symposium (above), with papers and filmography, were edited by Roger Holman and published in 1982, and are still available from FIAF.

Huge efforts were therefore made to bring together practically every available film for the period (fiction film, that is – non-fiction film, ever the bridesmaid, was not included). 1900 to 1906 was chosen so as to avoid the contentious 1890s (which could have ended up as a ‘we-invented-the-cinema’ exercise in futile national boasting) while examining film form and style before the era of cinemas brought about its changes. The experience of seeing so many films for a well-defined period, allowing scholars to make reasoned assessments for film at this time based on unmatched access to the projected films themselves, had considerable repercussions. As said, hardly any writer on early film can avoid noting 1978 as a major milestone, if not starting point, for the whole field. Out of that gathering of academics eventually came the organisation, Domitor, which still represents scholarly interest in early film studies. Tom Gunning and André Gaudreault’s notion of the ‘cinema of attractions’ (another essential reference point for practically any writing on early cinema) was undoubtedly formed to some degree by the experience.

It could be argued that FIAF 1978 had its detrimental side, given that bias towards the fiction film, film form and the elevation of some films whose crudities, to the general observer, tend to outweigh their stylistic innovations. But it’s all part of a process, and if a gathering together of films 1900 to 1906 today would give rise to many different kinds of questions (particularly, I would like to think, on their social and contextual functions), that just shows the vitality of the medium and its continued relevance in the light of new kinds of questions and new theories.

But will we get other such gatherings of early films? David Francis makes it clear what a gargantuan effort effort it was to bring together, preserve, make accessible and exhibit 548 films in one place at one time. There hasn’t really been anything quite like it since (though David notes the slapstick symposium at the 1985 FIAF Congress in New York). One of the most memorable early film events I ever attended was the pre-screenings of pre-1914 films on religious themes, organised at the National Film Theatre in advance of the first Domitor conference in 1990 (in Québec). I’ve no idea how many films were shown, but it took up the whole of a weekend, and we were on our knees by the end of it. But what an experience – and what was so interesting was to encounter the papers that came out it, and to see how enriching it has been for those scholars who attended.

There should be renewed efforts to put on such epic surveys. Of course, the DVD box set can now bring us such astonishing treats as the entire (almost) extant works of Georges Méliès, but there are still vast number of early films that remain unseen by most, and of course many more films have been discovered for the period since 1978. Moreover, it is the experience of seeing such films projected, with an interested audience, that is so important. David Francis calls for year-by-year analyses of fiction and non-fiction films, which would be welcome – and not impractical – though I would still hope different kinds of arrangement, so that we don’t just get a lesson in emerging kinds of film form. The impact of FIAF 1978 has resounded for thirty years, surely a sound return for the investment in time, money and effort. Someone should try do something similar in the light of the critical perceptions we have today. It would be more than worth it.

Vittorio Martinelli RIP

Vittorio Martinelli

Vittorio Martinelli

Anyone who has attended one of the marvellous festivals of archive or silent film that the Italians have in such profusion will recognise Vittorio Martinelli (1926-2008). Even if you don’t know his many books of film history, he was a regular sight at Pordenone and Bologna. His death was announced recently, and there are fulsome tributes (in Italian and English) on the Pordenone website, include a fine tribute on PDF from film historian Ivo Blom. Martinelli is best-known for the multi-volume filmography of Italian silent cinema, Il cinema muto italiano, that he co-edited with Aldo Bernardini. He also wrote extensively on other national cinemas. Every nation seems to have produced these dedicated, principled documenters of our silent heritage (John Barnes, Denis Gifford, Einar Lauritzen, Henri Bousquet, Herbert Birett), believers all in the value of the accurate, comprehensive list. Will we see their like again in the next generations, or have we now the filmographies for silent film history that will sustain our subject for the future?

Now with added movies

Film medical realizat de profesor G. Marinescu (1898-1901)

Some you will know that as well as keeping the Bioscope bubbling along I manage other sites, including Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema, which I co-edit with Stephen Herbert. The site is based on our 1996 BFI book, Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema: A Worldwide Survey, and documents the lives of 200 or more people who were active in motion pictures before 1901. We keep the information up-to-date, add new names and resources, and the reason for this notice is that we’ve just added a new feature: links to Victorian films online. We haven’t got into hosting our own films (yet), but where there are freely available films, on YouTube, American Memory and such like, we’ve added links to the relevant individual’s entry on the Who’s Who.

We’ve also created a Films Online page in our Resources section, which offers a selection of films (all from YouTube so far), demonstrating the great variety of the form. For example, not everyone considering films of the late nineteenth century would think to include the works of the Romanian Gheorge Marinescu, whose studies of the movements of patients suffering from severe nervous diseases you can see included in the above compilation film (itself clearly post-1901).

We’ve tried to keep to legitmately available titles only, so there’s nothing from the Lumières (all still in copyright) or Georges Méliès (the only stuff available online has all been ripped from commercial DVDs). But we’ll add more where we can. One last point – all of the films that we show or link to relate to the individuals’ career pre-1901, so we don’t show anyone’s work from a later period. Do take a look.

Of Mutoscopes, Filoscopes and Kinoras

Another day, another outstanding website. Out of the blue has appeared (well, out of the blue to me – it’s been around for a while), and I warmly recommend it to you. It is a site dedicated to the history, definition and usage of the flipbook, that sister technology of the silent cinema. It defines the flip book, or flick book, thus:

A flip book is a collection of combined pictures intended to be flipped over to give the illusion of movement and create an animated sequence from a simple small book without machine.

Flipbooks became very popular in the late nineteenth century, and are still produced today – indeed, who among us has not created their own basic flip sequence by drawing successive figures at the corner of the pages of a school exercise book? (You mean you haven’t? – go out and do so straight away and discover what intermittent motion and animation mean). But it was at the end of the nineteenth and into the early years of the twentieth century that flipbook technology overlapped with, indeed shared with cinema technology.

The Mutoscope (left), better known to many as ‘what the butler saw’, was one of the first photographic motion picture viewers. Invented by Herman Casler in 1895, the Mutoscope presented radially-mounted photographs on card which were flicked over in rapid sequence to give an illusion of movement. The American Mutoscope and Biograph Company was formed to exploit this invention, in tandem with 70mm films created by the Mutagraph camera, so that the same source generated product for showing on the big screen to a variety theatre audience or as a private pleasure for the single peepshow viewer. The company eventually shed the Mutoscope part of the business and became simply Biograph, took on a film director by the name of D.W. Griffith, and you know the rest. Other such hybrid technologies, using cinematograph films to generate the photographic sequences for flip cards, were the smaller Kinora viewer, invented by Auguste and Louis Lumière, and the Filoscope, invented by Henry Short.

All this and much, much more is covered by the site, which describes (with beautiful illustrations) an amazing range of flipbook views from the early years of the twentieth-century, demonstrating the interelationships with cinema, and how the form has been employed to illustrate sport, advertising, comic strips, pornography, even news and politics, how it has been used by artists, and how books themselves have use flipbook images. It is an astonishingly diverse field

And that’s not all. As well as the rich selection of images, there are demonstration movies for some of the types of viewer, including the Filoscope and the Kinora (frame grab right). The bilingual (English and French) site is the creation of Pascal Fouché, and is divided up into History, Typology, Viewers, Links (publishers, retailers, artists etc) and a blog (in French). The pags come with footnotes, and the knowledge on display is mightily impressive. Indeed my only criticism is that the search option only works in French – but do use it, because it brings up a whole load more images from a database, apprently of 4,250 flipbooks. Amazing stuff, lovingly put together, but as accessible as it is scholarly. Go explore.

Alternative music

Now this is something quite novel. Ben Model (left) is a respected silent film accompanist, probably best known for being his regular live performances at the Museum of Modern Art and for New York’s regular Silent Clowns film series. He has now come up with, a download service providing alternative scores for silent films currently available on DVD. The scores are available as MP3 files, which (after paying through PayPal) you can download to your hard drive, then burn to CD, iPod or whatever. Put in your DVD, then start the MP3 file and following the synching instructions. Easy.

Scores currently are available for The Dragon Painter, The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, The Man from Beyond, Terror Island, Sherlock Jr., and Beyond the Rocks, with most priced at $3.95. There is a ‘freebie-per-month’ too (currently The Dragon Painter, the Sessue Hayakawa drama recently released by Milestone).

There is an ingenious bit of cheek about this whole exercise, but the more you think about it the smarter it is. I don’t know what the DVD producers think, but they are not going to lose anything by it. One or two of the original accompanists on those DVDs might feel a bit miffed. As for select group of punters, I suspect they are going to welcome the opportunity for choice. The beauty of experiencing silent films live is that you never encounter the same film twice, because the (generally) improvised score is different every time. Once you’ve bought the DVD you have just one film. Altscore introduces a small element of variety, based on an understanding that the silent film is a protean beast that, ideally, should never be the same film twice.

But we should not stop here. I’ve been thinking lately of creative ways in which music for silent films can be made available, and I’d like to see something done with scores that not only do you download but which you can edit and create for yourself. This could be an interesting element of a DVD release (perhaps with a schools/educational element), supplying the user with film and elements of music which is true VJ fashion they could then mix to create their own silent film accompaniment. This has already been done. Some years ago the BFI’s Education department produced Backtracks, an innovative CD-Rom with films clips with audio files for schoolchildren to experiment with blending the images with different kinds of music background (Neil Brand was involved). The BFI’s Creative Archive, which includes silent films clips, encourages you to remix and republish the downloadable films as you wish, under special licence. And recently the jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas, whose Arbuckle-inspired album Moonshine has been praised here already, is offering you the chance to download the separate tracks for the title tune of the DVD as uncompressed WAV files, along with the Arbuckle/Keaton film of that title, to remix as you see fit. I’ve downloaded the file and can play the tracks individually (it requires WinRAR to extract the files, which you can download as trial software) though I’ve not been smart enough yet to mix the results (“a child of five could do this – someone send for a child of five”). But the concept is a grand one. Let’s have more such interaction between the user and the artist – the tools are there.

Filmed by Curtis, directed by the Kwakwaka’wakw

Billboard for In the Land of the Head Hunters, from

In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914) is a remarkable, anomalous and much-misunderstood film. It was made by Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), the renowned photographer of Native American life, in the hopes of attracting funds to support his North American Indian book series (the series, completed in 1930, would eventually run to twenty volumes). His chief benefactor, J.P. Morgan, had died in 1913, and it seemed a good idea to create a dramatic work which would appeal to the millions that were by then flocking to the cinema.

Note the term ‘dramatic work’. In the Land of the Head Hunters has gone down in rather too many film histories as a documentary endeavour, and one which falsified reality by getting the Kwakwaka’wakw, or Kwakiutl, people of British Columbia to enact customs that they no longer practiced (not least, head hunting), and to cheapen things further by spinning a love story in the hopes of attracting an audience. As the impressive, indeed almost dauntingly thorough and knowledgable website Edward Curtis meets the Kwakwaka’wakw states:

Since the 1970s, Curtis’s film has been treated as a documentary, adorning the halls of natural history and anthropology museums and being criticized for its staging of savage scenes from a “pre-contact” past as if they were part of the everyday life of contemporary tribal communities (as was also the case with his photography). Yet the film was intended as an innovation in feature film—one meant to stand out in the already crowded field of popular Westerns or “Indian Pictures” of the time—because of its exclusive use of “authentic” Native actors, its on-location shooting, its dynamic camera work, its spectacular color tinting and toning, and its ambitious musical score. The film truly represents an active, artistic collaboration between two dramatic traditions: the rich Kwakwaka’wakw history of staged ceremonialism and the then-emergent mass-market colossus of American narrative cinema.

The website has been created to complement a restoration of the film, which is about to start doing the rounds of American venues. In the Land of the Head Hunters was not the financial success that Curtis had hoped, despite glowing reviews, and it soon disappeared from view. In 1947 a single, incomplete copy was rescued from being binned as rubbish and was donated to the Field Museum, Chicago. A re-edited version of this was released in 1974 as In the Land of the War Canoes, with a new soundtrack recorded by members of the Kwakwaka’wakw. More material also turned up at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, and a copy of the original orchestral score ended up at the Getty Research Library. The present resotration has brought all of this material together, in the hands of project co-ordinators Brad Evans and Aaron Glass.

The website currently makes available a handful of clips of the unrestored version, with the promise of clips from the restored version to follow soon. The remainder of the website explains in incisive detail the film’s history, restoration, score, images and above all its relatation to and reflection of Kwakwaka’wakw culture. It is significant that in giving the history of the film’s production the site reverses the usual narrative by relating things from the Kwakwaka’wakw perspective. From this point of view, the Kwakwaka’wakw had significant control over the film’s production – agreeing to its being made in the first place, vetoing inauthentic scenes, while actively encouraging scenes which recreated customs that were on the wane or archaic in part through the assimilationist policies of the Canadian government. The film therefore became an important means for their cultural self-expression.

So to look on In the Land of the Head Hunters as either drama or documentary is merely to hold up both terms for their inadequacy. The film used the tools of the cinema to express a collaboration between two cultures, to document through drama. This is not to say that it is not a problematic film – that sensationalist title alone betrays Curtis’ muddled sympathies. But for a cinema where ‘cowboys and indians’ were predominant, any tale which put the native people (there are no white performers in the film) and the commemoration of a culture first was radical and affirmative. No wonder it failed at the box office.

The restored version of In the Land of the Head Hunters recives its premiere at the Getty Research Centre on 5 June 2008, with the score performed by the UCLA Philharmonia. Various screening dates are then in place for June and November 2008, with more to follow.

To find out more about Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian project, visit the Library of Congress’ excellent American Memory exhibit, which reproduces Curtis’ famous photographs volume by volume.

Alice, Cleo, Dorothy, Lois and Ruth

More DVD releases, though in this case it is the DVD release (22 April) of titles previously only available on videotape. Kino is issuing three DVDs of silent films made by American women directors, available singly or bundled as ‘First Ladies‘. Kino claims that “the mid-1910s was a virtual golden age for women directors, with over a dozen women working behind the camera.” ‘Golden Age’ might seem to suggest an era of unfettered opportunity and creative expression, which was hardly the case. No woman was able to get behind the camera without a tough struggle, but nevertheless there were proportionately more women directors at this period than for many decades thereafter, and enough survives for us to value a distinctive and often clearly feminist body or work.

First up is the double-feature The Ocean Waif (1916), directed by Alice Guy-Blaché and 49-17 (1917), written and directed by Ruth Ann Baldwin. Alice Guy (right) or Alice Guy-Blaché (she married cameraman/ producer Herbert Blaché) is arguably the most notable of early women filmmakers; certainly one whose career has been championed in some quarters to the point of myth. She was taken on as Léon Gaumont’s secretary in 1897, and swiftly became head of film production at Gaumont, producing hundreds of short films (including proto-sound films). She moved to America in 1907 when her husband was made head of Gaumont’s office in New York. She returned to filmmaking in 1910 for her own company, Solax, before becoming an independent filmmaker, and it was during this period that she made The Ocean Waif for William Randolph Hearst’s International Film Service. Kino describes it as “a romantic story, plenty of pathos but no brutality, a likeable hero and an innocent young woman, and a suspenseful plot with a dramatic and happy ending”. It is one of the few films of hers from this period that survives. She carried on directing with moderate success throughout the teens, but her career petered out after her divorce in 1922, after which she returned to obscurity, only to be rediscovered in old age and awarded the Legion d’Honneur by a grateful French government.

The American Ruth Ann Baldwin was a journalist turned screenwriter, film editor and director. 49-17 is a parody Western, starring Jean Hersholt. It was her only feature (she directed several two-reelers), though apparently it was a hit, and the remainder of her film credits are for scriptwriting.

Lois Weber

Baldwin worked for Universal studios, which seems to have been more encouraging of women directors than its rivals. It was home to Cleo Madison, actress turned director of the short film Eleanor’s Catch (1916), which is paired on the second DVD with Lois Weber’s feature The Hypocrites (1915). Weber (left) is the most notable of American women director of the silent era, a filmmaker as bold in technique as she was in ideas. She too started with the Gaumont company, as an actress, where for a time she worked alongside Alice Guy, and married a Gaumont manager Phillips Smalley. She turned to directing films in 1911, directing many shorts, including (with Smalley) the classic stylistic thriller Suspense (1913), before making her name with a succession of controversial and issue-led films, such as Where Are My Children? (1916) on abortion, The People vs John Doe (1916) on capital punishment as The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1917) on birth control. The Hypocrites (1915), on religion and hypocrisy, itself caused contoversy for its use of nude woman (representing naked truth). She too worked for a time at Universal, enjoyed further success as a director into the early 1920, only to see her career crumble following the break-up of her marriage and a nervous breakdown.

The third DVD, The Red Kimona (1925) was directed by Dorothy Davenport Reid, better known as Mrs Wallace Reid (right), the wife of the wretched Wallace Reid. He was the actor whose death through drug addiction so shocked Hollywood and the nation, leading his wife to appear in the impassioned anti-drug film Human Wreckage (1923), which featured in the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films. After the success of that film she formed her own production company, and made this concerned drama (based on a true story) of a young woman lured into a life of prostitution, starring Priscilla Bonner. Its notable female credits continue, with a story by future director Dorothy Arzner and screenplay by Adela Rogers St. John. She continued to have some success as a director into the 1930s and thereafter as a screenwriter.

As said, it would be misleading to look upon 1910s America as some sort of golden period for women filmmakers, except by the modest proportion of women able to make films compared to later decades. It was still a cinema dominated by men in every field of production, and probably only Lois Weber rose to real prominence and power. Alice Guy worked regularly as a director in America throughout the 1910s, but generally for minor film companies set up by her husband. Her public profile was nothing like Webers. Dorothy Davenport made some courageous films, but she was never a leading figure, and by the mid-1920s women filmmakers were virtually unknown in America. The others were actresses or scenarists who were allowed a brief turn behind the camera.

However, if it was not Utopia, it nevertheless was a time of opportunities to be taken to create films from the woman’s point of view, and this Guy, Weber and Davenport undoubtedly did. They did not simply ape common themes and styles but purposefully chose subjects of particular interest to them as women, or simply revealed a different eye in how they placed and treate female protagonists within the narratives that they told. These films are no mere curiosities, but evidence of a different way of making films and seeing films. It’s good to see them made available again in this way.