Treasures from Europe

Bucking Broadway

John Ford’s Bucking Broadway (1917), from Europa Film Treasures

It’s here at last folks, Europa Film Treasures, the long-awaited online archive of assorted gems and oddities from film archives across Europe, created by the continually wonderful Lobster Films of Paris.

It’s a collection of truly disparate material, fiction and non-fiction, live action and animation, short and feature-length, ranging from 1898 to 1999. There are films from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, the USA and more. Participating archives include the Deutsche Kinemathek, Det Danske Filminstitut, GosFilmoFond, Filmarchiv Austria, the Scottish Screen Archive, the Imperial War Museum Film and Video Archive, Lobster Films itself, and many more, though several archives only contribute the one title (and some, such as the BFI, which had previously announced that they would be contributing, have not done so – yet).

And what will you find there? Well, there are early actualities by Danish cinematographer Peter Elfelt, pornography from Austria, Biblical lands film from 1906 (these are some of the films shown at Pordenone in 2007 when they were thought to be of an earlier date – see this post – clearly more identification work has been done since then), dance films, a Russian fish processing factory documentary, comedies (including Max Linder), trick films, science fiction (Walter Booth’s The Airship Destroyer from 1909, an important film listed here under a German title, Der Luftkrieg der Zukunft), Spanish newsfilm, Russian Yiddish drama, one of John Ford’s first Westerns Bucking Broadway (1917) – the only non-European title on view, the extraordinary Der Magische Gürtel (1917) – tracking the trail of destruction wreaked by a German U-Boat, French public health films, abstract animation from Viking Eggling, Soviet puppet animation, and more, much more.

This is a wonderful treasure trove, certainly highly eclectic. Some may be disappointed not to find a greater range or more familiar material, but they should be encouraged to explore. They will be amazed and delighted, I hope. Each film comes with credits, background description (in somewhat quaint English, clearly translated none too comfortably from French), and the films are all shown in Flash. A library of documentation and teaching resources are promised soon. There are a number of search options, allowing you to search by archive (the search option says Films), time period, country, genre etc, but finding an individual title (especially as few are in English) is a little laborious. And it’s available in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian.

There’s background information on the European-funded project in an earlier post. Up to 500 titles are promised eventually (there’s around fifty up so far), so clearly it’s a site to visit again and again. There were reports that the funding would only support the site for a year – and then what? I’ll try to find out. Meanwhile, go explore.

Times for free

Regular readers will know how we try to track the availability of digitised newspaper online, highlighting the great opportunities they provide for researching silent cinema subjects. Now, seemingly out of the blue, The Times has made its archive freely available online. Previously available only to institutions by subscription, the Archive of 20 million articles dating 1785 to 1985 has been opened up to everyone.

To make use of the service you have to register with Times Online, during which process it is revealed that the archive is being made available for free for a limited period only, so grasp the opportunity while you can. But presumably an individual user subscription service will eventually follow (as employed by The Guardian Archive), which will be a boon long-term for the researcher not attached to an academic institution.

Those who have used the Times Archive before now (i.e. via Gale) will notice small differences in searching (only a basic search option – keyword and date) and results, but there is one major new feature. User are now provided with the OCR text i.e. the underlying, scanned text, which isn’t available with the Gale version. The option is called Full Text. This is great for copying and pasting, but do note it’s uncorrected text (the OCR software reads what it can, but sometimes struggles with unclear type). Here, for example, is the uncorrected text of The Times‘ report on the debut of the Kinetoscope in Britain, from its issue of 18 October 1894:

The latest, and not the least remarkable, of Mr. Edison’s inventions is the kinetoscone, of wnhich a private demonstration vas given last evening at 70, Oxford-street. This instrument isv,o the eye what Edison’s phonograph is to the ear,1An that it reproduces living movements of the most complex and rapid character. To clearly understand the effect it is necessary to explain the cause, but to appreciate the result the working of the invenzion m3ust be wit- nessed. The moving and, apparently, living figures in the kinctoseope rre produced iii the following manner :-3r. Edison has a stage upon which the per- fcrmances he reproduces are enacted. These perform- ances are recotded by taking a series of 43 photographs in rapid succession, the time occupied in them hu-ing one second only. Thus every grogressive phase oa every single action is secured, an the photographs are successively reproduced on a film or celluloid of the length required for recording a gircn scene. When this film is passed before the eye at the same rate of speed as that at which the photographs were tae1cn the photographically disjoiuted parts of a given action are united in one comDlete whole. Tus, hsu posing a per-on to be photogranhed tlkng off his cat -as is done in one case-the successive views repre- senting the phase of action at every 4Zrd part of a second are joined up, and the complete operation of talking off the coat is presented to tLe eve as it would appear in reality In other words, the kinetoscope is aperfect reproduction of living action without sound. The apparatus in which ihis reproduction takes place is a cabinet about 4ft. high, 2ft. wide, and lIt. Oin. deep. It contains the celluloid film band, the apparatus for reconstructing the disjointed views and a small electric motor for driving the apparatus. The chief detail of the mechanism is a flat metal ring havingo a slot in it, ;hich makes about 2,000 revolutions per mitnute. The film pusses rapddl over the ring, beneath which is a light. The spectator looks tnrough a lens on to the film, and every action recorded on it pasSe under his view. Ten machines here shown in ohich the most rapid and compler actions wrere faithfullly reproduced. One scen,e repre- sentS a blacksmith’s shop in full ope.-ation, with tbree mnen hammering iron on an anvil, and wvho stop in their work to take a drink. Eiach drinks in turn and passes the pot of beer to the other. The smoke Frmm trhe fon.Te is seen to rise most perfectly. In another view a Spanish dancer is showvn going through her graceful evolutions, as is also Amna Belli in her serpentine dance. There is likewise a wrestling scene and a cock fight, in which the feathers are seen to fly in all directions. All the featnres of an original stage productioa are given, of course on a small scale, but possibly only for the vresent on a smaU scale, for 21r Edison promises to add the phono- graph to the kinetoscope and to reproduco. plays. Then by amplifying the ph nu”rapl and throwing the pictures on a screen, ma’fg them life size, he will give the world a startling reproduction of iluman life. THE KIATUTOSCORE.

So, in need of a little editing, and also a warning that any keyword you type in will not yield every instance of that word across the whole of the Archive (and if you type in the word KIATUTOSCORE, sure enough you get the above article).

The Times Archive has already become a standard academic reference source, an online journal of record to match the paper’s print pretensions, and the exciting route to countless new research avenues. Free or paid for, this is going to open up the resource still further. How truly lucky we are.

There’s more information on using the Times Archive and other digitised newspaper collections for searching silent cinema subjects in an earlier Bioscope post, but it’s high time we have a round-up report that covers all the resources that have appeared over the past year (with more promised soon). I’m working on it.

Update: The free offer ends on 18 September 2008. Thereafter there is to be a charge for viewing search results, with three ways of charging: Day pass: £4.95, Monthly membership: £14.95, or Annual membership: £74.95.

And the first silent on Blu-Ray is…

Well, we’ve been waiting with eager anticipation to discover which silent film would be the first to get the Blu-Ray treatment, with speculation upon speculation as to what, say, Criterion, might eventually be able to offer us. And now we have what I think is the first silent film to be offered commercially in High Definition, and the winner is… The Story of Petroleum.

Yes, the 25mins 1923 US Bureau of Mines and the Sinclair Oil Company documentary which was included as a surprise extra on the DVD release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (previously reported here) has been given the HD treatment, scratches and damaged sections coming out at the viewer in all their heightened glory.

There’s a review of the disc, which gives mention to the silent short, on Audiophile Audition. There is no HD-DVD release scheduled, as Paramount have announced they will no longer be producing HD-DVD titles.

In fact, I believe the first silent to have been given any sort of HD transfer was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger, produced by Granada International, which was scheduled to have a screening on the MGMHD channel before being mysteriously withdrawn at the last minute and replaced by Paul Morrissey’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (again, as reported earlier). This I have seen, but only a DVD copy, and where and in what form it will eventually appear in public I don’t know. But first out commercially, and definitely first on Blu-Ray is The Story of Petroleum. The bookies will have made a killing.

Unless anyone knows differently?