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?

If there are angels

The Gold Rush

Too many things happening and too little time is leaving the Bioscope a little neglected of late, for which apologies. The colour series will return, and some more substantial posts, once I’ve got some other things out of the way. But in the meanwhile, let us have a cultural interlude. It has been too long since we had a poem for your delectation, so here is a particular favourite: Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner Wisława Szymborska‘s 1993 poem, ‘Slapstick’:

If there are angels,
I doubt they read
our novels
concerning thwarted hopes.

I’m afraid, alas,
they never touch the poems
that bear our grudges against the world.

The rantings and railings
of our plays
must drive them, I suspect,
to distraction.

Off-duty, between angelic –
i.e. inhuman – occupations,
they watch instead
our slapstick
from the age of silent film.

To our dirge wailers,
garment renders,
and teeth gnashers,
they prefer, I suppose,
that poor devil
who grabs the drowning man by his toupee
or, starving, devours his own shoelaces
with gusto.

From the waist up, starch and aspirations;
below, a startled mouse
runs down his trousers.
I’m sure
that’s what they call real entertainment.

A crazy chase in circles
ends up pursuing the pursuer.
The light at the end of the tunnel
turns out to be a tiger’s eye.
A hundred disasters
mean a hundred cosmic somersaults
turned over a hundred abysses.

If there are angels,
they must, I hope,
find this convincing,
this merriment dangling from terror,
not even crying Save me Save me
since all of this takes place in silence.

I can even imagine
that they clap their wings
and tears run from their eyes
from laughter, if nothing else.

From The End and the Beginning (1993), trans. Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

As the shoelace-devouring Chaplin put it (at least I think it was him), ‘life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot’. It all depends where you are standing, and who is observing.

City & country

The How and Why of Spuds (1920), National Archives Collection

This year’s Northeast Historic Film’s Summer Symposium takes place 25-26 July, at Bucksport, Maine. Northeast Historic Film collects, preserves, and makes available to the public, film and videotape of interest to the people of northern New England, and holds an annual symposium which focuses on regional film, much of it amateur, and stretching back to the 1920s. This year’s theme is City & Country:

Images and archetypes of the city and the country as seemingly distinct locations and ways of life have remained a potent force in the cultural imagination since the mid 19th century. Even though the transformations of industrial culture and mobility have changed rural and urban landscapes and lifestyles, the ideas and images associated with the City and the Country continues to thrive as traditional poles of modern experience. They are where we anchor the dreams and fears of technology and tradition, and where we are animated by hopes of progress and the comforts of nostalgia. As Raymond Williams noted of this powerful duality, “the contrast of country and city is one of the major forms in which we become conscious of a central part of our experience and of the crises of our society.”

More information as ever from the website.

John Barnes RIP

It is with sadness that I have to report the death of John Barnes, film historian, collector, curator and filmmaker. John is best known for the five volume series The Beginnings of Cinema in England, 1894-1901, his unparalled study of the earliest years of English cinema. Begun in 1976, completed in 1998, it is as much a work of archaeology as historiography. John’s real passion was for the technology of film in the 1890s, and he was prodigious and exhaustive in tracking down every kind of motion picture machine from the period, explaining its distinctive qualities, tracing its use and recording its ownership.

Around this deep understanding of the technology of the era, he weaved stories of the personalities of the time (his great hero was Robert Paul, whose battles with fellow pioneer and rival Birt Acres he recorded with journalistic fervour), the modes of exhibition, and especially the films – each volume of his history contained filmographies of the whole of British film production for one year, information gleaned from catalogues, journals, posters, flyers, and a host of other sources. Details of hundreds of films from this era have been identified from Barnes’ work alone, a huge benefit to scholars and film archivists alike. An era of cinema that previously had been idly documented and frequently misinterpreted was enriched by an exhaustive study that has inspired a huge range of subsequent studies. No one has been able to write about this period of cinema history without reference to the works of John Barnes. He found the material, provided the signposts, and his work remains the sure foundations on which all other research in the field must be built.

With the Gypsies in Kent (c.1938), film by John and Bill Barnes, from Screen Search

John and his twin brother William (who survives him) were born in 1920 and discovered film during the 1930s, becoming enthusiastic amateur filmmakers while still at school. Two of their films, Gems of the Cornish Riviera (1936) and Cornish Nets (1938) featured at the Pordenone silent film festival in 1997, the year in which both were awarded the prestigious Prix Jean Mitry for services to silent film scholarship. Eighteen of their silent films are now held by Screen Archive South East in Brighton, including The Wheat Harvest (c.1935), In the Garden of England (c.1938) and With the Gypsies in Kent (c.1938), clips from which can be seen on the Archive’s Screen Search site.

On leaving school the brothers studied film design and technique at Edward Carrick’s AAT film school, at which time they began collecting Victorian optical toys and associated literature, often frequenting the bookshops of London’s Cecil Court which three decades before had been ‘Flicker Alley’, home to the nascent British film industry. They hatched a plan to collect artefacts and documents that would trace the history of motion pictures from the 17th to the 20th centuries, an ambition put on hold while they served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War.

After the war, the brothers moved to St Ives in Cornwall, where Bill opened a second-hand bookshop. It was in rooms above this shop in 1951, during the Festival of Britain, that the brothers put on the first exhibition of their film history artefacts, the success of which encouraged them to collect all the more. This was at a time when relatively little was appreciated about pre-cinema tchnologies, and John’s great work was not simply to collect such objects but to understand them, explain them and to be able to contextualise them. Eventually the bookshop was closed and the brothers sold by catalogue alone, supplying books and artefacts to scholars and film museums around the world.

Objects collected by John and Bill Barnes now in Hove Museum

In the 1960s, while Bill went filming overseas, John and his wife Carmen (who also survives him) opened the Barnes Museum of Cinematography in St Ives. This famous collection attracted film scholars from around the world, and its catalogues became treasured documentary sources as serious interest grew in the roots of cinema. Collecting continued, and many objects were lent to museums around the world or formed the subject of illustrations in numerous text books. The Museum never found a London home, as John had hoped, and closed in 1986, its pre-cinema holdings going to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin, while much of the remainder is now housed in Hove Museum, near Brighton.

But John’s greatest monument is The Beginnings of the Cinema in England. The series began in 1976 with the book of that title, which documented the arrival of film in England, 1894-1896. Establishing his style, the book traced the history through the machinery, out of which followed the personalities involved, the modes of exhibition, and a thorough filmography for the period. It would be hard to underestimate the value this book (which was revised and republished in 1998) to the early cinema specialist. It simply defined a period. Subsequent research has built on his work, and occasionally challenged its findings (Barnes’ arguments around the so-called ‘Paul-Acres camera’), but those solid foundations remain. It was followed by volumes doggedly documenting the cinema in Britain (he wavered between England and Britain in his descriptions) for 1897 (perhaps his best work), 1898, 1899 and 1900, the whole series eventually being republished in a uniform edition by University of Exeter Press in 1998. While the original volumes are quite rare, the re-issued set can be found relatively easily and cheaply and is strongly recommended to any serious student of early film. In the historiography of British film, only Denis Gifford and Rachael Low can match John Barnes’ achievements.

John Barnes devoted his life to the history of cinema. He was as much a pioneer in his field as were those whose lives and technologies he championed in theirs. He faced innumerable battles with publishers and institutions, but that all goes with the part played in being an independent scholar-collector. His knowledge, unfailing help and sturdy friendship were valued by scholars and enthusiasts around the world, and his parting (he died on June 1st) will be recognised as a huge loss. But few of us who work in this field will be able to leave behind so much of such solid and lasting value: objects rescued, identified and their importance recognised; documents saved, preserved and republished; films identified and treasured; and books written that preserve the knowledge of a lifetime and which will benefit research for many years to come.

I’ll finish with a section from a review I made of The Beginnings of Cinema in England when the series was republished, as it rather sums things up for me:

Enthusiasm is the key to John Barnes’ history. Perhaps the chief reason why this area of film studies is so vital, is that in the hearts of its enthusiasts it is as if it were happening now. While other areas of academic cinema history seem doomed to atrophy, as films that were once entertaining no longer entertain, Victorian cinema is alive with debate and discovery … This is perhaps Barnes’ greatest achievement, to have achieved the trick that film has always claimed to do, to abolish time. Thanks to the finest work of empirical early film history that there is, the cinema of the 1890s is very much with us still.

Thank you John.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 3

Silent films and bedroom painting
Such is the title of an unlikely combination of 1910s non-fiction films and an exhibition of recent abstract paintings. Together they make up an exhibition at the Lab at Belmar, in Lakewood, Colorado. Silent Films features a continuous programme of travelogue, scientific and industrial films on three side-by-side screens, placing them outside of their historical context and highlighting their beauty and mystery. Learn more

Between the Devil and the deep blue sea
On stage at the Studio, Sydney Opera House, 17-28 June is Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, a fusion of theatre and silent film by British theatre company 1927, who take their name from the year of The Jazz Singer. The show was a hit at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and comprises ten ‘fractured fairy tales’ by writer, director and performer Suzanne Andrade, with animated sequences by Paul Barritt. Learn more

And finally…
Canadian experimental filmmaker Deco Dawson is enjoying a retrospective of his work. Inspired by silent films like his fellow Canadian Guy Maddin, Deco says, “What I appreciated about those early silent films is they really didn’t know how to make movies yet …” The Bioscope despairs. Learn more (if you must)

‘Til next time!

Moving Image Source

New York’s Museum of the Moving Image had just published Moving Image Source, a combination of online journal and directory of information. The latter, called Research Guide, provides “a gateway to the best online resources related to film, television, and digital media.” There are several familiar sites listed but also an interesting sprinkling of unfamiliar sites on silent cinema, which I shall explore and pass on the fruits of my discoveries where appropriate. It’s all helpfully laid out and each site is described in a succinct line or two. And it would be even better if only they had thought to provide a search function…

Movies and conduct

Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky in The Son of the Sheik (1926)

Motion pictures are not understood by the present generation of adults. They are new; they make an enormous appeal to children; and they present ideas and situations which parents may not like. Consequently when parents think of the welfare of their children who are exposed to these compelling situations, they wonder about the effect of the pictures upon the ideals and behavior of the children. Do the pictures really influence children in any direction? Are their conduct, ideals, and attitudes affected by the movies? Are the scenes which are objectionable to adults understood by children, or at least by very young children? Do children eventually become sophisticated and grow superior to pictures? Are the emotions of children harmfully excited? In short, just what effect do motion pictures have upon children of different ages?

There were so many studies in the early years of cinema, so many anguished articles, doubtless so many sermons preached from pulpits, all seeking to explain the huge attraction of motion pictures among the young and trying to assess the damage done. The above paragraph neatly sums up many of the concerns that adults held – though presumably those adults who weren’t frequenting the cinema much themselves. The questions posed are reasonable enough, but they are underpinned by a fear of the young, a fear of a loss of control. Such studies end up telling us rather more about the prejudices of their authors than the motives of their subjects.

The paragraph comes from American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct, published in 1933. The book presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. Sigh. But the reason for highlighting this 1933 book here is not for its questions or its conclusions, but for its evidence. The studies undertaken included interviews with filmgoers, who were asked about their cinema-going experiences as children, and hence it provides us with a rich selection of people’s fresh memories of watching films in the silent era.

Here, for example, are young adults remembering childhood play inspired by films:

Male, 20, Jewish, white, college junior – Quite often I would band together with other youths of my age, and we would play “Cop and Robber” or “Cowboy and Indian” trying to imitate the antics of the actors we saw in the movies. We would arm ourselves with toy pistols and clubs and chase each other over streets and yards. We would climb fences and barns, imagining them to be hills and all other objects necessary to make a realistic scene. At times we would get a little girl to play with us and we would have her be the heroine. Then someone else would rescue her, as we had seen it done in the movies.

Female, 19, white, college sophomore – We had a small hobby horse which was used by the hero and heroine alternately. As my cousin’s backyard was large and contained a large number of trees, we soon learned to climb these with agility, with only one or two casualties resulting a cracked arm and a sprained wrist. From these trees we would lasso the villain and his band as they rode by. We wore this plot almost threadbare and then began to use Indians as the villains. They were always cruel and painted terrifically with mud. These cruel villains usually about three would hide behind a tree about six inches in diameter. This hid them so completely that no one could see them, especially the heroine who happened to be out walking. Then the villain would fall upon her and drag her to the Indian camp about three or four feet away. By that time, of course, the dashing hero would try to make the daring rescue. Sometimes he would succeed, but at other times he would be captured. He would then make the spectacular escape with the heroine in his arms and the wild Indians at his heels. This plot was used many times with but few variations. It provided such a great amount of action that it was always a favorite.

Female, 20, white, college junior – From these pictures I received some of my ideas of beauty. I had a great desire to have curls like Mary Pickford’s and was forced to try to secure them secretly because my father forbade the curling of my hair … I got some comfort out of being “Mary Pickford” in our games, and improved my appearance with the aid of shavings from new buildings near by. I was also fond of old-fashioned clothes which I had first seen in the movies. I always loved to dress up as the old-fashioned lady, and used everything available to make my skirts stick out like a hoop skirt.

Female, 19, white, college sophomore-The first picture which stands out in my memory is “The Sheik” featuring Rudolph Valentino. I was at the impressionable and romantic age of 12 or 13 when I saw it, and I recall coming home that night and dreaming the entire picture over again; myself as the heroine being carried over the burning sands by an equally burning lover. I could feel myself being kissed in the way the Sheik had kissed the girl. I wanted to see it again, but that was forbidden; so as the next best thing my friend and I enacted the especially romantic scenes out under her mother’s rugs, which made excellent tents even though they were hung over the line for cleaning purposes. She was Rudolph and I the beautiful captive, and we followed as well as we could remember the actions of the actors.

There are some particularly rich examples of children becoming so totally immersed in re-enacting what they had seen on the screen that it led to harm:

Male, 20, white, college junior – Two peculiar events are still impressed upon my mind as directly resulting from the influence of the movies. Once we tied one of our members to an oak tree, and notwithstanding his frantic cries, proceeded with a boisterous war-dance about the victim. The struggling boy was almost strangled by the numerous coils of rope about his neck before his frenzied mother appeared to secure his release. At another time, I was compelled to walk home through the deep snow in my stocking feet because my playmates had chosen to forcibly remove my shoes and conceal them, in imitation of a humorous scene which they had witnessed at the theater on the same day.

There is more on imitation of dress, mannerisms, etiquette and modes of behaviour, and how tips from the stars might be adopted when dating:

Female, 19, white, college sophomore – Then came the time when I became interested in men. I had heard older boys and girls talking about “technique” and the only way I could find out how to treat boys was through reading books and seeing movies. I had always known boys as playmates, but having reached my freshman year in high school they became no longer playmates but “dates.” I didn’t want it to be that way but it seemed inevitable. I was asked to parties and dances and friends’ homes. The boys were older and sophisticated. I felt out of place. I noticed that older girls acted differently with boys than they did when with girls alone. I didn’t know what to do.

I decided to try some of the mannerisms I had seen in the movies. I began acting quite reserved, and I memorized half-veiled compliments. I realized my “dates” liked it. I laid the foundation with movie material. Then I began to improvise.

Of course, I had a rival in the crowd. Every time she began to receive more attention from the boys than I, I would see a movie and pick up something new with which to regain their interest. I remember one disastrous occasion. She was taking the center of the stage, and I was peeved. I could think of nothing to do.

Then I remembered the afternoon before I had seen Nazimova smoke a cigarette, and I decided that would be my next move. The party was at a friend’s home and I knew where her father’s cigarettes were kept. I got one, lit it, and had no difficulty whatsoever in handling it quite nonchalantly. The boys were fascinated and the victory was mine.

There is a lot of testimony on taking love-making tips from the movies, with Valentino frequently cited as a model, as in this droll, self-mocking example:

Male, 20, white, college junior – Later Valentino. I studied his style. I realized that nature had done much less for me in the way of original equipment than she had for the gorgeous Rodolfo, but I felt that he had a certain technique that it would behoove me to emulate. I practiced with little success. My nostrils refused to dilate – some muscular incompetency that I couldn’t remedy. My eyes were incapable of shooting sparks of fiery passion that would render the fair sex helpless. I made only one concrete trial. The young lady who was trial-horse for the attempt is still dubious about my mental stability. Worse yet, she made a report of the affair to her friends. The comments that came drifting back to me left no doubt in my mind about the futility of carrying on any longer. I gave up.

And so much more. There are examples of day-dreams and fantasies, of which stars they fell in love with, what induced sorrow, what thrilled them, and memories of what frightened them. The a several memories of a film in which a gorilla with the transplanted brain of a human commits murders (presumably the Bull Montana film Go and Get It, 1920), which clearly terrified many:

Female, 19, white, college sophomore – The horror-pictures and serials used to frighten me when I was a child. I remember one picture in particular I cannot even recollect the name of it but it was a newspaper story and concerned several mysterious killings which, it came out later, were committed by a huge orang-utan which had been given the brain of a man in an experiment by a doctor one of the men killed by the animal. I remember distinctly the scene which frightened me so. The ape was standing in an open window leering at his next victim who was lying in bed, a helpless invalid, rendered even more helpless by fear and horror. Of course, a newspaper reporter, the hero in the story, came in to his rescue just in time and shot the ape, but by that time I had been so thoroughly frightened that I could not sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see this ape standing in the window and as the foot of my bed was only a few feet away from an open window, unprotected by even screens, I soon decided to spend the rest of the night in my mother’s bed with her. I remember being so paralyzed with fear that I could scarcely get out of bed, but once my feet touched the floor I ran as fast as I possibly could to my mother and spent not only that night but the next one, also, with her. I do not believe I cried, but I became speechless, powerless, rigid, staring wide-eyed into the dark, and the fright did not leave me for several days.

Finally, there is evidence of lessons learned from the movies, and of prejudices either reinforced or overturned. There is much on racial stereotyping, mostly the Chinese, but also this last piece of testimony summing up much that was worst about the movies:

Female, 17, Negro, high-school senior – It seems to me that every picture picturing a Negro is just to ridicule the race. When a Negro man or woman is featured in a movie they are obliged to speak flat southern words, be superstitious, and afraid of ghosts and white men. They have to make themselves as ugly and dark as possible. The bad things are emphasized and the good characteristics left out. This is very unfair to the race. All Negroes are not alike; there are different types as in other races. Why must they be portrayed as ignorant, superstitious animals instead of decent people that are just as capable of doing great things as any other race; all they need is the chance. It is the same with other dark races besides the Negro. They are always the loser, the shrinking coward, and never the victor. It is very unjust of the white race to make every nation appear inferior compared to them.

You can take or leave the analysis that goes with the text, but the short memoirs themselves are vivid, eloquent and revealing. There is much evidence here for anyone keen to explore the social impact of cinema (particularly on the young) in the 1920s and the mysteries of spectatorship. Movies and Conduct is available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (4.9MB), PDF (22MB) and TXT (542KB) formats. I’ll add it to the Bioscope Library.

Forgotten faces

One of the sad, or at least frustrating aspects of archival work on early films is trying to identify reels where there is no convenient main title to identify the film for you, and you can’t tell who the performers are. For every Pickford or Chaplin, there were hundreds of second and third tier players, probably not much known about at the time, and recognised by only a dedicated few now. And below they came those whose names were probably never known, who hoped for a little fame and never found it. If you can’t recognise them, or you can’t name the film in which they appear, film and performers remain in limbo, orphaned, acting for no one. Who are you, you ask, peering ever more closely at the screen in the hope of some subliminal clue. You take frame stills and show them to colleagues, leaf through the reference books, scroll through endless lists of film titles looking for some hopeful match between the action on the film fragment you have seen, trying to imagine these things with the mind of a 1910s film producer. Find the right title, or find a name, and you’re restoring someone back to some sort of a life. It’s a precious responsibility.

So it is that the Nederlands Filmmuseum, which has made something of a speciality of curating unidentified films, has put together a PowerPoint slide show of actresses from the silent era that either they are unable to identify, or of whom they know frustratingly little. They’ve done this to coincide with the upcoming Women and the Silent Screen Conference, being held in Stockholm 11-13 June, and they are inviting anyone who can to help identify the names. So, visit the conference site to download the PowerPoint, or take a look at the faces here. From the faces above, who is it on the left who appears in a British Lupino Lane film of the 1910s? Who is the actress (centre) who was found in a fragment of a mid 1920s comedy for Fox or Universal with Fred Spencer and Billy Bletcher? And can anyone name the actress (right) in a 1910s film which features Austrian and British officers going on a hunting party, who end up shooting a lion?

Or what of these? The actress on the left played the character of Cunegonde in a popular series of comedies 1911-1913 for the French company Lux, but no one knows her name. In the centre, this unidentified player appears in a Universal Century comedy fragment, dating around 1922, with Jimmy Adams and Jack Earle. And who on the right plays the title character in a Powers Company film of 1910 entitled The Lady Doctor?

If you have any idea, the Filmmuseum would love to hear from you. And, from the grave, the women would doubtless thank you too.