Lost sites

Here at The Bioscope we do our best to alert you to interesting new web resources on the subject of silent cinema, or indeed sites that have been around for a while but aren’t necessarily well known. But what about sites that are no more? We’ve all experienced the frustration of the dead link, discovering that some site or page has been taken down because the domain registration wasn’t kept up, the page was taken down because the owner thought it no longer of interest, or the web links on a site have all been changed. Whatever the reason, the Net is an impermanent place, and many worthwhile sites in our field are around no more.

Happily we have the Internet Archive and its ‘Wayback Machine‘, which has archived a great deal of the Internet (85 billion web pages from 1996 to 2008), taking ‘snapshot’ records of sites periodically (usually every few months). Images are not always retained, and you can’t find movie files, databases or other such complexities in the archive, but you will find the plain HTML. But how do you know what to look for? There is no subject guide or keyword searching (yet). You have to know the web address, and even then that only find you what you knew was there to find. What about those lost sites that you never knew were lost?

Despair not. The Bioscope presents this initial guide to some of the silent cinema sites and web pages which can no longer be found on the Web as such, but do lurk within the Internet Archive. There will be many more than those listed below, of course, but it’s a start (do let me know if you know of any). All links will take you to the Internet Archive record.

The Silents Majority
Old hands will have recognise the gentleman at the top of this post as ‘Merton of the Movies’, the silent town crier who featured on Diane MacIntyre and Spike Lewis’ The Silents Majority, the essential silents information site before it disappeared in 2003 and Silent Era took its place. Here you can still find biographies, reproductions of articles, featured books and videos, photo gallery, guest articles and Cooking with the Stars. Not everything remains (some images and the QuickTime movies won’t be found there), but it’s still a treasure trove. Check also for the final year of its existence when it changed its URL and became www.silentsmajority.com.

A Trip to the Moon
A simple but engaging site dedicated to Georges Méliès’ Voyage Dans La Lune, with an essay on the film, Méliés’ own outline and commentary for the film, film stills (not of terribly high quality, unfortunately), and extracts from the associated imaginative literature of Wells, Verne, Poe and others.

Questions Regarding the Genesis of Nonfiction Film
A stimulating essay on early non-fiction filmmaking, its essence, problems of definition, and neglect by film scholars, by renowned Japanese scholar Komatsu Hiroshi. It does exist elsewhere in print in the journal Documentary Box, but a key text like this ought not to be lost to the online research community.

The Human Motor
This stems from a scientific project to map the human body by the University of Colorado, and was part of a larger site, Building Better Humans. It has sound information on the chronophotography of Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge, complete with a fine selection of images.

Les Frères Lumière et le Japon 1895-1995
This site accompanied a touring exhibition of films shot in Japan in the 1890s by the Lumière cameramen François-Constant Girel and Gabriel Veyre. It comprises an excellent essay (in French) on the first films and filmmaking in Japan by Hiroshi Komatsu.

Eadweard Muybridge: Father of Motion Pictures
An imaginative, beautifully-designed site on the master photographer who captured motion. Some of the photographs no longer appear, but there some animated gifs of Muybridge sequences, and the whole thing is just done with such style.

Dive cinema muto
Italian site (in Italian) devoted to silent film actresses, especially the Italian ‘divas’ such as Lyda Borelli and Francesca Bertini, plus other femme fatales such as Asta Nielsen and Theda Bara. With biographies, essays and illustrations.

Archiving the Internet is becoming a subject of increasing concern. The Internet Archive leads the field, of course, but the UK Web Archiving Consortium is building up to the day when every UK website will be archived as a matter of legal deposit. For those intrigued by dead sites in general, take a look at Ghost Sites of the Web (these are sites that still exist on the Web, but which have been abandoned).

Please let me know of any lost sites (as opposed to dead ones that just aren’t updated any more) on silent cinema, and I’ll update this list. Note also that not every lost site may necessarily be found on the Internet Archive – the website whose passing I most regret, Charl Lucassen’s beautiful Anima site on chronophotography and other optical delights, once one of the genuine treasures of the Web, is nowhere to be found at all. Such a loss.


Thank you to whoever you were who just clicked on The Bioscope and chalked up the 150,000th visit!

All bloggers are obsessed with their statistics, and I can tell you that as of this minute the Bioscope has had 150,000 visits, published 644 posts, has an average of 410 visits per day (up on 149 for 2007), and thanks to Akismet has fought off 23,049 spam comments. Most successful month ever was last month (13,912 visits). Top post remains Searching for Albert Kahn, with 8,450 visits (still rising). Most referrals have come from cablecarguy.blogspot.com (thanks Joe), and the most used search terms are ‘albert kahn’, ‘bioscope’, ‘louise brooks’, ‘kinetoscope’ and ‘european film treasures’. And, just in case I get too excited, The Bioscope currently lurks at position 148,422 in the Technorati scores for blog popularity. So, still some work to do.

Onwards and upwards.

Mashing it up once again

Third in what looks increasingly like a series of posts on the creative coming together of silent films and music tracks on YouTube takes us to the wilder edge of things. We’re still following the placing of sequences or montages of silent films with pre-existing music, but playing around with the concept rather more.

To start with, here we have Radiohead meets Buster Keaton, courtesy of YouTuber hoverground. It’s a collection clips (mostly very familiar) put to music, but now we have extracts from several songs, interspersed with pauses for a train passing, wind blowing, bridge collapsing etc. It gives us multiple interpretations of Keaton’s art, while the great stoneface shows himself yet again to be an Everyman figure whose eternal crises can be replayed to ideal effect in almost any form. Not so sure about the use of stills at the end, but a memorable tribute for all that.

Now for something rich and strange – strange at any rate. Here we have a clip from Dimitri Buchowetzki’s 1922 Othello, with Emil Jannings as the Moor and Ica von Lenkeffy as Desdemona. Accompanying it we have loops of music from an unnamed ‘garage band’, plus sounds from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – whether the original or the remake it does not say, and I am not expert enough to judge. The result is peculiar, to say the least, particularly when the chickens start clucking. Its creator, Joe Boyce Burgess, called the video Me vs You, and he has created a number of bizarre juxtapositions of film and alien sound.

Experimental films of the silent era are a favourite subject for adding music tracks. Here Walter Ruttman’s Opus I, II, III and IV are set to music by electronica outfit Digitonal, courtesy of totaldistortion. The marriage (inevitably?) works perfectly, and you can find Ruttman’s works similarly set to the experimental music (of one kind or another) of John Zorn and The Chemical Brothers.

This, however, starts to take us into the field of applying original soundtracks to silents on YouTube, and that will be the subject of another post or two, as inevitably it’s a rich seam to be mined (albeit with a large amount of dross along the way). As before, I’m keen to learn of other examples you may have come across. In particular, I’ve yet to find an example where two different silent films have been mashed up (Eric Campbell ends up chasing Buster Keaton, the Ku Klux Klan from Birth of a Nation end up galloping along the Circus Maximus in Ben Hur, that sort of thing). Anyone come across such a creation?