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.