Travellin’ on

There has been steadily increasing interest in the ambulatory nature of much of early cinema. Before films were fixed to a venue, they were frequently to be found on the move. Fairgrounds, a form of entertainment continually on the move, became a regular home for film shows in the late 1890s to early 1900s, and travelling showmen to film shows from town to town. Recent research work has uncovered extensive information on the early ‘travelling cinema’, as the term seems to be. Most notable in this field has been the body of work that followed the discovery of the Mitchell & Kenyon collection of non-fiction films from the Edwardian era, films commissioned by town hall showmen and fairground operators, generally located in the north of England.

A second body of work has looked at what was happening on the European mainland. A conference on travelling cinema in Europe took place in Luxembourg in September 2007, accompanied by the Crazy Cinématographe shows (revived for this year) and DVD release. Now we have the proceedings of the conference published as Travelling Cinema in Europe, edited by Martin Loiperdinger and published by KINtop. Though it has a German publisher, the book is in English. The book provides a diverse look at the commercial heyday of the travelling cinema in the first decade of the twentieth century, with a particular focus on Luxembourg and the Greater Region, with another section looking at non-commercial travelling cinemas from the 1920s onwards. Here’s a chapter listing:

Martin Loiperdinger – Introduction

Travelling Cinema in Europe before the First World War

Vanessa Toulmin – ‘Within the Reach of All’: Tavelling Cinematograph Shows on British Fairgrounds 1896–1914

Matthew Solomon – Fairground Illusions and the Magic of Méliès

Mustafa Özen – Travelling Cinema in Istanbul

Ralf Forster – Easy to Handle and Part of the Novelty: Equipment for Travelling Cinemas in Early Trade Catalogues

Daniel Fritsch – The Paradoxical Austrian Travelling Showmen’s Magazine Die Schwalbe

Joseph Garncarz – The Fairground Cinema: A European Institution

Travelling Cinema in Luxembourg and the Greater Region before the First World War

Uli Jung – Travelling Cinematograph Shows in the Greater Region of Luxembourg: An Overview

Paul Lesch – Travelling Cinematograph Shows in Luxembourg

Brigitte Braun – Marzen’s Travelling Town Hall Cinematograph in the Greater Region of Luxembourg

Non-commercial Travelling Cinema in Europe from the 1890s to the 1960s

Torsten Gärtner – The Church on Wheels: Travelling Magic Lantern Mission in late Victorian England

Thomas Tode – Agit-trains, Agit-steamers, Cinema Trucks: Dziga Vertov and Travelling Cinema in the early 1920s in the Soviet Union

Urszula Biel – German and Polish Agitation through Travelling Cinemas in the 1920s in Upper Silesia

Yvonne Zimmermann – Training and Entertaining Consumers: Travelling Corporate Film Shows in Switzerland

Christian Kuchler – Catholic Travelling Film Shows in West Germany after the Second World War


Claude Bertemes – Cinématographe Reloaded: Notes on the Fairground Cinema Project Crazy Cinématographe

The travelling cinema work can in turn be seen as part of a wider investigation of the relationship of early cinema to society, which is at last taking place. It was not just what they saw, but how they saw it, that matters. There is a growing body of work that is looking the composition of the programme, the location and strategies of venues, the composition of audiences, the location of audiences and their relationship to the entertainments offered to them, the time that they had to devote to such diversions and the value that could be placed on that time, the role of the audience in contributing to the early cinema experience – all of this informs us of early film’s social significance. Without such knowledge, our understanding of the films is barren.