It’s festival time again


We see out 2008 with a reminder that the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films returns on Monday 5 January and runs for five days. The five films (with accompanying shorts) have now been selected, after rigorous checks by our team of researchers to ensure that none exists in any archive around the world. No clues about what will be shown, but we can guarantee a star or two, some surprises, and a touch of controversy.


We can, however, give some organisational details for those who want to plan ahead. For a start, there are the venues. As was the case last time, each is a building that was cinema in London in the silent era, but now has either turned to other uses or is simply no more. They have been chosen for their distinctiveness and for their variety. So, our festival venues will be:

  • The Theatre de Luxe – small but luxurious cinema in the Strand, established in 1908 as one of London’s first cinema circuit, formed by Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd., and now a branch of Optical Express
  • The Jardin de Paris – a select venue in the heart of Soho, opened in 1909, closed in 1916, its space now occupied by a hotel
  • Wonderland – Whitechapel’s notorious home of Yiddish theatre, boxing bouts and freak shows, which also put on film shows and burned down in 1911
  • Pyke House Cinematograph Theatre – a grand building at the east end of Oxford Street, once the centrepiece of the famed Pyke circuit, now a Waterstone’s bookshop
  • The Picture House – located at 161-167 Oxford Street, one the site of where a Hale’s Tours of the World show once ran, and where the Academy Cinema of fond memory was to stand until recent times, and which is now a Marks & Spencer store


For those of you planning to stay over in London for the festival, we would like to recommend the Savoy, conveniently located in the Strand close by our opening venue, the Theatre de Luxe. Discount rates are available for festival attendees who are able to stay five nights and can bring an empty can of film to the hotel desk as evidence of your intentions (please call the hotel for details). For those who may find that the cost of the Savoy a little steep (particularly if it comes on top of any steamship costs for those travelling from overseas), we have done a special deal with a number of humbler establishments along Gower Street in Bloomsbury, within stout walking distance of most of our venues. Call the festival office (you know the number) for more details.


Prices are 6d, 3d and 1d for standing at the back, with a special ha’penny ticket for children (please note that some of the films we will be showing may not be suitable for younger eyes – contact the festival office for further information). You will realise, therefore, that we have kept our prices fixed for well nigh a century, which is quite a bargain in these straitened times. Boxes are a shilling per person, to a maximum of four. Festival notes will be provided on the night, and we hope that you will make the most of your time with us to visit the sights of this great city. For eating out, we naturally recommend the Strand’s best-known restaurant, Romano’s, evocatively described here, even if today it is the home of Stanley Gibbons, the stamp emporium.


For those who may be new to this unique event in the film calendar, please be aware that the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films is a celebration of silent films that were shown once but can be seen no more. All of the films, though they may be described in such realistic detail that they may appear irresistibly before your eyes, no longer exist. All that we can do is peruse those documents which record their presence, study the extant images, exercise our imaginations, and sigh.

Do join us on Monday.

The compleat Muybridge


Some artistic licence employed for ‘The Life of Eadweard Muybridge “Grandfather of Motion Pictures”‘, Camera Comics No. 4, Spring 1945, from The Compleat Muybridge

The Bioscope has complained before now that the Web lacks a definitive resource for the ‘Father of the Movies’ Eadweard Muybridge. At last it looks like we have one. Over the past couple of years Stephen Herbert has been building up two essential Muybridge research tools – a blog (Muy Blog) and a detailed chronology. Gradually extra bits of essential information have been tacked on to these, and now he has brought the two resources together with a whole range of new information, and created – The Compleat Muybridge.

It’s a great title, and ideal for one such as Muybridge who appreciated the effect of a grand word. And though the author pleads that the title is ironic, since there never will be a complete life of the protean and often mysterious Mr Muybridge, there is more than enough here to satisfy the most demanding expert in the field of nineteenth century proto-motion photography.


Eadweard Muybridge, Sallie Gardner at a Gallop (1878)

There is, to begin with, a short biography with all the salient details. There is the chronology 1830-1904, available in both detailed (and annotated) and ‘lite’ versions. There is the blog (more a set of news alerts), with much valuable information on new discoveries, publications and events (note that the blog is in three parts: 2007, 2008 and 2009 now underway).

And then comes the new material. The Compleat Muybridge offers a comparative timeline of events in the life and work of Eadweard Muybridge, and his world, in photography, chronophotography and motion pictures, science and technology, and world events. The texts section provides transcriptions or scans of various original texts and articles from the author’s own or private collections, plus links to downloadable documents from the Internet Archive and the University of Pennsylvania Archives.

Kingston in a New Light, a projection project held over two nights in September 2008 using new film and Muybridge images shown on buildings in the centre of Muybridge’s home town of Kingston

The references section complements the chronology, but the citations come with illuminating personal comments on the key texts. And then there are animations of Muybridge photographic sequences (i.e. links to these on other resources) with links to YouTube videos which either animate Muybridge or which are inspired by him in one form or another, as in the Kingston video above.

Added to all that there is a bibliography (a work in progress), a colourful section on modern exhibitions of Muybridge’s work, links, and finally a section on the Zoopraxiscope, the machine by which Muybridge was able to project animated versions of his sequences in silhouette form, on glass discs. Happily there’s a search option to bind it all together.

It’s a fabulous resource already, but the author warns us to revisit regularly as new material is certain to be added (weekly, we’re promised). Muybridge scholarship is evolving all the time, and Herbert would argue that we still haven’t really understood Eadweard Muybridge as yet. His achievement has been so often obscured by an insistence that he should be seen as inventor of motion pictures(when he was working to other ends), and latterly that he was a pure artist, with none of the scientific rigour that he claimed for himself (which is to misunderstand what ‘science’ means). He has time and time again served as a reflection of the concerns of others, rather than being understood for what he achieved, or dreamed of achieving.

It is a complex story, but as Herbert points out, with Muybridge nothing is easy. Go explore.

Music, maestros, please


Stephen Horne accompanying The Hound of the Baskervilles (1921), from

Stephen Horne, one of the UK’s premier silent film pianists, has just published his website, To mark the occasion, I thought it would be interesting to produce a round-up of silent film musicians’ websites, where you can find out what industrious lives they lead, listen to sound samples, and maybe purchase a DVD or two.

Alloy Orchestra
The three-man Alloy Orchestra (Terry Donahue, Ken Winokur, Roger Miller) are among the best-known of silent film accompanists, though their ‘aural onslaught’ of electronica and found percussion is controversial for some. Their site includes details of the films they have accompanied, touring shedule, CD and DVD store, reviews, information about the instruments they use, and video clips with their scores from (One Week, The Lost World, The Unknown, Manslaughter etc) so you may judge for yourselves.

Elizabeth-Jane Baldry
Elizabeth-Jane Baldry is a harpist, particularly expert in Victorian fairy harp music. She has recently branched out into accompanying silent films, and there is a section of her site devoted to her silent film work, alongside other professional information, including her own filmmaking work.


Neil Brand with friends

Neil Brand
Probably the best-known improvising silent film pianist working today, Neil Brand is also a playwright, actor, composer, scholar and eloquent advocate for the art of silent film in general. His website covers his musical and writing biographies, with news, reviews, and events calendar. There is a radio interview with Neil available (from 2000) and audio extracts from some of his scores (including Diary of a Lost Girl, The Ring and his recent orchestral score for Hitchcock’s Blackmail).

Timothy Brock
Timothy Brock is a conductor and composer specialising in concert works of early 20th-century music and silent films. His site gives details of his original silent film scores (Nosferatu, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Sherlock Jr. etc.) and restored scores (The Gold Rush, A Woman of Paris, City Lights etc.), images, news, articles and events calendar.

Robert Bruce
Composr and pianist Robert Bruce includes silent film performances in his repertoire, particularly the films of Buster Keaton. His site includes video clips of his live performances.

Günter Buchwald
Günter Buchwald is a pianist and violinist as renowned for his accompaniments alongside other silent film musicians as he is for his solo accompaniments. He often works as a duo with percussionist Frank Bockius or pianist Neil Brand, or with the Silent Movie Music Company as a trio or quartet. His site (in German) gives repertoire, reviews and events calendar.

Philip Carli
Phil Carli is a silent film accompanist, musicologist and film archivist. He has made special study of film, music and culture of the late 19th/early 20th centuries, and conducts the Flower City Society Orchestra of Rochester, New York, which is modeled on the ‘society orchestras’ that entertained guests in upper-class restaurants and resorts at the turn of the last century. His website covers this and his silent film work, including a list of broadcasts and DVD releases with his scores (including Regeneration, Sally of the Sawdust, Stella Maris etc.).

Club Foot Orchestra
Radical San Francisco ensemble which has come to specialise in silent film accompaniments. The site covers the films it has scored (Nosferatu, Pandora’s Box, The Hands of Orlac etc.) with links to CDs/DVDs where available.

Antonio Coppola
Italian pianist Coppola is a silent film accompanist of long-standing and high repuation. His site (in Italian, English and French) has a short biography and a long list of film directors (surname only) whose work he has played to.


Carl Davis

Carl Davis
Composer and conductor Carl Davis is the best-known of all silent film musicians, for his work with Kevin Brownlow and Photoplay Productions, which did so much from the 1980s onwards to revive interest in silent films with live orchestral accompaniment, most notably his epic score for Abel Gance’s Napoleon. His site, however, does not dwell much on the past and is mostly interested in upcoming events, which continue to include silent films accompaniments with orchestra (notably Chaplin).

Devil Music Ensemble
Boston trio comprising Brendon Wood (guitars, lap steel, synthesizer), Jonah Rapino (electric violin, vibraphone, synthesizer) and Tim Nylander (drums, percussion, synthesizer). The group’s many forms of music performance include silent film accompaniments (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Nosferatu etc.), for which they provide video clips.

David Drazin
David Drazin is among the most prolific and praised of American silent film accompanists. His web page lists the main films he has accompanied, plus some information on his jazz, ballet and modern dance music work.

Arthur Dulay
Arthur Dulay (1891-1971) is perhaps the only silent film accompanist of an earlier generation to have website dedicated to him. Dulay played for silents from 1908, and late in his career as a musician in the 1950s he became resident pianist for the accompaniment of silent films at London’s National Film Theatre. The site includes sound samples of his work and a radio interview, as well as samples of his other musical work.

Costas Fotopoulos
London-based composer, arranger, silent film and jazz pianist, who regularly plays to silents at the BFI Southbank and the London Film Festival. His site has background information on the various aspects of his career, including silent filmwork, with a news section listing his silent film performances.

Gerhard Gruber
Composer and pianist Gerhard Gruber is Austria’s leading silent film pianist. His site includes testimonials, a repertoire list, links to festivals where he has played and to sound and video excerpts (including A Page of Madness). Much the same material also appears in a blog,, and on another site,



Jean Hasse
Hasse is an American composer based in the UK whose works includes silent film scores and accompanying silent films. The Visible Music site that she shares with other composers includes a list of the films for which she has composed scores with some short clips and some background information including her thoughts on composing for Faust.

Hesperus is a five-member ensemble with overlapping membership which performs a fusion of early and traditional styles from a variety of cultures. Its silent film work has included Robin Hood with English Renaissance music, The General with American Civil War music, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame with French medieval music. Its website is under construction, but there is information on its work at Class Acts on Tour.

Frederick Hodges
Pianist Frederick Hodges specialises in American songbook material from the 1920s and 1930s. His extensive silent film work incldes DVD recordings for Image Entertainment, Flicker Alley and Unknown Video, and his site has an informative page on silent film music and musical sources.

Stephen Horne
Stephen Horne has come to prominence recently, in particular for his scores for A Cottage in Dartmoor and The Battle of the Somme. His stylish site includes a short biography (he is a regular dance accompanist and has written screenplays), list of live dates, gallery and reviews. He can also boast a Facebook fan group, We’re in love with Stephen Horne.

In the Nursery
Rock band In the Nursery (ITN), headed by the twins Klive and Nigel Humberstone, have branched out into silent film scores for live performance and as DVD and CD releases. Their work includes Man with a Movie Camera, Hindle Wakes, the Electric Edwardians compilation and most recently The Passion of Joan of Arc. Their site includes discography, biography, reviews, films details, and MP3 downloads for purchase.


Dennis James

Dennis James
American Dennis James has accompanied silent films with piano, chamber ensemble and full symphony orchestra, but is probably best known for his theatre organ accompaniments, for which is perhaps the world’s leading exponent. His web page has a biography and list of engagements.

Jan Kopinski
British saxophonist Jan Kopinski is best-known for his radical jazz ensemble Pinski Zoo. With pianist Steve Iliffe he performs original compositions to silent films, including Earth, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City and The Seashell and the Clergyman. His site covers his various muscial outputs, with audio samples and video clips (including Earth and Nosferatu in performance).

Gary Lucas
Experimental guitarist Lucas, best known for his work with Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley, is perhaps the person from the rock music world most dedicated to silent films. He has played his scores for Sounds of the Surreal (three films by Clair, Leger and Starewicz) and Der Golem at numerous venues, and in 2009 produced scores for J’Accuse and The Unholy Three.

Donald Mackenzie
Mackenzie is the cinema organist at the Odeon Leicester Square, in the heart of London’s West End cinemas. He has accompanied silents at the Odeon and at venues across Britain and Europe, and includes many of the classics in his repertoire, among them The Phantom of the Opera, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The King of Kings, Carmen, The Black Pirate, Metropolis and Nosferatu. His site includes a biography and details of the Odeon’s cinema organ.

Eunice Martins
German composer and improvising pianist Eunice Martins has played at numerous silent film events. Her site includes her extensive repertoire, photographs and upcoming schedule.

Makia Matsumura
Composer, pianist and silent film accompanist who has played to silents in New York, Tokyo and Pordenone and accompanies Within the Law (1923) on the Kino DVD release. Her website has biographical information.

Minima are a British-based band which performs live accompaniments to silents and avant-garde film at cinemas, art festivals and music festivals. Their repertoire includes The Lodger, Nosferatu, Aelita and The Seashell and the Clergyman. Their website includes a performance calendar and a compilation video.

Jon Mirsalis
Jon Mirsalis is a film buff extraordinaire, a silent film pianist, and a leading bioscientist. This web page, which provides biographical details, is modestly tucked away as part of his Lon Chaney website.

Ben Model
The proud possessor of is the resident silent film accompanist for The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Model plays piano, theatre organ and a virtual theatre organ called the Miditzer. His site includes performance schedule, scores on DVD, and details of his orchestral scores. Model has also pioneered the idea of producing alternative scores to DVD releases of silent films as MP3 downloads, from his site, and has a blog, Silent Film Music.


The Mont Alto Orchestra

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Mont Alto, led by Rodney Sauer, is an American five to seven piece chamber ensemble that recreates the small local orchestras popular in America from 1890 through to 1930. The ensemble has become well known for its many silent film scores for video and DVD releases, particularly for Film Preservation Associates and Milestone Video. Its site provides detailed information on the films for which it has provided scores (with some audio files), a schedule of its forthcoming silent film accompaniments and dances, and useful information for the general enquirer about silent film music of the period and today.

Michael Mortilla
Michael D. Mortilla is a composer, orchestrator and performer, who has produced hundreds of scores for film, television, dance, theatre, silent film, magic, mime, industrials, commercials, special events and the concert stage. The silents work has included Harry Houdini’s The Master Mystery serial and Chaplin Mutuals, and he has performed at many American silent film festivals. His site documents his many different activities.

Maud Nelissen
Dutch composer and pianist Maud Nelissen has performed for the Nederlands Filmmuseum, the Film in Concert Foundation and various festivals. She leads the six-member group The Sprockets, which has specialised in accompanying silent comedies (Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy). Her scores for The Patsy and The Merry Widow (a combination of Léhar’s music and her own) are performed by the Orchestra da Camera Oscura, and the Asta Harmonists play her music for Asta Nielsen films. Her impressive website covers all facets of her musical career and includes silent film video clips.

Maria Newman
Daughter of the renowned Hollywood composer Alfred Newman, Maria Newman has produced scores for silents for the Mary Pickford Foundation and Turner Classic Movies. Information on her work can also be found in her entry on


The Panopikon Orchestra

The Panoptikon Orchestra
Panoptikon is a Swedish ensemble (trio), led by Matti Bye, that plays music for silent films, both precomposed scores and improvised music, using both traditional and modern instruments. Its site provides background information on the ensemble, a list of records and videos,with some audio samples (Joyless Street, The Phantom Carriage) and general news.

William Perry
William Perry is an American composer and television producer. His wide-ranging musical career has included many scores for silent films during twelve years as music director and composer-in-residence at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His television series, The Silent Years (1971, 1975) starring Orson Welles and Lillian Gish, won an Emmy Award. His site gives basic biographical information.

Forrester Clifton Pyke
Forrester Pyke is a composer, teacher, church organist and silent film accompanist. He is based in Scotland and has played to silent films at the Filmhouse Edinburgh and Glasgow Film Theatre and compaosed scores for Scottish Screen Archive films. His site covers the various aspects of his music career.

Jeff Rapsis
American composer, performer and silent film accompanist. His lively Silent Film Live Music blog documents the life of the silent film pianist in an entertaining fashion.

Touve R. Ratovondrahety
Madagascan musician who has a strong profile as a silent film accompanist, hacing played at several festivals including Pordenone. His website gives some silent film events in its calendar section but is otherwise devoted to his work as pianist, organist and composer.

Judy Rosenberg
Judy Rosenberg is a silent film pianist and composer, as well as being (like others in the profession) a dance accompanist. She plays regularly to silents for the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California and at the Niles Silent Film Museum in Niles, CA. Her site lists the films she has accompanied, gives upcoming screenings, and has a thoughtful statement on her art, comparing silent film and dance accompaniment.

Jordi Sabatés
Spanish jazz pianist and composer who has made a speciality of accompanying the magical films of Segundo de Chomón, as well the films of Buster Keaton and Nosferatu. His website (in Spanish) includes video clips, alongside photographs and an extensive curriculum vitae.

German four-piece ensemble, comprising Susanne Peusquens, Matthias Jahner, Joachim Bärenz (a leading solo silent film pianist) and Christian Roderburg. Their site is in German, English and Italian, and has information on their scores for The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, The Golem, the films of Max Davidson, and others, with audio samples.

The Silent Orchestra
American duo Carlos Garza (keyboards) and Rich O’Meara (percussion) make up the Silent Orchestra who accompany silent films with both improvised and composed scores. Their site lists the films they have accompanied, including Nosferatu and Salomé which are Image Entertainment DVD releases, and there is news of past shows and reviews.

The Snark Ensemble
The Snark Ensemble is an American instrumental chamber ensemble dedicated to the creation and performance of new original scores for silent film. Its work includes DVD sets for Harry Langdon and Charley Chase. The site has video clips, complete sound files for some films, news and a catalogue of their work. Members Andrew Simpson and Maurice Saylor each have individual sites with more information on their silent work, solo and as a group.

Donald Sosin
The proud possessors of are pianist Donald Sosin and his singer/actress wife Joanna Seaton. Sosin keeps up a prodigious work rate through live performances, DVD releases and workshops, as documented on the website. Also to be found there are audio and video clips (Foolish Wives, Manhatta, King of Kings etc.) and a listing of recordings Sosin has made of his own performances which are available for purchase from Farmhouse Window Productions. Sosin also maintains a blog, Silent Film Music and other Sounding Off.


Gabriel Thibaudeau

Gabriel Thibaudeau
Thibaudeau is composer, conductor, and pianist for the Cinémathèque québécoise, and has been composing silent film scores since 1990. He performs composed and improvised scores the world over, including at many festivals and major arts institutions. His bi-lingual (English / French) site lists the many films for which he has produced composed scores, some with audio or video clips, plus biographical information and news.

Yvo Verschoor
Dutch pianist Yvo Veerschoor plays regularly at the Filmmuseum and other venues in the Netherlands. His strikingly-designed website (mostly in Dutch, but with the key section also available in English and German) covers his career, repertoire and thoughts on silent film accompaniment, with a potted history of silent film and several QuickTime videoclips (including a television news item on Veerschoor’s work).

Vox Lumiere
Vox Lumiere combines rock music, live theatre and silent film. It brings together musicians, dancers, singers, multi-media and light shows to retells such films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Metropolis and The Phantom of the Opera as rock musical experiences. The multi-lingual site includes audio and video clips, image gallery, calendar and shop.

Clark Wilson
Organist Clark Wilson has played at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Cinequest, and plays a silent picture annually at LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. His site lists his many silent film scores, including Broken Blossoms, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Camille. He also runs his own pipe organ business.

For other silent film musicians, not all of whom have sites of web pages of their own (Robert Israel, Neal Kurz, Eric Beheim etc.), see the Silent Era’s page of weblinks for composers and musicians. Some, such as Britain’s John Sweeney, a Pordenone regular, and Germany’s Ekkehard Wölk at least have a Wikipedia page, while others, such as American organists Dennis Scott and Ken Double, France’s Eric LeGuen, Holland’s Hugo van Neck and Poland’s Adrian Konarksi, have websites or web pages but don’t provide any information on their silent film activities (or virtually none).

If anyone knows of any other musicians’ sites, do let me know, and I’ll add them to the record.

Roll away the reel world


2009 sees the centenary of one of the odder corners of early film history. In December 1909, the then unknown James Joyce, future author of Dubliners, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, opened a cinema in Dublin. This was through no particular passion for film; Joyce was merely seeking the means to get rich quick, and like a good many other people at the time, he saw the new cinema business as the way to do so. Cinemas were springing up all over Europe, and in Trieste – where Joyce was based – he had fallen in with a group of cinema owners, to whom he sold the idea of a city in Europe which had a half a million inhabitants, and yet not a single cinema. That city was Dublin, and although recent research indicates that there probably were one or two cinemas in Dublin at that time (and numerous film shows not in cinemas as such), Joyce’s business partners were interested enough to send him across to Dublin to establish the Volta Cinematograph.

Happily for literature, Joyce turned out to be a hopeless cinema manager, or rather he left the business all too quickly in other hands, only to see the hoped-for source of his fortune rapidly fail. The Volta (which was located at 45 Mary Street) floundered, as much through competition from other film entertainments as its own mismanagement, and it was sold at a loss in June 1910. Joyce’s own specific involvement with the cinema was brief, but intense. He spent several weeks setting up the business, staffing and equipping, promoting it, obtaining a cinematograph licence, and – it is to be assumed – selecting the films.

It is this last element that continues to attract scholarly interest. What films were shown at the Volta, what role did Joyce play in their selection, what did he think of such films, and what traces of the cinema can be uncovered in his art? These questions are all to be covered in in a two-day conference organised by the Trieste Joyce School and the Alpe Adria Film Festival, entitled ‘Roll away the reel world’: James Joyce e il Cinema, to be held 15-16 January 2009 at the Sala Tessitori of the “Consiglio della Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia, piazza Oberdan, 5, Trieste, Italy.


Le Huguenot (Gaumont 1909 d. Louis Feuillade), shown at the Volta 24-26 January 1910

Speakers include Luke McKernan (yours truly), who will introduce a programme of films known to have been shown at the Volta and give a talk, ‘James Joyce and the Volta Programme’, Eric Schneider (‘Dedalus among the film folk’), Maria di Battista (‘The Ghost Walks: Joyce and the spectres of silent cinema’), Louis Armand (‘Joyce and Godard’), Jesse Meyers (‘James Joyce, Contemporary Screenwriter?’), Cleo Hannaway (‘”See ourselves as others see us”: Cinematic Ways of Seeing and Being in Ulysses’), Marco Camerani (‘Circe, Fregoli and Cinema’), Carla Marengo Vaglio (‘Joyce, between futurist music-hall and cinema’), Philip Sicker (‘Mirages in the Lampglow: Joyce’s “Circe” and Méliès’s Dream Cinema’), Katy Mullin (‘Joyce, Early Cinema and the Erotics of Everyday Life’), Davide Maschio (‘On Bute’s Finnegans Wake’), and Keith Williams (‘Odysseys of Sound and Image: “Cinematicity” and the Ulysses Adaptations’).

Added to all that, the Alpe Adria Film Festival, or Trieste Film Festival, is hosting a retrospective on Joyce and cinema, running 15-22 January, co-ordinated by Elisabetta D’Erme; and there is to be an exhibition, entitled Trieste, Joyce and Cinema: A History of Possible Worlds curated by Erik Schneider, tracing the connections between Joyce’s imaginative world, the city, and the cinema. For further information on the conference, which is free of charge and open to all, contact Professor John McCourt at mccourt [at], or visit the Trieste Joyce School site for the programme details.

Cecil B. DeMille and American Culture


Cecil B. DeMille (second from right) poses with Jesse L. Lasky, Adolph Zukor, Samuel (Goldfish) Goldwyn, and Albert Kaufman after the Famous Players-Lasky merger, from Cecil B.DeMille and American Culture

Not all of the e-books that are freely available online are titles that have been out of print for decades. The University of California Press is one publisher that has boldly made the decision to make some of its relatively recent books available online to all, as part of its general eScholarship Editions initiative. Among the titles available are some silent cinema subjects. We’ve already mentioned Charles Musser’s Before the Nickelodeon. Now we have Sumiko Higashi’s Cecil B. DeMille and American Culture: The Silent Era.

This is an acclaimed study of the films of Cecil B. DeMille as they reflected American culture of the 1910s and 1920s. It is not a film history as such, but rather a social history, with a body of films as evidence. Higashi demonstrates how DeMille integrated cinema into what she calls ‘genteel culture’ by making the spectacle that it provided reflect middle-class ideology. DeMille took his subjects for films from texts – plays, novels, short stories – that were familiar to a middle-class audience, reflecting their world and its concerns. The DeMille we think of today was the producer of gargantuan Biblical epics, but the DeMille of the silent era was first a filmmaker artfully attuned to ‘genteel’ tastes, and then a trendsetter, whose 1920s films influenced advertising and consumer culture. The varied films discussed include Carmen, What’s His Name, Chimmie Fadden, Kindling, The Dream Girl, The Golden Chance, The Cheat, Joan the Woman, Old Wives for New, Don’t Change Your Husband, Why Change Your Wife?, The Affairs of Anatol and The Ten Commandments.

Cecil B. DeMille and American Culture, as with other UCP eScholarship Editions, is commendably well presented in chapterised form, with hyperlinked notes and index making it eminently searchable. There is also a filmography, and the welcome presence of all of the book’s illustrations (something not always offered with ebook editions). All in all, a stimulating read and a most helpful reference source, which now goes into the Bioscope Library.

Rashit Yangirov


Rashit Yangirov (right), Associated Press photo

It is with much sadness that I report the death last Sunday of the Russian film historian Rashit Yangirov, aged just 54. Rashit was a notable figure in early film history circles, expert in Russian and Soviet silent cinema, with his particular forte being the documentation of early Russian history and the unearthing of biographical details of filmmakers who had often been little more than a footnote, if that, in the histories. He combined freelance film history with his profession of agency journalist, working for APTN, where he covered the war in Chechnya, and much else besides. Only recently he had published a book, Slaves of Silent Pictures (Raby Nemogo), which documented the lives of the emigre Russian filmmakers who left their homeland after the 1917 revolution and settled in the film industries of Hollywood, Paris and Berlin.

I first met Rashit in the mid-1990s, at a Domitor conference, and immediately made a friend. I believe many others can tell the same story. Though his work mostly kept him in Russia, we stayed in touch electronically, and he was a regular visitor to the Bioscope. I have happy memories of working with him on the book Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema, for which he supplied us with biographical information on the first Russian filmmakers (and one Ukranian) which had never before been published in English. Frantic last minute changes were telephoned down a crackly line from Moscow in those pre-email days, as Rashit delivered the latest information just unearthed from the archives and I scribbled on the page proofs. Do read his pieces on Ivan Akimov, Charles Aumont, A. Fedetsky, Aleksei Samarsky and Vladimir Sashin-Fydorov – pioneering short studies of a still little-known corner of film history.

Associated Press today produced this release announcing his death, which makes it clear what a remarkable person he was:

Soviet film historian Rashit Yangirov dies at 54


MOSCOW (AP) — Rashit Yangirov, a prominent historian of the Soviet cinema whose works saved many pre-World War II emigre filmmakers from critical oblivion, has died at age 54.

The scholar, who also worked for the past 14 years as a journalist for Associated Press Television News, died of cancer Sunday in Moscow, APTN colleagues said.

Yangirov wrote “Slaves of the Silent,” a groundbreaking 2008 book on pioneers of Russian cinema who left their homeland after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

His research tracked the lives of emigre actors and directors who became stars or extras in Hollywood, Berlin and Paris and helped shape the prewar film industry worldwide.

“His authority in the world of film critics was indisputable,” said the Library of the Russians Abroad Foundation, where Yangirov worked as senior researcher.

Yangirov wrote more than 200 articles on Russian cinema, fiction and folklore. His subjects included the cinematic cult of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, emigre female authors, the persecution of dissident Soviet poets and references to silent films in works by writers such as Vladimir Nabokov and Mikhail Bulgakov.

Born 1954 in the city of Ufa, 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) east of Moscow, Yangirov graduated from the history department of Moscow State University in 1977.

Andy Braddel, APTN’s regional director for Russia and the CIS, met Yangirov as a graduate student in 1988, and said evenings he spent around the kitchen table with Yangirov and his wife Zoya “taught me more about the Soviet Union than several years of lectures.”

Braddel hired Yangirov to work for APTN in 1994 as a journalist covering the wars in Chechnya, among other stories.

“He managed to juggle the relentless demands of agency journalism with an even more successful career as an academic writing about his true love, the history of Russian film,” Braddel said. “He will be deeply missed by all of us.”

Yangirov is survived by Zoya and a daughter, Lucy. A funeral was scheduled for Wednesday.

I’ve not seen his book Slaves of Silent Pictures which has been published in Russian (publisher Russkoe zarubezh’e; Russkii put’). He was hopeful of getting it translated into English, and there had been interest from a Dutch publisher. I do hope that something may be done to ensure that the work of a true film scholar reaches the wider readership it deserves. Meanwhile, there are several essays by him available in English in assorted publications, while he was also behind such initiatives as the microfilm/online subscription collection Early Russian Cinema: Russian Cinematographic Press (1907-1918).

He did much for film history, keeping alive the particular corner of the past that he cared for. Ah, this is such sad news.



Hello, 200,000th visitor, whoever you may have been. OK, so that’s not a huge number by some standards, and the Bioscope stills lurks at no. 142,599 on the Technorati blog league table. And doubtless if we were to feature a few more pictures of comic cats, rather than concentrate quite so rigidly on the research aspects of early and silent cinema, then maybe we might be expanding the audience a little. But I’m rather pleased with the audience we have, and grateful to all who keep reading here.

Next stop, half a million. If I can just drum up a few more Chaplin-impersonating cats, and learn to loosen up the spelling a little…

The Researcher’s Guide to Screen Heritage


UK Screen Heritage Network

Today saw the launch at the British Library of the Researcher’s Guide to Screen Heritage. This is the the result of a project, led by the UK Screen Heritage Network, to map artefacts held in UK museums and archvies which relate to screen history. So this isn’t the films, or television programmes, but rather the costumes, sets, cameras, projectors, toys, documents, scripts, sheet music etc, and embracing a broader idea of screen history to inlcude magic lanterns, other kinds of slide presentation, digital media artefacts of today, and even art installations.

The resultant directory has been combined with an existing directory of moving image collections in the UK and Ireland, so that you can now search across the full range of moving image-related collections which are open to researchers. It a collection-level database, so you’ll find information on collections rather than individual titles; and it’s not everything, but it’s a strong start in attempting to map what what has generally lain scattered across the museums and seldom known about by film (or screen) historians.

So you are encouraged to explore for yourselves, but some of the gems from our area that you may learn about are:

  • the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, which includes a complete 1920s cinema reconstructed and placed within the museum, plus a complete cinema percussionist’s kit used at the Picture House, Willenhall from 1923-27;
  • a collection of cinema slides dating from the First World War, consisting mainly of hand painted film publicity/advertising subjects, at the Clevedon Curzon Community Centre for the Arts;
  • the Barnes Collection of material relating to early film production in the South East, including Brighton and Hove pioneers George Albert Smith, James Williamson, William Friese-Greene, Esme Collings, Alfred Darling and Charles Urban, held by Hove Museum & Art Gallery;
  • early trade catalogues, oral history interviews on cinema-going and working in cinemas held by Beamish, The North of England Open Air Museum;
  • the collection of magic lantern slides used by the Congo Reform Association in their campaign to raise awareness about the abuses taking place under King Leopold II of Belgium’s regime in the Belgian Congo c.1880 to c.1909, held by Anti-Slavery International;
  • record of the Hepworth and Nettlefold studios at Elmbridge Museum.

As well as collections tucked away in unexpected corners, there are the leading museums in the field in the UK: the National Media Museum, Kingston Museum, the Cinema Museum, and the University of Exeter’s Bill Douglas Centre. The Researcher’s Guide to Screen Heritage is hosted by the British Universities Film & Video Council, and was developed for the UK Screen Heritage Network by the BUFVC, the National Media Museum and Screen Archive South East. Go explore.

It’s silent cinema, but not as we know it


A new kind of silent cinema is in town. The Andaz Hotel in London’s Liverpool Street has been trumpeting a special form of entertainment for its guests. It is offering them silent cinema. Marvellous, you may think, how immensely civilised, and does the lounge pianist provide the musical accompaniment as well? But, no, this is silent cinema of a different kind. The punters sit before the screen (the films are projected on to the wall of the 6-storey atrium), don wireless headphones, and then watch sound movies on screen but with the sounds hidden from all but themselves. Here’s how the hotel describes it:

Silent Cinema is a world first – it’s never been done anywhere else. Ever. Yet it’s beautifully simple: you wear wireless headphones to watch films on a full-size cinema screen. Sit back and relax without the unwelcome soundtrack – no noisy neighbours and no shhhhh! It’s like watching a movie at home only better because you’re in an amazing room full of like-minded people. And there’s a bar. You’re all enjoying an individual experience. Together.

Should you be in London at any time, you can book tickets via Ticketweb. There have been two screenings so far, both festive. They kicked things off with Black Christmas (oh joy) and on December 14th they’re showing It’s a Wonderful Life, with nothing to be heard bar the clink of glasses and the occasional sniffle.

Silent Cinema (of this kind) is not restricting itself to the Andaz. Damien Barr Silent Cinema, to be give its full, trademarked name (yes, Silent Cinema is now a trademarked term) has plans for further exhibition elsewhere, in London and Brighton, including outside screenings. Damien Barr is a journalist and radio playwright. So now you know.