A tramp’s odyssey


Having dispatched W.C. Fields, Mack Sennett, Cecil B. De Mille, Laurel and Hardy, and Mae West Simon Louvish has turned his attention to Charlie Chaplin. His latest book, just published, is Chaplin: The Tramp’s Odyssey is a socio-cultural biography of Chaplin, who as the years retreat becomes not so much an entertainer as the story of an entertainer, a twentieth-century everyman. So Louvish gives us Chaplin’s biography though the context of his times, and as metaphor through which to view those times. His interesting device is to name each of the chapters after one of Chaplin’s films, emphasising their biographical quality – The Immigrant, A Film Johnnie, The Adventurer, The Bond, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Limelight, and so on (Carl Davis’ programme of Chaplin films in 2007 arranged the Mutual films with similar biographical purpose). On quick inspection the conceit works well. It’s not a detailed biography (there are many, many nods to David Robinson’s towering Chaplin), but it’s subject is rather the film persona than the man himself. It encourages us to look again at the films for what they say about the man who was so key to his times, and that can only be a good thing.

When Paul met Hitch


Look this Sunday for the latest stage in Paul Merton’s noble quest to educate us all into a film history some are in danger of forgetting, when BBC4 screens Paul Merton looks at Alfred Hitchcock. OK, so Hitchcock’s not exactly neglected yet, but he’s more of a name (or a body shape) than five decades of superlatively creative filmmaking to many, and we’re promised that Merton (he’s the one on the left, by the way) will include Hitchcock’s silents in his investigation. Indeed the subject of his programme is specifically Hitch’s British films, the majority of which were silent.

Screenings will be 28 Feb 2009, 21:00; 01 Mar 2009, 00:10; 01 Mar 2009, 03:10; 01 Mar 2009, 22:00 and 04 Mar 2009, 00:05. And it’ll be on iPlayer, of course.

Update: Talking of things Hitchcock, there’s an exhibition currently running at the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin on Hitchcock and production, Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film. The exhibition, which runs until 10 May 2009, has a special focus on Hitchcock’s time in Berlin studios in the 1920s, and there’s an article by William Cook about the exhibition, ‘The Master and Murnau‘ in The Guardian which discusses what Hitchcock gained from working at the Babelsberg studio for Emelka and seeing F.W. Murnau directing Der Letze Mann.

Albert Kahn atteint dix mille

‘Twas not so long ago when The Bioscope was delighted to have reached its first 10,000 visits. Now on post, 2007’s Searching for Albert Kahn, pushed on by a recent burst of activity no doubt inspired by a rescreening somewhere, has just passed the 10,000 mark all on its own. I hope one or two in search of Edwardian colour have stayed on to discover the complementary delights of the early and silent film world.

Killruddery, down Wicklow way


Killruddery House

I’ve only just learned about the Killruddery Silent Film Festival, which is an event that has been building up over the past couple of years and is now a fully-fledged silent film festival, with an excellent programme. Killruddery (which I think goes straight to the top of the league of great names for silent film events) is in Co. Wicklow, Ireland, and the festival is organised by Killruddery Arts. The screenings take place 13-15 March at Killruddery House, Bray – a short journey south of Dublin, and a lovely place to be (as indeed I was a couple of years ago for the Bray Jazz Festival to see trumpeter Dave Douglas play his Fatty Arbuckle-inspired music). Keep up the good work, chaps, and I’ll be there next year.

Here’s the programme:

Friday 13 March

Down Wicklow Way
Programme of silent films made in and around Wicklow in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, presented by Sunniva O’Flynn of the Irish Film Archive. Live piano accompaniment by Joss Johnston.

Opening event – The Cat and the Canary (USA 1927 d. Paul Leni)
8.00pm 72mins
A fine parody of Gothic horror from Universal, set in an old stately home not unlike Killruddery House. Live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Saturday 14 March

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Germany 1926 d. Lotte Reiniger)
11.00am 60mins
Shadow animation used to tell a captivating story of kind ogres, magical flying horses and wicked magicians.

Visages d’Enfants (France 1925 d. Jacques Feyder)
1.00pm 109mins
This enormously moving film features some extraordinary performances and has been compared to Truffaut’s 400 Blows.

Grass (USA 1925 d. Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack)
3.00 pm 77mins
Magnificent early documentary tracing the incredible journey of a 50,000 member nomadic Persian tribe. Live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

A Modern Musketeer (USA 1917 d. Allan Dwan)
4.00 pm 60mins
Hilarious swashbuckling adventure featuring Douglas Fairbanks.

Flesh and the Devil (USA 1926 d. Clarence Brown)
5.30pm 112mins
Passionate romance between Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. Live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Sunrise (USA 1927 d. F.W. Murnau)
8.15pm 96mins
Not only one of the masterpieces of the silent period but one of the most remarkable films ever produced.

Sunday 15 March

The Unknown (USA 1927 d. Tod Browning)
12.15pm 75mins
A macabre treat with Lon Chaney’s armless knife-thrower and his beautiful assistant, played by a young Joan Crawford.

The Unholy Three (USA 1925 d. Tod Browning)
2.20pm 72mins
Three escaped sideshow performers launch a spectacular crime wave, with Lon Chaney. Live piano accompaniment by Joss Johnston.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Germany 1926 d. Lotte Reiniger)
3.00pm 60mins
Repeat screening.

Talk – An introduction to the silent era
An illustrated talk by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow.

The Student Prince (USA 1927 d. Ernst Lubitsch)
6.00pm 103mins
Ramon Novarro, Norma Shearer and the famous ‘Lubitsch touch’.

Closing film – Redskin (USA 1929 d. Victor Schertzinger)
8.15pm 85mins
A westerns which courageously depicts corruption and racial prejudice. Live accompaniment by Justin Carroll (piano) and Kim Porcelli (cello).

Well, that’s an excellent introduction to silent film for anyone looking to discover the medium for the first time, or wanting to catch up on some of the cast-iron classics. One detects the influence of Kevin Brownlow in putting together the programme. The titles are a mixture of 16mm and digital video, it seems. There’s more information on the festival site, and if you could publish your programme as copyable text, chaps, and not an image, it would be so much quicker to reproduce…

A bit of an unmakeover

OK, I admit it – the re-design was a mistake. I was swept off my feet by the new theme at WordPress which seemed to offer the chance to spruce up the site, which had been looking a bit samey. Or so I thought. But it was too tricksy in style, and worse was that it messed up the information on the right-hand column when viewed with some older versions of browsers. So I’ve returned to ‘Contempt’ (such is name of the WordPress theme), which does the job best, though I’ve kept the new banner. Because I like it.

As you were then.

Pen and pictures no. 7 – Leo Tolstoy


Our series on literary figures and silent film has seen each confront the upstart medium of moving pictures in their own particular way. Thomas Hardy saw his works strangely adapted for the screen, yet welcomed the royalty cheques. J.M. Barrie and Evelyn Waugh, at different ends of their literary careers, both dabbled in filmmaking, one to challenge ideas of theatrical realism, the other as a testing bed for his brand of mocking satire. John Buchan unexpectedly found himself in charge of British film propaganda during the First World War and incorporated the experience in his fiction. Bernard Shaw critiqued the new medium, intrigued yet wary of letting his own works be filmed for fear of losing control of them. Now we turn to Leo Tolstoy, to see the man of letters pursued by cameras anxious to capture something of his fame.

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910) enjoyed a reputation as an author and thinker unmatched in his time, and perhaps at any other time. Known worldwide as the great man of Russian literature, chiefly on the basis of his monumental novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), he was revered (or feared) just as much as a political thinker. His advocacy of a form of Christian anarchism, of pacifism and non-interventionism disturbed the Russian authorities but encouraged fanatical belief among some and helped inspire the later actions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

The peak of Tolstoy’s fame coincided with the emergence of the modern media. Newspapers, photographs and motion pictures could capture one’s essence and distribute it to the masses, across the world. Tolstoy was plagued by enthusiasts, advocates, disciples, fanatics, hangers-on, mendicants, lunatics, artists, reporters and photographers, all anxious to gain something from the great man. As the end of his life came near, there was an immense urge to record something of the great man while he was still breathing – and to take one’s own place alongside him in that record.

Motion pictures had come to Russia in 1896, and Tolstoy certainly knew of them by 1903, because he mentioned his adversion to them when a friend V.V. Stasov tried to organise the recording of Tolstoy in sound and motion pictures, an act which received this angry response by letter, dated 9 October 1903:

I have just read your letter to Sofya Andreyevna (she is in Moscow) and was horrified. For the same of our friendship, drop the business and save me from these phonographs and cinematography. I find them very unpleasant, and I most certainly do not agree to pose and speak.

Sofya Andreyevana was Tolstoy’s wife, and as many biographies have recounted, Tolstoy’s private life in his latter years was tumultuous and unhappy, chiefly on account of his deteriorating relations with his wife, a situation exacerbated by the malign influence of his chief disciple, Vladimir Chertkov, who drove apart the idealist husband from his supposedly materialist wife, sending the latter into a kind of madness. Sofya Andreyevana was the victim of Tolstoy’s complete failure to maintain his principles of pacifism and non-authoritarianism into his private life. She battled to maintain control, not least of her reputation come Tolstoy’s death, partly because of what her husband said about her in his all too frank diaries. Some of this personal battle involved her working with the press, and particularly the motion picture cameramen, to manage the image of Tolstoy and his family.


And so into the Tolstoy’s life in 1908 came Aleksandr Osipovich Drankov (left). The founding father of Russian cinema was the former owner of a dancing school and then a successful photographer with a network of studios. In 1907 he took up cinematography, shooting numerous topicals on Russian life and events but also some of Russia’s first dramatic films, starting with an abortive Boris Godunov (1907) but then success with Sten’ka Razin in October 1908. As films grew in popularity in Russia, there was increased competition among production companies, both native (chiefly Drankov and Khanzhonkov) and foreign companies eyeing the huge Russian market, among them Pathé, Cines, Urban and Gaumont. Rashit Yangirov, in Silent Witnesses, gives us this less than flattering picture of Drankov, culled from impressions provided by his contemporaries:

… a repellent caricature of a plump but extraordinarily familiar and restless character with red hair, always dressed in pretentious lack of taste, a vainglorious man of considerable ambition always invovled in various dubious schemes.

The Russian film industry was viewed with great suspicion by the authorities (the Russian authorities viewed practically everything with great suspicion). A smart move would be for the industry to ally itself with Russia’s literary greatness. Many films culled for the classics would soon follow, but the same impetus led Drankov (with the connivance of Sofya Andreyevana) to join the throng of reporters and still photographers trying to capture something of the great man on the occasion of Tolstoy’s eightieth birthday, 28 August 1908. Tolstoy’s daughter Alexandra (in The Tragedy of Tolstoy, published 1933) describes the scene:

The precursors of every memorable event – the photographers – began to make their appearance at our house. I remember father sitting, exhausted, on the porch with his ailing leg stretched out, and mother coming in to ask him to consent to being photographed for the moving pictures. He made a grimace of pain and started to refuse, but the camera men swore that they were not going to disturb him and would not ask him to pose. They tried to photograph him from the lawn and from the verandah, while father sat motionless, looking before him with a melancholy stare.

Drankov captured only few feet of film of Tolstoy, seated in a chair on a balcony at his Yasnaya Polyana home, staring like some trapped creature at the camera trained upon him. The brief footage needed much padding out with footage of the family and grounds, but it made Drankov’s reputation. Happily, it survives today.

Drankov’s 1908 film of Tolstoy. The film shows relatives and friends in a carriage, then Sofya Andreyevna picking flowers. Vladimir Chertkov distributes alms at the “tree of the poor”. Chertkov and Tolstoy’s sons leave the main house. The camera looks up at a first-floor balcony where Tolstoy can just be glimpsed, sitting. He is then seen in medium close shot on the balcony, seated in a wicker chair, with Sofya Andreyevna standing beside him. Information from Andrew D. Kaufman’s Tolstoy site, which has better quality versions of the film available, in Windows Media Player and QuickTime versions.

This was not the end of the motion pictures camera’s pursuit of Tolstoy, nor the last time that Drankov would film him. Jay Leyda, in his authoritative Kino: A History of the Russia and Soviet Film (1960), provides the fullest account. With the further support of Sofya Andreyevna, anxious to control the family image, more films were taken of him, in a series of events recalled again by Alexandra Tolstoy:

On September 3, 1909, father, Dushan Petrovich, Ilya Vasiliyevich, and I went to visit the Chertkovs at the estate of their relatives, the Pashkov family, at Krekshino. Father wanted to see Vladimir Grigoriyevich and to rest awhile from the life at Yasnaya Polyana. But people dogged his every step. Several days before our departure, a moving picture company requested permission to photograph his departure from Yasnaya Polyana. Mother liked being photographed and made no objections, but for father it was annoying.

“What for?” he said. “It’s so disagreeable, so embarrassing! Couldn’t we arrange it so that they would not come?”

“Let’s send them a telegram, very simply,” I said. “Why should we have any compunctions about them?”

“That would not be right at all,” mother argued. “Why should we hurt people’s feelings? They will come and photograph, and it won’t be any trouble whatever.”

But Aunt Marya Nikolayevna, who was visiting us just then, supported father so energetically that mother had to give in. I sent a telegram in father’s name asking them not to come. But to our amazement and indignation, on the eve of our departure, the camera men nevertheless made their appearance.

“You are asking my consent to be photographed,” father said to them, making an effort to control his irritation. “I cannot give this consent. and if you do it without permission.”

“Our firm would never permit itself to do that!” one of the men replied.

Next morning, as we drove to the station, the photographers were waiting for us at the gates of the estate. We reached the station just ahead of them. The railroad gendarme forbade their photographing on the railway premises, but they telephoned to the authorities at Tula and received the necessary permit. Again their cameras buzzed.

The cameraman on this occasion was Joseph Mundviller, Pathé’s chief operator in Russia at this time. The Tolstoys were going to see relatives at Kriokshino, and having learned of Pathé’s coup, Drankov followed after. With inside information provided by Tolstoy’s driver, he learned that the author could be found walking alone in morning before breakfast at five o’clock. According to Drankov (as reported by Leyda), Drankov cornered Tolstoy, who was not unwilling to be filmed, but then Drankov tripped over his camera equipment, ruining the film which spilled out of the magazine. He returned to the fray a day or so later, at first chased off by Chertkov, but then capturing film of the Tolstoys at the railway station, even filming the party in their railway carriage.

This film also exists. Parts of it can be found in footage libraries around the world, and happily what looks to be most of the film can be seen (though not embedded here) on the ITN Source site, as part of its remarkable Trinity Bridge collection of Russian and Soviet film. The relevant film is called Russian 1900-1949 Compilation (clip 34), and we see Tolstoy and Sofya Andreyevna at the railway station, Tolstoy with family friends out in woodland, the party getting onto a train, Tolstoy walking alone with walking stick, Tolstoy and Sofya walking in the garden at Yasnoya Polyana, and most remarkably Tolstoy and another man sawing wood (the latter scenes come from September 1910, when Drankov was shooting Krestyanskaya Svadba – see below). The high degree of co-operation with the camera operator is obvious.


Tolstoy and Sofya Andreyevna in Drankov’s 1909 film, from http://www.itnsource.com

Alexandra’s version of these encounters shows her mother’s point of view, imagining that the motion picture record might confirm her status as Tolstoy’s confidant which rumours and her enemies were assiduously undermining.

To comfort father, I volunteered to accompany mother. We stayed a few days at Yasnaya Polyana. Without father, mother was much more calm. But as soon as we returned to Kochety her nervousness returned. A photographer from the Drankov moving-picture firm came and pressed us for a chance to photograph father. This was enough to upset mother. At any cost, she wished to be photographed with him, and she put as much emotion into the situation as if it were a question of life and death. “They printed in some paper,” she said, “that Tolstoy has divorced his wife! Let them all see now that it is not true!” During the photographing, she begged father several times to look at her.

Tolstoy had been to the cinema at least once, before he had the experience of witnessing himself on film when Drankov gave a screening at Yasnaya Polyana on 6 January 1910. He showed Tolstoy and an audience of local peasants all of the film of Tolstoy he had taken to that point. Tolstoy apparently expressed some interest in the potential of the cinema for recording Russian life, and this inspired Drankov to take a number of scenes of the Tolstoy family’s peasants, in national costume, including a village wedding, with the co-operation of Tolstoy family members. Cheekily, Drankov would issue this film in 1911 (shortly after the writer’s death) under the title Krestyanskaya Svadba (A Peasant Wedding), advertised as having been written and directed by Tolstoy himself.

Tolstoy’s last days have been much written about (practically everyone in the building was writing a diary). The poisonous atmosphere at Yasnaya Polyana, centered upon Sofya Andreyevna’s disturbed behaviour, led Tolstoy to flee his own home. First joining his sister in a convent, he journeyed on (with entourage) by train, being forced to stop at the railway station of Astopovo by ill-health. Housed in the station master’s cottage, Tolstoy’s health worsened, while the media flocked to the scene. His family joined him, but cruelly his wife was kept outside. Alexandra records the scene:

While we were engrossed in taking care of father, following his slightest ups and downs, now losing heart, now cheering up again, reporters milled around the walls of the house, catching every word. The telegraphers could not dispatch all the messages; there were so many that urgent telegrams went as ordinary ones. Every minute camera men were taking photographs of persons and places: my mother, brothers, our little house, the station. an old monk, Father Varsonofi, asked all the family to let him in to see father or order “to restore him, before his death, to the fold of the Orthodox Church.”

I heard of all this only from the conversations of those around me, but one time I nearly got into a movie film. Goldenweiser, who stood watch in the anteroom, called me saying that mother was on the steps and asked me to come out for a minute so that she could inquire about father’s condition. I stepped out and began to answer her questions, but she asked me to let her into the anteroom, swearing that she would not enter the rooms. I was on the point of opening the door when I heard a buzz and, turning around, saw two photographers grinding away. I waved my hands and shouted to them to stop photographing and then turned to mother and asked her to leave at once.

“You are keeping me from him,” she replied to my reproaches, “then at least let people believe that I have been with him!”


Leo Tolstoy died on 20 November 1910. Part of the battle between Tolstoy, his wife and Chertkov had been over the copyright in his writings, which Chertkov wanted him to hand over to the Russian nation and Sofya wanted to support their home and large family. She won that battle, Tolstoy only renouncing copyright in his recent writings, and it was the family that benefitted from the numerous screen adaptations of Tolstoy’s works that followed (a filmography of Tolstoyan adaptations from the silent era will appear in a follow-up post). However, she and Chertkov joined forces in their disgust at Yakov Protazanov and Elizaveta Thiman’s Ukhod velikovo startza (The Departure of a Great Man) (1912, illustrated above, from http://www.kinokultura.com), a dramatisation of Tolstoy’s last days which made so bold as to show how tormented Tolstoy was, and even showed his wife’s attempted suicide by drowning (an event which occured). Banned from Russia, the film was only seen abroad – and survives to this day (it can be found on the Early Russian Cinema video series.

As noted above, the 1908 film taken by Drankov on Tolstoy’s eightieth birthday can be found on YouTube and Andrew Kaufman’s site, and the 1909/1910 films at ITN Source. Kaufman also has a 1909 sound recordings of Tolstoy’s voice (Tolstoy had his own phonograph, a gift of Thomas Edison, and would make recordings of interesting visitors).

The Tolstoy Studies Journal site has the 1908 film, a Tolstoy filmography, and an article supposedly giving Tolstoy’s views on the cinema in 1908 which probably had considerable embellisment from its source, one I. Teneromo.

Jay Leyda’s peerless Kino: A History of the Russia and Soviet Film is available to download from the Internet Archive.

Aleksandr Drankov left Russia after the 1917 revolution, moved to America, failed to find any foothold in the film world, ran a Viennese cafe for a while, then slipped back into the photography business. He died in California in 1948 or 1949.

A bit of a makeover

After two years’ existence, it felt like it was time for The Bioscope to have a bit of a makeover. So, as you can see, we have abandoned the practical but plain ‘Contempt’ theme that WordPress kindly provides for those like me lacking in the skills to design our own, and we have adopted the ‘Vigilance’ theme, together with a new banner.

I hope the new style helps a little with readability and accessibility. I’ve trimmed some of the categories and so forth for extra clarity, and there are improved features such as selections under Categories or under search enquiries coming up as a list of posts rather than the post in full, which should aid searching and browsing. There may need to be some further tweaking along the way, and I have plans for new features – and will need to find space for them. Anyway, I hope things look fresher, and that you’ll keep on reading The Bioscope.

The Legend of the Mountain Man



The Bioscope has an interest in films made for and by the deaf, as old hands may know. Deaf cinema shouldn’t be equated with silent cinema in general, but there is a fascinating history of deaf people’s engagement with film during the silent era, to which I shall certainly return, and it is worthwhile noting from time to time what is going on in the world of deaf film, as a sort of parallel activity to the modern silent film (another activity we’ve also been tracing).

All of which leads us to The Legend of the Mountain Man, a feature film wholly silent yet very much a talking picture, except that the language is ASL, or American Sign Language. It is made by ASL Films, who have set themselves up to produce feature films to professional standards for the deaf community, and have now made three titles: Forget Me Not (2006), Wrong Game (2007) and The Legend of the Mountain Man, which was released late last year. Their films are pure ASL, without captions or voiceover, and so for the hearing viewer offer a purely silent experience as well as a window onto a wholly talkative world.

Mountain Man concerns three children staying at their grandparents’ Montana ranch who encounter a mysterious mountain creature, and through their adventures help bring back together their dysfunctional family. It looks to be heartwarming, family fare, and has been warmly accepted by the deaf community in America (not least for its purist ASL policy). There’s plenty of information to be found on the film, and ASL Films’ mission, on the movie’s official site, which has trailer, cast interviews, showtimes, photos and news.

To find out more about deaf cinema, and deaf art and media in general, visit The Deaf Lens, whose list of links alone is just amazing, not least for what it reveals of the number of deaf film festivals out there.

Cinefest 2009

Cinefest, the annual collectors’ film festival held in Syracuse, NY, takes place 19-22 March 2009. The films on show are combination of silents and early talkies, with these being the silent choices (subject to any last minute changes):

On 16mm

LESS THAN THE DUST (1916) with Mary Pickford, David Powell
LOVE NEVER DIES (1921) Dir. King Vidor, with Lloyd Hughes, Madge Bellamy, Lillian Leighton
THEY SHALL PAY (1921) with Lottie Pickford, Allan Forrest, Paul Weigel
WHITE GOLD (1927) with Jetta Goudal, Kenneth Thomson, George Bancroft, George Nichols, Clyde Cook
WOMAN (1918) Dir. Maurice Tourneur with Warren Cook, Florence Billings

On 35mm

EVERYBODY’S SWEETHEART (1920) with Olive Thomas, William Collier Jr.
TWENTY DOLLARS A WEEK (1924) with George Arliss, Ronald Colman
A MILLION BID (1927) with Dolores Costello, Warner Oland, William Demarest
BEGGAR ON HORSEBACK (1925) with Edward Everett Horton, Betty Compson, Esther Ralston
THE SHOPWORN ANGEL (1928) with Gary Cooper, Nancy Caroll, Roscoe Karns, Paul Lukas
BACK PAY (1922) Dir: Frank Borzage, with Seena Owen, Matt Moore

Musical accompaniment comes from a star-studded line-up of Philip Carli, Makia Matsumura, Donald Sosin, and Ben Model, and there are other goodies on offer (aside from the sound features), include rare shorts, Joan Crawford’s home movies, and the auction hosted by Leonard Matlin.

Full details, including registration and accommodation, from the festival website.

The amazing Mr Jeffs



Coming up soon is Flatpack Festival, an inventive film extravaganza organised by 7 Inch Cinema, taking place in Birmingham (UK) 11-16 March. Most of the festival is devoted to present day cinema, but it’s worth out taking note of because its dedicatee is Waller Jeffs (1861-1941). His is a name that you won’t find in many film histories, because he was a showman rather than a producer, but he was one of the major figures bringing films to British audiences (alongside a whole panoply of variety acts that he also handled) in the era before cinemas arrived, particularly in the Midlands region. As the festival blog puts it:

Between 1901 and 1912 Mr Jeffs introduced hundreds of thousands of Brummies to the delights of cinema through his annual seasons at the Curzon Hall, Suffolk Street, with light opera, military bands, live sound effects and intriguing novelty acts like ‘Unthan the Armless Wonder’ presented alongside the films. Towards the end of this period the first proper cinemas started to arrive in the city – including the Electric – and Jeffs’ audience rapidly disappeared. He ended up in slightly less elevated circumstances, managing the Picturehouse in Stratford-on-Avon.

There’s a little-known history of British film, John H. Bird’s Cinema Parade, which is centred upon Waller Jeffs, showing us the development of film in Britain from the showman’s point of view, and with a salutory change of emphasis from the usual London bias.

As well as naming Jeffs its ‘patron saint’, on March 11th the festival is putting on Curzonora, an evening of early film in the spirit of Waller Jeff’s programmes, with “fifteen-piece ‘musical whirlwind’ The Destroyers” who will be “exploring the full spectrum of 1900s filmmaking ingenuity from actualities and travelogue to sci-fi and melodrama”. And on March 12th it is hosting ‘The Amazing Mr Jeffs: Birmingham’s premier film exhibitor‘, an illustrated talk by the practically ubiquitous Professor Vanessa Toulmin,covering Jeff’s working relationship the famed producers Mitchell and Kenyon.

More information, as ever, on the festival website.