The Brazilian scene


Bebe Daniels on the front cover of A Scena Muda, 1921 no. 1

It is frustrating for the silent film researcher that, while there are some excellent online resources which provide with extensive acess to digitised newspaper collections, there are all too few film journals from our period that have digitised. Specialist resources are always going to be that much more difficult to finance. But look beyond the English language, and there are treasures to be found. In the first of two posts covering non-English digitised collections, let me introduce you to Brazil’s Biblioteca Digital das Artes do Espetaculo. This site makes available the runs of two Brazilian film journals, A Scena Muda (1921-1955) and Cinearte (1926-1942), digitised by the Biblioteca Jenny Klabin Segall. While it’s certainly going to help if you know Portuguese, the colour front covers (mostly of Hollywood stars) are a design delight all by themselves. Within you will find news, reviews, photographs, gossip, advertisements, and regular features on the Brazilian feature film.


A page from Cinearte, 1926 no. 7

The sites are easy to navigate. From the front page, click on As Revistas. You will then be presented with three drop-down boxes, from which you can choose which of the two journals you want to see, then select whether you want to browse by year or number, and then select from the range offered. Searching by year you get a row of thumbnails of the front covers. The documents themselves are in PDF format, of good quality, though they don’t appear to be word-searchable. However, there is an advanced search option, to be found under Pesquisa, where you can search across both journals for individual words (handy for name searches, for example). So well worth browsing even if Portuguese is one of those languages you’ve never quite grasped fully, and for judging the balance between Hollywood and the native industry in the Brazilian mind.

My thanks to Teresa Antolin for bringing this to my attention. Part two tomorrow.

Update (August 2011): The link for the site has now changed to

Filmographie Pathé


A while ago we reported on the marvellous Fondation Jérôme Seydoux Pathé site which documents the rich heritage of the Pathé film company. At that time it was noted that a Pathé filmography was not on the site, but was promised. Well, it’s there now.

Based on a number of sources, most notably the seven-volume Pathé filmography produced by Henri Bousquet, the filmography – which is a work-in-progress – will eventually document the entire Pathé output from 1896 to the present day. The available information comes chiefly from original Pathé catalogues and trade paper reviews, and varies from title to title. So some records are little more than a title, while others have detailed descriptions. The catalogue is arranged by year, and so far records have been entered up to 1913. From 1907 the years are broken down further into months. Each year/month brings up a list of titles, and clicking on each one brings up the catalogue record. This for example is the record for a famous Pathé title of 1908, Le cheval emballé (The Runaway Horse):

Cheval emballé (Le)
Numéro du film: 2027
Code tél.: Délire
Métrage: 135 m
Genre: scène comique

Réalisateur: Louis Gasnier
Scénario: André Heuzé

Un livreur et sa charrette s’arrêtent devant un marchand de graines. Pendant que le livreur monte dans les étages pour déposer du linge chez un client, le cheval mange un sac d’avoine. Le livreur s’en aperçoit et, grimpant dans sa voiture, s’enfuit. Le grainetier leur court après. Après maintes péripéties, poursuivi par une foule sans cesse ac­crue, le cheval rentre à l’écurie. Son propriétaire disperse les poursuivants en les arrosant copieusement.

Note de fin:
Sortie: Le Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, du 3 au 9.1.1908 Dans son numéro 69 du 1.2.1908 Phono-Ciné-Gazette sous la rubrique “ Le danger au Cinématographe” contait que… le collaborateur qui dirigeait la voiture a risqué sa vie car le véhicule a fait un panache auquel on ne s’at­tendait pas au moment où elle arrive en plein marché! Et dans The Moving Picture World du 9.4.1910 l’annonce de l’arrivée de Louis J. Gasnier à la direction du studio Pathé de Bound Brook était suivie d’une anecdote concernant le tournage du Cheval emballé  : Mr Gasnier is a man of great resource and has had many trilling adventures in the production of films. One notable instance of this was during the photographing of the almost classic film The Runaway Horse much comment was heard as to how it was possible to secure a horse with such intelligence as this one seemed to have. The secret of the matter lay in the fact that underneath the body of the wagon which was a two-wheeled vehicle, there was attached a coffin with the end knocked out. This was chosen because of its interior padding. In this, Mr. Gasnier took his position, face downward, and dressed entirely in black, with black gloves and a mask similar to those used on the days of the Inquisition, over his face, and from here he drove the spirited cavalry horse by means of two steel wires of the ends of which were fastened sticks for him to bold in his hands. The shafts of the wagon were fastened to the body by steels bands but in spite of this arrangement Mr. Gasnier was nearly killed. Just after the scene which shows the wagon knocking down the scaffold, the steel bands broke and Mr. Gasnier, as the wagon pitched forward and turned a complete somersault, was so badly injured that he was unconscious for more than half an hour and spent fifteen days in the hospital. The horse, at the time of this accident, was really running away, and having rid himself of the cart, dashed ahead, and finally ran into the river. Mr. Gasnier’s nerve is shown by the fact that after his release from the hospital he got back into the repaired vehicle and finished the picture.

Date de la publication électronique: 13 October 2008

So the catalogue is in French, but with smatterings of English where English or American trade paper sources are quoted. Not all records are so detailed, but here you get title, catalogue number, telegraphic code (used for ordering titles), length, category, credits, synopsis and notes.

The Pathé catalogues were divided up into categories or genres, and you can use the online filmography by such original terms as ballet pantomime, comédie, comédie dramatique, comédie policière, drame historique, scène biblique, scène d’acrobaties, scène d’actualité, scène d’industrie, scène de féerie, scène de mythologie, scène de plein air, scène de sport, scène de vulgarisation scientifique, scène grivoise, scène historique, scène militaire and vue panoramique. You can also browse by title and by credit, which includes authors of adapted works (Balzac, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Zola etc) as well as directors, scriptwriters and performers.

This is a huge boon for early cinema researchers. It is worth noting that the intention is the document the entirety of the Pathé output (exlcusing newsreels and the like), so there are the films issued by the company’s Italian (Film d’Arte Italiana), Russian (Film d’Art Russe) and British (Britannia Films) offshoots, as well as Pathé’s own French variants such as Société cinématographique des auteurs et gens de lettres (SCAGL). And don’t forget to explore the rest of the Fondation’s site, in particular its extensive and illustrated database.

Empires on show


Visual Empires is the title of the fourth Visual Delights conference, taking place 3-5 July at the University of Sheffield, Union of Students, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TG.

A summary of the conference’s concerns is not easy to track down, but the original call for papers said that they were interested in Imperial cinema, regional patriotic shows, circus and empire, silent film and identity, topographical empires, expedition films, the magic lantern and the empire, patriotism on the stage, sport as national identity, music hall and imperial sentiment, photography and otherness, colonial postcards, world’s fairs and ethnographic display, panoramic and dioramic empires, advertising and empire and the Boer War. Which is more than enough to fill a conference, and there’s a impressive line-up of speakers covering conquerers and the conquered.

Below is the outline programme (the full programme with abstracts of all the papers can be downloaded in PDF format here):

Visual Delights IV – Visual Empires

Friday – Registration and Refreshments – 9.30 – 10.00 am

Opening Lecture (10.00 – 10.30am)
Welcome from Simon Popple & Vanessa Toulmin

Allison Griffiths – Nontheatrical Ethnographic Film: Playing Indian in the Museum Sponsored Expedition Film

Panel 1-10.30am- Noon

Regional Empires Chair Simon Popple

Jill Sullivan – ‘Overflowing houses’: Panoramas in Exeter and Bristol 1840-1870
John Plunkett – Gateway to Empire: Plymouth’s popular entertainments 1855-75
Joe Kember – ‘Pure, Elevating, Instructive Entertainment’: Travel lectures in Plymouth during the 1890s
Ros Leveridge – ‘A panorama of Eastern splendour and of Western might’: Screening the Delhi Durbars in South West coastal resorts

12.00 -1.00pm Lunch

Panel 2 (1.00pm – 3.00pm)

Locating Empire Chair Vanessa Toulmin

Teresa Castro – Imperialism and Early Cinema’s “Mapping Impulse.
Cosimo Chiarelli – In the (visual) heart of Borneo – Charles Hose in Sarawak
J. P. Short – Empire and the Working-Class Eye: A History of Bourgeois Anxiety
Louise Tythacott – Race on display: the ‘Melanian’, ‘Mongolian’ and ‘Caucasian’ galleries at Liverpool Museum, 1896-1929

3.00- 3.30pm – Refreshments

Panel 3 Friday Afternoon (3.30 – 5.30pm)

Imperial identities 1 Chair John Fullerton

Fulya Ertem – Facing the “Other”: A critical approach to the construction of identity narratives in the early photographic practice of the Ottoman Empire.
Roshini Kempadoo – Defining subjects: Photography and the Trinidad plantation worker (1860s – 1940s)
Michael Eaton – Golden Bough and Silver Nitrate.
Alessandro Pes – Ordinary People Celebrities-The Fascist mythizising of Italian settlers in East Africa

Screenings: 7.00pm onwards

Nico De Klerk (Nederlands Film Archive) presents Gustav Deutsch’s Welt Spiegel Kino #2
Bryony Dixon – Curator of Silent film, BFI National Archive
Savage South Africa – Savage Attack and Repulse (1899)
The Paris and St Louis Expositions (1904)
Panorama of the Paris Exhibition No. 3 (1900)
Pan American Exposition by Night (1901)
Mitchell and Kenyon 703: Panorama of Cork Exhibition Grounds (1902)
White City – Franco British Exhibition (1908)
Brussels Exhibition (1910)
Visit to Earl’s Court (1911)
Gaumont Graphic: Festival of Empire: Their Majesties Driving in Semi State to the Opening Ceremony (1911)
Lord Grenfell lays the foundation stone of the Malta Pavilion for the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 with scenes of construction (1926)
Thrills in the Making (Topical Budget 649-2) (1924)
The Excursion to Wembley of Employees of Pullars of Perth (1924)
King Opens Empire Exhibition (Topical Budget 661-1) (1924)
White City Demobbed (1920)
Fireworks at Crystal Palace (1925)

Saturday 9.30– 10.00am Registration

Panel 1 Saturday Morning (10.00 –Noon)

Ethnography and performance Chair Alison Griffiths

Jacob Smith – The Adventures of the Lion Tamer
Christina Welch – The Popular Visual Representation of North American Indian Peoples and their Lifeways at the World’s Fairs and in the Wild West Shows
Joshua Yumibe – Abyssinian Expedition and the Field of Visual Display
Theresa Scandiffio – Welcome to the Show: Field Museum-Sponsored Expedition Films (1920s-1930s)

12.00 -1.00pm Lunch

Panel 2 Saturday Afternoon (1.00- 3.00pm)

Imperial Identities 2 Chair John Plunkett

Yvonne Zimmermann – Visual Empire of the Alps
Gunnar Iversen – Inventing the Nation – Diorama in Norway 1888-1894
Andrew May & Christina Twomey – Visual subjects and colonial sympathies: Australian responses to the 1870s Indian famine
Annamaria Motrescu – Displaced Indian identities in early colonial amateur films

3.00 – 3.30pm Refreshments

3.30 – 4.00pm – ‘Lucerna’: the Magic Lantern Web Resource
Richard Crangle, Magic Lantern Society

Panel 3 Saturday Afternoon – (4.00 – 6.00 pm)

Audiences and markets Chair Joe Kember

Amy Sargeant – Lever, Lifebuoy and Ivory
John Fullerton and Elaine King – Looking back, looking forward: colonial architecture in Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century and its representation in photography and the illustrated press
Denis Condon – Receiving News from the Seat of War: Dublin Audiences Respond to Boer War Entertainments
Martin Loiperdinger – Screening the Boer War in Germany: Audience Response and Censorship

Performance: Professor Mervyn Heard’s Lantern Show 7.30 pm

Professor Heard introduces modern audiences to the weird and wonderful magic lantern entertainments once presented in public halls and private drawing rooms throughout the 19th century. Each show is different and draws on a unique collection of original 19th century mechanical moving pictures, sights, frights, moral warnings, adventures, pictorial curiosities and fascinating information. This is a specially commissioned show focusing on material related to the First World War.


Panel 1 (9.30– 11.30am)

Cinema and the British Empire Chair Nick Hiley

Tom Rice – Presenting the Empire on Screen: The Empire Series (1925-1928)
Emma Sandon – Cinema and Empire: The Prince of Wales Tour 1925
Scott Anthony – Snowden Gamble and the films of Imperial Airways
Maurizio Cinquegrani – From Sydenham to Hyderabad: a Cinematic Map of the British Empire and its Cities

11.30 – 11. 45 am Break

11.45 – 12. 30 pm The Empire Exhibition of 1938 – The Spectator’s Perspective
Presented by Ruth Washbrook, Education and Outreach Officer, Scottish Screen Archive, National Library of Scotland
Empire Exhibition Scotland 1938 (2 mins) (BW)
The King and Queen Visit the Empire Exhibition (1938) (13 mins) (BW)
Sketch Plan of the Exhibition (1938) (7 mins) (Colour)
A Visit to the Empire Exhibition (1938) (12 mins) (Colour)

12.30 – 1.30 pm Lunch

Panel 2 (1.30 – 3. 15pm)

Imperial Humour Chair Richard Crangle

Samantha Holland – The hilarious joke of miscegenation in turn-of-the-century US films and culture
Paul Maloney – St George and Ali Baba: the visual culture of pantomime in Edinburgh in 1869
Matthew L. McDowell – Newspaper cartoons and the drawing of early Scottish football, 1865-1902
Andrew Shail – ‘The Great American Kinetograph’ in Britain: Film, Fakery and The Boer War


3.30 – 5.30pm Performance: The Crazy Cinematograph and conclusion

The Crazy Cinématographe is a touring spectacle celebrating the films produced in Europe during the first decade of the twentieth century. The show celebrates the work of the European film archives by producing a prestigious and entertaining showcase for those little known wonders only known to archivists, historians and festival goers, but not to the general public.

Booking form and accommodation details are available from the National Fairground site.

Bible stories


The Ascension from Vie de Jésus / La vie et la passion de Jésus Christ (1905-14)

One of my vivid early memories of going to the cinema is going to the Oxford in Whitstable, with my younger brothers in tow, to see a reissue of Cecil B. De Mille’s The Ten Commandments, first made in 1956 but still doing the rounds in the late 1960s. We came out exhilarated, overwhelmed by the experience. Later generations, not brought up on Bible stories in the way that we were possibily cannot imagine the visceral thrill felt at seeing those so familiar narratives brought to thunderous big screen life. In those days, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, Cain, Samson et al were part of your DNA. You knew their every story, every twist and turn of the Biblical narratives that mythologised them. Seeing them brought to vulgar cinematic life (not insipid televisual life) thrilled you to the core.

It’s worth remembering such sensations when considering the earliest Biblical films, because undoubtedly they stirred their original audiences in much the same way. Look! the Red Sea is parting! Look! the star of Bethlehem is moving! They may or may not have confirmed faith, but they undoubtedly carried with them the thrill of the realisation of what had been imagined. A fine selection of such films were on show last night at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. The Ancient World in Silent Cinema 2 was an afternoon and an evening (22 June) of early films set in Biblical or Near Eastern Antiquity, and followed on from January’s screenings of films depicting Ancient Greece and Rome (previously reported on by the Bioscope). Exhibited as part of a project on the Ancient World and silent cinema being developed by University College London Department of Greek & Latin, the films were accompanied by the excellent Stephen Horne, on piano, electonic keyboard and flute (not quite managing three at the same time but managing all the combinations of two), with interval talks given by David Mayer and Judith Buchanan. As in January, there was a good audience, many of them clearly from disciplines other than film studies.

I’m always apprehensive where early films are put before a new audience. What will they think of this peculiar world where people roll their eyes and throw up their hands, where men start back in paroxysms of love the instant they set eyes on a woman’s face, where titles announce the action before it has taken place, where painted cloths must serve for epic scenery, where people crowd the frame so much you can lose sight of the leading players, where people creep up close to overhear conversations and yet remain unseen, where colour is hand-painted, where miracles are magic tricks and angels float on cardboard clouds? Will they laugh because they are insensitive, or because they see these films for what they are that much more clearly than I am able to?

Well, there were some sniggers, but not many. This is the great advantage of showing a programme of such films, on a big screen, live music, and enough (but not too much) contextualisation. The audience saw what the films were about, could see where there was good, were touched by moments of artistry, were even – at times – moved. The films are their own best defence.


La Sposa del Nilo (1911)

The films were presented in roughly chronological order. We began, a little oddly, with a British knockabout comedy, Wanted – A Mummy (1910), in which a man dresses up as an Egyptian mummy to fool a professor. La Sposa del Nilo (1911) was a proto-epic, where you could sense the Italian filmmakers (Enrico Guazzoni in this case) gearing up to the gigantic imaginings of Cabiria and Quo Vadis just a few years on. The film wanted to impress you with its stateliness and scale; at time the central action (a young virgin is drowned to appease Isis and ensure that the Nile floods) became lost in the crowded frame – but that just reminded you that early cinema audiences look that much more intently at what was going on, and picked up on details that our lazier eyes sometimes miss.

La Vergine di Babilonia (1910) gave us the tale of Esther (partially based on the Biblical Esther, with a touch of the Book of Daniel as well), who brings about the overthrow of the King of Babylon when he throws her into a den of lions only for the lions to leave her alone, causing the populace to rise up against him. Amid the characteristic histronics were some well-composed shots to linger in the memory, especially one of Esther walking down some steps in her triumph, framed by the outstretched hands of the grateful people. Caïn et Abel (1911) – interesting thinking behind the chronology there – impressed especially with a Cain haunted by the crime of killing his brother being hunted down by an avenging angel across a rocky landscape, reduced in his shame to a crawling beast.

La Sacra Bibbia (1920) was the only post-WWI film on show. We were given the episode of Joseph intepreting the dreams of Pharoah, part of an Italian epic which tried to recover the glories of pre-war days but instead showed how Italian cinema collapsed so grievously post-war, unable to move on imaginatively, hampered financially. Moïse sauvé des eaux (1910) and L’Exode (1910) presented two episodes from the life of Moses. The first was average; the second, though ponderous in pace, showed real directorial imagination – the first of three films we saw made by Louis Feuillade. Here was someone who knew how to compose and fill out the frame. We even had an instance of Rembrandt lighting (a scene lit from a high window), and at one point a panning shot which covered three phases of action. However, you wondered where your sympathies should lie. The Egyptians had a hard time of it, as they wept over the death of the first born, while the smug Israelites marched out of the city. Without the homilies that might accompany them, the films sometimes had quite different messages, or sometimes no messages at all.

Pressing business forced me to miss La vie de Moïse (FR 1910) interspersed with Life of Moses (US 1909-10) – with a pre-De Mille parting of the Red Sea – and two American versions of Jephthah’s Daughter. For the evening show some films had been cut, as they’d discovered that the running times they’d been working to were for the films at sound speed, whereas we were seeing everything at exemplary silent speed. So things kicked off again with Samson et Dalila (1902), an early Pathé effort where there was no semblance of plot or build-up; instead we launched straight into Deliah cutting Samsons’s hair, then Samson pulling a huge millstone, then Samson bringing down the pillars of the temple and rising up in triumph, accompanied by angels. Film as pure sensation.


Vie de Jésus (1905-1914)

La Reine de Saba (1910), directed by Henri Andréani (who also gave us Caïn et Abel and Moïse sauvé des eaux) had almost no plot at all, at least none worth worrying over. Spectacle was all; sometimes cramped spectacle, as the director brought as many people as he could ino the frame, but the composition was excellent, with just as much attention given to the positioning of spear-carrier at the back as to the royal lovers centre stage. The film also boasted a startling procession with long camel train clearly located in North Africa, one of the camels bearing the canopied panier of the Queen of Sheba. A lot of effort and money went into making this film, evidence of how important historical and Biblical dramas were to the early cinema.

Giuditta e Oloferne (1908) was Italian in origin but French in style. It looked like director Mario Caserini was imitating the Pathé of pure sensation, in this case the story of Judith and Holophernes, favoured by the early filmmakers because she ends up cutting off the Assyrian king’s head. So the film was followed by Louis Feuillade’s intepetation of the story, Judith (1909), once again showing a fine sense of composition.

Then followed one of my favourite early films – one I’d not seen in twenty years, so it was a particular pleasure to see that it was as good as I remembered it, and that the audience were similarly impressed. In Feuillade’s L’Aveugle de Jérusalem (1909), or The Blind Man of Jerusalem, a blind man is unaware that his daughter is visited by her lover and that his servants are robbing him. He witnesses Christ performing miracles in the street and has his sight cured. Pretending still to be blind, he is horrified to discover how he is being cheated. But the sight of Christ bearing his cross, forgiving his enemies, leads the man to forgive likewise. It is told through mise-en-scène of great simplicity – only two set-ups are used, the interior of the man’s house, and the street outside, each featured twice in alternation. The parable could be Biblical, but it is pure invention – a bold coup in itself. The BFI’s print (all of the films came from the BFI National Archive) has replacement titles which may reproduce the original text or may have been written later (interest from religious bodies saw that a number of these early films were shown into the 1920s and 30s); at any rate, they are in keeping with the film’s moral but modest tone. In its unassuming way, L’Aveugle de Jérusalem is the perfect film.

We finished with Vie de Jésus (1905-1914, aka La Vie et la passion de Jésus Christ). Multi-scene nativities and lives of Christ were among some of the most popular of early films; so popular that they were frequently re-made. Pathé produced at least four such series, from 1896 to 1914, the New Testament narrative being broken down into tableaux which could be ordered scene-by-hand-coloured-scene according to budget, taste, or particular Christian persuasion (for example, the scene where St Veronica places a cloth over Christ’s face and receives an impression of his face on the cloth was popular with Catholic audiences but was not usually shown to Protestant audiences). This was the Bible as pure pictorialism, pure signification. The tableaux provided a checklist of necessary images – beasts in the stable? check; Judas’ kiss? check; soldiers gambling at the foot of the cross? check. And so on. Of course, anyone looking at these films without any knowledge of the Bible would be baffled; in narrative terms the series is quite incoherent. But they weren’t meant for such an audience; they were meant for an audience who knew exactly what to expect, and what lessons might be drawn. The build-up to the Crucifixion duly impressed the 2009 audience with its sober power, and just when we thought an element of ludicrousness might have been introduced with the Ascension, Christ did not rise up in the air vertically, but instead retreated backwards as well as upwards towards angels amid the clouds, a visual coup that caught us all by surprise. They knew a thing or two, the early filmmakers.


To find out more about early cinema and religion, the best source is Roland Cosandey, André Gaudreault and Tom Gunning’s Une invention du diable?: cinéma des premiers temps et religion / An Invention of the Devil? Religion and Early Cinema. This is the proceedings of the first Domitor conference, held in 1990 in Quebec (I was there), Domitor being the international body for early cinema researchers. The conference was dedicated to the theme of early cinema and religion (for which read Christianity). The book has essays in English and French, and has excellent pieces on the Pathé series, Kalem’s From the Manger to the Cross (1912), Charles Taze Russell’s The Photo-drama of Creation (1914), Vitagraph’s The Life of Moses and many more. The UCL Department of Greek & Latin project which put on the Bloomsbury screenings hopes to do much more with these films:

We are now also planning the next stage of the project, after the two film screenings in January and June 2009. It will involve the investigation in detail of a broad range of silent films set in antiquity leading to the production of a special issue on The Ancient World in Silent Cinema. We are also in consultation with archivists, librarians, scholars, and festival curators in the UK and abroad to extend the project into an international network of experts, leading to an online database, conferences and publications and, perhaps most importantly, preservation, digitization, and exhibition. If you would like to inquire further about the research project or about these events, please contact Maria Wyke (m.wyke [at]

Finally, Maria Wyke has produced a podcast on the representation of the ancient world in silent films.

From the regions


The over-the-top sequence from A Scrap of Paper, from

If most people think of film archives, then they think of the national collections such as the BFI National Archive, Cinémathèque Française, Library of Congress etc, or else broadcasters such as the BBC. What few consider, even within the film business, is the next tier down of collection, the regional film archives which represent a particular and special part of a country’s moving image heritage. In the UK we are fortunate in having a vibrant regional film archive network, operating (with measly funding) within the public sector, each representing one or other of the English political regions. So there is the East Anglian Film Archive, the Northern Region Film and Television Archive, the South West Film and Television Archive, the North West Film Archive, and so on. What is also seldom appreciated is that these archives generally have unique silent film holdings.

One of these archives, the Yorkshire Film Archive, is the immediate reason for this post, because it has just launched Yorkshire Film Archive Online, a really first-rate showcase of regional film. There are documentaries, amateur films, industrials, newsreels, advertising films, educational films, and dramas, all devoted to the Yorkshire region, all freely available and contained within an expertly designed site brim for of background information, all the search options you could wish for, options to add comments, and a really fine selection of films. This includes a number of silents (aside from those amateur films of later decades which were shot silent). The earliest shows Queen Victoria visiting Sheffield in 1897, the truly heroic Egg Harvest – Cliff Climbing at Flamborough (1908), the joyous local celebration that is Easter at Shipley Glen (1912) and a touching and surprisingly downbeat A Scrap of Paper, made in Hull to support those who had lost loved ones during the War,or who had been disabled. The film shows a father writing his last letter home, before he goes over the top and is seen lying dead in no-man’s land in the film’s final shot. (The site dates the film as 1914-18 but the tone of the titles suggest it was made just after the war).

Yorkshire Film Archive Online demonstrates what a dynamic film culture existed from the earliest years outside London. It is a model resource, but the YFA is not the only English regional archive with silent film on show. The Media Archive for Central England, based in Leicester, lists sixty-three titles between 1899 and 1930 in its catalogue, starting with an Anglo-Boer War recreation, and continuing with a rich variety of mostly local newsreels, some with online clips, such as The Meet of the Quorn Hounds, at Kirby Gate (1912) and Leicester Poor Boys’ and Girls’ Summer Camp at Mablethorpe (c.1920).


Joan Morgan and Langhorn Burton in Little Dorrit (1920), from

Screen Archive South East, based in Brighton, is strongly aware of the part its region played in the early years of filmmaking in Britain. Its Screen Search catalogue describes over 900 films, many of them viewable online, and several from the silent era. under the theme ‘Early film in the South East‘ you can find Speer Films’ dynamic bank robbery thriller, The Motor Bandits (1912), a clip from the twenty minutes that survive of the Progress Film Company of Shoreham’s Little Dorrit (1920), starring the late Joan Morgan, and the illustrator and occasional filmmaker Harry Furniss in Winchelsea and its Surroundings. A Day with Harry Furniss and his Sketchbook (c.1920).

Screen Search also has travel films, home movies, documentaries, newsreels and productions by local cine-clubs. Look out too for films made in the 1930s by the twins John and William Barnes, the former of whom went on to become the author of the five-volume The Beginnings of the Cinema in England series of film histories.

The Wessex Film and Sound Archive, a partner archive to Screen Archive South East, cover the middle southern region of England. It has an online catalogue and a few sample clips, notably a 1905 example from Portsmouth filmmaker Alfred West‘s famous patriotic programme, Our Navy.


Children’s Matinee, showing children outside the Vaudeville cinema in Colchester, 3 October 1914, part of the East Anglian Film Archive collection, from

There is more to be seen and learned about the regional archives on the Moving History site, which is a guide to the national and regional public sector film archives of the UK, and has a wide selection of sample clips, arranged by theme and by archive. Films from the English regional archives can also be found as part of the BBC’s Nation on Film website. There is a lot more to these archives than silents, of course, and the majority of clips to be found on their sites will be of later periods, particularly from when the home movie boom took off in the 1930s.

Finally, if you want to learn more about the operations and ethos of the RFAs, visit the Film Archive Forum site, the body that represents the interests of the UK’s public sector moving image archives (see its map of the UK’s archives here). Film is so much more than many think it is – beyond the entertainment cinema there is a whole culture of films made locally, for reasons both personal and professional, which document twentieth century lives in uniquely resonant form. What the films sometimes lack in polish they gain in their powerful connection to the people, for in seeing them we see ourselves. Do explore.

Digital 19th Century Britain


Headline from Penny Illustrated Newspaper, Saturday, 8 July 1911, from

There has been much fuss this week about the Digital Britain report, a blueprint for the country’s broadband future in which services, entertainment, knowledge and the health of the economy to come are pinned to the hope that everyone will be linked up to a frankly measly 2Mbps connection by 2012. The report has come in for much criticism, chiefly because it poses more questions than answers, but it does also cover important areas such a digital literacy (so everyone is able to navigate their way through this new world and enjoy a common level of benefits) and points out innovative models which have made digitised collections available to all.

A model example, highlighted in the report, is the British Library’s 1800-1900 Newspapers project. I must admit to a vested interest here, as the BL helps pay the rent that keeps up the tottering edifice that is Bioscope Towers. But by any measure this is a marvellous resource, exceptional in its content and presentation, but also a model of how a major digitised collection can be created that brings benefit to all.

Digitisation costs money. We know that are billions of pages in the world’s libraries, we know we’d like to have them all at our fingertips, and we know we’d rather not pay for it. The BL’s newspaper collection represents some 750 million pages. The new resource present 2 million of these. The money has come from a UK educational body which funds resources for higher education, the Joint Information Systems Committee, and a commercial partner, Gale Cengage. The JISC paid for the digitised newspapers to be made available for free to UK universities, while the public had to visit the British Library physical site to see the resource.


That was the case for the past year or so, but from today the commercial side of the deal kicks in. Gale Cengage co-funded the project on the understanding that it could make the newspaper resource available to the online public, under a subscription model. You can buy a 24-hour pass for £6.99 which allows you to view up to 100 articles, or you can buy a seven-day pass with 200 article views for £9.99. There is plenty, however, that is available for free – two newspapers, The Graphic and Penny Illustrated Paper, are free (the search page has a tick box where you can search for free content only), you can search and browse the database, see thumbnails of any article, and even call up a window which shows your chosen term in context – as in the example above, which gives us the heartening information that Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser was able to tell its audience about the Edison Kinetoscope on 10 March 1894. There are also a number of freely available PDF examples tied to some excellent background histories.

The sheer range of newspapers is eye-opening, including such titles (just to start from the top) as the Aberdeen Journal, Baner Cymru, Belfast News-Letter, Birmingham Daily Post and Brighton Patriot (along with forty-four others). The major papers that carried on into the 20th and 21st centuries, such as The Times and The Guardian are not there, both because they are ongoing businesses and because they have developed their own commercial digital archives. And although the title says 1800-1900, the actual range is 1800-1913 – ideal for early cinema studies.

So, using our regular search term of ‘kinetoscope’, there are 433 hits overall, and five available for free. So there is a huge amount you can discover about the spread nationally of the first motion picture film device, even if some of those articles will not lead you to Edison’s invention but rather to a not very successful racehorse given that name (an early example of product sponsorship or simply the whim of a technologically-savvy owner? Someone should be researching this). ‘Cinematograph’ yields 1990 hits, sixty-one of them free. You can either view the article, the full page, or browse that issue. One other handy feature – each thumbnail says whether what you have looked for comes under News, Arts & Entertainment, Advertising, Business News or People, depending on the section from which it comes.

The model of a commercial body paying for the digitisation of out-of-copyright material like this, making it available to all through (relatively) low-cost subscription, while the host library gets its collection digitised and can make the results freely available onsite, is hopefully one that may lead to still greater access to newspaper content from this era. 2 million pages done; just 748 million left to do. While you’re waiting, go explore.

Broncho Billy rides again


This year Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival takes place 26-28 June, as usual organised by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum at the Niles Edison Theater, Niles, Fremont CA. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Independent Film Companies on the Rise’, and this is the schedule:

Friday Evening, June 26 – FROM LASKY TO PARAMOUNT

8:00 PM Main Program
The Enemy Sex – Betty Compson, Percy Marmont, Sheldon Lewis (1924)
A Trip Through the Paramount Studio – short: (1927)
When Clubs Were Trumps – Betty Compson, Neal Burns (1916)
The Butcher Boy – Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Buster Keaton (1917)
Phil Carli at the piano

Saturday Early Afternoon, June 26 – SHORT COMEDIES INTRODUCED BY DIANA SERRA CARY (Baby Peggy)

12:30 PM Comedy Program
Baby Peggy Birthday Newsreel – (2009, Niles-Essanay) Diana Cary and Fans
Cousins of Sherlocko – (1912)
Good Night, Nurse – Neal Burns, Billie Rhodes (1916)
The Kid Reporter – Baby Peggy (1923)
The Ghosts of Hollywood – William MacInnes Narrates (1931)
Drink Hearty – Snub Pollard, Marie Mosquini (1920)
Don’t Weaken – Ford Sterling, Charlie Murray (1920)
Judy Rosenberg at the piano


3:30 PM Program
Faith – Mary Miles Minter, Margaret Shelby (1916)
Photoplay Magazine Screen Supplement – A behind-the-scenes look (1918)
The Capture of Rattlesnake Ike – J. Warren Kerrigan, Pauline Bush, Louise Lester (1911)
Calamity Anne, Guardian – J. Warren Kerrigan, Marshall Neilan, Louise Lester (1912)
Jon Mirsalis at the piano

Saturday Evening, June 27 – THOMAS H. INCE DOUBLE FEATURE

7:30 PM Program
The Crab – Frank Keenan, Thelma Salter (1917)
One a Minute – Douglas MacLean, Victor Potel. (1921)
With short:
A Tour of the Thomas Ince Studio – A behind-the-scenes look (1924)
Jon Mirsalis at the piano

Sunday Afternoon, June 28 – THANHOUSER 100th ANNIVERSARY, Introduced by Ned Thanhouser

12:30 PM Program
The Woman in White – Florence La Badie, Richard R. Neill (1917)
With shorts:
The Evidence of the Film – William Garwood, Marie Eline, Florence La Badie (1913)
Just a Shabby Doll – Mignon Anderson, Harry Benham, Helen Badgley (1913)
Phil Carli at the piano

Sunday Late Afternoon, June 28 – MADE IN THE BAY AREA SILENTS

3:30 PM Program
The Call of the Klondike – Gaston Glass, Dorothy Dwan (1926)
With shorts:
A Trip Down Market Street – Days before the earthquake and fire (1906)
Dream Picture – Lance, Mabel and Jimmy Nicholson, Albert Anderson. (1925)
Pop Tuttle, Deteckative – Dan Mason (1922)
Judy Rosenberg at the piano

Sunday Evening, June 28 – FROM IMP TO UNIVERSAL

7:30 PM Program
Foolish Wives – Erich von Stroheim, Mae Busch (1922)
With shorts:
Behind the Screen – Al Christie directs a film at Universal (1915)
Behind the Times – Ethel Grandin (1911)
Lizzie’s Dizzy Career – Eddie Lyons, Victoria Forde, Lee Moran (1915)
Bruce Loeb at the piano

The festival warns that there is very limited seating and purchasing tickets in advance is strongly recommended. Tickets can be purchased locally, online (using PayPal), or by US mail. Futher details, including directions and accomodation details, are on the festival web page.

Medical matters


Fig 1: Photograph of the apparatus for cinematographic photomicrography of the capillaries of the nail fold in human subjects. A = an adjustable resistance; B = a motor, operated by a foot switch. From J. Hamilton Crawford and Heinz Rosenberger,’An Apparatus for Studies of Human Capillaries’, Journal of Clinical Investigation, 26 April 1926

Here at the Bioscope we like to keep an eye on online resources for the study of silent cinema, in particular digitised journals and newspapers. Few such resources exist online which are dedicated solely towards silent film, but there are plenty of a general or of a specialism other than film which contain material of great value to us. Plenty has been written here about newspapers, which you would expect to have worthwhile material, but our subject now is something a little more off the beaten track – medical journals.

It could be argued – in fact it has been argued – that it was scientific and medical investigation that brought about the invention of cinema. Chronophotographers in the 1880s and 90s, such as Etienne-Jules Marey, Georges Demeny, Ernst Kohlrausch and Albert Londe, used the emerging technology of motion picture film to record and analyse movement (chiefly human movement), generally with a medical or therapeutic aim in view. When motion pictures properly appeared on the scene, although they flourished as an entertainment, there were a number of medical investigators who took advantage of the new technology, such as Eugène-Louis Doyen (who filmed his operations in the late 1890s/early1900s) and Jean Comandon, who used microcinematographic film in completing his 1909 doctoral thesis De l’usage clinique de l’ultra-microscope en particulier pour la recherche et l’étude des spirochètes, and who went on to make films for Pathé. Other early explorers with a camera on the science/medicine border included Lucien Bull, Pierre Noguès, Gheorge Marinescu, Alejandro Posadas, Osvaldo Polimanti and Joachim-Léon Carvallo.


Fig. 2: Photograph showing details of the apparatus for cinematography of the capillaries. A = arc lamp; B = condensing system; C = heat filter; D = system for direct illumination; E = polarizer; F = microscope; G = stand for finger; H = camera; I = observation side piece; J = shaft; K = clutch

So it may not come as a surprise to find the cinematograph included among medical papers of the period, though the extent to which it is, and the number of people engaged in using motion pictures for medical investigation throughout the silent period, is nevertheless remarkable. Evidence of this can be found in digitised medical journals of the period, of which the major source is PubMed Central, the U.S. National Institutes of Health free digital archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature. PMC is a digital library for a worldwide scientific and biomedical community, dedicated to the preservation and free access. It began operating in 2000, and in 2007 a UK offshoot, UK PubMed Central was launched. What is of interest to us is that its archive includes many runs of historical journals, covering (for our purposes) the 1890s to the 1920s, among them the British Medical Journal, The Journal of Medical Research, The Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine etc.

And there is plenty to discover. Just type in ‘cinematograph’ or ‘kinematograph’ (the most productive terms) and you will uncover a world of pioneering investigation. There is a 1918 article ‘Cinematograph Demonstration of War Neuroses’, on the renowned film of shell shock victims at Netley (previously covered by the Bioscope here), ‘The Rôle of the Cinematograph in the Teaching of Obstetrics’ (1920), ‘Kinematograph Film illustrating Anastomosis of Facial Nerve in Cases of Facial Palsy’ (1925), ‘The Cinematograph in Medical Education’ (1928) and ‘Cinematograph Demonstration of Methods of Bone-grafting’ (116). There is a number of pieces on the question whether going to the cinema was bad for your eyesight. There are references to key investigators such as Marey, Comandon, Marinescu and Doyen. And there are incidental references that intrigue, such as the British Medical Journal noting with some interest its receipt of a booklet on Kinemacolor (“With the motion of the picture and the natural colour representation, together with a certain amount of stereoscopic relief, all rolled into one, it is difficult to see what further conquests in this direction realism has to make”).


Fig. 3: Print of part of a cinematographic film taken by the method described

All of the documents are available in word-searchable PDF format, immaculately ordered and referenced, as one would expect. One can also find articles and reviews from more recent times that cover our area. Of course, the number of film enthusiasts keen to read a paper entiteld ‘An Apparatus for Motion Photography of the Growth of Bacteria’ is likely to be outnumbered to some considerable degree by those who would rather seek their entertainment elsewhere. But for those of an enquiring mind, PMC is an absolute treasure trove for anyone keen to explore how the motion picture developed in its earliest years as a tool of discovery, and gives evidence that the medical community was, from the outset, welcoming of the new medium where it could advance understanding.

There are other such medical journal databases. The British Medical Journal has puts its whole archive online, searchable by year or by subject terms. It appears that the content is the same as that to be found on PMC, but one should never assume. Next, there is the archive of historical nursing journals made available by the Royal College of Nursing. This does have material which is not on PMC, and the terms ‘cinematograph’, ‘kinematograph’ and even ‘kinetoscope’ all yield interesting results. Here, for example, is an account from The British Journal of Nursing, 15 November 1919, on a screening of the film The End of the Road:

By the courteous invitation of the National Council for Combating Venereal Diseases (London and Home Counties Branch), we attended a private exhibition of an Educational Cinematograph Production. bearing the above title. This powerful film is authorised by the Council, and produced With the approval of the Ministry of Health at the Alhambra Theatre, It is scarcely necessary to state that the splendid endeavours of the N.C.C.V.D. are bearing abundant fruit. Only a few years ago the production of a play handling social and sex questions with such frankness would not have been possible on our English stage. To-day a mixed audience watches it with the reverent silence of a Church congregation, a proof that the senseless prudery which has been so largely responsible in the past for an enormous amount of preventable disease, misery and degradation is breaking down, and giving place to a more sane, enlightened, and wholesome attitude of mind.

In the case of both the BMJ archive and that of the RCN, the article are available for free, as word-searchable and downloadable PDFs.

The history of early medical film can be traced in Virgilio Tosi’s Cinema Before Cinema: The Origins of Scientific Cinematography (first published in Italian 1984 and in English in 2005) which is accompanied by a DVD, The Origins of Scientific Cinematography, which demonstrates the work of chronophotographers, ethnographers, scientists and doctors who used film at the turn of the last century. The DVD contains some beautiful and occasionally eye-popping images (my favourite is a German doctor, Ernst von Bergmann, from 1903, who swiftly amputates a leg and then makes a bow to the camera).

Other studies around this area include Marta Braun, Picturing Time: Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) (one of the most beautiful books I know, as well as brimming over with intelligence) and Lisa Cartwright, Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine’s Visual Culture, a thought-provoking study of the meaning and intentions of the medical film, boldly arguing for its alliance with the avant garde and popular culture. Not published yet, but allied to Cartwright’s preoccupations, will be Hannah Landecker’s book which has the working title Cellular Features: A History of Biological Film in Science and Culture, information on which can be found here. As Landecker notes, while many medical films were shown only to specialists, or were used for instructional purposes, others made it into the popular cinema – notably the films of Jean Comandon.

One of the interesting things is that people didn’t draw the line between science and entertainment … It was all seen as film — something new. People were really excited that they could see something they’d never seen before — films of far-away places and of small things inside the body.

Has that line been drawn since? Dr Doyen’s 1902 film of the separation of Siamese twins ended up being shown on fairgrounds (and can be found on YouTube, if you know where to look), and only last month Channel 4 gave us The Operation: Surgery Live. Medical film is popular film, because we are drawn to watch it. It is certainly a part of film history that it would be wrong to ignore.

Lobster catalogue online


For some while now we have all admired hugely the work of Lobster Films of Paris in discovering and restoring early films, many of them fascinatingly obscure and bizarre. But what exactly have they got? There have festival screenings, some DVD releases, and selected examples available on the Europa Film Treasures site, but in the absence of an available catalogue all we could do was speculate, and dream.

Well, we dream no more, because Lobster has published its full catalogue online. The catalogue covers over sixty years of cinema, from the 1890s to the 1960s, with its great speciality being early cinema. The main page describes those areas where the collection is strongest – early film, slapstick, jazz, cartoons, features, documentaries, erotic films, and detective stories. Click on ‘search’, and that takes you to a simple search page, where you can search from terms across either title or within a summary.

To the top right of the page, however, are two further search options, alphabetical or multicriteria. This is where the real discovery can take place. The alphabetical search is the browse option, so you may find the full range of titles per letter of the alphabet – 132 results under A, 180 results under B, 196 results under C, and so on. Clicking on any record gives you full descriptive details (variable across the collection, and a number have no plot description, so searches across summary are therefore going to produce erratic results). Several have a frame still illustration.

The multicriteria search option enables to specify search by title, director, actor, music, year, summary, category, keyword, sound, country, colour, version and format. So, very quickly, you may discover that Lobster has 173 films made by Georges Méliès, 16 titles featuring Douglas Fairbanks, and 20 titles from the year 1909. However, beware of uneven categorisation – I put in ‘France’ as country and ‘silent’ as sound type, and came up with only 138 titles, which is clearly wrong. Other instances of incomplete or inconsistent categorisation mean that the better option is to use the simple or alphabetical search options. Minor quibbles aside, this is a privileged glimpse into Aladdin’s cave. Go explore.

Crazy all over again


Crazy Cinématographe, the Luxembourg-based project organised by the University of Trier which seeks to demonstrates the power of early cinema by recreating the travelling fairground film shows of the early years of the twentieth century, is returning for its third year. Crazy Cinématographe will be setting up its tent once more on the Schueberfouer, Luxembourg‘s fairground, from 21 August to 9 September 2009. There will also be a free workshop, ‘The Art of Programming Early Cinema’, for film archivists, programmers, curators, media scholars, teachers and journalists on 4-5 September, with contributions from Eric de Kuyper, Mariann Lewinsky Straeuli, Vanessa Toulmin, and the curators of the Crazy Cinématographe shows, Claude Bertemes and Nicole Dahlen.

This is some blurb from the project flyer:

More than 20.000 fairground visitors attended the Crazy Cinématographe shows in 2007 and 2008 – a success beyond expectations. Among thrill rides and food stalls they spotted a strangely different attraction, they were lured by barkers into the cinema tent and discovered a spectacular time ride with early films. Densely packed in the Crazy Cinématographe tent, people howled with laughter until tears rolled down their cheeks, shouted disrespectful comments, clapped, held their breath, and shrieked with pleasure and horror. Crazy Cinématographe showed striking evidence that the early “Cinema of Attractions” is still an attractive formula for 21th century showmanship and that it is possible to garner popular audiences of the digital age for 35mm screenings of early films from the Belle Epoque period.

All in all 25 European film archives participated to the project by contributing their early cinema treasures to programmes as “Magical Mystery Tour”, “The Cabinet of the Bizarre”, and the legendary late night programme called “The Sex Lives of our Grandparents”. For film scholars and cinematheque programmers, Crazy Cinématographe will not only be a hilarious and crazy trip, but also a striking professional experience. Don’t miss it.

Those not in the vicinity of Luxembourg who don’t want to let the organisers down by perforce missing the screenings may be comforted by the knowledge that a DVD exists of films from the original Crazy Cinématographe show, available from the excellent Edition Filmmuseum. Rumour has it that financial pressures may mean that this is the last Crazy Cinématographe, a great shame for what has been a spirited coming together of academia and entertainment (two words that – let’s face it – seldom occur in the same sentence).

Contact details for more information on Crazy Cinématographe are here.