Pordenone countdown


Les Petits Pifferari (1909), part of the Corrick Collection, to be screened at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto

Time has slipped by, as time inevitably will, and those for whom the world of silent film tends to revolve around a small town in north-eastern Italy will be thinking that it’s about time they looked up what’s on offer at this year’s Giornate del Cinema Muto a.k.a. the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.

For those not in the know, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto is the world’s premiere silent film festival, hosted by La Cineteca del Friuli, and visited every year by hundreds of film buffs, historians, academics and archivists, who are treated to eight days of silent films of astonishingly diverse content and style, from countries all around the world, artfully presented in assorted themes, and accompanied by the leading names in silent film music. It takes place in Pordenone, an unassuming town an hour’s train ride from Venice, with main screenings held in the commodious Verdi theatre. It is never less than a marvellous way to spend the time, whether you are one of those who sit through every title (notebook in hand) from 9.00am to past midnight, or one of those who frequent the pavement cafes, convincing your neighbour of the importance of your next project or conspiratorially discussing archive politics.

This year’s festival takes place 3-10 October, and a large part of the programme has been advertised already, of which this is the summary:

Special Events
The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, US 1925)

Sherlock and Beyond
The Amazing Partnership; Bobby the Boy Scout or the Boy Detective; Inscrutable Drew, Investigator: The Moon Diamond; Lord John’s Journal: A Bargain with Chance; The Peril of the Fleet; The Sign of Four

A presentation curated by the Cinémathèque française, who are in process of restoring their large holding of Albatros Films
Carmen (Jacques Feyder, 1926), Ce cochon de Morin (Victor Tourjansky, 1924), Le chant de l’amour triomphant (Victor Tourjansky, 1923), Le chasseur de chez Maxim’s (Nikolai Rimsky, 1927), La dame masquée (Victor Tourjansky, 1924), L’heureuse mort (Serge Nadejdine, 1924), Justice d’abord (Jacob Protazanov, 1921), La nuit du 11 septembre (Bernard Deschamps, 1919), Le quinzième prélude de Chopin (Victor Tourjansky, 1922); Shorts: Harmonies de Paris (Lucie Derain, 1928), Nocturne (Marcel Silver, 1926)

The Canon Revisited
Dom na Trubnoy; Du skal aere din hustru; Der Golem; Gunnar Hedes saga; J’accuse; Rotaie; The Ten Commandments

The Screen Decades Project
Broncho Billy’s Christmas Dinner; The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend; The Perils of Pauline: The Aerial Wire; The Sinking of the Lusitania; The “Teddy” Bears

The Corrick Collection, 3
And a Little Child Shall Lead Them; A Baby’s Shoe; La Belle au bois dormant; Comedy Cartoons; The Day-Postle Match; Les Débuts d’un chauffeur; Down on the Farm; Her First Cake; How Jones Lost His Roll; J’ai perdu mon lorgnon; La Métallurgie au Creusot; Niagara in Winter 1909; Les Petits pifferari; La Poule aux oeufs d’or; Reception on, and Inspection of, H.M.S. “Dreadnought”; The Short Sighted Cyclist; Le Tour du monde d’un policier; Who Stole Casey’s Wood?

– Francesca Bertini (Mariute)
– Asta Nielsen (Asta Nielsen Mannequin; Die Geliebte Roswolskys; Steuermann Holk)

British Silents
Battling Bruisers: Some Boxing Buffoonery

Rediscoveries and Restorations
– Bois d’Arcy 40 – Le bonheur conjugal (Robert Saidreau, FR 1920), Graziella (Marcel Vandal, FR 1925), L’île enchantée (Henri Roussell, FR 1926), La vie merveilleuse de Bernadette (Georges Pallu, FR 1929), Études sur Paris (André Sauvage, FR 1928)
– Giuseppe Pacchioni
Die Gezeichneten (Carl Theodor Dreyer, DE 1922)
Kurotegumi Sukeroku (Shochiku Shimokamo Studio, JP 1929)
The Letter from Hollywood (US, c. 1926. Compilation film including the only known footage from the 1925 D.W. Griffith feature That Royle Girl, starring Carol Dempster and W.C. Fields)
Monkey’s Moon (Kenneth Macpherson, US 1929)
On Strike (Bud Fisher Films Corporation, US 1920)
The Three Kings/Ein Mädel und 3 Clowns (Hans Steinhoff, GB/DE 1928)
Haghefilm/Selznick School Fellowship 2009:
Kodachrome Two-Color Test Shots No. III (Eastman Kodak Company, US 1922)

Helsinki, ikuisesti (Peter von Bagh, FI 2008)
Heppy’s Daughter (Film Friends Productions, GB 2009)


Donald Sosin, Joanna Seaton and Jean Darling performing 2008’s Serenading the Silents

If you’ve been to Pordenone before, you’ll be doing your best to go again. If you’ve not been before, here’s the drill. The registration fee is 30 euros – thereafter, every screening is free, except for the opening and closing gala events. You should fill out the registration request form (available on the site) in the first place. If you attended the festival last year, or have recently contacted them by email, then they will have you on the mailing list, and this year’s registration details should have been sent to you by now.

Pordenone has several hotels of the plain but entirely suitable type, and the festival site provides a list of links and a map. The two airports that best serve Pordenone are Venice Marco Polo and Treviso (it’s a long journey from the third airport, Trieste, though having done it once I can recommend the dazzling views over the Adriatic from the coach that takes you from airport to Trieste train station). There is a regular bus service from Marco Polo to Pordenone, the Marco Polo Shuttle, or else catch the bus from the airport to Mestre train station and then it’s direct to Pordenone. An airport bus takes you from Treviso airport to Treviso station, on the same railway line to Pordenone.

Films are shown from 9.00am to midnight or so, with breaks around 13.00-14.30 and 18.30-20.30. All are presented by live music (chiefly piano, but with some specialist presentations, plus orchestral accompaniment for the gala screenings). The films – which are chiefly on 35mm – come from archives all around the world, and computer-generated subtitle translations are now replacing the traditional translation through headphones. There is also a Film Fair (books, posters, stills, DVDs etc), the Collegium for film studies students, masterclasses, and assorted special events, presentations and notable guests. And then there are the publications, the catalogue that’s a scholar’s treasure trove, and so many leaflets advertising events, publications and projects around the world that you’ll need a spare suitcase to carry them all.

All the relevant information can be found on the festival site. Pordenone can sometimes seem a little too much directed towards the specialised end of silent films, with completist retrospectives of people or studios you might struggle to find in the reference books, but there is no better place for discovering the depth and breadth of the genre. And the food’s great.

Revisiting Pathé


Georges Méliès’ Nouvelle Luttes Extravagantes (1900), from http://www.britishpathe.com

In the early, far-off days of the Bioscope I wrote two posts on the British Pathe collection of newsreels, 3,500 hours of freely-available digitised newsreels covering the period 1896-1970. One post was on the newsreels, the other on the early silent fiction films which lurk on the site, if you know where to look.

The site is still very much active, but after British Pathe was bought by private equity interests recently (the previous owner was the Daily Mail and General Trust) the site has undergone a revamp and has become that much easier for researchers to use. Previously you had to register to use the site, and to view any film you had to fill in personal details and then you could download a low resolution version. It was a somewhat laborious business, and in the new version (for which British Pathé has regained the acute accent on the e) the films are no longer downloadable Window Media files but are instantly accessible streaming files in Flash, without any of the form filling-in. Of course, it’s a little disappointing to not be able to take copies away, and it is disappointing also that the frame stills library has been removed, but the ease of access is a real boon.

The site is a marvellous resource for discovering silent film, and the life and times of the silent era. To remind you about what you can expect to find on the site, I’m going to reproduce some of my original 2007 posts. So, firstly, there’s searching for non-fiction material:

In 2002 British Pathe, owners of the Pathé newsreel library, put up the whole of its collection, thanks to a grant from the New Opportunities Fund’s NOF-Digitise programme. It was a controversial decision, because a commercial company was being given public money to do what some felt the company might have done for itself, but others welcomed a new kind of public-private initiative. The result for the public was 3,500 hours of newsreel footage from 1896 to 1970, available for free as low resolution downloads. Later 12,000,000 still images were added, key frames generated as part of the digitisation process. It was, and remains, one of the most remarkable resources on the net, and a major source for those interested in silent film.

Charles Pathé established the Société Pathé Frères, for the manufacture of phonographs and cinematographs, in 1896. A British agency was formed in 1902, and its first newsreel (which was the first in Britain), Pathé’s Animated Gazette, was launched in June 1910. This soon became Pathé Gazette, a name it retained until 1946, when it was renamed Pathé News, which continued until 1970. These newsreels were issued twice a week, every week, in British cinemas, and were a standard feature of the cinema programme in silent and sound eras.

Pathé also issued other films. It created the cinemagazine Pathé Pictorial in 1918, which ran until 1969. Eve’s Film Review, a cinemagazine for women, was established in 1921 and ran to 1933, while Pathétone Weekly ran 1930-1941. There were other film series and one-off documentaries.

All of this and more is on the site. Pathé were distributors of others’ films, some of which turn up unexpectedly on the site. For example, there are some of the delightful Secrets of Nature natural history films made by Percy Smith in the 1920s. There are also actuality films from before 1910 which Pathé seems to have picked up along the way, though not all of them are Pathé productions by any means – for example, assorted films from the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.

For the silent period, researchers should note that the collection is not complete. For the First World War and before (what British Pathe calls Old Negatives) the surviving archive is patchy, and the cataloguing records less certain with dates. For the 1920s, the record is substantially complete – indeed, there is unissued and unused material as well as the standard newsreels. These of course show events great and small throughout the decade, with an emphasis on sport, celebrity, spectacle and human interest. Look out in particular for the women’s magazine Eve’s Film Review, a delightful series with an emphasis on “fashion, fun and fancy”. For silent film fans, there are newsreels of Chaplin, Valentino, Pickford, Fairbanks etc. There are all sorts of surprise film history discoveries to be made, such as a Pathé Pictorial on feature film production in Japan in the 1920s.

Then there are the fiction films:

Pathé somehow picked up assorted pre-First World War films, some though not all made by its French parent company, and these got digitised alongside the newsreels and are available on the site. There is no index to these fiction films, so below is a list of some of the ones that I have been able to find, with descriptions and some attempts at identifying them, as few are given correct titles or dates:

(the first title given is that on the British Pathe database – enter this in the search box to find the film)

THE FATAL SNEEZE = comedy in which a man suffers from an increasingly violent sneeze. This is That Fatal Sneeze (GB Hepworth 1907).

THE RUNAWAY HORSE = comedy in which a runaway horse causes chaos. This is a famous comedy of its time, Le Cheval Emballé (FR Pathé 1907).

FLYPAPER COMEDY = This is a French comedy with Max Linder, in which Max has flypaper sticking to him which he then finds sticks to everything else.

THE FANTASTIC DIVER = early trick film in which a man dives into a river fully clothed then returns by reverse action in a swimsuit.

THE RUNAWAY GLOBE = Italian? comedy in which a giant globe intended for a restaurant runs away down a street and is chased by a group of people before being sucked up by the sun, only to be spat out again.

THE MAGIC SAC [sic] = French trick film in which an old man hits people with a sack and makes them disappear.

MYSTERIOUS WRESTLERS = French trick film where two wrestlers pull one another to bits. This is a brilliant George Méliès trick film, Nouvelle Luttes Extravagantes (FR Star-Film 1900).

ATTEMPTED NOBBLING OF THE DERBY FAVOURITE = section from a British racing drama, made by Cricks and Sharp in 1905.

THE POCKET BOXERS = trick film in which two men place two miniature boxers on a table and watch them fight.

ESCAPED PRISONER RETURNS HOME = guards wait while prisoner bids a tearful farewell to his sick wife. This must be a James Williamson film, perhaps The Deserter (GB 1904).

LETTER TO HER PARENTS = extract from a drama at which elderly parents are upset at a message they receive.

ASKING FATHER FOR DAUGHTER’S HAND = scenes from a film where a fiancée has to prove himself to the father.

HAVING FUN WITH POLICEMEN = British comedy in which two legs stick out of a hole in an ice-covered pond, placed there by boys to trick a policeman.

POINT DUTY = a policeman is run over by a car and put back together again. This is How to Stop a Motor Car (GB Hepworth 1902).

THE MOTOR SKATER = comedy where man buys a pair of motorised skates and causes chaos.

RUNAWAY CYCLIST = comedy where man buys a bicycle and causes chaos (as can be seen, this was a common theme for comedies of the period).

FIRE = mixture of actuality film of a fire brigade and a dramatised fire rescue. This is Fire! (GB Williamson 1901).

HAMLET = scene with Hamlet and his father’s ghost, using trick photography, from Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson’s production of Hamlet, a feature-length film (GB Hepworth 1913).

THE DECOY LETTER = early, rudimentary Western, where a soldier lures away an innkeeper with a decoy letter and attempts to assault his wife.

THE VILLAGE FIRE = comedy fire brigade film. This is The Village Fire Brigade (GB Williamson 1907).

THE RUNAWAY CAR = French comedy in which three men try to ride a bicycle and then a car.

RESCUED BY ROVER = a dog finds a kidnapped baby. This is of course the famous Rescued by Rover (GB Hepworth 1905).

One other point. British Pathe used to be managed by ITN Source and available from that company’s website as well, but the licensing deal has come to an end and all of the Pathé films have been removed from the ITN site.

The Bioscope Bibliography of Silent Cinema


I’d like to invite you to take part in an interesting project. For some while now I’ve been thinking about using the Bioscope, and the collective knowledge of its readers, to produce a research resource of some kind that would benefit the silent film studies community.

And so I’m announcing the creation of the Bioscope Bibliography of Silent Cinema. The aim is to create as comprehensive a bibliography as possible for early and silent cinema, using the catalogue of the British Library. The Library (my esteemed employer) recently published an experimental version of its online catalogue which allows registered users to tag, comment upon and sort records, and export data to annotation programmes. The aspect that interests me in particular is the tagging. This enables you to mark any titles in the catalogue with a keyword of your choosing. This facility hasn’t been used much as yet, but to me it seems a marvellous opportunity for creating catalogues. All one needs to do is to establish a keyword, assign it to every title that comes under that category, and you have your own catalogue. If it is a major subject, such as silent cinema, then you could make it a collective endeavour, benefitting from the shared wisdom of an intelligent crowd. Hence this project.

This is only open to those with British Library reader’s passes. The test catalogue can be consulted by all, but only those who sign in (with your reader number and password) can add tags. The tag I have created is “silent cinema”. All you have to do is select a book title from the catalogue; on the right-hand side of the record (see example below), under Tagging, you will see the instruction Assign/Remove Tags. Click on this and a box pops up inviting you to add a tag. You type in “silent cinema”, click on Save, and it’s done ((once you have done so, for the next title you click on, the tag will appear as a check-box automatically). The beauty of the system is that anyone can use the same keyword, so a team of people can be involved.



The British Library doesn’t have every book on silent film, but it has most. Moreover, this new version of the catalogue includes journals and newspapers (titles, that is, not individual issues), theses and music scores, with other media to follow in due course, such as manuscripts and sound recordings. I’ve no idea how long this bibliography might be eventually (a few thousand titles, certainly), but what the catalogue programme does is to break down the titles under any subject (such as “silent cinema”) by author, publisher, decade, material type, language or narrower subject, which aids searching and encourages discovery.

I have tagged some 430 records already, and you can see the results here: silent cinema.

Now I hope there may be some of you out there who will be willing to take part. Obviously some management is required. I have started to tag all the books indexed under ‘silent film’, but there are a great many that are not traceable that way. The books of the silent era themselves were not titled or classified as ‘silent film ‘ or ‘silent cinema’, and for the earlier years they may have been classified under photography, or theatre. Hidden or obscure titles can be brought to the surface in this way. One can select titles that one knows; one can select by author, or keyword. What I suggest is that anyone who is interested should get in touch, either via the comments to this post or through www.lukemckernan.com, and say which area you’d like to cover. It could be an author, a sub-subject area, a language of publication, a country, or whatever. I can then keep a record of what has been done.

Some rules to follow: make sure you tag every example of a title (the BL sometimes has more than one copy of a book); in choosing titles you should make sure they are relevant to silent cinema (and its antecedents), but you can include works that are not wholly about silent cinema (e.g. cinema histories); you must keep to the tag exactly as written (“silent cinema”); don’t interfere with anyone else’s tags. You can include novels (how useful it will be just to have a list of the literature of silent cinema), indeed anything that relates to silent cinema in one form another, published at any time. I haven’t attempted to define what silent cinema is. If in doubt, include it.


And then what will be do with such a work? Well, it will become – if enough people contribute to it – an invaluable research tool for all of us. It won’t just list all of the silent cinema books we can identify, but it will classify and sub-divide them. It will enable easy searching of themes. It will reveal titles that won’t turn up in conventional catalogues. It will open up new areas of study as different media that cover silent cinema are brought together. It will grow as new titles are published. And additional features and means to manipulate the data will emerge as the British Library further develops the functionality of its catalogue. One could even imagine other libraries, when have have similar catalogue functions, also being mined for silent cinema subjects and some glorious joint catalogue being created.

This will be a long job. I’ll be taking on the bulk of it, and I’m not expecting anyone to volunteer for a massive amount of tagging. You could simply select a dozen or so titles. Just let me know that you are interested, so that the project can be monitored. Remember, only those British Library reader passes can take part – but everyone can benefit from the results.

Let me know what you think.

Kermode on silents


Mark Kermode, the BBC’s amusingly opiniated film critic, has a second life as bassist with retro band the Dodge Brothers (another member is film professor Mike Hammond). At the recent British Silent Film Festival the Dodge Brothers accompanied the William S. Hart western White Oak (1921) and here Kermode talks about the experience. Once we have got past the unfunny silent pastiche at the start, Kermode typically enough has some sharp points to make, comparing the CGI-dominated summer blockbusters to the artistry of the silent film, and arguing that “we have lost the ability to tell stories through facial gestures… we have lost the melody of melodrama, we have lost the tunes that used to make cinema work”. Discuss.

3rd International Silent Film Festival



Next week sees the start of the Philippines’ 3rd International Silent Film Festival, the festival of classic silent films from around the world accompanied by Philippine music. The festival runs 30 July to 27 August, with screenings every Thursday at the Shang Cineplex Cinema 1, Shangri-la Plaza, Mandaluyong City. The festival is organised by the Goethe-Institut, Instituto Cervantes, Japan Foundation and the embassies of France and Italy in partnership with the Shangri-la Plaza.

Here is this year’s screening schedule:

July 30
JAPAN: JIROKICHI THE RAT (Oatsurae Jirokichi Koshi)
directed by Daisuke Ito, 1931
Music by Kalayo

The story was adapted by Ito from a novel written by Furukawa Eiji based on the life of Nezumi Kozo (The Rat), a notorious burglar active during the early 1800’s (the end of the Edo Period). Nezumi Kozo won great fame for his daring adventures stealing from the homes of wealthy people late at night. Eventually he was captured and executed in 1835.

The film follows Jirokichi as he leaves Edo for Osaka to get away from the police. Along the way he meets Osen, a young woman forced into prostitution by her older brother. Although Osen falls for Jirokichi, his heart goes out to Okino, a poor girl from a fallen samurai family. Jirokichi learns that it was he himself who brought about the collapse of Okino’s family when he robbed a rich feudal lord back in Edo. Nikichi, Osen’s older brother, has got his own plans for Okino.

August 6
ITALY: THE MECHANICAL MAN (L’uomo meccanico)
directed by Andre Deed, 1921
Music by Caliph8 with Kalila Agilos, Malek Lopez, Pasta Groove and Tad Ermitaño

A city is gripped in terror as a colossal robot runs rampant in an unstoppable crime spree. The police are powerless in the face of the frightening carnage and destruction, but the remotely controlled menace may soon meet its match – a second mechanical man is sent to confront it in a horrific showdown at the local opera house.

This ultra-rare, nearly forgotten silent horror epic from the dawn of Italian cinema was long considered lost. Some reels of the Portuguese release version were discovered in Brazil. The discovered film amounted to 740 meters which is believed to be approximately 40% of the complete film. Though missing much of its original footage, this historic work is still a striking and powerful piece of early fantasy film-making featuring one of the few directorial efforts by André Deed, a protégé of Georges Melies, the godfather of cinema magic.

August 13
GERMANY: PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (Menschen am Sonntag)
directed by Robert Siodmak, 1929/30
Music by Nyko Maca + Playground

A summer day in Berlin, 1929: With unpretentious humor this astonishing first film by artists who were soon to become Berlin exiles deals with how the working class spends its precious leisure time. Berlin is as empty as a ghost town, everyone flees to the countryside, the train stations are packed. Erwin, a taxi driver, meets up with a young traveling salesman and his female companions, who are on their way to a nearby lake for a day of swimming, snoozing, and flirting, leaving the cabbie’s wife to sleep away her Sunday.

Billed as a ‘film without actors’, each of the on-screen participants effectively played themselves and returned to their day jobs once production had concluded. The film is the early collaboration of five young Berlin-based filmmakers – Robert and Curt Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Edgar G Ulmer, Eugen Schuefftan and Fred Zinneman – who would all go on to great international success. Produced with little financial assistance, it made film history as the avant garde precursor of poetic realism.

August 20
SPAIN: THE CURSED VILLAGE (La aldea maldita)
directed by Florián Rey, 1930
Music by Johnny Alegre AFFINITY

A story about poverty, honor and forgiveness in a small Castilian village, during a time when women had no rights at all to live their own life without the protection of men. It depicts a dramatic experience of the capabilities of the human mind in a time that the concept of honour was completely determined by the grade of submission of your wife.

Juan Castilla lives with his wife Acacia and their child, and with the boy’s blind grandfather, Martin. Juan got imprisoned for quarrelling with the local political tyrant and usurer, Lucas, during a crisis. Magdalena, the neighbour, convinces Acacia to leave the impoverished town that seemed to have a curse on it. Three years later, Juan finds his wife working in a pub. He obliged her to return home and to serve the family until the death of the sick grandfather Martin.

August 27
FRANCE: FANTOMAS: UNDER THE SHADOW OF THE GUILLOTINE (Fantomas: A l’ombre de la guillotine)
directed by Louis Feuillade, 1913
Music by Corporate Lo-fi

Feuillade presents to us the character of Fantomas through a series of dramatic episodes: the robbery of the Royal palace Hotel, the successive transformations of Fantomas, and the substitution of the actor Valgrand. The masked hero is presented as a cruel being. We discover the mistress, Lady Beltham, accomplice and victim of Fantomas, then the obsessive inspector Juve introduced as her best enemy.

Bonner Sommerkino 2009


Evening screening at the Arkadenhof, Bonn University, from http://www.film-ist-kultur.de

Germany’s silent film festival Bonner Sommerkino returns to Bonn 13-23 August. The programme seems to get more eye-catching each year, and this time around highlights include the recently discovered oldest surviving Korean feature film, Cheongchun’s Sipjaro (Crossroads of Youth) (1934), Victor Sjöström’s Klostret i Sendomir (1919), a rare Mexican silent, El Puño de hierro (1927), everyone’s festival favourite Bardelys the Magnificent (1926), and Louise Brooks in William Wellman’s Beggars of Life (1928). The starry line-up of musicians includes Neil Brand, Stephen Horne, Günter Buchwald, Joachim Bärenz, Aljoscha and Sabrina Zimmermann.

Details of the festival are on the website, in German, which includes the programme. Here’s what’s on show – German titles in capitals, original language title (where relevant) in brackets:

Arkadenhof der Universität Bonn

Thursday, 13 August 2009
21.00 LIEBE ZU FUSS (Amor Pedestre)
Italy 1914, Marcel Fabre, 6 Min.
DER SPRUNG INS GLÜCK (Totte et sa chance)
France/Germany 1927, Augusto Genina, 97 Min.

Friday, 14 August 2009
21.00 DAS KLOSTER VON SENDOMIR (Klostret i Sendomir)
Sweden 1919, Victor Sjöström, 76 Min.
22.30 DIE EISERNE FAUST (El Puño de hierro)
Mexico 1927, Gabriel García Moreno, 77 Min.

Saturday, 15 August 2009
21.00 DIE BEIDEN SCHÜCHTERNEN (Les deux timides)
France 1928, René Clair, 62 Min.
USA 1921, Gregory La Cava, 56 Min.

Sunday, 16 August 2009
21.00 DIE HERUMTREIBER (The Vagabond)
USA 1914, Charles Chaplin, 15 Min.
BETTLER DES LEBENS (Beggars of Life)
USA 1928, William A. Wellman, 100 Min.

Monday, 17 August 2009
Germany 1922, Ernst Lubitsch, 103 Min.
Austria 1923, Raymond Dandy, 27 Min.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009
21.00 DER AUTONARR (Get Out and Get Under)
USA 1920, Hal Roach, 25 Min.
AUSGEFLIPPT (Running Wild)
USA 1927, Gregory La Cava, 80 Min.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009
21.00 DAS GESCHWÜR (Kobutori)
Japan 1929, Yasuji Murata, 10 Min.
USA 1925, Allan Dwan, 78 Min.

Thursday, 20 August 2009
Croatia 1935, Oktavijan Miletic, 11 Min.
UK 1928, Manning Haynes, 90 Min.

Friday, 21 August 2009
21.00 WASSER HAT BALKEN (Steamboat Bill, Jr.)
USA 1928, Charles Reisner, Buster Keaton, 71 Min.
22.30 NACH UNSERER TRENNUNG (Kimi to wakarete)
Japan 1933, Mikio Naruse, 72 Min.

Saturday, 22 August 2009
21.00 JUGEND AM SCHEIDEWEG (Cheongchun’s Sipjaro)
Korea 1934, Ahn Jong-hwa, 74 Min.
22.30 DER FAULPELZ (Lazybones)
USA 1925, Frank Borzage, 78 Min.

Sunday, 23 August 2009
Germany 1926, Berthold Viertel, 2 Min.
Germany/USSR 1929, Fedor Ozep, 120 Min.

LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn

Sunday, 16 August 2009
Vortrag mit Film von Milena Wazeck
Germany 1925, Hanns Walter Kornblum, 92 Min.

Sunday, 23 August 2009
Vortrag mit Filmbeispielen von Donatella Chiancone-Schneider
17.00 GALGENHOCHZEIT (Bardelys the Magnificent)
USA 1926, King Vidor, 90 Min.

La Promenade des Papillons

Time for another modern silent, and my thanks to The Mysterious Ad)ri.an B(e;ta[m.a.x. (possibly not the name on his birth certificate) at Cahiers2Cinéma for alerting me to La Promenade Des Papillons, written and directed by Los Angeles filmmaker Josie Basford. Here’s how she describes it:

Lillian Lavender loves to stroll with her pet butterflies, greeting her neighbors all along the way. When Monsieur Dastard hatches a plan for Lillian’s demise, her walk takes a dark turn. What will happen to dear sweet Lillian and her butterflies?

So long as you don’t ask too many questions along the lines of, why would anyone go for a walk with butterflies, then this is a pleasing, quirky film, put together with some inventiveness and a good eye for pastiche. It also boasts a very enterprising score. Interestingly, the intertitles are in French (with English subtitles). It would be interesting to know what you think of it.

Badford has made at least one other silent pastiche, a very short comedy entitled The Freeloader, which you can view on YouTube.

Conference diary


Newman House, Dublin

I was recently on my travels, attending a couple of conferences and a summer school, and this is my report. The first half of July was remarkably crowded with moving image-related conferences and other such events in the UK (and environs). Because of the jam-packed schedule, sadly I had to say no to the Visual Delights conference at Sheffield, on the theme of Visual Empires. This had an intriguing selection of papers surveying assorted lost empires and the media they sought to bend to their needs, with an encouraging number of new speakers (new to me, that is). Perhaps someone could say something about how they found the conference.

I also had to give a miss to Researching Cinema History: Perspectives and Practices, a symposium at Burlington House in London, which normally would have been right up my street, discussing as did the changes that seem to be happening to the historiography of cinema. For I was by then in Dublin, to speak to the Dublin James Joyce Summer School on Joyce and his fleeting management of the Volta cinema in Dublin in 1909 (centenary year, you see). This took place in the delightful Georgian building of Newman House, where they nervertheless managed to drum up a decent digital projector. The gathering of students looked a little bemused at times as I piled on the detail of how one went about managing (or mis-managing) a cinema in 1909, but they loved the film clips. A Cretinetti comedy (Come Cretinetti paga di debiti / An Easy Way to Pay Bills) and a scatalogical Pathé film C’est Papa qui à pris la purge, but could have been a film shown at the Volta entitled Beware of Castor Oil!, went down particularly well. The chances are now that it isn’t the film shown at the Volta, but it was certainly something like it (a man drinks his son’s castor oil medicine by mistake and gets caught short in assorted public places). In the end it was concluded that it was probably best that Joyce turned out to be such a poor cinema manager, because otherwise he’d have become a minor, prosperous businessman who never quite got round to writing that novel he’d been dreaming about, and none of them would have been there at such a summer school at all.


An uncredited Max Linder appearing in C’est Papa qui à pris la purge (1906)

And then it was off by plane to Birmingham followed by the epic train journey through Wales (anxiously following the first Test through text messages on the mobile phone) to get to the University of Aberystwyth for the Iamhist, or International Association for Media and History, conference, on the theme Social Fears and Moral Panics. Well, hard to go wrong with a theme like that, and there was a fine array of papers covering the multifarious ways in which the media acreates, reflects, perpetuates or addresses social fears – as well as being the subject of such fears itself. This was a particularly well-managed event, where for once I could find no complaint with any of the speakers that I heard (though surprisingly I encountered only one brave enough to try showing film clips) and all topics contributed usefully to the greater theme.

There wasn’t much on silent cinema, curiously enough, because the silent era had more than its fair share of moral panics – Fatty Arbuckle, Wallace Reid etc – indeed early cinema in general was ubiquitously viewed as a social threat of the first order. But for the record I heard papers on the ‘quality’ press and its adversion to commercial radio (Richard Rudin), the battles to preserve the Welsh language through film (Kate Woodward), how Limerick newspapers helped and hindered the fight against the 1832 cholera epidemic (Michelle Mangan), the very topical print history of influenza (Penelope Ironstone-Catterall), local reporting on the Ottoman bankruptcy crisis of 1875 (Gul Karagoz-Kizilca), the fears aroused by the arrival of the telephone (Gabriele Balbi), the image of Marconi operators given in the pages of Wireless World (David Hendy), the ‘Lady Chatterly’ trial and its press coverage (Nick Thomas), the use of fear in British government public information films (Linda Kaye, the speaker with the film clips) and the 1950s obscentity campaign against British seaside postcards (Nick Hiley).

In fact, the only silent cinema subjects I encountered were James Burns speaking on early cinema and moral panic in various parts of the British Empire, amusingly pointing out how different countries ended up worried about different things (in South Africa they feared racial mixing, in Southern Rhodesia it was sexuality, in the West Indies it was images that diminshed British prestige that concerned them, in India they worried about the threat of motorised crime); and me. I spoke on How Working Men Spend their Spare Time, a social survey conducted by George Esdras Bevans in New York in 1912, which I’ve written about on the Bioscope before now. You can find a copy of the talk on my personal website, should you be interested.


An impassioned moment from the debate on regulation and the media, with (L-R) Nick Cull (chair), Martin Barker, Julian Petley and Sir Quentin Thomas

There was a silent film screening, however. We were in the heart of Wales, with the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales just down the road, so it was more than appropriate that we were treated to Maurice Elvey’s The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918), previously described here in detail. The film was shown in NSSAW’s distinctively cylindrical Drwm cinema, and had Neil Brand playing the piano. A somewhat prolonged introduction over-sold the film, and it was a rather flat atmosphere that was created by an audience of worldy-wise media historians unaccustomed to adjusting their perceptions to the demands of silent film. In February when I saw the film at the British Library it was fresh and thrilling; here it seemed to drag, and its highlights seemed perfunctory. It’s the audience that makes the film, every time.

With the practice such conferences have of parallel sessions I missed many papers, while others I had to skip while putting together mine (a last-minute job, alas as usual with me). There were also plenary sessions: one on Government, Panics and Media Crisis (Virginia Berridge eloquent on AIDS, Merfyn Jones – former BBC governor – choosing his words with care but equally with feeling in recounting the fresh history of the Hutton enquiry into the Iraq war), and a thought-provoking session on Regulation and the Media, with Martin Barker on ‘disguised politics’, Julian Petley on the failure of the 1977 Williams committee which sought to change laws on obscenity, and an urbane turn from Sir Quentin Thomas of the British Board of Film Classification, who didn’t saying anything much but said it with authority.

My travels should then have taken me to Colour and the Moving Image: History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive at Bristol, but weariness overcame me. A shame, because this looked like an agenda-setting conference, with a remarkable range of papers mostly focussing on the aesthetic side of things. The publication of the papers would be very welcome.


The women’s 800 metres from De Olympische Spelen, the official film of the 1928 Olympic Games (a notorious event because one competitor – according to the evidence of the film – collapsed at the end of it, leading the event to be withdrawn from the Games until 1960 because it was thought to be too strenuous for women)

Instead, a few days later, I dragged myself to Pembroke College, Cambridge, for a conference held by the Sport in Modern Europe academic network. This was a select gathering of some of the leading sports historians, and I was somewhat dazzled to be in the same room as Richard (Sport and the British) Holt, Wray (Pay up and Pay the Game) Vamplew, and Kasia (Boxing: A Cultural History) Boddy. But no matter how wise in the ways of the world sports historians are generally, they welcome a bit of guidance when it comes to film, so that was my cue to speak to them about the films of the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games (again, as previously covered here at the Bioscope), with emphasis on the use of slow versus natural motion and whether the sports filmmakers of the silent era were more interested in athletic records or idealised athletic motion (a bit of both, really).

So there you are – a couple of weeks in the life of the roving academic, and illustration of just where film can take you because it has this marvellous facility to reflect – and illuminate – all subjects. Which is perhaps why James Joyce was drawn to it, why the workingmen of New York in 1912 preferred it far above any competing leisure attraction, and why the seemingly plain records of the Olympic Games of the 1920s grow all the more fascinating the more you try to unpick them.

Going to the show


Postcard of the Bijou, Wilmington, N.C., 1914, from Going to the Show

Though there are some who would deny it, cinema history involves the history of cinemas. The study of a medium that ignores the social form in which it has been consumed is a blinkered one, yet sadly so much of film studies exists in just such state of denial. Happily there has been a concerted effort by a dedicated band of academics in recent years to investigate cinema-going as an integral part of cinema history. Inspired in the first place by Douglas Gomery’s Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie in the United States (1992), the school uses socio-historial tools to analyse the experience of movie-going through patterns of audience types (age, gender, race, class), venue locations, social mobility, transportation links, purchasing power, leisure time and competing attractions. The significant output from such investigations has become the database which maps and documents particular territories. We’ve already had Cinema Context for the Netherlands and the London Project for the early film business in London. Now we have Going to the Show for North Carolina, 1896-1930.

This is a fabulous resource. It is going to make many other places wish that they had something much the same. Going to the Show “documents and illuminates the experience of movies and moviegoing in North Carolina from the introduction of projected motion pictures (1896) to the end of the silent film era (circa 1930)”. At its heart are 750 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of forty-five towns and cities in North Carolina between 1896 and 1922 that locate film venues within general urban life. All of these are mapped to a database (a welcome feature for the specialist is that not only are all the database fields explained but the database relationship diagram is given) to which have been added photographs, postcards, newspaper clippings, architectural drawings, advertisements and more. It totals over 1,300 film venues across two hundred communities.


Film venues marked on Sanborn fire insurance map for Burlington, N.C.

As said, Going to the Show is based around fire insurance maps, and gives this explanation of their provenance and use:

From 1867 to 1977, the Sanborn® Map Company of Pelham, New York, produced large-scale (usually 50 feet to the inch) color maps of commercial and industrial districts of some 12,000 towns and cities in North America to assist fire insurance companies in setting rates and terms. Each set of maps represented each built structure in those districts, its use, dimensions, height, building material, and other relevant features (fire alarms, water mains and hydrants, for example). The intervals between new map editions for a given town or city in the early decades of the twentieth century varied according to the pace and scale of urban growth — from a few years to more than five years. In all, Sanborn® produced 50,000 editions comprising some 700,000 individual map pages. Because almost all early movie theaters were repurposed from an existing retail space located in the commercial heart of a town or city, they appear on thousands of Sanborn® map pages after 1906. Larger, purpose-built theaters were included in later Sanborn® maps.

Going to the Show takes these precise records of film venues and marries them to Google Maps, with all the familiar tools of zoom-in, zoom-out, scan across and marking of venues with hyperlinks to further information. But it is the range of extra information that makes Going to the Show so powerful. Map searches can be refined by year, venues and period in which the venue was active, while you can select whether to view modern or historical map with an opacity slider, and bring in current street names. Each venue is marked with a Ticket icon, which links you to additional information.


New Bern, N.C. shown through modern Google map and Sanborn fire insurance map, pinpointng the Dixie Theatre 1913-1918 catering for African American audiences only

A major aspect of the research has been the racial division of film venues. Keen to demonstrate how race conditioned the experience of movie-going for all North Carolinians – white, African American and American Indian – the resource extends beyond the silent era to document every known African American film venue in North Carolina operational between 1908 and 1963.

What distinguishes Going to the Show is its attention to database searching and presentation. The faceted browse option shows how you can refine searches by item type (Architectural Drawing, City Directory, Commentary, Illustration, Newspaper, Organization, Overlay Map, Periodical, Person, Photograph, Postcard, Typescript, Venue),
location (by City, County or Region), venue name, date (allowing for searching by decade), and keyword or tag (including such useful terms as admission price, boxing films, children, fire, influenza, penny arcade, racial policy, religious objection and separate entrance). The tag ‘notable’ leads you to some of the choice items, such as this 1897 press notice saying that owing to the popularity of the Edison Projectoscope at the Wilmington Opera House that the dress circle will be reserved for “colored citizens”:


Wilmington Star, 20 March 1897

And there’s more. Robert C. Allen, James Logan Godfrey Distinguished Professor of American Studies, History, and Communications Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the presiding genius behind Going to the Show, has produced an eye-catching timeline for Wilmington, N.C., chronicling and commenting upon twenty-six venues from 1897 to the end of racial segregation in 1954. Business papers from this period are a rarity, and another very welcome feature is the Joyland Theatre Ledger, the manager’s ledger from 28 September 1910, to 14 January 1911, including expenses and ticket receipts.


Going to the Show is handsomely and sensibly presented. It merits detailed study. It has been produced as one of a number of University of North Carolina digital resources under the title Documenting the South. It ought to be the springboard for much further research, not simply within film/cinema studies, but as part of that general social history of which film history needs to be a part. This is the point – that so much of film history speaks only to those who know about film. It constricts itself to a narrow field by not speaking the language that is natural to other disciplines. I’ve mentioned at a couple of conferences what for me is the shocking case of G.R. Searle’s A New England? Peace and War 1886-1918 (2005), part of the New Oxford History of England. This 951-page magisterial history builds on new research in the areas of social, cultural, ecnomic and political history, yet among all those 951 pages just one throwaway paragraph is devoted to cinema. The bibliographic essay notes the extensive work done in music hall and sport history, but has nothing on cinema at all. Film historians – and in this case particularly British film historians – simply aren’t writing in a language than anyone else recognises, or cares about. The situation is better in America, as the work of Gomery, Allen, Garth Jowett and others indicates, but much much more remains to be done. Moreover, such moviegoing studies as there are often tend to get subsumed within concerns about spectatorship – handy enough in itself, but still making the audience subservient to the film. For discussion on this issues, read Richard Maltby’s essay for Screening the Past, ‘How Can Cinema History Matter More?‘, the title of which rather sums it up. To read about some of the other projects worldwide which are investigating cinema-going, see the HOMER website (History of Moviegoing, Exhibition, and Reception).

To understand the phenomenon of film, of course we need to appreciate it as an art form, but we must ask those basic questions how, where and when motion pictures were consumed, and to see their world as integral to a wider social world. Datasets and databases don’t answer everything by themselves, but they provide the foundations for thinking about the right answers. Going to the Show points the way.


Robert C. Allen would welcome any feedback from Bioscope readers. You can email him at rallen [at] email.unc.edu.

Laterna Magicka

As the Bioscope celebrates the immient arrival of its 300,000th visitor (keep on coming by folks, and tell your friends), here’s a taster for a sixty-minute documentary, Laterna Magicka, about the filmmaker Bill Douglas and his astonishing collection of pre-cinema artefects which now make up the Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture at the University of Exeter. The documentary has been made by Sean Martin and Louise Milne and produced by 891 Filmhouse in association with Accidental Media. It is to be included in the BFI DVD and Blu-Ray release of Douglas’ 1986 film Comrades, which features a magic lanternist as a central figure. The film, which tells the tragic story of the Tolpuddle martyrs, pioneers of British trade unionism, is released on both formats on 20 July.