Cento annia fa / One hundred years ago


As regulars to the annual Cinema Ritrovato film festival in Bologna will know, a standard feature of each festival (since 2003) has become the surveys of the films of 100 years ago, curated by Mariann Lewinsky. This year, you will not be startled to learn, the series reached 1909, and this year it was complemented by the release of a DVD of 1909 films from nine archives around Europe.

The DVD, Cento annia fa: Il cinema europeo del 1909, contains twenty-two films, and comes with a bi-lingual (Italian and English) booklet. It’s Region 2, PAL, and in total runs for two hours and twenty minutes. The films are accompanied by piano music by André Desponds, and included are a number of coloured films – and one film with sound. This is the line-up of titles, which are curated in four sections:

  • The Past is a Foreign Country: The World of 1909
  • KOBENHAVN I SNE (Copenhagn in Winter) (Denmark 1909 p.c. Nordisk)
  • UN VOYAGE A TOUTE VAPEUR (A Trip on an Ocean Steamer) (France 1909 p.c. Eclair)
  • CULTURE ET INDUSTRIE DU TABAC EN MALAISIA (Tobacco Cultivation and Industry in Malaysia) (France 1909 p.c. Pathé)
  • NORTH SEA FISHERIES AND RESCUE (GB 1909 p.c. Rosie Film Company)
  • L’INDUSTRIA DELLA CARTA A ISOLA DEL LIRI (The Paper Industry at Isola del Liri) (Italy 1909 p.c. Cines)
  • MARIAGE EN AUVERGNE (Wedding in the Auvergne) (France 1909 p.c. Pathé)
  • Newsreel 1909: Aviation! Futurism! Ballet Russes!
  • DANSE DU FLAMBEAU (Fire Dance) (France 1909 p.c. Les Films du Lion)
  • BLÉRIOT TRAVERSE LA MANCHE EN 31 MINUTES (Blériot Crosses the Channel in 31 Minutes) (France 1909 p.c. Pathé)
  • IL PRIMO GIRO D’ITALIA (The First Giro d’Italia) (Italy 1909 p.c. SAFFI-Comerio)
  • ANIMATED COTTON (GB 1909 p.c. Charles Urban Trading Company)
  • Debut of the Movie Star – Comedian and Diva
  • CRETINETTI PAGA I DEBITI (How Foolshead Pays his Debts) (Italy 1909 p.c. Itala)
  • AMOREUX DE LA FEMME A BARBE (In Love with the Bearded Woman) (France 1909 p.c. Pathé)
  • LA FEMME DOIT SUIVRE SON MARI (The Woman Should Follow her Husband) (France 1909 p.c. Gaumont)
  • LA FABLE DE PSYCHÉ (The Fable of Psyche) (France 1909 p.c. Pathé) [this has now been identified as LE MARIAGE D’AMOUR (Pathé 1913)
  • Coming Attraction: Feature Length
  • LE ROMAN D’UNE BOTTINE ET D’UN ESCARPIN (Romance of a Boot and a Dancing Slipper) (France 1909 p.c. Pathé)
  • IULIUS CAESAR (Italy 1909 p.c. Itala)
  • LE MOULIN MAUDIT (The Mill) (France 1909 p.c. Pathé)
  • LE CHIEN JALOUX (The Jealous Dog) (France 1909 p.c. Gaumont)
  • Farewell, Early Cinema
  • TWO NAUGHTY BOYS (GB 1909 p.c. Clarendon Film Company)
  • LES TRIBULATIONS D’UN CHARCUTIER (A Butcher’s Tribulation) (France 1909 p.c. Lux)
  • DER GRAF VON LUXEMBURG: MÄDEL KLEIN MÄDEL FEIN (The Count of Luxembourg: Duet Juliette-Brissard) (Germany 1909) [sound-on-disc]
  • VOYAGE SUR JUPITER / UNE EXCURSION SUR JUPITER (A Trip to Jupiter) (France 1909 p.c. Pathé)


Le Moulin Maudit

This is an excellent primer on early cinema, quite apart from serving as a record of where cinema had got to by 1909 – and indeed as a moving picture portrait of the world in 1909. There are a number of classic titles which should be sought out by anyone with an interest in early film – André Deed as the irrepressible Cretinetti in Cretinetti paga di debiti, with its impresive use of special effects (including stop-motion photography used on humans); Alfred Machin’s deliriously doom-laden melodrama set among the Dutch windmills – as the DVD booklet temptingly puts it, “a story of greed, adultery, madness, murder and suicide, and a sinister windmill” – Le Moulin Maudit; Joseph Rosenthal’s proto-Drifters documentary North Sea Fisheries; probably unique film of the Ballet Russes, featuring Tamara Karsavina; and a welcome addition to the few Segundo de Chomón films available on DVD, Voyage sur Jupiter. A fabulous selection, warmly recommended to all.

Sounds of the Silents workshop



The Sounds of the Silents is a one-day workshop focusing on live sonic practices for silent film exhibition to be held at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland on Tuesday 13 October 2009. The event is part of the Sounds of Early Cinema in Britain project, one of a number of academic investigations funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council as part of its Beyond Text programme.

This aim of the workshop is to enable participants to explore the use of live sonic practices with silent film. During the course of the day speakers will discuss approaches to, and the pragmatics of, these practices in a variety of contexts. The presentations and guest speakers are:

  • Sound effects in the silent era: historical evidence (exact title tbc)
    Dr Stephen Bottomore, film historian
  • The Film Explainer
    ‘Professor’ Mervyn Heard, cinema historian and lantern showman, explores the evolution, role and various dark arts of the describer in the early days of cinema.
  • The Art of Foley Sound
    Caoimhe Doyle, foley artist, and Jean McGrath, foley recordist
  • Plus contemporary responses from: Dr Martin Parker, Yann Seznec (aka The Amazing Rolo) and more

The workshop is aimed at postgraduate students of film, sound, and music (or related disciplines) and interested scholars. Owing to limited availability, attendance must be booked in advance, and early booking is advised to avoid disappointment. The organisers are also putting on a showcase of silent films with live accompaniment for the early evening in association with the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh (further details to follow), with tickets £3/£2 conc.

Registration is £10 – to include lunch and coffee/tea (waived for Royal Musical Association members). Cheques should be made payable to the University of Edinburgh, and sent (with booking form, PDF) to:

The Sound of the Silents
c/o Dr Annette Davison
Music, Alison House
12 Nicolson Square
Edinburgh EH8 9DF

Please contact Dr Annette Davison (a.c.davison[at]ed.ac.uk) if you have any questions. Further details (directions etc.) will be forwarded on receipt of payment/booking form.

Finally, two student bursaries (courtesy of the Royal Musical Association) are available. These cover the registration fee, and provide a contribution towards accommodation for up to two nights and travel. To apply, please state your name, university affiliation, address, email address, estimated cost of travel and whether you will need accommodation, and include a 300-word statement outlining how attending this sound effects workshop will enhance your research. Email to Dr. Annette Davison (a.c.davison[at]ed.ac.uk) by 5pm, Friday 11 September 2009.

Hannah House

We return – as we do from time to time – to the silent film of today, and to Hannah House. This is an independent modern horror film, shot as a silent (intertitles and all). The filmmakers are Chad and Max Smith, who claim that their tale of prairie life in 1904 is based on a true story (sigh), as a young family uncovers the horrid details of a house with a past. But though one might argue that we’ve been here before, and on many occasions, the style – from the trailer at least – is distinctive, going beyond pastiche to find something in the silent method and digitally aged look that genuinely complements its subject, with the look of decay echoing the corruption expressed in the film’s story, as the publicity blurb indicates:

Set in 1904, a young couple desiring to own land is convinced by a distant cousin to leave their comfortable city life to pursue homesteading in the Nebraska Prairie. A neighbor’s house and land has become vacant, and the couple is told they can have it. Possibilities of a new life and future for their unborn child overshadow any questions about what happened to the previous occupants of the house. Based on a true story, this chilling account written, directed and produced by brothers Chad and Smith portrays the hardships and desolation of prairie life as the young family unearths the horrifying details of the house and its past.

Hannah House, essentially a silent film, utilizes visual textures similar to those that occur now in many of the decomposing silent films from the 20’s. By capturing the imperfections of scratches, skips, dirt and trapped hairs, the result is like watching a painting of the desolate prairie come alive, and are also used as a narrative element to further the disturbing tone of this film.

Modern silents tend towards comedy, so this makes for a welcome change, though we have seen a few other examples of modern horror silents: Andrew Leman’s stylish H.P. Lovecraft homage The Call of Cthulhu (2005), Guy Maddin’s Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002), and most recently Jim Towns and Mike McKown’s Prometheus Triumphant (2008). It’s hard to tell just from a trailer, but it looks like Hannah House differs from the others, which adopt a style to capture a haunted mood, instead placing modern horror conventions in an alien setting. Either way, the films find a relevance in the silent film style that lies well beyond pastiche.

Hannah House was made by the Smith brothers’ Monkey Angel Studios and is available through the video-on-demand service Shiny Object Digital Video and on DVD in the UK. According to IMDb it was made in 2002, but doesn’t seem to have been seen much before 2005/06.

And, if you must, you can discover the ‘true’ story behind Indianapolis’ Hannah House (“the house that reeks of death”) here.

And there’s more from Warners


Marion Davies in The Patsy (1928)

A further batch of made-to-order DVDs from Warner Bros. has been announced, which includes a number of silents. As reported before, the films are in DVD-R format, burned to order, and priced at $19.95 for DVD copies in the post, $14.95 for downloads, and they can be ordered from www.warnerarchive.com. Although officially the titles are only available in the USA, it is possible for those overseas to order them if they do so through www.tcm.com.

These are the new titles:

  • Across to Singapore (US 1928 d. William Nigh), with Ramon Novarro, Joan Crawford, Ernest Torrence
  • The Boob (US 1926 d. William Wellman), with Gertrude Olmstead, George K. Arthur, Charles Murray, Joan Crawford
  • Desert Nights (US 1929 d. William Nigh), with John Gilbert, Ernest Torrence, Mary Nolan
  • A Lady of Chance (US 1928 d. Robert Z. Leonard), with Norma Shearer, Lowell Sherman, Gwen Lee, Johnny Mack Brown
  • The Patsy (US 1928 d. King Vidor), with Marion Davies, Marie Dressler, Lawrence Gray
  • Speedway (US 1929 d. Harry Beaumont), with William Haines, Anita Page, Ernest Torrence, Karl Dane
  • West Point (US 1927 d. Edward Sedgwick), with William Haines, Joan Crawford, William Bakewell

And, for the record, these are all the silent titles previously made available:

  • Beau Brummel (US 1924 d. Harry Beaumont), with John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Carmel Myers
  • The Sea Hawk (US 1924 d. Frank Lloyd), with Milton Sills, Enid Bennett
  • The Better ‘Ole (US 1926 d. Charles Reisner), with Syd Chaplin, Harold Goodwin, Jack Ackroyd
  • The First Auto (US 1927 d. Roy Del Ruth), with Russell Simpson, Frank Campeau
  • Old San Francisco (US 1927 d. Alan Crosland), with Dolores Costello, Warner Oland
  • When a Man Loves (US 1927 d. Alan Crosland), with John Barrymore, Dolores Costello
  • The Divine Lady (US 1929 d. Frank Lloyd), with Corinne Griffith, Victor Varconi
  • Scaramouche (US 1923 d. Rex Ingram) with Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry
  • Souls for Sale (US 1923 d. Rupert Hughes) with Barbara La Marr, Eleanor Boardman
  • The Red Lily (US 1924 d. Fred Niblo) with Ramon Novarro, Enid Bennett
  • Exit Smiling (US 1926 d. Sam Taylor) with Beatrice Lillie, Jack Pickford
  • The Temptress (US 1926 d. Fred Niblo) with Greta Garbo, Antonio Moreno
  • Love (US 1927 d. Edmund Goulding) with Greta Garbo, John Gilbert
  • The Red Mill (US 1927 d. William Goodrich) with Marion Davies, Owen Moore
  • Spring Fever (US 1927 d. Edward Sedgwick) with Joan Crawford, William Haines
  • The Smart Set (US 1928 d. Jack Conway) with Alice Day, Jack Holt
  • The Trail of ‘98 (US 1928 d. Clarence Brown) with Dolores del Rio, Harry Carey
  • The Kiss (US 1929 d. Jacques Feyder) with Greta Garbo, Conrad Nagel
  • The Single Standard (US 1929 d. John S. Robertson) with Greta Garbo, Nils Asther
  • Wild Orchids (US 1929 d. Sidney Franklin) with Greta Garbo, Lewis Stone

All of the silent titles listed on the Warners site can be seen here. Each comes with a video clip which you can now embed in your own website, though not it seems in a WordPress blog, alas.

The Bioscope Guide to … China


Ruan Lingyu in The Goddess (Shen nu) (1934)

Wine, music and cinema are the three greatest creations of humanity. Of these the cinema is the youngest and most powerful. It can stimulate minds into day-dreaming. Dream is the free movement of the heart and it mirrors the sadness of the oppressive world…

At last we return to our occasional series of national histories of silent film, providing an overview of film production, personalities, publications and resources for the silent film era in the chosen country. We began the series with Italy; now we turn our attention to China, whose history of filmmaking in the silent era is as rich as any, not least because it continued well into the 1930s. The opening quotation comes from the charter of the South China Film Drama Society, from around 1926, as reproduced in Jay Leyda’s peerless Dianying (Electric Shadows), a history of film and the film audience in China.

Motion pictures came to China on 11 August 1896, when a show was presented by an unnamed Spaniard at the Hsu Gardens, Shanghai. American James Ricalton presented a programme of Edison films at the Tien Hua Tea Garden, Shanghai, in July 1897, and took several films of local scenes in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Canton. For several years the only films seen in China were imported and the only films on China were taken by foreigners, such as Joseph Rosenthal, Burton Holmes and British MP Ernest Hatch, all around the time of the Boxer rebellion in 1900.

The first Chinese film was made in 1905, Ding Jun Shan (Conquering Jun Mountain), an scene from the Peking Opera, filmed by Beijing photographer Ren Qingtai. Other such excerpts from operas continued to be made on an infrequent basis to 1909, when a next stage of development came with the Asia Film and Theater Company, founded by the Russian-American Benjamin Brodsky in Shanghai. Asia Film made shorts such as Buxing Er (Unfortunate Child) (1909) and Tou Shao Ya (Stealing a Roast Duck) (1909), the first film made in Hong Kong [this film is now thought to date from 1914 – see comments]. Brodksy returned to America during the turbulent period that led to the formation of the Republic of China in 1912, returning in 1913 for Nanfu, Nanqi (A Couple in Difficulty), the first Chinese feature film.

Chinese film production at this time was small-scale and localised, often restricted to a single theatre for use as theatrical interludes. Knockabout comedies was the predominant style. Film theatres were starting to spread, at least in the cities, but showed almost exclusively foreign films. Production had effectively ceased during much of the Frist World War period because film stock (which had to be imported) became unavailable. Change began in the early 1920s with new film companies: Commercial Press, Shanghai Film Company, Mingxing, Changcheng, Baihe and Da Zhonghua among them. By the middle of the decade Chinese production was highly active if volatile (many companies came and went quickly) and feature films were the norm. Notable titles include Guer Jiu Zu Ji (Orphan Rescues Grandfather) (1923), Kong Gu Lan (Lonely Orchid) (1926) and Xi Xiang Ji (Romance of the West Chamber) (1927), the latter an early example of an historical costume drama. Kung fu and swordplay films were also popular at this time.


The golden age of Chinese filmmaking came in the 1930s. Just at the point where Western countries were abandoning silent film, the Chinese cinema (partly owing to problmes in obtaining adequate sound equipment) glorified in its opportunities, and although a few sound films were made from 1931 onwards, essentially the period 1930-37 was a silent cinema period, dominated by film production from Shanghai. The leading studios were Mingxing, Tianyi and Lianhua. Production was often dominated by Leftist concerns (particularly those from Lianhua), concentrating on the struggles of ordinary people and contemporary, patriotic concerns. Examples include Xiao Wanyi (Little Toys) (1933) directed by Sun Yu (above) and Bugao Cheng’s Chun Can (Spring Silkworms) (1933). Nevertheless the films were chiefly consumed by a middle-class which valued glossy production values that showed the strong influence of American cinema. Classic melodramas, often with suffering central female figure, include The Goddess (Shen nu) (1934) and Tianming (Daybreak) (1933). These differences in production reflected the political tension of the period, with the growing differences between Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist Kuomintang and the Communists. Anti-Japanese rhetoric also characterised a number of the films.

The Shanghai studios had their film stars. Renowned names include Hu Die, Li Lili, Ruan Lingyu, Zhou Xuan, Zhao Dan and Jin Yan. Li Lili is the spirited central figure of Sun Yu’s upbeat tales of workers’ strength and nationalist struggle, though she could also play tragic roles, as in Tianming (Daybreak). Perhaps most notable actress, however, was Ruan Lingyu, whose suffering on-screen persona was reflected in her private life, commited suicide in 1935, aged just 24, after having played a film actress hounded by right-wing critics in Cai Chusheng’s Xin Nu Xing (New Woman) (1934).

The golden period ended with the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. Most production companies closed down, and in any case the era of Chinese silent cinema was over. The survival rate for Chinese silents is not great – of the estimated 1,100 titles produced between 1905 and 1937 only 5% are known to exist. Happily the best of these have become more available in recent years, with a couple of ground-breaking programmes at the Pordenone silent film festival in 1995 and 1997 being followed by DVD releases and a growth in critical literature and web resources.

Notable filmmakers
Zhang Shichuan, Ren Pengnian, Sun Yu, Bu Wancang, Cai Chusheng, Wu Yonggang, Cheng Bugao, Fei Mu, Shi Dongshan

Notable performers
Fan Xuepeng, Xu Qinfang, Ruan Lingyu, Li Lili, Hu Die, Zhou Xuan, Zhao Dan, Jin Yan, Lan Ping (aka Jiang Qing, the future Madame Mao)

These are the DVDs I can find from English-language sources – I’ll add more as I come across them.

A number of Chinese silents are available in the USA on the Cinema Epoch label. The quality of the transfers (and the originals) is unfortunately poor:

Other DVDs also available:

Some Chinese silents are available to view on the Internet Archive:

Center Stage (1992) is a bio-pic based on the life of Ruan Lingyu, starring Maggie Cheung


Archives and museums


Remixed into silence

This an interesting development. Shown last week at the Edinburgh Festival and this week at London’s Rich Mix arts centre was Mother India – 21st Century Remix, or MI21. DJ Tigerstyle has taken the classic 1957 Indian film Mother India, directed by Mehboob Khan, and reimagined it as a 45-minute silent film. Tigerstyle (“world champion scratch DJ”) is joined by Matt Constantine on keyboards and cello, David Shaw on drums and Josh Ford on visuals. The promo above includes some clips of the performance, alongside interviews, audience reaction and so forth. The film’s website describes it thus:

Presenting the film to a contemporary audience, whilst preserving the power and vitality of the original piece is the key to this work. At 45 minutes in length, MI21 will engage you through the music to understand how dynamic a story the film has to tell.

Setting aside the qualms some may feel at seeing a cinema classic being deconstructed in this way (with the implication that a contemporary audience wouldn’t be able to sit through the original), it is a triumph of some sort for the art of the silent film, reclaiming a sound film through its images as one of its own. What other sound films have been reconstituted as silents? I know of one other recent example, the group British Sea Power adding a music soundtrack to an edited-down version of Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran (1934), which once had a perfectly serviceable soundtrack of its own:

Interesting that some of the chat about this video has suggested that Flaherty’s film was a silent film originally (its sounds and dialogue may have been post-synched, but there was very much sound there all the same). It seems to be part of a similar urge for the poetics of the silent film. Maybe the sound dies for some films, eventually, but the images live on. Something to ponder, and a trend to look out for.

Meanwhile, Mother India – 21st Century Remix can be experienced at the following venues:

* Sat 05 Sept – Brighton Pavillion Theatre – 01273 709709
* Tue 22 Sept – Bristol Colston Hall – 0117 922 3686
* Sat 10 Oct – Coventry Belgrade Theatre – 024 7655 3055
* Sat 24 Oct – Bridlington Musicport Festival – 0845 3732760

Mr Laurel, Mr Hardy and Mr Bhaskar



The admirable attempts by the Bristol Silents crowd to rope in British comedy celebrities to promote the silent film proceeds apace. After Paul Merton, Eric Sykes, Phill Jupitus, Tim Brooke Taylor, Graeme Garden and Neil Innes, the latest welcome volunteer is Sanjeev Bhaskar, who is to be the host of a special event, Laurel and Hardy’s Comedy Mayhem, at the Colston Hall, Bristol, 9 September 2009. Here’s the blurb:

It’s 80 years since Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy made their transition from silent to sound film and Bristol’s Slapstick Silent Comedy Festival celebrates their extraordinary onscreen legacy with a special live gala evening of film and music hosted by writer and comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar.

Best known for his work on Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No 42 Sanjeev has selected his favourite Stan and Ollie comedies to delight new audiences including their oscar winning classic THE MUSIC BOX (1932) in which the boys play removal men who are trying to deliver a piano up a monumental flight of stairs!

Other highlights include live musical performances from a capella vocal group The Matinee Idles and a special appearance from Our Gang member and child performer with Stan and Ollie – Hollywood legend Jean Darling.

All this plus the world premiere of a newly commissioned orchestral score for the Laurel and Hardy classic silent comedy DOUBLE WHOOPEE (1929) featuring Jean Harlow’s screen debut and accompanied by the from Günter Buchwald and performed by the wonderful Emerald Ensemble.

A rare opportunity to see comedy legends Laurel and Hardy on the big screen with one of Britain’s best loved comic performers.

Let the mayhem begin!

The event is designed to help raise funds for next year’s Slapstick festival, so well worthy of your patronage if you’re anywhere in the Bristol vicinity.

Shakespeare on screen

Here’s news of a conference on Shakespeare and film which includes silent Shakespeare in its call for papers – though you’ll have to hurry, as the deadline is 28 August. The conference takes place at the Ohio University Inn and Conference Center, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, USA, 22-24 October 2009:


Keynote Speakers

* Peter Holland (University of Notre Dame)
* Linda Charnes (Indiana University)
* Douglas Lanier (University of New Hampshire)

The conference organizing committee invites abstracts (200-300 words) or papers on a range of issues in film and television productions of Shakespeare from the Silents to the Age of Branagh and Baz. Papers can focus on individual films; the work of major directors; intertextual (and visual) dialogue between Shakespeare films or between stage and film Shakespeares; television Shakespeare; spin-off films and television programs; Shakespeare in cyberspace; global Shakespeare; theories of appropriation and adaptation; editions and screenplays; funding, promotion and marketing; photography and trailers; DVD material; audience; film scores; cinematography; cultural context; film clips; and teaching strategies.

Abstracts or papers are due by June 5, 2009 (early decision) or August 28, 2009 (final deadline). All inquiries should be directed to: Samuel Crowl/Department of English/Ohio University/Athens, Ohio/45701 or via email to crowl[at]ohio.edu.

All sessions of the conference except the Thursday evening keynote lecture will be held at the Ohio University Inn located just across the Hocking River from the campus of Ohio University. Special room rates will be available for conference attendees. The Friday evening conference banquet will be included in the registration fee.

Talking silents


Talking Silents, vols. 1-4

One of the great treasures available to anyone with a serious interest in the history of silent cinema is the Talking Silents series produced by Digital Meme. This is a series of ten DVDs of Japanese silents films, with two or three titles per disc. Silent cinema continued in Japan well into the 1930s, but survival rates for Japanese silents make for sorry reading. It is estimated that between 95-99% of all Japanese silent films are lost (with almost none before 1923 owing to the destruction of the Nikkatsu film store in the Tokyo earthquake). Those that do survive are often in a poor condition. Classics such as Kinugasa Teinosuke’s A Page of Madness (1926) and Yasujiro Ozu’s I Was Born But… (1932) are well-known, but what is so interesting about the Digital Meme series is that it includes comparatively routine genre works, so that one gets a real taste of popular Japanese silent cinema.

The striking feature of the series is the use of benshi narration. In the silent era (and even for a while the sound period), Japanese films were accompanied by narrators, an inheritance from the Japanese theatrical tradition. Originally each part in a film was taken by a separate off-screen performer, until the film industry rebelled against this theatrical domination, around 1920, and the single benshi tradition began. The benshi were the stars of Japanese silent cinema: audiences revered theme, and the performers developed individual styles. The DVDs include narrations from recordings made of benshi in the 1970s and 80s, and recreations of the style by Midori Sawato. The narration is an optional feature, and the films carry both the original Japanese titles and English translated titles.

The films present fine mixture of styles, including samurai tales and contemporary dramas, with some early titles from the great master Kenji Mizoguchi. This is full list:

Talking Silents 1:

* Taki no Shiraito (The Water Magician)
Produced by Irie Production, 1933
98 minutes / 24 fps
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Cast: Takako Irie, Tokihiko Okada, Ichiro Sugai

* Tokyo Koshinkyoku (Tokyo March)
Produced by Nikkatsu Uzumasa, 1929
28 minutes / 24 fps
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Cast: Shizue Natsukawa, Reiji Ichiki, Isamu Kosugi

Talking Silents 2:

* Orizuru Osen (The Downfall of Osen)
Produced by Daiichi Eiga, 1935
90 minutes / 24 fps
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Cast: Isuzu Yamada, Daijiro Natsukawa, Ichiro Yoshizawa

* Tojin Okichi
Produced by Nikkatsu Uzumasa, 1930
4 minutes / 24 fps
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Cast: Yoko Umemura

Talking Silents 3:

* Orochi (Serpent)
Produced by Bantsuma Production, 1925
74 minutes / 24 fps
Directed by Buntaro Futagawa
Cast: Tsumasaburo Bando, Misao Seki, Utako Tamaki

* Gyakuryu (Backward Flow)
Produced by Toatojiin, 1924
28 minutes / 16 fps
Directed by Buntaro Futagawa
Cast: Tsumasaburo Bando, Benisaburo Kataoka, Teruko Makino

Talking Silents 4:

* Koina no Ginpei, Yuki no Wataridori (Koina no Ginpei, Migratory Snowbird)
Produced by Bantsuma Production, 1931
60 minutes / 24 fps
Directed by Tomikazu Miyata
Cast: Tsumasaburo Bando, Kikuya Okada, Reiko Mochizuki

* Kosuzume Toge (Kosuzume Pass)
Produced by Makino Tojiin, 1923
39 minutes / 16 fps
Directed by Koroku Numata
Cast: Banya Ichikawa, Shinpei Takagi, Tsumasaburo Bando

Talking Silents 5:

* Kurama Tengu
Produced by Arakan Production, 1928
71 minutes / 24 fps
Directed by Teppei Yamaguchi
Cast: Kanjuro Arashi, Takesaburo Nakamura,
Reizaburo Yamamoto, Kunie Gomi and Keiichi Arashi

* Kurama Tengu Kyofu Jidai (The Frightful Era of Kurama Tengu)
Produced by Arakan Production, 1928
38 minutes / 16 fps
Directed by Teppei Yamaguchi
Cast: Kanjuro Arashi, Reizaburo Yamamoto, Kunie Gomi and Keiichi Arashi

Talking Silents 6:

* Nishikie Edosugata Hatamoto to Machiyakko (The Color Print of Edo: Hatamoto to Machiyakko) (1939, Shinko Kinema, 65 min.)
Directed by Kazuo Mori
Cast: Utaemon Ichikawa, Yaeko Kumoi, Shinpachiro Asaka, Wakako Kunitomo

* Dokuro (Skull) (1927, Ichikawa Utaemon Production, 32 min.)
Directed by Sentaro Shirai
Cast: Utaemon Ichikawa, Kokuten Takado, Ritsuko Niizuma

Talking Silents 7:

* Oatsurae Jirokichi Koshi (Jirokichi the Rat) (1931, Nikkatsu, 61 min.)
Directed by Daisuke Ito
Cast: Denjiro Okochi, Naoe Fushimi, Nobuko Fushimi, Minoru Takase

* Yajikita Sonno no Maki (Yaji and Kita: Yasuda’s Rescue) (1927, Nikkatsu, 15 min.)
Directed by Tomiyasu Ikeda
Cast: Goro Kawabe, Denjiro Okochi

* Yajikita Toba Fushimi no Maki (Yaji and Kita: The Battle of Toba Fushimi(1928, Nikkatsu, 8 min.)
Directed by Tomiyasu Ikeda
Cast: Goro Kawabe, Denjiro Okochi

Talking Silents 8:

* Kodakara Sodo (1935, Shochiku Kamata, 33 min.)
Directed by Torajiro Saito
Cast: Shigeru Ogura, Yaeko Izumo

* Akeyuku Sora (1929, Shochiku Kamata, 71 min.)
Directed by Torajiro Saito
Cast: Yoshiko Kawada, Mitsuko Takao

Talking Silents 9:

* Roningai Dai Ichiwa (1928, Makino Production, 8 min.)
Directed by Masahiro Makino
Cast: Komei Minami, Juro Tanizaki, Toichiro Negishi

* Roningai Dai Niwa (1929, Makino Production, 72 min.)
Directed by Masahiro Makino
Cast: Komei Minami, Hiroshi Tsumura, Toichiro Negishi

* Sozenji Baba (1928, Makino Production, 32 min.)
Directed by Masahiro Makino
Cast: Komei Minami, Shinpei Takagi, Toroku Makino

Talking Silents 10:

* Jitsuroku Chushingura (Chushingura: The Truth)
Produced by Makino Production, 1928, 64 min.
Directed by Shozo Makino
Cast: Yoho Ii, Tsuzuya Moroguchi, Kobunji Ichikawa, Yotaro Katsumi

* Raiden
Produced by Makino Production, 1928, 18 min.
Directed by Shozo Makino
Cast: Toichiro Negishi, Arata Kaneko, Masahiro Makino


Talking Silents vols. 5-8

You get a little in the way of extras on each of the DVDs: a commentary from film critic Tadao Sato, an introduction by modern benshi Midori Sawato. The Digital Meme site has downloadable PDFs of introductions by Tadao Sato. The DVD booklets are thin and half in Japanese, half-English. What is noteworthy is the offer made to educational institutions. Digital Meme makes the series available under three prices: Home Use (allowing individual viewings), Rental Use (allowing institutions to give their members and affiliated persons the right to rent the collection and take it out of their libraries) and Institutional Screening Rights Agreement (for institutions that want to screen the DVDs to a public audience within their premises, or at an affiliate, on a non-commercial basis).

Digital Meme also make available a 1980 documentary on DVD on the life of film actor Tsumasaburo Bando, Bantsuma: The Life of Tsumasaburo Bando (Bantsuma: Bando Tsumasaburo no shogai), and a 4-DVD set Japanese Anime Classic Collection. This is a treasure trove of early Japanese animation, with some of the translated titles delightfully giving indication of their idiosyncratic content: The Tiny One Makes It Big, Dekobo the Big Head’s Road Trip, Why is the Sea Water Salty?, The Duckling Saves the Day. A section of the Digital Meme site gives details of each of the 55 titles on the four-disc set, with frame stills and some synopses. The set comes with English subtitles (and Chinese, and Korean), some live benshi narration, and examples of anime with synchronised audio tracks from gramophone records.


Dekobo no Jidosha Ryoko (Dekobo the Big Head’s Road Trip)

And there’s more. Digital Meme also markets Masterpieces of Japanese Silent Cinema, a DVD-Rom which includes extracts from forty-five films, a database of 12,000 film titles, almost 1,000 stills, posters, original programmes and leaflets, interviews with film veterans, and reference articles, making it an interactive encyclopedia of Japanese silent film, albeit at a price of 18,000 Yen (around $180) which means only institutions are likely to purchase it.

For more on Japanese silent cinema, here’s a few handy sources:

On or about December 1910, human character changed


On or about December 1910, human character changed. I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered, or that a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, nevertheless; and, since one must be arbitrary, let us date it about the year 1910.

So wrote Virginia Woolf in her 1924 essay ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’. What a load of old elitist rhubarb, you may think, but it’s a gem of a phrase for starting up a debate, putting together a book, or organising a conference. And it’s the latter route that the Scottish Network of Modernist Studies and the British Association of Modernist Studies have taken in organising ‘The 1910 Centenary Symposium’, to be held at the University of Glasgow, December 2010, which takes Woolf’s statement as its theme. Interestingly their concerns include film, as the pre-call for papers indicates:

We are inviting scholars from any discipline to respond to any aspect of this statement by suggesting panels and papers. A formal call for papers will follow later this year. Current panel proposals under consideration include: 1910 films; Scotland 1910; Women in 1910; and 2010: Human Character in the Age of Climate Change. Other areas that have been suggested as possible include: periodization; The Post-impressionist exhibition; 1910 from 1924; the grammar of modernism; 1910 and social/political activism.

Plenary speakers will include Jean-Michel Rabaté (University of Pennsylvia) and David Peters Corbett (University of York). The conference aims to bring together scholars from a wide variety of disciplines, from the UK and beyond. Although the majority of participants are likely to be modernist scholars, we do not want to limit participation to those who regard themselves as modernist scholars, and are keen to include the kind of oppositional and interrogative stances that the tone of the quotation implicitly encourages.

Proposals for panels and papers and expressions of interest should be sent to conference organisers Bryony Randall and Matthew Creasy via email at snms[a]arts.gla.ac.uk

So, what was pivotal about film in 1910 (or December 1910 for that matter)? Assuming such a thing as a change in human character at this time (and I guess we’re talking about people in the Western World – those most able to go to cinemas, for example), how might film have reflected it, or have been changed by it? It’s not generally cited as a pivotal year in early cinema form, except that every year around that time reflects some form of a step forward given the rapid evolution of the medium. But it was the year in which – in the UK at least – cinema became all-conquering, in its way a powerful agent for social change because of the command it had on people’s free time, and the free rein it gave to the imagination of all who attended it. The rise of modernity, which is what Woolf is referring to (and a little playfully, to be fair), is profoundly relevant to film, bound up as it was with the city, mechanisation, speed, and the triumph of electricty. You may find it in film style, or you may find it in the cinema as social institution. There should be a good paper or two in there, somewhere.

Update (13 May 2010): The dates of the conference are 10-12 December 2010, and there is now a conference web page: www.gla.ac.uk/departments/snms/1910centenaryconference. The call for papers has now closed.