My acknowledgments go to the excellent ReadWriteWeb for a piece on websites that mash-up mapping, photos, street views, video and documentary photographs from the past. Among the interesting projects the piece describes where uses can map historical photographs to maps using geo-tags is There and Then, a site created by Kier Clarke which takes historical videos from YouTube and overlays them on a Google Street View of the location today.
There’s not a huge number on the site as yet, but among the examples are a number of the BFI’s Friese-Greene colour travel films from the 1920s mapped to their present day British locations, and some American examples of the Library of Congress, including a 1905 film A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire, illustrated above (though I don’t think it’s from the LoC copy – note the rolling frame line). The effect is a little odd for this particular example, because the Google image is static while the 1905 film is a travelling shot, but in general it’s a delightful conceit.
It’s not a new idea, however. British film artist Patrick Keiller installed a piece at the BFI Southbank in 2007 which inset archive films within modern-day photographs of the same location, as reported in this Bioscope post.
Patrick Keiller’s combination Carrington Street, Nottingham in 2003, with inset from Tram Ride Through Nottingham, Carrington Street (Mitchell & Kenyon, 1902), from The City of the Future exhibition (2007)
I also recall an exhibition at Brighton museum a while back which showed moving images rom Brighton past and present taken from the same position exhibited next door to one another. The results are invariably haunting and thought-provoking, and it would be good to see a lot more of this sort of imaginative juxtaposition of yesterday and today.
The Market Street example was picked for Bioscope regular Joe Thompson, San Francisco resident and cable car enthusiast, whose own fascinating blog piece on A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire was reported on by the Bioscope here.
Mykkäelokuvafestivaaleilla, or – to give it its slightly less challenging name (for non-Finns) – the Forssa Silent Movie Festival, is Finland’s annual festival of silent film. This year’s festival takes place 27-29 August at the Elävienkuvien Teatteri, Forssa, with the lead attraction being four of John Ford’s silent features (hot on the heels of the silent Ford retrospective at Bologna). Most of the festival site is in Finnish, but they do supply one overview page in English, as follows:
This year’s eleventh international Silent Movie Festival will bring more classics to the silver screen. Main attention goes to legendary director John Ford. Ford became famous for his westerns after the silent era. One of Ford’s main actors was John Wayne, who also appeared on some of the silent film era movies. Traditions and Irish humour was vastly present in the movies of American-Irish director, who received an Oscar four times. From the 65 movies he directed in the silent era, only 15 has survived this long. Four of these will be shown on this year’s festival. The Shamrock Handicap, Hangman’s House, Three Bad Men and Iron Horse all portray Ford’s most beloved themes, Ireland and westerns.
We also honour the actor Lon Chaney. On August 26, day before the festival, will mark exactly 80 years from the actors death. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a marvellous movie and a perfect example of Chaney’s transformation skills. Broken Blossoms, was D.W. Griffith‘s greatest success, which verified his position within the leading directors of movie industry. Lillian Gish performs brilliantly, complementing fine camerawork and storytelling. Master of comedy, Harold Lloyd is once again present in this year’s festival. Eagerly waited movie by Stroheim, Queen Kelly will finally be on the programme. Russian Film Industry is also covered in Lev Kuleshov‘s visually great movie Mr. West.
As usual, all the movies will be accompanied with live music. This year, the variety of performers is wide: from single musician to an entire sinfony orchestra. Händel-orchestra will accompany festival’s climax, The Iron Horse on Sunday.
We’ve listened to feedback from viewers, and picked the programme according to tips we received. We welcome everyone to the 11th International Silent Film Festival in Forssa Finland to enjoy some of the greatest movies of silent era.
This is the daily programme:
Friday 27 August
* 17:00 Mr West (Elävienkuvien Teatteri)
* 19:30 The Shamrock Handicap (Elävienkuvien Teatteri)
* 21:00 Queen Kelly (Elävienkuvien Teatteri)
Saturday 28 August
* 12:00 Grandma’s Boy (Elävienkuvien Teatteri)
* 14:30 Hangman’s House (Elävienkuvien Teatteri)
* 17:00 Broken Blossoms
* 19:30 3 Bad Men (Elävienkuvien Teatteri)
* 22:00 The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Elävienkuvien Teatteri)
Sunday 29 August
* 13:00 The Iron Horse (Urheilutalo Feeniks)
Further details (in Finnish) are available on the festival site, which includes an archive section with copies of previous festival websites going back to 2001.
We don’t normally highlight what takes place on a regular basis at film theatres and cinematheques, but looking at the August booklet for the BFI Southbank, it’s time to make an exception. It’s certainly a rich offering for silents and archival film in general.
The headline attraction is the UK premiere of the reconstructed and restored Metropolis (1927), now with an extra twenty-five minutes of footage, as documented on the Bioscope here, here and here. The screening takes place on 26 August, at 18:00.
The BFI is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its achive. Originally known as the National Film Library, it has subsequently been known as the National Film Archive, the National Film and Television Archive, BFI National Film and Television Archive, BFI Collections, BFI National Film and Television Archive once again, and now BFI National Archive. Passing over whatever insecurities have led to such a long-running identity crisis, you can help celebrate its 75th by attending its Long Live Film screenings, which are highlighting previously lost films that the Archive had particularly sought. Now, after decades hidden from view, you can see Britain’s answer to Fantomas, George Pearson’s Ultus and the Grey Lady (1916) plus other Ultus fragments (9 August, 18:00), Cecil Hepworth’s Helen of Four Gates (1920) (11 August, 18:10), Walter Forde’s What Next? (1928) (18 August, 18:20) and Ivor Novello and Mabel Poulton in The Constant Nymph (1928) (20 August, 18:10). Look out soon for BFI Most Wanted, a relaunched search for 75 lost British films, which is certain to include some key silent titles.
Among other attractions, look out for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (23 August 20:40); a programme of early archival treasures, A Night in Victorian and Edwardian London (4 August, 18:10); and Kenneth MacPherson’s experimental classic Borderline (1930), with Paul Robeson and H.D., introduced by film artist Stephen Dwoskin (5 August, 18:10). Collecting for Tomorrow (7 August, 13:30) is a discussion event, hosted by Dylan Cave, on the future of film collecting, which will include clips of recently acquired material including the work of modern silent filmmaker Martin Pickles (previously covered by the Bioscope).
Along the non-silent material, I must note the screenings of nitrate prints that are taking place at the BFI Southbank in July and August, also part of Long Live Film. Cellulose nitrate film stock stopped being employed in cinemas in 1952, and became the defining challenge for film archives in the latter half of the twentieth century. Nitrate film, owing to its high silver content, gavce the films on the screen a lustrous finish which is missing from safety film stock (let alone digital copies). However, because of the fire risks, a special licence is required to show nitrate film and the BFI has the only such licence in the UK. No silent nitrate films are on offer, more’s the pity, but over the two months you can see Fugitive Lady (1950), The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), The Yearling (1946), Brighton Rock (1947), Anchors Aweigh (1945), The Ghost of St Michael’s (1941), Volga-Volga (1938) and Les Maudits (1946) as they were originally seen.
On the smaller screens at the BFI Southbank, the drop-in archive facility the Mediatheque has a special focus on British silents, including such titles as At the Villa Rose (1920), Comin’ Thro the Rye (1923), High Treason (1928), The Man Without Desire (1923) and Sweeney Todd (1928).
Finally there is the welcome return of the Ernest Lindgren Memorial Lecture. The Lecture, named after the National Film Archive’s esteemed founder curator, used to be a prestigious annual event at which a leading archivist or film historian would give a keynote presentation on the state of things. Sadly allowed to lapse in recent years, the Lecture returns on 24 August (18:10) with Paolo Cherchi Usai, Director of the Haghefilm Foundation. As film archivist of world renown and author of the provocative The Death of Cinema and co-editor of the essential text Film Curatorship: Archives, Museums and the Digital Marketplace, this should be a talk not to miss.
American Mutoscope and Biograph camera team filming the Jeffries-Sharkey boxing match, 1899
Here at the Bioscope we like to champion silent cinema in its many different forms, which has included a number of posts on newsreels. Not all readers may feel quite the same interest in early newsfilm, but there is now evidence that others are thinking along the same lines.
The Museu del Cinema, The Department of Geography, History &
History of Art at the University of Girona, and the Spanish Ministry of Science & Innovation Project are co-organising a two-day seminar entitled The Construction of News in Early Cinema. The seminar (which sounds near enough to a conference to me) is one of a series of seminars that have been held on the origins and history of cinema (La construcción de la realidad en el cine de los orígenes), and will be held at the Auditori Narcís de Carreras in Girona, Spain, 7-8 April 2011 (update: the dates are now 31 March-1 April).
A call for papers has been issued (deadline 31 October 2010), which can be downloaded in full here (PDF), but here are the main bits:
The film industry emerged at a key moment in the development of the written and graphic press and it would not be too long before it was playing a role in creating the imaginary of current affairs through images. Although these news images did not begin to be gathered together into a specific programme until the year 1908 thanks to Pathé Frères, in the very beginnings of cinema there were already images of current events, royal visits, official openings, sports events or exceptional situations that were to bind the image to its present context and bring it into the territory of what could be deemed as newsworthy …
The proposed seminar will focus on trying to define the relationship between cinema and news, to see how it began to build the news imaginary that presaged many of the questions of the future news images both in the subsequent newsreels and in those that came along with the birth of television … The time period of the study is to be from 1895 up to 1914, since we believe that the newsreels underwent a different development with the outbreak of World War I. The proposal of the seminar is to establish a methodology of research and reflection in the context of news and, eventually, to find out how and if we can talk about a kind of birth of the documentary image.
As in previous editions, the Seminar will be divided into two alternating parts. The first will involve theoretical reflection on the central theme with various presentations from leading experts. In the second part, the aim is to enable various researchers to present and discuss with the
participants their research into pre-cinema and early cinema.
Papers can be on the specific subject of the seminar or presentations of ongoing studies into pre-cinema or cinema before 1915. For the former, these are the themes the organisers suggest:
– Terminological approaches. What do we talk about when we talk about news event films, or newsreels in the field of early cinema? How can we define the images that recorded contemporary events that became part of the framework of newsworthiness established by the press? At what point in time can we start talking about newreels?
– Precedents in the concept of news. Cinema began as a place of intermediality that brought together work from various forms of expressive media. From this point of view, we want to see how the concept of current events was present in such spectacles as the magic lantern shows, panoramas, illustrated journals and illustrated vignettes or how it took on a key role in the construction of the collective imaginary in Wax Museums. Also significant at the time was the idea of Teatro por horas (popular hour-long performances) that included representations of contemporary issues. Another precedent in current affairs worth studying was photojournalism and its relationship with cinematographic news.
– Limits of the notion of current affairs. The inclusion of filmic images into what was real entails research not only into news, but also into the construction of the touristic imaginary and the documentation of the industrial world. Given these premises, we are interested in defining what the limits of current affairs really are. What is considered an event? When and how long did an event remain current at the beginning of the century?
– Cinematographic news models: films of real events, images of war, royal visits, official openings, fashion events, festivals and sporting events. We have to consider that the field of filming sports events is of fundamental importance in developing the image of events in general and the subsequent setup of live television. Early cinema included frequent showings of boxing matches.
– Re-enactments news. We want to see how certain news items were re-enacted, how the staging of the scene is achieved, which elements document the truth and which are fictional.
– The role of the lecturers accompanying the news presentations. Did the figure of the lecturer appear when news was projected? Which was his role?
– The relationship between the written and the graphic press. Establishing a bridge between what the pictures show and what the press of the time explained. Analysis of the development of cinema as information from the perspective of the history of the press.
– The position of the camera with regard to the event: the point of view of the camera and the staging with regard to royal visits and displays of authority. When does the camera arrive after an event has occurred? How was more than one camera used to film certain sporting events? Who were the historical personalities who believed in the power of the camera and wanted to be filmed in order to increase their fame and the other personalities who did not?
– The contexts of the audiences: how were the cinematographic news shows of the time received? Was there a relationship between what the viewer believed and the hypothetical “truth” of images? What was the timing involved in showing news events? Were there incidents or events that could be seen the next day since they were processed and shown quickly? How can we relate the timing of early cinema with the search for live events that were subsequently carried out on television?
– What was lacking in cinematographic news? The images built up a highly specific reality througha series of ideological factors: race, power, colonialism, sexism, etc. What historical events were not shown? What was outside the field of news? What was the relationship between political censorship and news?
– The regular newscasts. The newsreels of Pathé Frères began to be screened regularly in 1908. A study of the Pathé model and how it was received in the context of the period.
– Reusing contemporary news events in film making. Films such as “The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty” (Esfir Shub, 1927) and “Paris, 1900” (Nicole Vedrès, 1948) are films that were put together using news items from before 1914. What significance did the images have in the compilation of documentaries made during the time period?
Summaries should be no more than 60 lines, to be emailed to email@example.com, following the guidelines set out in the full call for papers. Papers can be given in Catalan, Spanish or English. It is expected that papers presented at the seminar will be published, “provided that they have been defended by the author during the seminar”. So there you go.
Only a few years ago there wasn’t a film reference book anywhere that included the name of Oscar Micheaux. Now he’s on a stamp. The US postal service has issued the stamp honouring the African-American filmmaker as part of its Black Heritage series, alongside such luminaries as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson and Scott Joplin. Few photographs exist of Micheaux, and the image by stamp artist Gavin Kelley is taken from the portait of him that was included with his 1913 novel The Conquest.
Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) was an author and filmmaker, who directed over forty films for black audiences between 1919 and 1948. He first started to attract the attention of film historians and historians of African-American life when a print of his 1924 film, Body and Soul, starring Paul Robeson, was discovered. However the real interest got underway in the late 80s/early 90s when prints were discovered of Within our Gates (1920), Micheaux’s controversial work on racism (white and black) in America, and an incomplete The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920), on the Ku Klux Klan. The discoveries encouraged the unearthing of other films made by African-American directors in the 1920s and 30s, and histories, biographies, filmographies, screenings and DVD releases have followed.
Of his silent films on DVD, Body and Soul is available as part of a Criterion Paul Robeson collected set, while Within our Gates is available from Grapevine as a DVD-R. It’s good that it’s available at all, but ever there was a silent film that deserved the handsome treatment that the major labels can give, this is it. The low-budget nature of Micheaux’s films inevitably narrows their audience now, but we have to look beyond what a film cost to what it tried to express, and to appreciate the huge hurdles that Micheaux had to overcome to sustain a film and writing career over such a long period. It is good that he is written about, that he now turns up in the reference books, and that he is going to appear on envelopes, but no filmmaker can survive unless he is seen. How about a double-DVD set one day of Birth of a Nation and the the film that Micheaux made to counter D.W. Griffith’s abhorrent vision, Within our Gates?
The thirteenth annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival takes place 25-27 June 2010, held as usual at the Niles Edison Theater, Fremont, CA. Once again there is a healthy mixture of films from G.M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson and his film company Essanay, as well as other American short comedies and dramas from the 1910s. Here’s the programme:
Friday Evening, June 25
8:00 PM PROGRAM
Bell Boy 13 – Douglas MacLean, John Steppling, Harry Todd (1923) Western Chivalry – G. M. Anderson, Shorty Cunningham, Joe Dennis, William A. Russell, Clara Williams (1910) Baby’s First Tooth – Martha Russell, J. H. Gilmour (1910) Aviation at Los Angeles, California – Louis Paulhan, Glenn Curtiss, Lincoln Beachey, G. M. Anderson & others (1910)
David Drazin at the piano
Saturday Early Afternoon, June 26
12:30 PM FILM PROGRAM
The Customary Two Weeks – Robert Ellis, Kathryn Adams, Herbert Evans (1917) The Mexican’s Faith – G. M. Anderson, Joseph Smith, Clara Williams, John B. O’Brien, Charles Morrison, Fred Church, Frank Hall, William A. Russell (1910) The Ranch Girl’s Legacy – G. M. Anderson, Clara Williams, Joseph Smith, Frank Hall, Fred Ilenstine, John B. O’Brien (1910)
Jon Mirsalis at the piano
Saturday Late Afternoon, June 26
3:30 PM FILM PROGRAM
The Lottery Man – Thurlow Bergen, Lottie Alter, Allan Murnane, Oliver Hardy (1916) Method in His Madness – Joseph Smith, Earl Howell, William A. Russell, Frank Hall, Fred Church, Neva Don Carlos, John B. O’Brien, Clara Williams, Fred Ilenstine, G. M. Anderson (1910) The Ranger’s Bride – : G. M. Anderson, Joseph Smith, John B. O’Brien, Frank Hall, Fred Islenstine, Fred Church, Earl Howell (1910)
David Drazin at the piano
Saturday Evening, June 26
7:30 PM FILM PROGRAM
The Jack-Knife Man – Fred Turner, Harry Todd, Bobby Kelso, Lillian Leighton, Clair McDowell, Charles Arling, Florence Vidor (1920) A Quiet Boarding House – Frank Hamilton (1910) The Brother, Sister and the Cowpuncher – G. M. Anderson, Frank Hall, Gladys Field, Fred Church, Clara Williams, Charles Morrison, Joseph Smith, William A. Russell (1910) Away Out West – Joseph Smith, Frank Hall, John B. O’Brien (1910) A Darling Confusion – J. Warren Kerrigan (1910)
Judy Rosenberg at the piano
Sunday Afternoon, June 27
12:30 PM FILM PROGRAM
The Innocence of Ruth – Viola Dana, Edward Earle, Augustus Phillips (1916) Under Western Skies – G. M. Anderson, Fred Church, Joseph Smith, Clara Williams, Frank Hall, Chick Morrison, John B. O’Brien, Fred Ilenstine, William A. Russell (1910) The Deputy’s Love – G. M. Anderson, Clara Williams, Frank Hall, Chick Morrison, Elmer Thompson, Fred Church, John B. O’Brien, Joseph Smith, Robert Gray (1910)
Phil Carli at the piano
Sunday Late Afternoon, June 27
3:30 PM FILM PROGRAM
Just Squaw – Beatriz Michelena (1919) The Gun Woman – Texas Guinan, Edward Brady, Walter Perkins, Francis McDonald (1918)
Bruce Loeb at the piano
Sunday Evening, June 27
7:30 PM FILM PROGRAM
Hawthorne of the USA – Wallace Reid, Harrison Ford, Lila Lee, Tully Marshall, Theodore Roberts (1919) Whist! – J. Warren Kerrigan, Augustus Carney (1910) He Met the Champion – August Carney (1910) Pals of the Range – G. M. Anderson, John B. O’Brien, Clara Williams, Fred Church, Augustus Carney, Robert Gray, Chick Morrison (1910)
Phil Carli at the piano
As usual, details on tickets, accommodation and transportation are on the festival site. The organisers advise that there is limited seating and booking in advance – which you can do through their website – is strongly recommended.
A call for papers has been issued for what is being billed as the First International Berkeley Conference on Silent Cinema. Conferences specifically on silent cinema don’t come around too often, and the suggestion that this might be the first in a series is certainly exciting news. The conference will take place 24-26 February 2011 at Berkeley, University of California and the Pacific Film Archive, and has the title Cinema Across Media: The 1920s. Here’s the conference blurb:
Cinema’s institutional consolidation in the 1920s enlisted practitioners from many other fields and transformed the entire ensemble of established media. Avant-garde cinemas borrowed extensively from a variety of artistic practices, while the “cinematic” became the new standard for both modernist aesthetics and popular culture. Today’s multimedia environment brings cinema of the 1920s into new focus as the site of rich intermedial traffic, especially if the term “media” encompasses not only recording technologies and mass media, such as photography, phonography, radio, and illustrated press, but also the physical materials used for aesthetic expression, such as paint, print, plaster, stone, voice, and bodies.
We welcome proposals from scholars in a variety of disciplines, including music, architecture, literature, art history, theater, dance, and performance studies, and encourage international and comparative perspectives. The temporal boundaries for “the 1920s” include the transition to sound cinema. Workshop proposals from archivists and others interested in present-day media platforms (DVD, Internet, etc.) and their effect on silent film scholarship are welcome. The conference will last two-and-a-half days and include keynote lectures, concurrent panels, workshops, and screenings at the Pacific Film Archive with live musical accompaniment.
Proposals should include a title, an abstract (300 words), a short bio (100 words), and any A/V needs. Proposals must be submitted by October 15, 2010 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Notification will follow by mid-November.
There’s no conference web page as yet, but I’ve added the detail to the Bioscope conferences page and will update details there as and when they are advertised.
It’s the World Cup, and I’ve been rediscovering silent football. The high decibel sound of the vuvuzelas that the South African crowds blow so enthusiastically and monotonically (B flat, to be precise) make the matches sound as though they are taking place inside a particularly angry wasps’ nest. To keep my sanity I experimented with watching games with the sound turned off and the subtitles on. It’s a curious experience, witnessing sport in silence, without commentary or crowd sounds. The game loses its drive – in fact it ceases to be a game and simply becomes a window on one of those strange ritualistic things that humans do to occupy themselves, a Martian’s view of sport.
All of which idle thoughts are introduction to a post on the time when football films were made silent, and what accompanied them was live music, intertitles, and any comments from the audience in the cinema. So here’s a short-ish history of association football and silent film.
Football game filmed by in London by Alexandre Promio around September 1897. One of the teams may be Woolwich Arsenal. No. 699 in the Lumière catalogue.
Filming football is almost as old as filming itself. So far as is known, the first film to be made of the game was a now lost one-minute production by Robert Paul, taken in Newcastle in October 1896. A contemporary description simply says “A football match at Newcastle-on-Tyne”, and we don’t even know who was playing who. The earliest surviving football film was taken by Lumière camera operator Alexandre Promio in London in late 1897. Simply entitled Football, it shows two teams (one of whom could possibly be Woolwich Arsenal, forerunner of Arsenal) bunched around a goal on a practice pitch. The players may all be crowded around the ball because Promio wanted to get as many people in shot as possible, so one should be wary of the film as depicting genuine action. We do see this in the next surviving film, Arthur Cheetham‘s record of a Blackburn Rovers-West Bromwich Albion game. 50ft (under a minute) of an original 250ft survives, with action from both halves taken from a single camera position behind one of the goals, so one only sees tiny figures engaged in some mysterious far-off struggle.
The earliest football films show us little that we can savour as sporting entertainment. Marginally longer films started to be made from 1899, the year that the F.A. Cup Final was filmed for the first time, by the Warwick Trading Company. The film is now lost, but the catalogue description indicates a move from the emblematic, single-shot efforts of Paul and Lumière to a documentary account presenting highlights from the game, which was played at Crystal Palace:
The Sheffield United and officials entering the field; Mid-field play; Sheffield obtains a corner, showing goal play, scrimmage and goal kick; Derby County’s only goal, showing other goal, enthusiasm of the vast audience, goal keeper busy; Players leaving the field.
This was the archetype for football films for the next decade. It was probably shot by a single pitch-side cameraman, who had four key elements to capture: the teams coming onto the field; scenes of lively action; the enthusiasm of the crowd; and goals. It was well nigh impossible for a single cameraman to achieve the latter (Sheffield won 4-1, so he missed four), not only because he was based at ground level (longer shots from the stands would not have worked owing to the limitations of lenses and filmstock) and because there was only one of him, but because there was a limit to how much film he could hold. Cameras held 75 to 500 feet at this time, and even with changes of reel there was only so much they could shoot because they would be under strict instructions not to waste too much film. When a film was going to be only 100 to 200 feet long on release (the 1899 FA Cup Final film was 350 feet) then shooting thousands of feet of film in a vain attempt to capture everything was a pointless waste of expensive celluloid. Early football films are the way they are because of technical limitations and common-sense economics.
Newcastle United v Liverpool, filmed by Mitchell & Kenyon, 23 November 1901 at St James’ Park, from the BFI YouTube channel
Mitchell & Kenyon
Roughly between 1900-1910 football films were the preserve of specialist operators from the north of England. The major London companies such as Gaumont, Urban and Warwick regularly made films of the cup final, but an extensive business grew up for companies which filmed local games for local consumption. There was Jasper Redfern, based in Yorkshire, who filmed both football matches and cricket games, but the major player by far was Norden Films, best known as Mitchell & Kenyon.
Mitchell & Kenyon films were shown in town halls, music halls and fairground shows. They were often commissioned by touring showmen taking a projector from town to town, who attracted audiences by showing films of local events, including sports. Such a business was very localised, inevitably, but the dedication to football meant that many teams were documented who would never have been covered by London-based film companies. The Mitchell & Kenyon collection at the BFI National Archive includes fifty-five football films made between 1901-1907, including such encounters as Salford v Batley (1901), Sheffield United v Bury (1902), Everton v Liverpool (1902) and Bradford City v Gainsborough Trinity (1903) (all links are to BFI YouTube videos). The films generally last three minutes or so, and feature the teams coming on, crowd shots (it was important to show as many faces as possible so people would come to the film show with the hope of seeing themselves – the films were often shown the same evening) and action mostly filmed from a mid-pitch position by a single cameraman.
Fascinating as these films are from a socio-historical point of view (crowd behaviour, grounds, dress, displays of advertising, male-dominated space etc.) it is very difficult to get a sense of the game. The limitations of the filming, with a paucity of shots giving little sense of continuous action, leaves one peering from the distance of both time and space, finding it hard to judge what is going on. The players have no shirt numbers, and it is difficult to sense the shape of the game. I’ve been reading Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics, and I had an idea of investigating these films for evidence of team formations, but it can’t be done. At this period the offside law stated that three defenders had to be between the leading attacker and the goal, and all teams more or less played in a 2-3-5 formation – that is, two in defence, and five in attack. Perhaps you can see this in the Mitchell & Kenyon films, but the shots are too few, and the action too indistinct, for anyone to derive any certain evidence. Camera shots from the stands which encompassed the complete action on the pitch would not be attempted until the 1920s. What one can sometimes see is the frantic pace and occasional roughness of play, the appalling state of the pitches, and incidental features which point to the influence of the cameras – notably players coming out onto the pitch single file, so that they could be picked out individually by fans watching the screen. (For more on the M&K football films, see Dave Russell’s essay in Vanessa Toulmin etc, The Lost World of Mitchell & Kenyon)
The newsreel era
The arrival of newsreels, around 1910, changed how football films were made and shown. The shift from peripatetic exhibition in halls and fairgrounds to cinemas led to a regularity of output which led to greater exposure for football films but also to concentration on films likely to attract the largest audiences. So league and minor cup games ceased to be filmed, and what became popular were major matches such as the later rounds of the F.A. Cup, the Cup Final itself, and some internationals. A number of films survive of Cup Finals from 1910-1914 at the BFI National Archive, including these (with links to the BFI catalogue):
Newsreels were not restricted to Britain, of course, and as the game increasingly spread around the world, so newsreels started to pick up on games in the various countries where the sport had taken root. Information on these is scarce and scattered, with a handful of surviving examples held in archives around the world.
Games between nations were infrequently filmed, presumably for logistical reasons. There were, in any case, few international matches at this time, and most of those were between the British home nations. The earliest such film appears to have been the England v Scotland match of 4 April 1904, filmed in Sheffield by Hepworth and Paul (Scotland won 2-1). The film doesn’t survive, but there are plenty of international games from the 1920s held in the BFI National Archive, British Pathe and ITN Source newsreel collections. Most of these are home internationals, but here are links to a few international games (as it were) which can be viewed online:
Football outside of its borders did not really register with British audiences – certainly as far as the newsreels were concerned. If you wanted to see how the game was advancing internationally, you were better off looking to the Olympic Games.
Before the World Cup was instituted in 1930, the major international football contest was the Olympic Games. Football became a popular feature of Olympic films from 1912 onwards, and some of the surviving Olympic films from the silent period give us some of the best records of football from this period. As described in an earlier post, Pathé’s record of the 1912 Games in Stockholm devotes much attention to football, with Sweden v Holland and the all-conquering Great Britain team beating Denmark 4-2 in the final. In 1924, the Rapid-Film full-length documentary Les Jeux Olympiques Paris 1924 devotes an entire reel to the final between Uruguay and Switzerland, in which the South Americans demonstrate a dazzling level of technical skill readily apparent in the film record, even if the camera postioning limits our understanding of the game (a team of four or five was used, arranged at various points pitchside with just a couple of shots taken from the stands). The documentary film of the 1928 Games in Amsterdam does not include football (at least not in the version available on DVD), but Italian site Archivio Storico (produced by Istitutio Luce) includes severals newsreels from 1928, including Italy v France, Spain v Mexico, Portugal v Jugoslavia, and the Uruguay-Argentina final, won in a replay by Uruguay 2-1 after the first game ended 1-1 (to access these, tick the box marked ‘archivio cinematografico’ and enter the search term ‘calcio’).
Tottenham Hotspur’s Jimmy Dimmock scores the only goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge in the 1921 F.A. Cup Final, filmed by the Topical Budget newsreel as Cup Final 1921 Greatest Event in Football History
Football in the 1920s
In the 1920s changes began to be made to how football was filmed, though the constraints of filmstock remained. Newsreel cameramen worked to tight rules over the amount of film they were allowed to expend on any subject. Generally they worked to a 2:1 ratio i.e. the cost-conscious editor allowed them to shoot say 100 feet in making what what would be released in the newsreel as a 50-foot item. For sports events, with their high degree of unpredictablity, the ratio might rise to 4 or 5:1, but it still meant that the operator had to concentrate on likely areas of activity (particularly the goalmouth), and obtaining film of goals was often a question of luck.
Things improved for the F.A. Cup Final, where the newsreel started to employ large camera teams, and the sharing of the load meant that camera operators could concentrate on the period when the ball was nearest to them. The Topical Budget newsreel employed nine cameramen to film the 1921 final, producing a 500-foot film (approx. six minutes), but more than the number of cameras there was the variety of angle and the understanding that a narrative needed to be created. As well as cameramen being arranged behind each goal and on either side of the pitch, there were cameras in the stands giving overviews – effectively master shots – which when intercut with the closer shots of action gave a far more visually and narratively satisfying account. The Bioscope noted this innovation in its report on Topical’s film of the 1922 final when it commented that the “essential features of the whole match” had been “very cleverly put together to form a continuous ‘story'”.
However, as I point out in my book on Topical Budget, sacrifices were made to achieve narrative. The 1921 final – Tottenham Hotspur beat Wolverhamption Wanderers 1-0 – was characterised by heavy rain in the first half, sunshine in the second. Close analysis of the film reveals that several sequences from the second half have been included in what is ostensbily the first. It is untruthful as far as a documentary record is concerned, but it tells a better story.
Despite the improvements in filming, one still cannot gain much of an idea about the use of tactics. The offside law was changed in 1925 to requiring just two defenders to be between the furthest attacker and the goal, which led to greater freedom for forwards but then a consequent change in formations as centre-halves dropped back into defence, eventually leading to the famous W-M shape introduced by Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman. It may be possible for some sharp-eyed analyst to work their way through the football films contained on the British Pathe site (there are around 250 available) and detect patterns, but to the average eye incoherence reigns. All one can say is that the game looks marginally less violent than it was in the 1900s, that the pitches were still terrible, and that goalmouth scrambles were commonplace.
Cup Finals were hugely important to the newsreels, but they also covered league games and the various rounds of the F.A. Cup, with games from around the country covered in different editions of the same issue according to local following. Such shorts reports were usually taken by a single cameraman, and were therefore necessarily rudimentary in form.
Pathé’s film of the 1922 Cup Final obscured by flags waved by the rights-holders Topical Budget, from www.britishpathe.com.
The rights to film the F.A. Cup final (and other major sporting events) were hotly contested by the newsreels. Topical Budget paid £1,000 for the exclusive rights to film the famous 1923 Cup Final, the first held at Wembley Stadium. However exclusive rights were no guarantee of exclusive coverage, as newsreel rivals sought to snatch illicit footage by smuggling cameras into the ground, such as the mini-sized, clockwork-driven Debrie Sept, which could be hidden in coat pockets. The practice was known as ‘pirating’. Pathé cameraman Jack Cotter famously disguised himself as a West Ham fan to get into the 1923 final, with his camera hidden within a fan’s giant ‘hammer’. The ruse was then gleefully revealed by Pathé in its film of the game, though the aerial shots it took of the stadium were delierately spoiled by Topical which took the trouble to have its name written in large letters across the roof of Wembley Stadium.
News photographer Bernard Grant writes about the knockabout japes of the newsreels at the 1922 Cup Final, held at Stamford Bridge between Huddersfield Town and Preston North End (Huddersfield won 1-0), in his book To the Four Corners (1933):
I saw the battle from the top floor of a high building overlooking the ground, from where I had hoped to obtain some photographs with a long-focus camera, but as I was sharing the position with the well-known film man, Frank Bassill, on this occasion a ‘pirate’ [for Pathé], I was handicapped by the efforts of the defenders [Topical Budget].
They used heliographs to deflect the sun’s rays into our lenses and let up a huge sausage balloon in front of our window, where they did their best to anchor it. This was only partly successful, however, for the clumsy thing swung about in the wind and left us clear at times. Also one of Bassill’s assistants managed to hide behind some chimney pots and work above it.
At the sound of the referee’s whistle starting the match there came a terrific noise of hammering and crashing at a point away to our left, and we saw the corrugated-iron roof of a building alongside the ground fly off in all directions.
A moment later there appeared, rising through the aperture, two heads which I recognised through my glasses as those of Tommy Scales and Leslie Wyand, pioneers in the production of movie news reels.
Steadily they rose higher and higher, turning their handles as they came, as the telescopic tower ladder upon which they stood was wound up by friends in the room below.
This happening brought into action the defenders’ large mobile ‘stand by’ force, members of which, armed with double-poled banners and flags, dashed off to meet the attack…
And so it went on. There was much money at stake, hence the battles. The money wasn’t made by the Final films themselves, which were loss leaders, but by the longer-term bookings that could be gained on the back of them for the newsreel that looked stronger than the competition. Ironically, in view of the battle Grant reports, Topical’s official account of the 1922 Final is a lost film, but Pathé’s pirated film can be viewed at www.britishpathe.com, though the poverty of the footage, with most of the action in long shot or filmed through the heads of the crowd, shows all the disadvantages of having to be the pirates. In 1924 the newsreels acted together for once and protested jointly to the Football Association at the cost of the rights to film the final and submitted a joint bid of £400. It was turned down. Consequently no film exists of the F.A. Cup Final of 1924.
There were a number of fiction films about football in the silent era. A wonderful early effort (650 feet) is the Hepworth Manufacturing Company’s bracing Harry the Footballer (1911), in which our hero (Hay Plumb) is kidnapped just before the big game only to be rescued by his girl-friend (Gladys Sylvani) just in time to score the goal that winds the game. Maurice Elvey’s The Cup Final Mystery (1914), a lost film, had much the same plot, now spread over 2,600 feet. Also lost, and with the same plot, same length, and in the same year is A Footballer’s Honour, made by Lewin Fitzhamon for Britannia Films. There were also several comic films made in France, Italy and Germany in which someone’s obsession with football leads to chaotic results. Pathé’s Football en Famille (1910), in which a family destroys its house through its enthusiasm for the game, is a particularly manic example.
By the 1920s, a handful soccer-themed feature films were made. Britain produced The Winning Goal (1920, now lost) and The Ball of Fortune (1926), the latter starring the legendary Billy Meredith of Manchester City and Wales (a trailer survives); Germany produced Die elf Teufel (The Eleven Devils) (1927) and König der Mittelstürmer (King of the Centre Forwards) (1927), both now available on DVD from Edition Filmmuseum.
Other kinds of football films
Not all silent era football films were records of matches. There were training films, promotional films, even silent ‘interview’ films which showed star players relaxing. There was women’s football (very popular in the early 1920s and meriting a separate post one day), street football, public schools’ football, charity football games, and newsreel stories on star players and teams just for their own sake. Silent films didn’t manage the art of filming football too well, but they covered the game extensively because it brought in the crowds. It shows how the cinema was understood as a home for entertainments beyond the stories than the film industries produced. It was the popular theatre.
Footage of the first World Cup, held in Uruguay in 1930, with clips of the stadium, participating teams, and the final which Uruguay won 4-2 against Argentina. The titles are an obvious later addition, as are the unfortunate lapses into colourisation (though this does at least let you identify Uruguay, in the light blue shirts.
The first World Cup was filmed in Uruguay in 1930. Film exists of the tournament, which was shot silent, but my knowledge of Uruguayan film is not what it might be, and besides this post has gone on long enough. You can find the clips on YouTube, or see the short clips on the FIFA site. I’m returning to the World Cup 2010. Having sound does help, as does not knowing how it’s all going to turn out (remember, everyone who saw a film in the cinema already knew the result), and I’m even getting used to the vuvuzelas. Bring on Slovenia…
The problem with centenaries is that they only come around once every 100 years. This is a long time to wait, especially if you want to celebrate 100 years of cinema, because we all put on our party hats for that way back in 1995 (or 1996). But some are clearly not happy with waiiting, or more precisely are not entirely satisfied with 1895 (or 1896) as the starting date of what we call cinema. It started a technology, but did it start a phenomenon? What is cinema anyway?
Well, whether it’s because of an intellectual problem, or because film study academics love any excuse for a scholarly knees-up, there has been a call for papers for a conference entitled The Second Birth of Cinema: A Centenary Conference. Taking place at Newcastle University, UK 1-2 July 2001, and with Newcastle University, 1-2 July 2011, and with André Gaudreault, Philippe Marion, Ian Christie and Joe Kember as keynote speakers, it takes as its theme the approximate centenary of the breakaway of cinema from other media to the point where it stood out as an individual medium. And that occured in 1911? They are certainly going to have plenty to debate. Here’s the conference blurb:
This conference commemorates cinema’s ‘second birth’, the historical developments and departures that broke cinema’s subordination to other media to give us the medium, the industry and the building that we know as ‘the cinema’.
If, as André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion have recently insisted, cinema was born once as a technology and then again as a medium, just when and how did this occur? What caused film practice, the film business and film discourse all to generate a media identity for cinema? How did we get from ‘animated photography’ to ‘the pictures’?
Possible questions to consider:
Was cinema’s ‘second birth’ a radical short-term event or a gradual and imperceptible change? What was the most significant cause? Was this ‘second birth’ a matter of maturation or deliberate manipulation? What people and organisations were most instrumental in bringing it about, and how did it vary from country to country? How extensively was cinema’s audience contract re-written? What kinds of genealogies were invented for cinema, what genealogies were forgotten, and what genealogies were actively disavowed? Was cinema drafted into bourgeois culture, or did it fashion its own unique identity? Did this period create a lasting identity card for cinema, or were third and fourth births still to come? How did contemporaries register this change? How early did the process of reinventing cinema begin, and when, if ever, did it end? And what date stands out as the watershed? Indeed, was 2011 a good choice for the centennial year?
Abstracts are invited for 20-minute papers on any aspect of this ‘event’ in any part of the world. Please send abstracts, by email attachment, to Andrew Shail at a.e.shail [at] ncl.ac.uk, with the subject line ‘Second Birth of Cinema’, by the 30th of September 2010.
There’s no web page as yet, but I’ll add details as and when they appear to the Bioscope’s Conferences page.
This is not the only event which has laid claim to the mysterious second centenary. Last year’s Continuous Performance exhibition at the University of Kent (images from which are now on the Bioscope’s Flickr site) ostensibly celebrated 100 years of cinema, while this December’s 1910 Centenary Conference at the University of Glasgow looks at 100 years of modernism, including film within its frames of reference. Or check out William Drew’s 100 Years of Hollywood and the Stars site, which recognises the centenary of both Hollywood and the movie star in 2010. Or pick your own centenary.
High up on the Bioscope’s list of essential blogs is Muy Blog, Stephen Herbert’s blog on all things to do with Eadweard Muybridge. Those of you who might think that too narrow a theme for their tastes really should take a look, because Muybridge’s many interests in visual media and technology, and the profound influence that he continues to have on artists, designers and filmmakers, make Muy Blog desirable for anyone enthused by visual invention.
Herbert says that Seder “brings the wonder of 19th-century philosophical toys into the 21st century.” The Strobotop – or Strobotop LightPhase Animator, to give it its full name – takes the idea of the Victorian optical toy, the Phenakistiscope (successive images on a disk viewed through a slot), and adapted for today by means of a pulsating light. See the video above for the Strobotop in action, and read the Muy Blog post for a description of how it works and how ingeniously it reimagines a Victorian means of recreating motion.
Seder is a filmmaker, inventor, designer, artist, muralist and author. Herbert has an essay on Google Docs, The Optically Animated Artwork of Rufus Butler Seder, which is a fascinating acount of an abundantly creative person who finds his inspiration in Victorian optical toys, the sequence photography of Muybridge and his contemporaries, and cinema’s prime magician, Georges Méliès. You can find out more about Seder and his work from his website, Eye Think, or you can meet the man here: