London calling

Underground (1928), from http://www.guardian.co.uk

One of the features I regularly get asked to include on the Bioscope is a list of silent film screenings. I’ve always said no because the subject is too broad (particularly given the Bioscope’s international scope) and I wouldn’t want to offer an inadequate and incomplete service. Instead I point people to Nitrateville’s Silent Screenings list or the Silents in the Court site (for US screenings), and keep information on screenings on the Bioscope to festivals and prestige events of more than local interest.

However, that still leaves a gap, and I’m delighted to report that someone has stepped in to provide such a service for silent films in London. Silent London is a blog dedicated to silent film screenings in London. It’s only been running for a couple of months, and already it’s proving to be informative and thorough – indeed looking beyond London for its inspiration on occasion. There is also an active Twitter feed, @Silent_london.

Though the site maintains anonymity, the person behind it is Guardian subeditor Pamela Hutchinson. She has the contacts, and she has the enthusiasm – Silent London is certainly a site to keep an eye on.

The woman who did not care

A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you or I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair,
(We called her the woman who did not care),
But the fool he called her his lady fair –
(Even as you or I!)

Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 poem The Vampire (said to have been inspired by a painting of the same name by Philip Burne-Jones) has been hugely influential. It took a piece of Eastern European folklore which had had been popularised in Victorian literature and applied it to a new kind of woman whose sexual adventurous caused alarm and thrill in equal measure. The vampire came to films in 1913 with Robert Vignola’s The Vampire, starring Alice Hollister, but it was A Fool There Was (1915), which took its name from the first line of Kipling’s poem (by way of a play by Porter Emerson Browne), that stamped the idea of the vamp (and then the verb to vamp) on the consciousness of a generation.

The star of A Fool There Was was Theda Bara, and in her wake followed a number of screen vamps, each driving men mad and giving not a damn. Among them were Valeska Suratt, Olga Petrova, Musidora, Pola Negri, Helen Gardner, Louise Glaum, Dagmar Godowsky and Virginia Pearson. Lesser known than some of these, yet with perhaps a greater cult, is Nita Naldi, now the subject of a new website, Nita Naldi, Silent Vamp.

She was born Mary Dooley in Harlem, New York in 1894, into a “solidly blue collar, devoutly Catholic, and upwardly mobile” family. The family hit hard times, and Mary took to the stage, developing an exotic persona (Spanish or Italian according to whim). She took her name name from actress Maria Rosa Naldi, who she described as her sister for many years thereafter. She developed her vamp persona in assorted variety shows, including working for Florenz Ziegfeld. She got her first named screen role in 1920 in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, worked hard for a time for both screen and stage as she built up her name, then got her big break playing opposite Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand (1922). As the Nita Naldi site says, in its characteristically keen style:

Nita, cast as fire-breathing man-eater Doña Sol, executes her signature role with a gleam in her eye and all the gusto she can muster. She swans about in outré ensembles, ogles Valentino and every other male in the film suggestively, wears a series of harebrained hats (one, a favorite here at Naldi HQ, is festooned with grapes), yawns as her victim dramatically perishes in front of her, and generally refuses to behave. It was not a role for Lillian Gish – but it suited Nita down to the ground.

Paramount awarded her a five-year contract and several nondescript titles followed (Anna Ascends, You Can’t Fool Your Wife, Lawful Larceny, Glimpses of the Moon, Don’t Call it Love, and The Breaking Point). She starred opposite Valentino again in A Sainted Devil and Cobra, but her star was on the wane, chiefly it seems because of a weight problem, though stories of heavy drinking and unclear sexuality probably didn’t help matters. As with many American stars on the way down, she sought work in Europe, and one of her last film roles was to play a non-vampish schoolteacher in Alfred Hitchcock’s lost film The Mountain Eagle (1925). She returned to the stage, married a wealthy man who promptly lost all his money in the Depression, soldiered on after his death maintaining the social life of a one-time film star, and died in straitened circumstances in 1961.

Nita Naldi, from ‘The Viewpoints of a Vamp’, Picture Show, December 1, 1923

It’s a not untypical tale of a screen performer’s rise and fall, but what makes Nita Naldi such an interesting, and now cultish figure is her intelligence, wit, style and devil-may-care attitude to life. She vamped on-screen and she vamped off-screen. Two of her fervent acolytes, Donna L. Hill and Joan Myers, members of the splendidly named ‘Daughters of Naldi’, plus auxiliary ‘daughter’ Christopher S. Connelly, have produced this excellent tribute site. It comprises a full biography, photo-gallery (divided up by film), ephemera section (photoplay books, articles etc.), filmography, stageography, a handy guide to vamping (Lesson 1: Lure the victim; Lesson 2: Assume the position; Lesson 3: Bite! Truly, Madly, Deeply!; Lesson 4: Celebrate!) and a Nita Naldi Cocktail.

Some of the exceptional material here is quite well hidden. The Daughters of Naldi have taken particular care over researching biographical material, including lengthy trawls through censuses, shipping records, naturalisation records and the like, and wherever US public domain laws allow, they have made available copies of the original documents in their notes and references section, with hyperlinks to PDFs. Similarly the articles, filmography and stageography sections have a number of valuable documents available in PDF format. Just look out for the hyperlinks.

Nita Naldi, Silent Vamp demonstrates that film history research can and should be fun. The research has been rigorous but the style is knowingly playful. More material is promised, including essays, more photographs and more biographical information – because many questions remain and the search must go on.

Well done to all concerned.

When films go astray

John McCourt introducing me (not there – I’m taking the picture) for the ‘At the Volta with James Joyce’ show, Glasgow Film Theatre, 10 December 2010

I’m back from my latest film adventure, which this time took me to Glasgow to present ‘At the Volta with James Joyce’, a programme of films programmed by Joyce at the Volta cinema in Dublin at the end of 1909/early 1910. I’ve written on a number of occasions on this story (here, here, here, and here, not to mention here. Oh, and here too), so no need to add any more, except to say that this was presented as part of the December 1910 Centenary Conference – the centenary being that of modernism (which Viriginia Woolf decided began 100 years ago – specifically she prononouned that “on or about December 1910 human character changed”). So it was full of modernists, who are full of brains and hifalutin jargon yet great people to go out for a drink afterwards.

But what made the event memorable for me is what went on behind the scenes. Owing to the snow that has hit the UK over the past week or so (though thankfully there was a thaw in Glasgow when I was there) there has been a big delay in deliveries of all kinds and – to keep the story simple – we discovered on the afternoon before the show that the films were sitting in a vault awaiting collection by DHL who were still dealing with a 7-day backlog. Much panic and frantic phone calls ensued. I thought briefly of carrying the films with me on the plane (not really practical, and likely to cause comment in airport security). However we found some of the Volta films on a DigiBeta tape which was copied onto DVD, though most of them had German intertitles and we had no translation. But a second DVD that had been lent to the pianist (the excellent Forrester Pyke) had further films with English titles, albeit with timecode at the top of the image. With five films on one DVD arrriving by car from Stirling and me flying up to Glasgow with three films on a second DVD (with a Google Translate approximation into English for the longest German-intertitled film, which I then read out while it was screened), and with two hours to spare, we had a show.

It’s always hazardous programming films, especially early films, where the more things you have to show the more things there are to go wrong. You can get the wrong film sent to you, you can be sent the right film can but find a different film inside, you can get a different film with the same title as the one you want to show (two films from the 1900s called Cheese Mites and two from the 1940s called Dressed to Kill at the BFI have always caused confusion). You can get films with a reel missing. On one occasion, which has passed into legend, the BFI’s print of A Night to Remember was sent for a screening at MOMA as part of a major British cinema retrospective, only for MOMA to discover that the last reel wasn’t there. Undaunted, BFI staff on hand went on stage and acted out the final reel – to what degree I’m not sure, since the final reel does feature the sinking of the Titanic, of course.

I had a similar experience myself at a conference in Bristol, when I was talking about the first ever Shakespeare film, King John (1899), which had recently been re-discovered. Owing to a series of errors, which I fear were my fault, the film hadn’t turned up. So I put up a still image, got up in front of the audience, and acted out the entire film. This wasn’t quite as much of a challenge as it might seem, since the film is just minute long and chiefly features King John in his death agonies, and though I’m no actor I can do death agonies. Anyway, it brought the house down.

On another occasion, at the Museum of the Moving Image in London, we were putting on a show of Chaplin rarities, and had announced beforehand that we would be showing the super-rare The Life Story of Charles Chaplin (1926), a British-made semi-documentary, semi-biography which Chaplin’s lawyers got banned. Unfortunately at the last minute the rights-owner refused us permission to screen the film, which was ironic. So all we could do was hold the tape copy that we had before the audience and say that, we promised to show it to you and here it is. They were remarkably good about it in the circumstances.

Anyway, the show must always go on, and my thanks go to everyone behind the scenes in Glasgow and London who turned what looked like being a disaster into a particularly successful screening. You just never know how things are going to turn out.

There’s a 1910 Conference blog report on the Volta show here. For the record (because no film list could be given out on the evening), here are the films that were shown:

  • La Course au Mouchoir (France 1909 d. Adrien Vély p.c. Pathé/S.C.A.G.L.)
  • Come Cretinetti paga i debiti (Italy 1909 d. André Deed p.c. Itala)
  • A Glass of Goat’s Milk (UK 1909 d. Percy Stow p.c. Clarendon)
  • Une Conquête (France 1909 d. Georges Monca p.c. Pathé)
  • Saffo (Italy 1909 d. Oreste Gherardini p.c. Societa Anonima Pineschi)
  • Une Pouponnière à Paris (France 1909 p.c. Éclair)
  • Bianca Capello (Italy 1909 d. Mario Caserini p.c. Cines)
  • Il signor Testardo (Italy 1909 p.c. Itala)

Update: I neglected when writing this post to say something about the conference itself. I only heard a few papers, and overall the conference was covering modernism across all the arts and culture. Nevertheless there were a number of papers that addressed film or film-related subjects. I heard Katy Mullin speak about H.G. Wells’ 1909 novel Ann Veronica, comparing his propulsive heroine to the heroines of screen railroad dramas. John McCourt spoke on ‘Joyce, Ulysses and the Corruptions of Cinema’ with remarkable extracts from the unpublished diaries of Stanislaus Joyce (James’ brother) on filmgoing in Trieste in 1909-10 (including seeing pornographic films akin to those made by Saturn Films of Austria, samples of which can be found on the Europa Film Treasures site). It’s a huge shame permission has not been granted to publish the diaries. Cleo Hanaway spoke on ‘Joyce’s Ulysses and Early Films as Phenomenological Texts’ which was tough stuff to take in after a late night but made me want to read Maurice Merleau-Ponty and to consider whether we now (or then) view films as subjects or objects.

I would also like to have heard Keith Williams speak on Wells, Joyce and Object Animation (looking at literary parallels between literature and trick films); Rosalind Leveridge on the ‘kaleidoscopic change’ for cinema in 1910; Anthony Paraskeva on Joyce and the actress Eleonora Duse (the Italian stage great who made just the one film, Cenere); and Maria Antonia Velez Serna, who is doing excellent work on early cinema and Scotland, looking at exhibition and distribution patterns. There is so much interesting work going on in our field outside the confines of film studies – and the more it goes on outside those confines, the better.

Sounds of Britain – and beyond

Beau Geste (1926), from http://www.ronaldcolman.com

The 2011 British Silent Film Festival will be taking place 7-10 April 2011 at the Barbican Cinema, London. As was the case in 2009, the festival will run in conjunction with ‘The Sounds of Early Cinema in Britain’ conference, previously trailed on the Bioscope. The title of the festival will be Going to the Movies: Music, Sound and the British Silent Film. However, as one may judge from the programme highlights advertised so far, the festival is continuing the trend of the past few years of stretching beyond the confines of British silent cinema to look further afield – which I think is a good thing.

Here’s the descriptive blurb:

Music and sound in silent film will be our key themes during the four days of the 2011 British Silent Film Festival. A packed programme of rare silent films will explore how filmmakers communicated sound to cinema audiences through music and visual clues, what it was like to be in the audience of the ‘silent movies’ and how the British industry geared up for the talkies. Accompanied by the world’s best silent film musicians the programme will feature special events, presentations by special guests and unique archive film from the BFI, the Imperial War Museum and other collections.

Highlights will include

  • The Annual Rachael Low Lecture
    Delivered by Matthew Sweet, broadcaster and author of Shepperton Babylon, on stars, stardom and scandal in British silent cinema
  • Topical Budget is 100!
    Celebrating 100 years since the birth of the British newsreel with highlights from the Topical Budget series
  • ‘Only the Screen Was Silent’
    Luke McKernan, moving image archivist from the British Library, will talk about the experience of cinemagoers from the silent days using oral history material from the British Library and BFI
  • Cinema on the Fronts
    Toby Haggith will screen highlights from the Imperial War Museum collection showing how cinema addressed soldiers at the Front and their families back on the Home Front during the Great War
  • Radio on Film
    Bryony Dixon will present a selection of films looking at silent cinemas fascination with the birth of radio including radio Europa, Romance of the Postal Telegraphy, ‘I’ Got a Sweetie on the Radio’, Mr Smith Wakes Up, Bonzo Broadcasted and Wireless Whirl
  • In Sound and Silence
    Tony Fletcher presents a programme of popular classical music, opera and dance in the 1920’s and the various experiments in synchronous sound that recorded these performances
  • Transports of Delight
    A family programme of vehicular fun featuring trains, planes, automobiles and silent comedy
  • New Discoveries in British Silent Film
    Including Cecil Hepworth’s Helen of Four Gates (1921) starring Alma Taylor, rediscovered almost ninety years after it was believed destroyed and Walter Forde’s 1928 comedy What Next?
  • From Silent to Sound
    An illustrated presentation from Robert Murphy and Geoff Brown on the how British cinema made the transition from silent to sound cinema
  • Genre Film and Genre Music
    Neil Brand and Phil Carli discuss why high staccato strings means murder in cinema and how various musical themes developed during the silent period
  • Beau Geste (1926)
    Hollywood director Herbert Brenon’s adaptation of the best-selling British adventure story about the Foreign Legion starring the quintessentially English Ronald Colman
  • Twinkletoes (1926)
    US director Charles Brabin’s take on the British music hall starring Hollywood’s favourite flapper Colleen Moore
  • Lonesome (1928)
    Paul Fejos’s brilliant part-talkie where dialogue was introduced as a novelty in this story of two lonely people trying to find love in New York. The film features a fantastic jazz-fuelled parade in Coney Island
  • Morozko (1925)
    Yu Zhelyabuzhsky’s rarely seen Soviet fantasy about a stepdaughter who is driven out to face the spirit of winter is here presented with its original music score rediscovered and reconstructed for orchestra. Presented in conjunction with Sounds of Early Cinema Conference
  • I Was Born But … (1932)
    Ozu’s classic family comedy marks the very end of the silent period. As one of the greatest silent films ever made, it is screened here to celebrate the artistic excellence which the silent cinema had achieved

The Festival is organised in partnership with the British Film Institute. The conference is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of its ‘Beyond Text’ programme, and organised in conjunction with Royal Holloway, University of London and the University of Edinburgh.

Well, that looks like an interesting mixture of usual suspects and unexpected suspects. Among the usuals, my contribution will hopefully be a bit more than just me talking about the experiences of filmgoers during the silent era – I plan to be putting together an entertainment of some sort. Anyway, riches a-plenty, and it’s always good news to learn that the festival has managed to survive another year – no mean feat in these straitened times.

More information will appear in due course on the British Silent Film Festival website.

The Tenement Ghost

As regulars will know, here at the Bioscope we like to champion the modern silent film, of which there are growing numbers. The explosion in film production brought about cheap cameras, broadband and online video platforms has led to many experiment with a variety of film forms, silent among them. There are many such home-made or semi-home-made efforts which are of short duration, but the organisation required for a feature length silent means that these are inevitably fewer in number. Nevertheless we’ve been able to champion such titles as How I Filmed the War, Silent, Hannah House, The Gold Bug and Prometheus Triumphant.

Now we can add to their number The Tenement Ghost. This 51-minute film was directed and produced by Thomas Cochrane for his Twisty-Headed Man Company in 2009. Set in Scotland just after the First World War (though costumes seen to veer between 1919 and 2009), the film documents the disintegration of a marriage following the husband’s descent in alcoholism. Physical and emotional violence follow, then spectral occurences are experienced by the bride, as the film’s press handout describes:

Her rapid transition from starry-eyed bride to battered wife is marked by the appearance of a ghostly apparition and, though we are never sure whether this spectre is real or simply a fantasy borne of her brutal situation, its appearances become more frequent as her personality disintegrates. The death of their unborn child pushes her ever closer to the edge of sanity until the ghostly visitor’s promptings finally impel her into a last desperate attempt to free herself from torment, bringing the Tenement Ghost to its ghastly and appalling climax.

The film boasts a busy electronic score by Skirlin Burster and stars Frances Rowan as the wife, Barry Ward as the husband heading a cast and crew of twenty. Apparently it was made in just a week on the thinnest of shoestring budgets. The director writes of his enthusiasm for silent films:

It’s not a unique situation – it’s something you see in the newspapers on a far too regular basis – but it is a situation that, if you look at it through the very charming medium of silent film, becomes, I think, more powerful, more shocking … I love silent films. I love the look of them, the feel, the atmosphere. And in producing one I thought the effect would be… the first effect that came to mind was charming – it would be something pleasant to look at. You’d get a warmth from it.

Trailer for The Tenement Ghost

So what is it like? Up to a point the director knows his silents, with plenty of familiar camera angles, visual motifs, intertitles and appropriately attuned performances. It is also in monochrome with faux scratches (such as they wouldn’t have seen in 1919, of course). However he has gone for an odd stop-motion-style look to people’s movements which doesn’t really add to the film’s attractions. Also alcoholism is seldom a good subject for film drama (just ask D.W. Griffith, whose film career came to an end with the unfortunate The Struggle) and there isn’t much story here. But there are some striking visuals, a good performance from Frances Rowan, and an overall a sense that it was right to shoot the film silent – it’s not simply a sound film shorn of its words. It’s just that over 50 minutes you need a bit more of a story, or just a little more complexity.

The film can be seen in its entirely on Vimeo or on the film’s website, where you are also offered the choice buy it on DVD (£10.00 plus p&p) or download it as a free torrent.

There an interview with Thomas Cochrane on his experience making the film on Eye for Film.

Footage on demand

http://www.criticalpast.com

There are many archive footage websites which are offering their wares to the commercial footage researcher, but whose holdings are going to be of interest to the academic enthusiast. We’ve previously covered such resources as British Pathe and British Movietone, and will return to other such sites in due course. One that has come to my attention that is just a little bit different is CriticalPast. It’s certainly worth some investigation.

CriticalPast is designed to make films and still images easily available to professionals and non-professionals alike. It currently holds over 57,000 videos and 7 million still images, all royalty-free, much of it content from US government agencies, plus such familiar collections as the Ford and Universal Newsreels collections. While many footage allow visitors to view preview clips, CriticalPast lets users download footage or images immediately (upon payment, of course, and after assenting to a licence agreement), with different image resolution and prices according to usage. The cheapest rate is $3.97 (for iPhone, iPad, PowerPoint etc); the commercial rate for say an HD MPEG2 1080-25p depends on file size e.g. a 5 minute video of at 1.3GB would cost $145.

What makes CriticalPast stand out, apart from the user-friendly ordering, is the quality of the searching experience and the sheer quantity and quality of what is on offer. It is almost all non-fiction film material, ranging from 1891 (genuinely so – it’s an early Edison test) to 1996 (a few rogue fiction films have slipped in, like Chaplin’s The Bond, D.W. Griffith’s The New York Hat and clips from The Birth of a Nation). The largest amount of material comes from the 1940s. As well as the simple front-page search there is an advance search option which allows to to search by specific dates, date range, colour, silent or sound, edited or unedited, language, and location. There is a very helpful timeline dividing clips up by decade, then year and thereafter by location. Once you have searched for any subject there is the option to refine your search further by decade/year, location and format. The cataloguing information is generally good, with concise, informative description and US Government Archive ID numbers. For any item you choose you can tweet about it, send to Facebook, Stumble Upon etc., email the information to a friend – and, yes, you can even view it. The images are all frame stills from the videos (British Pathe is another footage library which has created a subsidiary image archive by capturing frames as regular intervals as part of the video digitising process).

Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance in The Bond (1918), available in its 1942 Canadian reissue form under the title Some Bonds I Have Known

If we concentrate on the silent film era (which is our wont) there are some 7,200 clips available. You can find Edison films from the 1890s, then news-based material from around the world (it certainly isn’t just restricted to the USA, and interestingly there are quite a few British Gaumont Graphic newsreels), with strong World War I material (there isn’t that much in the archive before 1915), travel, exploration and industrial films, and much surprisingly material for the curious browser. I have found oil exploration in Persia in 1908, British food aid being received by Russian villagers in 1917, US black troops on horseback and bicycle in 1918, Hungarian newsreels of its brief Soviet republic of 1919, footage of Ernest Shackleton’s final Antarctic expedition in 1922, and the production of nitrate film stock in Rochester, NY in 1929.

It’s a fascinating site, compulsively browsable, and really useful whether you are looking to use clips yourself or not. Go explore.

A perfect light

Robert Flaherty filming Nanook of the North

The relief to be out of the sun,
To have come north once more
To my islands of dark ore
Where winter is so long
Only a little light
Gets through, and that perfect.

I think this is my favourite film poem. It’s not immediately obvious that it is about film; for that you need its title and subtitle: “Epitaph for Robert Flaherty (after reading The Innocent Eye, by Arthur Calder-Marshall, in Montreal, Canada)”. It was written by the Irish poet Derek Mahon and first published in 1968 in his collection Night-Crossing (the long subtitle appeared later). It is the last two lines that are so acute: “Only a little light/Gets through, and that perfect”. Is there a better, more poetically concise summation of photographic art?

Though the poem is called an epitaph, it gives the impression of being the thoughts of Robert Flaherty, while at the same time Derek Mahon himself. The location is similarly ambiguous. Mahon references Canada in the subtitle, and with the mention of the north, “dark ore” and the long winter it seems he is thinking of the Arctic wastes where Flaherty first filmed in 1913 (on the Belcher Islands of Hudson Bay). Although Flaherty had gone out the as a prospector (for iron ore) he became fascinated by the Inuit people and was encouraged to operate a motion picture camera by the railroad entrepreneur William Mackenzie who had sponsored the prospecting work. He was dissatisfied with the results (and lost much of what he had filmed in a fire) and returned in 1920 to northern Quebec to film what became Nanook of the North (1922), a study of the lives of the Inuit and the founding statement of the art of documentary.

But Mahon the Irishman and Flaherty the Irish-American are just as much thinking of Aran, the island location of Flaherty’s 1934 documentary, Man of Aran (a sound film, but one that was shot silent). The Aran Islands, in Galway Bay, contain no dark ore, but Mahon is thinking of that deep vein of timeless culture (or an idea of that culture) that has drawn so many artists, Flaherty among them. His film notoriously documents a romantic idea of Aran, with the islanders being encouraged to recreate cultural practics (such as the shark hunt) which they had not followed for decades. For Flaherty, literal truth is less important than elemental truth.

Man of Aran, from moma.org

So, is the island of the poem in Hudson Bay or Galway Bay? The volume in which ‘Epitaph for Robert Flaherty’ appears, Night-Crossing contains a second poem, ‘Recalling Aran’), while the two poems are book-ended by ‘Canadian Pacific’ and ‘April on Toronto Island’, showing how the poet has purposefully mixed up thoughts of home and abroad. But the poem is an epitaph, and consequently about death (“out of the sun”), the island therefore being not so much an actual place as an idea of death as Ultima Thule – “death as the terminal island … with the island as ultimate art” as Edna Longley describes it), the place at the edge of the world (to give the title of another film made about remote lives).

The dilemma for the ethnographic filmmaker has always been that the camera they take with them – the symbol of modern civilization – helps bring about the destruction of that which it seeks to record (“Each man kills the thing he loves”, as another Irishman put it). Flaherty’s solution was to record the dream rather than the actuality – the idea of a pure, remote culture, rather than the compromised reality. He filmed with a poet’s eye. Derek Mahon responds with a poet’s appreciation of the filmmaker’s quest, equating the escape from the remorseless advance of the modern with the capture, out of the dark, of that elusive, perfect light.

Trailer for A Boatload of Wild Irishmen

Robert Flaherty is the subject of a new feature-length documentary, A Boatload of Wild Irishmen, directed by Mac Dara O’Curraidhin and written by Brian Winston. I ‘ve not seen it yet and don’t know if it will get shown beyond the festival circuit, but the trailer certainly whets the appetite, both to see the films again (Louisiana Story – such a beautiful film) and to learn more about a filmmaker whose vision is still so inspirational for anyone seeking out the dark ore of why it is we want to film the world at all.

Arthur Calder-Marshall’s classic biography of Flaherty, The Innocent Eye is available on the Internet Archive, and will be placed forthwith in the Bioscope Library. Nanook of the North is available on DVD from Criterion. Man of Aran is not currently available on DVD, but used copies can be easily found. Derek Mahon’s Night-Crossings is out of print, but ‘Epitaph for Robert Flaherty’, ‘Recalling Aran’ (later retitled as ‘Thinking of Inishere in Cambridge, Massachusetts’), ‘Canadian Pacific’ and ‘April in Toronto Island’ can all be found in his Collected Poems.