Early cinema, early news


A while ago we announced the call for papers for a two-day seminar to be held in Girona, Spain, entitled The Construction of News in Early Cinema. The event is being co-organised by the Museu del Cinema, the University of Girona, and the Spanish Ministry of Science & Innovation Project, and 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). It will be held at the Auditori Narcís de Carreras in Girona, 31 March-1 April 2011. The organisers have produced this overview of the seminar’s rationale:

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. We are interested in images that captured reality, such as the reconstructions of events that are to become news. The 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. We are also interested in observing film as an area of intermediality, bringing together a variety of forms from other areas such as photography, painting and popular theatrical shows, in which the idea of news began to be presaged. 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.

The event is going be rather more of a conference than a seminar, and there is a strong line-up of speakers in the programme which has now been published, alongside registration details. Here’s the programme:

Thursday, March 31

9:00 – 9:30 Reception

9:30 – 9:45 Introduction and welcome

9:45 – 10:30 Conference: Rafael F. Tranche (Universidad Complutense de Madrid): Atracciones, actualidad y noticiarios: la información como espectáculo

10:30 – 10:45 Debate

10:45 – 11:00 Pause

11:00 – 12:20 Lectures: Archives I

  • The public wanted new. Programming the Biograph, 1896-1901. Paul Spehr
  • L’actualitat al catàleg Pathé Frères (1896-1914): Terminologia, lèxic i estudi quantitatiu. Daniel Pitarch
  • La imatge tòpica d’Espanya als films de Pathé i Gaumont. M. Magdalena Brotons i Capó
  • Creating an event out of nothing happening: the making of the “Death villages” of the zuiderzee region (The Netherlands) and the negotiation of its imagery (1880-1914). Sarah Dellmann

12:20 – 12:30 Pause

12:30 – 14:00 Lectures and debate: Archives II

  • The Vincenzo Neri Medical collection (1908-1928) a visual repertory between cinema, photography, typography. Simone Venturini
  • Antes del discurso, luego la imagen: el comentario de la película de no ficción en Italia en la época del cine mudo. Luca Mazzei

14.00 – 15:00 Lunch

15:00 – 15:45 Conference: Stephen Bottomore: Filming and ‘Faking’ a News Event – The Coronation of Edward VII (1902)

15:45 – 16:00 Debate

16:00 – 16:40 Lectures: Reconstructions

  • Actualidad reconstruida y reconstrucción de la actualidad. El caso de “Asesinato y entierro de Canalejas”. Begoña Soto y Encarni Rus
  • Actualitats reconstruïdes: del museu del cera als fake. El cas de l’erupció volcànica del Mont Pelée (Georges Méliès, 1902) com a punt de confluència. Marta Sureda

16:40 – 17:00 Pause

17:00 – 19:30 Lectures and debate: Newspapers and information

  • The true-crime films of Antonio Leal, 1906-1909: From newspaper reportage to film re-enactments in Brazil’s “Bela Época”. Rielle Navitski
  • How actual was an actualité in early cinema? Time as agency in presenting moving images of news of fairground and variety theatre. Ansje van Veusekom
  • How to tell a catastrophic event. The earthquake of Messina (Italy) in 1908. Luigi Virgolin
  • La mirada cinematogràfica dels primers fotoperiodistes. Lluïsa Suárez
  • The birth of Italy’s newsreel: study of the Italo Turkish War (1911-1912). Sila Berruti i Luca Mazzei

20.30 Presentation of the book-DVD “Segundo de Chomón. The fantasy film”. Next, cinema session, with live piano music, with films from the Filmoteca de Catalunya. Place of the session: Cinema Truffaut

Friday, April 1

9:30 – 10:15 Conference: Charles Musser: Cinema, Newspapers and the US Presidential Election of 1896

10.15-10:30 Debate

10:30 – 11:00 pause

11:00 – 13:30 Lectures and debate: War and politics

  • What’s in a name? The Russo-Japanese/Japanese-Russian War. Dafna Ruppin
  • El cinema d’animació dels primers temps i la reconstrucció de l’actualitat: el cas de l’enfonsament del Lusitània. Núria Nadal i Jaume Duran
  • El último espectáculo de la confederación: la recepción cinematográfica de la Guerra Civil Americana, 1896-1914. Kirby Pringle
  • Les actualitats Edison de la Guerra de Cuba: entre el Wild West show i el western. Ramon Girona

13:30 – 15:30 Lunch

15:30 – 16:15 Conference: Luke McKernan: Links in the chain: early newsreels and newspapers

16:15 – 16:30 Debate

16.30 – 16:45 Pause

16:45 – 18:30 Lectures and debate: Precinema and early cinema

  • El panorama de Waterloo de Charles Verlat i l’escena artística Barcelonesa a la dècada dels 90 del segle XIX. Neus Moyano
  • La llanterna i les seves variants com a antecedents dels diferents gèneres cinematogràfics. Jordi Artigas
  • La fascinació lúdica i participativa: entre Segundo de Chomón i el primer videojoc. Manuel Garin
  • Antonio Ramos i els orígens del cinema a la Xina. David Martínez-Robles i Teresa Iribarren
  • Los reportajes de festividades locales en la región de Murcia a comienzos delsiglo XX: el caso de la restauración de “La Cruz de Mayo” (Caravaca de laCruz, 1924). Ángel Morán
  • L’actualitat tecnocientífica en el cinema dels orígens: els films d’Edison i l’electromagnetisme. Manuel Moreno

18:30 – 18:35 Closing

19:30 Guided tour of the permanent exhibition at the Museu del Cinema (approx. 75’)

Well, it’s certainly going to be an honour to be speaking at such an event, and in such company. I’m delighted to see that there are scholars actively engaged in studying early newsfilm – this certainly wasn’t always the case in times past – and across such rich and pertinent topics.

The Museu del Cinema site has further details on the seminar, including registration details and other such information. The seminar will be multi-lingual, with simultaneous translation into Catalan, Spanish and English.

Silents to see before you die


Do silent films ever get seen as cult films? There are some cult silents – Pandora’s Box is an obvious example – but for the most part silent films get billed as classics and tend to attract audiences that are a mixture of cineastes and nostalgists, augmented at specialist festivals by film archivists and academics. Silent films are understood to appeal to a very select taste, though there are some efforts to bill the comedies of the era as being the equal of those today and hence as having appeal for a general audience (of course they are frequently hugely superior to the comedies of today, but that’s not quite my point).

But it seems to be a rare thing to promote silent films as cult viewing – not as something that it would be worthy to experience, but something word-of-mouth cool. I was wondering why this wasn’t attempted more often as I went to the Prince Charles cinema in London’s Leicester Square last Thursday to see The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). The Prince Charles is London’s home of cult cinema. It specialises in picking up on films just out of general release which it can offer at cheaper prices to the impoverished students that make up a large part of its audiences. As well as these recently recent releases it has repertory seasons of cult films, retrospectives, ‘films to see before you die’, audience participation singalonga films (Sound of Music, Grease) and the inevitable Rocky Horror Picture Show.

And now it has silent films. On the last Thursday of every month the Prince Charles is showing a silent film, and is attracting the sorts of audiences you just don’t see at any other sort of silent film screening. The initiative has only just started, with The Cameraman shown last month, Hunchback last week, and Aelita in February. So an audience is still being built up, but it looks like word-of-mouth is working already, because the reasonably-sized cinema with its curious reverse raking was nearly full, with those attending being young, enthusiastic, cine-literate to a degree no doubt, but also just keen to have a good time.

Lon Chaney as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, from http://www.dvdbeaver.com

It was a great audience to be a part of, with a palpable sense of discovery in the air. Unfortunately, if you are going to build up a cult reputation, films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame are not the way to do it. It looks spectacular, of course. It is the archetypal historical screen romance. It has an iconic performance from Lon Chaney. But the direction (by the obscure Wallace Worsley) is sluggish and uninspired. There is no real human feeling to it (aside from Chaney, of course). Moreover the film looked terrible (I believe only poor elements survive), and I think it was a DVD that they were projecting. If you had prejudices against silent films before you went in, you would have gone out having had them confirmed.

On the plus side there was John Sweeney playing the piano in bravura style, with a marvellous set of dissonant chords mimicking the ringing of bells to open the film, and he brought out the best of what was on the screen. Sometimes the audience laughed at its quaintness, sometimes they laughed with it. Certainly they stayed with it. You got a good sense that they would be coming back for more, and Aelita on February 24th is a good choice for the next screening, with live music acompaniment by Minima.

I hope very much that this experiment continues, and that silents start to be billed as films that you have to see before you die (alas, the Prince Charles lapses into the bad habit shown by others and bills the films as ‘classics’ – we shouldn’t want to see these films just because they are worthy). With Metropolis having broken out of the cinematheques to reach some general theatres, there is something in the air about silent films, which suggests that there are new audiences out there eager to discover the best in them. The films just need to go to where those audiences are. The Prince Charles is showing the way.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 10

I’m going to try and revive a neglected feature, the Bioscope Newsreel. It was an irregularly issued round-up of news stories on silent films that weren’t going to make it into fully-fledged posts, and in bringing it back to life I want to expand the brief a little to include interesting new pieces writing, blog posts etc. on our silent world (and its contexts). If I’m really good I’ll make it a weekly occurence, but I won’t commit myself to that just yet. Anyway, after a gap of just under two years, here’s issue number ten:

Films in concert
Films en Concert is a two-day silent film festival being held at the Salle André Malraux, Lambersart, France 4-5 February 2011. Featuring Chaplin biographer and Pordenone director David Robinson plus Pordenone pianists Neil Brand and Touve R. Ratovondrahety, the festival focusses on Chaplin with talks, screnings and a session for school children, plus Bébé and Bout-de-Zan comedies, Jacques Feyder’s Gribiche (1926) and Chaplin’s The Circus (1928). Read more.

Female Hamlet
John Wyver of the film and video production company Illuminations writes an excellent blog on film, art and culture. His latest post is on the Asta Nielsen Hamlet (1920), recently screened at the BFI Southbank, in which the great Danish actress plays the great Dane. An observant piece from a present-day producer of Shakespeare films (Hamlet, Macbeth). Read more.

Silent and white
Michael Hogan of The Daily Telegraph reviews the TV screening of The Great White Silence, Herbert Ponting’s 1924 documentary record of the doomed Scott Antarctic expedition. Interestingly the review doesn’t look upon the film as historically quaint but simply as a record of those events equivalent to any TV polar documentary. Read more.

Film and European copyright
The EYE Film Institute of the Netherlands has produced some Guidelines for Copyright Clearance and IPR Management for the European Film Gateway project. Viewing things from the European angle, the guidelines consider copyright basics, exploitation rights, moral rights, orphan works, clearing rights in related media (stills, posters), searching for rights holders and a summary of copyright law in various European countries (though not the UK). Read more.

Lost and significant
It’s hard to say what exactly is the appeal in describing films that no one living has seen, but the Shadowlocked site has an entertaining item on ’15 historically significant “lost” films’, most of which are silent, and include Saved from the Titanic (1912), The Werewolf (1913), A Study in Scarlet (1914) and that great Bioscope favourite, Drakula halála (1921). Read more.

‘Til next time!

Things Australian no. 2 – The first motion pictures

Marius Sestier (with beard) and H. Walter Barnett filming the Melbourne Cup horse race, 3 November 1896, from The Bulletin, 14 November 1896, reproduced by Tony Martin-Jones

Yesterday’s post on the Corrick Collection demonstrated the great work done by a national institution, the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. But great work can come from single scholars, and this second post on things Australian turns to the work of one of those generally referrred to as an ‘independent’ scholars or researchers. Independent scholars and institutions (archives, film institutes, universities etc) don’t always mix too happily, because each operates under different rules and pressures. But without the efforts of those such as John Barnes, Aldo Bernardini, Herbert Birett and Denis Gifford, our historiography of the silent cinema would be very much the poorer. The independent scholar – the good ones, that is – gets things done.

And so we turn to Film History Notes, the plainly designed but richly informative website of Australian film historian Tony Martin-Jones. Bracingly describing his purpose as “getting to the truth after decades of unchecked nonsense”, Martin-Jones writes about the first motion pictures projected and produced in Australia and India.

His mission is to overturn accepted truths about these first motion pictures, of which there are many. Early film history is full of ‘firsts’ of dubious veracity, and myths have been built up which were encouraged at a time when film history was less rigorous and often dominated by sentiment. He re-examines these through detailed use of newspaper accounts, catalogues, state archives, photographic sources and local knowledge, then by applying deductive logic, not trusting to any accepted truth (even if the process sometimes leads to the conclusion that those truths are – probably – correct). He then publishes all of his findings online, with clear descriptions, painstakingly compiled lists of dates, and extensive references. This is research information that is properly shared.

So you can find out about the magician Carl Hertz and the first projected motion pictures in Australia, Lumière operator Marius Sestier and the first projected motion pictures in India (he was on his way to Australia), the meeting of Sestier and photographer H. Walter Barnett and their collaboration over the filming of the 1896 Melbourne Cup, and the 1897-1898 England-Australia test match films ostensibly filmed by Barnett (a long-held story that Martin-Jones vigorously challenges).

An extract from Patineur grotesque

He particularly goes to town over the Lumière film Patineur grotesque, which the National Film and Sound Archive recently announced as being the oldest surviving Australian film (see the Bioscope report from March 2010). Martin-Jones challenges this, basing some of his argument on the length of shadows shown in the film (which he thinks was shot later than the Melbourne Cup films), instead asserting that it is the earliest surviving motion picture taken in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia – which has less of a ring to it. He has fun identifying the location (fun partly at the expense of the NFSA which had said that the location was Melbourne), and even has a go at identifying the skater.

Institutions don’t always have the time to go into individual films with the passionate detail that Martin-Jones portrays, and in any case they are probably by definition homes of accepted truths. I have experience myself of working for a certain British film institution and having my identifcations of a very early film challenged by an independent scholar shocked that said institution could make such a blunder, writing detailed letters and papers about the misdeed (the said independent scholar turned out to be wrong, but that’s another story…) I sympathise with both sides, but I do admire an argument well made and good use of primary sources. And it is always good policy to challenge what you find, if you are going to call yourself a researcher.

Whether the truths of history (film or otherwise) can be determined by the plain accumulation of chronological evidence is another matter. What does it matter who was ‘first’? What do such ‘firsts’ mean? Why do we still persist in considering film history through national eyes? It is difficult to avoid such stuff when considering those years when motion pictures were first produced and projected, but what does it actually tell us? We should always want to get our facts straight, but the real film history – which is the impact of film upon history – lies elsewhere.

Things Australian no. 1: The Marvellous Corricks

Les Fleurs Animées (Pathé, France 1906), from the Corrick Collection in the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

For the past few years those attending the Pordenone silent film festival have been treated to examples from an extraordinary collection of early films held by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. The films are those collected (and in some cases made) by the Corrick Family Entertainers, or The Marvellous Corricks, a performing troupe comprising Albert and Sarah Corrick and their eight children which toured Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia between 1901 and 1914 and which included film in its act.

The Corricks’ show combined song, comedy, dance, lantern slides, poetry readings and film. Some 135 films survive, chiefly titles the family purchased from France, England, the USA and Italy, plus films that they shot themselves, which includes travel footage, a chase comedy (The Bashful Mr Brown) and film of them on tour. The films they purchased are superb in quality, combining fiction and non-fiction, several films with beautiful colouring (around a quarter of the collection is stencil coloured and another quarter tinted and toned). The Corricks clearly had a fine eye for a good film, favouring particular companies (notably Pathé, Charles Urban Trading Company and Edison). Many of the films are unique to the Corrick collection, and include some real cinematic treasures.

The Corricks c.1898: (Front row) Sarah, Ethel, Alice, Elsie, Albert. (Back row) Amy, Ruby, Leonard (the family’s cinematograph expert), Jessie, Gertrude, from the National Film and Sound Archive

As Leslie Anne Lewis writes in her excellent essay ‘The Corrick Collection: A Case Study in Asia-Pacific Itinerant Film Exhibition (1901-1914)’, Albert and Sarah Corrick planned for a musical family, and trained their children in singing, dancing, bell-ringing and playing a wide variety of musical instruments, among them piano, organ, flute, piccolo, cello, violin, saxophone, mandolin and cornet, with the children often proficient in a number of these. They played in concert halls, town halls and the like, stressing the family-friendly wholesome ness of their show, touring all of the Australian territories up to 1907 before going on an international tour. It was during this tour that they picked up many films, though a projector had been part of their act from the beginning. The family’s cinematograph expert was Leonard Corrick, and his film shows were often billed separately as ‘Leonard’s Beautiful Pictures’. Many people in Australia and South-East Asia saw their first films, and their first views of a world outside their home town, from a Corrick family show. It is evidence of how important variety shows were to early film, how film was integrated within such entertainments to be a part of song, dance and showmanship, and how eventually film outstripped itinerant shows such as those of the Corricks and became the show in itself.

The films began the tortuous process of joining the NFSA collection and gradually being properly preserved in 1968, with the definitive work really only being undertaken recently (see Leslie Anne Lewis’ essay for details). Basic information on all of the films can be found on the NFSA catalogue, with much greater details available for those titles shown at Pordenone by browsing the catalogues of past festivals or using the Pordenone festival’s database (which does not include 2010 screenings as yet). For your convenience (because that is the Bioscope’s mission), here is a list of titles that have been identified and screened so far:

  • “AND A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM” (d. D.W. Griffith p.c. Biograph, USA 1909)
  • AU JARDIN ZOOLOGIQUE DE PARIS (p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • A BABY’S SHOE (d. Charles J. Brabin p.c. Edison, USA 1912)
  • BABYLAS VIENT D’HÉRITER D’UNE PANTHÈRE (d. Alfred Machin p.c. Pathé, France 1911)
  • BAIN DE BÉBÉ (p.c. Pathé, France 1904)
  • BASHFUL MR. BROWN (p.c. Corrick, Australia 1907)
  • LA BELLE AU BOIS DORMANT (d. Lucien Nonguet, Ferdinand Zecca p.c. Pathé, France 1902)
  • BETTINA’S SUBSTITUTE; OR, THERE’S NO FOOL LIKE AN OLD FOOL (d. Albert W. Hale p.c. Vitagraph, USA 1912)
  • BICYCLETTE PRÉSENTÉE EN LIBERTÉ (p.c.. Pathé, France 1906)
  • A CANADIAN WINTER CARNIVAL (p.c. Edison, USA 1909)
  • LE CHAPEAU (p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • CHASSE AU PAPILLON (p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • CHASSE AU SANGLIER (p.c. Pathé, France 1904)
  • COIFFES ET COIFFURES (d. Gaston Velle p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • COME CRETINETTI PAGA DI DEBITI (d. André Deed p.c. Itala, Italy 1909)
  • COMEDY CARTOONS (d. Walter R. Booth p.c. Urban, GB 1907)
  • CRETINETTI LOTTATORE (p.c. Itala, Italy 1909)
  • LES DÉBUTS D’UN CHAUFFEUR (d. Georges Hatot p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • DEUX BRAVES COEURS (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • LE DINER AU 9 (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • DON QUICHOTTE (d. Lucien Nonguet, Ferdinand Zecca p.c. Pathé, France 1904)
  • DOWN ON THE FARM (p.c. Edison, USA 1905)
  • DU CAIRE AUX PYRAMIDES (p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • FANTASIAS ARABES (p.c. Pathé, France 1902)
  • FIRE! (d. James Williamson p.c. Williamson, GB 1901)
  • LES FLEURS ANIMÉES (d. Gaston Velle p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • LES GRANDES EAUX DE VERSAILLES (p.c. Pathé, France 1904)
  • GUILLAUME TELL (d. Lucien Nonguet p.c. Pathé, France 1903)
  • THE HAND OF THE ARTIST (d. Walter R. Booth p.c. Paul, GB 1906)
  • HER FIRST CAKE (d. James Williamson p.c. Williamson, GB 1906)
  • HISTOIRE D’UN PANTALON (p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • HOW JONES LOST HIS ROLL (d. Edwin S. Porter p.c. Edison, USA 1905)
  • AN INDIAN’S GRATITUDE (p.c. Pathé, USA 1911)
  • LES INVISIBLES (d. Gaston Velle p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • J’AI PERDU MON LORGNON (d. Charles Lucien Lépine p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • LIFE OF A COWBOY (d. Edwin S. Porter p.c. Edison, USA 1906)
  • LIVING LONDON (p.c. Urban, GB 1904) [note: now identified as THE STREET OF LONDON p.c. Urban, GB 1906)
  • THE LOST CHILD (d. Wallace McCuthcheon p.c. Edison, USA 1904)
  • THE MAGICAL PRESS (d. Walter R. Booth p.c. Urban, GB 1907)
  • MARIE-ANTOINETTE (p.c. Pathé, France 1903)
  • LA MÉTALLURGIE AU CREUSOT (p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • THE MINER’S DAUGHTER (d. James Williamson p.c. Williamson, GB 1907)
  • MIRACLE DE NOËL (p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • MONSIEUR QUI A MANGÉ DU TAUREAU (p.c. Gaumont, France 1907)
  • NAVAL ATTACK AT PORTSMOUTH (p.c. Urban, GB 1907)
  • NIAGARA IN WINTER 1909 (p.c. Urban, GB 1909)
  • PAUVRES VIEUX (Pathé, France 1907)
  • LES PETITS PIFFERARI (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • LA POUDRE ANTINEURESTHÉNIQUE (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • LA POULE AUX OEUFS D’OR (d. Gaston Velle p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • LE REGNE DE LOUIS XIV (d. V. Lorant Heilbronn p.c. Pathé, France 1904)
  • LA RUCHE MERVEILLEUSE (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • LE SCULPTEUR EXPRESS (p.c. Pathé, France 1907) (p.c. Urban, GB c.1905)
  • [THE SHORT-SIGHTED CYCLIST] (p.c. Eclipse, France 1907)
  • LE SINGE ADAM II (Pathé, France 1909)
  • SPORTS AT SEA ON THE S.S. RUNIC (p.c. Corrick, Australia 1909)
  • [STREET SCENES IN PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA] (p.c. Corrick, Australia 1907)
  • TOTO EXPLOITE LA CURIOSITÉ (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • LE TOUR DU MONDE D’UN POLICIER (d. Charles Lucien Lépine p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • [TRAVEL SCENES] (p.c. Urban, GB c.1905)
  • LA VIE INDIGÈNE AU SOUDAN ÉGYPTIEN (p.c. Pathé, France 1908)
  • THE WAIF AND THE STATUE (d. Walter Booth p.c. Urban, GB 1907)
  • WHEN THE WIFE’S AWAY (p.c. Paul, GB 1905)
  • WHO STOLE JONES’ WOOD? (p.c. Lubin, USA 1909)
  • A WINTER STRAW RIDE (d. Wallace McCutcheon, Edwin S. Porter p.c. Edison, USA 1907)

Other films in the collection are still in the process of being identified and preserved – the NFSA catalogue lists these, with such intriguing titles as The Burglar and the Baby, A Canine Arthimetician, Elephants Working in a Burmese Forest, Fée Aux Pigeons, Hallo! Haloo! Grinder, A Japanese Teahouse: Dance of the Geishas, Olympic Games in Athens [1906], and A Trip through Switzerland Engadin Valley.

You can read about the Corrick Collection on the NFSA’s Australian Screen site which includes a number of clips from the films (The Hand of the Artist, La Poule aux Oeufs d’Or and Street Scenes in Perth, Western Australia). There’s another overview on the main NFSA site.

Films from the Corrick Collection are currently featuring in My Bicycle Loves You, a collaboration between the NFSA and physical theatre company Legs on the Wall that combines film footage with live performance to reveal the world of the Corrick Family. It played at the Sydney Festival last week and will be playing at the Perth Festival 22-26 February.

Stage to screen

Members of the Society for Theatre Research at the Art Worker’s Guild

A couple of days ago I was fortunate to attend Viewing the Victorian Stage on 20th Century Film, an event organised by the Society for Theatre Research. Held in the quaintly elegant surroundings of the Art Worker’s Guild in London’s Queen’s Square, we saw a programme of rare and remarkable examples of Victorian stage practice preserved in one form or another on film. The programme was an outcome of years of research into the Victorian and Edwardian stage on film by Professor David Mayer and Helen Day-Mayer, and complementary research into its stage film holdings by the BFI’s Bryony Dixon. David introduced, Bryony talked us through the films, Neil Brand played the piano, and an enthusiastic and learned crowd lapped up the films with a mixture of amusement and astonishment.

We began with Georges Méliès’ Faust aux Infers (France 1903), presented as an example of a diablerie or férique film of the kind that was exhibited in British music halls and American vaudeville houses. The point made was that Méliès constructed a glass-roofed facsimile of his Robert Houdin’s theatre as his film studio, so that he could recreate stage effects as part of his films, using an array of ingenious machinery. For Méliès, film was a means to realise his theatrical dreams.

It was so useful to see these films from a theatre historian’s perspective. I have seen Edison’s Japanese Acrobats (USA 1904) before, and marvelled at the great skill on display, but had not known before that it shows an example of a ‘risley act’, named after Richard Risley Carlisle, an American acrobat who juggled with his feet while lying on his back, and act which he took to Japan in the 1860s. Will Evans, The Musical Eccentric (UK 1899) was less dazzling, showing a British variety comedians playing a ukelele and doing somersaults with a chair of the kind which you now see any week in the Premiership when the more acrobatic of footballers has scored a goal. He also had difficulty in keeping in shot, to a degree that you wondered why on earth the film company (Warwick) didn’t retake. But it was an unadorned demonstration of standard fare on a British variety stage on 1899, and that was what many in the audience were hoping to see – film as time machine, showing those who knew their theatre history something of what it was actually like to be there.

Particularly precious to witness was Lil Hawthorne sings ‘Kitty Mahone’ (UK 1900). This is a very early example of a synchronised sound film i.e. a silent film of a singer intended to be synchronised with a cylinder recording of their voice. The synchronisation wasn’t perfect, but it was very moving to hear her voice sing out ‘my pretty Kitty Mahone / I’m tired of living alone’ as she gestured to the audience in what looked like the stage of the Hippodrome in London, but which was actually a stage mock-up and was filmed on the roof of the theatre.

Faust aux Infers (1903)

American Mutoscope & Biograph’s Duel Scene from ‘Macbeth’ (USA 1905) was crude melodrama, Shakespeare reduced to knockabout swordfighting, the kind of rough-and-tumble extracts from plays that existed as popular variety theatre turns. Here We Are Again (UK 1913) was a surviving example of a harlequinade film, of the kind made for child audiences during holidays. It was simple knockabout stuff, but also gave the clearest of echoes to the proto-pantomimes of the early nineteenth century, when every such production had its Columbine and Harlequin.

One of the hits of the evening was Le Pied de Mouton (France 1907), a Pathé féerie or fairy play directed by Albert Capellani. To an audience of early film historians this would have been an interesting example of a fantasy film with two men (brightly stencil-coloured) encountering a giant head in a forest, notable for its staging in depth. For the stage historian, here were precious examples on show of vampire traps and star traps – types of trapdoor enabling performers to disappear and reappear through the floor at astonishing speed. Opinion afterwards was that Pathé had to have followed Georges Méliès’ lead and to have constructed its studio either from a theatre or by importing theatrical machinery. Not for the first time in the evening some argued that the film must show a scene inside a theatre – a holy grail for the theatre historian, again yearning to see what an actual audience member saw. But it was so much easier to recreate the effects in the studio than to go to the huge expense and inconvenience of setting up cameras in a theatre, with the considerable arc lighting that would have been required to illuminate the proceedings sufficiently. All of the films we were shown were filmed in a studio of one sort or another – with one astonishing exception, which we’ll come to.

The Whip (USA 1916) was a feature film version of a renowned Drury Lane drama about the attempts to nobble a horse, which on stage featured a sensational rail crash. What overwhelmed audiences when they saw it in a theatre was par for the course on the screen, and the realistic nature of Maurice Tourneur’s drama – from which we saw the sequence where the locomotive crashes, with the horse (The Whip) saved just in time – seemed worlds away from the theatre. The film could thrill, but it could not astonish. Rather better as a film was Pimple’s The Whip (UK 1917), a cheerfully stupid parody of film and play, in which the rescue of the horse (a pantomime horse) needs to be repeated a number of times because the train driver keeps on getting his cue wrong. As a practitioner of deconstructed comedy Pimple (the nephew of Will Evans, who we had seen earlier) seemed remarkably modern.

And then we found the holy grail. For many years now the BFI National Archive has had a film in its collection given the supplied title of (Collapsing Bridge) and dated c.1902. Here’s the description from the BFI database:

A section opening with an armed attack by men in peasant costume, led by a girl, against an unseen enemy. A painted backcloth represents mountain scenery and a bridge is in the foreground. The men and girl vanish at the aproach of two horse-drawn coaches from opposite directions which endeavour to cross the bridge simultaneously; water suddenly cascades down from the mountains, collapsing the bridge and plunging the horses and coaches into the water.

Described thus, it reads like part of a film scenario which we would expect to be divided up into a number of shots. But we see the entire action in one long shot, clearly filmed inside a hippodrome theatre, and featuring the stock-in-trade of hippodromes, a troupe of horses diving into the water. The effect is jaw-droppingly extraordinary. But what is the show, and who made the film? We don’t yet know. It’s quite likely that the film shows a 1902 show called The Bandits (described here), but no record has been found of any film made of the production. The filmmaker is possibly Walter Gibbons, future owner of the London Palladium, who we know filmed another Hippodrome production, Tally Ho!, around the same time, using an overpowering number of arc lights. But until we know for sure the film remains frustratingly fugitive even while it almost uniquely gives you the sense of truly being in the presence of the Victorian/Edwardian theatre at its maddest and boldest.

Trilby (UK 1914) is a disappointingly stolid piece of work. Its interest for the theatre historian is that it stars Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, in all his eye-rolling glory, as Svengali, but it fails to mesmerise. People talking afterwards noted the different acting styles of Tree and Viva Birkett, a florid Victorian manner alongside a subtler, even Ibsenian performance from her. It was good then to see Edison’s parodic Why Girls Leave Home (USA 1909), which cheerfully sends up every convention of the melodrama, including over-the-top acting, malfunctioning stage machinery and plot absurdities. The full film originally included a framing story in which a vicar tries to prevent his daughter from seeing a play, but she does so, and this is what she sees. Unfortunately what survives (held by the CNC archive in France) is in a dreadful state, with the image barely distinct, making us strain all the more to see laughs than would otherwise be the case. But it was clear that the Edwardians knew exactly how to laugh at the Victorians.

We finished with a long sequence (the tribunal scene) from The Only Way (UK 1926), an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and a star vehicle for theatrical great Sir John Martin-Harvey. He first appeared as Sidney Carton in 1899, and twenty-five years later he was still playing the same role, aged sixty-three. The feature film, directed by Herbert Wilcox, tries as far as possible to duplicate the stage production, though it was a film for all that and an engrossing example of the complex interrelationship between the two media. This came out in Martin-Harvey’s performance, which was a mixture of extravagant gestures and fine details that only the camera could pick up. It was pure ham from the theatrical knight, and you saw in his eyes someone who had played the same role a few hundred times too many, but you also saw such star magnetism that his great fame instantly made sense.

Silent film was profoundly indebted to the Victorian theatre. Actors, acting conventions, plays, genres, types of stage effect, its kudos, all had a huge effect on how the silent film grew. We can look at silent films and see endless traces of its Victorian stage origins, not just in films that clearly emulate a stage experience, but more subtly in how films were constructed, what they wanted to be, and then what they reacted against when they felt themselves outgrowing their theatrical inheritance.

But we cannot simply look at silent films for direct evidence of stage practice. Film changes everything it touches. Stage acts were changed to fit the dimensions of film – literally so, when the space in which a film could be made was smaller than stage space. The conventions of theatre were not so much borrowed as adapted for film, and then blended with the conventions of film itself. Also, film was not static, but changed greatly over the twenty-five years that we saw, during which the relationship between the two media grew ever more complex. In the end we witnessed not so much examples of stage practice recorded on film but rather a changing history of performance. Film became another stage for actors, dancers, comedians and magicians. Some adapted more happily than others, but as soon as they put themselves before a camera it changed them. It is that process of adaptation that film records rather than being some sort of literal mirror of what took place upon a stage. We may go looking for the evidence that we seek in a piece of film, but we will always end up finding something else.

Examples of American stage and variety stars from the early 1900s can be found on the Library of Congress’ American Memory site – the American Variety Stage 1870-1920 collection – and the Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment playlist on its YouTube channel.

The organisers of the event produced a handy bibliography, which I’m going to take the liberty of reproducing, as the aim was to encourage others to engage in research in this area:

  • Richard Abel, French Cinema: The First Wave, 1915-1929 (Princeton University Press) 1984
  • ____,The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914 (California University Press) 1994)
  • ____, (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Early Film (Routledge), 2005
  • Jacky Bratton, Jim Cook & Christine Gledhill (eds), Melodrama: Stage Picture Screen (British Film Institute), 1994
  • Ben Brewster & Lea Jacobs, Theatre to Cinema (Oxford University Press), 1997
  • Judith Buchanan, Shakespeare on Silent Film: An Excellent Dumb Discourse (Cambridge University Press), 2009
  • Jon Burrows, Legitimate Cinema: Theatre Stars in Silent British Films 1908-1918 (University of Exeter Press), 2003
  • Jim Davis (ed) Victorian Pantomime / A Collection of Critical Essays (Palgrave Macmillan), 2010
  • Bryony Dixon, Chaplin-In-Context A Catalogue of Music Hall Related Films 1895 – 1930 held by the bfi National Film and Television Archive, Downloadable as Chaplin-in-context.pdf No date
  • ____, 100 Silent Films (BFI & Palgrave Macmillan) forthcoming 2011
  • Linda Fitzsimmons & Sarah Street (eds), Moving Performance: British Stage and Screen 1890s-1920s (Flicks Books), 2000
  • Dennis Gifford, Books and Plays in Films 1896-1915: Literary, Theatrical and Artistic Sources of the First Twenty Years of Motion Pictures (McFarland & Mansell), 1991
  • Martin Miller Marks, Music and the Silent Film/ Contexts and Case Studies, 1895-1924 (Oxford University Press), 1997
  • David Mayer, Playing Out the Empire: Ben-Hur and other Toga Plays and Films 1883- 1908 (Clarendon Press), 1994
  • ___, Stagestruck Filmmaker: D.W. Griffith and the American Theatre (University of Iowa Press), 2009
  • Charles Musser, Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company (University of California Press), 1991
  • ___, Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900 (Smithsonian Institution Press & Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), 1997
  • Kemp R. Niver & Bebe Bergsten (eds) Early Motion Pictures: The Paper Print Collection in the Library of Congress (Library of Congress), 1985
  • David Robinson, Musique et Cinéma Muet (Réunion des Musées Nationaux), 1995
  • ____ From Peep Show to Palace: The Birth of American Film (Columbia University Press), 1996
  • Matthew Solomon, Disappearing Tricks: Silent Film, Houdini, and the New Magic of the Twentieth Century (University of Illinois Press), 2010
  • ____, (ed) Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination: Georges Méliès’s Trip to the Moon (SUNY Press) forthcoming 2011

StummFilmMusikTage 2011

Germany’s festival of silent film and music, StummFilmMusikTage, returns once more, but in a somewhat reduced state [nothing to worry about – see comments]. What was previously a three-day event at Erlangen is now three screenings over the one day, 29 January 2011:

Short Film Programme: Charlie Chaplin’s Adventures
The Rink (USA 1916)
Behind the Screen (USA 1916)
A Night in the Show (USA 1915)
Score and accompaniment: Yogo Pausch

Introduction: All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front (USA 1930, 145 min, Dir: Lewis Milestone)
Music: Manfred Knaak; Accompaniment: ensemble KONTRASTE conducted by Christian Schumann

The End of the World (Verdens Undergang) (DK 1916, 74 min, Dir: August Blom)
Music and accompaniment: Interzone Perceptible

As before, the festival will be held in the Markgrafentheater Erlangen, a baroque theatre built in 1719 and still in use. There’s more information as always on the festival site, and they are now open for bookings.

In the lobby

Lobby card for The Covered Wagon (1923), part of the Western Silent Films Lobby Card Collection

For decades lobby cards were an integral part of the cinema-going experience. While posters appeared outside the cinema to lure you in, the cinema lobby or foyer would house sets of cards – effectively mini-posters – usually arranged in grid form, promoting films on show and films to come. Lobby cards played an important part in making the very process of going to the cinema something special. Though they had been replaced by plain black-and-white stills by the time I started going to the cinema, you still scanned the forthcoming attractions with delighy, like being in a sweetshop or a toyshop, each image extraordinarily filled with promise as you lived out the drama it depcited in your mind’s eye. You saw an entire film bound up in a single, evocative image. Expectation has always been the engine which has kept the cinema going.

Lobby cards appeared in the 1910s, produced first in sets of four, later usually appearing in sets of eight, and acquiring colour by 1917 (even if the films were black-andwhite they were neverhtless promoted in colour). The standard size was 8″x11″, and they would be shown on free-standing boards or easels, or else framed on the lobby walls. They have become a favourite subject for collectors, and they record not only the emotional import of films but frequently document films that do not survive in any other form. They ceased to be produced for American exhibition at some point in the 1980s (around the time that multiplexes became the norm), but still get made for film exhibition in other territories.

All of which is premable to the bringing to your attention of the Western Silent Films Lobby Cards Collection, part of the digital library of Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The collection comprises 86 lobby cards and 19 printed fliers used to promote sixty-eight silent Westerns produced between 1910 and 1930. Each image is available as as thumbnail, then x4 and x8 size, plus a zoomable file if you have the right softare for viewing .sid files. The descriptive data is meticulous if dry, telling you all about the card but nothing much about the film that it promotes. Nevertheless, the site a delight to browse. The films featured include The Mollycoddle, The Covered Wagon, The Bronc Stomper, The Pony Express and The Thundering Herd, with stars such as Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, William Farnum and Fred Thomson.

The collection is part of the Yale Collection of Western Americana at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and to discover more about the broadcder contexts in which the silent Western sits, do try out other image sets from the Western Americana collection, such the Detroit Photographic Company’s Views of North America, ca. 1897-1924, Ruckus! American Entertainments at the Turn of the Twentieth Century or Mammoth Plate Photographs of the North American West.

My thanks to Brad Scott for bringing the collection to my attention.

Max and the girls

Max Davidson in Why Girls Say No (1927)

The Bioscope is going to try and devote more attention to new DVDs and new print publications in our field. But will we have any more welcome a title to announce than the latest offering from Germany’s Edition Filmmuseum, due out in February? It’s Max Davidson Comedies, a collection of twelve comedy shorts (two of them talkies) on a 2-disc set. Davidson was a Hollywood supporting actor who enjoyed a brief period as a star attraction when he appeared in a series of comedies made in the late 1920s for Hal Roach Studios. His speciality was Jewish humour, and though some have expressed doubts about the durability of such ethnic humour, the exuberant freshness of Davidson’s comedy, coupled with a knowing sense of the world’s follies which gives him a particularly modern appeal, have made Davidson a great festival favourite. Titles such as the sublime Pass the Gravy (a strong candidate for funniest silent comedy short of them all) and the gloriously named Jewish Prudence are essential viewing and a tonic for our tired times.

The full list of titles is:

* Why Girls Say No 1927, 22′
* Jewish Prudence 1927, 21′
* Don’t Tell Everything 1927, 22′
* Should Second Husbands Come First? 1927, 21′
* Flaming Fathers 1927, 24′
* Hurdy Gurdy 1929, 20′

* Call of the Cuckoo 1927, 19′
* Love ’em and Feed ’em 1927, 9′, tinted
* Pass the Gravy 1928, 25′
* Dumb Daddies 1928, 15′
* Came the Dawn 1928, 17′, tinted
* The Boy Friend 1928, 19′
* The Itching Hour 1931, 18′

The films features new scores by Joachim Bärenz, Christian Roderburg and Stephen Horne, a 20-page bilingual Booklet with essays by Richard W. Bann, Steve Massa, Stewart Tryster and Stefan Drössler, and copies of scripts, cutting continuities, stills and lobby cards of all the lost Max Davidson comedies as additional DVD-ROM features. The PAL DVD is region 0, with German or English titles.

While we’re here, we ought also to mention an Edition Filmmuseum release from last month, Female Comedy Teams. This shows the efforts made by Hal Roach Studios in the late 20s and early 30s to create female comedy duos, such as Anita Garvin and Marion Byron, Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts, and Thelma Todd with Patsy Kelly. The 2-disc set contains films that are mostly new to me, and I’m certainly very keen to see Garvin and Byron’s A Pair of Tights (1929), confidently described on the site as “one of the greatest silent two reel comedies ever done”.

Just the first two films on the disc (both Garvin and Byron) are silent, but in our new expansive spirit we’ll acknowledge the existence of the Thelma Todd sound shorts as well. The full list of titles is:

* Feed ’em and Weep 1928, 16′ (Garvin & Byron) [New score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin)]
* A Pair of Tights 1929, 19′ (Garvin & Byron) [New scores by Joachim Bärenz (piano) and Christian Roderburg (percussion)]
* The Pajama Party 1931, 20′ (Todd & Pitts)
* On the Loose 1931, 20′ (Todd & Pitts)
* Show Business 1932, 19′ (Todd & Pitts)
* Asleep in the Feet 1933, 18′ (Todd & Pitts)
* Work in Progress: The Restoration of GOING GA-GA 5′

* The Bargain of the Century 1933, 19′ (Todd & Pitts)
* Beauty and the Bus 1933, 17′ (Todd & Kelly)
* Babes in the Goods 1934, 19′ (Todd & Kelly)
* Maid in Hollywood 1934, 19′ (Todd & Kelly)
* The Misses Stooge 1935, 18′ (Todd & Kelly)
* Top Flat 1935, 19′ (Todd & Kelly)

There is a 20-page bilingual booklet with essays by Anke Sterneborg, Dave Stevenson and Cole Johnson, and a DVD-ROM section with further essays, documents and stills. Again, it’s a PAL DVD, region 0, with German or English titles.

Trailers for both DVDs can be viewed on the Edition Filmmuseum site.

Cinema across media: the 1920s

Conference image for Cinema Across Media, showing the construction of miniatures for Metropolis

Cinema Across Media: The 1920s is the title of what is promisingly advertised as the First International Berkeley Conference on Silent Cinema. It takes place 24–26 February 2011 at the University of California, Berkeley, and describes itself as follows:

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.

Indeed what do they know of silent cinema who only silent cinema know. The starry line-up of plenary speakers will be Thomas Elsaesser (University of Amsterdam), Tom Gunning (University of Chicago), Gertrud Koch(Free University of Berlin), Paolo Cherchi Usai (Haghefilm Foundation) and Anthony Vidler (Cooper Union), and the full conference schedule has been issued, plus screenings (at the Pacific Film Archive Theater), as follows:

Saturday, Feb 19th

Pre-conference screening at 6.00pm of The Complete Metropolis, Fritz Lang (Germany, 1926)

Wednesday, Feb 23rd

Pre-conference screening at 7:30 pm of Rien que les heures, Alberto Cavalcanti (France, 1926)

Introduced by Anne Nesbet, Judith Rosenberg on Piano

Preceded by
Architecture d’aujourdhui (Pierre Chenal, France, 1930)
Die Neue Wohnung (Hans Richter, Switzerland, 1930)

Thursday, Feb 24th

4–5:30 pm

Tom Gunning, From the Cinema of Attractions to the Montage of Attractions: The Art of Running Film History Backwards

7–9:30 pm

Screening of L’Inhumaine (Marcel L’Herbier, 1924)
Introduction by Gertrud Koch
Judith Rosenberg on Piano

Friday, Feb 25th

9–10:30 am

Gertrud Koch, Off/On/In: Configurations of voice, body and apparatus

11 am–12:30 pm

“Local” Aesthetics and the Aesthetics of Location

Sarah Keller, Approaches to Truth: Jean Epstein and Intermedial Revelations of the 1920s

Luciana Corrêa de Araújo, Movie prologues in Rio de Janeiro (1926–1927)

Laura Isabel Serna, Picturing la patria: Ethnography, Costumbrismo, and Mexican Feature Film Production in the 1920s

The Body: Forms, Models, Constructions

Weihong Bao, Plastic Cinema, Flexible Media: Dan Duyu’s Amateur Art of Beauty and the Politics of Intermedial Embodiment in 1920s China

Kaveh Askari, Sculpture, Modeling, and Motion-Picture Craft: Promoting Rex Ingram at Metro

Mark Lynn Anderson, Deserts of Modernity: Valentino and The National Geographic

2–3:30 pm

Cinema, Light, Architecture

Megan Luke, Film-Space, Light-Architecture: Theo van Doesburg and Kurt Schwitters

Brian Jacobson, Producing Cinema and Industrial Modernity at the Cité Elgé, 1919–1929

Noam Elcott, Invisible Architectures

Media Consolidation and Conglomeration

André Gaudreault & Louis Pelletier, From Photoplays to Pictures: An Intermedial Perspective on the Names for “Moving Pictures” in the Late Silent Era

Charlie Keil, Inventing Hollywood for the 1920s

Ross Melnick, The Emergence of Convergence: Intermediality and the Convergence of Film, Broadcasting, and Music Publishing and Recording in the 1920s

4–5:30 pm

Anthony Vidler, The Promenade Architecturale: Space and Movement in 1930s Modernism from Eisenstein to Le Corbusier

7–8:45 pm

Paolo Cherchi Usai, The Unbearable Lightness of Canon: Silent Comedies in the 1920s

Pass the Gravy (Fred L. Guiol, 1928)
Springtime Saps (Les Goodwin, 1927)
Should Men Walk Home? (Leo McCarey, 1927)
Judith Rosenberg on Piano

Saturday, Feb 26th

9–11 am

Mobilizing the Archive: Projectors, Exhibitors, Industries

Plenary Roundtable

Haidee Wasson, Suitcase Cinema: The Case of the Portable Film Projector

Dino Everett, Old Dog New Tricks: Using 9.5mm films to revisit the final films of Vitagraph

Masaki Daibo, Umbilical links or discontinuities—Reconsidering the Early Japanese Sound Cinema in terms of Phonofilms

Kim Tomadjoglou, Itinerant Exhibitors Felix and Edmundo Padilla

David Wood, Sound, Colour and Intertitles in Silent Black and White Films: On Originality and Performance in 1920s Mexican Cinema

Jan-Christopher Horak, The Czech Film Industry in the 1920s: Questioning National Cinema

11:30 am–1 pm

Film Artistry and Multimedia Practice

Tami Williams, The Musicality of Gesture in the Cinema of Germaine Dulac

Oksana Bulgakowa, Eisenstein as multimedia artist, Peter Greenaway as his curator

Lucy Fischer, La Roue (The Rail), Silent Cinema and the “Wheels of Consciousness”

Theory, Performance, Fantasy

Johannes von Moltke, Classical Film Theory: A Novel

Jason McGrath, From Semiosis to Mimesis: Performance in Chinese Drama and Film Theory of the 1920s

Doron Galili & Yuri Tsivian, The Skybook: A Ubiquitous Media Fantasy

2:30–4 pm

Intermediary Zones: Film and the Avant-Gardes

Jennifer Wild, Reproductive Reception: The case of Francis—Marcel

Diane Wei Lewis, Words on Film: Avant-Garde Artist Murayama Tomoyoshi in “The Film Age”

Michael Cowan, The Moving Surface of Design: Abstraction and the Weimar Advertising Film

Sound, Aesthetics, Technology

Michael Raine, The limits of silent cinema: Ozu Yasujiro and the “neo-film sans silence”

Anupama Kapse, Song and Dance in the Indian Silent Film

Rob King, Stultification and Sensation: The Impact of Sound on the American Slapstick Tradition, 1928–1929

4:30–6:30 pm

Thomas Elsaesser, Cinema Across Media: Expanding the Avant-Garde beyond the Political Divide

Plenary Roundtable:
Thomas Elsaesser, Tom Gunning, Gertrud Koch, Paolo Cherchi Usai, Anthony Vidler

Well, that’s a heady line-up of speakers and subjects, while showing that silent film conferences are always going to have a clear advantage over any other kind of academic conference because you can get to do something like screening Pass the Gravy. It shows how dynamic the field is these days, and how much rich and genuinely international work is going, particularly looking at the interconnections between cinema and other media with which it always was so closely intertwined.

The conference site has details of speakers, locations, registration (it’s all free) and accommodation. It looks like the major event it has set out to be, and it will be very interesting to see what outputs derive from the conference and whether it does become the first in a series. If any Bioscopist is going to the conference and can report on some or all of it, do get in touch. I certainly wish I could be there – but I can’t.