Pathé and time (showing timeline option)

We return from our antipodean adventures with a number of developments in the silent film world to tell you about, the first of which is British Pathé’s new website. The company that now bears the name British Pathé has little connection with the original Pathé firm – the Pathé newsreel library in Britain was purchased by some venture capitalists a few years ago, but they have worked hard to raise the profile of the collection. This has included a high profile for Pathé clips on BBC television following a special footage deal, and the recent BBC4 television series on the history of the Pathé library.

British Pathé has also made energetic use of social media, blogging and tweeting with the best of them in a commendable effort to engage an online audience with archive film. This has now led to a re-designed website in which blog, Twitter feed and Facebook presence (6,634 people like them) are prominent on the front page alongside thematic selections of newsreel and cinemagazine footage. The British Pathé library amounts to some 3,500 hours (90,000 clips) ranging from the 1890s to the 1970s, and following a Lottery-funded grant in the early 2000s the whole collection was digitised and has been made freely available (in low resolution) to all ever since.

We have written about the non-fiction and (surprisingly enough) fiction films to be found on the Pathé site before now. What is new about ths site which is of particular interest to us is a timeline feature, which enables the researcher to select any time period, from one year to another by the use of a simple slider tool, making it easy to identify film from whichever part of the silent era interests us. The timeline tool doesn’t appear on the front page, but if you put in any search term, or simply click on ‘Search’ without having entered any term at all, you are taken to the search results page and the timeline appears. Use this to select the period 1890-1930, and you’ll find 16,875 relevant clips waiting for you. Alternatively, search for everything, then go to the Advanced Filters option on the right-hand side and select Videos with No Sound (there are 41,092 of them).

A warning or two is required when using the British Pathé site. The newsreel collection is reasonably well documented from 1918 onwards, but before then the collection is a mishmash of Pathé newsreels, bought-in footage, fiction films, unidentified material and all maner of oddities. A lot of it is not Pathé-produced (there are Lumière, Méliès, Hepworth, Eclair, Eclipse and other productions to be found). Many of these early items have only approximate dates and made-up titles, and often the catalogue records are more enthusiastic than historically informed. This can make Pathé an annoying site to browse, since they seem to know so little about such a significant corner of their collection, but it also provides the potential for some interesting discoveries for the knowledgeable researcher, because there is a lot there that is crying out for proper identification and appreciation.

Here are some of the unidentified fiction films that you might like to try and identify:

It can be difficult finding some of the undated films, since they won’t turn up by using timeline searches, but if you can find just the one fiction film and then search on its keywords, such as comedy or melodrama, then you’ll uncover more of these hidden fiction films.

For non-fiction and standard newsreels of the silent era, the British Pathé site is a joy. There is every personality, incident, location, fad, issue, fashion, talking point, invention and innovation you could wish for, from 1896-1930. With the timeline, categories and keywords, the British Pathé site has become all the more compulsively browsable, even if one could wish for a little less in the way of vague speculation among some of the catalogue records.

Go explore.

Australian journey no. 5 – Rounding up

The Topical Budget newsreel shows Amy Johnson returning home to Britain following her epic solo flight to Australia

I will be close to the end of my Australian jaunt by now (he said, typing this on January 15th), and to finish things off, here’s a set of links to past posts on things Australian, which do demonstrate that we’ve been giving some attention to its silent film heritage over the past few years.

  • Things Australian no. 2 (25 Jan 2011) – on the first Australian films and the research of Tony Martin-Jones.
  • Things Australian no. 1 – The Marvellous Corricks (23 Jan 2011) – on the Corrick family on entertainers and their collection of early films.
  • Discovering Australian (and beyond) (31 May 2009) – on the exceptional Australian SBDS portal (now known as Trove) which points the way to online research libraries in the future.
  • For your selection (8 Aug 2008) – researching Australian newspapers online.
  • God’s soliders (3 Nov 2011) – the pioneering use of film in Australia by the Salvation Army (updated for no. 4 in this Australian Journey series).
  • Three types of authenticity (29 Oct 2009) – thought on the Douglas Mawson Antarctic expedition of 1912-13 and the differences between its original film record (shot by Frank Hurley) and television today.
  • australianscreen (14 Sep 2007) – on the silent films to be found on this excellent educational website.
  • Diaries of a working man (16 Aug 2007) – on the charming diaries, available online, of post office clerk Alexander Goodall who witnessed the arrival of the Kinetoscope and the Cinematograph in Australia in 1895-97.

Back soon!

Australian journey no. 4 – The Salvation Army

Here’s another in our series of interim posts on Australia and silent film, while I’m away in that country.

The subject is the Salvation Army, which played a very important part in the early Australian film industry. The video above comes from a DVD made by the Salvation Army today about its founder, William Booth – God’s Soldier. It includes a substantial amount of film of Booth, the founder of the Army, in the early years of the twentieth century, demonstrating how advanced the Army was in using new technologies (film, and as the clip demonstrates, motor cars) to spread the word. The film shows Booth’s motor tour through Britain in 1904 (unfortunately with added-on crowd noises and sound effects) but it was in Australia that the Booth family made such an impact with the visual media of the day.

I wrote a post on this four years ago, and it seems best to reproduce the substance of this, with updating of information and links where needed.

Many social interest groups and charities took an interest in using moving pictures to support their work, almost as soon as films were first made widely available on screen in 1896. None was more active in this area than the Salvation Army, particularly in Australia. There in 1896 Herbert Booth (left), rebellious son of William, joined Joseph Perry, who ran the Army’s Limelight Department. Together they added film to the Limelight Department’s multi-media show of Bible stories and uplifting instruction, which combined magic lanterns, photography, choral singing and sermons to create powerful, and hugely popular, narrative spectaculars. One such show, Soldiers of the Cross, first created in 1900, is sometimes cited as being the world’s first feature film, though in fact it was not a single film but rather a combination of slides, film, scripture and song. Moreover, it was preceded by an earlier effort, the two-and-a-half-hour Social Salvation (1898).

Booth and Perry built a glass-walled film studio at 69 Bourke Street, Melbourne in 1898. The room still exists as a archive and museum maintained by the army, with exhibits on the Limelight Department’s work. Initially they filmed with a Lumière Cinématographe, but by 1901 the were using a Warwick Bioscope. Soldiers of the Cross was exhibited across Australia, but Herbert Booth clashed with Salvation Army command in London, and left the Army in 1902, moving to San Francisco and taking Soldiers of the Cross with him. Perry continued in the film industry, increasingly making secular films, and continued as a film distributor into the 1920s.

William Booth himself made good use of film to propagandise for his cause. He had a film cameraman assigned to the Army, Henry Howse, who went with him to the Holy Land in 1905, and filmed many, if not all, of the early films of Booth featured in the God’s Soldier DVD. The original films are now preserved in the BFI National Archive.

There is an excellent site, Limelight, telling the story of the Limelight Department in Australia, based on a 2001 Australian Broadcasting Commission programme and exhibition. This has extensive information on the people behind the Limelight Department, the films they made and used, their tours, and the broader context of Australian early film history.

The National Film and Sound Archive in Australia has a feature on Soldiers of the Cross, which includes selections of the magic lantern slides that were a part of the show (none of the original film is known to survive, but the show did include some Lumière life of Christ films, which do survive).

The Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema site has biographical entries on Herbert Booth and Joseph Perry.

Much research has been done into the Salvation Army and its use of film in these early years by the American scholar Dean Rapp. His essay, ‘The British Salvation Army, the Early Film Industry and Urban Working-Class Adolescents, 1897-1918‘, in 20th Century British History 7:2 (1996), is well worth tracking down (it’s available online through academic subscription services).

Finally, the Salvation Army continues to make use of moving images, and has an active video unit.

Australian journey no. 3 – The Corricks

We have written about the remarkable Corrick Collection before now. The Corrick Family Entertainer were performing troupe comprising Albert and Sarah Corrick and their eight children which toured Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia between 1901 and 1914. Their act incorporated films, some shot by themselves, but mostly selected from the best offerings from French, American and British producers. Around 135 films survive in the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, notable for their high quality and often exquisite colouring.

This video serves as an introduction to the family and the collection, with copious clips showing how the films serve as a primer for any keen to discovery the variety, inventiveness and delightfulness of early cinema. It’s a little odd in that it is entirely silent – not even music – but it is beautifully put together, and gives you all of the essential information, from the family history through to the film’s restoration.

For more information on the Corricks, see the australianscreen overview of the collection, the NFSA’s account of the films’ restoration, with film clips and interviews, or investigate newspapers, photographs, aticles and more on the Corricks via Australia’s peerless Trove database.

(Memo to the NFSA – you do know that the Corrick film in your collection which you continue to promote as Living London, made by Charles Urban in 1904, is in fact The Streets of London, made by Urban in 1906?)

Australian journey no. 2 – Moonrise

Number two in our series of short posts on Australia while we happen to be away in said country is a quick look at the modern silent. Australia did produce a silent feature film in 2007, Dr Plonk, directed by Rolf de Heer, of Bad Boy Bubby infamy. It’s a slapstick, black-and-white comedy about a scientist from 1907 discovering that the world will end in 2008.

But instead, I recommend trying out Moonrise. This was made in 2010 by stuents from the Griffith Film School (great name for a place producing a silent film), Griffith University, Queensland. It’s a haunting, wry piece, simply done and nicely photographed in black and white. More people should have viewed it than has been the case up to now. Do take a look.

Australian journey no. 1 – Gallipoli

The first of our mini-posts on Australia and silent film (while we are away visiting the country) doesn’t feature the land of Australia at all. It’s some of the precious footage that survives of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, in which many Australian and New Zealand troops died trying in vain to establish a sea route for Allied forces through to Russia.

The film was shot by British journalist (and later MP) Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett. Ashmead-Bartlett’s written reports aroused great passions, and were important in establishing the idea of the Anzac. He took a cine camera with him, and the resultant film, With the Dardanelles Expedition: Heroes of Gallipoli (1916), was shown in England, Australia and America, causing great consternation among the British authorities, for whom Ashmead-Barlett’s words and images were anything but helpful propaganda.

The film was acquired by the Australian War Memorial in 1919, and was restored in 2005 with help from Peter (‘Lord of the Rings’) Jackson. The above video is a three-minute sequence from the twenty-minute original.

Further clips with useful curatorial notes on the film can be found on the australianscreen site, which has a section devoted to Gallipoli on film generally.

An example of Ashmead-Bartlett’s reporting, covering the Anzac landing at Gallipoli, can be read on the Gallipoli and the Anzacs site, with extracts from his diary which mention his use of the cinematograph on the same site.

Film was also taken from the Ottoman Turk side, though it’s unclear by whom. The footage can be found on YouTube, though the original source is unclear, and certainly wasn’t consulted.

Away for a while

The Bioscope is going to be a little on the quiet side for the next couple of weeks, as I am heading off for Australia for a wedding, and don’t expect have much opportunity for blogging while I’m there.

However, to ensure that you are not left staring forlornly at the same post for a fortnight, I have set up some mini-posts (bloglets) which have been programmed to appear automatically at two-day intervals, each featuring an Australian-themed video with a bit of background information.

See you all again soon – and many congratulations of course to Liz and Dave.

Charles Dickens, filmmaker

Charles Dickens portrayed in Dickens’ London (UK 1924)

Let Dickens and the whole ancestral array, going back as far as the Greeks and Shakespeare, be superfluous reminders that both Griffith and our cinema prove our origins to be not solely as of Edison and his fellow inventors, but as based on an enormous cultured past; each part of this past in its own moment of world history has moved forward the great art of cinematography.

Sergei Eisenstein

As I write this, in Rochester, Kent, I can look out of my window at the corner of St Margaret Street where, ninety-nine years ago, John Bunny drove past in a carriage, dressed as Mr Pickwick for the turning camera handles of the Vitagraph Company of America. And yesterday and today, on BBC television, we saw a fevered The Mystery of Edwin Drood, much of it filmed fifty yards away in the grounds and centre of Rochester cathedral. Here is the heart of Dickens, and the heart of a grand cinematographic tradition.

Charles Dickens was born two hundred years ago, and his great legacy is being celebrated with books, exhibitions, festivals, conferences, programmes and film seasons. His superabundant influence on cinema and television has been recognised in particular, with a three-month film season at the BFI Southbank underway, an Arena documentary Dickens on Film (with copious examples from the silent cinema) and new television productions of Drood and Great Expectations. Dickens remains something to see.

Dickens was hugely important to the silent cinema, as Eisenstein noted in his famous essay, ‘Dickens, Griffith and the Film Today’, which points out the principle of montage inherent in both Dickens’ novels and D.W. Griffith’s films. Every one of his novels was filmed during the silent era, most more than once. There were specialist Dickens filmmakers, such as Thomas Bentley and A.W. Sandberg. Charlie Chaplin (perhaps the most Dickensian of all filmmakers) loved his works, reading Oliver Twist many times over. It was not just Dickens the novelist who inspired the first filmmakers but Dickens the lover of theatre and the many stage dramatisations of his work. Dickens’s work naturally spilled out of the pages that could not fully contain them onto other dramatic platforms – the stage, the recital, the magic lantern, the cinema. Like all good works of the imagination, they transcend the boundaries of any one medium.

As a contribution to the Dickens bicentenary, and by way of demonstrating his great importance to early film, we have put together a filmography for Dickens and silent cinema. It may be the most extensive yet published; it certainly tries to clear up some of the confusion to be found in listings elsewhere, though there are still problematic corners, and doubtless films still to be identified. It lists both fiction (arranged under the works that inspired them) and non-fiction films, and notes where films still exist (as far as I can discover), and if they are available online or DVD. Where it says afilm is lost, this should not be taken as definitive, as some films will be held privately (noted here as Extant where I have information on these). Please let me know of any errors or omissions.

Barnaby Rudge

  • Dolly Varden (UK 1906) d. Alf Collins p.c. Gaumont
    Cast: not known
    Length: 740ft Archive: Lost
    Note: It is not entirely certain this is based on anything more than the name from Dickens’ novel (Gifford does not list it in his Books and Plays in Films 1896-1915)
  • Dolly Varden (USA 1913) d. Charles Brabin p.c. Edison
    Cast: Mabel Trunnelle, Willis Secord, Robert Brower
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
  • Barnaby Rudge (UK 1915) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Hepworth
    Cast: Tom Powers (Barnaby Rudge), Violet Hopson (Emma Haredale), Stewart Rome (Maypole Hugh), Chrissie White (Dolly Varden)
    Length: 5325ft Archive: Lost

Bleak House

  • The Death of Poor Joe (UK 1901) d. G.A. Smith p.c. Warwick Trading Company
    Cast: Laura Bayley (Joe), Tom Green (?) (nightwatchman)
    Length: 50ft Archive: BFI
    Note: Apparently based on the character of Jo the Crossing Sweeper [see comments for news of the discovery of this film]
  • Jo, the Crossing Sweeper (UK 1910) d. not known p.c. Walturdaw
    Cast: not known
    Length: 450ft Archive: Lost
  • Jo, the Crossing Sweeper (UK 1918) d. Alexander Butler p.c. Barker
    Cast: Unity More (Jo), Dora de Winton (Lady Dedlock), Andre Beaulieu (Tulkinghorne)
    Length: 5000ft Archive: Lost
  • Bleak House (UK 1920) d. Maurice Elvey p.c. Ideal
    Cast: Constance Collier (Lady Dedlock), Berta Gellardi (Esther Summerson), E. Vivian Reynolds (Tulkinghorne)
    Length: 6400ft Archive: BFI
  • Bleak House (Tense Moments from Great Plays) (UK 1922) d. Harry B. Parkinson p.c. Master
    Cast: Sybil Thorndike (Lady Dedlock), Betty Doyle (Esther)
    Length: 3100ft Archive: Extant (see comments)

The Chimes

  • The Chimes (UK 1914) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Hepworth
    Cast: Stewart Rome (Richard), Violet Hopson (Meg Veck), Warwick Buckland (Trotty Veck)
    Length: 2500ft Archive: Lost
  • The Chimes (USA 1914) d. Herbert Blaché p.c. US Amusement Corps
    Cast: Tom Terriss (Trotty Veck), Faye Cusick (Meg)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Lost

Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901), the earliest surviving Dickens film

A Christmas Carol

  • Scrooge; or, Marley’s Ghost (UK 1901) d. Walter R. Booth p.c. Paul’s Animatograph Works
    Cast: Unknown
    Length: 620ft Archive: BFI Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD
  • A Christmas Carol (USA 1908) d. not known p.c. Essanay
    Cast: Thomas Ricketts (Scrooge)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
  • Il sogno dell’usuraio (Italy 1910) d. not known p.c. Cines
    Cast: not known
    Length: 675ft Archive: Lost
    Note: English release title The Dream of Old Scrooge
  • A Christmas Carol (USA 1910) d. J. Searle Dawley (?) p.c. Edison
    Cast: Marc McDermott (Scrooge), Charles Ogle (Bob Cratchit) Viola Dana
    Length: 1000ft Archive: BFI, George Eastman House Availability: A Christmas Past DVD, Internet Archive
  • The Virtue of Rags (USA 1912) d. Theodore Wharton p.c. Essanay
    Cast: Francis X. Bushman, Helen Dunbar, Bryant Washburn
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Very loose adaptation of Dickens’ story
  • Scrooge (UK 1913) d. Leedham Bantock p.c. Zenith
    Cast: Seymour Hicks (Scrooge)
    Length: 2500ft Archive: BFI
  • A Christmas Carol (UK 1914) d. Harold Shaw p.c. London
    Cast: Charles Rock (Scrooge), Edna Flugrath (Belle), George Bellamy (Bob Cratchit), Mary Brough (Mrs Cratchit)
    Length: 1340ft Archive: BFI
  • The Right to be Happy (aka Scrooge the Skinflint) (USA 1916) d. Rupert Julian p.c. Bluebird
    Cat: Rupert Julian (Scrooge), John Cook (Bob Cratchit), Claire McDowell (Mrs Cratchit)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Lost
  • My Little Boy (USA 1917) d. Elsie Jane Wilson p.c. Bluebird
    Cast: Winter Hall (Uncle Oliver), Zoe Rae (Paul), Ella Hall (Clara), Emory Johnson (Fred)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Lost
    Note: Based on A Christmas Carol and the nursery rhyme ‘Little Boy Blue’
  • Scrooge (Tense Moments with Great Authors) (UK 1922) d. George Wynn p.c. Master
    Cast: H.V. Esmond (Scrooge)
    Length: 1280ft Archive: Extant (see comments)
  • Scrooge (Gems of Literature) (UK 1923) d. Edwin Greenwood p.c. British & Colonial
    Cast: Russell Thorndike (Scrooge), Jack Denton (Bob Cratchit)
    Length: 1600ft Archive: Lost

The Cricket on the Hearth

  • The Cricket on the Hearth (USA 1909) d. D.W. Griffith p.c. Biograph
    Cast: Owen Moore (Edward Plummer), Violet Mersereau (May Fielding), Linda Arvidson (Sister Dorothy)
    Length: 985ft Archive: MOMA, George Eastman House, Library of Congres Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD
  • The Cricket on the Hearth (USA 1914) d. Lorimer Johnston p.c. American
    Cast: Sydney Ayres, Vivian Rich
    Length: 2000ft Archive: Lost
  • The Cricket on the Hearth (USA 1914) d. Lawrence Marston p.c. Biograph
    Cast: Jack Drumeir, Alan Hale
    Length: 2 reels Archive: George Eastman House, MOMA Available: Grapevine Video DVD-R
  • Sverchok na Pechi (Russia 1915) d. Boris Sushkevich and A. Uralsky p.c. Russian Golden Series
    Cast: Grigori Khmara, Yevgeni Vakhtangov
    Length: 710m Archive: Lost
  • Le grillon du foyer (France 1922) d. Jean Manoussi p.c. Eclipse
    Cast: Charles Boyer, Marchel Vibart, Sabine Landray
    Length: ? Archive: Lost?
  • The Cricket on the Hearth (USA 1923) d. Lorimer Johnston p.c. Paul Gerson
    Cast: Josef Swickard (Caleb Plummer), Fritzi Ridgeway (Bertha Plummer), Paul Gerson (John Perrybingle)
    Length: 7 reels Archive: UCLA (1 reel only) [see also comments]

David Copperfield

  • Love and the Law (USA 1910) d. Edwin S. Porter p.c. Edison
    Cast: Edwin August, Charles J. Brabin
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
  • David Copperfield: part 1; The Early Life of David Copperfield (USA 1911) d. Theodore Marston p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: Flora Foster (David as a boy), Anna Seer (David’s mother), Marie Eline (Emily as a girl), Frank Crane
    Length: 950ft Archive: Museo Nazionale del Cinema (incomplete?)
  • David Copperfield: part 2; Little Emily and David Copperfield (USA 1911) d. Theodore Marston p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: Ed Genung (David), Florence La Badie (Emily)
    Length: 950ft Archive: Museo Nazionale del Cinema (incomplete?)
  • David Copperfield: part 3; The Loves of David Copperfield (USA 1911) d. Theodore Marston p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: d. Ed Genung (David)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Museo Nazionale del Cinema (incomplete?)
  • Little Emily (UK 1911) d. Frank Powell p.c. Britannia
    Cast: Florence Barker (Emily)
    Length: 1254ft Archive: Lost
  • David Copperfield (UK 1913) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Hepworth
    Cast: Kenneth Ware (David Copperfield), Eric Desmond (David as a child), Len Bethel (David as a youth), Alma Taylor (Dora), H. Collins (Micawber), Jack Hulcup (Uriah Heep)
    Length: 7500ft Archive: BFI Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD, 8mins extract
  • David Copperfield (Denmark 1922) d. A.W. Sandberg p.c. Nordisk
    Cast: Gorm Schmidt (David as a adult), Martin Herzberg (David as a boy), Karen Winther (Agnes as a woman), Else Neilsen (Agnes as a girl), Frederik Jensen (Micawber), Karina Bell (Dora), Margarete Schlegel (David’s mother), Rasmus Christiansen (Uriah Heep)
    Length: 3095m Archive: Danish Film Institute Availability: Clips on

Dombey and Son

  • Dombey and Son (UK 1917) d. Maurice Elvey p.c. Ideal
    Cast: Norman McKinnel (Paul Dombey), Lilian Braithwaite (Edith Dombey), Hayford Hobbes (Walter Dombey)
    Length: 6800ft Archive: George Eastman House

Store Forventninger (Denmark 1922) directed by A.W. Sandberg, from

Great Expectations

  • The Boy and the Convict (UK 1909) d. Dave Aylott p.c. Williamson
    Cast: Unknown
    Length: 750ft Archive: BFI Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD
  • Great Expectations (USA 1917) d. Robert D. Vignola p.c. Famous Players
    Cast: Jack Pickford (Pip), Louise Huff (Estella), Frank Losee (Magwitch), W.W. Black (Joe Gargery), Grace Barton (Miss Havisham)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Lost
  • Store Forventninger (Denmark 1922) d. A.W. Sandberg p.c. Nordisk
    Cast: Martin Herzberg (young Pip), Harry Komdrup (adult Pip), Marie Dinesn (Miss Havisham), Emil Helsengreen (Magwitch)
    Length: 2527m Achive: Danish Film Institute Availability: Clips on

Hard Times

  • Hard Times (UK 1915) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Transatlantic
    Cast: Bransby Williams (Gradgrind), Leon M. Lion (Tom Gradgrind), Dorothy Bellew (Louisa), Madge Tree (Rachael)
    Length: 4000ft Archive: Lost

Little Dorrit

  • Little Dorrit (USA 1913) d. James Kirkwood p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: Maude Fealy, Alphonse Ethier, Harry Benham
    Length: 3 reels Archive: Lost
  • Klein Djoorte (Germany 1917) d. Frederic Zelnik p.c. Berliner
    Cast: Lisa Weisse (Djoorte), Karl Beckersachs (Geert), Aenderli Lebius (Batarama)
    Length: 4 reels Archive: Lost
  • Little Dorrit (UK 1920) d. Sidney Morgan p.c. Progress
    Cast: Joan Morgan (Amy Dorrit), Lady Tree (Mrs Clenman), Langhorne Burton (Arthur Clenman)
    Length: 6858ft Archive: Screen Archive South East (20mins only) Availability: SASE website
  • Lille Dorrit (Denmark 1924) d. A.W. Sandberg p.c. Nordisk
    Cast: Karina Bell (Amy Dorrit), Frederik Jensen (William Dorrit), Gunnar Tolnæs (Arthur Clennam)
    Length: 3245m Archive: BFI

Martin Chuzzlewit

  • Martin Chuzzlewit (USA 1912) d. Oscar Apfel and J. Searle Dawley p.c. Edison
    Cast: Guy Hedlund, Harold Shaw, Marion Brooks
    Length: 3 reels Archive: Lost
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (USA 1914) d. Travers Vale p.c. Biograph
    Cast: Alan Hale, Jack Drumeir
    Length: 2 reels Archive: George Eastman House

Mrs Lirriper’s Legacy

  • Mrs Lirriper’s Legacy (USA 1912). d. not known (Van Dyke Brooke?) p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Mary Maurice (Mrs Lirriper)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost

Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgers

  • Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgers (USA 1912) d. Van Dyke Brooke p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Mary Maurice (Mrs Lirriper), Clara Kimball Young (Mrs Edson), Courtney Foote (Mr Edison), Van Dyke Brooke (Jackman)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (UK 1909) d. Arthur Gilbert p.c. Gaumont
    Cast: Cooper Willis (Edwin Drood), Nancy Bevington (Rosa Bud)
    Length: 1030ft Archive: Lost
  • [The Mystery of Edwin Drood] (France 1912) d. not known p.c. Film d’Art
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1970ft Archive: Lost
    Note: As a Film d’Art production this would have been made by Pathé, but I have not traced a record of it or an original title in the Pathé catalogue
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (USA 1914) d. Herbert Blaché and Tom Terriss p.c. World
    Cast: Tom Terriss (John Jasper), Vinnie Burns (Rosa Bud), Rodney Hickock (Edwin Drood)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Lost

Thanhouser’s 1912 Nicholas Nickelby, with Harry Benham as Nicholas

Nicholas Nickleby

  • Dotheboys Hall; or, Nicholas Nickleby (UK 1903) d. Alf Collins p.c. Gaumont
    Cast: William Carrington (pupil [Smike?])
    Length: 225ft Archive: BFI
  • A Yorkshire School (USA 1910) d. James H. White p.c. Edison
    Cast: Verner Clarges
    Length: 800ft Archive: Lost
  • Nicholas Nickleby (USA 1912) d. George Nicholls p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: Harry Benham (Nicholas Nickelby), Mignon Anderson (Madeline Bray), Frances Gibson (Kate Nickelby), David H. Thompson (Squeers), Justus D. Barnes (Ralph Nickleby)
    Length: 2 reels Archive: BFI Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD, Thanhouser Vimeo channel

The Old Curiosity Shop

  • Little Nell (UK 1906 d. Arthur Gilbert p.c. Gaumont
    Cast: Thomas Nye
    Length: ? Archive: Lost
    Note: Chronophone film designed to be synchronised with disc recording
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (USA 1909) d. not known p.c. Essanay
    Cast: Marcia Moore (Little Nell)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (USA 1911) d. Barry O’Neill p.c. Thanhouser
    Cast: Marie Eline (Little Nell), Frank Hall Crane (Grandfather), Marguerite Snow, Harry Benham
    Length: ? Archive: BFI
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (UK 1912) d. Frank Powell p.c. Britannia
    Cast: Not known
    Length: 990ft Archive: Lost
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (UK 1913) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Hepworth
    Cast: Mai Deacon (Little Nell), E. Fleton (Quilp), Alma Taylor (Mrs Quilp), Willie West (Dick Swiveller), Warwick Buckland (Grandfather Trent)
    Length: 5300ft Archive: Lost
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (UK 1921) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Welsh-Pearson
    Cast: Mabel Poulton (Little Nell), William Lug (Grandfather), Pino Conti (Quilp)
    Length: 6587ft Archive: Lost
  • La bottega dell’antiquario (Italy 1921) d. Mario Corsi p.c. G. Salvini
    Cast: Gustavo Salvini, Robert Sortsch-Pla, Egle Valery
    Length: 1987m Archive: Lost

Oliver Twist

  • The Death of Nancy Sykes (USA 1897) d. not known p.c. American Mutoscope
    Cast: Mabel Fenton (Nancy), Charles Ross (Bill Sykes)
    Length: Archive: Lost
  • Mr Bumble’s Courtship (aka Mr Bumble the Beadle) (UK 1898) d. not known p.c. Paul’s Animatograph Works
    Cast: not known
    Length: 60 ft Archive: Lost
  • Oliver Twist (France 1905) d. not known p.c. Gaumont
    Cast: not known
    Length: 750ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Pointer gives 1906 date, Gifford says 1905
  • A Modern Day Fagin (UK 1905) d. not known p.c. Walturdaw
    Cast: not known
    Length: 250ft Archive: Lost
  • The Modern Oliver Twist; or The Life of a Pickpocket (USA 1906) d. not known p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: not known
    Length: 475ft Archive: Lost
  • Oliver Twist (USA 1909) d. J. Stuart Blackton p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Edith Storey (Oliver Twist), Elita Proctor Otis (Nancy), William Humphrey (Fagin)
    Length: 995ft Archive: BFI
  • L’enfance d’Oliver Twist (France 1910) d. Camille de Morlhon p.c. Film d’Art
    Cast: Renée Pré (Oliver Twist), Jean Périer (Fagin), Marie Dornay (Rose)Length: 295m Archive: Lost
  • Storia di un orfano (Italy 1911) d. not known p.c. Cines
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1424ft Archive: Lost
  • Oliver Twist (USA 1912) d. not known p.c. General Film Publicity
    Cast: Nat C. Goodwin (Fagin), Vinnie Burns (Oliver Twist), Mortimer Martine (Bill Sykes), Beatrice Moreland (Nancy), Charles Rogers (Artful Dodger)
    Length: 5 reels Archive: Incomplete print exists (according to Silent Era)
  • Brutality (USA 1912) d. D.W. Griffith p.c. Biograph
    Cast: Walter Miller (young man), Mae Marsh (young woman), Joseph Graybill (victim of anger)
    Length: 2 reels Archive: Library of Congress, MOMA
    Note: Plot features an abusive husband who sees the error of his ways after seeing Bill Sikes in stage production of Oliver Twist
  • Oliver Twist (UK 1912) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Hepworth
    Cast: Ivy Millais (Oliver), John McMahon (Fagin), Harry Royston (Bill Sykes), Alma Taylor (Nancy), Willie West (Artful Dodger)
    Length: 3700ft Archive: Lost?
    Note: Clips from this film, all that may survive, are included in the travelogue Dickens’ London (UK 1924), held by the BFI
  • The Queen of May (USA 1912) d. not known p.c. Republic Film Company
    Cast: not known
    Length: c.800ft Archive: BFI
    Note: Drama about a poor mother and her daughter, who performs in a stage production of Oliver Twist.
  • A Female Fagin (USA 1913) d. not known p.c. Kalem
    Cast: not known
    Length: 910ft Archive: BFI
    Note: Probably only marginal relationship to Oliver Twist
  • Oliver Twist Sadly Twisted (USA 1915) d. not known p.c. Superba
    Cast: not known
    Length: ? Archive: Lost
    Note: Presumably a parody of some sort
  • Oliver Twist (USA 1916) d. James Young p.c. Lasky
    Cast: Marie Doro (Oliver), Hobart Bosworth (Bill Sykes), Tully Marshall (Fagin), Elsie Jane Wilson (Nancy), Raymond Hatton Artful Doger), W.S. Van Dyke (Charles Dickens)
    Length: 5 reels p.c. Lost
  • Oliver Twisted (UK 1917) d. Fred Evans, Joe Evans p.c. Piccadilly
    Cast: Fred Evans (Pimple)
    Length: 2360ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Probably parodying USA 1916 Oliver Twist
  • Twist Olivér (Hungary 1919) d. Márton Garas p.c. Corvin
    Cast: Tibor Luinszky (Oliver), Sári Almási (Nancy), Gyula Szöreghy (Sikes), László Z. Molnár (Fagin)
    Length: 6 reels Archive: Jugoslovenska Kinoteka (incomplete, 4 reels)
  • Die Geheimnisse von London – Die Tragödie eines Kindes (Germany 1920) d. Richard Oswald p.c. Leyka/Richard Oswald
    Cast: Manci Lubinsky (Percy), Louis Ralph (Jim), Adolph Weisse (Fagin)
    Length: 2137m Archive: Lost?
  • Oliver Twist Jr. (USA 1921) d. Millard Webb p.c. Fox
    Cast: Harold Goodwin (Oliver Twist Jr), Clarence Wilson (Fagin), G. Raymond Nye (Bill Sikes), Scott McKee (Artful Dodger), Irene Hunt (Nancy)
    Length: 5 reels p.c. Lost
  • Nancy (Tense Moments with Great Authors) (UK 1922) d. Harry B. Parkinson p.c. Master
    Cast: Sybil Thorndike (Nancy), Ivan Berlyn (Fagin)
    Length: 1578ft Archive: Lost
  • Fagin (Tense Moments with Great Authors) (UK 1922) d. Harry B. Parkinson p.c. Master
    Cast: Ivan Berlyn (Fagin)
    Length: 1260ft Archive: Lost
  • Oliver Twist (USA 1922) d. Frank Lloyd p.c. Jackie Coogan
    Cast: Jackie Coogan (Oliver), Lon Chaney (Fagin), George Sigmann (Bill Sikes), Gladys Brockwell (Nancy), Joan Standing (Charlotte), Edouard Trebaol (Artful Dodger)
    Length: 7761ft Archive: Film Preservation Associates, LoC, UCLA Available: Dickens Before Sound DVD, Image Entertainment DVD

Our Mutual Friend

  • How Bella Was Won (USA 1911) d. not known p.c. Edison
    Cast: George Soule Spencer
    Length: ? Archive: Lost
  • Eugene Wrayburn (USA 1911) d. not known p.c. Edison
    Cast: Darwin Karr, Richard Ridgeley, Bliss Milford
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: A third Edison adaptation from Our Mutual Friend, entitled Bella Wilder’s Return is listed by but the film was never made
  • Vor fælles Ven (Denmark 1921) d. A.W. Sandberg p.c. Nordisk
    Cast: Peter Fjelstrup (Hexam), Karen Caspersen (Lizzie), Peter Malberg (Eugene Wayburn)
    Length: 4664m Archive: Lost

The Pickwick Papers

  • Mr Pickwick’s Christmas at Wardle’s (UK 1901) d. Walter R. Booth p.c. Paul
    Cast: not known
    Length: 140ft Archive: Lost
  • Gabriel Grub, the Surly Sexton (UK 1904) d. James Williamson p.c. Williamson
    Cast: not known
    Length: 400ft Archive: Lost
  • A Knight for a Night (USA 1909) d. not known p.c. Edison
    Cast: not known
    Length: 370ft Archive: Lost
  • Mr Pickwick’s Predicament (USA 1912) d. J. Searle Dawley p.c. Edison
    Cast: Charles Ogle, Mary Fuller, Marc McDermott
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Extant
  • Pickwick Papers: episode 1; The Honourable Event (USA 1913) d. Larry Trimble p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: John Bunny (Pickwick), James Piror (Mr Tupman), H.P. Owen (Sam Weller)
    Length: 1 reel Archive: BFI Availability: Dickens Before Sound DVD
  • Pickwick Papers: episode 2; The Adventure of Westgate Seminary (USA 1913) d. Larry Trimble p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: John Bunny (Pickwick), James Prior (Mr Tupman), H.P. Owen (Sam Weller)
    Length: 1 reel Archive: BFI

  • Pickwick Papers: episode 3; The Adventure of the Shooting Party (USA 1913) d. Larry Trimble p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: John Bunny (Pickwick), Fred Hornby (Winkle), H.P. Owen (Sam Weller)
    Length: 1 reel Archive: Lost?
    Note: The first two episodes (which were also shown together as a two-reeler) were released February 1913, and the third episode in September 1913.
  • Pickwick versus Bardell (Clarendon Speaking Pictures) (UK 1913) d. Wilfred Noy p.c. Clarendon
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Dramatisation to accompany stage recital
  • Mr Pickwick in a Double-Bedded Room (UK 1913) d. Wilfred Noy p.c. Clarendon
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Dramatisation to accompany stage recital
  • Mrs Corney Makes the Tea (UK 1913) d. Wilfred Noy p.c. Clarendon
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Dramatisation to accompany stage recital
  • The Adventures of Mr Pickwick (UK 1921) d. Thomas Bentley p.c. Ideal
    Cast: Fred Volpe (Pickwick), Mary Brough (Mrs Bardell), Ernest Thesiger (Mr Jingle), Hubert Woodward (Sam Weller), Bransby Williams (Sgt Buzfuz)
    Length: 6000ft Archive: Lost

Sketches by Boz

  • Mr Horatio Sparkins (USA 1913) d. not known p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Courtenay Foote (Horatio Sparkins), Flora Finch (Teresa Halderton)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost

A Tale of Two Cities

  • A Tale of Two Cities (USA 1908) d. not known p.c. Selig
    Cast: not known
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
  • A Tale of Two Cities (USA 1911) d. William Humphrey p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Maurice Costello (Sidney Carton), Norma Talmadge (Lucy Manette)
    Length: 3021ft Archive: BFI, MOMA, UCLA Availability: Grapevine Video DVD-R
  • A Tale of Two Cities (USA 1917) d. Frank Lloyd p.c. Fox
    Cast: William Farnum (Charles Darney / Sydney Carton), Jewel Carmen (Lucie Manete), Charles Clary (Marquis St. Evremonde), Rosita Marstini (Madame De Farge)
    Length: 7 reels Archive: UCLA
  • The Birth of a Soul (USA 1920) d. Edwin L. Hollywood p.c. Vitagraph
    Cast: Harry T. Morey (Philip Grey/Charles Drayton), Jean Paige (Dorothy Barlow)
    Length: 4986ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Loose adaptation in American setting
  • A Tale of Two Cities (Tense Moments with Great Authors) (UK 1922) d. W.C. Rowden p.c. Master
    Cast: J. Fisher White (Dr Manette), Clive Brook (Sidney Carton), Ann Trevor (Lucie Manette)
    Length: 1174ft Archive: Lost
  • The Only Way (UK 1926) d. Herbert Wilcox p.c. Herbert Wilcox
    Cast: John Martin Harvey (Sidney Carton), Madge Stuart (Mimi), Betty Faire (Lucie Manette), J. Fisher White (Dr Manette)
    Length: 10075ft Archive: BFI

Other fiction

  • Leaves from the Books of Charles Dickens (UK 1912) d. not known p.c. Britannia
    Cast: Thomas Bentley (multiple roles)
    Length: 740ft Archive: Cinémathèque Française, Gaumont Pathé Archives
  • Master and Pupil (USA 1912) d. J. Searle Dawley p.c. Edison
    Cast: Harry Furniss (The Master), Mary Fuller (his daughter), Harold Shaw (pupil)
    Length: 1000ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Story about an impoverished artist who illustrates the works of Dickens
  • Dickens Up-to-Date (Syncopated Picture Plays) (UK 1923) d. Bertram Phillips p.c. Bertram Phillips
    Cast: Queenie Thomas
    Length: 1900ft Archive: Lost
    Note: Comedy burlesque

Uncertain titles
Some sources give a Barnaby Rudge (USA 1911) directed by Charles Kent. Kent was working at this time for Vitagraph, and there is no record of such a Vitagraph production. Denis Gifford, in Books and Plays in Films 1896-1915, lists a one-reel Oliver Twist apparently made in Denmark in 1910, but no such production can be found in the online Danish filmography. Some sources list a German Oliver Twist directed by Lupu Pick in 1920, but this appears to have been a production announced but not completed. Magliozzi lists an American 1922 Scrooge held by UCLA, but this is probably the UK title from the Tense Moments with Great Authors series. The 1924 Bonzo cartoon Playing the Dickens in an Old Curiosity Shop (UK 1925) uses only Dickens’ title. The UK 1904 film Mr Pecksniff Fetches the Doctor has no connection with Martin Chuzzlewit.

The Pickwick Coach halts near to the future New Bioscope Towers, from the newsreel Mr Pickwick (Pathé Gazette) (1927), from British Pathe


  • In Dickens’ Land (France 1913) p.c. Pathé / Travelogue / Archive: Lost [original French title not traced]
  • The Royal City of Canterbury (UK 1915) p.c. Gaumont / Travelogue / 610ft / Archive: BFI
  • Americans Place Wreath on Dickens Tomb at Westminster Abbey (Gaumont Graphic 719) (UK 11-Feb-18) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: Lost?
  • Dickens’ Birth Anniversary (Pathé Gazette) (UK 1918) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Dickens’ Fair at Botanic Gardens for Home for Blinded Sailors and Soldiers (Gaumont Graphic 783) (UK 23-Feb-18) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: Lost?
  • Homage to Dickens (Pathé Gazette) (UK 1919) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Dicken’s [sic] Anniversary (Pathé Gazette 641) (UK 12-Feb-20) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • untitled (Around the Town no. 15) (UK 11-Mar-20) p.c. Around the Town / Cinemagazine / Archive: Lost
  • Sir John Martin-Harvey Now Appearing in “The Only Way” (Around the Town no. 105) (UK 01-Dec-21) p.c. Around the Town / Cinemagazine / Archive: Lost
  • Dickens Procession and Confetti Carnival – Southport (Gaumont Graphic 1184) (UK 27-Jul-22) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: Lost?
  • The All-Lancashire Dickens (Pathé Gazette) (UK 1922) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Dickens Pageant at Camden Town. Famous Author’s Boyhood Home the Scene of Costume Carnival (Gaumont Graphic 1212) (UK 02-Nov-22) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel/ Archive: Lost?
  • 113th Dickens’ Anniversary (Pathé Gazette 1163) (UK 12-Feb-22) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Dickens’ London (Wonderful London) (UK 1924) p.c. Graham-Wilcox / Travelogue / Length: 780ft Archive: BFI Available: Dickens Before Sound DVD
  • Within the Sound of Bow Bells (Wonderful London) (UK 1924) p.c. Graham-Wilcox / Travelogue / Length: 839ft / Archive: BFI
  • No. 3 Char-a-banc Tour to Rochester (UK 1924) p.c. London General Omnibus Company / Travelogue / Length: 1066ft / Archive: BFI
  • As in the Days of Dickens (Topical Budget 762-2) (UK 05-Apr-26) p.c. Topical / Newsreel / Archive: BFI
  • Dickens Golden Wedding (Empire News Bulletin 43) (UK 27-Sep-26) p.c. British Pictorial Productions / Newsreel / Archive: Lost?
  • The Golden Wedding of Sir Henry Fielding Dickens and Lady Dickens, 25th September 1926 (UK 1926) / Actuality / Archive: BFI
  • Pickwick Club (Empire News Bulletin 109) (UK 16-May-27) p.c. British Pictorial Productions / Newsreel / Archive: Lost?
  • Frilled Cravats and Flowered Waistcoats (Topical Budget 820-2) (UK 16-May-1927) p.c. Topical Film Company / Newsreel / Archive: BFI
  • Mr Pickwick (Pathé Gazette) (UK 16-May-27) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Ye Dickens Coach 1827-1927 (unreleased?) (UK 1927) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: ITN Source Available: ITN Source
  • Literature’s Loss (Gaumont Graphic 1756) (UK 19-Jan-28) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: ITN Source Available: ITN Source
  • To the Royal Hop Pole Hotel for Dinner! (Pathé Super Gazette) (UK 30-Jul-28) p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé
  • Mr Pickwick and Party (Topical Budget) (UK 30-Jul-28) p.c. Topical Film Company / Newsreel / Archive: BFI
  • Pickwick Centenary at Tewkesbury (unreleased?) (UK 1928) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: ITN Source Available: ITN Source
  • Lorry as a Stage: Dickensian Tabard Players Perform Outside the ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ (Empire News Bulletin) (UK 7-Feb 1929) p.c. British Pictorial Productions / Newsreel / Archive: BFI
  • 1812-1970 – Is Wisions About? (Gaumont Graphic 1868) (UK 14-Feb-29) p.c. Gaumont / Newsreel / Archive: ITN Source Available: ITN Source
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (Pathé Super Gazette) (UK 12-Jun-300 p.c. Pathé / Newsreel / Archive: British Pathé Available: British Pathé

This filmography is indebted to the American Film Index volumes, Denis Gifford’s British Film Catalogue and Books and Plays in Films 1896-1915, Ron Magliozzi’s Treasures from the Film Archives, the Silent Era website’s Progressive Silent Film List, Filmportal, the Danish national filmography, the American Film Institute Catalog for silent films, the Pordenone Silent Film Festival’s Vitagraph Company of America catalogue, the BFI Film & TV Database, News on Screen, the IMDb and other sources. Only when I had exhausted these did I turn to the filmography in Michael Pointer’s Charles Dickens on the Screen. This had two or three titles that had eluded me, a number of film lengths that I hadn’t tracked down, and all in all is a fine piece of research. I commend it to you.

Update (12 February 2012): My thanks to friends at the BFI for some corrections and additions now made to this filmography.

Frederica Sagor Maas RIP

Frederica Sagor Maas, from the front cover to her autobiography

No one cares about a screenwriter. It’s brutal, but it’s true. They toil away at a keyboard for months, then see their precious work mangled and abused in its conversion to the screen. They are unwelcome on the set. Their brightest ideas get attributed to the director, their sharpest lines end up credited to some dumb actor. Frequently they get dropped from the credits entirely, particularly when they have undertaken essential remedial work on someone else’s botched script that needs urgent surgery. No one writes books about them, no one studies them, film history ignores them.

That’s how it is with screenwriters, and how it has always been. It certainly how Frederica Sagor Maas recorded it, one of the pioneers of Hollywood screenwriting who lived more than three times longer than the silent era itself, finally passing away last week at the remarkable age of 111. At the sprightly age of 99 she published a memoir, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood, having been encouraged to do by Kevin Brownlow. It is no rose-tinted autobiography. She was contemptuous of the film industry and some of its most vaunted figures (Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer), finding Hollywood corrupt, debauched and dishonest. Her cynicism was undoubtedly accentuated by years of seeing the her work and that of her co-writer husband Ernest Maas unacknowledged, plagiarised or rejected. A difficult time in the 1950s being investigated by the FBI for alleged communist sympathies can’t have helped much either.

She was born in 1900, the child of Russian emigrants to the USA, studied journalism at Columbia University, and joined Universal Pictures in New York as an assistant story editor, aged 20. She moved to Hollywood and Preferred Pictures in 1923, later working for Universal Pictures, MGM, Fox and Paramount. Films she wrote included Flesh and the Devil (1926) with Greta Garbo, His Secretary (1925) and The Waning Sex (1926) with Norma Shearer, The Plastic Age (1925) with Clara Bow, and Rolled Stockings (1927) with Louise Brooks. Much of her work (as it appeared on the screen) is now lost, while other work never went acknowledged in the first place.

Work dried up in the sound era, with the film The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1946), based on a story with serious interest in the issues of women and work by Frederica and her husband, turned into a silly musical rather summing up her film industry experience. So she became an insurance adjuster instead, and said if she’d had her time again she would never have gone into the movies.

Is that true? Probably not. You don’t stick at a business for thirty years without feeling some sort of commitment to it, and the passing of time can sour memories just as it can sugar the memories of others. At any rate, her memoir is of particular value for providing an insight into Hollywood’s silent heyday from the perspective of someone who had experienced the changes of a century and found herself writing for a 21st century audience which likes its histories to have warts. It would have been a different book if written at another time.

There are obituaties for Frederica Sagor Maas in the San Francisco Examiner, Hollywood Reporter and Los Angeles Times. Her passing leaves perhaps just the former child stars Diana Serra Cary (Baby Peggy) and Mickey Rooney as the living survivors of the silent era. Judging from Maas’s view of Hollywood, ‘survivor’ is the appropriate word.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 37

Trailer for Sailcloth

Here we are at the end of a blustery week, and once again we have for you the latest edition of the Bioscope’s infrequent, but never irrelevant, round-up of some of the recent happenings in our world of silent films.

Méliès on Blu-Ray
Georges Méliès’s Le voyage dans la lune / A Trip to the Moon (1902) is to get the Blu-Ray treatment. Lobster Films have just announced that their famous colour restoration of the film is to be the centrepiece of a Blu-Ray release to be issued (in France at least) on 26 April. There aren’t many details as yet, but the disc will include these other Méliès titles: Le Chevalier mystère / The Mysterious Knight (1899), L’antre des esprits / The House of Mystery (1901), Le royaume des fées / Fairyland: A Kingdom of Fairies (1903), Le tonnerre de Jupiter / Jupiter’s Thunderballs (1903), Les cartes vivantes / The Living Playing Cards (1904), and Le chaudron infernal / The Infernal Boiling Pot (1903). Read more.

Poland online
Poland’s minister of culture has announced that (apparently) the entirety of the country’s existing pre-war film archives are to be digitised and made available on the Internet via Europeana, the European Commission’s ambitious digital portal project, just as soon as the relevant copyrights have expired. When this all may be happening has not been said as yet. Read more.

Silents at the Oscars
It may not have escaped your attention that a silent film is being talked about as a favourite for a Academy Award, but what about the other silent film in contention? Sailcloth is a British short film starring John Hurt, made entirely without dialogue, which is in contention for the Oscar for live action short. Do we have a trend emerging here? Read more.

60 seconds of solitude
We could very well have a trend. 60 Seconds of Solitude in the Year Zero is the somewhat portentous title of a collaborative film made in Estonia employing 60 filmmakers from around the world who were each asked to shoot something of one-minute’s length on the theme of the death of cinema, choosing as a motif one of five elements: earth, wind, fire, water, spirit. While you ponder what cinema about the death of cinema actually means, there’s the information that all but two of the films are silent, and in performance the film has been shown with live musical accompaniment. Read more.

What the Dickens
Charles Dickens is enjoying his 200th anniversary, so to speak, and the Bioscope will be joining in with the festivities with a suitable post in due course. Meanwhile, the British Film Institute has kicked off a three-month season of adaptations of the man’s great works, including a number of silents: a programme of pre-1914 shorts, Jackie Coogan in Oliver Twist (1922), Cecil Hepworth’s charming David Copperfield (1913) and John Martin Harvey recreating his famous stage role in The Only Way (1926), an adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. Read more.

Keep up with the news on silent films every day via our regular news service.

‘Til next time!