Britain can make it

Spot the Urbanora Dog (not a competition, by the way – ah, the old jokes are the best)

Well, how could I possibly resist publishing this iconic image? Anyone who knows your scribe’s nom de plume or particular interest in the exploits of dogs in silent films will no doubt be cheering, and very probably rushing off to book hotels and transportation at the very thought of the legendary Charles Urban-produced film A Canine Sherlock Holmes (1912) turning up at the British Silent Film Festival, which takes place in Cambridge, 19-22 April 2012.

The festival is in its fifteenth year, and being in celebratory mood it has put together a sort of greatest hits programme, which looks remarkably ambitious for a four day event. It is certainly packed with treasures and diverting oddities. The festival started out fifteen years ago as a quaint mix of academic papers and obscure British silents, appealing to a select if dedicated bunch of people. It hit hard times a few years ago, but a shift in programming to feature films with some special events, combining imaginatively selected British silents with world classics looks to have paid dividends. Among the better-known titles in the programme below, there are Turksib, Visage d’Enfants and The Great White Silence, while the Dodge Brothers accompanying Abram Room’s The Ghost that Never Returns is bound to be popular. But let me recommend also The Blackguard, directed by Graham ‘The White Shadow’ Cutts; the programme of Fred Paul’s proto-horror short films (especially The Jest); the modestly pleasing W.W. Jacobs films (including The Head of the Family, filmed in fair Whitstable, the town where I grew up); another Fred Paul film, Lady Windermere’s Fan (not exactly Lubitsch, but well worth watching) and the What the Silent Censor Saw programme, which should show some of those extant films we recently highlighted as having been rejected by the BBFC for screening in the UK. There are tributes to Charles Dickens and P.G. Wodehouse, and more dog-centred entertainment with the tear-jerking feature film Owd Bob (surely the loyal old sheepdog can’t be a killer…?) and a programme of shorts that includes the heartening Dog Outwits the Kidnappers, with Cecil Hepworth’s Rover driving a car with aplomb.

Here’s the full programme.


09.00 – 17.00 Registration (Arts Picture House)

10.30 The Bachelor’s Baby (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Romantic comedy about a bachelor who discovers an abandoned baby whilst on a motorcycle tour of the Lake District. Uncertain of what to do with the foundling, he hands it to a retired captain living next door to his unrequited childhood sweetheart and her young niece. Meanwhile, assuming it stolen, the child’s mother and an array of interfering busy-bodies set out to look for the child in a series of comic interludes, mistaken identities and baby swaps. Does the mother want the baby back and what of the attractive niece who catches the eye of the eponymous bachelor?

Dir: Arthur Rooke. With: Malcolm Tod, Tom Reynolds, Peggy Woodward, Constance Worth, Haidie Wright. GB 1922, 67mins.


Ordeal by Golf
The first of our P.G. Wodehouse golfing tales about two golfers and their ‘eternal caddy’, a man who supplements his income by stealing ‘lost’ balls and selling them back to their original owners. Inevitably, golf is much more than just a game here and when an elderly boss seeks to appoint a new company treasurer, he challenges the two potential candidates to a golfing match as ‘the only way to judge a man’s true character’. But is beating the boss really such a good idea?

Dir: Andrew P Wilson. With: Harry Beasley. GB 1924, 26mins

13.15 The Only Way (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
The final major Dickens adaptation of the silent era, The Only Way is a lavish adaptation of the popular stage play of the same name, itself a rather free adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. Produced and directed by the ambitious Herbert Wilcox, it stars legendary theatre actor-manager Sir John Martin Harvey as Sydney Carton, the English advocate who is given the chance to redeem his wasted life by saving the life of his near double, a French aristocrat in exile from revolutionary France threatened with the guillotine.

Dir: Herbert Wilcox. With: John Martin-Harvey, Ben Webster, Madge Stuart, Jean Jay. GB 1926, 107mins

13.30 Young Woodley (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
One of the most impressive and sensitively directed British films of the late silent era, Young Woodley is based on John Van Druten’s controversial stage play of 1925 which had already fallen foul of the Lord Chamberlain. Its the story of a dreamy young college boy who falls for the Headmaster’s wife, the beautiful Laura Simmons (Madeleine Carroll), herself trapped in a stale marriage. Originally shot in 1928 as a full-blooded silent, (the version screened here), the film remained unreleased until 1930 when it was refashioned into an early sound feature. Somewhat reminiscent of both Tea and Sympathy and The Browning Version, this little seen gem is more than deserving of a much belated reappraisal.

Dir: Thomas Bentley. With: Frank Lawton, Madeleine Carroll, Sam Livesey, Aubrey Mather

GB 1928, 1hr 33mins

Plus Young Woodley Sound Trailer. 1930. 3.5mins

15.30 Grand Guignol – The Last Appeal + The Jest + A Game for Two (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
Fred Paul’s Grand Guignol short films, A Game for Two, The Jest, The Gentle Doctor and The Last Appeal stand out for their remarkable plots, all with a cruel twist in the tale, and their fatalistic atmosphere. Fred Paul himself declared ‘I attempt to show life as it really is, its sordidness and cruelty; the diabolical humour of the destiny we call fate, which plays with us as it will, raises us to high places or drags us to the gutter; allows one man to rob the widows and orphans of their all and makes a criminal of the starving wretch who in his misery has stolen a mouthful of bread. The four surviving short films are here presented with a script by Michael Eaton.

Dir Fred Paul: GB 1921. Running time approx 70mins

17.30 The Boatswain’s Mate + A Will and a Way (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
At the Beehive Inn, the widowed landlady Mrs Waters has no shortage of gentlemen admirers willing to ‘marry a pub’. But she wants to marry an ‘ero and pub regular George sets out to prove himself by rescuing her from a fake burglary which he stages with an itinerant Victor Maclagen, who turns up looking for work. But the plan goes awry when the feisty landlady proves that she’s more than a match for either of them.

Dir: Manning Haynes. With: Florence Turner, Victor Maclagen, Johnny Butt. GB 1924,26 mins.


A Will and a Way
In the peaceful village of Claybury a wedding takes place and two locals set the scene for this delightful romantic comedy when they announce ‘This be a rare place for a wedding. Not as the gals be better lookin’ than others – they be sharper’. Meanwhile the recently deceased, Sportin’ Green, leaves his fortune to his nephew Foxy on the proviso that he marries the first woman to ask him. Cue an array of fortune-seeking widows, elderly spinsters and men in drag, all vying to pop the question first and a series of hilarious interludes with echoes of Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances.

Dir: Manning Haynes. With Ernest Hendry, Johnny Butt, Cynthia Murtagh, Charles Ashton. GB 1922, 45mins

19.00 Gala Screening – Visages D’Enfants (Faces of Children) (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 1)
An astounding portrait of tragedy from one of the founding masters of French poetic realism and filmed through the eyes of a young boy haunted by the death of his mother. Set in a Swiss alpine community the film opens with her funeral and deals with the aftermath as the boy, brilliantly played by child actor Jean Forest, tries to come to terms with this life-changing event, his own grief and the prospect of a new stepmother and sister. Compared to Truffaut’s 400 Blows in its sympathy for the child’s eye view, historian Jean Mitry could give no higher accolade when he said, ‘If I could select only one film from the entire French production of the 1920s, surely it is Faces of Children that I would save’ .

Dir: Jacques Feyder.With: Jean Forest, Victor Vina, Arlette Pevran, Henri Duval. France 1925, 114mins


09.00 New Discoveries: (The Ones that got away) Tony Fletcher (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A tantalising programme of rare Edwardian short films selected and presented by long-term Festival collaborator Tony Fletcher, and displaying the rich diversity held in the BFI National Archive. This selection includes comedies such as The Cheekiest Man on Earth (1908) and A New Hat for Nothing (1910), Arthur Melbourne Cooper’s mechanical animation Road Hogs in Toyland (1911), moral tales like A Great Temptation (1906), visual spectacles such as Wonders of the Geomatograph (1910) and Pageant of New Romney (1910) an early colour experiment by pioneer G.A. Smith, to the Edison Company’s adaptation of the Tennyson poem Lady Clare (1912) filmed at Arundel Castle.

Presented by Tony Fletcher

Dir: Various. Running time 85mins

11.00 – 12.30 The Woman’s Portion – IWM event (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A fascinating programme of films about women’s contribution during the Great War, including recruitment films for the Land Army and Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, propaganda films encouraging the use of National Kitchens and extolling the virtues of frugality. The programme includes the recently restored version of c1918 fictionalised propaganda film The Woman’s Portion about the need for women to accept separation from, and loss of, their husbands fighting on the Front. The IWM has recently re-edited, tinted and provided a new piano score by the composer, Ian Lynn.

Programme will be presented by Matt Lee and Toby Haggith

Dir: Various. GB 1917-1918. Running time approx 80mins

11.00 Tansy (Emmanuel College)
Alma Taylor stars as Tansy, a shepherd girl caught up in a love triangle between two brothers which results in her eviction from her beloved farm. Played out against the backdrop of the beautiful Sussex Downs, and based on a popular novel of the time by Tickner Edwardes, the film displays all the pictorial beauty and naturalism for which Hepworth was renowned. Tansy was a lucky survivor among Hepworth’s feature films when the majority of his work was seized and tragically melted down following his bankruptcy.

Dir: Cecil M. Hepworth. With: Alma Taylor, James Carew, Gerald Ames, Hugh Clifton. GB 1921, 63 mins

13.30 The Long Hole + The Clicking of Cuthbert (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Two classics from P.G. Wodehouse’s golfing tales here presented with readings from the original stories. Originally presented in 6 parts The Clicking of Cuthbert was the first. Set in the suburban paradise of Wood Hills where two rival camps, The Golfers and The Cultured, vie for supremacy. When Cuthbert is forced to retrieve a ball, accidentally smashed a ball through the window into a literary society meeting, he falls for the charms of the cultured poetess Adeline. But she wants an intellectual, so Cuthbert attends readings of Soviet ‘misery lit’ by a famous visiting Bolshevik in the hope of becoming one. But when the Bolshevik announces his own love of golf, the Cultured Adeline is forced to rethink her own prejudices against the game.


The Long Hole
Two rival golfers compete for the attention of an attractive young woman, each convinced that they would stand a chance if the other were out of the way. So they decide to settle the matter with a round of golf comprising a single hole, teeing off from first green and ending in the doorway of the Majestic Hotel the following day. But en route, the pair are forced to play fast and loose with the rules as they deal with the mud of an English summer and balls accidentally chipped into motorcars and boats. What a pity that neither of them had considered whether the object of their mutual desire was interested in them.

Dir: Andrew P. Wilson. With Roger Keyes, Harry Beasley, Charles Courtneidge, Daphne Williams. GB 1924, 25mins/32mins

13.30 The Lure of Crooning Water (Emmanuel College)
Romance and melodrama mingle in this tale of a city seductress who lures a farmer away from his wife and family. Ivy Duke plays a famous actress ordered by her doctor-lover to take a rest cure at the idyllic Crooning Water Farm. But she’s unable to resist flirting with the unworldly farmer (Guy Newall) under the nose of his hard-working wife who can do little to distract him from her spoilt love-rival. The British countryside has never looked more glorious and there are some comedy moments –including the ‘smoking baby’ sequence. The film was a critical success on its release with Kinematograph Weekly proclaiming it as ‘a triumph for the British producer. It disposes once and for all the ridiculous argument that good films cannot be made in this country’.

Dir: Arthur Rooke. Starring: Guy Newall, Ivy Duke, Douglas Munro, Mary Dibley. GB 1920 104mins

15.30 The Head of the Family (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Set in a Kentish seafaring community, Mrs Green is horribly bullied by her second husband who threatens to sell off the family home that belonged to her son, who was lost at sea and presumed dead. But when the despairing woman meets a friendly sailor looking for lodgings, the two hatch a plan to thwart her husband’s schemes by pretending that the young man is her long-lost son, back to claim his place at The Head of the Family. The locations are a delight and the cinematography praised by contemporary critics who claimed that W.W. Jacobs, with his international reputation, would be enough to draw the crowds – a poignant reminder of how popular tastes in literature have changed.

Dir: Manning Haynes. Starring Johnny Butt, Daisy England, Charles Ashton, Moore Marriott. GB 1922 73 mins


Rough Seas Around British Coasts
A mesmerizing actuality film displaying the power of high tides and rough seas.

GB, 1929, 9 mins

15.30 Lady Windermere’s Fan (Emmanuel College)
The first film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic satire on Victorian marriage and society. Lady Windermere, convinced that her husband is being unfaithful with a certain Mrs Erlynne, is further distressed to discover that the ‘other woman’ has been invited to her birthday ball. So she embarks on her own affair to get even. But all is not what it seems and, Mrs Erlynne sacrifices her own reputation to save Lord and Lady Windermere’s marriage with the final plot revelation, explaining her motives.

Dir: Fred Paul. With: Milton Rosmer, Irene Rooke, Nigel Playfair, Netta Westcott. GB 1916, 72 mins

17.30 What the Silent Censor Saw! (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
To celebrate 100 years of film classification by the BBFC we look at the history of this remarkable institution and its decision making processes. Featuring clips from films illustrating various censorship issues – sex, drugs and bullfighting as well as the wonderful Adrian Brunel spoof, Cut it Out: a Day in the Life of a film Censor.

Introduced by Lucy Betts of the BBFC and Bryony Dixon of the BFI

Dir: various. Running time approx. 90mins.

17.30 The Man Without Desire (Emmanuel College)
Adrian Brunel’s first feature film is a fascinating curio, filmed on location in Venice, bearing hallmarks of German Expressionism and shifting between the 18th and 20th Centuries. Novello’s other-worldly beauty and sexual ambiguity is perfect for the role of Count Vittorio Dandolo, an 18th Century Venetian nobleman, put into a state of suspended animation following the murder of his lover, who is revived into the present with unexpected consequences.

Dir: Adrian Brunel. With Ivor Novello, Nina Vanno, Sergio Mari, Christopher Walker. GB 1923, 107mins

19.15 The First Born – Gala Screening (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 1)
With new musical score from Stephen Horne

A tour de force of late silent filmmaking and a heady mix of politics, infidelity, sex and passion, The First Born was adapted by Miles Mander from his own novel and play with a script by Alma Reville, Alfred Hitchcock’s talented wife. It concerns the relationship between Sir Hugh Boycott (Mander) and his young bride Madeleine, sensitively played by a pre-blonde Madeleine Carroll. Their passionate relationship founders when she fails to produce an heir. The print has recently been fully restored by the BFI National Archive with its original delicate tinting.

Dir: Miles Mander. With: Miles Mander, Madeleine Carroll, John Loder. GB 1928, 88mins.


09.00 Livingstone (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A rare screening of this fascinating biopic starring actor, director and explorer M.A. Wetherell in the title role. The film traces Livingstone’s physical and spiritual journey from his humble Scottish home to Africa and his fight against slavery. Wetherell travelled over 25,000 miles to produce the film, which is largely shot on location in the places visited by Livingstone with the indigenous African Tribes people playing themselves. The film was highly praised on its release for combining drama, sensitive performances with stunning scenery and travelogue. The Cinema News and Property Gazette stated, ‘The picture was warmly received at its Albert Hall presentation last week, and the audience seemed particularly pleased with the magnificent views of the Victoria Falls. As for the crocodiles, no disciple of Ufa could have made them more terrible or more worthy to be respected’ It is here presented in the only known extant 16mm print courtesy of the Archive Film Agency.

Dir: M.A. Wetherell. With M.A. Wetherell, Molly Rogers, Douglas Cator, Robson Paige. GB 1926, 62mins

Presented in association with the Archive Film Agency

09.00 Mist in the Valley (Emmanuel College)
Produced and directed by Cecil Hepworth, based on the original novel by Dorin Craig, this is a story of a lonely heiress, played by Alma Taylor, who runs away from an unhappy home. She meets her future husband whilst destitute and they soon marry. However, their happiness is short-lived as her father is murdered and our heroine becomes the prime suspect! A Courtroom drama ensues with an unexpected twist at the end.

Dir: Cecil M. Hepworth. With Alma Taylor, G.H. Mulcaster, James Carew, Esme Hubbard. UK, 1923 75mins

11.00 Fun Before the Footlights: The Origins of Undergraduate Humour (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
The British tradition of absurdist humour didn’t start with The Goons, Pete and Dud, or Monty Python – not by a long chalk. The slightly silly antics of the so-called intelligentsia are to be found in a series of short films of the 1920s which delight in anti establishment cheek and a desire to take the **** out of cinema itself (outrageous!) with a pastiche travelogue, a bogus newsreel (the Typical Budget) and a send up of the Censor himself. With an introduction by Jo Botting (BFI)

Dir: various. Running time 90mins

11.00 Family Matinee – Silent film fun with Animal Stars (Arts Picture House)
The Artist’s ‘Uggie’ proved how important it is to have a clever dog in your silent movie and we’ve got a kennel full – driving cars, doing tricks and getting their owners out of scrapes along with assorted parrots, monkeys, horses, insects and goodness knows what else – fun silent comedies for the whole family with films from crime-fighting dogs in 1906 to Charley Chase trying to bath a Great Dane in 1927, all introduced, explained and accompanied by Neil Brand.

Dir: various. Running time approx 80mins

13.30 Fante Anna (Gypsy Anna) (Emmanuel College)
Presented in association with The Norwegian Film Institute and Lillehammer University

One of the great films of the Norwegian silent canon, starring Asta Nielsen, one of the greatest actresses of the period. Anna, a gipsy child is discovered in the arms of her dead mother by a farmhand and adopted by the Storleins, his employers. But Anna (Nielson) grows into a wild child, constantly getting her step brother into trouble, until mother Storlein can take no more and Anna is forced to leave. As the years pass, Anna falls in love with her step brother, but Jon, the farmhand has also fallen for Anna. Their fate is bound together and one of the rivals will be forced to save her life. This newly restored film is here presented by composer Halldor Krogh whose new symphonic music score will be played with the film.

Dir: Rasmus Breistein. With Asta Nielsen, Einar Tveito, Johanne Bruhn Norway 1920

15.30 The Bohemian Girl (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Based on William Balfe’s operetta of the same name, Knoles’ lavish production stars Ivor Novello as Thaddeus, an exiled Polish officer who joins a gypsy community in Bohemia to escape the Austrian military. Here he meets and falls in love with Arline, a young woman of noble birth stolen as a baby and brought up as a gypsy. But the Queen of the Gypsies has also fallen in love with Thaddeus and, jealous of the younger woman, she has Arline arrested for theft. Notable for its cast of theatrical luminaries, and with a tantalizing and rare glimpse of Helen Terry, the film was praised for its staging, but criticized for its overall lack of drama.

Dir: Harley Knoles. Starring Ivor Novello, Ellen Terry, Gladys Cooper, Constance Collier. GB 1922, 70mins.

15.30 The Great White Silence (Emmanuel College)
In 1910, Captain Robert Falcon Scott led what he hoped would be the first successful team to reach the South Pole. But the expedition also had a complex (and completely genuine) scientific brief. Scott’s decision to include a cameraman in his expedition team was a remarkable one for its time, and it is thanks to his vision – and to Herbert Ponting’s superb eye – that, a century later, we have an astonishing visual account of his tragic quest. The film built on Ponting’s lecture, introducing intertitles, as well as his own stills, maps, portraits and paintings, to create a narrative of the tragic events. The film was lavishly restored by the BFI National Archive in 2010 for the centenary of the expedition with original tints and tones and a newly commissioned score by Simon Fisher-Turner.

Dir: Herbert G. Ponting. With: Capt. Robert Falcon Scott. GB 1924, 108mins.

17.30 A Couple of Down and Outs (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
In this timely reprise for the War Horse of its day, a man recognizes the horse that he cared for on the battlefields of the First World War as it is being led off to the knackers yard. Man and horse go on the run in a beautifully told tale of official brutality and individual compassion. Print courtesy of the EYE Film Institute Amsterdam.

Dir. Walter Summers. With: Rex Davis, Edna Best. GB 1923, 64mins

19.00 Turksib – Gala Screening (Emmanuel College)
With live music from Bronnt Industries Kapital

This masterpiece of Soviet film making describes the construction of the great Turkestan-Siberia railway as it progresses 1445km through the vast Steppes and deserts of Kazakhstan. The railway was one of the great achievements of the Soviet Five Year Plan and Turin’s film captures the revolutionary fervour of the endeavour with it’s symphonic form and rhythms, backed up by Bronnt Industries fabulous new score. ‘A lyrical, humane, superbly edited masterpiece’ The Guardian.

Dir: Viktor Turin, USSR 1929, 78mins

21.00 Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow – Gala Screening (Emmanuel College)
A cornucopia of short films from the acclaimed BFI DVD release, Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow, featuring a century of folk customs and ancient rural games from mummers and morris dancers, to extreme sports and village customs. The programme will include some of the earliest known film footage of English folk traditions from around the country, some collected by pioneer folk revivalist Cecil Sharp in 1911. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by renowned musicians, concertina player Rob Harbron with Miranda Rutter on fiddle in what promises to be a unique and unmissable event.

Dir: various. GB. Total running time approx 80mins.


09.00 The Blackguard (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
Based on Raymond Paton’s 1923 novel about a penniless and wounded violinist who saves a young Russian princess from execution during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The film was shot at UFA’s Babelsberger Studios in Germany as a co-production with Gainsborough, and is noteworthy for Hitchcock’s contribution as Art Director. The Blackguard is a good example of big 1920s European film making with impressive crowd scenes, and it never looks less than fabulous.

Dir: Graham Cutts. With Jane Novak, Walter Rilla, Frank Stanmore. GB/Germany 1925. 80mins

09.15 Owd Bob (Emmanuel College)
Taken from the novel by Alfred Ollivant, Edwards’ charming film is a tale of love and rivalry in the Cumbrian hills. With his loyal dog Bob close by his side, young farmer James Moore is new to the valley, much to the annoyance of long-standing land owner Adam McAdam. However, real trouble comes to this close-knit community with the discovery of the bodies of savagely killed sheep. Acrimony and accusations ensue causing a deep set family feud. Who is to blame? Could Bob really be the culprit? Featuring some evocative location photography of the Lake District.

Dir: Henry Edwards. With: Ralph Forbes, James Carew, J. Fisher. GB 1924 68mins

11.00 Ask the Experts – Silent film in the 21st century (Emmanuel College)
The worldwide success of The Artist has focused attention on silent cinema like never before. Will this phenomenon translate into greater interest in silent film? Or is it in fact the result of increased interest in silent cinema rather than a cause? In this panel session specialists from the ‘British Silent Film Festival’, explain their passion for silent film, look at other examples of silent film in the 21st century and trace the development of silent film in the 20th century to explain its enduring appeal. Here is your chance to find out all you ever wanted to know about silent film, but never dared ask.

11.00 The Golden Butterfly/Der Goldene Schmetterling (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
The final of our P.G. Wodehouse silent film adaptations is an altogether different affair from his golfing tales and this time, directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz before his migration to Hollywood. This is the story of a young restaurant cashier (Damita) who longs to be a dancer and each evening after work, she heads off to practice. One day she meets a handsome impresario who promises to make her a star, so she abandons her job and the boss who has fallen in love with her. But things go horribly wrong when an accident at the London Coliseum threatens to ruin her life. Some scenes were filmed on location in Cambridge.

Dir: Michael Curtiz. With: Lily Damita, Jack Trevor, Hermann Leffler, Nils Asther. Germany 1926, 95mins

13.30 Short films from Desmet Collection at EYE – Netherlands (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 3)
A cornucopia of delights from the Desmet Collection held in the Netherlands Film Archive. This selection of British shorts includes Didums and the Bathing Machine in which the eponymous nightmare-child torments a hapless bather by stealing his clothes and the mad-cap Tilly girls in Tilly in a Boarding House. Also featuring are, A Canine Sherlock Holmes, Charley Smiler is Robbed, The Adventures of P.C.Sharpe and Picture Palace Pie Cans.

Dir: various. Running time approx 80mins

13.30 Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul (Emmanuel College)
A sensitive adaptation of H G Wells gentle comedy of social manners with a near perfect, and totally natural performance by George K Arthur (which was praised by Charlie Chaplin who attended the preview with H G Wells himself) in the lead role. Other things to enjoy are the nicely photographed seaside locations, the performance by the director’s wife, Edna Flugrath who plays the girl next door despite being clearly too old for the younger Ann, and the intriguing possibility that Josef Von Sternberg was involved with the production. He was certainly in London assisting Shaw around this time.

Dir. Harold Shaw. With: George K Arthur, Edna Flugrath, Teddy Arundell. GB 1921, 88mins

15.30 The Annual Rachael Low Lecture – Britain could make it! (Arts Picturehouse – Screen 2)
Fifteen years of British Silents discoveries, and why we need to dig further into the mysterious ‘teens .

When the British Silent Festival began fifteen years ago, very little was known or seen from the silent era in British production beyond Hitchcock. Now silent film is booming, and it’s clear that Britain had some outstanding talents, even though many of the films are lost. In this Rachael Low lecture, Ian Christie will be looking back at some of the festival’s discoveries, and taking a closer look at the period we still know least about – the mysterious ‘teens.

Ian Christie is a film historian, critic and curator, who teaches at Birkbeck College and regularly appears in television coverage of film history. He wrote the BBC Centenary of Cinema series, The Last Machine, presented by Terry Gilliam, and curated the BFI DVD of Robert Paul’s collected films.

17.30 The Ghost that Never Returns with the Dodge Brothers (West Road Concert Hall)
In an unnamed South American country, Jose Real is jailed for his activism at an oil refinery. Exasperated at his power and his popularity with the prison inmates, the authorities decide to eliminate him by promising him one day’s freedom and then sending an assassin to follow him. Together they ride trains and track across desert landscapes in a deadly game of cat and mouse which only one can survive. The movie looks and feels like a piece of Americana directed by Wim Wenders – and that is how the Dodge Brothers and Neil Brand have scored it. Following on from their triumphant score for ‘Beggars of Life’ the Dodges return to breathe rhythmic life into a classic of Soviet cinema full of moving characters and striking visuals, a movie you may never have heard of but, after seeing it, one you will never forget.

“There are those rare moments in life where you are privileged to bear witness to a unique event, this, for me was one of them. Should they saddle up and recreate this triumph at any time in the future, then my advice to anyone, is buy your ticket early.”

Dir: Abram Room; With B. Ferdinandov, Olga Zhizneva, Maksim Stralikh. USSR 1929. Performance will last approx 80mins.

20.30 Highlights of the British Silent Film – Closing Event (The Varsity Hotel – Rooftop)
Over the past 14 years the British Silent Film Festival has uncovered a host of fascinating films almost unknown by the British public – this selection of feature films, actualities, animations, comedies, adverts local films, travelogues, nature and exploration film aims to inspire you to know more about the first 35 years of your film heritage. With live music from the best silent film accompanists in the world.

More information, as always, on the festival website.

Napoléon vu par Kevin Brownlow

Vladimir Roudenko as the young Napoléon

Back in November 2010 the silent film historian and restorer Kevin Brownlow was deservedly given an honorary Academy Award. He received his award at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ annual Governors Awards ceremony alongside two other noteworthy film figures, Francies Ford Coppola and Eli Wallach (Jean-Luc Godard was also given an honorary Award, but naturally he declined to turn up).

One imagines that the conversation between Brownlow and Coppola turned toward Napoléon, the epic 1927 film by Abel Gance which Brownlow had dedicated his life towards restoring, and which Coppola had presented in the USA back in 1981 in a re-edited restoration with a score by his father, Carmine Coppola. Perhaps while clutching their statuettes they decided that the time had come to end the block on any screening of the film in the States that did not feature the Coppola score, which for thirty years had prevented American film enthusiasts from seeing the film in form in which Brownlow had restored – and was continuing to restore, since the film had grown longer in the intervening years, had had its colour tinting and toning restored, and of course came with Carl Davis’ famous (and ever-expanding) score. It was time for Napoléon to return to America.

The real Napoléon helped build America, of course. When he was planning to invade England in 1803, and in need of funds, he approached the American negotiators hoping to purchase New Orleans for $10M (this at a time when large parts of North America was still owned by the French) and instead offered them the whole of Louisiana for $15M. It was one of the biggest land bargains in history, and helped make the United States become what it is today. And Napoléon failed to invade England.

Maybe Abel Gance would have got round to including the Louisiana Purchase as part of the six films he dreamed of making about Napoléon. He would certainly have been reluctant to leave out any detail of the Emperor’s life if it revealed the mark that he had made upon history. Gance’s astonishing, preposterous ambition was indeed to make six lengthy films documenting the life of the Emperor, a project he began in 1925. Of course he did not have the financing in place for six films, not even for one at first, but after his original financiers failed him Gance found from a Russian, Jacques Grinieff, sufficient to complete film number one, which took Napoléon from childhood, through the French revolution, to his invasion of Italy.

The nine-image pillow fight from Napoléon, from the Smithsonian’s Reel Culture blog

The film, full title Napoléon Vu par Abel Gance, premiered at the Paris Opéra on 7 April 1927. It ran for three-and-a-half hours, with a score by Arthur Honegger; later a six-and-a-half-hour version was screened, though Gance’s original cut is said to have been nine hours. A film at such a length would always have struggled to find screenings, and the film was cut down into a variety of shorter, increasingly incomprehensible versions. Its commercial fate, and the arrival of sound, condemned Gance’s six-film dreams to dust (though his script for part six, Napoléon in exile on St Helena, was filmed in 1929 by Lupu Pick in Germany as Napoléon auf St Helena).

Time moves on, and in 1955 a 76-year-old Abel Gance turned up at the British Film Institute in London. Happily the distinguished elderly filmmaker was recognised, but then Deputy Curator Liam O’Leary did an extraordinary thing. He called for a 17-year-old boy to meet M. Gance (his mother had to telephone him at school when he was in the middle of an exam), since he was known to be an enthusiast for the man’s work. It’s hard to imagine such an occurence today, but back in 1955 that was how Kevin Brownlow first met Abel Gance, and it set in train a mission by the young man to restore Napoléon (which he’d first encountered on 9.5mm when aged 15) and with it the reputation of a by then forgotten master of the silent cinema. (The Ann Harding’s Treasures blog has an interview with Brownlow where he recalls the anecdote).

Abel Gance and Kevin Brownlow

The history of Napoléon’s restoration has been amply documented, not least by Kevin Brownlow himself in his book Napoleon. The restoration premiered in 1979 at the Telluride Film Festival, Colorado, with Gance in attendance (he died in 1981, aged 92). It was in 1980, with funding from Thames Television in the UK, that Napoléon made it full impact, when it was presented in London, at four hours and 50 minutes in length and with a score by Carl Davis. Its effect on audiences was cataclymsic (I was a little too young to be aware of all this, and only caught up with Napoléon on television a few years later). The film was a bravura advertisement for all that the camera could do. With its rapid editing, hand-held (and horse-back held) camera shots, super-impositions on a phantasmagoric scale, camera effects adopted from the avant garde, startling camera angles, above all its multiple screen effects (at one point – a pillow fight – the screen divides into nine separate, interelated images), culminating in the overpowering Polyvision triple-screen effect at the end of the film as Napoléon leads his army into Italy, it was one of the most powerful demonstrations of cinematic imagination that many in the audience had seen. It was as revolutionary in theme (it covers the French revolution, of course) as it was in technique, so that the two became as one. It did not only restore Napoléon and the reputation of Abel Gance; to a considerable extent it helped restore the silent film as an art form. We were all made to see what Kevin Brownlow had always believed.

Time moves on again, and screenings of Napoléon have become increasingly rare, owing as much to the compleixites of rights issues as the expense of putting on a film, at such a length, with full orchestra, and requiring an 85-foot-wide screen for the climax. A generation or more of silent film fans has grown up without having seen Napoléon, save for a rather lame VHS and DVD version with the Carmine Coppola score which lessened Gance’s reputation rather than enhanced it. In 2000 Brownlow unveiled the film’s colour tinting and toning for the first time at a UK screening at the Royal Festival Hall. It was now a shade over five-and-a-half hours long. It was last screened in the UK in 2004.

Building the support system for the screening at the Paramount Theatre, Oakland, from

And so to 2012, and the long-running and sometimes bitter battle which had kept the full Napoléon from American screens came to an end with the film’s screening at the 3,000-seat Paramount Theatre, Oakland, San Francisco on 24 and 25 March (with further screenings scheduled for 31 March and 1 April). The film is five-and-a-half long (at 20fps), calling for lunch and two refreshment breaks along the way. Carl Davis conducted the 46-piece Oakland East Bay Symphony orchestra. The whole thing has cost some $700,000 to put on – and they’re probably going to lose money on it (the screenings have not been complete sell-outs…)

The reactions have begun with ecstatic, and then worked their way up from that. There are vivid reviews by Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times and by Mick LaSalle for the San Francisco Chronicle. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times gives a good account of the film’s and the film restoration’s histories. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival, hosts for the screenings, provides a handy set of FAQs (from which we learn that there is not to be a DVD or Blu-Ray release – not until someone invents Polyvision TV screens, it would seem). has a photo slideshow of preparations for the screening at the Paramount Theatre. The Mubi Notebook has helpfully collected together and summarised the main web celebrations of the film’s screenings. And Carl Davis has provided a diary of his experiences on his website.

Napoléon is more than a restoration, indeed it is more of a re-creation, an attempt by Brownlow to build ever closer to that original conception of the film, to re-enter the mind of Abel Gance. There have been so many versions of the film (Gance tinkered with his film for years, much as Brownlow would then do), it would be hard to point to any one that would be definitive. Is the longest version the best? Of course not – at least, not necessarily so – but that doesn’t seem to be the point. It is the quest that matters, quite as much as whatever stage the film may have reached at its successive screenings. The auteur was once Abel Gance; now the auteur is Kevin Brownlow.

It is rumoured that Napoléon may now be coming to the Royal Festival Hall in London in November 2013. Perhaps it will be longer still (a further restoration is rumoured). Perhaps some have started queuing already. It has been twelve years since I last saw the film, and I have to admit that at the time I was impressed, but not overwhelmed. I found the film to be a technical showcase with plenty of felicities but without much real insight, and with an indifferent central performance from Albért Dieudonné (the boy Napoléon is played by Vladimir Roudenko, who is much better). Style alone is not greatness, though it may be great to watch. I hope I get the chance to see the film once more and to find myself proven wrong. I hope everyone gets a chance to see it.

The rejected

Nosferatu, rejected by the BBFC in 1922, from DVD Beaver

Last week we wrote a post on the British Board of Film Classification, whose centenary occurs this year, and whose website includes a database of the films it has examined since 1912. The films can be searched by date and classification, and so it is possibile to produce a list of all of the films of the silent era rejected by the BBFC as being unsuitable for screening in the UK.

There are 208 of them, but the database provides little more than English language title, the date of examination, the distributor who submitted the film, and the classification (R for Rejected). Some of the films are familiar titles (Battleship Potemkin, America, The Seashell and the Clergyman) others much less so, and while most are American there are films from several other countries less easy to identify. It should be noted that this is not a complete list of all films rejected by the BBFC in the silent era, records for the rejection of some films (such as Lois Weber’s abortion drama Where Are My Children?) apparently no longer existing. Other films (such as Auction of Souls) were never submited to the BBFC, which would have rejected them otherwise.

It would be good to know the correct title, date and country of origin for each film. There records at the BBFC that may say more, though in most cases the films are simply listed in annual reports and give no more information than is provided on the database. So we have produced a list and started to identify them. This has mostly involved cross-checking with the Internet Movie Database, plus books written on the BBFC which discuss particular titles. But there are many gaps, and the Bioscope invites you to help fill them.

Each record below gives the title as submitted to the BBFC (hyperlinked to the BBFC database record), the date of examination, the name of the distributor, and then the true title, country, year, director and production company where I have been able to find these. Certain producers and distributors recur with interesting frequency: Fox Films, Nordisk, Cines, Trans Atlantic (European agents for Universal), Thanhouser and Pathé Frères among them, while there are some obscure companies involved, such as Inter Ocean, about whom it would be good to know more. The BBFC records have been copied as they appear, including typos and anachronistic references to film companies that only came into being after this period (Gaumont-British, 20th Century-Fox).

As for the kinds of film censored, the BBFC’s website does not give the reasons for rejection and to give plot summaries where these exist could be misleading, as the reason for rejection was not always so obvious (Nosferatu, for example, was probably rejected – under the title Dracula – on account of a copyright claim in Germany from the estate of Bram Stoker rather than for its horrific content). But there are films on prostitution (The White Slave Traffic), drugs (The Case of the Doped Actress), venereal disease (The Spreading Evil), politics (Irish Destiny), childbirth (The Mysteries of Birth), racial prejudice (Free and Equal) and religion (Leaves from the Book of Satan). Some of these were not so much rejected for their content as for being propagandist in tone, the BBFC having decided to rule against films which solicited public opinion. There are newsreels from the wartime period, the only time topicals were subject to censorship. There are films whose offensive character it is now hard to see (how did Hal Roach come to upset them so often?).

If you can help to identify any of the films (or correct y identifications), please say so through the comments and I’ll add the details to the post. The films are listed in the alphabetical order offered by the BBFC database, with definite articles (A and THE) recognised.

A BACHELOR APARTMENT – 24/03/1922 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = perhaps Bachelor Apartments (USA 1921 d. Johnnie Walker p.c. Georgia Hopkins)
A DAUGHTER OF THE DON – 25/09/1922 – Inter Ocean Photoplays Ltd = possibly The Daughter of the Don (USA 1916 d. Henry Kabierske p.c. Monrovia)
A FOOL THERE WAS – 06/06/1916 – Fox Film Company Ltd = A Fool There Was (USA 1915 d. Frank Powell p.c. Fox)
A HERO OF GALLIPOLI – 27/09/1916 – A1 Features & Exclusives = perhaps The Hero of the Dardanelles (Australia 1915 d. Alfred Rolfe p.c. Australasian Films)
A MAN WITHOUT A SOUL – 21/07/1916 – London Film Co Ltd = The Man Without a Soul (UK 1916 d. George Loane Tucker p.c. London)
A PARISIAN ROMANCE – 20/07/1916 – Fox Film Company Ltd = A Parisian Romance (USA 1916 d. Frederick A. Thomson p.c. Fox)
A ROYAL BULL FIGHT – 24/04/1923 – Tayers Ltd
A SALVAGE – 11/07/1913 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
A SCREAM IN THE NIGHT – 05/01/1923 – Ward’s Productions Ltd = possibly A Scream in the Night (USA 1923 d. Leander De Cordova, Burton L. King p.c. A.H. Fischer Features)
A SHOP GIRL’S PERIL – 15/10/1913 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
A SNAKE’S MEAL – 15/10/1913 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
A SPLENDID WASTER – 12/07/1917 – International Variety Agency Lt = The Splendid Waster (South Africa 1916 d. Harold Shaw p.c. African Film Productions)
A TRUTHFUL LIAR – 22/10/1924 – W & F Film Service Ltd = A Truthful Liar (USA 1924 d. Hampton el Ruth p.c. Hal Roach) (or possibly The Truthful Liar, USA 1922)
A WOMAN – 08/01/1915 – Cines Co
A WOMEN’S [i.e. Woman’s] FATE – 14/01/1924 – M & F Film Agency Ltd
ACROSS NO MANS LAND WITH TANKS – 23/04/1917 – Screen Plays Co
ADVENTURES OF MAIZIE CH 10 “LITTLE ANNIE LOONIE” – 16/07/1926 – Wardour Films Ltd = The Adventures of Mazie: Little Andy Looney (USA 1925)
AIR RAID ON LONDON – 01/06/1915 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd
ALL MAN – 30/04/1919 – Vitagraph Film Hiring Co. Ltd = All Man (USA 1918 d. Paul Scardon p.c. Vitagraph)
ANIMALS LIKE HUMANS – 31/08/1923 – Gaumont Co Ltd
ARRIVAL OF SINN FEIN PRISONERS OF DUBLIN – 14/07/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
ARRIVAL OF THE GUNTESS MARKEIVING [i.e. Countess Markievicz] ON HER RELEASE – 14/07/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
AS MAN MADE HER / 04/05/1917 – Gaumont British Dist = As Man Made Her (USA 1917 d. George Archainbaud p.c. Peerless)
AS THE SHADOW FALLS – 11/02/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = As the Shadow Falls (USA 1915 d. William Worthington p.c. Universal)
AT THE MERCY OF MAN – 18/09/1919 – Littleton Park Film Prods = possibly At the Mercy of Men (USA 1918 d. Charles Miller p.c. Select Pictures)
BATTLING BUNYAN – 30/04/1925 – Ideal Films Ltd = Battling Bunyan (USA 1924 d. Paul Hurst p.c. Crown)
BELOW THE DEADLINE – 15/09/1929 – Argosy Film Co Ltd = probably Below the Deadline (USA 1929 d. J.P. McGowan p.c. Chesterfield)
BEYOND THE BARRICADE – 15/12/1921 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd = Har jeg Ret til at tage mit eget Liv? (Denmark 1920 d. Holger-Madsen p.c. Nordisk)
BIRDS OF PREY – 07/06/1927 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = probably Birds of Prey (USA 1927 d. William James Craft p.c. Columbia)
BLINDFOLDED – 07/08/1918 – Gaumont British Dist = probably Blindfolded (USA 1918 d. Raymond B. West p.c. Paralta)
BOLSHELVISM ON TRIAL – 21/03/1922 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères]
BOSTON BLACKIE – 27/06/1923 – Fox Film Company Ltd = Boston Blackie (USA 1923 d. Scott R. Dunlap p.c. Fox)
CABARET NIGHTS – 10/09/1928 – First National Pathe Ltd
CAPTURING WILD ANIMALS IN THE ROCKIES – NOS 1, 2, 3, 4 – 22/07/1920 – Gaumont Co Ltd
CAPTURING WILD ANIMALS IN THE WILDERNESS – NOS 1, 2, 3, 4 – 22/07/1920 – Gaumont Co Ltd
CASANOVA’S SON – 11/02/1929 – Leon Wynbergen Ltd
CHILDREN OF DESTINY – 05/01/1923 – Ward’s Productions Ltd = maybe Children of Destiny (USA 1920 d. George Irving p.c. Weber Productions)
COCAINE – 12/05/1922 – Astra Films Ltd = Cocaine (later While London Sleeps) (UK 1922 d. Graham Cutts p.c. Master)
CONSCIENCE – 09/11/1917 – 20th Century Fox Film Co. Ltd = Conscience (USA 1917 d. Bertram Bracken p.c. Fox)
CORALIE & CO – 30/07/1914 – Cines Co = Madame Coralie & Co. (Italy 1914)
CUPID ARTHUR & CO – 22/11/1915 – Cines Co
DAMAGED GOODS – 21/11/1919 – Royal Film Agency = Damaged Goods (UK 1919 d. Alexander Butler p.c. Samuelson)
DEALERS IN HUMAN LIVES – 18/09/1914 – Ruffles [i.e. Ruffell’s] Imperial Bioscope Ltd
DON’T FLIRT – 14/05/1925 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = presumably Don’t Flirt (USA 1923 d. Len Powers p.c. Hal Roach)
DRACULA – 11/12/1922 – Y Froehlich = Nosferatu (Germany 1922 d. F.W. Murnau p.c. Jofa-Atelier Berlin-Johannisthal)
EAGLE’S EYE,THE – 29/10/1918 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = The Eagle’s Eye (USA 1918 d. George Lessey et al p.c. Wharton)
ECLAIR JOURNAL NO.13 1ST EDITION ARMOURED MOTOR CARS – 27/03/1915 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd = newsreel
ENGLISH AVIATOR IN THE FAR EAST – 12/05/1916 – Urban Trading Co Ltd
ENGLISH SEAPLANE AT SALONIKA – 12/05/1916 – Urban Trading Co Ltd
FEAR – 18/01/1917 – Llanhouser Films Ltd [i.e. Thanhouser] = Fear (USA 1917 p.c. Thanhouser)
FIT TO MARRY – 22/03/1923 – Joseph Klein
FLYING WHEELS – 08/06/1926 – Famous Players Film Co Ltd = Flying Wheels (USA 1926 d. Edward Ludwig p.c. Century)
FOUR IRISH GIRLS – 22/02/1917 – Western Import Co Ltd
FREE AND EQUAL – 25/03/1919- Stoll Film Co Ltd = possibly Free and Equal (USA 1918 d. Roy William Neill p.c. Thomas H. Ince)
FRENCH HOWITYERS [i.e. Howitzers] – 13/08/1915 – Gaumont Co Ltd
FRENCH TROOPS LEAVING MARSEILLES FOR THE EAST – 19/03/1915 – Gaumont Co Ltd = newsreel
FROU FROU – 14/06/1913 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd (There were American film adaptations of the play Frou-Frou in 1914, 1917 and 1918)
FUNNICUS THE MINISTER – 27/01/1913 – Tyler Film Co Ltd = Gavroche remplace le ministre (France 1913 d. Romeo Bosetti p.c. Éclair)
GERMAN KULTUZ [presumably Kultur] – 16/06/1917 – Kineto Ltd
GETTING STRONG – 25/02/1924 – Regent Film Corp Ltd
GLITTERING BROADWAY – 11/12/1916 – Pathe Freres Ltd
GOD’S LAW – 24/04/1918 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = probably The People vs John Doe (USA 1916 d. Lois Weber p.c. Universal)
GREATER THAN LOVE – 15/12/1921 – Associated Producers Ltd = Greater than Love (USA 1921 d. Fred Niblo p.c. J. Parker Read Jr. Productions)
GREED NO. 14 – 19/05/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
GRIT – 11/02/1925 – George Smith Films Ltd = probably Grit (USA 1924 d. Frank Tuttle p.c. Film Guild)
HANDCUFFS AND KISSES – 22/02/1922 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = presumably Handcuffs or Kisses (USA 1921 d. George Archinbaud p.c. Selznick)
HEARTS IN EXILE – 09/08/1915 – Clarion Film Agency Ltd = Hearts in Exile (USA 1915 d. James Young p.c. World)
HER DANGEROUS PATH EPISODE 9 – 21/01/1924 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = Her Dangerous Path [serial (USA 1923 d. Roy Clements p.c. Hal Roach)
HER WHITE GOD – 20/05/1919 – Essanay Film Service Ltd
HIS MODEL WIFE – 10/01/1918 – Oppidan Film Productions Ltd = possibly His Model Wife (USA 1917 d. Al Christie p.c. Christie)
HIS ONLY SON – 30/05/1913 – Pathe Freres Ltd = possibly His Only Son (USA 1912 d. Jack Conway p.c. Nestor)
HONOR’S CROSS – 01/08/1918 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = Honor’s Cross (USA 1918 d. Wallace Worsley p.c. Selexart Pictures)
HUMAN WRECKAGE – 16/01/1924 – R C Corporation ltd = Human Wreckage (USA 1923 d. John Griffith Wray p.c. Thomas H. Ince)
HUMAN WRECKS – 08/04/1915 – Davison’s Film Sales Agency = possibly Wykolejeni (Poland 1913 d. Kazimierz Kamiński p.c. Sfinks)
HYPOCRITES – 18/05/1917 – Western Import Co Ltd = probably Hypocrites (USA 1915 d. Louis Weber p.c. Hobart Bosworth Productions)
I ALSO ACCUSE – 24/04/1923 – Foyers ltd = Moi aussi, j’accuse (France 1923 d. Alred Machin, Henri Wulschleger p.c. Les Films Alfred Machin/Pathé)
INNOCENT – 24/03/1915 – Cines Co = L’Innocente (Italy 1912 p.c. Cines)
INSPIRATION – 19/05/1916 – Thanhouser films ltd = Inspiration (USA 1915 d. George Foster Platt p.c. Thanhouser)
INTERRUPTED – 24/01/1913 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd
IRISH DESTINY – 21/04/1926 – Eppels films ltd = Irish Destiny (Ireland 1926 d. George Dewhurst)
IRISH REBELS ARRIVE IN LONDON AND ARE INCASCERATED IN – GAOL – 09/05/1916 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = newsreel
IT MAY BE YOUR DAUGHTER – 10/02/1917 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd = It May be Your Daughter (USA 1916 p.c. Moral Uplift Society of America)
JUST AS HE THOUGHT – 30/11/1917 – American Film Co = Just as He Thought (USA 1916 p.c. American Film)
LA CULOTTE DE RIGADIN – 05/12/1913 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd = La culotte de Rigadin (France 1914 d. George Monca p.c. Pathé Frères)
LAWFUL CHEATERS – 30/11/1925 – Vitagraph Film Hiring Co. Ltd = presumably The Lawful Cheater (USA 1925 d. Frank O’Connor p.c. B.P. Schulberg)
LEAVES FROM THE BOOK OF SATAN – 15/12/1921 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd = Blade af Satans bog (Denmark 1921 d. Carl Th. Dreyer p.c. Nordisk)
LIFE’S SHADOWS – 03/05/1927 – Wardour Films Ltd
LITTLE MONTE CARLO – 15/12/1916 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
LITTLE WHITE SLAVES – 03/07/1914 – Tyler Film Co Ltd = Kleine weiße Sklaven (Germany 1914 d. Oskar Ludwig Brandt p.c. Lloyd-Film)
LOVE – 15/12/1921 – Assoc. Ind. Producers Ltd
LOVE AND SACRIFICE – 21/07/1924 – Allied Artists Corpn. Ltd = America (USA 1924 d. D.W. Griffith p.c. D.W. Griffith Productions)
LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT – 20/02/1929 – Wardour Films Ltd = Love at First Flight (USA 1928 d. Edward F. Cline p.c. Mack Sennett)
LOVE IS BLIND – 28/10/1913 – Gerrard Film Co Ltd = probably Love is Blind (USA 1913 d. Allan Dwan p.c. American Film Manufacturing Company)
MARRIAGE – 19/12/1929 – Pro Patria Films Ltd
MEPHISTS [presumably Mephisto] – 03/03/1913 – Elite Sales Agency Ltd
MIRACULOUS WATERS – 23/02/1914 – New Agency Film Co
MOTHER’S CONFESSION – 21/01/1916 – A. Reid & Co = A Mother’s Confession (USA 1915 d. Ivan Abramson p.c. Ivan Film)
MOTHER, I NEED YOU – 23/10/1919 – L. Zimmerman = Mother, I Need You (USA 1918 d. Frank Beal)
MY WIFE AND I – 07/04/1914 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
NABBED – 19/05/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd (There were two films titled Nabbed in 1915, one USA, one UK, neither connected to Universal/Trans Atlantic)
NIGHT LIFE – 16/02/1928 – British Exhibitors Films Ltd
NIGHT OUT, A – 08/09/1916 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd
NOBODY – 30/04/1923 – Associated National Pictures
NOBODY WOULD BELIEVE – 11/03/1913 – J. Frank Brockliss Ltd
NORTH OF 50-50 – 14/05/1925 – Pathe Freres Ltd = North of 50-50 (USA 1924 d. Len Powers p.c. Hal Roach)
OPEN ALL NIGHT – 27/11/1924 – Famous Players Film Co Ltd = Open All Night (USA 1924 d. Paul Bern p.c. Famous Players-Lasky)
OUR LITTLE NELL – 14/05/1925 – Pathe Freres Ltd = Our Little Nell (USA 1924 d. Len Power p.c. Hal Roach)
OUTSIDE THE LAW – 25/03/1927 – European Motion Picture Co Ltd
PATHE DAILY GAZETTE – 03/10/1914 – Pathe Freres Ltd = newsreel
PATHE GAZETTE – “BOMBING SCHOOL OF THE 10th MIDDLESEX” – 11/10/1915 – Pathe Freres Ltd = newsreel
PATHE GAZETTE- “AFTER AN ADVANCE” AND “THROWING A GRENADE” – 12/10/1915 – Pathe Freres Ltd = newsreel
PLUSCH AND PLUMOWSKI – 18/11/1927 – Butchers Film Service Ltd = Plüsch und Plumowski (Germany 1927 d. Hans Steinhoff p.c. Georg-Jacoby-Film)
POTEMKIN – 30/09/1926 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = Bronenosets Potyomkin (USSR 1925 d. Sergei Eisenstein p.c. Goskino)
RIDERS OF THE NIGHT – 09/09/1919 – David Mundell = Riders of the Night (USA 1918 d. John H. Collins p.c. Metro)
ROSE OF THE TENEMENTS – 10/06/1926 – Ideal Films Ltd = Rose of the Tenements (USA 1926 d. Phil Rosen p.c. Robertson-Cole)
SALWATER [i.e. Saltwater] JANE – 10/06/1927 – Ideal Films Ltd
SEALED LIPS – 30/03/1917 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = possibly Sealed Lips (USA 1915 d. John Ince p.c. Equitable Motion Pictures)
SHOOTIN’ FOR LOVE – 07/12/1923 – European Film Dist Ltd = Shootin’ for Love (USA 1923 d. Edward Sedgwick p.c. Universal)
SINS OF YOUR YOUTH – 16/06/1914 – Oscar Rosenberg = possibly Ekspeditricen (Denmark 1911 d. August Blom p.c. Nordisk)
SKIRTS – 26/02/1917 – Western Import Co Ltd = Skirts (USA 1917 d. Al Christie p.c. Christie)
SPANISH BULL FIGHT – 14/03/1913 – Gerrard Films Ltd
STORY OF SISTER RUTH – 11/04/1913 – Gaumont Co Ltd
STRAFING THE KAISER – 03/02/1917 – Walturdaw Co Ltd = Pimple Strafing the Kaiser (UK 1916 d. Fred Evans/Joe Evans p.c. Piccadilly)
TANKS – 14/10/1916 – Kineto Ltd
THE ACE OF BADS – 21/03/1927 – Famous Players Film Co Ltd = The Ace of Cads (USA 1926 d. Luther Reed p.c. Famous Players-Lasky)
THE BACHELOR GIRL – 03/10/1923 – London & Counties Film Bureau
THE BATTLE OF LIFE – 12/03/1917 – Fox Film Company Ltd = The Battle of Life (USA 1916 d. James Vincent p.c. Fox)
THE BLACK TERROR – 12/06/1917 – Thanhouser Films Ltd = The Black Terror (USA 1916 d. Fred Kelsey p.c. Thanhouser)
THE BLUE ROOM – 07/04/1914 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
THE CASE OF THE DOPED ACTRESS – 11/02/1919 – Life Dramas Ltd = The Case of a Doped Actress (UK 1919 d. Wilfred Carlton p.c. Life Dramas)
THE CITY OF SIN – 20/09/1926 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères]
THE COMPANIONATE MARRIAGE – 29/10/1928 – First National Pathe Ltd = Companionate Marriage (USA 1928 d. Erle C. Kenton p.c. C.M. Corporation)
THE CRIMSON CROSS – 08/10/1913- Eclair Film Co. Ltd = The Crimson Cross (USA 1913 p.c. Eclair)
THE CRIMSON STAIN – 08/03/1918 – Ideal Film Renting Co Ltd
THE CRIMSON STAIN MYSTERY – 03/07/1919 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = The Crimson Stain Mystery (USA 1916 d. T. Hayes Hunter p.c. Consolidated)
THE DIVA IN STRAITS – 23/03/1914 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
THE DIVIDED LAW – 13/05/1919 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd
THE DOUBLE ROOM MYSTERY – 12/03/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Double Room Mystery (USA 1917 d. Hobart Henley p.c. Universal)
THE DOWNFALL – 18/06/1924 – Regent Film Corp Ltd
THE DRAGON – 31/05/1916 – F. Simmonds
THE EEL – 26/02/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Eel (USA 1916 d. Harry F. Millarde p.c. IMP)
THE END OF THE ROAD – 01/10/1925 – Carcopal Film Co Ltd
THE FIRE – 11/02/1916 – McEnnery Syndicate Ltd
THE FOUR FEATHERS – 03/10/1917- Albion Cinema Supplies Ltd = probably The Four Feathers (USA 1915 d. J. Searle Dawley p.c. Dyreda)
THE FOURTH ESTATE – 14/06/1917 – Fox Film Company Ltd = The Fourth Estate (USA 1916 d. Frank Powell p.c. Fox)
THE GIRL FROM CHICAGO – 22/02/1917 – Players Management Ltd = The Girl from Chicago (USA 1916 p.c. Thanhouser)
THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE – 11/12/1928 – Wardour Films Ltd = The Girl from Everywhere (USA 1927 d. Edward F. Cline p.c. Mack Sennett)
THE GOOD PRECEPTRESS – 28/01/1913 – New Agency Film Co
THE GREAT PHYSICIAN – 21/01/1913 – Thos. A. Edison Ltd = The Great Physician (USA 1913 d. Richard Ridgely p.c. Edison)
THE GREAT SHADOW – 27/05/1920 – Walturdaw Co Ltd = The Great Shadow (USA/Canada 1920 d. Harley Knoles p.c. Adanac)
THE HAND THAT RULES THE WORLD – 23/07/1914 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Hand that Rules the World (USA 1914 d. Edwin August p.c. Powers)
THE HAUNTED SHIP – 16/02/1928 – British Exhibitors Films Ltd = The Haunted Ship (USA 1927 d. Forrest Sheldon p.c. Tiffany-Stahl)
THE INHERITED BURDEN – 24/05/1915 – Dominion Exclusives
THE KISS OF HATE – 22/09/1916 – Ruffles [presumably Ruffell’s] Exclusives Ltd = The Kiss of Hate (USA 1916 d. William Nigh p.c. Columbia)
THE KITCHENER FILM – 13/04/1922 – Mr A Freeman = How Kitchener Was Betrayed (UK 1921 d. Percy Nash p.c. Screen Plays)
THE LAND OF THE FOREFATHERS – 10/02/1917 – Gaumont Co Ltd
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH – 27/11/1924 – Fox Film Company Ltd = The Last Man on Earth (USA d. John G. Blystone p.c. Fox)
THE LAST SUPPER – 17/04/1914 – American Film Co = The Last Supper (USA 1914 d. Lorimer Johnston p.c. American Film Manufacturing Company)
THE LIBERTINE – 09/05/1917 – Bolton’s Mutual Films = probably The Libertine (USA 1916 d. Joseph A. Golden, Julius Steger p.c. Triumph)
THE LOST BAG – 23/05/1913 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd = Naar Fruen gaar paa Eventyr (Denmark 1913 d. August Blom p.c. Nordisk)
THE LOVE ADVENTURES OF FAUBLAS – 19/06/1913 – Paramount Film Service Ltd = Les aventures du chevalier de Faublas (France 1913 d. Henri Pouctal)
THE LURE – 30/08/1915 – Elasion Film Co Ltd = possibly The Lure (USA 1914 d. Alice Guy p.c. Blaché Features)
THE MARIONETTES – 29/10/1917 – Vitagraph Film Hiring Co. Ltd = The Marionettes (USA 1917 d. Thomas R. Mills p.c. Vitagraph)
THE MOTHER – 06/12/1928 – Brunel & Monatgu Ltd = Mat (USSR 1926 d. Vsevolod Pudovkin p.c. Mezhrabpom-Rus)
THE MYSTERIES OF BIRTH – 18/02/1929 – L. Wechsler
THE NEW MOON – 16/02/1922 – Pathe Freres Ltd
THE NIGHT BEFORE – 11/03/1913 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
THE ONE WOMAN – 10/07/1919 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = probably The One Woman (USA 1918 d. Reginald Barker p.c. Mastercraft
THE PRICE OF YOUTH – 24/03/1921 – L. Zimmerman = probably The Price of Youth (USA 1922 d. Ben F. Wilson p.c. Berwilla)
THE PRIEST AND PETER – 06/02/1913 – Universal Pictures
THE RACK – 24/05/1916 – American Film Co = probably The Rack (USA 1915 d. Emile Chautard p.c. William A. Brady)
THE RACKETEERS – 19/12/1929 – Producers Releasing Corp Ltd = possibly Love’s Conquest (USA 1929 d. Howard Higgin p.c. Pathé Exchange)
THE RED KIMONA – 15/01/1926 – A Claresing [probably Clavering] = The Red Kimona (USA 1925 d. Walter Lang p.c. Blanc de Chine)
THE SCARLET MARK – 12/03/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Scarlet Mark (USA 1916 d. Lucius Henderson p.c. Victor)
THE SEASHELL & THE CLERGYMAN – 13/11/1929 – Cinema Exclusives Ltd = La coquille et le clergyman (France 1928 d. Germaine Dulac p.c. Délia Film)
THE SPREADING EVIL – 16/10/1919 – James Keane Productions = The Spreading Evil (USA 1918 d. James Keane p.c. James Keane Feature Photo-play Productions)
THE UNPAINTED PORTRAIT – 10/05/1916 – Western Import Co Ltd = The Unpainted Portrait (USA 1914 p.c. Majestic)
THE WAGER – 18/01/1917 – Ruffles [i.e. Ruffell’s] Exclusives Ltd = The Wager (USA 1916 d. George D. Baker p.c. Rolfe Photoplays)
THE WEAVERS – 25/07/1927 – Pathe Freres Ltd = possibly Die Weber (Germany 1927 d. Friedrich Zelnik p.c. Friedrich-Zelnik-Film)
THE WHELP – 01/03/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Whelp (USA 1917 d. Millard K. Wilson p.c. IMP)
THE WHISPERED NAME – 18/06/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Whispered Name (USA 1917 d. Donald MacDonald p.c. Rex)
THE WHITE SLAVE TRAFFIC – 25/07/1927 – F. Alfred = Mädchenhandel – Eine internationale Gefahr (Germany 1927 d. Jaap Speyer p.c. Liberty-Film)
THE WOMAN HOUSE OF BRES[C]IA – 23/03/1921 – Elijah Day & Sons Ltd = Das Frauenhaus von Brescia (Germany 1920 d. Hubert Moest p.c. Moset-Film)
THE WORD THAT KILLS – 25/02/1914 – Cines Co
THE WRECKED ZEPPELIN – 03/10/1916 – H.D. Girdwood [i.e. Hilton DeWitt Girdwood]
THE YOKE – 31/12/1915 – International Cine Corpn-Ltd = The Yoke (UK 1915 d. James Warry Vickers p.c. International Cine Corps)
THE ZEPP[E]LINS LAST RAID – 20/02/1918 – Lionel Phillips
THOSE WHO TOIL – 20/07/1916 – J.F. Brockliss Ltd
THREE MEN AND A MAID – 22/06/1914 – Nordisk Films Co.Ltd
THROUGH THE DARK – 11/02/1924 – Jury Metro-Goldwyn Ltd = Through the Dark (USA 1924 d. George W. Hill p.c. Cosmopolitan)
TOIL AND TYRANNY – 31/05/1916 – Pathe Freres Ltd = Toil and Tyranny (USA 1915 d. Harry Harvey p.c. Balboa Amusement Producing Company)
TRAPPED FOR HER DOUGH – 18/01/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
TWO’S COMPANY – 03/08/1928 – Brunel & Monatgu Ltd = possibly Tretya meshchanskaya (Bed and Sofa) d. Abram Room p.c. Sovkino)
TWO-TIME MAMA – 05/05/1927 – Ideal Films Ltd = Two-Time Mama (USA 1927 d. Feed Guiol p.c. Hal Roach)
UNDER THE BED – 18/06/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = Under the Bed (USA 1917 d. Louis Chaudet p.c. Universal)
VERA – 30/12/1915 – Cines Co
WHAT HAPPENED AT 22 – 12/06/1917 – Bolton’s Mutual Films = What Happened at 22 (USA 1916 d. George Irving p.c. Frohman Amusement Corp.)
WHAT THE CURATE SAW – 12/05/1916 – Regal Films International
WHY MEN LEAVE HOME – 18/07/1913 – Imperial Film Co Ltd = Why Men Leave Home (USA 1913 p.c. IMP)
WOMAN, WOMAN – 20/05/1919 – Fox Film Company Ltd = Woman, Woman! (USA 1919 d. Kenean Buel p.c. Fox)
YOU CAN’T BEAT THE LAW – 09/05/1928 – First National Pathe Ltd = You Can’t Beat the Law (USA 1928 d. Charles J. Hunt p.c. Trem Carr Pictures)
ZEPP[E]LIN’S VISIT LONDON – 01/06/1915 – Gaumont Co Ltd

You too can be a silent film director

When the Silent Film Director app for the iPhone was released a year or so ago, we noted it in passing and gave it no further thought. Just another gimmicky smartphone app – in this case one which converted your videos into faux silents with sepia tone, scratches and intertitles – and not likely to make much of an impact.

Well, a year or so on, and Silent Film Director has turned out to be a cult hit. More thought has gone into to development than you might have expected, with respected silent film musician Ben Model serving as consultant. News stories regularly come down the wires that indicate its growing popularity, demonstrated not least by the number of videos produced in the format which are to be found on YouTube. Most are pretty much what you would expect, inconsequential home movies with a dash of tomfoolery, but there is clearly something about the time travel effect that converting 2012 into 1922 at the push of a button that appeals, and which has played its part, we suspect, in the increased appreciation of silent film generally which we cannot help but notice.

Some day someone will be able to write a thesis on the connection between The Artist and Silent Film Director in relation to the rebirth of silent films, but meanwhile things have come to their logical conclusion and we have the first iPhone Silent Film Festival, put on by MacPhun, the developers of Silent Film Director. Budding Hazanaviciuses have until May 28th to submit a video of up to three minutes in length, using the app. The rules are simple, and supplied in suitable style:

You don’t have to shoot your film with your iPhone, just use the app to edit and upload the results. The competition is open to anyone worldwide. Winners will be announced on June 1st, and there are weekly winners as well, with prizes including tickets to see Napoleon in San Francisco, which is commendably imaginative of them. You can view the videos on the Silent Film Director YouTube channel, from which we have picked the video at the top of this post because (a) it’s the first silent film we’ve seen with Barack Obama; (b) by who knows what design there happens to be a poster for The Cabinet of Dr Caligari in the background; (c) the footage is taken from 24-hour channel Russia Today, of all sources; and (d) it’s quite fun (the music is from that regular source for silent film music online,

(Apologies for the reduced activity from The Bioscope of late. We are busy with other matters, though we try to keep the news service active. Plus we’re working on one of those long posts which require far too much research.)

What the censor saw

The notorious crucifixion scene from Auction of Souls (1919), shown uncertificated in the UK

If you look up the British Board of Film Classification in The Encylopedia of British Film, you are given a cross-reference to ‘censorship’. That’s a little hard, indeed misleading for an organisation which since 1985 has had the C in its initials standing for Classification rather than Censorship. They do not censor films as such (though some cuts are made where films infringe guidelines or actually break the laws of the land), they rate films according to social expectations. Those expectations are reflected in guidelines which have changed down the years as society and society’s relationship to the screen have changed. To follow the BBFC’s journey from censorship to classification is to understand how much films are profoundly connected to the temper of their times.

The British Board of Film Censors was formed one hundred years ago in 1912. Ever since motion pictures first appeared in Britain, the authorities sought to control them, though primarily they were concerned with how and where films were shown rather than what they showed. Tragic deaths at Newmarket in 1907 (where two woman and a girl died in a film fire) and Barnsley in 1908 (when sixteen children were crushed to death at crowded cinematograph show) demonstrated that film shows had to be brought under local authority control, though equally there was concern at the young, the mixed sexes and the working class being brought together in the dark where you couldn’t keep a proper eye on them. The fire risk was real, but it was also an excuse for the exercise of moral censure.

Existing legislation did not cover cinema shows, so in 1909 the Cinematograph Act was passed, which required cinemas to be licensed. Now attention turned to the films themselves. There was considerable social disquiet at the content of some films, particularly as a large part of the cinema audience consisted of children. Films were accused of encouraging children to steal, of corrupting morals, of transgressing the bonds of society.

There were calls for government censorship, and local authorities started to censor films for themselves, applying widely different standards. It was to bring about uniformity of decisions nationally, and to avoid the perils of state-imposed censorship, that the British film industry decide to police itself. So in November the British Board of Film Censors was formed, head by George Redford. The Secretary was J. Brooke Wilkinson, and there were four examiners. Every film to be screened in Britain had to be passed by the BBFC, though it had no statutory authority, those powers remaining with the local councils (who also administrated cinema licences) and who could override the BBFC’s decisions if they so chose. Topicals, or newsreels as they were to become, were made exempt from censorship (except in wartime). Film companies had to pay for films to be registered, which funded the service (and does to this day).

The BBFC began work on 1 January 1913, and there were two categories of certificate that it could assign to a film: U, for Universal exhibition, and A, for Adult only. Some films were subject to cuts; others were rejected entirely. In its first year of operation the BBFC examined 7,488 films, passed 6,681 as U, 627 as A, took exception to 166, and completely rejected 22 (figures from Rachael Low, The History of the British Film 1906-1914).

Originally there were only two rules applied by the BBFC to films, which were that they must not show the living figure of Christ, and that they must not show nudity. Otherwise they simply followed their sense of what would offend against morals or upset all or part of a cinema audience. No formal code was ever drawn up (in contrast to the Hayes Code in the USA), but gradually a set of guidelines grew and grew, as revealed by T.P. O’Connor in 1916 at an enquiry into cinema-going undertaken by the National Council of Public Morals, which listed, sometimes comically, all those scenes in a film which would cause them to reject a film in part or in its entirety:

1. Indecorous, ambiguous and irreverent titles and subtitles
2. Cruelty to animals
3. The irreverent treatment of sacred subjects
4. Drunken scenes carried to excess
5. Vulgar accessories in the staging
6. The modus operandi of criminals
7. Cruelty to young infants and excessive cruelty and torture to adults, especially women
8. Unnecessary exhibition of under-clothing
9. The exhibition of profuse bleeding
10. Nude figures
11. Offensive vulgarity, and impropriety in conduct and dress
12. Indecorous dancing
13. Excessively passionate love scenes
14. Bathing scenes passing the limits of propriety
15. References to controversial politics
16. Relations of capital and labour
17. Scenes tending to disparage public characters and institutions
18. Realistic horrors of warfare
19. Scenes and incidents calculated to afford information to the enemy
20. Incidents having a tendency to disparage our Allies
21. Scenes holding up the King’s uniform to contempt or ridicule
22. Subjects dealing with India, in which British Officers are seen in an odious light, and otherwise attempting to suggest the disloyalty of British Officers, Native States or bringing into disrepute
British prestige in the Empire
23. The exploitation of tragic incidents of the war
24. Gruesome murders and strangulation scenes
25. Executions
26. The effects of vitriol throwing
27. The drug habit. e.g. opium, morphia, cocaine, etc
28. Subjects dealing with White Slave traffic
29. Subjects dealing with premeditated seduction of girls
30. ‘First Night’ scenes
31. Scenes suggestive of immorality
32. Indelicate sexual situations
33. Situations accentuating delicate marital relations
34. Men and women in bed together
35. Illicit relationships
36. Prostitution and procuration
37. Incidents indicating the actual perpetration of criminal assaults on women
38. Scenes depicting the effect of venereal disease, inherited or acquired
39. Incidents suggestive of incestuous relations
40. Themes and references relative to ‘race suicide’
41. Confinements
42. Scenes laid in disorderly houses
43. Materialization of the conventional figure of Christ

Some might look at such a list and wonder what on was left that would make going to the cinema any fun at all. The BBFC started to gain for itself a reputation for extreme fuddy-duddy-ness, exemplied by the famous pronouncement on Germaine Dulac’s experimental work The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928):

The film is so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable.

which stands as one of the most memorable lines of film criticism ever written.

The Seashell and the Clergyman (La Coquille et le clergyman)

This reputation is not entirely fair. The BBFC took its work seriously, and when it took upon itself not to allow films that could be ‘calculated to demoralise an audience … or undermine the teachings of morality’ then it only did so after careful consideration of each film, measured against what it sensed to be the prevailing feeling of society. The problem was that the society familiar to the BBFC’s examiners in the 1920s was a narrow one, constrained by class and social prejudice. They tried to dictate the behaviour of society at large by muffling the films that people wanted to see, but banning the film did not halt the public taste for what it showed, nor did it halt the vice from happening in real life. The BBFC thought it was protecting society, but really it was protecting itself from that society – and it was fighting a losing battle.

Various decisions made by the BBFC in the 1920s have become renowned for what they reveal of the governing class’s fears and assumptions. Damaged Goods (1919), a coy drama about the dangers of venereal disease, was rejected outright (despite appeals from some authorities to allow screenings beause of the lessons the film made) as much because it was propagandist in tone as because of its subject matter. The same producer, Samuelson’s, subsequently submitted Married Love (1923), scripted by family planning pioneer Marie Stopes, which decorously approached the subject of birth control. This was passed with cuts once its propagandist tone had been cut down, Marie Stopes’ name had been removed, and the title was changed to Maisie’s Marriage.

On the subject of drugs, the BBFC rejected Mrs Wallace Reid’s impassioned Human Wreckage (1923), not wishing to countenance any film on the theme of drug addiction, yet it passed Graham Cutts’ Cocaine (1922), once its sensational title had been changed to While London Sleeps and after the producer Herbert Wilcox had defied the BBFC by securing screenings of the film in Manchester. Another Wilcox production, the ponderous Dawn (1928), on Nurse Edith Cavell (executed by the Germans during the war for helping Allied soldiers escape), which was denied a certificate because it might revive anti-German feeling. Political pressure was probably exercised, but many local authorities passed the film for screening anyway, demonstrating how the BBFC’s rulings were, after all, only guidelines.

Battleship Potemkin

Battleship Potemkin (1925) was a notable victim of the BBFC’s timorousness (the film had been screened without trouble in the USA), rejected because it forbade films that addressed issues of ‘political controversy’. As the BBFC website’s case study notes on the film state:

No doubt at the back of the BBFC’s mind was the nine day British general strike in May 1926 which had provoked fears amongst some quarters of society of a potential revolution in the UK.

It was claimed that the violence scenes in the film were further reason for its rejection, but no cuts were ordered for these, making its unwelcome political theme the real reason why it was refused a certificate, though it was shown in its uncertificated state at the London Film Society (it was eventually passed by the BBFC in 1954, with a X certificate).

Another example of a film screened in Britain despite hot having been passed by the BBFC was Auction of Souls. This semi-drama semi-documentary told of the Armenian genocide as experienced by escapee Aurora Mardiganian. It featured scenes of massacres, tortures, brutalities of every description, culminating in an horrific scene of a row of crucified naked women. It is hard to imagine such a film being made, still less being offered as a commercial proposition, yet it had been widely shown in America where it was produced. The film was shown at the Albert Hall in London by the League of Nations Union, before the BBFC had viewed it, and when the distributor refused to countenance any cuts the BBFC said it was inevitable that the film would be rejected (though it never actually reviewed the film formally). It was not just the shocking scenes but a fear expressed through the Foreign Office that the film could endanger ongoing peace talks with Turkey that influenced their thinking. Subsequently a London cinema showed it in defiance of its local authority which said that all films shown in its district needed a BBFC certificate. The cinema won the ensuing court case, but in the end the Home Office instituted a system whereby almost all local authorities agreed not to permit the screening of any film rejected by the BBFC. This decision helped cement the position of the BBFC at the heart of British film exhibition, a place that it retains to this day.

Many have mocked the BBFC of the 1920s, seeing it as an out-of-touch institution peopled by retired colonels and maiden aunts gently bent on maintaining the values of a past age which had probably never existed in the first place. The BBFC was unduly concerned by contentious moral issues, it did display political bias, and though ostensibly independent it did bow to political pressure from the Home Office. But it could also be argued as having helped save the British film business, carefully managing the conflicting interests of distributors, audiences and society’s guardians, in a manner that helped establish the cinema as an accepted feature of British life rather than the threat that many felt it represented back in 1912.

The British Board of Film Classification, as it now is, rarely rejects films outright these days. It demands cuts, certainly, measured against a regularly reviewed set of guidelines, but it seldom bans outright, despite films of a nature that would make Messrs Redford or O’Connor faint dead away with shock. It has to maintain a balance between those who abhor being told what they can or cannot see and protest at any cuts and those revolted or upset by cinema’s latest extremes and who call for such films to be banned. Striking a balance has always been at the heart of the BBFC’s work, even if the organisation of today is predicated on a trust in the audience’s good judgment that the BBFC of earlier decades was not.

The BBFC’s website is well worth visting. It has a history of the organisation, explanation of its guidelines, statistics, the law, and information on recent decisions. There are supplementary websites for parents, schools, and students of media regulation and film. Above all there is its database – a listing of films or videos that the BBFC has examined. Using the Advanced Search option with the date delimiters, the database turns out to have 4,590 titles for the silent era (1912-1929). This cannot be anywhere near the number of films that were actually examined by the BBFC for the period, but it is a rich resource nonetheless.

The records are a little on the spartan side. Mostly you get title, date submitted, distributor (i.e. the company that submitted the film for examination), length of cuts made (but no details of wat the cuts were or why they were made) and three categories – U, A or R for Rejected. Refining the search to Rejected titles only brings up 208 results. It is fascinating mixture of the familiar and the little known, identification of which is sometimes difficult because English titles are given for what were often foreign releases. But because this post has gone on long enough, further analysis of the 208 rejectees will have to be the subject of a follow-up post.

From the front cover of the 1912 pamphlet introducing the British Board of film Censors to the film business

The BBFC is marking its centenary in a number of ways. There is a centenary section of the site, which includes outlines various celebratory activities taking place and has an archive section looking back at past highlights and items of interest. Post number one in the archive contains a downloadable facsimile of a 1912 pamphlet introducing the BBFC to exhibitors and promising “absolutely independent and impartial censorship”.

There is to be a film season at the BFI Southbank marking the centenary later in the year, and a book marking “100 years of film classification” (they don’t say censorship) will be published in the Autumn. This is going to be particularly welcome, since it’s been a while since we had a good book published on British film censorship (or classification). If you do want to read more, a good place to start is James C. Robertson’s The British Board of Film Censors: Film Censorship in Britain 1896-1950 (1985) and The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action, 1913-1972 (1989). For those interested in the legal side, Neville March Hunnings’ Film Censors and the Law (1967) is an exceptional work, exhaustive and illuminating, covering not only Britain but the history of film censorships in the USA, India, Canada, Australia, Denmark, France and the USSR. Also recommended is Annette Kuhn’s sophisticatedly argued Cinema, Censorship and Sexuality 1909-1925 (1988) and Picture Palace: A Social History of the Cinema (1974), written by Audrey Field, a BBFC examiner, who reveals that comonsense and a sympathetic understanding of people were hallmarks of at least some at the BBFC far earlier than many might suspect.

Update: A follow-up post identifying the 208 films rejected by the BBFC during the silent era is at

The death of poor Joe

The Death of Poor Joe

The BFI has scored a considerable coup, revealing that it has uncovered a copy of what is not only the earliest surviving film based on a Charles Dickens character (in this the bicentenary of Dickens’ death birth), but a film that apparently no-one had identified as being Dickensian before now. The film was discovered by the BFI’s silent film curator Bryony Dixon while she was investigating early films of China. She spotted the connection between a film in the archive entitled Man Meets Ragged Boy with a late 1900/early 1901 (the exact production date is uncertain) film The Death of Poor Joe, made for the Warwick Trading Company by Brighton director G.A. Smith, the title of which made Dixon think of the character Jo the Crossing Sweeper in Dickens’ novel Bleak House. The film was donated to the BFI back in the 1950s by collector Graham Head, who was a friend of Smith’s. The previous earliest surviving Dickens film was Scrooge; or, Marley’s Ghost, issued by Robert Paul in November 1901, as also held by the BFI.

So why was it missed all this time? Well, I don’t know why Man with Ragged Boy was overlooked, except that I don’t remember the title at all from the dim and distant days when I was at the BFI, so maybe it was lurking in some neglected corner for the past sixty years. But the reason no one seems to have spotted the Dickens connection is that Jo was written as Joe. Jo the Crossing Sweeper is a minor character in Bleak House, a pathetic, homeless boy who sweeps horse manure from the streets, knowing nothing but the wretched small life to which he is condemned, a metaphor for neglected childhood. In the novel, Jo collapses outside the gates of Tom-all-alone’s Cemetery before dying at a shooting gallery.

The character in the film we now have is partly Dickens, partly something else (Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl, suggests the BFI press release). Here he dies in the snow outside the gates of an unspecified building, attended to by a nightwatchman who shines a lantern in the face of the dying boy, who clasps his hands together in prayer. There is no nightwatchman in the novel, and no snow, but Joe/Jo is carrying a broom which makes the identification with Dickens fairly certain (Jo in the novel also dies in mid-prayer).

The Biokam camera-projector, from a Warwick Trading Company catalogue

The film is a Warwick Trading Company production (manager one Charles Urban, of whom you will have heard me speak before now). At this time Warwick were issuing some films in both 35mm standard format and cheaper narrow gauge 17.5mm format for its Biokam camera-printer-projector, which was aimed at the domestic market. The Biokam, invented by Alfred Wrench, was originally designed for people to shoot their own films when it was launched in 1899, but Warwick soon started supplying ready-made films for people to project in their own homes. The Death of Poor Joe was one such film, though it is the 35mm version that survives, not the 17.5mm. The 17.5mm copy would either have been optically reduced to the narrower gauge, or possibly could have been restaged entirely for the different format, as sometimes happened with Biokam films. It is listed in the 1901 Warwick catalogue (catalogue number 1021), which was issued around March 1901. What is also intriguing about Biokam films is who made them. G.A. Smith himself was certainly in charge of their production, but there is this intriguing snippet from an October 1899 interview with Smith in the Brighton Herald which indicates a joint responsibility. The reporter complains that films look to be too expensive for the humble amateur:

“All in good time,” said Mr Smith. He brought out a small hand-camera. “This is a camera in which I am interested and which I expect will soon be all the rage. Films are being made for this that will cost only 3s. 6d. a minute.” Then Mrs Smith came in to borrow the identical camera, to go off and photograph the waves breaking over the Hove sea all.

Mrs G.A. Smith, film director? Quite possibly. Her name was Laura Bayley, and it looks like her who plays Joe/Jo in the film (or just possibly her sister Eva), though it has to be said she is rather too robust and tall to convince much as a neglected waif. The nightwatchman is possibly played by another Brighton performer, Tom Green, a regular in Smith’s films.

The film was very likely to have been based on a stage original (Bayley was a stage actress and pantomime artist in Brighton) or possibly a magic lantern slide set. It has that look of deliberation which comes when something is being followed closely, particularly the actions of the nightwatchman. Further investigation of the film’s production origins may reveal just how closely or tangentially it is related to Dickens’ novel. The film is also interesting for the effect of the nightwatchman’s lamp light (created by a light shining off-screen) and for the wind-blown backdrop with the shadows of branches – the film was clearly made in the open-air (probably St Ann’s Well Gardens in Hove, when Smith had an open-air studio).

Anyway, it is a cleverly timed discovery which has captured the news media’s attention. The film featured this evening at the BFI South Bank as a surprise extra item in a programme of silent Dickens film shorts, which will be repeated on 23 March. It’s already turned up on YouTube, as you will have seen, and the Bioscope must now adjust its Dickens on silent film filmography to incorporate this latest discovery.

Meanwhile let’s all look out for The Death of Nancy Sykes, made by the American Mutoscope Company in 1897 and starring Mabel Fenton as Nancy and Charles Ross as Bill Sykes, from Oliver Twist. The very first Dickensian film remains a lost film.

Sounds in the cloud

You will recall the news from last year of a collection of generic silent film scores discovered at Birmingham Library, which exicted quite a bit of interest in the news media. That news interest would appear to have excited the Library in turn, which has pulled out all the stops to promote the collection. There have been performances of the scores and songs from the scores, the scores played to a modern film on Kristallnacht, and talk of a research project. Now the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has announced a Silent Movies Animation Challenge, inciting animators to use one of the scores to accompany a silent animation film of their making.

The nine tracks have been made available on SoundCloud, which is sort of the audio equivalent of YouTube – the place to go for hearing, sharing and annotating sound recordings. You can also embed such sound files in your own website or blog, as above, so you can get a taste of the music composed for generic silent film acompaniment rather than having been composed for a specific film. Here are the sounds of the fairly run-of-the-mill cinema-going experience of the silent era.

This leads me to draw your attention to SoundCloud as a resource for silent film study in itself. Type in “silent film” or “silent film” into its search box and you will find a considerable number of scores by amateur and would-be professional composers for real or imaginary silent films, mostly performed on electric keyboards of various persuasions, as you would expect. If you go to the Advanced Search option and type in ‘silent’ into the Genre field you will get hundreds of results, though only a proprtion of these seem to relate to silent films.

The quality varies hugely, as you would also expect, but browsing through the mostly short sequences makes for a rather fascinating insight into how silent film conjure up musical sequences in our minds – and how listening to music can conjure up ideas of the films that might be accompanied by it.

Try this short piece by Joseph A. Fox, for example, and see what movie it creates for you:

Some of the scores are for actual silents. Here, for example, is composer Steve Bennett’s score for Nosferatu, broken up into seventeen themes:

There are also silent film scores which have featured in performance, such as Paul Van Vuplen’s score for The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in The Land of The Bolsheviks, as performed by the Metropole Orchestra:

You will also find some silent film accompanists of established reputation on SoundCloud. Ben Model, perhaps the most new media savvy of all of them, is there, though surprisingly with just the one track (and that a radio interview). Donald Sosin is also represented by just the one piece (apparently completely silent). American duo Silent Orchestra have some taster clips of their work. Is there anyone on the site that we should know about, and why aren’t more sharing a least a few sample tunes through a site that is growing in popularity and influence?

Anne Elliot, the Birmingham Library archivist who found the collection of silent film scores explains its significance

The deadline for the CBSO competition is 2 April, and finalists’ work will be screened at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, accompanied by the CBSO on Friday 20 April 2012 as part of their Friday Night Classics: Classic Chaplin night. More details here, and a nod of acknowledgment to Silent London for the CBSO competition news.

Hot off the presses

It’s time for one of our occasional round-ups of recent publications on silent film, though one or two have been around for a few months now, and not all are directly about silent films – but that’s what makes them interesting.

Rin Tin Tin – The Life and the Legacy, by Susan Orlean, has already made quite an impact in the USA, with its acute mixture of nostalgia and cultural history. It tells the story of Rin Tin Tin, the German shepherd dog rescued from the trenches of WWI by Lee Duncan, whose innovative training methods led the dog to Hollywood stardom in the 1920s. Rin Tin Tin’s star waned in the 1930s, but a succession of junior Rin Tin Tins either sired or inspired by the original kept the aura going into the age of television. Orlean makes some elementary blunders about silent film history, and Lee Duncan doesn’t make for much of a hero (unlike his dog) but it is readable, wry and occasionally wise.

The Perfect Man: The Muscular Life and Times of Eugen Sandow, by David Waller, brings back to popular awareness one of the most remarkable, and certainly most famous, figures of the Late Victorian/Edwardian era, Eugen Sandow. Boddybuilder, strongman and adovcate of healthy living, he became the model of manly accomplishment for a generation. He also featured significantly in film history, being one of the very first subjects to go before the Edison Kinetoscope. He was also filmed by Biograph and even had a early film technology patent to his name. A terrific biography of someone whose life story illuminates the age in which he lived.

Silent Films! The Performers, by Paul Rothwell-Smith, is a self-published biographical guide to 3,700 performers from the silent era. This heroic undertaking was inspired by the author’s attendance at the British Silent Film Festival when it was held at the Broadway cinema in Nottingham. Rothwell-Smith is as interested in lesser-known names from the nether reaches of British film history as he is in those familiar to us all, and the book makes a bold statement of intent by having Clara Bow and Fred ‘Pimple’ Evans, knockabout British comedian of the 1910s, share equal billing on the front cover. I’ve not seen it, but the sheer scale of the endeavour commands respect.

Photography, Early Cinema and Colonial Modernity: Frank Hurley’s Synchronized Lecture Entertainments, by Robert Dixon, adds significantly to our understanding of how motion pictures were presented that weren’t conventional cinema fare. As historians are increasingly uncovering, as as the Bioscope has tried to document, the multimedia show which brought together photography, films, music and live lecturer was widespread throughout the silent era, being used in particular for recouting true tales of adventure and exploration. Frank Hurley was cinematographer for the Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson and Ernest Shackleton, and the book documents the ‘synchronised lectures entertainments’ (Hurley’s words) made out of these adventures, as well as the later Sir Ross Smith’s Flight and Hurley’s dramatised documentary of life in Papua New Guinea, Pearls and Savages. The book is aimed at the scholars, but there are lessons for all of us, because we still haven’t got our film history right – we keep focussing too much upon the films.

Col. William N. Selig, the Man Who Invented Hollywood, by Andrew A. Erish, published later this month, is a biography of a producer strangely neglected by film history. Selig was a magician and minstrel show operator, who encountered the Kinetoscope in 1896 and realised that motion pictures were for him. He was a notorious duper of other companies’ films in the early years, but moced to Hollywood, produced pioneering westerns and serials (The Adventures of Kathlyn in 1913) and specialised in animal pictures, with recourse to his own studio zoo. He was one of the most enterprising and colourful characters in early cinema, and this book’s bold and not wholly bogus subtitle ought to get people talking about him again.