The Bioscope Guide to … China


Ruan Lingyu in The Goddess (Shen nu) (1934)

Wine, music and cinema are the three greatest creations of humanity. Of these the cinema is the youngest and most powerful. It can stimulate minds into day-dreaming. Dream is the free movement of the heart and it mirrors the sadness of the oppressive world…

At last we return to our occasional series of national histories of silent film, providing an overview of film production, personalities, publications and resources for the silent film era in the chosen country. We began the series with Italy; now we turn our attention to China, whose history of filmmaking in the silent era is as rich as any, not least because it continued well into the 1930s. The opening quotation comes from the charter of the South China Film Drama Society, from around 1926, as reproduced in Jay Leyda’s peerless Dianying (Electric Shadows), a history of film and the film audience in China.

Motion pictures came to China on 11 August 1896, when a show was presented by an unnamed Spaniard at the Hsu Gardens, Shanghai. American James Ricalton presented a programme of Edison films at the Tien Hua Tea Garden, Shanghai, in July 1897, and took several films of local scenes in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Canton. For several years the only films seen in China were imported and the only films on China were taken by foreigners, such as Joseph Rosenthal, Burton Holmes and British MP Ernest Hatch, all around the time of the Boxer rebellion in 1900.

The first Chinese film was made in 1905, Ding Jun Shan (Conquering Jun Mountain), an scene from the Peking Opera, filmed by Beijing photographer Ren Qingtai. Other such excerpts from operas continued to be made on an infrequent basis to 1909, when a next stage of development came with the Asia Film and Theater Company, founded by the Russian-American Benjamin Brodsky in Shanghai. Asia Film made shorts such as Buxing Er (Unfortunate Child) (1909) and Tou Shao Ya (Stealing a Roast Duck) (1909), the first film made in Hong Kong [this film is now thought to date from 1914 – see comments]. Brodksy returned to America during the turbulent period that led to the formation of the Republic of China in 1912, returning in 1913 for Nanfu, Nanqi (A Couple in Difficulty), the first Chinese feature film.

Chinese film production at this time was small-scale and localised, often restricted to a single theatre for use as theatrical interludes. Knockabout comedies was the predominant style. Film theatres were starting to spread, at least in the cities, but showed almost exclusively foreign films. Production had effectively ceased during much of the Frist World War period because film stock (which had to be imported) became unavailable. Change began in the early 1920s with new film companies: Commercial Press, Shanghai Film Company, Mingxing, Changcheng, Baihe and Da Zhonghua among them. By the middle of the decade Chinese production was highly active if volatile (many companies came and went quickly) and feature films were the norm. Notable titles include Guer Jiu Zu Ji (Orphan Rescues Grandfather) (1923), Kong Gu Lan (Lonely Orchid) (1926) and Xi Xiang Ji (Romance of the West Chamber) (1927), the latter an early example of an historical costume drama. Kung fu and swordplay films were also popular at this time.


The golden age of Chinese filmmaking came in the 1930s. Just at the point where Western countries were abandoning silent film, the Chinese cinema (partly owing to problmes in obtaining adequate sound equipment) glorified in its opportunities, and although a few sound films were made from 1931 onwards, essentially the period 1930-37 was a silent cinema period, dominated by film production from Shanghai. The leading studios were Mingxing, Tianyi and Lianhua. Production was often dominated by Leftist concerns (particularly those from Lianhua), concentrating on the struggles of ordinary people and contemporary, patriotic concerns. Examples include Xiao Wanyi (Little Toys) (1933) directed by Sun Yu (above) and Bugao Cheng’s Chun Can (Spring Silkworms) (1933). Nevertheless the films were chiefly consumed by a middle-class which valued glossy production values that showed the strong influence of American cinema. Classic melodramas, often with suffering central female figure, include The Goddess (Shen nu) (1934) and Tianming (Daybreak) (1933). These differences in production reflected the political tension of the period, with the growing differences between Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist Kuomintang and the Communists. Anti-Japanese rhetoric also characterised a number of the films.

The Shanghai studios had their film stars. Renowned names include Hu Die, Li Lili, Ruan Lingyu, Zhou Xuan, Zhao Dan and Jin Yan. Li Lili is the spirited central figure of Sun Yu’s upbeat tales of workers’ strength and nationalist struggle, though she could also play tragic roles, as in Tianming (Daybreak). Perhaps most notable actress, however, was Ruan Lingyu, whose suffering on-screen persona was reflected in her private life, commited suicide in 1935, aged just 24, after having played a film actress hounded by right-wing critics in Cai Chusheng’s Xin Nu Xing (New Woman) (1934).

The golden period ended with the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. Most production companies closed down, and in any case the era of Chinese silent cinema was over. The survival rate for Chinese silents is not great – of the estimated 1,100 titles produced between 1905 and 1937 only 5% are known to exist. Happily the best of these have become more available in recent years, with a couple of ground-breaking programmes at the Pordenone silent film festival in 1995 and 1997 being followed by DVD releases and a growth in critical literature and web resources.

Notable filmmakers
Zhang Shichuan, Ren Pengnian, Sun Yu, Bu Wancang, Cai Chusheng, Wu Yonggang, Cheng Bugao, Fei Mu, Shi Dongshan

Notable performers
Fan Xuepeng, Xu Qinfang, Ruan Lingyu, Li Lili, Hu Die, Zhou Xuan, Zhao Dan, Jin Yan, Lan Ping (aka Jiang Qing, the future Madame Mao)

These are the DVDs I can find from English-language sources – I’ll add more as I come across them.

A number of Chinese silents are available in the USA on the Cinema Epoch label. The quality of the transfers (and the originals) is unfortunately poor:

Other DVDs also available:

Some Chinese silents are available to view on the Internet Archive:

Center Stage (1992) is a bio-pic based on the life of Ruan Lingyu, starring Maggie Cheung


Archives and museums


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.

The Bioscope Guide to … South Africa

Mabel May and the children of Piccanin village in The Picannins’ Christmas (1917), from

After rather too long a gap, we return to the Bioscope’s occasional series on national film histories – essentially a quick reference guide, with listings of online and offline resources for the researcher. So far we have covered Italy and China. And, inspired to a degree by my recent discovery of the guide to South African film and television, VintageMedia, our attention turns to a land not generally associated much with silent film at all, South Africa.

South African history, and therefore South African film history, is profoundly bound up with colonialisation, racial segregation and apartheid. The state enforced system of racial segregation was instituted in 1948 and ended only in 1994, but apartheid merely enshrined in statute an absolute state of privilege for the minority white population which had existed for a century or more. South African silent cinema was a minority cinema – white-owned, white-produced, white-performed (though not absolutely so) and exhibited for whites (again, not absolutely so). It was also a colonial cinema, similar to the situation in Australia, where local production was constrained by distance from Europe and America, by a lack of finance, and by a paucity of talent. It was a cinema on the margins.

Edna Flugrath and Holger Petersen in Der Voortrekkers (1916), from

When motion pictures first came to Johannesburg in 1895, South Africa did not exist as a country. There were the British colonies of Cape Colony and Natal, and the Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. It was in 1910, following the upheavals of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 that the four combined as the Union of South Africa. Motion pictures came in 1895 in the same form as they did throughout the world, that is via the Edison Kinetoscope peepshow, which opened to the public on 19 April 1895 at Henwood’s Arcade in Johannesburg. American magician Carl Hertz brought projected film to South Africa when he first exhibited at the Empire Palace of Varieties, Johannesburg on 9 May 1896. Variety theatres quickly picked up on the new phenomenon, showing films mostly obtained via the Warwick Trading company in Britain, whose trademark projector the Bioscope became so fixed in the mind of South African patrons that it is still the common name for a cinema in South Africa over a century later.

The manager of the Empire Palace of Varieties, Edgar Hyman, became the leading figure in early South Africa film, obtaining a Bioscope cine-camera and becoming the first of a number of cameramen to film scenes from the Anglo-Boer War, an event of worldwide interest that ensured films from South Africa were in high demand. Joseph Rosenthal and William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson were aong the filmmakers whose war-front footage demonstrated the power (and the limitations) of the cinematograph as war reporter.

After the war and until the creation of the Union of South Africa, local production was minimal, mostly topicals of restricted interest, though British film companies, including Butcher’s and the Charles Urban Trading Company, filmed in the country. The first South African cinema opened in Durban in 1909, and such bioscopes spread rapidly throughout 1910, with the first cinema for ‘coloured people only’ reportedly appearing in Durban in December 1910. The issue of race came to the fore in 1910 with the banning of the film of the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries world heavyweight championship fight, because local authorities feared that its exhibition might cause racial unrest. Exhibitors in vain pointed out that in 1909 film of Johnson defeating the white Tommy Burns had not caused any social disruption, but the ban remained.

South Africa’s first fiction film, The Great Kimberley Diamond Robbery, was released in 1910. Made by the Springbok Film Company, it does not appear to have been a particularly disinguished production. The African Mirror newsreel, produced by I.W. Schlesinger African Films Trust, was a greater success, becoming the local agent for Pathé Frères. South Africa film production expanded in the teens through Schlesginger’s formation of African Film Productions in 1915. AFP brought in American talent in the form of Lorrimer Johnston and Harold Shaw to produce films with the potential for export to British and American markets.

Shaw was the most notable filmmaker in South African silent cinema. He directed three feature films [correction, four – see comments], each starring his wife Edna Flugrath: Der Voortrekkers (1916, retelling the story of the Great Trek of the Boer people and the Battle of Blood River), The Rose of Rhodesia (1917, a drama about stolen diamonds with a strong underlying theme of racial understanding, made by Shaw’s own company) and a horse-raing drama, Thoroughbreds All (1919), the only title of the three now lost (almost no other South African silent fiction films survive). A fourth film, The Symbol of Sacrifice (1918), was to have been made by Shaw, but after disgreements with the film company it was directed by Dick Cruikshanks. The only other director of note was Joseph Albrecht, who was AFP’s main director into the 1930s.

British newsreel showing a screeing of Der Voortrekkers (as Winning a Continent) at the West End Cinema Theatre, London, in 1917, from

Der Voortrekkers gained some overseas screenings under the title Winning a Continent, but African Film Productions struggled to find a market outside South Africa for its productions, with only King Solomon’s Mines (1918), made by British director H. Lisle Lucoque, and the lavish The Blue Lagoon (1923) being relative successes. The great popularity of American product, with vastly superior production values, meant that local productions such as Prester John (1920) and The Man Who Was Afraid (1920) struggled to find audiences even in South Africa. AFP produced over forty fiction films between 1916 and 1924, before turning largely to documentary and newsreel work, South African fiction film production effectively disappearing until the talkie era.

South African silent cinema was white-produced for white audiences, but there were few South African films that did not feature the black population in one form or another. Inevitably such roles depicted the native population as either threatening or compliant, with Harold Shaw’s boldly inclusive The Rose of Rhodesia only able to stand out because it was an independent production (in every sense). Black performers appeared as tribes imperilling whites in gung-ho dramas of imperialist adventure such as King Solomon’s Mines and its sequel Allan Quatermain, and as naive and obedient in sentimental productions such as The Piccanins Christmas (1917). There were a few early AFP productions with all-black casts, notably the Zulutown Comedies series of slapstick shorts from 1917, performed by the Zulutown Players (though these made for white audiences). Zulu actor Goba starred in one of AFP’s first productions, A Zulu’s Devotion (1916) and in several productions thereafter.

Director Dick Cruickshanks (centre) with the Zulutown Players, from Screening the Past

Little now survives of South African silent film production, but scholarly interest has grown following the recent discovery of a print of The Rose of Rhodesia in the Netherlands, and through a rise in African film history studies generally, headed by such scholars as Jacqueline Maingard, Neil Parsons and James Burns. South Africa also boasts one of the most notable of all film histories, Thelma Gutsche’s truly epic The History and Social Significance of Motion Pictures in South Africa 1895-1940 (1972, but completed in 1946). South African film history is still trying to live up to it.

Notable filmmakers
Joseph Albrecht, Dick Cruickshanks, Henry Howse, Lorrimer Johnston, Norman Lee, Harold Shaw

Notable performers
Adele Fillis, Edna Flugrath, Goba, Mabel May, Marmaduke A. Wetherell, Grafton Williams

DVDs and online videos

  • The Rose of Rhodesia (streaming, via Screening the Past website)
  • The Symbol of Sacrifice (some scenes were included in the DVD Isandlwana, Zulu Battlefield but this seems to be no longer available; The Symbol of Sacrifice was also available from online pay service Kuduclub but this closed down in 2011)
  • Der Voortekkers (DVD-R from Villon Films)


Archives and museums


  • African Media Program (extensive database of films and videos on Africa, with variable information on some silent era productions)
  • A History of the South African Film Industry 1895-1003 (useful timeline from South African History Online)
  • Screening the Past (special issue on the online film studies journal on The Rose of Rhodesia ith rich material on silent era South African production in general)
  • Vintage Media (useful site surveying South Africa film and television history, with authoritative descriptions of most South Africa silent fiction films)

Brides of Sulu

Adelina Moreno and Eduardo de Castro in Brides of Sulu, from

A lot of us will know the commonly accepted figure of 80% of all films from the silent era as being considered lost. The figures varies for different territories, however (and whether you are counting fiction films only or all kinds of production). For America there is an estimated a survival rate of 7-12% for each year of the teens (feature films only), moving to 15-25% for the 1920s, but for China the figure is 95% loss, and for Japan the figure is between 95% and 99% loss. For the Philippines the figure is even worse – 100% loss of all native silent film production. Or at least that was what was thought. But silent films can lurk in some surprising places.

Brides of Sulu is an obscure American B-movie, made anywhere between 1933 and 1937 according to assorted sources. It’s included in the American Film Institute’s catalogue for the 1930s. The film tell of two lovers from the Philippine islands, one a Mohammedan princess (Venita), the other a pagan pearl diver (Assam). To escape her aranged marriage to a local chief, the couple flee to a remote island only to be pursued by her tribe, determined to kill Assam. It was filmed in the Philippines, though there is apparently no written account there of its production, and has an American narration (the country was still a colony of the USA at this time). The film was directed by one John Nelson, of whom nothing else (according to IMDb) is known, and stars two Phillipines film actors, Adelina Moreno and Eduardo de Castro, as well as local Moro tribesmen.

Now Brides of Sulu is to feature at Manila’s International Silent Film Festival, because recent scholarship indicates that the film was made out of one, if not two, Philippine silents. According to the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film:

There were two late silent-era Filipino films made in 1931 about the Moros of Sulu – Princess Tarhata (Araw Movies) and The Moro Pirate (Malayan Movies). The first was produced by the forgotten cinematographer Jose Domingo Badilla, while the latter was produced and directed by Jose Nepomuceno, acknowledged as the Father of the Philippine movie industry. Tarhata‘s lead actress is Adelina Moreno, while main actor of Moro Pirate is Eduardo de Castro …

… Coincidentally, both Moreno and De Castro, are the main starring actors in Brides of Sulu. The film also looks like it has two separate parts- the dramatically acted scenes and the documentary portions. Which raises the the intriguing possibility- is Brides the mutant offspring of the re-cutting and reconstitution of two earlier local films via the editing room? Then dubbed in English and re-editorialized for U.S. release with the intention of making it look like an American production so it would be easier to sell abroad? And who is director John Nelson? … Why are his initials the same as those of Jose Nepomuceno’s? So is the nationality of the film American or Filipino?

For the exciting conclusion, please attend the opening of the 5th International Silent Film Festival on Aug. 26 at the Shangri-la Mall Cinema …

Well, given that they promise an exciting conclusion, and given that the film is to screen at a silent film festival, I think we are safe in declaring that the Philippines has found one, or maybe two, films from its silent heritage, the first such films known to survive. Brides of Sulu has circulated on assorted obscure video labels for many years, and you can view the whole film on YouTube.

Extract from Brides of Sulu, in which Assam (Eduardo de Castro) faces up to Datu Tamboyan, father of Benita (Adelina Moreno)

Viewing the film undoubtedly suggests a silent film cannibalised by some opportunistic American producer with some actuality footage and narration to make an exotic B-movie release. Maybe Jose Nepomuceno, a revered figure in Philippine film history who directed their first fiction film, Dalagang Bukid, in 1919, is ‘John Nelson’, though there doesn’t seem much reason why this should be. No doubt all will be revealed at the International Silent Film Festival, which is now in its fifth year. The festival takes place 26-28 August at the Shang Cineplex (Cinema 2), Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong Manila. Brides of Sulu will be screened with musical accoompaniment by Armor Rapista and the Panday Pandikal Cultural Troupe, which suggests that they will be dropping the American narration, which will be no bad thing. Other films screening at the festival are Nosferatu (Germany 1922), Akeyuku Sora (The Dawning Sky) (Japan 1929), L’Inferno (Dante’s Inferno) (Italy 1911), The Greek Miracle (Greece 1921) and Pilar Guerra (Spain 1926) – an impressive eclectic selection.

When certain information is reported on the provenance of Brides of Sulu, we will report it. Meanwhile, you can discover more about Jose Nepomuceno in a thesis by Nadi Tofighian of Stockholm University, The role of Jose Nepomuceno in the Philippine society: What language did his silent films speak? (2006), which shows what a rich history early Philippine filmmaking can boast, even without the films themselves to refer to.

100 silent films

Who can resist a list? Everyone loves to take part in top ten lists of this or top 100s of that, pitting personal preference against the canon. Debates on which are the top silent films, be they box office (a contentious areas given the unreliability of data from the silent era), most popular or most esteemed. The Silent Era website maintains a top 100 silent films based on votes supplied by visitors to the site. It comes across as a mixture of popularity and critical esteem, and the top ten (as of today, but they haven’t changed much in ages) has a stale familiarity about it:

1. The General (USA 1926), d. Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman
2. Metropolis (Germany 1927), d. Fritz Lang
3. Sunrise (USA 1927), d. F.W. Murnau
4. City Lights (USA 1931), d. Charles Chaplin
5. Nosferatu (Germany 1922), d. F.W. Murnau
6. The Gold Rush (USA 1925), d. Charles Chaplin
7. La passion et la mort de Jeanne d’Arc (France 1928), d. Carl Theodor Dreyer
8. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (Germany 1920), d. Robert Wiene
9. Bronenosets ‘Potyomkin’ (USSR 1925), d. Sergei M. Eisenstein
10. Greed (USA 1924), d. Erich von Stroheim

All great films, and all films that you would recommend to anyone first getting interested in silent films and wanting to know what to see. But there is no surprise.

Very different is 100 Silent Films, by Bryony Dixon, just published by Palgrave Macmillan/BFI, and one of a series of books recommending 100 moving image titles in a variety of genres. Dixon points out in her introduction that silent film is not a genre – it is the first thirty or so years of cinema and embraces almost all genres – and also makes it clear that her 100 films and not the 100 best, but rather 100 titles which represent the breadth as well as the greatness of the type.

It’s certainly an idiosyncratic list of films, each of which is described across a couple of pages, and arranged alphabetically by title to avoid any sense of a top 100. These are silent films to see because it will be an adventure to do so. There are the familiar warhorses, of course – all bar one of the top ten above are represented (City Lights is the casualty) – but what one notices far more are the choices that delight or intrigue: Ernst Lubitsch’s The Oyster Princess (Germany 1919), William Wellman’s Beggars of Life (USA 1928), Sun Yu’s Daybreak (China 1933), Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley’s Suspense (USA 1913), Yakov Protazanov’s The Queen of Spades (Russia 1916), Tomu Uchida’s Policeman (Japan 1933), Joris Ivens’ Rain (Netherlands 1929), or Henri Frescourt’s Monte Cristo (France 1929).

Dixon is a strong advocate of British silent film, and fifteen of the titles were produced in Britain, which might raise an eyebrow or two. But it’s hard to disagree much with the choices, from James Williamson’s iconic The Big Swallow (1901), to Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929), Arthur Robison’s The Informer (1929), Anthony Asquith’s A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929) or Walter Summer’s overlooked masterpiece of drama-documentary The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927).

Alfred Butterworth & Sons, leaving the works, Glebe Mills, Hollinwood (Mitchell & Kenyon 1901)

Dixon is keen to demonstrate the full breadth of of silent film, so there is a lot more here than the traditional feature film. She includes advertising films (The Spirit of his Forefathers, c. 1900), newsreels (Topical Budget 93-1 The Derby, 1913 – the ‘suffragette’ derby), and actualities, such as Mitchell & Kenyon’s Alfred Butterworth & Sons, leaving the works, Glebe Mills, Hollinwood (1901). There are assorted magical early cinema titles from Gaston Velle, Albert Capellani and Georges Méliès (Voyage à travers l’impossible rather than Voyages dans la lune). And there are examples of the avant garde (Manhatta), documentary (Drifters), propaganda (The Battle of the Somme), animation (Winsor McCay’s How a Mosqutio Operates) and even natural history (Oliver Pike’s Les hôtes de l’air). There’s even one token modern silent, Guy Maddin’s delirious The Heart of the World (Canada 2000).

And so on. What makes the book successful, however, is not really its eclecticism and disdain for established classics (though one senses one or two titles have been included because the publishers insisted upon it). Rather it is the unpretentious, informal style of writing. Dixon knows her subject deeply, but writes as much for the person just starting to explore the field as the afficionado. Jargon is largely banned. It almost reads like a blog. The emphasis is on availability (there are few titles here that aren’t to be found on DVD or online somewhere) and the reader is soon totting up a list of must-see-soon or must-buy-soon titles (I know I have).

In short we have as good an introductory guide to silent film as you might hope to find, one calculated to please the newcomer and the expert. No one will agree with all of Dixon’s choices, but no one will be the poorer for seeking out each one of them. It’s just the pocket-book guide needed to accompany the resurgence of interest in silent film we’ve witnessed in the past few years.

Now if you’d asked me to name 100 silent films, well…

Discovering newspapers

The digitised newspapers section of Australia’s digital library Trove

For some while I’ve been saying we needed an updated round-up post on the collections of digitised newspapers that now exist online. At last its time has come.

The number of historic newspapers titles now available online, either free or through a variety of pay-models, is now prodigious. Though there are some individual titles of particular importance for the study of silent film topics (and I’m referring to general newspapers rather than specialist film journals), this post covers general directories and portals.

British Newspapers
The British Library is engaged on a massive digitisation programme for British newspapers up to 1900. Two million pages have been digitised so far for 19th century newspapers, though the majority are available online to UK higher and further education users only (a checkbox enables searches across free content only). A further 40 million pages will be added in time, with a subscription model aimed at all users. Among the papers covered is The Era, an important source of information for film exhibition in the UK in the 1890s.

Chronicling America
This is a newspaper digitisation programme sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program. It covers newspapers published 1860-1922 for the following states: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. Papers available include The San Francisco Call, The New York Sun, The Washington Times, The Colored American, and The New York Evening Times. Currently there are some 2.7 million pages from 348 titles, all free to use.

Gallica is the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Established in 1997, today it contains nearly 1.5 million digital documents. The library includes just under 800,000 periodical pages, including Le Figaro and L’Humanité. The content is all French, of course, and is a mixture of free and paid-for content.

Google News Archive
Google’s news search engine browses historic news resources, both free and subscription-based, so you are offered tantalising glimpses of news stories that can be yours if only you’ll pay. The helpful timeline feature shows you in which period your search term shows up the most. The Google News display is a listing all of the freely-available digitised newspapers on the service (mostly American), which allows you to browse the pages of individual titles by decades, year, month, week or day.

The Easton Free Press reports on Edison’s latest invention, 10 March 1894, from Google News Archive Search

ICON: International Coalition on Newspapers
Listing of past, present, and prospective digitisation projects of historic newspapers worldwide.

News Archives
This is a very useful directory of news sources online, provided by the University of North Carolina’s ibilio information database. It provides links and descriptions (including access information) for news archives (current and historical) from around the world, including U.S. News Archives on the Web, Asian News Archives on the Web, Canadian News Archives, and the particularly useful International News Archives on the Web, covering Central America & Caribbean, South America, United Kingdom and Ireland, Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Australia & New Zealand.

NewspaperARCHIVE describes itself as the world’s largest online archive of historical newspapers. It has tens of millions of newspapers pages and says that it is adding a page a second to the site. Although the greater part of the archive is American newspapers, there are also papers for China, Ireland, South Africa, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan and especially the United Kingdom. It lets you know your search results for free, but access is for subscribers only. Annual membership starts at $5.99 per month (for a 12-month period).

Newspaper Archive Sources on the Web
The Library of Congress’s useful listing of online newspaper directories around the world.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
This is a private collection of digitised New York newspapers, which boasts over 15,000,000 pages, dating 1795-2007. The source of the newspapers is a microfilm set of the State of New York Newspaper Project of the 1970s/80s, and it’s unclear how a private individual is able to publish all this, but it exists, and all for free.

Papers Past
This excellent site contains over one million freely-available pages from sixty-one digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals covering the period 1839 to 1945. The search and presentation tools are a model of their kind.

Trove is a discovery tool for information on Australia and Australians. It is the digital library par excellence, praised highly when first reviewed by the Bioscope when it was in beta mode). The newspaper section of the site presents the results of the on-going Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program: an eventual 4.4 million pages covering a range of titles from every state and territory, from the earliest newspaper published in Australia in 1803 through to the mid 1950s. To date 1.87 million pages are available online, with exemplary discovery tools.

UK Press Online
Paid access service to two million British newspapers, chiefly boasting the Daily Mirror archive (1903 – current) and the Daily Express archive (1900 – current).

Wikipedia: List of online newspaper archives
This is probably the fullest single listing of newspaper titles available online, both free and pay. It covers Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Caribbean, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Zanzibar, and Worldwide.

And there are many more. Others you should try out include ANNO (Austrian Newspapers Online – all free), the California Digital Newspaper Collection (free – and excellent for silent film research), the Caribbean Newspaper Digital Library (free), Iceland’s (free), Irish Newspaper Archives (subscription), and NewspaperSG covering English-language newspapers published in Malaya and Singapore 1831-2006 (free).

There are many more national services and paid services, links to which you are going to find among the directories listed above. But if you have particular favourites do let me know (especially if they have proved useful in researching silent film topics).

I’ll endeavour to keep this post up-to-date as a reference source. Meanwhile, you can always browse previous Bioscope posts on digitised newspapers, other periodicals and film journals under the Digitised Journals category.

Cinema across media: the 1920s

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

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

Cinema’s institutional consolidation in the 1920s enlisted practitioners from many other fields and transformed the entire ensemble of established media. Avant-garde cinemas borrowed extensively from a variety of artistic practices, while the “cinematic” became the new standard for both modernist aesthetics and popular culture. Today’s multimedia environment brings cinema of the 1920s into new focus as the site of rich intermedial traffic, especially if the term “media” encompasses not only recording technologies and mass media, such as photography, phonography, radio, and illustrated press, but also the physical materials used for aesthetic expression, such as paint, print, plaster, stone, voice, and bodies.

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

Saturday, Feb 19th

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

Wednesday, Feb 23rd

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

Introduced by Anne Nesbet, Judith Rosenberg on Piano

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

Thursday, Feb 24th

4–5:30 pm

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

7–9:30 pm

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

Friday, Feb 25th

9–10:30 am

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

11 am–12:30 pm

“Local” Aesthetics and the Aesthetics of Location

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

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

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

The Body: Forms, Models, Constructions

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

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

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

2–3:30 pm

Cinema, Light, Architecture

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

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

Noam Elcott, Invisible Architectures

Media Consolidation and Conglomeration

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

Charlie Keil, Inventing Hollywood for the 1920s

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

4–5:30 pm

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

7–8:45 pm

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

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

Saturday, Feb 26th

9–11 am

Mobilizing the Archive: Projectors, Exhibitors, Industries

Plenary Roundtable

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

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

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

Kim Tomadjoglou, Itinerant Exhibitors Felix and Edmundo Padilla

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

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

11:30 am–1 pm

Film Artistry and Multimedia Practice

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

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

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

Theory, Performance, Fantasy

Johannes von Moltke, Classical Film Theory: A Novel

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

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

2:30–4 pm

Intermediary Zones: Film and the Avant-Gardes

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

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

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

Sound, Aesthetics, Technology

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

Anupama Kapse, Song and Dance in the Indian Silent Film

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

4:30–6:30 pm

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

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

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

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

Suffragettes before the camera

Asta Nielsen playing a suffragette undergoing forcefeeding in Die Suffragette (1913), from Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek

Early film reflected the society in which it arose, and there is no clearer example of this than the campaign for women’s suffrage. The movement to gain women the vote in Britain reached its climax during the period when mass cinema-going was first underway in the early 1910s, and films reflected the popular understanding of the suffragettes. The militant woman became a standard figure in early ficition films, generally portrayed for comic or satiric effect. At the same time the suffragettes were regularly covered by the newsreels, a dynamic new medium for reporting what was happening in the world to a mass audience.

The relationship between women’s suffrage and early film is explored in Frühe Interventionen: Suffragetten – Extremistinnen der Sichtbarkeit (Early interventions / Suffragettes – extremists of visibility), a series of films and lectures being held at the Zeughauskino, Berlin, 23-27 September 2010. Behind the somewhat forbidding title is a tremendous programme of rare materials uncovered from archives across Europe and curated by Madeleine Bernstorff and Mariann Lewinsky. The films document not only the suffragettes as audiences saw them in fiction and non-fiction films, but also the role of women in early cinema generally, showing how trangressive, rebellious and sometimes just plain exuberant displays by women on screen echoed the drive for changes in society of which the campaign for the vote was but a part.

The Pickpocket (USA 1913), from EYE Film Institute Netherlands

Here is the programme:

Thursday 23. September 20:00 h

Radical maid(en)s
Cheerful young girls’ break-outs, class relations and radicalisations.

Sedgwick’ s Bioscope Showfront at Pendlebury Wakes, GB 1901, 30m 1’30“
La Grêve des bonnes, France 1907 184m, 10’
Tilly in a Boarding house GB 1911 D Alma Taylor, Chrissie White 7’
Pathé newsreel The Suffragette Derby, GB 1913, ca 5’
Miss Davison’s Funeral, GB 1913, 45m 2’
A Suffragette in Spite of Himself GB 1912 Edison R: Bannister Merwin D: Miriam Nesbitt, Ethel Browning, Marc McDermott 8’, 16mm
Robinette presa per nihilista Italy 1912, D: Nilde Baracchi, 124m, 8’
Cunégonde reçoit sa famille France 1912 D: Cunegonde – name unknown, 116m, 6’
Les Ficelles de Leontine France 1910, D: Leontine – name unknown, 155m, 8’
Tilly and the fire engines GB 1911 2’ D: Alma Taylor, Chrissie White
[A Nervous Kitchenmaid] France c.1908, 74m, 4’
Introduction: Madeleine Bernstorff
Live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Friday 24. September 18:00 h

The Fanaticism of the Suffragettes
Lecture with images and filmclips by Madeleine Bernstorff

Following the lecture Mariann Lewinsky will present the DVDs Cento anni fa/A hundred Years ago: European Cinema of 1909 and Cento anni fa/A Hundred Years ago: Comic Actresses and Suffragettes 1910-1914 [for more information, see end of this post].

Friday 24. September 19:00 h


Les Femmes députées France 1912 D: Madeleine Guitty 154m 8’
England. Scenes Outside The House Of Commons 28 January 1913 2’
Trafalgar Square Riot 10 August 1913 1913 2’
Milling The Militants: A Comical Absurdity GB 1913 7’
St. Leonards Outrage France 1913 21m 1’
Womens March Trough London: A Vast Procession Of Women Headed By Mrs Pankhurst. March Through London To Show The Minister Of Munitions Their Willingness To Help In Any War War Service GB 1915 23m 1’
Scottish Women’s Hospital Of The National Union Of Women’s Suffrage Societies France 1917 133m 6’30
Dans le sous-marin France 1908 Pathé 145m 5’
Introduction: Madeleine Bernstorff
Live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Friday 24. September 21:00 h

Women’s Life and Leisure in the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection
Presented by Vanessa Toulmin

The renowned Mitchell & Kenyon Collection provides an unparalled view of life at the turn of the twentieth century and this screening will allow us an opportunity to see women’s life and leisure in industrial England. The social and political background as well as working conditions will be shown on screen. The range and sheer diversity of women in the workplace will be revealed from the domestic to the industrial environment, women played an important role in the transition to modern society. From girls working in the coal mines to spinners and weavers leaving the factory this selection from the Collection will reveal previously unseen footage from the Archive, in a following workshop Vanessa Toulmin will speak about: Discovery and Investigation: The Research Process of the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection.

Women at Work: The ‘Hands’ Leaving Work at North-Street Mills, Chorley (1900), North Sea Fisheries, North Shields (1901), Employees Leaving Gilroy’s Jute Works, Dundee (1901), S.S. Skirmisher at Liverpool (1901), Birmingham University Procession on Degree Day (1901), Life in Wexford (1902), Black Diamonds – The Collier’s Daily Life (1904)
Women in the Social Environment: Liverpool Street Scenes (1901), Jamaica Street, Glasgow (1901), Manchester Street Scenes (1901), Manchester Band of Hope Procession (1901), Electric Tram Rides from Forster Square, Bradford (1902)
Leisure and Play: Sedgwick’s Bioscope Showfront at Pendlebury Wakes (1901), Spectators Promenading in Weston Park, Sheffield (1902), Trip to Sunny Vale Gardens at Hipperholme (1901), Bootle May Day Demonstration and Crowning of the May Queen (1903), Blackpool Victoria Pier (1904), Greens Racing Bantams at Preston Whit Fair (1906), Calisthenics (c. 1905).
Live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Saturday 25. September 18:00 h

La Neuropatologia
Lecture by Ute Holl+ screening of La Neuropatologia (I 1908)

La Neuropatologia is a medical instructional film by the Turin neurologist Camillo Negri. The film can be read – utilising medical-historical methology – as the presentation of an hysterical seizure, but it could also be called an expressionist drama, a love triangle. Medical fact cannot be visualized without the medical stage, the theatre, the mise-en-scène. End of the 19th century the visual turn in medical methodology and in neurological diagnosis gets introduced.

Saturday 25. September 19:00 h

Staging and Representation: A cinematographic studio

La Neuropatologia opens the view on representational relations. The Austrian company Saturn Film produced so-called ‘titillating’ films for a male audience, but the models also had her own ideas about erotic stagings. Normal work is part of an installation, and a re-enactment of four late-19th century photographies by Hannah Cullwick, who worked as a maid and produced numerous (self)portraits as part of a sado-masochist bond with her bourgeois boss Arthur Munby.

La Neuropatologia Italy 1908 Camillo Negro 107m 5’
La Ribalta (Fragment) Italy 1913 Mario Caserini D: Maria Gasparini 60 m 3’5’
Beim Photographen Austria 1907 Saturn 50m 3’
Das eitle Stubenmädchen Austria 1907 Saturn 50m 3’
Normal Work Germany 2007 Pauline Boudry, Renate Lorenz D: Werner Hirsch 13’ 16mm/DV
Concorso di bellezza fra bambini / Kindertentoonstellung Italy 1909 80m 4’
La nuova cameriera e troppo bella Italy 1912 D: Nilde Baracchi, 138m 7’
Rosalie et Léontine vont au théâtre France 1911, D: Sarah Duhamel + Leontine – name unknown 80m, 4’
L’intrigante France 1910 Albert Capellani 162m 8’
Introduction: Madeleine Bernstorff
Live piano accompaniment

Saturday 25. September 21:00h

Glittering stars, athletic women, first star personas
From 1910 on many female comedians had their own series. There was alsoa strong presence of female artistes and performers in the cinema before 1910.

Danse Serpentine / Annabella USA c.1902 Edison ca 2’ 16mm
La Confession France 1905 D: Name nicht bekannt 60m 3’
Femme jalouse France 1907 D: Name nicht bekannt 58m 3’
Lea e il gomitolo Italy 1913 D: Lea Giunchi 99m 5’
Danses Serpentines France / USA 1898-1902 D: U.a. Annabella 60m 3’
La Valse chaloupée France 1908 D: Mistinguett, Max Dearly 38m 2’
Sculpteur moderne France 1908 R: Segundo de Chomon D: Julienne Matthieu 8’
Les Soeurs Dainef France 1902 65m 3’
Introduction: Mariann Lewinsky
Live piano accompaniment Eunice Martins
Zigomar peau d’anguille France 1913 Eclair Victorin Jasset D: Alexandre Aquillere, Josette Andriot, 940m 45’
On the turntables: Julian Göthe

Sunday 26. September 18:00

Re-Reading Steinach
Lecture and video-presentation by Mareike Bernien

Re-Reading Steinach is a re-assembly of the popular-science film Steinachs Forschungen by Nicholas Kaufmann/UFA from 1922 – with the idea to analyze representations of normative and divergent body-and gender-constructions in the beginning of 20th century.

Sunday 26. September 19:00

Cross-dressings of men and women: Elegant page-uniforms and pantskirts, men in nurse-dresses and the wonderful Lotion Magique which grows beards on breasts and breasts on bald heads.

Mes filles portent la jupes-culotte France 1911 120m 6’
Monsieur et Madame sont pressés France 1901 20m 1’
Le Poulet de Mme Pipelard France 1910 84m 5’
Cendrillon ou La Pantoufle merveilleuse France 1907 R: Albert Capellani 293 m 15’
Il duello al shrapnell Italy 1908 100m 5’
La Lotion magique France 1906 Pathé 80m 5’
La Grève des nourrices France 1907 190 m 10’
Schutzmann-Lied from Metropol-Revue 1908, Donnerwetter! – Tadellos! Germany 1909 D: Henry Bender Beta 2’ (digital sound image reconstruction by Christian Zwarg)
Introduction: Mariann Lewinsky and Madeleine Bernstorff
Introduction to Schutzmannlied: Dirk Foerstner
Live piano accompaniment

Sunday 26. September 21:00

The Woman of Tomorrow
Cinema before 1910 was abundant in non-fiction films about daily work. La Doctoresse is part of a comedy-serial by Mistinguett and her partner Prince. The Russian film The Woman of Tomorrow is about a successful feminist female doctor.

Recolte du sarasin France 1908
L’Industria di carta a Isola del Liri Italy 1909 147m 7’30“
La Doctoresse France 1910, D: Mistinguett, Charles Prince 140m 7’
Zhenshchina Zavtrashnego Dnya / The woman of tomorrow Russia 1914, D: Vera Yurevena, Ivan Mosjoukine, 795m 40’
Live piano accompaniment

Monday 27. September 18:00

Political Stagings of the Suffragettes in England
Lecture by Jana Günther on strategic image politics of the militant English suffragette movement: between permanent spectacle and crusade. The Suffragettes appropriated activist strategies of the workers’ movement and tried out acts of civil inobedience like chaining themselves to railings, hunger strikes and other distruptive acts.
+ presentation of the film A Busy Day aka A Militant Suffragette D:Charlie Chaplin, USA 1914 16mm 6’

Monday 27. September 19:00h

Die Suffragette

The restored version (by Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek) of the Asta Nielsen melodrama Die Suffragette with some rediscovered scenes – including the force-feeding-scene which had been cut because of strict censorship regulations.

Bobby und die Frauenrechtlerinnen/Mijnher Baas + de vrije Vrouwen Germany 1911 Oskar Messter 112m 6’
Pickpocket USA 1913 260 m 13’
Les Résultats du féminisme France 1906 Alice Guy 5’
Die Suffragette Germany 1913 D: Asta Nielsen (Nelly Panburne) 60‘
Introduction: Karola Gramann + Heide Schlüpmann
Live piano accompaniment Eunice Martins

Monday 27. September 21:00h

The Year of the bodyguard
The film essay by Noël Burch deals with the subject of suffragettes in 1912 training under the first English female jiu-jitsu expert Edith Garrud to fight the police and protect their leaders.

Wife, The Weaker Vessel GB 1915 D: Ruby Belasco, Chrissie White, 190m 9’
Le Sorelle Bartels Italy 1910 74m 4’
The Year of the Bodyguard Noel Burch 1981 54’ ZDF
Works and Workers at Denton Holme GB 1910, 90m 5’

In the foyer of Zeughauskino there will be a video installation ‘I would be delighted to talk Suffrage’ by Austrian artist Fiona Rukschcio and a lightbox and bulletin board by Madeleine Bernstorff with materials from the National Archives, London on police spy photographs depicting the suffragettes.

Suffragette Demonstration at Newcastle, from BFI National Archive

Madeleine Bernstorff writes these words about women’s suffrage and film in the notes to the programme:

In the early twentieth century, the cause of women’s suffrage and the suffragette movement became a cinematic topic. Something seemingly untameable had appeared on the city streets, provoking a good deal of anxiety: women, often sheltered ladies of the bourgeoisie, were organising and even demanding participation in democratic processes! By 1913 more than 1,000 suffragettes had already gone to prison for their political actions. In addition to cartoons in the print media, newsreels and melodramas were produced along with countless comedies that referred – in all their ambivalence of subversion and affirmation – to the movement. They told the audience that women belonged at home and not at the ballot box, that these unleashed furies who now appeared in the streets en masse were growing mannish, neglecting their families and even setting public buildings ablaze. In the anti-suffragette films, women’s rights activists were often misguided souls who needed to be brought back to their proper calling. They also left plenty of room for nod-and-wink voyeurism on all sides. Men, too, masqueraded as suffragettes – to illustrate how inappropriate and grotesque it was for women to overstep their roles – or to act out against the prevailing order even more wildly?

The figure of the suffragette in early fiction (usually comedy- the seriousness of Asta Nielsen’s Die Suffragette is a notable exception) film is one that has been written about in several places, though never before has such an extensive collection of relevant films been seen in one place, to my knowledge. However, I would encourage those attending the event to look twice at the newsreels as well. There are many surviving newsreels showing the suffragettes – for the simple reason that they made it their business to be filmed.

The suffragettes showed themselves to be particularly media savvy by staging events that would attract the media. The simplest strategy was to organise marches with banners with bold slogans that could be easily picked up by the cameras. Then there was the obvious tactic of letting the newspapers and newsreels know beforehand of when a march or such like was going to take place. Just occasionally there was active co-operation with the newsreel companies. Rachael Low, in The History of the British Film 1906-1908, reproduces this report from the Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly 25 June 1908, p. 127, which shows how far this could go:

From certain sources whispers had reached us anent Mr. Harrison Ward’s secret conclaves with Mrs. Drummond and Miss Christabel Pankhurst, and as we surmised the plottings of the trio within the suffragette’s fortress have taken definite shape in the form of a picture history of recent performances of the ‘great shouters’ during their campaign … With exclusive right for kinematographing from the suffragists’ conning tower Mr. W. Jeapes obtained some exceptionally interesting pictures, those showing Mr. R.G. Knowles discussing the burning question with some of the leaders at the base of the tower being particularly good, the same remark applying to the life-size portraits of Mrs. ‘General’ Drummond, Miss Pankhurst and others. Mr. Jeapes and Mr. Ward probably never played to a bigger house than they did on Sunday, and the sight of the surging mass of humanity following the pantechnicon ‘conning tower’ as it emerged from Hyde Park, what time the energetic pair on top recorded the scene was something to arouse the envy of any kinematographer with an eye for picture effects.

The film, made by the Graphic Cinematograph Company, was a bit more than the average newsreel (it showed the major demonstration organised by the Women’s Social and Political Union that took place 21 June 1908 in Hyde Park). But the degree of pre-planning, co-operation and indeed the purchase of exclusive rights for a key camera position demonstrates that both news companies and suffragettes recognised the great value of one another, and that we should look on the newsreels of suffragettes as composed works rather than accidental actuality. We see what they wanted us to see.

Even when there wasn’t active co-operation with the newsreels, the suffragettes knew where cameras (still and motion picture) would be positioned, so that their protest acts would gain the greatest publicity. The best known example is that of the 1913 Derby, at which Emily Wilding Davison was killed after running onto the race-course and being knocked down by the King’s horse. The act was captured by a number of newsreels (the Pathé version is to be featured in Berlin) because they were all trained on the final bend before the end of the race, Tattenham Corner, and that is exactly where Davison chose to run out. Again, we see what they wanted us to see.

  • The Gaumont Graphic version of the 1913 Derby is here
  • The Pathé’s Animated Gazette version is here
  • The Topical Budget version is here (accessible to UK schools and libraries only)
  • (The Warwick Bioscope Chronicle version is here but I can’t make it play, and in any case Warwick either missed the incident or it has been cut from the extant film)
  • There are British Pathe compilations of suffragette newsreel footage here and especially here

There isn’t any information online about the Berlin screenings as yet (apart from this post, obviously), but information will appear on the Zeughauskino site once it gets round to publishing its September programme. (Now published)

Update (4 September): The full programme is now available (in German) from (full marks for the striking design).

Finally, the DVD from this year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato mentioned above is now available for sale. Curated by Mariann Lewinsky, Cento anni fa: Attrici comiche e suffragette 1910-1914 / Comic Actresses and Suffragettes 1910-1914 is a DVD and booklet on nineteen films (Italian, French, English, American), featuring such female comedy stars as Tilly and Sally (Alma Taylor and Chrissie White), Cunégonde, Mistinguett, Rosalie, Lea and Gigetta, plus newsreel films (including two compilations) of suffragette action from the UK and USA. The DVD is priced 19.90 € and is available from the Cineteca Bologna site. For those not able to be in Berlin it’s going to be the next best thing.

My thanks to Madeleine Bernstorff for providing the programme information and stills.

Bonner Sommerkino 2010


Germany’s silent film festival Bonner Sommerkino returns to Bonn 12-22 August. The annual festival is gaining increasing prominence, and the programming is of a really high standard. The restored Metropolis is of course the highlight, as it is for several other festivals this year, but there are plenty of imaginative choices on offer, with intriguing selections from China, Japan, Great Britain, USA, Sweden and Germany. But will it be the last such silent film festival in Bonn? Here’s the outline programme:

Arkadenhof der Universität Bonn

Donnerstag, 12. August 2010
Deutschland 1925/26, Fritz Lang, 147 min

Freitag, 13. August 2010
21.00 SO IST PARIS (So This is Paris)
USA 1926, Ernst Lubitsch, 70 min

22.30 KÖNIGIN DER VAGABUNDEN (The Vagabond Queen)
Großbritannien 1929, Géza von Bolváry, 62 min

Samstag, 14. August 2010
21.00 DER GEISTERZUG (The Ghost Train)
Großbritannien 1927, Géza von Bolváry, 67 min

22.30 DER BLAUE EXPRESS (China Express)
UdSSR 1929, Ilja Trauberg, 76 min

Sonntag, 15. August 2010
21.00 DIE FILMPRIMADONNA (The Film Primadonna)
Deutschland 1913, Asta Nielsen, 17 min

DER KAMERAMANN (The Cameraman)
USA 1928, Buster Keaton, 75 min

Montag, 16. August 2010
21.00 ST. KILDA – ENGLANDS EINSAMSTE INSEL (St Kilda, Britain’s Loneliest Isle)
Großbritannien 1928, Robello /Mann, 18 min

USA 1925, Ernest B. Schoedsack, Merian C. Cooper, 70 min

Dienstag, 17. August 2010
21.00 A POET FROM THE SEA (Haikiao Shiren)
China 1927, Hou Yao, 23 min

Schweden 1917, Victor Sjöström, 82 min

Mittwoch, 18. August 2010
21.00 KLEINE GEHEIMNISSE (Don’t Tell Everything)
USA 1927, Leo McCarey, 20 min

USA 1927, Mauritz Stiller, 82 min

Donnerstag, 19. August 2010
21.00 MODERN HORROR 100.000.000 (Modern kaidan: 100,000,000 yen)
Japan 1929, Torajiro Saito, 15 min

Frankreich 1920, Jakov Protazanov, 82 min

Freitag, 20. August 2010
21.00 DER GENIALE ERFINDER (So’s Your Old Man)
USA 1926, W.C. Fields, 67 min

Deutschland 1917, Henny Porten, 75 min

Samstag, 21. August 2010
21.00 DIE HEILSJÄGER (The Salvation Hunters)
USA 1925, Josef von Sternberg, 76 min

22.30 DIE VIER GERECHTEN (The Four Just Men)
Großbritannien 1921, Edgar Wallace, 66 min

Sonntag, 22. August 2010
21.00 BEETHOVENS MONDSCHEINSONATE (the Origin of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata)
USA 1909, 9 min

Österreich 1926, Mihaly Kertész, 116 min
Gesang: Pien Straesser

LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn

Sonntag, 15. August 2010
15.00 Die Entstehung von »Metropolis«
Vortrag von Werner Sudendorf

Deutschland 1927, Rolf Randolf, 105 min

Sonntag, 22. August 2010
Vortrag von Stefan Drößler und Rob Stone

Deutschland 1915, William Wauer, 95 min

Fuller programme details are on the festival site (in German).

The open-air screenings in the magificent courtyard of Bonn University are free, though the festival blurb warns that this may be the last year that the festival receives its 40,000€ support from the city of Bonn, so the festival itself ma be in peril. The City of Bonn certainly provides the audience with rich offerings – not just the films, but a starry line-up of musicians to accompany the films, including Christian Roderburg, Günter A. Buchwald, Neil Brand, Stephen Horne, Joachim Bärenz, Mark Pogolski, Pien Straesser and Sabrina Zimmermann.

More information (all in German) is on the festival site. And let’s hope that the chill winds of the economic downturn don’t hit silents as well. But one rathers fears that they will.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Norma Talmadge in The Woman Disputed (1928), from

This year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival takes place 15-18 July at the Castro Theatre, and what is quite frankly a sensational programme has just been announced. The biggest draw is going to be the new version of Metropolis, but the programme is choc-a-bloc with classics everyone should see, rediscoveries, surprises, and some of the funniest comedy short films ever made. Here are the details:

Thursday, July 15th

The Iron Horse (USA, 1924, 150 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: John Ford
Cast: George O’Brien, Madge Bellamy
Accompanied By: Dennis James
Set in mid-19th century America, The Iron Horse is the silent era’s version of How the West Was Won, weaving its themes of romance and history around the story of the building of the first transcontinental railway. This glorious print is the only surviving 35mm print of the American version.

Friday, July 16th

Amazing Tales from the Archives 1 (60 mins)
Lost Films from the Silent Era: Presentations by Joe Lindner of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Paula Félix-Didier and Fernando Peña of Museo del Cine, Buenos Aires (the archivists responsible for finding the lost Metropolis footage).
Accompanied By: Donald Sosin

A Spray of Plum Blossoms (China, 1931, 100 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Bu Wancang
Cast: Ruan-Lingyu, Jin Yan
Accompanied By: Donald Sosin
One of the most prolific Chinese directors of the silent era, Bu Wancang based this film on William Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” setting the action in China, circa 1930 and casting China’s favorite on-screen couple, Ruan Ling-yu and Jin Yan. Like any Shakespeare comedy, Plum Blossoms is replete with star-crossed lovers, mistaken identity, and a satisfying happy ending. By situating the play in the ’30s-era Chinese army, the “gentlemen” of the Shakespeare’s title are the film’s officers, the duke is a warlord, and his daughter’s ladies-in-waiting are military police!
Presented with both Mandarin and English intertitles.

Rotaie (Italy, 1929, 74 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Mario Camerini
Cast: Käthe von Nagy, Maurizio D’Ancora
Accompanied By: Stephen Horne
One of the most important Italian movies of the late silent period, Rotaie is the story is of two young lovers, very poor and on the brink of suicide, who come into a bit of temporary good luck. Finding a lost wallet in a train station, the lovers hop a train to two thrilling weeks of high living. The film’s exquisite style is influenced by the expressionism of German master F.W. Murnau. Presented with Italian intertitles accompanied by a live English translation.

Metropolis (Germany, 1927, 148 mins, Digital)
Directed By: Fritz Lang
Cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Brigitte Helm
Accompanied By: Alloy Orchestra
When Fritz Lang’s masterpiece debuted in Berlin in January, 1927, the sci-fi epic ran an estimated 153 minutes, but in order to maximize box office potential the German and American distributors cut the film to 90 minutes for its commercial release. For decades crucial scenes from the film were considered lost. In 2001, the Munich Film Foundation assembled a more complete version with additional footage from four contributing archives, and Metropolis had a premiere revival at 124 minutes (widely believed to be the most complete version that contemporary audiences could ever hope to see). But, in 2008 archivists from the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires made a spectacular discovery—a 16mm dupe negative of Metropolis that was considerably longer than any existing print! That discovery led to this remarkable restoration and Metropolis can now be shown in Fritz Lang’s original—25 minute longer—complete version. Digital print from Kino International. Special Guests: Paula Félix-Didier and Fernando Peña of the Museo del Cine, the pair who found the lost footage!

Saturday, July 17th

The Big Business of Short, Funny Films (62 min)
The Cook (USA, 1918, 22 min), Pass the Gravy (USA, 1928, 22 min), and Big Business (USA, 1929, 18 min)

Variations on a Theme: Musicians on the Craft of Composing and Performing for Silent Film (70 mins)
This special moderated program will shine a light the process of composing scores for silent films. Pianists Donald Sosin and Stephen Horne will take part, along with organist Dennis James, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Alloy Orchestra, and Swedish musician and composer Matti Bye. Chloe Veltman, Bay Area culture correspondent for The New York Times and producer and host of public radio’s VoiceBox, will moderate.

The Flying Ace (USA, 1926, 65 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Richard E. Norman
Cast: Lawrence Criner, Kathryn Boyd
Accompanied By: Donald Sosin
Richard E. Norman was among the first to produce films starring African-American actors in positive roles. Between 1920 and 1928, the Norman Film Manufacturing Co. produced six feature-length films as part of a movement to establish an independent black cinema at a time when blacks were demeaned in mainstream movies. The Flying Ace is the only Norman film that survives and its story of a crime-fighting ace pilot is still a crowd-pleaser! 35mm print from Library of Congress.

The Strong Man (USA, 1926, 75 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Frank Capra
Cast: Harry Langdon, Priscilla Bonner
Accompanied By: Stephen Horne
This Harry Langdon comedy will be shown in a pristine print from Photoplay Productions in England. Frank Capra’s second feature, this effervescent slapstick has Langdon as Paul Bergot, a mild-mannered Belgian soldier who goes on the road with German strongman Zandow the Great after World War I. When they get to the States, Paul searches for (and finds) his American sweetheart pen pal.

Diary of a Lost Girl (Germany, 1929, 116 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Cast: Louise Brooks, Kurt Gerron
Accompanied By: Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Diary of a Lost Girl represents the second and final work of one of the cinema’s most compelling collaborations: G.W. Pabst and Louise Brooks. Together with Pandora’s Box, Diary confirmed Pabst’s artistry as one of the great directors of the silent period and established Brooks as an “actress of brilliance, a luminescent personality and a beauty unparalleled in screen history.” (Kevin Brownlow) This version has been mastered from a restoration of the film made by the Cineteca di Bologna with approximately seven minutes of previously censored footage. 35mm print of Kino International.

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden , Denmark, 1922, 90 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Benjamin Christensen
Cast: Maren Pedersen, Clara Pontoppidan, Elith Pio, Oscar Stribolt
Accompanied By: Matti Bye Ensemble
Benjamin Christensen’s legendary film uses a series of dramatic vignettes to explore the scientific hypothesis that the witches of the Middle Ages suffered the same hysteria as turn-of-the-century psychiatric patients. But the film itself is far from serious—instead it’s a witches’ brew of the scary and darkly humorous. 35mm restored, tinted print from the Swedish Film Institute.

Sunday, July 18th

Amazing Tales from the Archives 2 (60 mins)
Presentations by Annette Melville (National Film Preservation Board) and Mike Mashon (Library of Congress, Moving Image Section)
Accompanied By: Stephen Horne
Presentations by Annette Melville (National Film Preservation Board) and Mike Mashon (Library of Congress, Moving Image Section)

The Shakedown (USA, 1929, 70 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: William Wyler
Cast: James Murray, Barbara Kent, Jack Hanlon
Accompanied By: Donald Sosin
Restored to 35mm by George Eastman house, The Shakedown is a superb action-drama about a boxer whose life changes when he meets up with an orphan boy. Director William Wyler is most celebrated for his talkies (The Best Years of Our Lives, Ben Hur, Funny Girl) and this uplifting tale is a splendid introduction to the master’s early career. Beautiful camerawork, fast-paced editing, and remarkable effects make this a riveting feature. Leonard Maltin will interview the children of director William Wyler onstage.

Man with a Movie Camera (USSR, 1929, 70 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Dziga Vertov
Accompanied By: Alloy Orchestra
Considered one of the most innovative and influential films of the silent era. Startlingly modern, this film demonstrates a groundbreaking style of rapid editing and incorporates innumerable other cinematic effects to create a work of amazing power and energy. This dawn-to-dusk view of the Soviet Union offers a montage of urban Russian life, showing the people of the city at work and at play, and the machines that endlessly whirl to keep the metropolis alive. Vertov’s masterpiece employs all the cinematic techniques at the director’s disposal — dissolves, split-screens, slow motion, and freeze-frames — to produce a work that is exhilarating and intellectually brilliant.

The Woman Disputed (USA, 1928, 110 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Henry King, Sam Taylor
Cast: Norma Talmadge, Gilbert Roland
Accompanied By: Stephen Horne
This splendid romance is a true discovery, starring the extraordinary Norma Talmadge as a goodhearted streetwalker who is coveted by Austrian and Russian rivals. “I have just seen The Woman Disputed and it’s a remarkable piece of filmmaking. The plot takes Maupaussant’s Boule de Suif to extremes, but it succeeds so well as a brilliant piece of film craft that it MUST be brought back to life.” (Kevin Brownlow).

L’Heureuse mort (France, 1924, 83 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Serge Nadejdine
Cast: Nicolas Rimsky, Lucie Larue
Accompanied By: Matti Bye Ensemble
This remarkable comedy stars Nicolas Rimsky as Parisian dramatist Théodore Larue whose latest premiere is a disaster. His reputation gone, Larue takes a sea voyage, during which he is swept overboard in a storm and lost. The press and the literary world react with an abrupt revaluation of his work, elevating him to the stature of France’s greatest dramatist. His widow finds herself in possession of a hugely valuable literary property… At which point, Larue — inopportunely — returns home. But, dramatist above all, he decides to masquerade as his colonialist brother Anselme, while industriously turning out posthumous works by Théodore. But then the real Anselme turns up with his Senegalese wife… Beautiful 35mm print from the Cinémathèque Française. Presented with French intertitles accompanied by a live English translation.

The festival website is choc-a-bloc itself with things to explore, quite apart from standard stuff like ticketing details. Every film is illustrated, well described, and comes with links to the IMDB, biography of the musician, recommendations for other film like it in the festival (if you like L’Heureuse mort they suggest you try out The Cook), and chances to mark your favourites through Twitter, Digg and such like. You can view the programme by date, title or musician, follow the very active festival blog, catch up on news from the festival, read articles from past festival programmes, and more.

All in all it looks like quite some four days. The Bioscope particularly recommends The Shakedown, Pass the Gravy and (because it has a particular fondness for silent Shakespeare) A Spray of Plum Blossoms – a pleasant surprise to see that rather delightful curio included in the programme. Lucky all you who can get there.