The Bioscope Guide to … South Africa

Mabel May and the children of Piccanin village in The Picannins’ Christmas (1917), from http://www.vintagemedia.co.za

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.

History
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 vintagemedia.co.za

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 www.britishpathe.com

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)

Publications

Archives and museums

Websites

  • 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)

The Bioscope.net

The Bioscope meets YouTube

You may have noticed that we have a new address. I don’t mean the Bioscope’s physical location, which of course remains the ivy-clad fastness that is New Bioscope Towers, but rather its web address. After too long a wait, we have finally ditched the annoying ‘bioscopic’ and the WordPress.com and switched the domain to http://thebioscope.net. All old links will still take you to the site as it now is, but I hope it will now be a little clearer who we are and what we’re about. This is all part of a rolling programme of changes to the site to make sure it stays in tip-top shape.

To mark the occasion, a rather odd short video, which comes from a pair of Indian design students, Ashis Panday & Ankkit Modi, who have created a Bioscope for the YouTube age. As regulars will know, we are interested in the Bioscopes still to be found in India (and in other Asian countries, I am given to understand) which tour from town to town supplying peepshow views of film clips for children. One or two of these shows, which are managed by itinerant bioscopewallahs, feature original film projectors from the 1900s. This art work (or part of an art work) has taken YouTube videos and stitched them together in a random sequence. The video doesn’t really make it clear what is happening, but we like the concept even if the actuality may be lacking.

For earlier posts on bioscopewallahs, see Salim Baba – https://thebioscope.net/2010/09/07/salim-baba/, Prakash Travelling Cinema – https://thebioscope.net/2007/08/26/prakash-travelling-cinema/ and The Last Bioscopewallah – https://thebioscope.net/2009/09/16/the-last-bioscopewallah/.

Welcome to the Bioscope

The Bioscope is five years old today, and it’s time for a change. We have had the same template all that time, and though it had its plain virtues I’ve wanted for a while to give the site a fresh look, while not upsetting the general balance of things too greatly. So here is the new look.

As you will see, we have the same name, the same subtitle, the same banner, and the same features (with a few tweaks) down the right-hand side. The search box is now positioned top left. The top menu has been simplified. Instead of the old Calendar, Conferences and Festivals sections, there is now an Events section (which is the renamed Calendar) with sub-menus for Conferences and Festivals. So no information has been lost, indeed the Conferences section now has a (hopefully) handy listing of past conferences with links.

The Library section remains as before, with main part a listing on freely available e-books on silent film, and sub-categories for Catalogues and Databases, Directories and Journals also available online, now with a clearer drop-down menu to guide you to the right section.

Other changes will be made over the next few weeks as I get used to the template and maybe make a few small cosmetic changes. I’m aware that the FAQ section is in needed of a refresh, and I also need to check all of the links on the righ-hand column, a number of which are now defunct.

If you are new to the Bioscope, then a particular welcome to you. This is a website (in the form of a blog) dedicated to providing information on early and silent film. We range widely in our interests, from pre-cinema technologies through to the modern silent film today, with strong emphases on research and online resources. There is an overview of the site on the About page, which includes a lsting of some of the key informational posts we have produced in the past. Browsing through some of these will give you an idea of what we’re about. We also have a Twitter feed, Flickr site, YouTube channel, a Vimeo channel and a daily news service (courtesy of Scoop it).

It’s been an interesting five years, during which I have written enough words to fill five books – which is both worrying and heartening. Sometimes I wonder at all this energy devoted to the ephemeral online world, but then I reason that each new post gets more views per day than most of the academic papers I have written have had readers over years, which must mean something. And then I do have my moments when I wonder what the point of it all is, indeed why the focus on silent films when there are other things in this world that divert me quite as much, and at such times I have thought of closing the site down. But then someone makes a comment saying that they like a particular post, or I meet someone at some film event who says how the find the Bioscope useful, and I realise I must press on.

So thank you, gentle readers. Do let me know your thoughts about the new site. It should look better on today’s bigger screens (though I am defiantly holding on to my Academy ratio laptop for as long as I can), and there small additions like the email and print options which I hope will be useful. I am always open to suggestions for new features, subjects of posts, events to promote (with a tendency towards the international), and resources to highlight. I don’t know if the Bioscope will continue for another five years, but the next target is a million visitors, which all being well we should attain some time later this year.

So we press on.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 37

Trailer for Sailcloth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 36

Spot the difference

It is hard for any news provider to offer a full service at Christmas time, but even harder for the person trying to document silent films when there is only one story on everyone’s minds. The newsfeeds are choc-a-bloc with reviews of The Artist and thought pieces on what it all means when a silent film gets made in 2011. Part of the same silent mania is Martin Scorsese’s cine-nostalgic Hugo, and it only takes two films on a broadly similar theme for the world to discover a trend and seek to explain it. But we shall do our best to report what is worth reporting. And so we start with …

Silent films after The Artist and Hugo
Daniel Eagen at the Smithsonian’s rather fine Reel Culture blog takes a wry look at the impassioned debates both The Artist and Hugo have caused, viewing with amusement both those instant experts on silents who have hitched onto the bandwagon and the ‘film geeks’ who are agonising over the fine details. What is it that is so different about silent films? Eagen suggests that there probably isn’t anything different at all. Maybe they are just films, much like films of today. Read more.

Toronto Silent Film Festival
The schedule for the Toronto Silent Films Festival (one of the newer festivals out there) has been published. Lined up include Clara Bow in Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Murnau’s Tabu (1931), Rudoph Valentino in Blood and Sand (1922) and E.A. Dupont’s much-cited but not all that often seen Variety (1925). The festival runs 29 March-3 April 2012. Read more.

The birth of promotion
New York Public Library is currently hosting an exhibition on promotional and distibution materials from the silent era, entitled “The Birth of Promotion: Inventing Film Publicity in the Silent-Film Era”. The exhibition runs until January and has a cheerful promotional video. The New York Times has a fine survey of the exhibition and history its documents. Read more.

Life in the air
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley are putting on a series of silent films devoted to aviation in its broadest sense. “Dizzy Heights: Silent Cinema and Life in the Air” takes place 23-26 February 2012 and has been imaginatively curated by Patrick Ellis, with such titles as High Treason (UK 1929), A Trip to Mars (Denmark 1918) and rarity The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower (France 1927). Read more.

Keaton in colour
Kino has been doing a great job releasing Buster Keaton’s work on Blu-Ray. Their latest release is Seven Chances (1925), with its Brewster’s Millions-style plot (Buster must marry before 7pm to inherit $7M) and the famous scene when Buster is pursued downhill by an absurd number of boulders. This ‘ultimate edition’ is of especial interest for including the film’s two-colour Technicolor opening sequence. It also comes with the classic shorts Neighbors (1920) and The Balloonatic (1923). Read more.

Now where have I seen that before?
A sixth item for once, and it’s another Kino release, this time a boxed set of some of its silent classics cheekily packaged to look like the poster for for a certain Oscar favourite and entitled The Artists. Full marks to somebody in their marketing team for the sheer nerve of it. Read more.

All these stories and more on our daily news service.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 35

Trailer for the other, not quite so heavily discussed 2011 silent feature film, Silent Life

Well, when we introduced the Bioscope’s Scoop It! news-gathering service for silent film-related subjects, I thought there wouldn’t be the need for our Friday newsreel any more. But such is the quantity of news stories that we are now scopping up, it seems all the more necessary to keep the newsreel going, to note the week’s leading stories, just for the record. So here they are.

The Artist, The Artist, The Artist…
The news-wires have been groaning all week with information on silent films, but it’s been almost all about the one film. The widely-acclaimed The Artist, which recreates the end of the silent filmmaking era as a silent film, has been released in the USA and is delighting critics and audiences alike. It’s even said to be a favourite for the Academy Award next year. Of the many reports on the film, we were especially intrigued by Tom Shone’s essay in Slate, which argues that The Artist, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (eh?) are all part of a trend to bring back the purer values of silent cinema. Read more.

Valentino’s silent life
So are we going to start seeing more silent or pseudo-silent films produced? It doesn’t seem too likely, but the producers of Silent Life must be wondering whether The Artist‘s success is their lucky break or the worst thing that could have happened to them. For it too is a recreation of the silent film made as a silent film, this time telling the story of Rudolph Valentino. It’s a humbly-produced indie, though it does boast Isabella Rossellini in the cast, and there’s a website where you can find out more on its production (including the teaser trailer above). Read more.

And Hugo too
The Artist isn’t quite having things all its own way, news-wise, becuase Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, in part of homage to the early cinema period of Georges Méliès, is likewise enchanting all who see it. Among the many accounts of the film’s production, there’s a useful piece by Kristopher Tapley on HitFix which rounds up Scorsese’s film, the discovery of the colour version of Voyage dans la lune and its restoration, the music score by Air (due for release in extended form as an album), Méliès’s lasting influence, and the centenary of the first film made in Hollywood (which we all missed). Read more.

The art of the film improviser
Enough of all these 21st century attempts to remake the films of another era, let’s turn to 21st century attempts to provide the music for the films of that era. Moving Image Archive News has an interview with Neil (“doyen of silent film pianists”) Brand, which ranges eloquently and informatively over the many different aspects of Neil’s silent film career. As always with Neil, he makes sure you end up learning as much about the films and their contexts as you do about him. Read more.

Return to the Odessa Steps
Finally, courtesy of the tirelessly useful Silent London, we learn the intriguing news that Battleship Potemkin is to be given the flash mob treatment. Tomorrow, 26 November, the iconic Odessa Steps sequence will be recreated on the Duke of York steps next-door to the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. A mixture of actors and volunteers will take part in three recreations, which will be filmed on mobile phones (naturally) for the delectation of posterity. Troops with rifles, panicking people and a pram are all promised. Cinema will never look the same again. Read more.

All these stories and more on our new news service.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 34

http://wedidthis.org.uk

The Bioscope’s occasional news service returns with the usual varied mix of silent films happening here and there which don’t otherwise feature on this blog.

Remembering the Somme
On today, the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year, let us draw your attention to the most notable film of the First World War, The Battle of the Somme (1916). As recently reported, the film is about to go on tour in the UK with orchestral accompaniment, the score written by Laura Rossi. Not many silents get to be toured with an orchestra, and though the orchestras invovled are amateurs, the costs are inevitably high, and should you wish to help support such a bold venure financially then you can do so by visting the ‘crowfunding website WeDidThis. The tour opens in Leicester tomorrow. Read more.

3D Charlie
We reported last year on the plans of an Indian TV company to produce an animated 3D Charlie Chaplin series, but there is news of plans by a Turkish company to attempt 3D conversions of some of Chaplin’s original films to form a 90-minute film entitled Chaplin 3D – The Little Tramp’s Adventure. One’s first reaction is to throw up one’s hands in horror; the next reaction is to hope to have a chance to see just what it might look like. Intriguingly, they have gone to the best sources for their footage: Serge Bromberg and David Shepherd, with Robert Israel signed up to provide the music. The results are reported to be impressive. Hmm, we shall have to see. Read more.

Remembering Kristallnacht
Sunday 13 November will see an unusual example of silent film presentation at Belsize Square Synagogue in London. The Zemel Choir (“The UK’s leading mixed voice Jewish choir”), in commeroation of Kristallnacht, will be presenting a 1936 silent film, Hatikvah, shot by a German-Jewish filmmaker, showing pioneering Jewish settlers in Palestine. Intriguingly, the choral and orchestral accompaniment will in part derive from some of the generic silent film music scores recently unearthed at Birmingham Central Library. It’s an unexpected outcome of that exciting discovery, and one wonders to what other ends those scores might be used in time. Read more.

On Irish screens
There seems to be quite a bit of publishing activity on the Irish silent cinema (and pre-cinema) front at the moment. Hot on the heels of Gary Rhodes’ Emerald Illusions: The Irish in Early American Cinema comes two new books by Kevin Rockett and Emer Rockett, shortly to be published by Fourt Courts Press. Magic lantern, panorama and moving picture shows in Ireland, 1786-1909 covers the history of proto-cinematic experiences in Ireland up to the first film shows, while Film exhibition and distribution in Ireland, 1909-2010, “traces in forensic detail the social, cultural and business practices that comprise the Irish cinema phenomenon”. Read more.

Remembering Barbara Kent
The Bioscope neglected to note the passing last month of Barbara Kent, at the age of 103. Kent was perhaps the last of the headline silent film stars, having played leading roles alongside Garbo and Gilbert in Flesh and the Devil, in William Wyler’s terrific The Shakedown, and in Paul Fejos classic late silent Lonesome. Among the many obituaries, Ronald Bergan’s in The Guardian has perhaps the most detail. Read more.

(And just a little extra item – those of you in the UK, should you by some strange chance finding yourself watching The One Show on Tuesday evening, you will see yours truly talking about film star competition winner and Buster Keaton co-star Margaret Leahy, with the redoubtable Gyles Brandreth.)

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 33

While we continue to compile the Pordenone diaries (which is no light task), here’s the latest edition of our regular newsreel, which today has a special publications theme this time around, noting some of the new books on silent film published recently.

Early cinema today
Early Cinema Today: The Art of Programming and Live Performance, edited by Martin Loiperdinger, published by John Libbeyis the first in a series of studies in early cinema issued by KINtop. KINtop’s publications to date have been predominantly in German, so this marks an interesting and welcome depature. The volume reviews recent work in programming early cinema, from the Crazy Cinématographe shows to Mariann Lewinsky’s A Hundred Years Ago programmes at Bologna. Read more.

Stummfilmdramaturgie
But let’s not overlook German language works. Claus Tieber’s Stummfilmdramaturgie: Erzählweisen des amerikanischen Feature Films 1917-1927, published by LIt Verlag, is a study of modes of narration in American silent cinema 1917-1927, and sets out to challenge accepted notions of classical Hollywood cinema. Read more.

Emerald illusions
Gary D. Rhodes’s Emerald Illusions: The Irish in Early American Cinema, published by Irish Academic Press, is based on his doctoral thesis and provides what he calls the first history of pre-cinema and the Irish in America. So its subject is not Irish film as commonly studied but rather the rich theme of the portrayal of the Irish in American film and pre-film stagings, as he looks back to the magic lantern and the variety stage, and covers non-fiction films as well as fiction. Read more.

Cinema audiences and modernity
Cinema Audiences and Modernity: An Introduction is edited by Daniel Biltereyst, Richard Maltby and Philippe Meers, and published by Routledge. It brings together papers on cinema-going in Europe first given at the 2007 ‘Glow in their Eyes‘ conference. This is the second volume of papers to be published from the conference, the first (by the same editors), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies having been published earlier this year. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 32

Carla Laemmle and Gary Busey, from Hollywood Reporter

Here in the scriptorium at New Bioscope Towers we’re setting the staff to transcribing our scarcely decipherable notes made in the dark (of course) at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, in readiness for the first of our diary reports – we hope not to keep you waiting too long. Meanwhile, other events have been taking place in the world of silent film. These are five of them.

Carla’s second century
Carla Laemmle, niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle, has will be 102 on October 20th, and is not just one of the few silent film performers still alive, but very probably the only one still acting. She appeared as a prima ballerina in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and plays alongsde Gary Busey in the forthcoming feature Mansion of Blood. Read more.

A dog’s life
The silent star of the moment, however, has four legs. Susan Orlean’s cultural history Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend has gained much acclaim and aroused new interest in silent cinema’s leading canine star. The book tells a “powerfully moving story of Rin Tin Tin’s journey from orphaned puppy to movie star and international icon”, telling a history that is as much about American entertainment and society as it is about the dog. Read more.

Silent cinema and the secrets of London
The Daily Telegraph site has a thoughtful article by Neil Brand on his experience of London through the medium of silent film and his music accompaniments, from Siege of Sidney Street newsreels, to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger, to his own orchestral score for Anthony Asquith’s Underground (premiered on October 5th at the Barbican). Read more.

Louis Louis
Louis, Dan Pritzker’s modern silent film on the childhood of Louis Armstrong, with Wynton Marsalis’ jazz score, has its European debut on 13 November, as part of the London Jazz Festival, at the Barbican (again). Marsalis himself won’t be there, but the eight-piece group, led by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, includes saxophonist Wes Anderson, and drummer Herlin Riley. Tickets are now on sale. Read more.

La Parade est passée
One of the quite essential silent film books, Kevin Brownlow’s 1968 The Parade’s Gone By, is to be published in French for the first time. Its translator is Christine Leteux, the knowledgeable soul behind the highly commendable Ann Harding’s Treasures blog. It is to be published by Acte Sud/Institut Lumière on 19 October (according to Amazon.fr). Brownlow himself is a guest of honour at the Lumière 2011 film festival in Lyon this week, marking the publication of his book. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 31

Hello folks- we’re back with the newsreel, mopping some of the latest happenings in silent films for your delectation. And it’s a varied five stories we have for you this time around. Starting off with…

Cohen buys Rohauer
The big story of the week has been the purchase of the Raymond Rohauer Film Collection by the Cohen Media Group. Legendary collector Rohauer, best known for the role he played in reviving Buster Keaton’s reputation, built up a collection of some 700 titles, many of them silents (The Birth of a Nation, Orphans of the Storm, Son of the Sheik etc). The collection has been up for sale for two or three years and much of the online debate has been about just what Cohen think they are getting for the money, when so much of it must be in the public domain and not really a financial goldmine in any case. Read more.

Yet more Photoplay
As regular readers will know, we’ve been documenting the regular onrush of digitised silent film journals that have been appearing online over the past year or so. One of the leading providers has been Bruce Long, who runs the Taylorology site (as in William Desmond Taylor, silent film director and murder victim). He has just added nine further issues of Photoplay for 1915-16 to the Internet Archive. By my calculation that makes 2 monthly issues from 1914, 15 monthly issues from 1915-16, and 8 volumes, each covering six months of the journal 1925-30 that are freely available to all online. Read more.

Who’s looking at you?
Cultures of Surveillance is an interdisplinary conference covering all aspects of surveillance, from today’s CCTV to the ways surveillance practices intersect with visual technologies and histories of culture. Waving the flag for silent film will be keynote speaker Tom Gunning, who paper is entitled “Screening out the Visible: Identity and Representation in the Early 20th-Century Detective Genre”. The conference takes place 29 September-1 October at University College London. Read more.

Film museum for India
The Indian government has announced that, to mark the centenary of Indian film, it plans to open the country`s first film musuem by 2013. 1913 saw the release of India’s first feature film Raja Harishchandra, directed by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, whose story we have covered before now. The museum is being built in Mumbai, and, as one press report pertinently puts it, “the museum will be a window to India`s ever-expanding soft power, cinema”. Read more.

Madonna in lousy silent film spoof shock
Do you need to know this? Apparently while a small part of the world has been concerned by news of Libya, financial crisis and rogue traders, the greater part has been agog at the news that Madonna does not like hydrangeas. I don’t know how or why, I’m not interested to know how or why, but such was the world’s rage at this instance of selective anthophobia that it led to Madonna producing a mock apology in the form of a silent film. As one would expect from such a rubbish film director it’s a rubbish silent film. She doesn’t even know how intertitles work. But it exists. Read more.

‘Til next time!