A new claim

Another item from the Origins of Cinema in Asia conference, which took place in New Delhi last month. Stephen Bottomore wrote a short piece for the festival news letter, with a claim for what may well be the first exhibition of film to have taken place in India. Here’s his report:

Over the past twenty years I have been researching aspects of early cinema in libraries and archives in the UK and elsewhere. In preparation for the ‘Origins of Cinema in Asia’ conference, which took place over the past two days, I had a rummage through my unsorted material, and rediscovered an especially interesting article from the Journal of the Photographic Society of India of July 1896. In this article the editor tells us that, while projected cinema shows were by then an established fact, he had seen moving pictures of a different kind in India some months earlier:

‘I had an opportunity last cold weather of viewing Edison’s kinetescope [sic] in Calcutta. It was certainly extraordinary… But the pictures were too small, and the duration of the scene too short, to altogether satisfy me. Looking down through an object glass into a breast-high box one was first conscious of a whirring sound, then a sparking light, and presently a picture about 2” square appeared […] The scene was stirring enough in all conscience, and I gathered that it took a continuous chain or band of 1,400 celluloid positives to represent it. This band ran under an illuminated screen below which was an electric lamp – and to bring out the scene required a special camera invented by Edison.’ [He describes the film that he saw: a staged incident of a rescue of people from a fire.]

Although the writer does not mention the date when he saw this film in the peepshow Kinetoscope, he does state that it was, ‘last cold weather’, which would suggest the months at the turn of 1895 to 1896. Let us recall that the first film projection took place in India on 7 July 1896 at Watson’s Hotel in Bombay – indeed, this was the first film projection in Asia we believe. So this writer’s viewing of the Kinetoscope pre-dates India’s first film projection by several months, and therefore this is apparently the first appearance of moving pictures in India, and perhaps in Asia as a whole. (Although the Kinetoscope was seen in America, Europe and Australia in 1895, in Asia, apart from India, it was only introduced from later in 1896 – in Japan and Singapore).

Perhaps my historian colleagues in India – tireless researchers such as P.K. Nair – might already know about this appearance of the Kinetoscope in India in the winter of 1895/96. All I can say is that I have never seen this ‘first’ appearance mentioned in print histories of Indian cinema. And this suggests to me that many other important facts about early cinema in this region might remain undiscovered.

There is still much terra incognita when it comes to early film history, and still much to be learned about the dissemination of films and the means to exhibit them across the globe in the 1890s. The first film entrepreneurs saw the reach of their product in global terms – we as scholars should do so too. Certainly it would seem more work needs to be done to track the worldwide spread of the Edison Kinetoscope, to understand it as an international business phenomenon, and to pursue its many paths of influence.

The Silent Treatment

The Silent Treatment

The Silent Treatment is an online newsletter isued in PDF format with news on silent cinema. Vol. 1 issue 3 is out now, for the August/September period, and includes news on screenings, festivals and discoveries, as well as reviews and other small items. Some stories you’ll have read in The Bioscope, many others are new, and each helpfully has its source cited. There’s no website for the four-page newsletter, which is a two-person operation, though one is planned. If you are interested in subscribing (it’s free), e-mail the editors at: tstnews – at – yahoo.com.

Update (March 2008):
There is now a website for The Silent Treatment, though to obtain the PDFs you still have to email them to join the subscription list.

Robin Hood and Der Rosenkavalier

News of two UK screenings coming which are worth nothing.

Robin Hood

Firstly, 7 October 2007 sees a screening of the Douglas Fairbanks classic Robin Hood (1922) at the Royal Centre, Nottingham. The score is by John Scott, who also conducts the Nottingham Philharmonic Orchestra. Here’s some of the blurb from the Royal Centre site:

If you’ve never seen a Silver Screen Silent Classic before then now’s your chance to sit back and enjoy this home-grown tale played to a new original orchestral score by the legendary John Scott. If you have then you’ll know just what a treat you are in for with this exciting evening out.

Robin Hood (1922) was the first motion picture ever to make a Hollywood premiere, and starred a swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks in the title role. This epic adventure was based on the legendary tale of Nottingham’s greatest Medieval hero, and was the first production to present many of the elements of the legend that have become familiar to movie audiences in later versions. One of the most expensive movies of the 1920s, an entire 12th century village of Nottingham was constructed. Telling the classic story of Robin and his band of Outlaws, Fairbanks is an acrobatic champion of the oppressed, setting things right through swashbuckling feats and makes life miserable for Prince John and his cohorts, Sir Guy Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham and good ultimately triumphs over evil.

For over 30 years John Scott has established himself as one of the finest composers for film having scored over 60 films winning three Emmy Awards and numerous industry recognitions of his work. His major film credits include Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan, Charlton Heston’s Antony and Cleopatra, The Deceivers with Pierce Brosnan, King Kong 2,The Long Duel with Yul Brynner, Shoot To Kill with Sidney Poitier and the Jacques Cousteau Re-Discovery Of The World TV series.

Der Rosenkavalier

Next, a little further away, but already being advertised and something of a hot ticket, there’s Der Rosenkavalier (1926), at the Royal Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, with Richard Strauss’ music, performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, conducted by Frank Stroebel. The screening takes place 14 June 2008. The film, directed by Robert Weine is something quite unusual among silent films, as the blurb explains:

However well you know Richard Strauss’s opera Der Rosenkavalier, or even if you don’t know it at all, this will surprise and delight you. It’s not a film of the opera but music with pictures, an independent silent cinematic version made in 1926 by the pioneering director Robert Wiene (best-known for the ground-breaking The Cabinet of Dr Caligari). The scenario of Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose) was written by Hofmannsthal, the opera’s librettist, and includes new scenes and flashbacks, with a major role for the Marschallin’s husband, unseen in the opera. The music, played by a live orchestra, was arranged by Strauss with additional material, some newly composed. Masterminded by Frank Strobel, artistic director of European Film Philharmonic Berlin and a specialist in arranging and conducting music for silent films, this newly restored print with reconstructed final reel comes to Liverpool for the British premiere of this entertaining and fascinating rediscovery, a unique event in the history of film and opera.

More details from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic site.

Broken Blossoms

This has already got a mention in the comments to the post on the upcoming Lillian Gish Film Festival, but it’s well worth highlighting. It’s an extract from D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms (1919) with a radical score from Brian Traylor, which featured at the festival. The use of electronica, noise, and the absence of anything melodic might prove to be a bit of a challenge over a period of time, but I find something quite hypnotic about it in this extract form at least. Others may beg to differ?

There are two other clips posted by Traylor on YouTube:

Swirling noises represent the assorted miserable options in life available to Lillian Gish.

Look out here for the electronic growls representing Donald Crisp’s speech.

Slapstick Blog-a-Thon


The Film of the Year blog has announced a Slapstick Blog-a-Thon for 7-10 September. A blog-a-thon, as I understand it, is where one blogger starts off a topic and as many bloggers who want to chime in on the same theme. And here the theme is slapstick – but let Film of the Year‘s Thom Ryan explain what’s going on:

Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton! Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Mabel Normand! Hal Roach and Mack Sennett! Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges! Daffy and Donald! Slip-and-fall and the ol’ pie-in-the-face! The Cook (1918), The General (1927), The Gold Rush (1925), Safety Last (1923)… Possibly no other genre gives us more reasons to bust a gut or split our sides with laughter than slipping, tripping, and gripping slapstick. Recent discussions convinced me that there’s a huge pile of slap-films that I need to see. Then I thought, why keep ’em all to myself? So, I’m inviting the entire blogosphere to join together September 7-10 and let the world know why slapstick is so flippin’ funny!

Here’s how it works:

1) Leave a comment or e-mail me if you’d like to join the blog-a-thon.

2) On September 7-10 post something slapstick related on your blog. Then leave a comment here or e-mail me that you’ve posted and I’ll link to all of the posts from here.

3) Read each other’s posts, share comments, and have fun!

Film of the Year is well worth checking out for itself. It’s a week-by-week chronological survey through the history of cinema 1895-2009, with one film chosen to represent each year. The assessments are engaging, discursive and knowledgeable, and it’s just a really good idea for a blog (it’ll take him two years to complete, hence the 2009 end date).

Anyway, find out more about the Slapstick Blog-a-Thon from Film of the Year, which supplies these suggestions for possible themes:

Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Charley Chase, Dangerous Stunts, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Harold Lloyd, How/Why does it make us laugh?, Max Davidson, The Three Stooges, Slapstick awards, Joe E. Brown, Fay Tincher, W.C. Fields, History and slapstick, Leo McCarey, The art of pie throwing, Jerry Lewis, John Bunny, Our Gang, Origin of the word, Monty Banks, Seltzer bottles, Mel Brooks, Max Linder, Slapstick and violence, Snub Pollard, Slapstick style, Harry Langdon, Ben Turpin, Avant-garde slapstick, André Deed, Things fall apart, Hal Roach, Mack Sennett, The Keystone Company, Make your own slapstick short, The Keystone Kops, Slapstick Animation, Stan Laurel, slapstick and dance, Oliver Hardy, Abbott and Costello, The Marx Brothers…

The Bioscope will be contributing something.

Glowing brighter

The conference “The Glow in their Eyes.” Global perspectives on film cultures, film exhibition and cinemagoing, previously reported on, has now extended itself and moved. It will now run over three days, 14-16 December, and will be in Ghent, not Brussels. This is due to the overwhelming number of contributions they have received (the call for papers has now closed). Film exhibition is very much where it’s at in film studies these days (or, at least it’s where where it ought to be), for early film and generally. More details from what is clearly shaping up to be a major event from the conference web site. As the organisers have just said to me in an e-mail, “this might become a hot conference”. I’m sure it will.

Le Bioscope

Le Bioscope

From time to time I pursue the etymology and the many uses of the word ‘bioscope’. So, let us journey to Ungersheim, Alsace, France, where you will find Le Bioscope. This is an environmental ‘leisure and discovery’ park, the intention of which is ‘to educate people to take responsibility for their own actions with respect to equilibrium with the environment’. As can be seen from the picture, it is organised in concentric circles, evoking the shockwaves caused by a meteorite which fell nearby in 1492. It is very much a ‘view of life’ (to cite the original meaning of bioscope), with the bio emphasising the biosphere, human biology, and the general interaction between Man and the world around him. It does have a cinema – Le Biorama. And for children there are lots of dinosaurs. It opened in June 2006.

Lost and Found no. 1 – Joseph Joye

I wrote a couple of days ago on the Michell and Kenyon film collection of Edwardian actualities, and asked whether such an extraordinary film collection would ever turn up again. Well, not yet, but despite time marching on and nitrate film inevitably decaying, remarkable early film collections do still turn up. While we’re waiting, I’m going to start up a mini-series on previous amazing collections, which should make us hopeful of future such discoveries. To start with, the heartening story of the Abbé Joye…

Joseph Joye

Joseph Joye (1852-1919) was a Swiss Jesuit priest who decided, around 1902-03, to start educating the children in his charge with motion pictures. Like quite a number of clerics around the world, he made the leap from showing scenes on the magic lantern to capturing his young audience’s attention with films. What made Joye different was the scale of his endeavour. He built up a collection of many hundreds of films over the period 1905-1914, purchasing prints on the second-hand market in the German-speaking quarter of Switzerland. It is said that in some cases he smuggled prints across the German-Swiss border by hiding the cans under the folds of his cassock. All were shown to his child and adult audiences, and then retained at his Basle school.

Joye was omnivorous in his tastes, collecting comedies, melodramas, classical adaptations, travelogues, actualities, trick films, histories, science films, fairy tales, industrials, coloured films: the whole rich panoply of early cinema production. His collection remained at the school, until it was discovered by a British filmmaker, David Mingay, in 1975. It was taken in by the National Film Archive in London, which had the best facilities for tackling such a huge collection of nitrate film, in 1976. The collection of 1,200 prints (all with German titles) was eventually restored and extensively catalogued in its entirety, a task completed in the mid-1990s. It was also lovingly researched by Swiss academic Roland Cosandey, who published the book Welcome Home, Joye! Film un 1910 in 1993 (if you find a copy, I took all the frame stills).

Ah! Da fleigt ein Aeroplan

(Ah!… Da fleight ein Aeroplan, a 1910 Gaumont comedy about people’s amazement at seeing aeroplanes, from the Joye collection)

It is one of the richest collections of early films in the world, renowned among the early film studies community but little known outside it. The collection is full of unique gems. Among the star titles are Victor Sjöström’s Havsgamar (Sea Vultures) (1915) and Ranch Life in the Great South-West (1910), which features the first screen appearance of Tom Mix. There is the awe-inspiring S.S. Olympic (1910), a Kineto film about the making of the sister ship to the Titanic (much used in TV documentaries) and L’Inquisition, a surprisingly graphic Pathé film on the Spanish Inquisition, which makes you wonder what was going on in Joye’s mind when he purchased it. There are ravishingly beautiful stencil colour films, and many travel films from around the world providing rare glimpses of peoples probably never filmed before. It is thematically rich in so many ways. And no DVD has ever been published, no catalogue (all of the shotlists can be found on the BFI’s database, though no search will find you all of the Joye titles in one go), no BBC4 television series…

If the BFI is looking for another ‘lost’ film collection to promote to the world, it has one sitting on its shelves.

Pordenone update

More programme information has been published on Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, or the Pordenone Silent Film Festival as it is also known. The festival takes place at Pordenone, Italy, 6-13 October, returning to Pordenone itself after a period of some years in exile at nearby Sacile, and housed in the new Teatro Verdi.

The outline programme was the subject of another post. Now we have more details on some aspects of the programme.

The Griffith Project, now in its eleventh year, moves on iin its chronological survey of D.W. Griffith’s suriviving film output to the years 1921-1924:

  • DREAM STREET (D.W. Griffith, Inc., US 1921)
  • ORPHANS OF THE STORM (D.W. Griffith, Inc., US 1921)
  • ONE EXCITING NIGHT (D.W. Griffith, Inc., US 1922)
  • THE WHITE ROSE (D.W. Griffith, Inc., US 1923)
  • AMERICA (D.W. Griffith, Inc., US 1924)
  • ISN’T LIFE WONDERFUL (D.W. Griffith, Inc., US 1924)

Then there is the Corrick Collection from Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive. This is a collection of early films originally exhibited around the Pacific and Southern Asia by the Corrick family, touring entertainers from New Zealand.

  • [STREET SCENES IN PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA] (Leonard Corrick, Australia, 9 March 1907)
  • THE MAGICAL PRESS (Charles Urban Trading Co., GB 1907)
  • CHASSE AU PAPILLON (Butterfly Catching) (Pathé, FR 1906)
  • FIRE! (Williamson Kinematograph Co., GB 1901)
  • LA POUDRE ANTINEURESTHÉNIQUE (The Anti-Irritability Powder) (Pathé, FR 1909)
  • LA RUCHE MERVEILLEUSE (The Wonderful Bee-Hive) (Pathé, FR 1905)
  • NAVAL ATTACK AT PORTSMOUTH (Charles Urban Trading Co., GB 1907)
  • AN INDIAN’S GRATITUDE (La Gratitude du chef indien) (Pathé, US 1911)
  • MONSIEUR QUI A MANGÉ DU TAUREAU (The Man-Bull Fight) (Gaumont, FR 1907)
  • WHEN THE WIFE’S AWAY (R.W. Paul, GB 1905)
  • CRETINETTI LOTTATORE (Foolshead’s Wrestling) (Itala Film, IT 1909)

Believe me, it’ll be worth travelling any distance to Italy just to see Urban’s NAVAL ATTACK AT PORTSMOUTH, companion piece to the thrillingly dynamic TORPEDO ATTACK ON H.M.S. DREADNOUGHT, which is held in the BFI National Archive.

There will also be a selection of titles from the National Film Preservation Fund’s Treasures III DVD, already trailed on The Bioscope, a René Clair retrospective, and a programme of sponsored films curated by Rick Prelinger, with these titles:

  • ADMIRAL CIGARETTE (Edison Manufacturing Co., US 1897)
  • AN AMERICAN IN THE MAKING (Thanhouser Co., per/for United States Steel Corp., US 1913)
  • UNHOOKING THE HOOKWORM (Coronet Pictures, per/for International Health Board of the Rockefeller Foundation, US 1920)
  • BEHIND THE SCENES AT HUTZLER’S (Stark Films, per/for Hutzler’s, US 1938)
  • MASTER HANDS (Jam Handy Organization, per/for Chevrolet Motor Company, US 1936)

That’s how it was with silent films – it wan’t just the glamour, you had people trying to deal with hookworm too.

So, all this and much much more. Full programme details here.

Worldwide montage


Now here’s an extraordinary thing. Video artist Perry Bard is planning a remake of Dziga Vertov’s classic avant garde documentary Man with a Movie Camera, and is inviting the world to join in.

Her plan is to use the web to archive, sequence and deliver submissions for a remake of the 1929 film, which will then be exhibited on the Big Screen Manchester (a BBC initiative to bring big screen pictures to city squares) UK on 11 October 2007, with more public venues visited throughout the UK through 2008.

The project website, http://dziga.perrybard.net, has a scene index with every shot of Vertov’s film recorded in thumbnails and logged in seconds and number of frames. Would-be Vertov’s of today can upload their footage (or still images, or even text), which does not have to match the original shot but should come close to it in length – it’s the rhythmic patterning that counts. Presumably it’s meant to be one shot contributed per person.

Goodness what the results will be like (or how she will select what’s sent, or even how many different potential versions might emerge), but it’s an amazing idea, and certainly has something of the spirit of Vertov’s radical work about it. Here’s the artist’s explanation of how her work connects with that of Vertov:

Vertov’s 1929 film Man With A Movie Camera records the progression of one full day synthesizing footage shot in Moscow, Riga, and Kiev. The film begins with titles that declare it “an experiment in the cinematic communication of visible events without the aid of intertitles, without the aid of a scenario, without the aid of theater.” It is often described as an urban documentary yet the subject of the film is also the film itself – from the role of the cameraman to that of the editor to its projection in a theatre and the response of the audience. It is a film within a film made with a range of inventive effects – dissolves, split screen, slow motion, freeze frame – all of which are now embedded in digital editing software … When the work streams your contribution becomes part of a worldwide montage, in Vertov’s terms the “decoding of life as it is”.

The project site also has the the entire film to view (via Google Video). Uploading starts in August.

Whatever next?