Parlons cinéma

Maurice Gianati speaking on Alice Guy at the Cinémathèque Française

How’s your French? Regular Bioscopist Frank Kessler has kind sent me a listing of video on silent cinema and pre-cinema subjects which are available on the Cinémathèque Française website as part of its ‘Parlons cinéma‘ series. This is a series of videos (all in French) recording talks, conferences, debates, interviews and such like held at the Cinémathèque. They are knowledgeable and well-presented, with clips and PowerPoint slides interspersed among the talking heads.

This is list of some of the talks that fall within our area, covering such subjects as the Phantasmagoria, Alice Guy, Emile Reynaud, the phonograph in France, and introductions to Sergei Eisenstein and Laurel and Hardy:

From the little I’ve sampled, these are people who take their cinema seriously, and who can say that they’ve really tried cinema until they’ve tried it in French?

Aller explorer.

Out of the vaults

Bela Lugosi and Alma Rubens in The Rejected Woman (1924)

George Eastman House has announced an online cinematheque. As the American film archive puts it, “Since we cannot screen everything in our Dryden Theatre, we have mined our vaults for favorite hidden treasures to showcase online”. The initiative has started out with 59 films, most of them silent, with the promise of more films to come.

The initiative is highly welcome, though the presentation is a little disappointing. There is no simple listing of the titles available; instead the front page displays thumbnail images of the main titles (where these exist), with the user have to hold their mouse pointer over the image to discover the title and date. Clicking on any one image gives you the video itself, a short description, the year of release and basic technical details. There are no cast and productions credits (unless mentioned in the description), and no country of production given. The video player (Flash) works well enough, though image quality isn’t always too great at full screen. All of the films come with a rather prominent George Eastman House onscreen graphic in the bottom right-hand corner.

But enough of such cavils. It is a fascinating selection of oddities, rarities and some classics, of which these are some of the highlights the Bioscope has spotted from among the silents. Do note that all of the silent films are presented without musical accompaniment.

  • Colonel Heeza Liar on the the Jump (USA 1917)
    Animation by John Randoph Bray, one of a long-running series feature the adventurous, braggart Colonel.
  • Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (Germany 1919)
    The first film made by German silhouette animator Lotte Reiniger, a delightful piece dance-like piece with two lovers whose title translates as “The Ornament of a Loving Heart”.
  • The Stolen Voice (USA 1915)
    Short feature film (44mins) with fascinating theatrical background details, directed by Frank H. Crane and produced by William Brady. It stars Robert Warwick as an opera singer who mysteriously loses his voice.
  • Beasts of the Jungle (USA 1913)
    Stagey drama set in India and Africa, with much use of wild animals (elephants, tigers, lions), directed by Alice Guy-Blaché from her American period, starring Vinnie Burns.
  • The Copperhead (USA 1920)
    Handsomely-presented feature film based on a Civil War-themed drama, with Lionel Barrymore repeating his great success in the 1918 stage version.
  • Huckleberry Finn (USA 1920)
    The only silent version of Mark Twain’s novel, directed by William Desmond Taylor and starring Lewis Sargent as Huck.
  • A Movie Trip through Film Land (USA 1921)
    Animation and live action film on the film production process, photographed by Joseph De Frenes, rich in facts and figures, absorbing in its display of the technical processes.
  • Thais (Italy 1917)
    Experimental work with bold visual invention by Futurist filmmaker Anton Giulio Bragaglia. As the GEH notes put it, the film displays “a sometimes dizzying and illusory world in which the characters (and the audience) may find it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction”.
  • The Camera Cure (USA 1917)
    Keystone slapstick comedy directed by Herman C. Raymaker, starring Maude Wayne and Malcolm St. Clair.
  • Les Fromages Automobiles (France 1907)
    Also known as The Skipping Cheeses, this is an interesting example of how George Méliès lost his way in his later years as a filmmaker, as the cheeses in question are hardly visible and the human characters are too far away from the camera for the comedy to work.

Mae Murray in Kodachrome Test Shots (1922)

  • Danse Macabre (USA 1922)
    Intriguing combination of ballet, animation and ghostly superimpositions made by avant garde director Dudley Murphy, with the dancers Adolph Bolm and Ruth Page.
  • Homunculus (Germany 1916)
    Apparently a condensed, feature-length version of the original six-part series, hugely popular in Germany, directed by Otto Rippert, about a scientist who creates an artifical human being, starring Olaf Fønss as Homunculus.
  • Daughters who Pay (USA 1925)
    Feature film starring a pre-Dracula Bela Lugosi as Serge Oumansky, a Communist agent trying to organise terrorist actions against the United States government.
  • The Lost World (USA 1925)
    Cast-iron classic based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel, with pioneering animated dinosaurs created by Willis O’Brien.
  • The Flute of Krishna (USA 1926)
    Kodachrome colour film chreographed by Martha Graham and produced by Rouben Mamoulian. According to the GEH notes, “The Flute of Krishna is the only surviving record of Graham’s choreography, as dance notation had not been invented when the piece was created”.
  • The Rejected Woman (USA 1924)
    Another fascinating glimpse of the pre-vampiric Bela Lugosi, in an interesting melodrama filmed in Montreal and New York, also starring Alma Rubens and Conrad Nagel, and directed by Albert Parker.
  • The Confederate Ironclad (USA 1912)
    Kalem Civil War drama, Guy Coombs and Anna Q. Nilsson.
  • Kodachrome test shots (USA 1922)
    Two-colour Kodachrome film tests, featuring Hope Hampton, Mary Eaton and Mae Murray.
  • Out of the Fog (USA 1922)
    An odd comedy filmed by Harris Tuttle, one of the development team that produced 16mm film stock for Eastman. The film, which satirising the adventures of the team itself, is thought to be “the earliest surviving, formally produced 16mm motion picture”.
  • The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (USA 1916)
    Feature film version of the novel and hit play set in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, directed by Cecil B. De Mille and starring Charlotte Walker and Thomas Meighan.
  • Gown of Destiny (USA 1917)
    Curious Triangle Film Corporation production about a French dress designer who creates a special gown that makes whoever wears so alluring that their husbands or suitors extend themselves in one way or another that ending up helping the French war effort.

There are more titles than this, including sound films of course (e.g the Technicolor 1937 feature Nothing Sacred and a delirious 1963 treat, Wayne D. Sourbeer’s How to Play Pinball). We’ll keep an eye out for more silent film treats. Anyway, some real treasures to explore, and many thanks to George Eastman House for having made them available to us all.

Museu del Cinema

Giant film cans (floor to ceiling) at the entrance to the Museu del Cinema, Girona, Spain

I’m back from my sojourn at the Origins of News in Early Cinema seminar in Girona, some thoughts on which will follow in due course. While I was there, I visited the town’s Museu del Cinema. It’s an excellent place in every degree, and worth a short description here to encourage you to visit should you ever think of being that sunny corner of the world (which I can warmly recommend in any case).

For some, the history of the motion picture begins with Edison or the Lumière Cinématographe. For others, that’s more or less where it ends. The delight is in pursuing the history of the projected image and the recreation of motion by their various routes from antiquity through to the late nineteenth century, when these innovations finally coalesced into the phenomenon that is cinema. Thereafter what we have is a playing out of principles confirmed by 1896. The period before is usually, if not uncontentiously, described as pre-cinema, and pre-cinema is the primary subject of the Museu del Cinema.

Late eighteenth century Catalonian peepshow in the Museu del Cinema

The Museum’s core collection was amassed by amateur filmmaker and collector Tomàs Mallol, who was inspired by C.W. Ceram’s famous book The Archaeology of the Cinema to concentrate on objects that documented cinema’s antecedents. The collection of some 20,000 objects comprises 8,000 museum objects, apparatuses and pre-cinematographic and early cinema accessories, 10,000 images documents (photographs, posters, prints, drawings and paintings), 800 films of all types and a library of over 700 books and magazines. Much of it was apparently acquired from Paris flea markets in the 1960s, when such objects (now worth thousands) were unwanted discards. It was purchased by the Girona authorities in 1994.

The museum is arranged on four floors. You begin by sitting through a six-minute three-screen video projection on the history of the human desire to place moving images on a screen. You then take a lift to the top floor and work your way downwards. The collection is in ten sections:

1. Shadow Projections
2. Mirrors and anamorphosis
3. Magic lantern
4. Capturing images
5. The moving image
6. The race to cinematography
7. The cinema arrives
8. The tools of the cinema
9. Amateur cinema
10. Children’s cinema

What you will see are shadow theatres, camera obscuras, anamorphic projection devices, magic lanterns, lantern slides, peepshows, optical toys and devices, stereoscopes, optical boxes, Chromatropes, Thaumatropes, Zoetropes, photographic equipment, Daguerrotypes, Calotypes, flick card devices, a rare projecting Praxinoscope, Mutoscopes, a reproduction Kinetoscope, early motion picture cameras and projectors, toy lanterns and cinematographic devices, and then a quick rush through the remainder of motion picture history, including a side-step into television (a 1930s Baird televisor) and an interesting foray into cinematographic toys for children.

Display of magic lanterns

It’s a museum of the traditional sort, in that it predominantly consists of objects behind glass, though there are plenty of optical devices to peer through, working models of assorted ‘tropes and ‘scopes, and video projections of Edison, Lumière and Méliès films. What makes it special is how it documents the great human urge to see the essence of life recaptured. Since the mid-seventeenth century, when the magic lantern was devised (arguably), or as far back as pre-history if you want to think of the magical powers that were invested in pictures drawn on the walls of caves, we have thrilled to our world and ourselves reflected on a screen. The instruments devised to satisfy this need have been various, ingenious and often beautiful. In sum they show that cinema answered a powerful human need, and indeed that everything since 1896, be it cinema, television, the VCR or YouTube, is a continuation of that expression. Those later developments don’t need to be in the museum – it is the opening of the eye, not what the eye then saw, that matters.

The Museu del Cinema is one of just a handful of cinema museums in Europe. Others include the Museum of PreCinema in Padua, Italy; the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin; the Musée de la Cinémathèque of the Cinémathèque Française in Paris, France; the National Media Museum in Bradford, UK; the Bill Douglas Centre at the University of Exter; and the private Cinema Museum in London. The Museu del Cinema itself has a useful tri-lingual website (Catalan, Spanish and English), with a tour of the museum through many illustrated objects, and background information including a listing of cinema and pre-cinema museums and collections throughout the world.

A set of photographs of exhibits in the Museu del Cinema can be seen on the Bioscope’s Flickr site.

Welcome to the machine

Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Hilversum

There are times – usually in the daylight hours – when your scribe turns his attention away from silent films and earns his daily crust working as the moving image curator at a well-known national library. As such I get involved in broader matters to do with the study, care and availability of the medium, and it was with this particular hat on that I attended Screening the Future 2011: New Strategies and Challenges in Audiovisual Archiving, held this week in Hilversum, the Netherlands.

Did it have anything to do with silent films? Well, yes, in the general sense of planning for the future care of the moving image heritage. And there were issues raised, and matters to contemplate, which I think would be worth sharing. So here goes.

The event was organised by PrestoPrime and PrestoCentre, interlinked projects funded by the European Union as part of a decade-long programme looking at how film and broadcast archives should plan for the future by sharing knowledge of best practice. In particular the aim is to prepare these archives for the inevitable digital future. The conference was held at the architecturally stunning Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (Beeld en Geluid), located in Hilversum’s Media Park – the archive of Dutch television and radio located next door to its main broadcasters and producers.

Film vaults at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision

The conference was clearly popular, as they could have sold twice the number of tickets that they did. Attendees were split roughly 50/50 into archivists looking for the best way to manage their holdings, and vendors anxious to sell them the products and services to enable them to do so. There were some starry speakers: Antoine Aubert from Google; Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle; film preservationist Jim Lindner of Media Matters; James Snyder, Senior Systems Administrator at the at Library of Congress’ National Audio-Visual Conservation Center; BBC Senior Research Engineer Richard Wright; digital video archiving guru Jeff Ubois; Daniel Teruggi, head of France’s Institut National de l’Audiovisuel; and Javier Hernandez Ros, Head of Unit Cultural Heritage and Technology Enhanced Learning at the European Commission.

We were there to discuss such big questions as What are we preserving? How can we fund our future? Where do archives meet IT? How will we keep our archives in good shape? and (painful as it is to write) How can we valorise our archives? A lot of the argument was inspired by a recent report, The New Renaissance, by the EU body Comité des Sages, which was published in January 2011. The report comes with a fascinating appendix, The Cost of Digitising Europe’s Cultural Heritage, prepared by Nick Poole of the Collection Trust. The report looks at the costs of digitising audiovisual collections, including the variables and the scales involved, comparing such costs with other things the EU member states might want to spend their money on. We are told that the total cost of digitising the cultural material in the EU (i.e. libraries, museums, national archives and AV collections) would be €105.31bn, of which AV collections alone would be €4.94bn. We are asked to consider the price of one Joint Strike Fighter (a fighter aircraft), which comes to €147.41m (excluding annual maintenance costs). For that money you could instead be

  • Digitising 1m individual books if the majority of Digitisation is done in-house
  • Digitising 1.67m books if the Digitisation is outsourced
  • Digitising 2.42m books under a Public Private Partnership
  • Digitising 96,789 rare books, manuscripts and incunabula
  • Digitising 29.5m historic photographs
  • Digitising 1.83m man-made artefacts in museums
  • Digitising 2.02m natural artefacts in museums
  • Digitising 36.85m pages of archival records
  • Digitising 2.4m hours of audio material
  • Digitising 0.34m hours of video
  • Digitising 0.09m hours of film

Europe being a peace-loving continent, and moreover a continent generally in favour of state funding, there were many who wanted to divert funds from the air forces to digitising our cultural heritage, so the €100bn figure was much bandied about. Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive was scathing about this, pointing out just how many millions of film, sounds, websites and book titles his organisation has been able to make available for free online for a fraction of the sums being advocated by the Europeans. It all seemed so easy, if you apply Kahle’s ingenious lateral thinking and bold attitude towards copyright laws as presently constituted. The audience at Hilversum was torn between its free spirit aspirations and its dismay at Kahle’s seeming indifference towards rules of ownership that public sector institutions and broadcast archives are bound to observe.

Brewster Kahle taunts the archivists of Europe

Is Kahle a rogue, or a right-minded libertarian? Were his detractors in the audience only seeing the bars of the cage while he sees the gaps in between? That’s for others to debate. Instead, I was interested in the vision of archives that was being to presented to us. In times past, a conference about archives would have touched on the care of film stock, film handling skills, cultural priorities, aesthetics, and so on. We understood that we were talking about a craft, as well as all the economics and politics. But in Hilversum we heard speaker after speaker talk about project plans, workflows, metadata, file formats, wrappers, bit rot, master files and proxies, scalability, checksums, fixity checks, terabytes, petabytes (1,000 terabytes) and exabytes (1,000 petabytes). It was all about feeding the machine, the machine that the audiovisual archiving world is turning into as we put in analogue on a mass scale at one end and spit out digital files at the other. James Snyder from the Library of Congress told us that, in the future, we would have to eliminate humans from the process as much as possible (humans create errors), adding that

We are the last generation to have worked with analogue in the production environment. The next will have to be taught.

Gradually the pieces of the audiovisual archiving puzzle are coming together. You have the object to be digitised, the metadata standardised, the workflows agreed, the file formats accepted, the systems built, the processes understood and agreed internationally. And if you don’t spend all your money on jet fighters, you may even to be able to pay for it.

The future of film archiving is rows and rows of servers, nurturing digital files forever. Once you have digitised, that’s not the end of it. New formats and standards keep on coming in, and you have to migrate what you have digitised on a regular basis to ensure you’re not losing anything, maybe every 5-7 years re-digitising from your master files, so the machine will keep churning away, into infinity.

The love of the medium will be gone. The physical sense of the medium will vanish. Archivists will no longer be craftsmen or women, they will be process managers. Arguments in favour of supporting moving image preservation (which will be a never-ending procedure) will be harder to make to politicians and funders, because there will be nothing with any romance to show them, except those rows and rows of whirring machines – and what can be shown on the screen itself. We’ll still have that. And access will be sensational. We’ll have everything available one day: every extant silent, every feature film, every TV programme imaginable, every YouTube video, all probably accessible at the touch of a icon on your smartphone. But the medium itself, and the archive profession that exists to preserve its value for the future, will have lost not a little of its soul. I guess it’s the price we pay for finally coming up with the perfect archive.

Inside the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, from

Update: Videos of the entire conference are now available from the PrestoCentre website. Brewster Kahle’s presentation is on the 14 March video (go to 3 hours 15 minutes into the video). James Snyder’s presentation is on the 15 March video, at the beginning.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 16

Raymond Griffith: A Physiognomic Appreciation
David Cairns has been writing about comedian Raymond Griffith, “the most shamefully neglected performer in Hollywood history”, both on his Shadowplay blog and and his regular ‘The Forgotten’ column for the online cinematheque site MUBI. Read more (and more here).

Master of mise-en-scène
The Wall Street Journal writes in praise of Joseph Von Sternberg and the recent Criterion three-DVD set of his silent films Underworld, The Last Command and The Docks of New York. “With pristine prints and the welcome addition of Robert Israel’s newly composed but historically informed scores, film lovers can savor the work of a great director unhindered by expressive constraints”. Read more.

San Francisco 1906 in colour
Not colour film, unfortunately, but colour images taken by inventor Frederic Ives in 1906 of the city after the earthquake have been discovered by the Smithsonian Institution (actually a year ago, but the Internet is such a slow communicator of information at times). The Bioscope has previously written about the Kromskop, which helped inspire British inventors Edward Turner and G.A. Smith working on the first colour cinematography systems. Read more.

Dovzhenko on DVD
David Parkinson at the Oxford Times enthuses eloquently over the DVD releases of Alexander Dovzhenko’s Zvenigora (1928) and Arsenal (1929). “Anyone who considers modern sound cinema to be more sophisticated than the wordless pictures made between 1895-1930 should take a look at Alexander Dovzhenko’s Zvenigora … a dazzling array of artistic theories and screen techniques to explore such diverse topics as Ukrainian mythology, Soviet industrialisation, pacifism, the beauty of the landscape and the arrogance of the European bourgeoisie”. Read more.

Chaplin trouble
The long-promised Charlie Chaplin museum, converted out of the comedian’s home in Vevey, Switzerland, is in trouble. Art Info reports of Chaplin’s World: The Modern Times Museum that “financial difficulties have led to the purchase of the house and its surrounding land by two investors with shady connections, and supporters now wonder whether or not the museum — in planning for ten years — will ever see the light of day”. Read more.

The end of times
Happier Chaplin news from Leonard Maltin, who reports on the dedicated efforts by a group of film buffs and local history enthusiasts at William S. Hart Park in Newhall, California to mark the 75th anniversary of Modern Times, the film that called an end to the American silent film era. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Slides and clippings

Slide announcing the screening of Daughters of the Night (US 1924), which deserves some sort of prize for selling a mundane subject (telephone operator) with a tempting title. From the George Eastman House collection

I’m going to revisit the subjects of a few of the earliest Bioscope posts, way back in 2007 when the reading figures were not high and consequently resources were highlighted which may have been missed by many. Also the writing was more sparse in those days; now we wax lyrical.

So, first up is George Eastman House’s Pre-Cinema Project. GEH has published relatively small samples from its vast photographic collections, as and when it digitises them, presenting them collectively as a ‘digital image sampler’. The Photography Collection Online site, of which Pre-Cinema Project is a part, could not be more plainly presented, but what it lacks in web design it more than makes up for in richness of content.

Slide accompanying the multi-media entertainment The Photo-Drama of Creation (1914), from the George Eastman House collection

The Pre-Cinema Project itself is dedicated to ‘Images of media and devices used before motion picture film’, though in fact there is more there than pre-cinema images. You will find a fine selection of magic lantern images, including photographs of lanterns, magic lantern slides, toy lantern slides, a Muybridge Zoopraxiscope disk, slip slides, paper silhouette slides, and the dauntingly-named megalethoscope slides. There are children’s tales, travelogues, and slides depicting Shakespeare’s plays. But what you wouldn’t know about from the pre-cinema name is the sub-collection of movie-related lantern slides: slides used in film shows, including announcement of forthcoming attractions, song slides, slides from the multimedia Christian show The Photo-drama of Creation, and slides passing on messages to the audience. Unfortunately none comes with any catalogue data, and it doesn’t look like the collection has been added to since 2007.

Early cameras and projectors from the George Eastman House collection

It’s well worth checking other parts of Photography Collection Online for material related to cinema: for instance, lantern slides, stereo views, selected cine cameras and especially Coming Attraction slides – a large collection of slides advertising forthcoming films.

More recently George Eastman House has added a new image licensing section to its site, which has more of interest to us. It makes available images which can be licensed for educational use and scholarly research, publishing, advertising and so on. The ‘thumbnails’ provided are somewhat larger than thumbnails, making this a handy research resource in itself, and among the collections is Turconi Frame Clippings, a collection of two- or three-frame clipping from early films made by the Italian archivist Davide Turconi. They are a mixture of French, Italian and unidentified. As well as being beautiful in their own right, they provide a good opportunity for looking up close at perforations, frame-lines, edge lettering, and so forth.

Frame clippings from Au Pays de l’Or (Pathé 1908)

This is just a small sample from the substantial and important Turconi collection of up to 20,000 clippings covering films 1905-1915, many of them hand-coloured, which is undergoing preservation in a joint programme between George Eastman House, the Cineteca del Friuli, and the Giornate del Cinema Muto. Most come originally from the collection of films collected by Swiss priest Joseph Joye which was discovered by Turconi and is now held by the BFI National Archive. More information on the project can be found here.

Huntley Film Archives

The Way of a Boy (c.1924), a delightful children’s stop-animation film made by Bradbury Productions, one of the treasures to be found in the Huntley Film Archives. I can find nothing about its production. Is it the American film of this title dated 1926 on the IMDb? Does anyone know?

For a while now I’ve been contemplating a post on silent films to be found on YouTube. However each time I attempt it I find myself defeated by the complexities of the copyright and ethical issues involved. Simply put, some silent film content is put there legitimately, some is not, and of the latter some has been put there in good faith, and some has not. Working out which is which is a minefield, and most people don’t much care. But here at the Bioscope we always check the source of a YouTube video and try to determine its true source and ownership. And we never include videos ripped from DVDs or television programmes (with the occasional exceptional of content re-used in mash-ups to form a new work). Those are the house rules.

Another hazard with YouTube is the inaccuracy of descriptions, something particularly prevalent for silent film era content where owners may not know the correct title, date or other identification of the film in their possession. This came home to me recently when I came across the YouTube channel of Huntley Film Archives, though the channel itself is full of riches and Huntley’s is a collection it would be good to tell you about in any case. So here goes.

Huntley Film Archives is a small British commercial film archive with a big reputation. It is a favourite of many a television researcher look for distinctive footage on social history and popular culture, and it is particularly strong in such subjects as entertainment, transport, travelogues, home movies and early films. Countless television programmes have named Huntley Film Archives in their end credits, and it remains an Aladdin’s cave of a collection, time and again coming up with just the right piece of footage that you couldn’t find anywhere else. It was founded in 1984 by the late John Huntley, a one-time acquisitions officer at the National Film Archive, a renowned film historian (Railways in the Cinema, British Film Music, British Technicolor Films) and an outstanding communicator, who gave hundreds upon hundreds of talks, shows, radio and television interviews on film history, always peerlessly entertaining and equipped with an anecdote for every occasion.

Battleship ‘Odin’ with all her Guns in Action (1900), filmed at Kiel by the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company. Spectacularly filmed in 70mm, the impact of this film on a big screen is considerable and must have been overwhelming in 1900

You can find out more about the collection through its online database, though there are no clips apart from a few showreels. But it has now put some 240 videos onto its YouTube channel, and what an extraordinary collection it is, from home movies of the Festival of Britain to modern day celebrity trivia, from Butlin’s holiday camps to Kuwaiti advertising films, and from early computers to a British Film Institute summer school in 1948. What I want to draw attention to here is the silent films, because there are some real treasures available, though some have been misidentified or just not identified at all, a shame since the knowledge about the films often exists (a number are duplicated in the BFI National Archive for instance). Others, however, seem to be mysteries, as demonstrated by The Way of a Boy at the top of the post. Here are some more highlights.

Clog Dancing for the Championship of England (1898), made by Robert W. Paul

This is a delightful Robert Paul film, unique to the Huntley collection. Entitled Clog Dancing for the Championship of England, it shows the contestants in the world clog dancing championship of 1898, held in Bow. It is described in the Paul catalogue thus:

An extremely fine film of the first four competitors in the famous championship clog dancing contest. Each dances separately, and then altogether, finishing with the champion (Mr. Burns) clog dancing on a dinner plate without breaking same.

I’ve not been able to find Mr Burns’ full name [update: he was James G. Burns – see comments], but he and his competitors (Melia, Nixon and what could be Hannant) are helpfully identified on the film by the use of name cards. The film clearly does not depict the actual contest, instead recreating the event complete with the original judges conveniently bunched together to fit in the shot.

Extract from Dr Wise on Influenza (1919), a public health information film and one of the few films made at the time about the Spanish Flu epidemic that survive

This is a British public information film from 1919, made by Joseph Best for the Local Government Board. It is notable for being one of the very few films in existence that document the Spanish Flu epidemic which killed more people worldwide than had died in World War One. The full film is some 800 feet long; this extract shows how the flu germ is spread in public. (The full film is described in detail on the BFI database here).

Extract from The Coronation of King Peter I of Serbia and a Ride through Serbia (1904), the oldest surviving film of Serbia

This remarkable film was made by Yorkshireman Frank Mottershaw, who travelled to Serbia with Arnold Muir Wilson, a lawyer, journalist and Honorary Consul to the Kingdom of Serbia. Mottershaw was commissioned to film the coronation ceremonies of King Peter I of Serbia on 21 September 1904 and general scenes, and the film’s remarkable nature comes simply from being it being the oldest surviving film of Serbia. This sequence from the film shows people in Belgrade at the time of the coronation. The complete film is held by the Jugoslovenska Kinoteka.

The Taming of the Shrew (1923), a little-known example of a silent Shakespeare film, starting Lauderdale Maitland and Dacia Deane

Finally this is a silent Shakespeare film, one that’s hardly ever been seen or written about. It’s The Taming of the Shrew, made in 1923 by the British and Colonial Kinematograph Company, directed by Edwin J. Collins and adapted by Eliot Stannard, who later wrote scenarios for Alfred Hitchcock. Lauderdale Maitland plays Petruchio and Dacia Deane is Katharina. It’s a two-reeler which concentrating on the wooing of Katharina, and though it’s no masterpiece it’s an adequate film of its type, which is a potted guide to literary highlights of a kind that rather appealed to British filmmakers at this time.

And there are more: for example, a Lumière film of 1897 showing a Japanese family at home in 1897 (the film was shot by François-Constant Girel and I believe shows the family of Inabata Katsutaro); a Bonzo the Dog cartoon from 1925, Bonzoby; rare footage of what Huntley’s call a “working class wedding from the 1910s“; and stunning footage of the Wuppertal suspended monorail, filmed I think by the German branch of Biograph, Deutsches Mutoskop und Biograph Gesellschaft, in the late 1890s.

The video clips don’t look great, often they’ve been transferred at the wrong speed, and each comes with timecode and Huntley’s name at the ID number written along the top. But we must be grateful to Huntley’s for making such treasures available to all, in whatever form. It’s just that they glitter all the more once we know what they are, who made them, and when.


Detail from photograph showing Inuit man looking through a film camera in 1929, from the Library and Archives Canada collection

The Canadiana Discovery Portal is a new service (still in beta mode) that aims to be a ‘one-stop-shop’ (the dream of all administrators and information specialists) for seaching Canadian history. It brings together 60 million pages of information from fourteen institutions: Alouette Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Calgary Public Library,, Foreign Affairs & International Trade Canada, Library and Archives Canada, Manitobia, Memorial University Digital Archives Initiative, The National Gallery of Canada, Queen’s University, Scholars Portal/University of Toronto, Simon Fraser University, Toronto Public Library, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, University of Saskatchewan and Vancouver Public Library.

All of these records point to actual digital objects, and on first inspection this looks like the complete digital library for Canada. A second look tells us that this is not quite the case, since some of the those libraries have only provided access to selected items from their digital collections (so Library and Archives Canada has contributed “part of their MIKAN collection, a wide-ranging repository of Canadian images, covering many aspects of Canadian life between 1850 and 1950”). But others have been more comprehensive, and in any case much more content promised in the future. So the result is much like the European Union’s Europeana (recently reviewed by the Bioscope), a portal to digital content accessible on the sites of individual institutions, selectively but handily made available through the one portal. The records on the portal itself are brief, with links taking you to the descriptions and the digial objects themselves on the sites of the contributing organisations.

Children going to Allen Theatre, Edmonton, Alberta in 1922 to see Penrod, from Glenbow Museum

OK, so we know what we’re dealing – now is it any use for researching our subject of silent films? The answer is yes, though the records available so far aren’t quite as extensive as might have been hoped. Searching for our usual test term of ‘kinetoscope’ brings up a measly two results – and that for the same book appearing twice. Trying ‘cinematograph’ yields 36 results, ‘cinema’ gives us 545 (narrowed down to 24 for a date range 1900-1930), ‘motion picture’ provides a more productive 95 (1899-1930 date range). Searches can also be refined by medium and contributor, and sorted by date and relevance.

And yet what you can find there is frequently fascinating, because you are being pointed to such a variety of original documents: books, official papers, photographs, letters, magazine articles, scores, video files and more (mainstream newspapers do not seem to be included). Some quick searches three up a letter from a Canadian soldier based in France in 1917 writing home to his mother to say he is about to see a Chaplin film and The Battle of the Somme; edition no. 1 of of Le panorama: le seul magazine en langue française consacré aux vues animées from 1919; an account of an 1899 screening before 600 doctors in Paris of a film of an abdominal hysterectomy made by Eugène-Louis Doyen, from the journal Maritime Medical News; and a marvellous set of photographs from Glenbow Museum of cinemas in Edmonton in the early 1920s showing how they promoted various films (such as Douglas Fairbanks in The Three Musketeers) (search under ‘motion picture’ and Alouette Canada collection).

Group of cameramen outside the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau, Ottawa, in 1923, from the Libraries and Archives Canada collection

It should be noted that some of the digital resources, particularly books contributed by the University of Toronto, are not accessible to general readers but only to Canadian users from higher education institutions.

Anyway, this is a very helpful route in to some rich Canadian resources. Go explore.

P.S. The Bioscope has previously covered other, film-specific Canadian resources. Here are the links:

Bioscope Newsreel no. 12

People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag)

Killruddery Film Festival
Ireland’s Killruddery Film Festival, with its strong emphasis on silent film, returns 10-13 March 2011 and the programme has just been announced. Highlights include The O’Kalems in Ireland, La Roue, White Shadows in the South Seas, 7th Heaven, Early Masterpieces of the Avant Garde, The Garden of Eden, Regeneration, People on Sunday and Ireland’s Other Silent Film Heritage (the Irish in Early Hollywood), an illustrated lecture by Kevin Brownlow. Read more.

Kansas Silent Film Festival
The annual Kansas Silent Film Festival takes place 25-27 February 2011. Highlights include David Shepard speaking on Chaplin at Keystone, Speedy, Chang, The Circus, The Last Command, A Thief Catcher, 7th Heaven and Wings. Special guest will be Harold lloyd expert Annette D’Agonstino Llloyd. Read more.

Q&A with film scholar Frank Kessler
On Cinespect, there’s a thoughtful interview with Frank Kessler, early film historian, sometime Bioscope contributor, and all round good chap, discussing issues in media historiography and the trick film by way of Christian Metz and Georges Méliès. Read more.

How to be a motion picture director
Dan North’s rather fine Spectacular Attractions blog offers unusual advice from Marshall Neilan in 1925 on how to be a motion picture director. “How should a director act in public?” “Like a nut or like an owl. Both methods have proved successful. By no means act normal”. Read more.

BBC permanent
It hasn’t much to do with silent films, but the BBC’s quiet announcement of a change in the Service Licence for its TV channel BBC4 and radio channels Radio 3 and Radio 4 is highly significant for access to audio-visual archives online. All three will now all have the the ability to offer programming on-demand for an unlimited period after broadcast, instead of the limited period at present. This is the start of something big – the permanent online archive for broadcast content. Keep watching. Read more.

‘Til next time.

Things Australian no. 1: The Marvellous Corricks

Les Fleurs Animées (Pathé, France 1906), from the Corrick Collection in the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

For the past few years those attending the Pordenone silent film festival have been treated to examples from an extraordinary collection of early films held by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. The films are those collected (and in some cases made) by the Corrick Family Entertainers, or The Marvellous Corricks, a performing troupe comprising Albert and Sarah Corrick and their eight children which toured Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia between 1901 and 1914 and which included film in its act.

The Corricks’ show combined song, comedy, dance, lantern slides, poetry readings and film. Some 135 films survive, chiefly titles the family purchased from France, England, the USA and Italy, plus films that they shot themselves, which includes travel footage, a chase comedy (The Bashful Mr Brown) and film of them on tour. The films they purchased are superb in quality, combining fiction and non-fiction, several films with beautiful colouring (around a quarter of the collection is stencil coloured and another quarter tinted and toned). The Corricks clearly had a fine eye for a good film, favouring particular companies (notably Pathé, Charles Urban Trading Company and Edison). Many of the films are unique to the Corrick collection, and include some real cinematic treasures.

The Corricks c.1898: (Front row) Sarah, Ethel, Alice, Elsie, Albert. (Back row) Amy, Ruby, Leonard (the family’s cinematograph expert), Jessie, Gertrude, from the National Film and Sound Archive

As Leslie Anne Lewis writes in her excellent essay ‘The Corrick Collection: A Case Study in Asia-Pacific Itinerant Film Exhibition (1901-1914)’, Albert and Sarah Corrick planned for a musical family, and trained their children in singing, dancing, bell-ringing and playing a wide variety of musical instruments, among them piano, organ, flute, piccolo, cello, violin, saxophone, mandolin and cornet, with the children often proficient in a number of these. They played in concert halls, town halls and the like, stressing the family-friendly wholesome ness of their show, touring all of the Australian territories up to 1907 before going on an international tour. It was during this tour that they picked up many films, though a projector had been part of their act from the beginning. The family’s cinematograph expert was Leonard Corrick, and his film shows were often billed separately as ‘Leonard’s Beautiful Pictures’. Many people in Australia and South-East Asia saw their first films, and their first views of a world outside their home town, from a Corrick family show. It is evidence of how important variety shows were to early film, how film was integrated within such entertainments to be a part of song, dance and showmanship, and how eventually film outstripped itinerant shows such as those of the Corricks and became the show in itself.

The films began the tortuous process of joining the NFSA collection and gradually being properly preserved in 1968, with the definitive work really only being undertaken recently (see Leslie Anne Lewis’ essay for details). Basic information on all of the films can be found on the NFSA catalogue, with much greater details available for those titles shown at Pordenone by browsing the catalogues of past festivals or using the Pordenone festival’s database (which does not include 2010 screenings as yet). For your convenience (because that is the Bioscope’s mission), here is a list of titles that have been identified and screened so far:

  • “AND A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM” (d. D.W. Griffith p.c. Biograph, USA 1909)
  • AU JARDIN ZOOLOGIQUE DE PARIS (p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • A BABY’S SHOE (d. Charles J. Brabin p.c. Edison, USA 1912)
  • BABYLAS VIENT D’HÉRITER D’UNE PANTHÈRE (d. Alfred Machin p.c. Pathé, France 1911)
  • BAIN DE BÉBÉ (p.c. Pathé, France 1904)
  • BASHFUL MR. BROWN (p.c. Corrick, Australia 1907)
  • LA BELLE AU BOIS DORMANT (d. Lucien Nonguet, Ferdinand Zecca p.c. Pathé, France 1902)
  • BETTINA’S SUBSTITUTE; OR, THERE’S NO FOOL LIKE AN OLD FOOL (d. Albert W. Hale p.c. Vitagraph, USA 1912)
  • BICYCLETTE PRÉSENTÉE EN LIBERTÉ (p.c.. Pathé, France 1906)
  • A CANADIAN WINTER CARNIVAL (p.c. Edison, USA 1909)
  • LE CHAPEAU (p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • CHASSE AU PAPILLON (p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • CHASSE AU SANGLIER (p.c. Pathé, France 1904)
  • COIFFES ET COIFFURES (d. Gaston Velle p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • COME CRETINETTI PAGA DI DEBITI (d. André Deed p.c. Itala, Italy 1909)
  • COMEDY CARTOONS (d. Walter R. Booth p.c. Urban, GB 1907)
  • CRETINETTI LOTTATORE (p.c. Itala, Italy 1909)
  • LES DÉBUTS D’UN CHAUFFEUR (d. Georges Hatot p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • DEUX BRAVES COEURS (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • LE DINER AU 9 (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • DON QUICHOTTE (d. Lucien Nonguet, Ferdinand Zecca p.c. Pathé, France 1904)
  • DOWN ON THE FARM (p.c. Edison, USA 1905)
  • DU CAIRE AUX PYRAMIDES (p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • FANTASIAS ARABES (p.c. Pathé, France 1902)
  • FIRE! (d. James Williamson p.c. Williamson, GB 1901)
  • LES FLEURS ANIMÉES (d. Gaston Velle p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • LES GRANDES EAUX DE VERSAILLES (p.c. Pathé, France 1904)
  • GUILLAUME TELL (d. Lucien Nonguet p.c. Pathé, France 1903)
  • THE HAND OF THE ARTIST (d. Walter R. Booth p.c. Paul, GB 1906)
  • HER FIRST CAKE (d. James Williamson p.c. Williamson, GB 1906)
  • HISTOIRE D’UN PANTALON (p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • HOW JONES LOST HIS ROLL (d. Edwin S. Porter p.c. Edison, USA 1905)
  • AN INDIAN’S GRATITUDE (p.c. Pathé, USA 1911)
  • LES INVISIBLES (d. Gaston Velle p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • J’AI PERDU MON LORGNON (d. Charles Lucien Lépine p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • LIFE OF A COWBOY (d. Edwin S. Porter p.c. Edison, USA 1906)
  • LIVING LONDON (p.c. Urban, GB 1904) [note: now identified as THE STREET OF LONDON p.c. Urban, GB 1906)
  • THE LOST CHILD (d. Wallace McCuthcheon p.c. Edison, USA 1904)
  • THE MAGICAL PRESS (d. Walter R. Booth p.c. Urban, GB 1907)
  • MARIE-ANTOINETTE (p.c. Pathé, France 1903)
  • LA MÉTALLURGIE AU CREUSOT (p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • THE MINER’S DAUGHTER (d. James Williamson p.c. Williamson, GB 1907)
  • MIRACLE DE NOËL (p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • MONSIEUR QUI A MANGÉ DU TAUREAU (p.c. Gaumont, France 1907)
  • NAVAL ATTACK AT PORTSMOUTH (p.c. Urban, GB 1907)
  • NIAGARA IN WINTER 1909 (p.c. Urban, GB 1909)
  • PAUVRES VIEUX (Pathé, France 1907)
  • LES PETITS PIFFERARI (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • LA POUDRE ANTINEURESTHÉNIQUE (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • LA POULE AUX OEUFS D’OR (d. Gaston Velle p.c. Pathé, France 1905)
  • LE REGNE DE LOUIS XIV (d. V. Lorant Heilbronn p.c. Pathé, France 1904)
  • LA RUCHE MERVEILLEUSE (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • LE SCULPTEUR EXPRESS (p.c. Pathé, France 1907) (p.c. Urban, GB c.1905)
  • [THE SHORT-SIGHTED CYCLIST] (p.c. Eclipse, France 1907)
  • LE SINGE ADAM II (Pathé, France 1909)
  • SPORTS AT SEA ON THE S.S. RUNIC (p.c. Corrick, Australia 1909)
  • [STREET SCENES IN PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA] (p.c. Corrick, Australia 1907)
  • TOTO EXPLOITE LA CURIOSITÉ (p.c. Pathé, France 1909)
  • LE TOUR DU MONDE D’UN POLICIER (d. Charles Lucien Lépine p.c. Pathé, France 1906)
  • [TRAVEL SCENES] (p.c. Urban, GB c.1905)
  • LA VIE INDIGÈNE AU SOUDAN ÉGYPTIEN (p.c. Pathé, France 1908)
  • THE WAIF AND THE STATUE (d. Walter Booth p.c. Urban, GB 1907)
  • WHEN THE WIFE’S AWAY (p.c. Paul, GB 1905)
  • WHO STOLE JONES’ WOOD? (p.c. Lubin, USA 1909)
  • A WINTER STRAW RIDE (d. Wallace McCutcheon, Edwin S. Porter p.c. Edison, USA 1907)

Other films in the collection are still in the process of being identified and preserved – the NFSA catalogue lists these, with such intriguing titles as The Burglar and the Baby, A Canine Arthimetician, Elephants Working in a Burmese Forest, Fée Aux Pigeons, Hallo! Haloo! Grinder, A Japanese Teahouse: Dance of the Geishas, Olympic Games in Athens [1906], and A Trip through Switzerland Engadin Valley.

You can read about the Corrick Collection on the NFSA’s Australian Screen site which includes a number of clips from the films (The Hand of the Artist, La Poule aux Oeufs d’Or and Street Scenes in Perth, Western Australia). There’s another overview on the main NFSA site.

Films from the Corrick Collection are currently featuring in My Bicycle Loves You, a collaboration between the NFSA and physical theatre company Legs on the Wall that combines film footage with live performance to reveal the world of the Corrick Family. It played at the Sydney Festival last week and will be playing at the Perth Festival 22-26 February.