The nightside of Japan

As evidence of the value of Live Search for searching across the texts of books digitised by the Internet Archive (see previous post), here’s a passage from The Nightside of Japan, by Taizo Fujimoto, published in 1914. It’s a travel book on Japan written for a Western audience by a Japanese writer, and it includes this marvellously vivid portrait of attending a cinema show in Tokyo at this time, complete with benshi narrator, interval acts and food sellers.

The Asakusa is the centre of pleasure in Tokyo. People of every rank in the city crowd in the park day and night old and young, high and low, male and female, rich and poor. It is also a haunt of ruffians, thieves, and pickpockets when the curtain of the dark comes down over the park. All houses and shops along each street in the park are illuminated with the electric and gas lights. The most noisy and crowded part is the site of cinematograph halls. In front of a hall you see many large painted pictures,
illustrating kinds of pictures to be shown in the hall, and, at its entrance, three or four men are crying to call visitors: “Come in, come in! Our pictures are newest ones, most wonderful pictures! Most lately imported from Europe! “Men of another hall cry out: “Our hall gives the photographs of a play performed by the first-class actors in Tokyo; pictures of the revenge of Forty Seven Ronine!” Tickets are sold by girls in a booking-box near the entrance of each hall; they are dressed in beautiful uniforms, their faces painted nicely, receiving guests with charming smiles. Most of the Japanese carry geta (clogs) under their feet, instead of shoes or boots, and specially so are the females. When you come into the door of a hall, tickets are to be handed to the men, who furnish you zori (a pair of straw or grass-slippers) in place of your geta, and you must not forget to receive from them a wood-card marked with numerals or some other signs the card being the cheque for your clogs. When you step on upstairs you are received by another nice girl in uniform, who guides you to a seat in the hall. Now the hall is full of people; it seems that there is no room for a newcomer, but the guide girl finds out a chair among the crowd and adjusts it to you very kindly. Pictures of cinematograph are shown one after another, each being explained by orators in frock or evening coat. Between the photograph shows performance of comic actors or jugglers is given. After the end of each picture or performance there is an entr’acte of three or five minutes, and in this interval sellers of oranges, milk, cakes, sandwiches, etc., come into the crowds, and are crying out: “Don’t you want oranges? Nice cakes! New boiled milk! etc., etc.” The show of cinematograph is closed at about 12 P.M., and all people flow out of the hall. Where will they go hence? Of course most of them go to their home, but a part of them young fellows among others runs to the Dark Streets of the park, or Yoshiwara, the licensed prostitution quarter near the park.

The Nightside of Japan is available from the Internet Archive in the usual range of formats (PDF, DjVu, TXT), and contains a few more references to cinematographs. More such gems as I find them.

The Classic Slum

The Classic Slum

http://www.amazon.co.uk

It’s been a while since we had any memoirs of cinema-going. This, as regulars may know, is a particular research topic of mine, particularly memoirs of those who were children in London before the First World War.

The example below, however, comes from Salford. It comes from a renowned memoir of working class life, Robert Roberts’ The Classic Slum: Salford life in the first quarter of the century (1971). Roberts looks back to his childhood in Edwardian Salford, combining the personal with academic historical research in a uniquely powerful combination. As Roberts says, “few historians are the sons of labourers”, and his account of hard urban poverty hits you with eloquently-expressed authenticity.

The section from The Classic Slum on the cinema is typically evocative and filled with telling observations. He identifies the joyous effect that the cinema had upon its early, working class audiences, but also how it was a boon for women as a legitimised form of entertainment that had none of the social stigma of the pub. He also makes useful observations about seat pricing policies, children reading out intertitles to help out the illiterate, and the genuine educative value of the cinema.

Cinema in the early years of the century burst like a vision into the underman’s existence and, rapidly displacing both concert and theatre, became both his chief source of enjoyment and one of the greatest factors in his cultural development. For us in the village the world suddenly expanded. Many women who had lived in a kind of purdah since marriage (few respectable wives visited public houses) were to be noted now, escorted by their husbands, en route for the ‘pictures’, a strange sight indeed and one that led to much comment at the shop. Street corner gossip groups for a time grew thin and publicans complained angrily that the new fad was ruining trade: men were going to the films and merely calling in at the tavern for an hour before closing time. The disloyalty of it! Children begged, laboured and even thieved for the odd copper that would give them two hours of magic, crushed on a bench before the enchanting screen.

Moralists were not long in condemning cinema as the tap-root of every kind of delinquency. Cinema owners protested virtue: one kept an eight-foot-long poster across his box office: ‘CLEAN AND MORAL PICTURES. Prices – 2d. and 4d.’ In our district the Primitive Methodist chapel, recently bankrupt and closed, blossomed almost overnight into the ‘Kinema’. There during the first weeks would-be patrons of its twopenny seats literally fought each night for entrance and tales of crushed ribs and at least two broken limbs shocked the neighbourhood. In the beginning cinema managers, following the social custom of the theatre, made the error of grading seats, with the most expensive near the screen and the cheapest at the back of the house. For a short time the rabble lolled in comfort along the rear rows while their betters, paying three times as much, suffered cricked necks and eye strain in front. Caste and culture forbade mixing. A sudden change-over one evening, without warning, at all the local cinemas caused much bitterness and class recrimination. By 1913 our borough still retained its four theatres, but already thirteen premises had been licensed under the Cinematograph Act.

Yet silent films for all their joys presented the unlettered with a problem unknown in theatres – the printed word. Often in the early days of cinema, captions broke into the picture with explanations long, sententious and stage-ridden. To bypass this difficulty the short-sighted and illiterate would take children along to act as readers. In this capacity I saw my own first film. When the picture gave place to print on the screen a muddled Greek chorus of children’s voices rose from the benches, piping above the piano music. To hear them crash in unison on a polysyllable became for literate elders an entertainment in itself. At the cinema many an ill-educated adult received cheap and regular instruction with his pleasure, and some eventually picked up enough to dispense with their tutors. Yet in spite of all the aids to culture and learning, unknown fifty years before – compulsory education, free libraries, the spate of cheap print, the miles of postered hoarding, and the cinema, the brightest lure of all – among the lower working class a mass of illiterates, solid and sizeable, still remained.

Live in Trafalgar Square

Silents in Trafalgar Square

Frame still taken from BBC News video of Capital Tales in Trafalgar Square

Recently, as you’ll know, the London Film Festival hosted two screenings of silents in Trafalgar Square, with live music accompaniment. There’s a BBC video news report on the second screening, Capital Tales, which featured a pot pourri of London footage, much of it silent, with John Sweeney at the piano.

John Sweeney in Trafalgar Square

John Sweeney accompanying Capital Tales in Trafalgar Square, from http://www.bbc.co.uk

The report features short interviews with John, BFI programmer Robin Baker, and assorted members of the public. The general feedback from this event, and the screening of Blackmail the day before, has been very positive, and I think we can expect more screenings of silents in the London open air in the future. I’m entirely in favour of this. Take the films to the people. Let’s have people stumbling upon archive films in unexpected places. Let’s bring the past into the present. Archives should be everywhere.

From 1896 to 1926 – part 4

Fire at the Bazar de la charité, in Paris, on May 4, 1897

Fire at the Bazar de la charité, in Paris, on May 4, 1897 © Roger-Viollet. Reproduced from www.parisenimages.fr

We return, after something of a gap, to Edward G. Turner, the pioneer British film distributor, whose reminiscences, written in 1926 for the Kinematograph Weekly, are a rich source of information on early film business practice. Here Turner discusses exhibition in the late 1890s, with particular reference to the effects of the Bazar de la Charité fire:

The First Exhibitors

The earliest exhibitors were fairground showmen, magic lantern lecturers, and men who earned their living by giving private entertainments. The theatres and music-halls took to pictures as a nine-day wonder which would have its day and die.

I remember a time about the end of 1897 when there was not a single music-hall or theatre showing pictures in London. It was only a temporary lull, however, chiefly caused through the lack of subjects. With the advent of the Edisonagraph, Mutoscope, and the American Bioscope, the pictures became a permanent installation in the music-halls in London, but the early showmen and lantern lecturers were the men who were making the pictures popular all over the country.

These were the men who had sunk their little all in the Industry, and they kept pegging away, believing that it must eventually win out, and that the subjects would not be confined to 40 or 50 ft. lengths, but whole stories would be filmed.

The great bar to progress was the difficulty of getting new subjects except by buying them outright, and I think my partner and myself solved the problem for the world by instituting the renting system. Little did we think that that system would spread all over the wide world, and grow to the great business it is to-day.

In those first days we only did it spasmodically, because we had very few customers, but later on when the pictures had caught on, and village halls, churches, and chapels were taking up the pictures and giving regular weekly displays, our hire system grew rapidly. We would buy as many as ten and twelve prints of a film, which was entitled “Landing an Old Lady From a Small Boat.” Our first regular hirer was Ted Lacey, of Barnards M.H. Chatham. My first customer to buy films was Mr. Henderson, of Newcastle.

This is George Henderson, of Stockton, whose surviving film collection is held by British Movietone News and available to view from their website. There’s information on this important early film collection in an earlier post, Movietone and Henderson.

We then extended operations to the entertainment bureaus, such as:- Whiteley’s, Keith Prowse, Harrods, Gamage, Webster and Girling, H.L. Toms, Woods, of Cheapside, Ashton and Mitchell, Army and Navy Stores, the Church Mission Halls, Salvation Army, the Leysian Mission, City Road, and many more whose names at the moment I cannot remember, and after thirty years, we still do business with practically all the above-named firms.

The most disastrous fire that has ever occurred in our Trade took place on May 4, 1897. It is still remembered as the Paris fire. No fewer than 130 people lost their lives in the panic and stampede which occurred, and amongst those killed were the Duchess d’Alençon (sister of the Empress of Austria), Duke d’Aumale, Baron d’Sainte Didier, and General Munier (or Muiner). The Life Assurance losses were paid as to two-thirds American companies and the remaining one-third French – the total being twelve million francs, which, in that day, represented £480,000.

The kinematograph got the blame of this fire, but it actually occurred after the operator had finished giving his display of films, and was showing some slides. He was using an ether saturator, which was giving out, and he started to replenish same by pouring fresh ether in, and, of course, at once the fumes caught fire. The exhibition was being given in a large marquee. It was decorated with inflammable material, and soon the whole was one roaring mass of flame. The tent contained bazaar stalls, etc., and the bazaar was patronised by the principal nobility and well-known people of France – which explains the enormous sums paid by the life insurance companies.

The rubble after the fire at the Bazar de la charité on May 4, 1897, in Paris

The rubble after the fire at the Bazar de la charité on May 4, 1897, in Paris © Roger-Viollet. Reproduced from www.parisenimages.fr

This was the notorious fire of 4 May 1897 at the Bazar de la Charité, Paris, at which a Joly film projector had been used. As Turner correctly recalls, the fire was not caused by the cinematograph but instead by a Molteni ether lamp, but the calamity was swiftly associated with motion pictures, and caused great damage to the reputation of the medium.

Insurance Difficulties

This had the effect of making the Insurance Companies look askance at the kinematograph; and the mere mention of the word sent a shudder through the official minds. The public memory, however, is very short, and the desire for amusement great, and as new subjects arrived on the scene, slowly but surely, we overcame these difficulties.

Within a month of this happening I had an engagement at the St. Martin’s Town Hall. On the afternoon, I presented byself with an apparatus at the hall, and the dismay on the face of the official when he saw it was a kinematograph, accompanied by cylinders of gas, can be well imagined.

He informed the authorities at once, and one official informed me that the display could not be given. After half-an-hour, I got their sanction – they only giving way because they had failed to give notice that they would not permit a kinematograph.

The following week a resolution was passed that no kinematograph should ever be allowed in the hall again, and I believe that this is so even up to the present time. I am the only person who has ever given a display in the Westminster Town Hall, St. Martin’s Lane.

(To be continued)

The memoirs so far have been taken from the Kinematograph Weekly, 17 June 1926, pp. 53-54, and further installments will follow in due course. You can follow the earlier installments here: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.

From 1896 to 1926 – part 3

High Divers at Milan

Les Bains de Diane à Milan (1896)

We return to Edward G. Turner’s 1926 reminiscences of the early days of the film business in Britain. We are still in the 1890s, and changes in the business are already necessary. Turner and colleagues discover that they have pitched their product too highly…

The Crash

We soon found out, however, that we were altogether too scientific in our entertainment. The average person could not promounce the word “kinematograph,” and, if they could, it conveyed nothing to them in the way of entertainment. They all thought it was something educational, and in those days, as to-day, the public would not pay to be educated when they wanted to be amused, and so, after three months’ touring, we returned to London sadder but wiser men, and in the process of gaining wisdom, we lost our entire capital.

On the last day of the old year 1896, three unhappy men met to discuss ways and means for carrying on or closing down – the three men being J.D. Walker, J. Mackie and E.G. Turner. Mackie was demonstrator or operator, Walker was lecturer, and myself manager and treasurer – the latter office being a mere sinecure, as there were no funds to treasure, and I had to draw upon private means to pay our way.

As the bells announced the birth of a New Year (1897), we closed the books of the North American Animated Picture Company [and] reorganised our finances by my agreeing to provide £100 (which I hoped to borrow and which I succeeded in doing). Walker agreed to take half-share, and pay for his share as and when the business permitted, and Mackie withdrew as it looked an almost hopeless proposition.

Playing to the Gallery

Our policy was now altered: instead of spending a large amount of money in circularising all the best people in the towns and villages, by means of very good stationery, excellent printing and sending and sealing our letters with a penny stamp so as to attract the attention of the recipient, we went for the working classes. The results of our fresh policy was that, when the performance began, we had two or three people only in the stalls, our chief patronage came from the cheaper seats. So we decided to stop playing to the stalls, and in future to play to the gallery. From this date we were known as Walker and Turner.

On January 1, 1897, we visited the Central Working Men’s Club and Institute in Clerkenwell Road – had an interview with the entertainment secretary, who gave us an engagement for the following Saturday night, provided we gave a show of one hour’s duration for the magnificent sum of 30s.

As we had to find two cylinders of gas, and get our apparatus to and from the hall, also take two men to do the job, one will understand that it was not a profitable transaction, but the secretary personally promised us that he would send round a letter to secretaries of all the clubs in London, invite them to be present, and if our show was all we claimed it to be, there were prospects of good bookings to be obtained.

The secretary carried out his promise, and on Saturday night, when we arrived to do our show, the hall was packed to suffocation. The pictures projected were most enthusiatically received, and after the show was over we had the satisfaction of booking up dates amounting to over £200.

As we executed these dates, which were all close, others rolled in upon us from all parts of the country, principally from working men’s clubs, and that was the first step towards success; in three months our business had grown to such an extent that we had two machines operating.

Turner now moves on to some of the strategies of exhibition in the 1890s, interestingly revealing that gaps in the programme and the common practice of running films backwards were employed to spin out meagre, expensive films. He then describes the innovation in film business practice that he was central in introducing – renting, or film distribution.

A Shilling a Foot

In those days we were paying 1s. per foot for our films, the average length being 500 feet. It will, therefore, be understood that the cost of running an hour’s programme was very expensive.

It is true that to eke out our meagre supply of films we used to take a minute or two between the change, and further, we had what was known as a reversing prism, and, after we had shown a film through, e.g., “The High Divers at Milan” (which was a very effective subject for the purpose), we would then rewind the film, put it through the machine backwards, and, by means of the prism, instead of the man diving into the water from the high diving boards, there would be a splash of water, out of which the man, feet foremost, would come and go back on to the diving board – in fact, the whole subject being reversed. This used to create not only great amusement but wonder as to how it was done, and used to help us very considerably in making our programme last out the necessary time. And if they applauded, well, on went the film a second time.

The Beginning of Renting

The price of films quickly dropped from 1s. to 8d. per foot, and then became standard at 6d. a foot; this allowed us to increase our store, but it soon became evident that to have to provide new films every time we took a repeat engagement was too expensive. So we conceived the idea, first of all, of an interchange of films with other exhibitors, who experienced the same difficulties in regard to new supplies. From this we eventually evolved the renting of films to other people, because we found that we had by far a larger stock than any of the other men. By buying films regularly we could use them ourselves and hire them to the other people, and so in such small beginning was evolved the great renting system as known to-day.

The First Woman Operator

At the end of 1897 we had three machines working. Walker operated one, myself the second, and the third was handled by Mrs. J.D. Walker, though a man went with her to fit up and do the donkey work. Mrs. Walker handled the mixed gas jet and operated, and she can claim without fear of contradiction to be the first woman operator in the world. She is still in business as managing director of the Empire cinema, Watford.

Was the redoubtable Mrs Walker the ‘first women operator in the world’? The evidence of the 1901 census, as reported in a recent post, shows that there were certainly other women operators around at the same time. More investigation is needed. ‘The High Divers of Milan’ is Les Bains de Diane à Milan (1896), Lumière catalogue no. 277, and is illustrated above. Reversing prisms, which were fitted onto the lens, were available from equipment suppliers at the time. They were used when film could not simply be reversed by cranking in the opposite direction i.e. the film had to be re-threaded in reverse, with the prism necessary to turn the image the correct way round. Is that a correct explanation, you experts out there?

Cowboys and Indians

The East End Years

http://www.amazon.co.uk

I’m a collector of memoirs (published and unpublished) of the film-going experience in the early years of cinema. One particular favourite from my work on London before the First World War is the memoirs of Fermin Rocker, The East End Years: A Stepney Childhood. I just came across a copy in Foyles today, and thought it worth sharing with you.

Rocker (1907-2004) led a somewhat unusual London childhood, in that his father was the German anarchist theorist Rudolf Rocker, while his mother was a Jewish-Ukranian anarchist-syndicalist, and their home was a focal point for revolutionaries. Kropotkin and Malatesta were family friends, and his childhood memories of life in Jewish Whitechapel are fascinatingly coloured by the radicalism that was all around him. This is evidenced by his memories of going to the cinema when very young (maybe six or seven), where his reactions to Westerns were at variance with most children:

High on my list of favourites were the Indians of North America, a people for whom I had an unusual degree of admiration and sympathy. Their picturesque appearance as well as their skill and bravery as hunters and warriors greatly impressed me. Coupled with this regard and affection was a strong feeling of outrage aroused by my father’s stories of the deceit and treachery practised upon them by the white man. I dearly wished that some day the redskins would be able to turn the tables on their white oppressors and drive them from the continent which their cunning and duplicity had helped them conquer …

… My partiality for the redskin was to have some unhappy consequences when I received my first exposure to the cinema. The Westerns, which featured rather prominently in the repertory of those days, invariably had the Indians getting the worst of it in their encounters with the white man, a headlong rout of the redskins being the usual outcome. I found it quite impossible to look on calmly while my friends were being massacred on the screen. Not being nearly so stoical as my Indian idols, I would raise a tremendous commotion and have to be taken out of the theatre to prevent things from getting completely out of hand. After a few experiences of this kind, it was decided not to take me to the “pictures” any more, a resolution I did not in the least regret.

Not every child liked going to the cinema in those days. Rocker much preferred Punch and Judy shows (“I sometimes wonder if the creator of the Punch scenarios was not an anarchist in disguise. His hero was forever running afoul of the law…”). He went on to become a noted artist and book illustrator, examples of which you can see find at www.ferminrocker.com.

They said that

Kafka Goes to the Movies

OK, here are the answers to yesterday’s poser. The six people commenting on the experience of going to the cinema in the silent era were all notable authors, albeit four of them wrote the comments before they found fame.

Quotation no. 1 – “Nothing of my former mind seems to have remained except a heightened emotiveness which satisfies itself in the sixty-miles-an-hour pathos of some cinematograph or before some crude Italian gazette-picture” – This is James Joyce, writing to his brother Stanislaus while living in Rome in 1907. Joyce was twenty-five years old, working in a bank, and a long way from literary fame. He was to become a regular cinema-goer, despite failing eyesight, and of course managed a cinema in Dublin for a brief period 1909-1910 – though that had more to do with money (which did not come his way) than any love of early film.

Quotation no. 2 – “If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly” – This is D.H. Lawrence, writing to Blanche Jennings in 1908, imagining how he might dispose of society’s outcasts. It’s a familiar quotation, from its use in John Carey’s book The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939 (1992). Lawrence was contemptuous of the cinema – elsewhere he describes it as the “triumph of the deaf and dumb”. His first novel was three years away.

Quotation no. 3 – “Was at the movies. Wept. Lolotte. The good pastor. The little bicycle. The reconciliation of the parents. Boundless entertainment” – This is Franz Kafka, aged thirty, writing short stories, and touring around Prague with his good friend Max Brod, with whom he went to the cinema. There is an extraordinary book by Hanns Zischler, Kafka Goes to the Movies (2003), which identifies the films the pair saw, from Kafka’s and Brod’s diaries, tracks them down in reviews and archives (where they survive), and writes a history of Kafka’s emotional life and cultural life through the films that he saw. There’s an extract from it here. Zischler is now working on a similar project on James Joyce.

Quotation no. 4 – “the encroachment of the cheap and rapid-breeding cinema” – This is T.S. Eliot, and it comes from one of his most celebrated essays, ‘Marie Lloyd’, published in 1922. Eliot praises one form of working-class entertainment, but expresses loathing for its successor, the cinema, the phrase ‘rapid-breeding’ unpleasantly melding the growth in cinema-building with his sense of an animalistic, proletarian audience that filled him with horror.

Quotation no. 5 – “In spite of my earnest resolution never again to waste time at a cinema I have spent both yesterday and this afternoon in that unprofitable way” – The man with the addiction for going to the cinema is Evelyn Waugh. It comes from his diary entry for 3 September 1924, the day after he had vowed not to go the cinema “promiscuously”. The entry for 4 September however records, “Last night I slept ill; I think through excess of cinemas. I went to two yesterday”. This clearly was an addicition of some kind, and visits to the cinema are regularly recorded in Waugh diaries. Around this time he made scurrilous amateur films with Terence Greenidge, Elsa Lanchester and others, but had yet to complete his first novel.

Quotation no. 6 – “They have never seen the savages of the twentieth century watching the pictures” – This is from Virginia Woolf’s celebrated 1926 essay, ‘The Cinema’. Woolf was intrigued by film of reality, which she found to be at a curious remove from reality. Woolf was genuinely interested in the possibilities of the cinema, the potential it offered for a new way of seeing. Her ‘savages’ metaphor, however, I find mysterious.

The reactions of the literary intelligensia to the early cinema is a subject that fascinates me, and we’ll have more on the Bioscope in future posts – particularly those writers who found that they could make money out of the movies, or who were inspired to take up the camera themselves.

How workingmen spend their spare time

How many people writing on early film know about this? Using a bit of lateral searching on the Internet Archive, I found How workingmen spend their time, a doctoral thesis by one George Esdras Bevans, submitted at Columbia University in 1913. I’ve not come across it before, and it seems few film histories refer to it, yet it is a marvellous source of information on cinema-going, audience leisure tastes, and the relationship of earnings and work-time to leisure, with a wide range of evidence demonstrating the prime position of cinema in the public mind just before the First World War.

Here’s the author’s description of his methodology:

This investigation has been undertaken in order to determine how workingmen spend their leisure hours. On the suggestion of Dr. Franklin H. Giddings, Professor of Sociology, Columbia University, the questionnaire method was adopted and a time schedule prepared. The investigation was begun in February, 1912.

More than 4,000 schedules were distributed among workingmen thru the agency of Labor Unions, Clubs and Churches; but altho much interest in the study was manifested, only 113 properly filled out schedules were returned, and these were considered too
few in number to serve as a basis for any general conclusions.

In the Fall of 1912 the Bureau of Social Service of the Home Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church became interested in the study and agreed to engage investigators to interview workingmen in order to secure a sufficient number willing to answer the questions. This investigation began on November 1st, 1912, and was completed on February 3rd, 1913.

Schedules to the number of 868 were returned by the paid investigators. In addition 31 schedules were obtained as the result of a Workingmen’s Mass Meeting held November 12th, 1912, at the Labor Temple, 14th Street and 2nd Avenue, New York City. By February 3rd, 1913, 1,012 schedules had been secured from New York City, 10 from Rochester, N.Y., and 5 from Utica, N.Y. After the tabulation had been partly completed 43 schedules were received from other cities and were used in the closing part of the study relating to Expenditure of Money. Altogether, 1,070 schedules were returned, and these serve as a basis for the present study.

Bevans then goes into great detail, describing the processes he took, the particular statistical method employed, and the resistance that he sometimes received (questions were asked, “Who is back of the study?” “What capitalistic scheme is this?” “Why not investigate the employers and see how they spend their spare time?”). He also provides the questions asked and the forms supplied. The main body of the text is tables with accompanying analysis, under such headings as ‘The Relation of Occupation to the use of Spare Time’, ‘The Relation of Wage to the Use of Spare Time’, and ‘What Men Usually Do on Certain Hours and During Certain Hours’.

As an example, here’s is one of the the tables accompanying the heading ‘The Relation of Hours of Labor to the Use of Spare Time’:

Table one

This isn’t the place to go into a detailed analysis of the data, but essentially one finds that whatever the working man’s circumstances, his hours of work or his earnings, the motion picture was the favoured way of spending one’s spare time. This might be expected, but it is invaluable to see the assumption tested against other leisure options, the availability of free time, and the means to pay for it. Here’s a table on the relationship of age to spare time:

Table two

OK, not everyone interested in silent cinema is going to be that engrossed by statistics, but the sociology of early cinema is still a grievously neglected subject, and if we don’t relate the films to th people who saw them, its hard to say what we are doing investigating early films at all.

There were other such early sociological studies. The most notable is Emilie Altenoh’s study of film audiences in Mannheim, Germany over 1912/13, published as Zur Soziologie des Kino: Die Kino-Unternehmung und die Sozialen Schichten Ihrer Besucher (1914), part translated as A Sociology of the Cinema in Screen, vol. 42 no. 3, Autumn 2001. I hear tale that a full translation into English is underway. Another is M.M. Davis’ The Exploitation of Pleasure: A Study of Commercial Recreation in New York City (1911). There is always something a little unsettling about people being studied anatomically in this way – and generally working-class people. What seemed irrational or in need of explanation (and then control) by elites, seemed wholly rational to those enjoying the experience. But we still have to be glad that such studies were done. As Bevans’ data amply proves, watching movies was, quite simply, a good way of spending your time.

Into the Bioscope Library it goes.

Iamhist conference report

Amsterdam

Iamhist (International Association for Media and History) is an organisation of filmmakers, broadcasters, archivists and scholars dedicated to historical inquiry into film, radio, television, and related media. It publishes the widely-respected Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, and organises biennial conferences. This year’s was held in Amsterdam 18-21 July, on the theme Media and Imperialism: Press, Photography, Film, Radio and Television in the Era of Modern Imperialism. There were several papers given on silent film subjects, and the Bioscope was there with pen and notebook.

A number of the best papers were given on media outside Iamhist’s usual frame of reference. Pascal Lefèvre spoke lucidly and informatively on Imperialist images in French and Belgian children’s broadsheets of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries, finding arguably positive or some downright critical images that differed from the usual Western view of African peoples at this time. Andrew Francis was equally entertaining and observant in talking about the use of pro-Empire imagery in New Zealand newspaper advertising during the First World War.

On silent films themselves, James Burns spoke on the distribution (or lack of distribution) of the films of the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries boxing match in 1910 and D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation in 1914 to black audiences in Africa and the Caribbean. The Johnson-Jeffries film (the black Johnson defeated ‘white hope’ Jeffries for the world heavyweight title) is well-known for how its images of a black victory alarmed many in America, though Burns pointed out that films of Johnson’s earlier victories over white opponents had not aroused anything like the same rabid reaction. He also pointed out that Birth of a Nation was not exhibited in Africa (until 1931), yet no evidence has yet been found to show why it was withheld. Burns’ has done excellent work on film and black African audiences (see his Flickering Shadows: Cinema and Identity in Colonial Zimbabwe), and his new research promises much, even if evidence of black audience reactions (outside the USA) remain elusive.

Simon Popple spoke on films of the Anglo-Boer War, focussing on the dramatised scenes of the conflict produced by the Mitchell and Kenyon company. M&K are now renowed for their actuality films of life in Northern England in the Edwardian era, after the successful BBC series The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon, but they also made dramas, recreating melodramatic scenes from the South African war to feed a public appetite for moving picture scenes of the war which had been disappointed by undramatic newsfilms of the conflict. These crudely histrionic dramas, with titles such as Shelling the Red Cross, A Sneaky Boer, and Hands Off the Flag, raise a laugh now, but presumably had them cheering in the aisles in 1900.

With the unavoidable but unfortunate practice of parallel sessions so that as many speakers as possible can be crammed in, no one could attend everything, and I missed some relevant papers, including Teresa Castro on ‘Imperialism and Early Cinema’s Mapping Impulse’ and Yvonne Zimmermann on ‘Swiss Corporate films 1910-1960’. Too few witnessed Guido Convents‘ excellent presentation on the huge production of Belgian colonial films, from the early years of the century onwards, all designed to remind the world and audiences at home that Belgian had a presence in Africa and an Imperial role to play. He also showed a heartbreaking film of the difficulties faced by the Congo film archive, which put into perspective some of the institutional troubles faced by the world’s larger film archives, described by Ray Edmondson in a plenary session. Edmondson nevertheless made an eloquent case for the ways in which some film archives have come under threat through insensitive political fashions and institutional follies. Archives seem hampered by being archives: politicians do not grasp what it is that they are about in the same way that they do with museums, a far more generously funded sector with a considerably greater public profile.

And there was more. Martin Loiperdinger showed magic lantern slides of British Empire subjects from the nineteenth century and considered their impact upon audiences. Kay Gladstone of the Imperial War Museum showed a two-hour selection of films from its amazing archive for the two world wars (and more), including a live action political ‘cartoon’ from the Anglo-Boer War, and images of Colonial troops in the First World War, though what left the audience stunned was silent, colour home movie footage of India at the time of partition in 1947, showing scenes of the misery caused that the newsreels of the time scrupulously avoided. And there was plenty on post-silent subjects, and me thrilling a small audience with a disquisition on databases and the misuse of thesauri and keywording in describing Imperial and Colonial themes. You should have been there…

These conferences are curious affairs. They are an excellent meeting place and a good way to catch up on the latest ideas, but you do also sit through some truly grim presentations – mumbled monotones, heads bowed down reading from indigestible text, oblivious to the needs of an audience. How some people can still continue to draw salaries as lecturers beats me – you do pity their poor students. And then there are the natural entertainers, who know their audience as well as their subject, and can speak wisely and clearly, in whatever time allotted. It was a well-organised event, the sun shone, the pavement cafés were inviting, and the coffee was fine. I’ll be following up some of the themes (especially silent cinema in Africa) in future posts.

The Silent Worker

Granville Redmond and Charlies Chaplin

Granville Redmond and Charlie Chaplin

While preparing a post on the digitisation of newspaper collections (which you’ll receive some other time), I came across one journal of such particular interest that it had to have a post to itself.

The Silent Worker was a popular American journal for the deaf, published between 1888 and 1929. Most of the articles were written by hearing-impaired authors. The entire run of the journal has been digitised by Gallaudet University Library. If you go to the search options, and click on subjects, you will find 70 articles on ‘Movies and Deaf’.

I don’t know if there has been much in the way of studies made of the relationship between deafness and silent cinema, though the Chicago Institute for the Moving Image has a Festival for Cinema of the Deaf which has included silent films, and in 1891 the pre-cinema pioneer Georges Demenÿ famously used a proto-moving image camera to show someone mouthing the words ‘Je vous aime’ as a demonstration of how moving images might aid deaf mutes in learning to speak. And there are many anecdotes of deaf lip-readers discovering the fruity language spoken in films like What Price Glory? which had escaped the eye of the censors. And it has been argued that Lon Chaney’s particular acting gifts came in part through both his parents being deaf.

The Silent Worker reveals a rich world where deaf audiences, and deaf creative talents, engage with the silent picture. For example, an article entitled ‘Cinema and “Signs”‘ (October 1916) compares the art of pantomime with that of the silent screen, with particular reference to Billy Merson and Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin gets many mentions, and there is an engrossing piece, ‘Moving Pictures and the Deaf’ (June 1918) by Alice T. Terry (not the actress Alice Terry), who describes a visit to Hollywood and the Chaplin Studios, where she encounters Granville Redmond (illustrated above with Chaplin), a painter and deaf-mute, who acted in A Dog’s Life and The Kid. Chaplin is revealed to have been notably accommodating towards the deaf (has anyone written on this?). Her opinions are full of interest:

Unlike the spoken drama, the deaf can enjoy moving pictures as much as the hearing do. Some may say that the deaf lose, as they do not hear the music that acompanies the pictures. But I do not think we lose; there are various ways in which we are compensated but the hearing would hardly understand if we tried to explain. For myself I hate the noisy show, that is where some struggle or a battle is going on with its accompanying loud imitation battle din. To me the vibrations are a continuous, growling thunder – or worse than that – which sickens me soul and body. In fact most all musical vibrations irritate me. But by many of the deaf I know that the vibrations are enjoyed, especially by those with some remnant of hearing.

She also has trenchant opinions on D.W. Griffith, whose The Birth of a Nation “worked a great injury to the colored race”. Elsewhere, there are reports on the production of films for the deaf, including a Professor G.W. Jones who filmed speeches from Shakespeare.

One article, ‘Preserving a Famous Film’ sounds remarkably archival for April 1912, though its subject is actually the preservation on film of notable practitioners of sign language. The are also reports on Helen Keller, who starred as herself in a dramatised film of her life in 1919, entitled Deliverance (her teacher Annie Sullivan also appeared in the film).

That’s what I’ve gleaned through a quick inspection, and clearly there much more that could be unearthed. Here’s some last words, written by Alexander L. Pach, for the October 1919 issue:

We deaf people must thank the screen-art for the one biggest offset to our infirmity. Good pictures and by good pictures I mean the kind that educate and elevate, are the levers that lift us from the deadly dullness and monotony of total deafness, to the highest pinnacles of delight. They restore our hearing as nothing else does. We know every word that is spoken as well as the hearing do, for they are all projected on the screen. We only miss the music, and this is such a slight loss it doesn’t count … All the best plays of the spoken stage that have delighted millions of hearing people find their way to “Screenland”, and such big hits as “Common Clay”, “Daddy Long-legs”, “The Thirteenth Chair”, “Secret Service” etc. etc., are ours through this media. An evening at a good picture house now means one of those hits of the drama; a News-Weekly that has the whole world for its field … a more or less “funny” picture that makes us laugh whether we want to or not and then Burton Holmes shows us the people, the customs and the homes of some far away denizens of the other side of the earth. After an evening of delightful entertainment of this order one may go home utterly forgetful of the fact that an important sense is missing. He has come away refreshed. The tedium of the every day work of store, office of factory has been relieved in great measure, and we feel it’s a bully good little world after all …

There are such treasures to be found on the web. Let’s all keep on looking.