The Classic Slum

The Classic Slum

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.

Theses and dissertations

A few days ago I posted something on Donald Young’s Motion Pictures: A Study in Social Legislation, a 1922 doctoral thesis available from the Internet Archive. I said that it had to be one of very first doctoral theses to be awarded on the subject of film. But was it the first?

Well, The Bioscope is loathe to leave such questions lie unanswered, and it so happens that I knew where to find the answer. In 1979, Raymond Fielding, author of standard books on American newsreels and The March of Time, produced A Bibliography of Theses and Dissertations on the Subject of Film: 1916-1979, published as University Film Association Monograph no. 3. This is a fascinating piece of work. It lists every traceable graduate dissertation and thesis on film from American universities, up to 1979. It lists 1,420 of them. However, it is not until the 1960s that we really start to get academic studies of films and filmmakers as we might expect now. Before then, subjects such as the educational film, sociological studies, and the economic aspects of film are common. Film as a means to learn about other subjects predominates for the early decades.

So, was Donald Young first? No – his was the second doctoral thesis to be awarded, and both of those were preceded by a masters dissertation by one Ray L. Short in 1916, awarded by the University of Iowa. Whatever happened to him? (see comments) Anyway, here are the twelve dissertations and theses that were awarded up to 1930:

  • Ray L. Short, ‘A social study of the motion picture.’ M.A., University of Iowa, 1916
  • Perry Roberts, ‘The social aspect of the motion picture.’ Ph.D, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1920
  • William Breidenbach, ‘Design of a moving picture theater.’ M.A., Ohio State University, 1922
  • Donald Young, ‘Motion pictures: A study in social legislation.’ Ph.D, University of Pennsylvania, 1922
  • Harold Morgan, ‘Wish-fulfillment in drama and motion pictures.’ M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1925
  • H.F. Cummings, ‘Motion pictures in education.’ M.S., Boston University, 1929
  • Margaret Akin, ‘Social valuations of two hundred [and?] three motion pictures.’ M.A., University of Washington, 1930
  • Ralph Cassady, ‘Historical analysis of competitive practices in motion picture production, distribution, and exhibition.’ Ph.D, University of Califonia, Berkeley, 1930
  • Henry Hawley, ‘Distribution as a factor in commercial integration in the motion picture industry.’ D.C.S., Harvard University, 1930
  • Perry Holaday, ‘The effect of motion pictures on the intellectual content of children.’ Ph.D., University of Iowa, 1930
  • E.M. Porter, ‘The curve of retention in moving pictures for young children.’ M.A., Universiy of Iowa, 1930
  • Victor Rapport, ‘The motion picture: A study in commercialized recreation.’ Ph.D, Yale University, 1930

There’s a Ph.D to be undertaken reinvestigating all those. Fielding doesn’t provide a chronological index to his bibliography, but from his index to themes we learn that the first dissertation on Chaplin was in 1949 (the next wasn’t until 1974). The first on D.W. Griffith was in 1961. Buster Keaton was first so recognised in 1970.

But what about British universities, or elsewhere? What was the first British film Ph.D? This time round, I don’t know. Does anyone? (OK, the answer might be found on Index to Theses, but I don’t have a subscription).

Update: Stephen Bottomore has passed on the following information about theses and dissertations that were produced elsewhere, and an American dissertation that precedes that of Ray L. Short. The information is in the comments, but I’m reproducing it here as well:

Some time ago I started updating Fielding’s list for these theses re/from the early era, and found there was even one before Short’s:

Joseph Richard Fulk, “The Motion Picture Show with Special Reference to Its Effects on Morals and Education,” M.A., Univ. of Nebraska, 1912.

In the same year was the first (?) French one: Jean Marchais, “Du Cinématographe Dans ses Rapports Avec le Droit d’Auteur,” Doctorat, Faculté de Droit, Université de Paris, 1912.

Germany’s first (?) came in 1913. I haven’t researched the UK so much, but the first I’ve found is Frances Consitt, “The Use of Films in the Teaching of History,” Leeds, 1931.

Thanks as always, Stephen. I have a copy of Frances Consitt’s work, which was research conducted on behalf of the Historical Association, and which was published formally in 1931. More on what is a fascinating work at another time, perhaps.

Another update: Frank Kessler has just reminded me that the first German doctoral thesis was Emilie Altenloh’s Zur Soziologie des Kino: Die Kino-Unternehmung und die Sozialen Schichten Ihrer Besucher, awarded by the University of Heidelberg in 1913, and published in book form in 1914. This is an exceptional piece of work, a sociological study strikingly modern in method and conclusions. It is based around a questionnaire and interview survey of some 2,400 filmgoers in the medium-sized industrial town of Mannheim during 1912 and 1913. It is in two parts: part one on production; part two on audiences and reception. The latter is available in an English translation by Kathleen Cross, as ‘A Sociology of the Cinema: the Audience’, Screen, vol. 42 no. 3, Autumn 2001, pp. 249-293. It’s a work I should return to at another time. Meanwhile, for those able to read German, the full text is available from the University of Oldenburg site.

And another update: How could I have forgotten? There was a doctoral thesis submitted by George Esdras Bevans, How workingmen spend their time, submitted to Columbia University in 1913, which has already been the subject of a post. Although not directly about the cinema, it does include data about cinema-going in its survey of American working class entertainments.

And a final update: There is one doctoral thesis that beats all the above. The French medical researcher, Jean Comandon, as part of his work on microscopic organisms, such as the syphillis spirochete, employed microcinematography (combining cinematograph with microscope), observations from which which were included in his 1909 thesis De l’usage clinique de l’ultra-microscope en particulier pour la recherche et l’étude des spirochètes. In the same year he was taken on by the Pathé company to make microcinematographical films of organisms for the popular cinema market, and he went on to enjoy a notable career as a scientific filmmaker (including a period in the late 1920s working for Albert Kahn).

Motion Pictures: A Study in Social Legislation

National Board of Review censorship recommendations

The above document contains some of the recommendations from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures for cuts to be made to some unnamed films. Donald Young, later professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, was no admirer of this private organisation which made censorship recommendations which were not legally binding and could be ignored locally. Young was the author of Motion Pictures: A Study in Social Legislation, now added to the Bioscope Library. Published in 1922, this PhD thesis must be one of the first doctorates to be awarded for the study of motion pictures.

Young’s subject is the influence of motion pictures upon the American people, particularly children. As a piece of supposedly scientific social investigation it is remarkably partisan. It takes as read reports conducted by various groups with an interest in the morals of society which found motion pictures to be generally pernicious in their effects, and comes down on the side of legalised state censorship (by 1922 eight American states had instituted film censorship laws). A National Board of Censorship, later the National Board of Review, had been instituted in 1909, but its recommendations carried no legal weight. This is therefore not the social study that it claims to be, but rather an expression of fear, albeit one that is artfully and authoritatviely expressed. Under the guide of social investigation, it looks for ways to control the medium whose malign tendencies are taken as a given.

The value of the text is firstly the period attitudes that it demonstrates, with the evidence that it calls on to support this. Secondly, it provides a rich picture of the various forms of municipal and state regulation that existed, their operations and aspirations. Thirdly, there are the several appendices with useful information, including the numbers of cinemas across America, state by state; figures for the importing of films from other countries; the rules of the British Board of Film Censors; the Standards of the Pennsylvania Board of Film Censors (the first US state to have censorship laws); and samples of eliminated scenes by the National Board of Review (as illustrated above). It is available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (3.1MB), PDF (9.4MB), b/w PDF (3.4MB) and TXT (232KB) formats.

Hugo Cabret review

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Illustration from The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Just time to give you this review by Ian Beck of Brian Selznick’s children’s book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, already covered by an earlier post, in The Times. The inventively-illustrated book pays homage in its style to silent cinema, and Georges Méliès is a central character.

TO THE CASUAL EYE this is a daunting doorstop of a novel, a solid brick of 534 pages aimed squarely – and a little heavily – at the child reader.

Open the book, however, and something magical happens. Brian Selznick, who is well known in the US as an illustrator, has created a new and exciting hybrid, part novel, part picture book.

The narrative, written in simple, fable-like prose, is interrupted at crucial points by pages of eerie and heavily atmospheric, soft black-and-white tonal drawings. These move the story forward cinematically, then the words take over again, picking up exactly where the pictures have just stopped. It is like the exhilarating moment in a musical when a song seems to rise organically from the spoken drama; here the sequences of pictures suddenly rise like monochrome music. Instead of the action being described, we suddenly see it.

The early history of film is bound up, not to say embedded, in this moving story of Hugo Cabret, a 12-year-old orphan. The book opens with a wordless sequence of drawings. Beginning with a small image of the moon framed against a black page, exactly like an image from a silent film.

With each turn of the page, the images zoom out until the moon shines over the rooftops of Paris (deliberate echoes of René Clair and the golden age of French cinema), then the pictures widen further and our eye is taken into the city and among the crowds until we pick out young Hugo making his way through the caverns of the station that is his home.

It is 1931 and Hugo lives in a hidden chamber somewhere in the Gare du Nord. He spends his time caring for the clocks in the station, winding them and cleaning them. He feels an affinity with clockwork, and carries with him a mysterious notebook given to him by his father. The notebook has clues to the construction of a mechanical man, an automaton, which was damaged in a fire at the museum where Hugo’s father worked and perished.

Hugo believes that if he can repair the automaton, a seated figure holding a pen over a piece of paper, it will write him a message from his father.

He needs mechanical pieces to complete his work and attempts to steal them from a toyshop in the station. He is caught by the old man who runs it, and loses his notebook. But Hugo is helped in his task by Isabelle, the old man’s goddaughter. Through a combination of their abilities, they manage to make the figure work. It does indeed write a message, but it is not from Hugo’s father, and only deepens the mystery.

The substance of the story concerns the pioneering days of fantasy film-making, in particular that genius of the early silent cinema, Georges Méliès, who made the iconic 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, in which a rocket lands in the moon’s eye.

The story is an engaging meditation on fantasy, inventiveness, and a thrilling mystery in its own right. No knowledge of early cinema is necessary to enjoy it, but for those who do know just a little, the rewards are even greater.

Selznick should be applauded not only for extending the form of the illustrated book, but also for mining such a rich and neglected seam for his storytelling. If this book encourages a wider interest in the lost world of silent cinema, that would be a job well done. But it is also to be hoped that this new hybrid form will be developed in further ways by other authors and artists.

Cowboys and Indians

The East End Years

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

Slapstick, European-style – part 2


The Bioscope is taking part in the Slapstick Blog-a-Thon, a four-day festival of blogging on the subject of slapstick. The Bioscope’s contribution is to cover the story of the European comedians of the early cinema period whose work is less familiar to most now, but who enjoyed huge popularity in their day.

Today we look at a particular phenomenon of the period, child comedians. Here are three of the most popular of the period, all appearing in French films.

Bébé apache

Clemént Mary (1905-1974) was the the most celebrated of the European child stars of the silent period. At the age of five he was employed by the French Gaumont studios to star in a series of comedies under the name of Bébé. Bébé was a cheeky, resourceful character who was invariably far smarter than the adult world around him. Indeed, the common gag in the Bébé films was to place the child in adult situations, evidenced in such titles as Bébé apache (1910), Bébé millionaire (1911) and Bébé candidat au mariage (1911). In the first of those, Bébé’s ability to capture the mannerisms of the Parisian apache, and to play these convincingly and with deft coming timing amid an adult cast is extraordinary. He also played occasional non-Bébé roles. In 1912, Louis Feuillade at Gaumont introduced a new child character into the films, Bout-de-Zan (see below), and won a court case against Mary’s father who had protested at the competition. The father won the right to keep using the Bébé name however, and they moved to Eclectic Films to continue the series until 1916. In adulthood, he changed his name to René Dary and enjoyed a successful career in film and television into the 1970s.

There’s information on Louis Feuillade, Bébé and Bout-de-Zan in the Pordenone catalogue for 2000

See some of his credits (only a small selection of the Bébé films is given) on the IMDB, under René Dary


René-Georges Poyen (1908-1968) was taken on by Gaumont in 1908 as a co-star and planned replacement for Bébé, and was given the character name of Bout-de-Zan. Greater comic emphasis was placed on Bout-de-Zan being an ‘adult’ figure, as he dressed like an adult, aped adult mannerisms, and was generally an earthier character than Bébé. He would also often giving knowing looks to the camera, making the audience complicit in his trickery. Bout-de-Zan films stand up as well today as those of Bébé, displaying a cleverness and an apparent delight in peformance which helps override concern one might have at the exploitation of such young children, making films week after week. Poyen also appeared in the Louis Feuillade serials Les Vampires (1915) and Judex (1916). The last Bout-de-Zan film was made in 1916, but Poyen carried on making films into the 1920s.

The Image Entertainment DVD of Les Vampires includes a 1916 Bout-de-Zan short, Bout-de-Zan et l’embusqué

Willy Sanders

Willy Sanders (or Saunders) (1905-?) was a British music hall prodigy who first appeared on film aged four as a boxer, flooring an adult opponent, in The Man to Beat Jack Johnson (1910). His popularity was sufficient that he was brought over to France to star in the Little Willy series for Eclair, with seventy or so titles being produced 1911-16. Little Willy never had the same appeal as some of the great French child performers, but the series was reliable knockabout fare of the time, with such titles as Willy professeur de skating (1911), Willy diplomate (1913) and Petit Willy soigne la neurasthénie de son oncle (1911). Willy returned to boxing in 1913 for Willy contre le bombardier Wells, where our hero defeats ‘Bombardier’ Billy Wells, the great British boxing hero of the time. He seems not to have had a film career beyond 1916.

Read about Willy in Andrew Horrall’s Popular Culture in London c.1890-1918, which features him on the front cover

Read about The Man to Beat Jack Johnson on Screenonline

There will be more on the Europeans tomorrow…

Prakash Travelling Cinema

Part one

Prakash Travelling Cinema is a delightful short film, posted on YouTube by the filmmaker, Megha B. Lakhani. She made the 14-minute film while at the National Institute of Design, India, and it has gone on to win festival awards.

The film documents two friends who maintain a travelling bioscope show on the streets of Ahmedabad. The ramshackle outfit, which they take around on a hand-cart, comprises a genuine c.1910 Pathé projector, adapted for sound, with peep-holes all around the mobile ‘cinema’ itself (which they call their ‘lorry’), through which children watch snippets plucked from popular Bollywood titles. One of the amazing sights of the film is either of the two men hand-cranking their sound projector at exhausting speed.

Part two

Although they are not showing silent films, the whole enterprise is imbued with the spirit of the original travelling bioscope operators of India, and of course the technology hails from the silent period. The word ‘bioscope’ still persists in places in India for cinema, as it does in South Africa. However, the film wants to do more than show a quaint operation, and it is very much about friendship, conviction, Indian society, and the persistence of a human way of doing things in the face of modern media technologies.

There are an estimated 2,000 mobile cinema shows in India today, and the travelling bioscope has been made the subject of other recent films. There is Andrej Fidyk’s 1998 documentary film Battu’s Bioscope, on a modern travelling show in rural India; Vrinda Kapoor and Nitesh Bhatia’s short film Baarah Mann Ki Dhoban (2007), on modern bioscope workers whch also touches on the history of India film exhibition; and Tim Sternberg’s film Salim Baba (2007), again about a modern travelling bioscope show, this time with an adapted 1897 Bioscope. Plus there’s Tabish Khair’s acclaimed novel Filming, published this year, which moves from a travelling bioscope show in 1929 to the Bombay cinema of the 1940s as a means to examine the rise of modern India. Clearly there’s a metaphor in the air.

Prakash Travelling Cinema was made in 2006, and there’s a full set of credits here. The film is in Hindi, with English subtitles, and on YouTube, owing to its length, it comes in two parts.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Méliès shop

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a children’s book (designed for 9-12 year-olds), written and illustrated by Brian Selznick and published this year. Set in Paris in 1931, it tells of a young orphan boy, Hugo Cabret, who is reduced to stealing to find food to eat, but then rescues an automaton from a museum fire. Seeking pieces to repair the figure, he steals pieces from a toy store by a railway station. Then he is caught. Now read on…

Our interest is that the toy store keeper is Georges Méliès. The illustration above from the book echoes the famous photograph of Méliès at his kiosk on the Gare Montparnasse, years after he had lost his film business and disappeared into obscurity, and just at the point of his re-discovery by film historians. Méliès becomes a leading character in the story, introducing Hugo to the world of early film. The book is a graphic-novel-with-text, and incorporates images from Méliès’ films.

There’s a website,, which has information on the ideas behind the book, including a page on Méliès, and a Flash slide show of some of the book’s illustrations.

There’s a video interview with Selznick, emphasizing his fascination for the Méliès story, on the site. It shows many illustrations from the book, from which we learn that Selznick makes a particular point of depicting shoe-heels in his drawings (Méliès’ film library was notoriously melted down to make, amongst other things, shoe-heels).

Rumour has it that Martin Scorsese is considering making a film based on the novel, or at least that John Logan, scriptwriter for The Aviator, is writing a screenplay.

The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities

The Cinema

There are so many interesting and valuable texts in the silent cinema field being added to the Internet Archive, but this latest addition to the Bioscope Library is perhaps the most exciting and important yet.

The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities (1917) is a report and summary of evidence taken by the Cinema Commission Inquiry, instituted by the National Council of Public Morals. Essentially, it is a thorough investigation into the cinema in Britain and what its effects might be on the viewing public. As the introduction states, the National Council on Public Morals was “deeply concerned with the influence of the cinematograph, especially upon young people, with the possibilities of its development and with its adaptation to national educational purposes”. In other words, many in authority were alarmed at the popularity of cinema among those it deemed dangerously impressionable, and they wanted better to understand it, and to establish greater control over it. But they also wanted to find out what was best about it, and to replace hearsay with evidence.

The Commission was led by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham, and comprised assorted religious, educational and political figures, representatives from the film trade, T.P. O’Connor from the British Board of Film Censors, and others, including Dr Marie Stopes representing the Incorporated Society of Authors, Playwrights and Composers. The Commision sat from January to July 1917. Its terms of reference were:

  • To institute an inquiry into the physical, social, educational, and moral influences of the cinema, with special reference to young people; and into
  • The present position and future development of the cinematograph, with special reference to its social and educational value and possibilities;
  • To investigate the nature and extent of the complaints which have been made against cinematograph exhibitions;
  • To report to the National Council the evidence taken, together with its findings and recommendations, which the Council will publish.

The detailed report that was published is an unmatched treasure trove not only of opinions, fears, hopes and prejudices regarding the cinema and its audience, but of evidence relating to the production and exhibition of films in Britain at this time. Those supplying evidence included Cecil Hepworth, J. Brooke Wilkinson, A.E. Newbould, Gavazzi King and F.R. Goodwin, all key figures from the film industry, teachers, policemen, magistrates, social workers, and children.

The report is of importance in three areas in particular. First, for what it reveals of attitudes – positive as negative – towards the cinema from society’s moral guardians, for which there is much fascinating verbatim evidence, in the questions they ask as well as in the answers received. There are many questions about the supposed corrupting influence of cinema, and some heartening replies, such as this from J.W. Bunn, a headmaster from Islington:

A considerable number of people look upon the attendance of children at cinematograph entertainments with dislike if not with horror, and are apparently inclined to accuse the picture shows of being the main cause of juvenile misdemeanours. I do not agree with this view, and am firmly convinced that there is great exaggeration committed by this class. In my opinion these people are always to be found on the side of opposition of popular and cheap amusements for the working classes. The picture show is undoubtedly very popular with the women and children of the working class, but then it is still new enough to be a novelty, and it must be remembered that no other form of entertainment has ever offered to the poor the same value in variety and comfort for a very small outlay.

Secondly, there is invaluable statistical evidence provided by the film trade, including numbers of cinemas nationally, seats occupied, prices, investment in the cinema industry and the amount of film in distribution. Much of this data is unique to the report.

Lastly, there is the evidence from the school children about their cinema-going habits. Probably uniquely for this period in British film, we have the words of the audience members themselves. Here’s a revealing exchange between the Chairman and four boys from Bethnal Green (two aged eleven, two thirteen):

Q. What do you like best at the cinema ?
A. All about thieves.
Q. The next best?
A. Charlie Chaplin.
Q. And you?
A. Mysteries; and then Charlie Chaplin.
Q. And you?
A. Mysteries, and Charlie Chaplin.
Q. What do you mean by mysteries?
A. Where stolen goods are hidden away in vaults so that the police can’t get them.
Q. And you?
A. Cowboys; and then Charlie Chaplin second.
Q. When you have seen these pieces showing thieving and people catching the thief, has it ever made you wish to go and do the same thing?
A. Yes.
Q. Do you think the fellow who steals, then, a fine man?
A. No.
Q. But you would like to do it yourself?
A. Yes.
Q. Do you like the adventure or what?
A. I like the adventure.
Q. You have no desire, then, to steal in order to get things for yourself, but you like the dashing about and getting up drain-pipes and that sort of thing?
A. Yes.
Q. And you?
A. No, I don’t like that, I should not like to do that.
Q. Do you like pictures where you see flowers growing?
A. No.
Q. Do you like ships coming in and bringing things from distant lands?
(One boy replied ” No,” and the other three ” Yes.”)
Q. You like to have a consistent programme of detective stories and Charlie Chaplin, and you don’t want any more?
A. Yes.
Q. Do you sit amongst the girls?
A. Sometimes.
Q. What do you pay?
A. Id. and 2d.
Q. Do you ever have to sit on the ground?
A. No, we always have a seat.
Q. Have you ever seen the boys behave roughly to the girls?
A. Yes.
Q. What do they do?
A. Aim orange peel at them.
Q. Do they pull the girls about?
A. Yes, their hair.
Q. And do the girls pull back again?
A. No; they seem to enjoy it.

The Report was generally favourable towards the film industry, which was delighted to receive such vindication of its work. The Report recommended the implementation of a system of official censorship, superseding that of local authorities, but this was not implemented.

It’s a marvellous document, and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in early British film or the social history of film. It’s available for download from the Internet Archive in DjVu (28MB), PDF (69MB), black-and-white PDF (21MB), and TXT (1.3MB) formats (the latter essential for word searching).

Education, education, education

Some new additions to The Bioscope Library. A prominent theme in the silent era was the use of films in education. It was driven by a mixture of idealism and commerce, but mostly by the evident appeal that motion pictures had for children – a challenge to authorities in every sense. An enthusiastic period in the 1910s, when many advocated the motion picture as an essenial tool for educating the young was followed by a period of experiment and analysis in the 1920s, determining the pedagogic value and the pitfalls. Many specialist producers in educational film then sprang up, exploiting the new 16mm film format for non-theatrical exhibition, riding on the bandwagon of what was labelled Visual Education.

Ernest Dench’s Motion Picture Education (1917) is a rambling but enthusiastic guide, which considers the potential for film to teach history, arithmetic, natural history, domestic science, even handwriting. There is some grasp of the theoretical side, and warnings that film is no substitute for text. Dench reveals how the great passion for films among young audiences was taxing authorities, which sought to master a medium they did not fully understand. It’s available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (5.3MB), PDF (43MB) and TXT (351KB) formats.

Don Carlos Ellis and Laura Thornborough’s Motion Pictures in Education: A Practical Handbook for Users of Visual Aids (1923) is one of the standard guides of the period. It is designed as the essential handbook for the teacher needing to the how and why of using film in the classroom. In good common-sense fashion it covers the history of educational film, the objections raised against its use, the advantages of using the medium, the kinds of films available, the practicalities of exhibiting them, and examples of their successful use. It’s available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (7.2MB), PDF (34MB) and TXT (515KB) formats.

Also in an instructional vein are two further books added to the Library. The year before his book on education, Ernest Dench wrote Advertising by Motion Pictures (1916), a fascinating, if discursive guide to the potential of the motion picture for purposes of advertising. Dench covers the selling of railroads, food products, agricultural machinery, shoes, real estate, newspapers and dry goods through motion pictures. He covers different approaches for different kinds of audience (working classes, farmers), and different media, with particular attention given to the use of advertising slides. Some of it is aimless speculation, like the chapter on naming soda fountain concoctions after movies, but its enthusiasm is appealing and it paints a useful picture of they ways in which the cinema industry engaged with the American audience in the early years of cinema. It’s available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (5.2MB), PDF (23MB) and TXT (207KB) formats.

Lastly, there’s Hugh C. McClung, Camera Knowledge for The Photoplaywright (1920). This pamphlet offers a simple guide to the technology and practice of cinematograph for the would-be writer of screenplays. McClung was a cinematographer himself, with Gaston Méliès, Willian Fox, Triangle, Douglas Fairbanks and Famous Players-Lasky. The chief intent of the booklet is to make writers “think in pictures,” and in between the general pleas for appreciation of the hard work that went behind the making of pictures, there are some interesting anecdotes which bring to life the practicalities of the business. Available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (604KB), PDF (2.2MB) and TXT (37KB) formats.