Méliès at the crossroads


As noted in our interview with Matthew Solomon, later this month there is to be a conference on Georges Méliès, news of which I hadn’t picked up on before now. It is to take place 25 July-August 2011 at Cerisy-la-Salle in France. Méliès, carrefour des attractions has been organised by André Gaudreault and Laurent le Forestier, with the support of the Méliès family. It seeks to re-examine Georges Méliès’ position in early cinema history, whether as a precursor of subsequent developments in narrative cinema, spectacle, science fiction etc, or whether he is better understood as a product of the social, economic and legal practices of his time.

The conference will comprise a mixture of academic papers and screenings. The only information available on its contents is in French, which will be the dominant language at the conference, but here is the line-up of speakers and papers:

Lundi 25 juillet

Présentation du Centre, du colloque et des participants

Mardi 26 juillet
André GAUDREAULT: La cinématographie-attraction chez Méliès: une conception durable
Laurent LE FORESTIER: Le point de vue du monsieur de L’Orchestre: la place des “films” de Méliès dans les programmes de spectacles

Patrick DÉSILE: Trucs de théâtre et trucs de cinéma. Essai d’inventaire et d’interprétation
Réjane HAMUS-VALLÉE: La sauce et le poisson: pour une esthétique de l’effet mélièsien

Lectures de lettres, par Elisabeth SERMAN et Sylvain SOLUSTRI, présentées par Jacques MALTHÊTE

Projection de films

Mercredi 27 juillet
Jacques MALTHÊTE: L’appentis sorcier de Montreuil-sous-Bois
Jean-Pierre SIROIS-TRAHAN: La scène réfractée au travers de la lentille de Georges Méliès

Jean-Pierre BERTHOMÉ: Les décors de Méliès
Martin BARNIER: Le son féerique de Méliès

Présentation des publications récentes

Projection de films

Jeudi 28 juillet
Matthew SOLOMON: Méliès, Incohérent
Frédéric TABET: Méliès, le magicien et les magiciens


Vendredi 29 juillet
Laurent GUIDO: Entre performance scénique et ciné-chorégraphie, les avatars de la danse chez Méliès
Priska MORRISSEY: Femmes-papillons et diables en collants: les costumes des vues de Georges Méliès

Giusy PISANO & Caroline RENOUARD: Méliès et la lanterne magique
Rae Beth GORDON: Voir double: le fondu enchaîné et le regard sidéré du spectateur

Lectures de lettres, par Elisabeth SERMAN et Sylvain SOLUSTRI, présentées par Jacques MALTHÊTE
Spectacle de magie, par Frédéric TABET

Samedi 30 juillet
Frank KESSLER & Sabine LENK: Méliès et la série culturelle de la féerie
Stéphane TRALONGO: Georges Méliès et les faiseurs de féeries. Pour une histoire des échanges entre théâtre et cinématographe

Caroline CHIK: Arrêt de caméra et photographie animée
Pierre CHEMARTIN & Dominique NOUJEIM: Méliès et Cohl: transformations, métamorphoses et disparitions

Spectacle de magie, par Sylvain SOLUSTRI

Dimanche 31 juillet
Elena DAGRADA: Entre astronomie et astrologie, ou de l’anthropomorphisation des astres
Nicolas DULAC: Méliès et les fictions de la science

Viva PACI: Les visions d’un scientifique récalcitrant
Wanda STRAUVEN: Une lecture média-archéologique de l’œuvre de Georges Méliès (ou: Méliès, un praticien SM?)

Projection de films

Lundi 1er août
Philippe GAUTHIER & Santiago HIDALGO: Georges Méliès dans l’historiographie des premiers temps
François ALBERA: Synthèse du colloque


The conference site has abstracts for each of the papers (in French).

There is further information, also in French, at something else that is new to me – what is billing itself as the official Georges Méliès site (www.melies.eu). On quick inspection it contains a biography, a rudimentary filmography (without catalogue numbers), a family tree (handy), links and entertaining associated information (including a listing of the remarkable number of French streets named after Méliès – can any other filmmaker have been so recognised?), bibliography, news and images.

The site has been put together by Pauline Duclaud-Lacoste Méliès, who (the family tree tells us) is Méliès’ great-great-granddaughter. It isn’t anywhere near the great, comprehensive and useful website that an artist of Méliès’ standing ought to have by now, but it’s maybe a little better than what has gone before. If only there was as much attention paid to Méliès by our website builders as there has been by France’s road builders.

Media and cultural memory – day three

I have two definitions of history which I keep coming back to in my mind.

1. History is what was known once but has been forgotten.

2. History is the present’s interpretation of the past.

Time and again historical questions, interpretations and hypotheses involve trying to recover something that was common knowledge. Equally, history can only be seen through our ever-changing eyes. The history we understand now is not what those tomorrow will understand.

All of which makes the idea of history and cultural memory a bit nebulous. If history is about forgetfulness and re-interpretation, then remembrance has little to with it, and the memories of others are theirs alone.

But we press on.

Day three of the Iamhist conference on the above theme, and the last day for me, though conference and events continue to Sunday. Nothing among the 9am parallel sessions immediately grabs me, but I think I’ll go for New Media, New Memory – three papers piquantly bringing together pirate radio, the Bible, and the Tea Party.

10.20 – Efficient paper from David Dault on ideologically-biased Bible commentaries (e.g. explaining that the invitation to share all your goods is not an invitation to communism) which seemed to belong to a different conference entirely.

Chirpy paper by A.W. Badenoch on pirate radio, mostly a critique of The Boat that Rocked for misremembering Radio Caroline. Do films ever remember anything correctly? What is a correct memory anyway?

Katy Scrogin on the Tea Party’s use of new media to disremember. Depressing account of ideology run riot. History as the past reinterpreted by the present in extremis. Or a denial of any sort of history at all. I guess their belief in interpretation overriding historical fact makes them cultural theorists of a kind.

You fear that the media have failed, because fundamentally they cannot communicate truth. But rather they ably reflect human fallibility.

I need to escape into the past. I need a paper on newsreels.

12.25 – Somewhat disappointing paper on Swedish newsreels which announced work to come rather than work done. Lively paper by Scott Anthony on iconography of Imperial Airways, though not quite sure how it connects with memory.

Jo Fox gave authoritative, clear paper on the self-myth making of the British documentary movement, revisiting their 1930s’ work as an ideal for engaging with the working man and helping to change society. They were driven to myth and overstatement because they were arguing their case in the face of a sceptical comissioning body (Ministry of Information) which was probably more interested in results. Did they really believe documentary would be fundamental to building post-war Britain? Such vanity.

13.15 – Now this is going to be fun – keynote from Richard Howells on the Titanic and modern memory. Just what’s needed at this stage of things – a star turn.

17.50 – An entertaining deconstruction of all things Titanic, pointing out that in historical terms its sinking is little more than a footnote, but in mythological terms it retains huge importance. The myth-building began almost as soon as it sank (witness the fakery in newsreel from the time), and has changed according to need, from early patriotic interpretation, to nationalist (the Nazi film version), to liberated Rose in James Cameron’s avowedly historically accurate version.

We learned lots about Titanic merchandise, including teatowels, sinking bathpugs, and cheese. Our ‘memories’ (there are no surviving survivors) are all so post-modern, it’s too easy to forget that there was a real tragedy, with real people dying.

From multimedia myth to memories of cinemagoing, using evidence from the time or derived after the event though interviews. I chaired a session with microhistories from Guy Barefoot (Leicester), Lies Van de Vijver (Ghent) and Kathleen Lotze (Antwerp), all fine examples of what sometimes gets called the new cinema history – empirical evidence, databases, sociological questions, films as something seen by people. Right up the Bioscope’s street.

17.20 – I’m now journeying back to find that street once more. Maybe more thoughts later.

20.20 (UK time) – Back home (Gatwick is starting to feel like home). Do I have any more thoughts? Cultural memory is a con, at least where history of the usual sort is concerned. Like personal memory, it’s about what a society wants to have happened rather than what did. Of course history is all about interpretation in any case, but not the interpretation by society. History is made by historians – by people who know what they are doing. That’s why bodies like Iamhist are important and why conferences such as this are important. They are essential means for discovering the truth. It is good to explore cultural myths and memories, but the truth is our anchor.

And now I’m going settle down with my newspaper and read all about the sorry end of The News of the World.

Good night.

Media and cultural memory – day two

And here we are on day two of the Iamhist conference, on the theme of Media and cultural memory. First up is a parallel session on Memory and World War I, right up my street and I’m chairing it. Best to put down the Blackberry – it won’t look so good.

10.55 – Three interesting papers on memory and World War I, each in its way looking at how the visual archive has served as commemorative evidence. Sheena Scott on fleeting images of disabled soldiers in French cinema of 1920s/30s. Are there so few because the French repressed it or because it didn’t appeal to a filmgoing public? There is nothing like Lucky Star in the US.

Roel vande Winkel on With Our Troops on the Yser (1928/29), war footage repurposed by Flemish nationalists for propagandist ends, with emphasis of gruesome death that you wouldn’t get in commercial cinema.

Leen Engelen on the interesting theme of picture postcards of Edith Cavell and Belgian-born heroine, also executed by the Germans, Gabrielle Page. Statues as one form of visual commemoration turned into another, postcards.

11.20 – Another session, another war – now it’s WW2. Brian Petersen on Danish resistance movies – made after the war, fairly obviously. Particularly Three Years After (1948) on a disillusioned former resistance fighter. A commercial flop for telling audiences what they did not wish to hear.

Wendy Burke on heroes and villains in Dutch war-themed films 1962-1986. Refreshing to have someone from one country speaking about another. It would be interesting to have a rule for film conferences saying that no one can give a paper about their home nation. What new things we might learn.

Here film moves from ideas of goed (good, noble) and fout (bad, collaborationist) to the grey area where many actually lived. Yet there were no Dutch films about the war 1951-61 and only two in the 1960s. The Silent Raid (1962) has all Dutch working collaboratively for the resistance. Long wait til Soldier of Orange (1977) which shows a more complex picture of resistance and collaboration. Some have to collaborate to avoid worse for themselves or loved ones. It took over 30 years for Dutch film to face up to such truths. We can accept more the further we are away from it, in place and time. Inevitably.

Ilse Raaijmakers on commemoration of the war in Dutch newspapers. Dutch had no recent experience of war so had to learn for new the art of commemoration. They established a national liberation day which no one much followed, so they stopped it being a public holiday in 1954, at which point everyone (insofar as newspapers can mean everyone) protested. So newspapers drove it to become a national holiday again in 1955.

13.05 – Things going well so far. So many pitfalls with the theme of memory, let alone the yawning vagueness of cultural memory, but Iamhist types know how to steer through such territory.

13.20 – Now for keynote from Christine Becker, winner of Iamhist book prize for It’s the Pictures that Got Small, a really excellent work on film stars keeping their careers going on US 1950s TV. Yours truly was one of the judges so I know. Do read it. Wise, revelatory, comprehensively researched and a pleasure to read.

Gee, she talks even more quickly than I do when giving papers. And she’s speeding up …

Entertaining account of the research process focussing on the perils and pleasures of using interview material. Eternal watchfulness needed, but sometimes people do actually speak the verifiable truth. Also the challenges of dealing with those who didn’t want to remember.

A good talk. Sort of a masterclass on conducting research and turning it into publication. I think it will have inspired an audience member or two.

14.30 – Now three papers on new media history. First up, Berber Hagedoorn on Dutch multi-platform TV and history. Focus on rescreening of archival TV – catch-up, online archives, open media platforms (YouTube) etc.

Example of In Europehttp://ineuropa.nl – TV series, website, virtual atlas, blog, radio broadcasts, user contributions. TV keeps the memories alive, archives on their own don’t. Discuss.

Nice, optimistic paper.

14.50 – Krisitan Handberg offers us the phrase “digital yesterland”. Who will thank him?

Agh, Yesterland exists – it’s a virtual theme park.

The retro boom of today. An obsession with the past beyond the domain of history. Is there more to the past than history? I must ponder this.

Retro is always a gesture, never total recall. It’s us playing with the past.

Perhaps we look so much to the past because we no longer look to the future.

15.15 – Sian Barber on EU Screen, the TV equivalent to European Film Gateway reported on last week. Aims to offer 35,000 open access items from European TV. That’s what 5M euros buys you. I’m greatly impressed by these ambitious, idealistic, rigorous projects, but I don’t know who they are for. Has anyone asked for a selective portal to European archival TV? Is this creating a shared heritage that doesn’t exist, or does it exist only we haven’t thought about it much, or will it now have to exist because we have created a platform for it?

16.20 – How politely the Danes are addressing us all in English. At the end of paper sessions they ask questions of one another in a foreign tongue when in their own land.

16.25 – Danish filmmaker Neils Vest introduces his documentary about Copenhagen’s squatters’ ‘free city’ Christiania.

To live outside the law you must be honest, as the great man sang.

18.55 – Hmm, the free life looks like it has about as much hassle as the unfree one, and they sing such terrible songs. Now by a canal listening to Danish trad jazz band play ‘It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing’. And now it’s time for supper and society.


Media and cultural memory – day one

So here we are on day one of the Iamhist conference, being held at the University of Copenhagen, on the theme of ‘media and cultural memory’. It’s so broad a theme that practically anything could be made to fit somehow, so long as it covers the media and history – for what is history but cultural memory in any case?

09.45 – Sitting on a bench on the immaculately clean and clean-cut university campus, glorious weather abounding. Have breakfasted with fellow inmates at the comically plain hotel (rooms just above prison cell status, but not much). Now for a Iamhist council meeting, once I have grasped the cryptic directions given to me.

14.10 – The council was what council meetings have a tendency to be. Now after lunch in the sunshine we are looking to kick off the conference with formal introductions, just as soon as the chaos in the registration queue is sorted out … and we’re ready.

14.15 – The dean of faculty of humanities hasn’t heard of Nordisk. So much for Danish cultural memory …

14.25 – Roundtable on memory and museums with Thomas Christensen (Danish Film Institute), Raye Farr (US Holocaust Memorial Museum), Suzanne Bardgett (Imperial War Museum).

15.25 – Christensen economically gives same presentation as he did in Bologna. The mechanics of sustaining film archives in a digital age. What is a digital object/original? “History can only be truly trusted if the primary documents survive unaltered”. That’s subtle – you can write history with digital surrogates, but our archives and museums must preserve the originals, or we have no history worth writing.

That’s sort of right. But film archiving is all about copying. I guess it’s that we must always be able to determine provenance – the memory of what the object (now digital) once was.

15.45 – Much discussion of importance of capturing first person testimony, but I wonder if our compulsion for collecting oral history is greater than the actual wish we have to consult this. Ultimately the only memories we have are our own.

16.45 – Parallel session on radio and sound history, and Foucault gets his first mention. It won’t be the last.

16.20 – And now Derrida. The speaker asks Whither spectrality? Whither transindividualtion? Search me. I have Archive Fever on my bookshelves but I don’t know of any archivist who has read it.

16.40 – LARM audiovisual research project, which is generating one million hours of Danish radio. Wow. Might there be a case for having too much memory? Recordings from 1931 onwards. Aims to stream sounds to researchers to their own computers and mobiles. 3.35M euros project grant.

Power of radio to give illusion of proximity to an event. How are they overcoming the copyright issues? (It’s for HE users only, and covered by licence) And how extensively do they expect it to be used?

17.05 – Third speaker from this same project on how to deal methodologically with radio recordings that no longer exist. When secondary sources (scripts etc) become primary sources.

Intriguing observation – analogue archives offer potentially infinite information, digital archives are closer to a finite amount of information.

Fascinating project. I hope it gets the use to match its potential. Researchers struggle so much with audio archives – more so than film. It’s the curse of the time-based medium, it takes time to listen to it.

17.45 – Looking forward to this – Stephen Badsey on Media, Memory, and the Transformation of First World War History. Keynote given in memory of the late Phil Taylor, a great historian of media and propaganda.

20.55 – It was a terrific talk from Steve Badsey (ex IWM and Sandhurst, now at Wolverhampton). On military history v cultural history, and pretty withering about the latter. Essentially military historians have revised all the sentimental ideas about WWI (the pity of war, lions led by donkeys etc), but until recently cultural historians have been more interested in the myth than the reality, while the popular idea remains rooted in poets and O What a Lovely War.

It’s rare to hear a talk which would go down as effectively with a general audience as with an academic one. Some gems I noted down:

  • Think of all those who did well out of the war: Hollywood producers, Irish nationalists, British women over 30 (who got the vote)
  • There were two Western Fronts – the one of literary/cultural theory, and the one of military history
  • Not everyone appreciates the fact as yet that you can be interested in military history and yet not be a murderous psychopath
  • For many soldiers their frontline experience was better than they knew at home, and with the risk of violent death possibly less

Also he spoke about the increased appreciation of visual media (including film) as evidence, a heartening trend that has grown as access has grown. We archivists just have to keep on making more available.

Good chats over dinner about access to scholarly journals online, repairs to the Little Mermaid, Foyle’s War, the necessity of having Journey’s End on DVD, and the possibility of newsreel footage proving that the Titanic never sank …

More on the morrow in another post.

Performing new media

Charles Urban (centre) and camera operators Albuin Mariner (nearest left) and Joseph DeFrenes (nearest right) filming the Delhi Durbar in Kinemacolor in 1911, from http://www.charlesurban.com

Domitor, the international body dedicated to the scholarly study of early cinema, is to hold its next conference at Brighton, UK, 25-28 June 2012, arguably the the birthplace of cinema, given the great creative work undertaken there my cine-artists such as George Albert Smith and James Williamson in the late 1890s. The call for papers has just been issued:

Performing New Media, 1890-1915
Twelfth International DOMITOR Conference
Monday, 25 June to Thursday, 28 June, 2012 [Update: dates are now 18-22 June 2012]
University of Brighton, Brighton, UK

From the 1890s to the start of the First World War, a new media culture of projected images emerged. Showmen and women, entrepreneurs, educators, scientists and others employed magic lanterns and cinematographs in a variety of contexts that shaped and expressed the social, cultural and commercial significance of these new media. Given that these silent screen technologies almost always demanded accompaniment (words, music, sound effects) and that the combined use of lantern slides and short films implied varied and sometimes complex programmes, these events were effectively always performances. Projectionists, exhibitors, onstage talent, musical accompanists, backstage crews – all contributed to performances that could include live music, song, lectures, narration or sound effects in union with projected images. The growth of this new media also precipitated the rise of the new film industry and gave birth to the concept of ‘the cinema’. Around the world purpose-built cinemas opened in the 1900s, creating new and distinctive venues. However this screen practice was not yet ‘pure’ (i.e. film only) as these early venues were also active sites for the exhibition of films within multi-media performances. Exploring the nature and uses of these hybrid and multifaceted new media performances at this pivotal historical moment (‘the invention of cinema’) and analysing their social, cultural, economic and ideological meanings provides this conference with its subject and purpose. By engaging these concerns in Brighton three and a half decades after the famous 1978 FIAF conference, we wish to address and expand the historiography of early cinema in light of recent explorations of the intermedial and performative nature of contemporary new media.

We invite papers that explore such areas as:

  • old and new histories and theories of media / screen practice 1890-1915 – challenging the established historiography through the study of screen history / theory in the context of its ‘performance’
  • new media performance practices – origins and histories: the role of showmen and their creation of programmes; the combination of the lantern and the cinematograph within performance; the use of lecturers, narration, music, song and sound; the rise of the new media travelling show and the use of networks / circuits of venues; the history and dissemination of performance techniques
  • the role of gender, race and class in shaping these practices
  • the social, cultural, commercial and ideological natures of these programmes
  • performance and professionalization
  • the industrialisation of the lantern from the 1880s and its impact on performance (e.g. the rise of manufacturers devoted to lantern projectors and slides, the standardisation of slide formats, the production of catalogues and the introduction of distribution systems)
  • the particular relationship between the magic lantern and the cinematograph
  • the use of recorded sound as a performance component
  • new media performances in the context of both national and trans-national practices
  • educational, religious, or scientific new media performances
  • the ‘news’ on stage and on screen: employing the lantern and the cinematograph within performances that addressed such events as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the Spanish-American War and the Delhi Durbars
  • ‘textual variability’: from page to performance through new media presentations (e.g. Dickens or the New Testament)
  • the venues for this history and their new media programmes, cultures and audiences (this includes the first purpose-built cinemas); architecture and performance
  • new media programmes and the city 1890-1915: tourism, culture, entertainment and economic development (e.g. Brighton and late Victorian seaside resorts)
  • new media and its intermedial and intertextual relationships with other performance practices (e.g. the circus, the music hall / vaudeville, pantomime, theatre and the travelling show)
  • the relationship between performance theory and new media performance, 1890-1915
  • researching new media and its performance: the archival challenges and opportunities
  • the (sometimes historiographically and theoretically fraught) relationships among new media of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries

Although we imagine the general time frame for the period covered by papers in the conference to be 1890 through 1915, we realise that cinema developed unevenly across the global stage. For that reason, papers treating cinema after 1915 in countries where early cinema practices postdate the proposed time frame will be given full consideration. Similarly, papers that examine the history and current status of early cinema’s place in the archive and museum—specifically related to the concept of “new media performance”—are also welcomed.

Proposal Submission Process: Those wishing to submit a proposal should do so no later than 31 October 2011 to: domitor2012@gmail.com

Proposals for pre-constituted panels of 3 or 4 participants will also be considered; such proposals should be submitted by the panel chair and consist of the collected individual paper proposals in addition to a brief rationale for the pre-constituted panel.

Proposals for individual papers should be no longer than 300 words and be written in either English or French. Only a paper written in one of those two languages can be presented at the conference. Papers prepared for conference delivery should stay within a word limit of 2500 words and be able to fit within a 20-minute presentation format (including any audiovisual material used to supplement the paper). We request that all papers be submitted by 30 April 2012 to allow for simultaneous translation.

While membership in DOMITOR is not required to submit a proposal, anyone presenting a paper at the conference must be a member. To become a member, please visit this site: http://www.domitor.org/en/About/member.html

It’s good to have the Domitor conference come to the UK at long last (its first conference was in Québec in 1990), and to a city so rich in cinema and performance history generally as Brighton. Hopefully the broad topic will encourage a wide variety of papers – and lots of new faces, please (as well as the much-loved old ones, of course).

For more information on Domitor, visit their bi-lingual (Franch-English) website (which I believe is about to undergo a major re-design quite soon).

Second birth

I hope I have not allowed it to be inferred that the developments I have mentioned are a mere epitome of the occurrences of a single year. On the contrary they represent a crescendo of change which began in or around 1911 and continued for a long time – continued in some respects indeed right up to the year of the Great War.

Registration is now open for the Second Birth of Cinema conference. The conference is taking place at Percy Building, Newcastle University, UK, 1-2 July 2011, and takes as its somewhat contentious theme the idea that cinema really only got its act together in 1911, so that we should be celebrating its centenary now, and all of those who got the bunting out in 1895 were jumping the gun. The thesis is argued thus:

This conference commemorates cinema’s ‘second birth’, the historical developments and departures that broke film’s subordination to other media to give us the medium, the industry and the building that we know as ‘the cinema’.

If, as André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion have recently insisted, cinema was born once as a technology and then again as a medium, just when and how did this occur? What caused film practice, the film business and film discourse all to generate a media identity for cinema? How did we get from ‘animated photography’ to ‘the pictures’?

Interesting questions, and silent filmmmaker Cecil Hepworth, quoted at the top of this post and used by the conference as an epigraph, clearly thought there was something in it. So do quite a few other people now, because they have a handsome list of topics as the subject of some of the papers now accepted:

  • Film Architecture in Southern California, 1909-1915
  • The Victorian Novel and Early Narrative Film
  • The Second Birth of Cinema in Belgium, 1904-1913
  • The Reinvention of Colour in the Single-Reel Era
  • Animated Films and Negotiated Intermediality
  • The Second Birth of Cinema in Quebec, 1906-1916
  • Measuring the ‘Double Birth’ Model Against the Digital Age
  • The Lightning Cartoon Film
  • André Bazin’s Second Birth of Cinema
  • The Emergence of By-Programme Genres in Germany
  • The Serial and the Institutionalization of the Film Industry
  • The Local Picture Show and the Second Birth in Canada
  • The British Film Industry’s Transition from the Local to the National
  • The Futurists’ New Era of Cinema
  • The Emergence of Film Celebrity in Britain
  • The Newsreel and the Variety Format
  • The Autorenfilm Movement and Cinema’s Second Birth in Germany
  • The Production Crisis and the Formation of the British Film Industry

Keynote speakers are André Gaudreault (Université de Montréal),
Philippe Marion (Université catholique du Louvain), Ian Christie (Birkbeck College) and Joe Kember (Exeter University). The conference website has details of bookings, travel and accommodation.

Is the new film history or the old film history with a slightly different hat? I’ll guess you’ll have to attend to find out. Or wait til someone decides that 1915/2015 will be the third birth of cinema. And so on.

Girona mini-diary no. 3

Day two of the Origins of News in Early Cinema, held in the fine city of Girona. And once again we have just a brief summary of each of the papers given.

Charles Musser, Cinema, Newspaper and the US Presidential Election of 1896. – Musser scored big with the locals by wearing a Barcelona scarf. Authoritative keynote address on use of multimedia by Republicans and the press in 1896, contrasted with 1892 election.

The true-crime films of Antonio Leal, 1906-1909: From newspaper reportage to film reenactments in Brazil’s “Bela Época”. Rielle Navitski – the distinctive Brazilian genre of dramatisations of true crimes.

How actual was an actualité in early cinema? Time as agency in presenting moving images of news of fair ground and variety theatre. Ansje van Beusekom – How could early newsfilms be news if they were shown months afterwards?

How to tell a catastrophic event. The earthquake of Messina (Italy) in 1908. Luigi Virgolin – the newsfilms of the Messina earthquake.

Fernando Rus, pioner del fotoperiodisme barceloní i operador d’actualitats cinematogràfiques. Lluïsa Suárez – a little-known local filmmaker, tantalising traces of whose activity can be found in illustrated journals.

El nacimiento de las actualidades en el cine italiano: estudios sobre la guerra ítalo-turca (1911-1912) Sila Berruti i Luca Mazzei – impressive paper on innovations in technology in the Italian-Turkish war, fought in Lybia no less. Many film innovations we think of as coming from World War I were here. Particularly surprising to learn about ‘cinema-postcards’ made of soldiers’ families (how and where these were shpwn was unclear, however).

Luke McKernan. Links in the chain: early newsreels and newspapers – I spoke in broad brush terms about newsreels, connecting them to digital news of today. Newsreels were given surprisingly little mention during the seminar, most preferring earlier news event films.

I missed the next few papers while I went for a parade through the city, but here’s what they were, for the record:

El panorama de la batalla de Waterloo, Barcelona 1888 i la producció i recepció dels panorames de batalles. Neus Moyano

La llanterna i les seves variants com a antecedents dels diferents gèneres cinematogràfics. Jordi Artigas

La fascinació lúdica i participativa: entre Segundo de Chomón i el primer videojoc. Manuel Garin

Antonio Ramos i els orígens del cinema a la Xina. David Martínez-Robles i Teresa Iribarren

Los reportajes de festividades locales en la región de Murcia a comienzos del siglo XX: el caso de la restauración de “La Cruz de Mayo” (Caravaca de la Cruz, 1924). Ángel Morán

L’actualitat tecnocientífica en el cinema dels orígens: els films d’Edison i
l’electromagnetisme. Manuel Moreno

And then things were rounded off with a visit to Girona´s Museu del Cinema. More on that, and thoughts on the seminar and early newsfilms overall, will be composed for you on my return to home and home technology.

Girona mini-diary no. 2

Hmm, this smartphone idea isn´t working too well… No matter, the hotel PC can come to the rescue. So here are some quick notes on today´s proceedings at the Origins of News in Early Cinema seminar in Girona. I´ll list each speaker, and summarise what they said.

Rafael F. Tranche (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) Atracciones, actualidad y noticiarios: la información como espectáculo – keynote address on newsreels in general, noting how they were a means to bring together pre-existing genres into one flexible format.

The Public Wanted News: Programming the Biograph, 1896-1908. Paul Spehr – handsomely illustrated talk on the Biograph’s news operations and how what they did is best understood by knowing about the newspaper practice they worked alongside.

L’actualitat al catàleg Pathé (1897-1908). Daniel Pitarch – current affairs films in their catalogues, with the confusion of categories (where to put news?) brightly illustrated with coloured graphs.

La imatge tòpica d’Espanya als films de Pathé i Gaumont. M. Magdalena Brotons i Capó – clichéd images of Spain in early films. So many Carmens.

Creating an event out of nothing happening. An exploration of the category event through tourist imagery of the Zuiderzee region (The Netherlands), 1874-1914. Sarah Dellmann – the challenge of making a non-event an attraction.

Before the speech, then the image: the comment of the nonfiction film in Italy. Luca Mazzei – lots of interesting evidence from Italian books and journals on the evidence for how non-fiction films were received by audiences.

Stephen Bottomore Filming and ‘Faking’ a News Event – The
Coronation of Edward VII (1902) – Keynote paper on Charles Urban and Georges Méliès´celebrated ´preconstruction´of King Edward VII´s coronation, produced before the event took place.

Actualidad reconstruida y reconstrucción de la actualidad. El caso de “Asesinato y entierro de Canalejas”. Begoña Soto y Encarni Rus – I didn´t quite pick up on the story of this piece of 1912 archival film that now only existed in a contested 1957 version, but it occasioned much debate among the Spanish.

Actualitats reconstruïdes: del museu del cera als fake. El cas de l’erupció volcànica del Mont Pelée (Georges Méliès, 1902) com a punt de confluència. Marta Sureda – Georges Méliès again, recreating the volcanic eruption at Martinique, influenced by wax museums, dioramas and journal illustrations.

What’s in a name? The Russo-Japanese/Japanese-Russian War. Dafna Ruppin – a good paper on Dutch responses to the Russo-Japanese War film – or should be that Japanese-Russo? Interesting thoughts about the power of words over images.

El cinema d’animació dels primers temps i la reconstrucció de l’actualitat: el cas de l’enfonsament del Lusitània. Núria Nadal – Winsor McCay´s animation film about the sinking of the Lusitania in World War One still has the power to shock.

Presentation of the book-DVD Segundo de Chomón 1903-1912. The
fantasy film and the book Segundo de Chomón. El cinema de la fascinació by Esteve Riambau, Filmoteca de Catalunya, and Joan M. Minguet, writer. – The excellent DVD has already been covered by the Bioscope; a review of the book will follow soon

OK, that´s enough for today. So much talk of fakes in actuality films when such reconstructions were really doing no more than a line-drawn illustration in a newspaper might do as opposed to a photograph. The second and final day´s report will follow tomorrow.

Girona mini-diary no. 1

Such is the international jet-setting life that the silent film blogger must now come to expect that I find myself overseas once more, this time in Girona, Spain. I’m here for a two-day seminar, The Construction of News in Early Cinema. The seminar is being organised by the Museu del Cinema (right), the University of Girona, and the Spanish Ministry of Science & Innovation Project. It is one in a series on the origins and history of cinema that have run here for a few years now. It’s an honour to be invited, and it’s an interesting line-up of speakers and themes. I’m without my laptop, but I have come armed with smartphone and a WordPress app. So can I add to the blog from here? Well, yes I can, only the keyboard is not conducive to lengthy ramblings, so I am going to post some mini-diary entries, as an experiment.

So I’m here, it’s a fine city, it´s been a fine evening, and I´ve just come from supper with fellow speakers Charles Musser and Stephen Bottomore, plus a genial collection of Spanish film professors. More on the morrow.

Early cinema, early news


A while ago we announced the call for papers for a two-day seminar to be held in Girona, Spain, entitled The Construction of News in Early Cinema. The event is being co-organised by the Museu del Cinema, the University of Girona, and the Spanish Ministry of Science & Innovation Project, and is one of a series of seminars that have been held on the origins and history of cinema (La construcción de la realidad en el cine de los orígenes). It will be held at the Auditori Narcís de Carreras in Girona, 31 March-1 April 2011. The organisers have produced this overview of the seminar’s rationale:

The film industry emerged at a key moment in the development of the written and graphic press and it would not be too long before it was playing a role in creating the imaginary of current affairs through images. Although these news images did not begin to be gathered together into a specific programme until the year 1908 thanks to Pathé Frères, in the very beginnings of cinema there were already images of current events, royal visits, official openings, sports events or exceptional situations that were to bind the image to its present context and bring it into the territory of what could be deemed as newsworthy. We are interested in images that captured reality, such as the reconstructions of events that are to become news. The seminar will focus on trying to define the relationship between cinema and news, to see how it began to build the news imaginary that presaged many of the questions of the future news images both in the subsequent newsreels and in those that came along with the birth of television. We are also interested in observing film as an area of intermediality, bringing together a variety of forms from other areas such as photography, painting and popular theatrical shows, in which the idea of news began to be presaged. The time period of the study is to be from 1895 up to 1914, since we believe that the newsreels underwent a different development with the outbreak of World War I. The proposal of the seminar is to establish a methodology of research and reflection in the context of news and, eventually, to find out how and if we can talk about a kind of birth of the documentary image.

The event is going be rather more of a conference than a seminar, and there is a strong line-up of speakers in the programme which has now been published, alongside registration details. Here’s the programme:

Thursday, March 31

9:00 – 9:30 Reception

9:30 – 9:45 Introduction and welcome

9:45 – 10:30 Conference: Rafael F. Tranche (Universidad Complutense de Madrid): Atracciones, actualidad y noticiarios: la información como espectáculo

10:30 – 10:45 Debate

10:45 – 11:00 Pause

11:00 – 12:20 Lectures: Archives I

  • The public wanted new. Programming the Biograph, 1896-1901. Paul Spehr
  • L’actualitat al catàleg Pathé Frères (1896-1914): Terminologia, lèxic i estudi quantitatiu. Daniel Pitarch
  • La imatge tòpica d’Espanya als films de Pathé i Gaumont. M. Magdalena Brotons i Capó
  • Creating an event out of nothing happening: the making of the “Death villages” of the zuiderzee region (The Netherlands) and the negotiation of its imagery (1880-1914). Sarah Dellmann

12:20 – 12:30 Pause

12:30 – 14:00 Lectures and debate: Archives II

  • The Vincenzo Neri Medical collection (1908-1928) a visual repertory between cinema, photography, typography. Simone Venturini
  • Antes del discurso, luego la imagen: el comentario de la película de no ficción en Italia en la época del cine mudo. Luca Mazzei

14.00 – 15:00 Lunch

15:00 – 15:45 Conference: Stephen Bottomore: Filming and ‘Faking’ a News Event – The Coronation of Edward VII (1902)

15:45 – 16:00 Debate

16:00 – 16:40 Lectures: Reconstructions

  • Actualidad reconstruida y reconstrucción de la actualidad. El caso de “Asesinato y entierro de Canalejas”. Begoña Soto y Encarni Rus
  • Actualitats reconstruïdes: del museu del cera als fake. El cas de l’erupció volcànica del Mont Pelée (Georges Méliès, 1902) com a punt de confluència. Marta Sureda

16:40 – 17:00 Pause

17:00 – 19:30 Lectures and debate: Newspapers and information

  • The true-crime films of Antonio Leal, 1906-1909: From newspaper reportage to film re-enactments in Brazil’s “Bela Época”. Rielle Navitski
  • How actual was an actualité in early cinema? Time as agency in presenting moving images of news of fairground and variety theatre. Ansje van Veusekom
  • How to tell a catastrophic event. The earthquake of Messina (Italy) in 1908. Luigi Virgolin
  • La mirada cinematogràfica dels primers fotoperiodistes. Lluïsa Suárez
  • The birth of Italy’s newsreel: study of the Italo Turkish War (1911-1912). Sila Berruti i Luca Mazzei

20.30 Presentation of the book-DVD “Segundo de Chomón. The fantasy film”. Next, cinema session, with live piano music, with films from the Filmoteca de Catalunya. Place of the session: Cinema Truffaut

Friday, April 1

9:30 – 10:15 Conference: Charles Musser: Cinema, Newspapers and the US Presidential Election of 1896

10.15-10:30 Debate

10:30 – 11:00 pause

11:00 – 13:30 Lectures and debate: War and politics

  • What’s in a name? The Russo-Japanese/Japanese-Russian War. Dafna Ruppin
  • El cinema d’animació dels primers temps i la reconstrucció de l’actualitat: el cas de l’enfonsament del Lusitània. Núria Nadal i Jaume Duran
  • El último espectáculo de la confederación: la recepción cinematográfica de la Guerra Civil Americana, 1896-1914. Kirby Pringle
  • Les actualitats Edison de la Guerra de Cuba: entre el Wild West show i el western. Ramon Girona

13:30 – 15:30 Lunch

15:30 – 16:15 Conference: Luke McKernan: Links in the chain: early newsreels and newspapers

16:15 – 16:30 Debate

16.30 – 16:45 Pause

16:45 – 18:30 Lectures and debate: Precinema and early cinema

  • El panorama de Waterloo de Charles Verlat i l’escena artística Barcelonesa a la dècada dels 90 del segle XIX. Neus Moyano
  • La llanterna i les seves variants com a antecedents dels diferents gèneres cinematogràfics. Jordi Artigas
  • La fascinació lúdica i participativa: entre Segundo de Chomón i el primer videojoc. Manuel Garin
  • Antonio Ramos i els orígens del cinema a la Xina. David Martínez-Robles i Teresa Iribarren
  • Los reportajes de festividades locales en la región de Murcia a comienzos delsiglo XX: el caso de la restauración de “La Cruz de Mayo” (Caravaca de laCruz, 1924). Ángel Morán
  • L’actualitat tecnocientífica en el cinema dels orígens: els films d’Edison i l’electromagnetisme. Manuel Moreno

18:30 – 18:35 Closing

19:30 Guided tour of the permanent exhibition at the Museu del Cinema (approx. 75’)

Well, it’s certainly going to be an honour to be speaking at such an event, and in such company. I’m delighted to see that there are scholars actively engaged in studying early newsfilm – this certainly wasn’t always the case in times past – and across such rich and pertinent topics.

The Museu del Cinema site has further details on the seminar, including registration details and other such information. The seminar will be multi-lingual, with simultaneous translation into Catalan, Spanish and English.