La Reclam Cine

An edition of La Reclam Cine from 1926

We have another silent film journal freely available online for you. It’s only the second journal from Spain for our period that we’ve come across, Le Reclam Cine, which was a bi-monthly supplement of a Valencia newspaper La Reclam, and first issued in January 1926. It contains news and commentary on film and theatre in Spain (centred on Valencia), with European and American film news as well, written in Spanish of course. To browse the issues, click on the Issues box at the foot of the page linked above – this taks you to the individal issues, which can be viewed as individual PDF page or else the entire issue can be downloaded. There is word-searching, and you can view thumbnails of each page (handy for locating in on photographs and advertisements).

It’s not clear how long the supplement was published, but five issues from January to May 1926 are available from the Biblioteca Nationale de Espana’s Hemeroteca Digital digitsed newspapers site, part of the larger Hispanic Digital Library. This is a national digital collection I’d not encountered before, and for Spanish speakers it looks to be an exceptional resource. It contains a huge range of digitised journals and newspapers dating 1683-1993, all of them word-, country- and date-searchable, and though all of the documents are of course in Spanish there are search guidelines in English, and the site is easy to navigate. Cinema subjects appear with great frequency among the general journals and newspapers on the site. Our standard test search term ‘kinetoscope’ yields 6 hits, ‘bioscope’ 108, ‘charlie chaplin’ 676, and ‘cinematográfica’ 18,389. Each search results brings up a record for the relevant issues and that section of the uncorrected OCR text containing the search term. Couldn’t be easier, and plenty to discover.

The Bioscope’s full list of silent film journals available online is at

Ir a explorar.

Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections

Letter from Alexander Korda to Adoph Zukor, 16 June 1920, letter in the Margaret Herrick Library

… I am twenty nine years of age and am ten years in the prospection moving picture. Of this period I spent 3 years as an advertisement manager with the Projectograph Co. Ltd. in Budapest, for one year I was in Paris and since the last 6 years I am a stage manager. For the last five years and a half I was the administrative and stage manager of the Corvin film factory of Budapest. It was I who founded the said factory and it was under my management when it was taken over by an Hungarian bank with a capital of 8 millions of crowns, which subsequently got increased to 10 respectively to 20 millions of crowns. Budapest however offers by far no scope enough for an ambitious man to settle down there for a lifetime …

It’s a standard letter seeking employment written to a man in a position of power from a man in a humble siutation. The man of power is Adolph Zukor; what makes this such a compelling document is that the man doing the begging is his fellow Hungarian Alexander Korda, then only just establishing himself in Austrian film after having left the narrow (and politically hazardous) confines of the Hungarian film business. In a few years’ time Korda would be the man of power, though not in America but rather Britain.

The letter is just one example of the extraordinary riches to be found in the digital collections of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. You would expect the Margaret Herrick Library – one of the world’s leading film study centres – to put on a good show when it came to presenting its collections digitally, and how well they have done so.

Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections is an online database of digitised materials from the Margaret Herrick Library (named after the Academy’s first librarian – how rare it is for libraries to be named after those who care for them). It represents only a tiny proportion of the Library’s holdings, but the 2,500 or so items on offer are richly varied and presented in quite exemplary fashion. They include correspondence, photographs, periodicals, sheet music and star ephemera, along with complete copies of more than 250 Academy publications, dating back to its founding in 1927.

The site is broken down into these individual collections:

  • Academy Awards Collection
    Selected Academy Awards photographs, rule books, programs and ephemera from the Library’s extensive holdings.
  • Academy Publications
    Full text issues of member newsletters, annual reports, technical articles and other publications produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  • Tom B’hend and Preston Kaufmann Collection
    Tom B’hend and Preston Kaufmann were collectors of material related to motion picture theaters and theater organs.
  • Cecil B. DeMille Photographs
    Selection of items from the Cecil B. DeMille photographs.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Papers
    Selected items from the Alfred Hitchcock papers. The collection mostly comprises photographs, including several from Hitchcock’s silent film period.
  • Motion Picture Periodicals
    Complete issues of various publications from the library’s collections. The library’s periodical holdings include industry trade publications, fan magazines, technical and scholarly journals, and studio house organs.
  • Movie Star Ephemera
    Examples of movie star and fan ephemera and collectibles from across the library’s collections. Items include fan magazine covers, fan club publications and movie star memorabilia, as well as products endorsed by or featuring images of movie stars. The earliest materials date back to the silent era.
  • William Selig Papers
    Selection of release fliers and correspondence from the William Selig papers. “Colonel” William N. Selig (1864-1948) was an American producer active in film from 1896 to 1938. He founded the Selig Polyscope Company and co-founded the Motion Picture Patents Company.
  • Sheet Music Collection
    Selection of items from the Robert Cushman collection of sheet music. Robert Cushman was an American photograph curator. He was on the staff of the Margaret Herrick Library from 1972 until his death in 2009. He was an avid collector of silent film sheet music, which he mostly obtained from East Coast sheet music dealers.
  • Fred Zinnemann Papers
    Selection of photographs from the Fred Zinnemann papers.
  • Adolph Zukor Correspondence
    Selected letters and other items from the man who founded Famous Players Film Company and became head of Paramount Pictures.

The documents are presented superbly, with full descriptions, transcripts, assorted display options, download and print options, even the facility to view text and image alongside on another from transcribed documents. It’s a model presentation in every way.

Of particular note, given our interest in documenting digitised journals of the silent era wherever they can be found, is the collection of motion picture periodicals. Those available are Cinema Chat (1919-1920) (74 issues), Movies (1930-1934) (8 issues), Movie Monthly (1925) (3 issues) and Silver Sheet (1920-1925) (18 issues). An example of the latter series, with a mind-boggling image promotiong the 1924 film The Galloping Fish, is illustrated to the left. So far as I am aware, none is available anywhere else online, and all have been added to our ever-growing list of silent film journals available online. The journals are presented as single PDF pages (in some cases double-pages), rather than as full PDFs of the complete issue (correction – you can download a full issue), with thumbnails images arranged in a column alongside any one digitised page to aid browsing. There is full text uncorrected OCR, with word-searching within the single page, though the main site offering word-searching across all documents in any case.

The collection will no doubt grow, and certainly has opened up an important collection to those of us who are not able to visit Beverly Hills quite as often as we might like.

My thanks to David Pierce for alerting me to the site.

So, how has the digital revolution been for you?

Domitor conference taking place at the University of Brighton

I’m taking part in a panel at the Domitor conference (Domitor being the international body for the study of early cinema, whose biennial conference is taking place in Brighton). The theme is ‘Digital Technologies and Early Cinema’ and four speakers have been asked to address the subject of the digital revolution’s impact on the study of early cinema. Each of us has been asked to kick things off by speaking for ten minutes on “how the digital revolution has changed your practice”. For me, it seems appropriate to write my response in the form of a blog post. So here it is.

Hello. I was intrigued to see in the conference programme that the affiliation given with my name was not my institution but my website. My day job is curator for moving images at the British Library, where I am mostly concerned with television, news programmes and born digital media; so, the moving images of today. My hobby is early cinema, with its chief expression being a website, The Bioscope, which I maintain as an information source on those areas of early and silent cinema that interest me – and presumably others, since it enjoys a reasonably good readership for what is – let’s face it – quite an obscure subject, even within film studies.

I have been writing The Bioscope for just over five years, during which time I have produced 1,364 posts (that is, individual pieces of writing), amounting to some 600,000 words. That’s seven or eight books’ worth, had I been so inclined to write books instead, but why put the measure in books? As I often say to people when talking about the site, more people read the Bioscope in a single day than probably have read any of the articles or books that I have written or co-edited have received in years. I’m not tied down by a need to achieve a quota of academic publication for any research assessment exercise. I simply like communicating things to people. And it gets read.

The Bioscope allows me to choose whatever subject interests me, to write in a light yet informative style which suits the online medium and certainly suits me as a writer, and it gives me responses to what I am doing. Posts receives comments, the blog’s software tells me how many people have visited each piece of writing, individual posts get cited in any online (and offline) writings, and I am in contact with people from around the world, both early film scholars and those merely curious. The Bioscope is in a constant state of communication. Write poorly, or infrequently, and the viewing figures start to fall. The price paid for the attention is constant vigiliance.

I’m not interested in reviewing films, nor in giving opinions as such. The aim of the Bioscope is to communicate information, encouraging others to explore the growing range of online research opportunities for themselves. So the site has come to specialise in information on digitised journals, newspaper sources, assessments of databases and other resources, as well as promoting conferences, festivals, publications and so on, broadly relating to early and silent cinema around the world. The emphasis is on early cinema in its different contexts – film as art holds little interest for me – and on the relevance of early cinema today. If it were purely an exercise in revisiting the past, it would be pointless. Early cinema must be of interest because it is relevant, because through its study we can learn more of the world. This, for me, is what the digital revolution is doing, showing how early cinema connects with the worlds that surround it.

So, I’m particularly interested in early cinema in its various contexts – that is, the ways in which it connects with other forms of social, political, economic or cultural activity. This has been, of course, a major feature of early cinema studies in recent years, and something which Domitor itself has helped encourage through conferences such as these, with their impressive diversity of speakers and perspectives. It also connects my hobby with my work, because at the British Library I am chiefly concerned with the moving image medium as it supports other subjects, and how the digital world is providing opportunities not simply to increase access, but to facilitate the integration of diverse resources and to encourage new forms of discovery. I want researchers to pursue a particular theme and find the book, the newspaper article, the image, the sound recording and the film on that theme all in the one place, and to make exciting discoveries through these associations. And that’s what we must want for early cinema too.

Having said all this enthusiastic stuff, there are aspects to this sort of writing that bother me. Firstly, that constant vigiliance can be wearing. One feels the need always to be finding new material, to be publishing with some degree of frequency, to stay fresh, to keep up those readership figures. These maybe entirely self-imposed pressures, but they exist all the same.

Secondly, and more importantly, there is the possible impermanance of some many of these web resources on which we increasingly depend. I wrote a recent post about websites on early and silent cinema that have disappeared recently. They included such important sites as the Ariel Cinematographica Register and The Silent Cinema Bookshelf. Most websites, even after they have been taken down, can be found archived on the Internet Archive, and national libraries are increasingly moving into web archiving – the British Library hopes soon to start archiving the UK web space, for example.

But web archives take only occasional snapshots of a site – perhaps four a year – and often they do not include associated media such as video files, while databases and other such complex underlying systems are beyond web archiving. Databases cost money to support, and more money to keep them up to date (a static database is a dead database), and we can’t depend on them to remain online forever. I have worked on a number of research databases, happily all still going, but each at the whim of uncertain funding, or change in the host institution’s priorities. Crucially, links to files and pages change when sites are changed, making citation hazardous. Fundamentally the web does not stand still, for as much as it adds such huge amounts, it also loses vast amounts, as old information is overlaid by the new.

The British Library

There are significant shifts in information power relations which may affect what we can access, and from whom. At the moment, we identify most research collections with the institutions that hold the physical originals. This makes the research web very much a reflection of the physical research environment. The website and associated resources of a body such as the British Library become an extension of its physical reality.

But what happens when everything becomes digital? Who are the owners then, when anyone might manage, host or otherwise point to digital resources if they have the means to do so? What is the purpose of a physical library in a digital world? Who will need libraries or archives at all, in the long run, if Google can do it all for us? And if the private sector largely takes over that which traditionally we have expected to be delivered by the public sector, what will the access be like, what will be the price we pay for it, what will we have lost?

Media History Digital Library

I don’t think our national libraries and archives are going to disappear, and I think access is only going to increase and to be fabulous, though we will have to pay more for it than has been the case up until now. I do think that new kinds of institutional-like sites will emerge, however, which could supplant the work of some of the traditional institutions. The Media History Digital Library, for example, a non-profit initiative which is digitising extensive numbers of classic media periodicals that are in the public domain; or even the humble Bioscope, if it wants to become a focal point for the discovery of early film research resources. But how long will the Media History Digital Library last? Will I get bored of The Bioscope tomorrow and go off and do something else instead? The web world feels so impermanent, like it has been built on a whim. The web world feels so impermanent, like it has been built on a whim. The web is not going to disappear. It is where we now discover, interpret, re-use and share our researches. It is where early cinema belongs. But we’ll never be able to be completely confident that what we find online today will still be there tomorrow. And it is hard to build scholarship on such uncertainty.

I said that the value for me in early cinema is its connection with other subjects. This is what has been so good about the digital revolution, showing how early film fits in, not only with the world that created it, but with our world today. Indeed, at times I’m surprised we still have early cinema studies and it hasn’t evolved into something else, giving the associations and connections the digital environment provides. It’s why I so enjoyed Josh Yumibe‘s paper yesterday, which talked of the use of colour in our field, but threaded together an argument that brought in Hunger Games, Harry Smith, Loie Fuller, Scriabin, Kandinsky and D.W. Griffith, making early film concerns timeless and relevant.

As an expression of this, and as sort of tribute to Yumibe’s paper, I’ll finish off with a video which I posted on The Bioscope last Christmas, when not many people saw it, so here’s a chance to do so again. It brings together our world and their world in a witty and thought-provoking fashion, and demonstrates for me that the digital revolution has been, more than anything else, such fun.

Elephant’s graveyard

I’m not sure why the Bioscope hasn’t written anything on the Hathi Trust before now. It is one of the largest repositories of digitised written content available, and with huge amounts of content relevant to silent film studies. Maybe it’s because the legality of the enterprise isn’t clear (the Author’s Guild and others have filed a lawsuit against it for copyright violation), yet much of the content is also available via the Internet Archive or Google Books, and it has an impressive list of American universities behind it.

The Hathi Trust (named after the Hindi word for elephant, hence the punning title to this post) is a catalogue and digital repository of digitised content from over sixty research libraries in the USA. It currently boasts 10,263,901 titles, including 5,422,520 books and 269,186 serials, 29% of which they say are in the public domain (in the USA). In other kinds of numbers, thats 3,592,365,350 pages, or 460 terabytes of digital files, or 121 miles of shelving, or 8,339 tons in weight (helpfully they provide a note explaning how this was calulated, basing it on “an average book having 350 pages, being 3/4 of an inch wide, containing 47 MB of information, and weighing 26 ounces”).

It’s a very clear, business-like and practical website. You can search in three ways – by catalogue record (seaching across titles, authors, publisher, year of publication etc.), by full text search (i.e. words within the texts themselves) or via ‘collections’ curated by users. Although every title listed on the database exists in digital form, copyright restrictions similar to those which constrain Google Books mean that though you can search by word across all of the text, only a proportion of the texts can be viewed as full text (presumably 29%). It is possible to narrow searches to only full text results.

As said, there is a subject search option, and if you type in ‘motion pictures’ you get 15,516 records, of which 455 are viewable in full text form. However, some spot-checking using other search terms shows that many relevant titles aren’t classified under ‘motion pictures’, so you are better off using the full-text search option.

So, using our regular test term of ‘kinetocope’, what do we get? A mightily impressive 8,619 results (i.e. books or serials that mention ‘kinetoscope’ somewhere), of which 3,512 are fully viewable. These include W.K-L. Dickson and Antonia Dickson’s History of the kinetograph, kinetoscope, & kinetophonograph (1895), Edwin George Lutz’s Animated cartoons; how they are made, their origin and development (1920), Maxwell Hite’s Lessons in how to become a successful moving picture machine operator (1908) and C. Francis Jenkins’ Animated pictures; an exposition of the historical development of chromophotography (1898).

Each full-text record is present in a ‘classic’ view which shows one page on the screen and allows you to scroll through page by page using arrow buttons, as well as zooming in or out and rotation tools. Other views on offer are scrolling, flipbook, thumbnails (handy for image-rich publications) and plain text. You can search for any word within the text, the results for which are given highlighted in a line or two of text, as in the example below taken from the unexpected source of Indian massacres and tales of the red skins: an authentic history of the American Indian from 1492 to the present time (1895). Clicking on the page number then takes you to the relevant page in the text.

Mention of the word ‘kinetoscope’ in Indian Massacres and Tales of the Red Skins (1895)

This is extraordinary stuff. On relatively quick inspection, I’ve found several key texts not available on the Internet Archive, for example Mrs D.W. Griffith’s (Linda Arvidson) When the Movies Were Young (1925) and Martin Quigley’s Magic shadows; the story of the origin of motion pictures (1948). There are many titles whose public domain status seems dubious (Ernest Lindgren’s The Art of the Film, for example, published in 1963 – though maybe the copyright wasn’t renewed in the USA), but then there are quite modern titles there presumably with the blessing of the publisher: Gregory A. Waller’s Main Street amusements: movies and commercial entertainment in a Southern city, 1896-1930 (1995), for example.

And it’s not just books. There are motion picture journals here, incuding titles not available on the Internet Archive. Bioscope reader Mirko Heinemann kindly brought the following editions of Moving Picture World to my attention, several of which are unique (digitally) to the Hathi Trust site:

These have all been added to the Bioscope’s list of silent film journals available online. There is a PDF download option provided, though in many cases it seems to be only a page at a time, unless the record specifies that the whole volume is available for download.

You can create your own collection to act as a research aide memoire or to assist others. For this you need to register with the University of Michigan, which is straightforward, select the texts under your theme, tag them, choose a title for your collection, and it gets added to the long list of collections previously created and browsable. There is already a list there for American silent film culture, listing sixty-one “Primary sources related to the history of American silent film”.

The Hathi Trust Digital Library is frankly a bit overwhelming. There’s so much there you hardly know where to start. On testing the site I felt like I need a more obscure subject to pursue (yes, there are some subjects out there more obscure than silent films) just so that I could have a manageable set of resources. I’m uncertain about its interpretation of fair use and public domain, but there are plenty of titles there for which you can search the full text but not view the full text, so legal proprietaries would seem to have been followed.

The Hathi Trust would appear to have created the optimum digital library, at least for text-based content. For advanced searching, it is ahead of the Internet Archive, with only its display tools not quite matching the IA’s excellent viewer. The limitations on downloading PDFs are a disappointment, but the ease of use, the relevance of results, and the sheer range of publications on offer (sometimes surprising, generally useful) make this essential for anyone engaged in silent film research. Moreover, as a coming together of the collections of a range of noteworthy collections, it represents what the digital library of the future means – not confined by the physical walls of any one insitution, but shared by many for the benefit of all, wherever they might be.

Silent film journals update

As I think most of you will know, the Bioscope maintains a listing of (hopefully) all of the silent film-era journals that are available online. From just a few titles only a couple of years ago, the number of journals now available – most of them freely so – has grown prodigiously. This is thanks in particular to Gallica in France, Teca Digitale piemontese in Italy, the inspired efforts of the Media History Digital Library, and to the efforts of a number of generous individuals, notably Bruce Long, who have been adding titles from their personal collections to the Internet Archive.

All of this activity has made the Bioscope’s listing more than a little unwieldy, certainly too much information for a single web page. So, while keeping the single page listing for handy reference’s sake, we have also produced individual web pages for the journals of specific countries, which we think will be more useful to you. You can find the list by going to ‘Library’ on the top menu of this site. Three sub-page options will appear: Catalogues and Databases, Directories and Journals. Hover over the third of these, and the list of countries will appear.

Alternatively, links to all of the countries appear on the main Journals page, or you can click on them here: Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, USA.

While we’re on the subject, the Media History Digital Library has just announced the first batch of publications whose digitisation has been sponsored by the early film studies organisation Domitor. This comprises seven volumes of testimonies and supporting documents from the U.S. District Court’s 1912-1913 lawsuit against the Motion Picture Patents Company. As the MHDL blog post reports:

Inside the U.S. vs. M.P.P.C. volumes, you will find the testimonies of M.P.P.C. members, such as Siegmund Lubin, as well as the testimonies of “Independents” who later became Hollywood moguls (e.g. William Fox). These first-person accounts offer one of the best windows you will find into the workings of the early American film industry.

More digitisation from this superb initiative, altruistically funded by individual Domitor members, can be expected in the near future.

Broken dreams

The demise of the American Kinetoscope Company, as reported in The London Gazette of 15 February 1895

The London Gazette is said to be Britain’s oldest continuously-published newspaper. It was founded in 1665 and has ever since been a record of official announcements. It is not a conventional newspaper, however, being instead a highly specialised resource used by policy-makers, the legal profession and historians. It is an official newspaper of record and is a government publication, published by The Stationery Office .

It groups the information it holds into the following categories: State, Parliament, Ecclesiastical, Public Finance, Transport, Planning, Health, Environment, Water, Agriculture & Fisheries, Energy, Post & Telecom, Competition, Corporate Insolvency, Personal Insolvency, Companies & Financial Regulations, Partnerships, Societies Regulation, Personal Legal.

For the silent film researcher, the London Gazette is an unexpected treasure trove. The journal has supplied official reports on all company insolvenices, and browsing through its archives brings up hundreds of records of film and cinema industry companies that went bust. It makes for sad but very revealing reading. And the great thing is that the Gazette‘s archives have been digitised and are fully word-searchable.

Searching is by the search box found on the website front page. An advanced search option allows you to narrow searches by date, phrase, page number and by some selected historical events. Narrowing down the date fields to 1895-1929 brings up 1,832 results under the word ‘cinema’, 765 under ‘cinematograph’, 1,455 under ‘film’, and 87 under ‘bioscope’. So there is plenty to be found. Each record leads you to a PDF copy of the relevant page, from which it is then possible to browse acros the rest of the issue. Each record supplies you with date, issue number and page number, and search results can be sorted by relevance, oldest or newest date. The texts are fully word-searchable, and though the OCR is uncorrected it is of a good standard.

So what sort of records do we find? Using our traditional search term of ‘kinetoscope’, which brings up just the one record for 1895-1929, we make the striking discovery of a film business being dissolved before any film had been produced in the country. In February 1895, the month in which Birt Acres is believed to have shot the UK’s first 35mm film, the American Kinetoscope Company, a partnership between Greek entrepreneurs George Georgiades and Theo Tragidis, was dissolved, as reported in the Gazette of 15 February 1895:

NOTICE is hereby given that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned George Georgiades and Theo Tragidis carrying on business as Dealers in Novelties at 62 Broad-street in the city of London under the style or firm of the American Kinetoscope Company has been dissolved by mutual consent as and from the llth day of February 1895. All debts due to and owing by the said late firm will be received and paid by the said Theo Tragidis.— Dated llth day of February 1895.


This mysterious duo played an important part in British film history, being the customers who asked Robert Paul late in 1894 to manufacture Kinetoscopes for their Edison 35mm films, after which Paul decided it would be worthwile breaking into this business himself, so starting up the British film industry.

More typical is the sort of report we get on the demise of the Globe Film Company in the Gazette of 25 August 1916. They just happens to have been the producers of the fake Titanic newsreel we wrote about recently:

The Companies Acts, 1908 and 1913.
Special Resolutions of the GLOBE FILM CO.Limited.
Passed the 28th day of July, 1916.
Confirmed the 14th day of August, 1916.

AT an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Members of the Globe Film Co. Limited, duly convened, and held at 81, Shaftesbury-avenue, in the city of Westminster, on the 28th day of July, 1916, the following Special Resolutions were duly passed; and at a subsequent Extraordinary General Meeting of the said Company, also duly convened, and held at the same place, on the 14th day of August, 1916, the following Special Resolutions were duly confirmed, viz.:—
” (1) That it is desirable to reconstruct the Company, and accordingly that the Company be wound up voluntarily; and that Henry McLellan, of 6A, Devonshire-square, in the city of London, Chartered Accountant, be and he is hereby appointed Liquidator for the purpose of such winding-up.
” (2) That the said Liquidator be and he is hereby authorized to consent to the registration of a new Company, to be named ‘Globe Films Limited,’ with a memorandum and articles of association which have already been prepared with the privity and approval of the directors of this Company.
” (3) That the draft agreement submitted to this Meeting and expressed to be made between this Company and its Liquidator of the one part, and Globe Films Limited of the other part, be and the same is hereby approved, and that the Liquidator be and he is hereby authorized, subject to section 192 of the Companies (Consolidation) Act, 1908, to enter into an agreement with such new Company, when incorporated, in the terms of the said draft, and to carry the same into effect, with such (if any) modifications as he thinks expedient.”
HY. PESSERS, Chairman.

There is a lot of this, sometimes formal reports, sometimes simple lists of titles of companies that are being wound-up. There are also bankruptcy notices for individuals in the film trade (such as Mollie Hanbury, film actress, reported 29 August 1922), and official notices of legislation and regulations relating to films, such as the Cinematograph Act of 1909 (as reported in the Gazette of 21 December 1909) or prescription on the amount of celluloid one could have in a building under the Defence of the Realm Act (reported 13 October 1914).

If you are looking for human interest, you will have to read between the lines. These are dry accounts of official transactions, which give you names, dates, occupations and locations, and little more. But you do seen the motion picture business as a business, and not as usually portrayed. Rather than a world of artistic endeavour and happy entertainment, here we see year after year of failures, as so many tried to join in the boom and failed. A close analysis of the reports in the London Gazette would be interesting for what it might illustrate of the ebbs and flows of a new business trying to put down roots. Much of that business is in the exhibition rather than the production side (so many failed cinemas), but that is an accurate reflection of where the balance of the money lay.

The records are not unique, and you can find much the same information on bankruptcies and windings-up in the Board of Trade records at The National Archives (as described in an earlier post). But it’s a side of film history that is too often overlooked, a side which must bring a healthy dash of realism to our understanding of what the early film business was. It was paved with broken dreams – and here’s the evidence.

Looking back on 2011

News in 2011, clockwise from top left: The White Shadow, The Artist, A Trip to the Moon in colour, Brides of Sulu

And so we come to the end of another year, and for the Bioscope it is time to look back on another year reporting on the world of early and silent film. Over the twelve months we have written some 180 posts posts, or well nigh 100,000 words, documenting a year that has been as eventful a one for silent films as we can remember, chiefly due to the timeless 150-year-old Georges Méliès and to the popular discovery of the modern silent film thanks to The Artist. So let’s look back on 2011.

Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès in Hugo

Georges Méliès has been the man of the year. Things kicked off in May with the premiere at Cannes of the coloured version of Le voyage dans la lune / A Trip to the Moon (1902), marvellously, indeed miraculously restored by Lobster Films. The film has been given five star publicity treatment, with an excellent promotional book, a new score by French band Air which has upset some but pleased us when we saw it at Pordenone, a documentary The Extraordinary Voyage, and the use of clips from the film in Hugo, released in November. For, yes, the other big event in Méliès’ 150th year was Martin Scorsese’s 3D version of Brian Selznick’s children’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, in which Méliès is a leading character. Ben Kingsley bring the man convincingly to life, and the film thrillingly recreates the Méliès studio as it pleads for us all to understand our film history. The Bioscope thought the rest of the film was pretty dire, to be honest, though in this it seems to be in a minority. But just because a film pleads the cause of film doesn’t make it a good film …

And there was more from Georges, with his great-great-grandaughter Pauline Duclaud-Lacoste Méliès producing an official website, Matthew Solomon’s edited volume Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination: Georges Méliès’s Trip to the Moon (with DVD extra), a conference that took place in July, and a three-disc DVD set from Studio Canal.

For the Bioscope itself things have been eventful. In January we thought a bit about changing the site radically, then thought better of this. There was our move to New Bioscope Towers in May, the addition of a Bioscope Vimeo channel for videos we embed from that excellent site, and the recent introduction of our daily news service courtesy of Scoop It! We kicked off the year with a post on the centenary of the ever-topical Siege of Sidney Street, an important event in newsreel history, and ended it with another major news event now largely forgotten, the Delhi Durbar. Anarchists win out over imperialists is the verdict of history.

Asta Nielsen in Hamlet

We were blessed with a number of great DVD and Blu-Ray releases, with multi-DVD and boxed sets being very much in favour. Among those that caught the eye and emptied the wallet were Edition Filmmuseum’s Max Davidson Comedies, the same company’s collection of early film and magic lantern slide sets Screening the Poor and the National Film Preservation Foundation’s five disc set Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938. Individual release of the year was Edition Filmmuseum’s Hamlet (Germany 1920), with Asta Nielsen and a fine new music score (Flicker Alley’s Norwegian surprise Laila just loses out because theatre organ scores cause us deep pain).

We recently produced a round-up of the best silent film publications of 2011, including such titles as Bryony Dixon’s 100 Silent Films, Andrew Shail’s Reading the Cinematograph: The Cinema in British Short Fiction 1896-1912 and John Bengston’s Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd. But we should note also Susan Orlean’s cultural history Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, which has made quite an impact in the USA, though we’ve not read it ourselves as yet.

There were all the usual festivals, with Bologna championing Conrad Veidt, Boris Barnet and Alice Guy, and Pordenone giving us Soviets, Soviet Georgians, polar explorers and Michael Curtiz. We produced our traditional detailed diaries for each of the eight days of the festival. But it was particularly pleasing to see new ventures turning up, including the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Scotland, which launched in February and is due back in 2012. Babylon Kino in Berlin continued to make programming waves with its complete Chaplin retropective in July. Sadly, the hardy annual Slapsticon was cancelled this year – we hope it returns in a healthy state next year.

The Artist (yet again)

2011 was the year when the modern silent film hit the headlines, the The Artist enchanting all-comers at Cannes and now being touted for the Academy Award best picture. We have lost count of the number of articles written recently about a revival of interest in silent films, and their superiority in so many respects to the films of today. Jaded eyes are looking back to a (supposedly) gentler age, it seems. We’ve not seen it yet, so judgement is reserved for the time being. Here, we’ve long championed the modern silent, though our March post on Mr Bean was one of the least-read that we’ve penned in some while.

Among the year’s conferences on silent film themes there was the First International Berkeley Conference on Silent Cinema held in February; the Construction of News in Early Cinema in Girona in March, which we attended and from which we first experimented with live blogging; the opportunistically themed The Second Birth of Cinema: A Centenary Conference held in Newcastle, UK in July; and Importing Asta Nielsen: Cinema-Going and the Making of the Star System in the Early 1910s, held in Frankfurt in September.

In the blogging world, sadly we said goodbye to Christopher Snowden’s The Silent Movie Blog in February – a reminder that we bloggers are mostly doing this for love, but time and its many demands do sometimes call us away to do other things. However, we said hello to John Bengston’s very welcome Silent Locations, on the real locations behind the great silent comedies. Interesting new websites inclued Roland-François Lack’s visually stunning and intellectually intriguing The Cine-Tourist, and the Turconi Project, a collection of digitised frames for early silents collected by the Swiss priest Joseph Joye.

The Bioscope always has a keen eye for new online research resources, and this was a year when portals that bring together several databases started to dominate the landscape. The single institution is no longer in a position to pronounce itself to be the repository of all knowledge; in the digital age we are seeing supra-institutional models emerging. Those we commented on included the Canadiana Discovery Portal, the UK research services Connected Histories and JISC Media Hub, UK film’s archives’ Search Your Film Archives, and the directory of world archives ArchiveGrid. We made a special feature of the European Film Gateway, from whose launch event we blogged live and (hopefully) in lively fashion.

Images of Tacita Dean’s artwork ‘Film’ at Tate Modern

We also speculated here and there on the future of film archives in this digital age, particularly when we attended the Screening the Future event in Hilversum in March, and then the UK Screen Heritage Strategy, whose various outputs were announced in September. We mused upon media and history when we attended the Iamhist conference in Copenhagen (it’s been a jet-setting year), philosophizing on the role of historians in making history in another bout of live blogging (something we hope to pursue further in 2012). 2011 was the year when everyone wrote their obituaries for celluloid. The Bioscope sat on the fence when considering the issue in November, on the occasion of Tacita Dean’s installation ‘Film’ at Tate Modern – but its face was looking out towards digital.

Significant web video sources launched this year included the idiosyncractic YouTube channel of Huntley Film Archives, the Swedish, the Thanhouser film company’s Vimeo channel, and George Eastman House’s online cinematheque; while we delighted in some of the ingenious one-second videos produced for a Montblanc watches competition in November.

It was a year when digitised film journals made a huge leap forward, from occasional sighting to major player in the online film research world, with the official launch of the Media History Digital Library. Its outputs led to Bioscope reports on film industry year books, seven years of Film Daily (1922-1929) and the MHDL itself. “This is the new research library” we said, and we think we’re right. Another important new online resource was the Swiss journal Kinema, for the period 1913-1919.

It has also been a year in which 3D encroached itself upon the silent film world. The aforementioned Hugo somewhat alarmingly gives us not only Méliès films in 3D, but those of the Lumière brothers, and film of First World War soldiers (colourised to boot). The clock-face sequence from Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last (also featured in Hugo) was converted to 3D and colourised, much to some people’s disgust; while news in November that Chaplin’s films were to be converted into 3D for a documentary alarmed and intrigued in equal measure.

The Soldier’s Courtship

Film discovery of the year? The one that grabbed all the headlines – though many of them were misleading ones – was The White Shadow (1923), three reels of which turned up in New Zealand. Normally an incomplete British silent directed by Graham Cutts wouldn’t set too many pulses running, but it was assistant director Alfred Hitchcock who attracted all the attention. Too many journalists and bloggers put the story ahead of the history, though one does understand why. But for us the year’s top discovery was Robert Paul’s The Soldier’s Courtship (1896), the first British fiction film made for projection, which was uncovered in Rome and unveiled in Pordenone. It may be just a minute long, but it is a perky delight, with a great history behind its production and restoration.

Another discovery was not of a lost film but rather a buried one. Philippine archivists found that an obscure mid-1930s American B-feature, Brides of Sulu, was in all probability made out of one, if not two, otherwise lost Philippines silents, Princess Tarhata and The Moro Pirate. No Philippine silent fiction film was known have survived before now, which makes this a particularly happy discovery, shown at Manila’s International Silent film Festival in August. The Bioscope post and its comments unravel the mystery.

Among the year’s film restorations, those that caught the eye were those that were most keenly promoted using online media. They included The First Born (UK 1928), Ernst Lubistch’s Das Weib des Pharao (Germany 1922) and the Pola Negri star vehicle Mania (Germany 1918).

Some interesting news items throughout the year included the discovery of unique (?) film of the Ballet Russes in the British Pathé archive in February; in April Google added a ‘1911’ button to YouTube to let users ‘age’ their videos by 100 years (a joke that backfired somewhat) then in the same month gave us a faux Chaplin film as its logo for the day; in May the much-hyped film discovery Zepped (a 1916 animation with some Chaplin outtakes) was put up for auction in hope of a six-figure sum, which to few people’s surprise it signally failed to achieve; and in July there was the discovery of a large collection of generic silent film scores in Birmingham Library.

Barbara Kent

And we said goodbye to some people. The main person we lost from the silent era itself was Barbara Kent, star of Flesh and the Devil and Lonesome, who made it to 103. Others whose parting we noted were the scholar Miriam Hansen; social critic and author of the novel Flicker Theodore Roszak; the founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael Hart; and the essayist and cinéaste Gilbert Adair.

Finally, there were those ruminative or informational Bioscope posts which we found it interesting to compile over the year. They include a survey of cricket and silent film; thoughts on colour and early cinema; a survey of digitised newspaper collections, an investigation into the little-known history of the cinema-novel, the simple but so inventive Phonotrope animations of Jim Le Fevre and others, thoughts on the not-so-new notion of 48 frames per second, the amateur productions of Dorothea Mitchell, the first aviation films, on silent films shown silently, and on videos of the brain activity of those who have been watching films.

As always, we continue to range widely in our themes and interests, seeing silent cinema not just for its own sake but as a means to look out upon the world in general. “A view of life or survey of life” is how the dictionary defines the word ‘bioscope’ in its original use. We aim to continue doing so in 2012.

The British Newspaper Archive

As regular readers will know, we like to keep an eye on digitised newspapers of a general nature, as well as digitised film journals. Newspapers are where cinema was reported to a general public, and for the medium’s earliest years it is through newspapers that we can trace not only names and events but an idea of presence, of the progressive encroachment of moving pictures upon the public consciousness. An increasing number of silent film scholars, notably Richard Abel, are making extensive use of online newspaper archives and helping change our understanding of early film history in the process.

We have reported on the many newspaper digitisation projects to be found across the web, bringing together information on the key resources into a single Bioscope post. Today a new digitised newspaper collection was announced, with considerable palaver, and rightly so. The British Newspaper Archive is extraordinary. It is the first expression of a ten-year project between the British Library (my estemmed employers) and brightsolid, a family history business, which will eventually see 40 million newspaper pages published online. Version one offers a mere 3,079,053 pages (as of today – 8,000 new pages will be added each day), from the whole of the 19th century (content which is comfortably out of copyright) plus some of the 20th (where a few licences have been agreed). Though most of the newspapers covered date 1800-1900, some go back to 1700, and the most recent year covered is 1949.

The British Library already has its British Newspapers 1800-1900 site, which offers some two million pages from 49 local and national UK newspapers, available by subscription or for free if you belong to a subscribing UK university. The British Newspaper Archive widens the amount of regional newspaper content hugely (while incorporating the earlier resource’s content), drawn from 175 journals – ranging from The Aberdeen Journal to the Yorkshire Gazette. It doesn’t come free, however. The deal is that the content is avaiable under subscription models online, and free onsite at the British Library. Searching online is free, but viewing the documents comes at a price. If you get a 12-month subscription, at £79.95, you get unlimited access. 30-day (£29.95) or 2-day (£6.95) subscriptions are available, giving you 3,000 or 500 credits respectively, with views per page ranging from 5 to 15 credits per page. It’s an idea to search first to make sure that what you are looking for is really there.

Some of the search results for ‘cinematograph’

Once you have paid, the resource available is outstanding. Searching, advanced search options, browsing, filtering, viewing, presentation, analysis, annotation, OCR, tagging, bookmarking – everything has been thought of and presented in a state-of-the-art fashion. Just seeing the newspapers reproduced in colour rather than greyscale is such a pleasure. The British Newspaper Archive is aimed at the genealogy market first and foremost, but there is so much here for the film scholar as well. Inevitably, given the emphasis on the 19th century, it is mostly the very early years of film that can be explored. Our regular test search term demonstrates what lies in store. Typing in ‘kinetoscope’ gets 902 hits, 725 from 1894-1899, 11 from 1900-1944. The earliest reference comes from the Exeter Flying Post on 10 March 1894. Typing in ‘cinematograph’ brings up 9,032 hits; ‘bioscope’ scores 1,634; ‘movie’ gets 13,132. Having the musical hall and varety journal The Era (for the period 1838-1900) is of particular importance, because it reported so extensively on motion pictures for the early years.

This is going to be the major resource for discovering newspapers from the national collection from now on. It doesn’t include the leading titles, such as The Times and The Guardian, which have been made available separately by the newspapers in question. But it will be so extensive, and comes with such useful search and discovery tools, that it seems bound to lead the way. Eventually it must move into the 20th century (as it has a little already), if licences for use can be agreed with the copyright owners.

It is, I think, the second-best online newspaper archive now available. The best? That’s New Zealand’s Papers Past. Which is not only the best as the complete research resource (see the Bioscope’s 2008 review), but its two million pages come free to all. Sigh.

Save up, then go explore.

Early cinema periodicals

As you may have seen from the illustration in our previous post, the early cinema studies organisation Domitor has announced a fund-raising drive to support the work of the Media History Digital Library, the non-profit initiative digitising out of copyright film periodicals and making them freely available online which has been much mentioned here already.

Domitor’s Early Cinema Periodicals Digitization Project aims to raise $5,000 dollars, from its members or from anyone interested, sufficient to digitise 50,000 pages (that’s an amazing 10 pages for a dollar). They hope to reach this target by 1 January 2012, and have suggested the following scale of donations: Institutions and full or associate professors or the equivalent: $200-250; assistant professors or the equivalent: $100; students or non-waged scholars: $50. They don’t give a suggested figure for waged (or non-waged) ordinary souls who might be keen to help, so you’ll just have to think of whatever sems appropriate, I guess. The first 20 donations of $200 or more will receive a free copy of the Domitor 2006 proceedings, Early Cinema and the National.

We’re so blessed with a vast wealth of free online resources that we can forget that nothing really comes for free. The money has to be found from somewhere, and not only will you be the beneficiary, but even better, you will be giving money to support the endeavours of those who share in your passion for the subject. There’s a donate option c/o PayPal on the Domitor site, and if you do you’ll get your name to appear on a roll of honour.

It’s good also to see Domitor so enthusiastically embrace the opportunities for research in the online world. As we have said already, the Media History Digital Library is a game-changer for research in our area – it is the new research library, free from institutional oversight or single physical location, open to all, free to all. And with just a little extra funding, there will be that much more that is free to all.

For a listing of the MHDL’s early cinema periodicals already available, see here.

Media History Digital Library

The Media History Digital Library, of which you will have read much if you are a regular here, now has a proper website. The MHDL is a non-profit initiative established by film archivist and historian David Pierce to digitise classic film and media-related journals and directories that are in the public domain, making them freely available for public access online. The journals come from variety of personal and institutional collections, with the donors including Robert S. Birchard, Eileen Bowser, Dino Everett, Richard Koszarski, Bruce Long, Nancy Goldman/Pacific Film Archive Library and Film Study Center, David Pierce, Rick Prelinger and Karl Thiede. Pierce is the director of the MHDL, Eric Hoyt of the School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California the Digitization Co-ordinator, and Wendy Hagenmaier of University of Texas Information School the Digital Archivist. All scanning and hosting is undertaken by the Internet Archive.

There are already over 200,000 pages digitised, and much more to follow. The journals for which there are extensive runs available are:

Business Screen (1938-1973)
The Film Daily (1918-1936)
International Photographer (1929-1941)
Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (1930-1949)
Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (1950-1954)
The Educational Screen (1922-1962)
Moving Picture World (1912-1918)
Photoplay (1917-1940)
Radio Age: Research, Manufacturing, Communications, Broadcasting, Television (1942-1957)
Radio Broadcast (1922-1930)

while those for which there are select holdings, and the directories available, are:

Educational Film Magazine (1920-1922)
Exhibitors Trade Review (1921-1922)
Film Spectator (1928)
Harrison’s Reports (1948)
Hollywood Reporter (1934)
Hollywood Reporter Production Encyclopedia (1948-1952)
Home Movies & Home Talkies (1932-1934)
International Motion Picture Almanac (1938)
Kinematograph Year Book (1931-1954)
Motion Picture Classic (1920)
Motion Picture Daily (1931-1934)
Motion Picture News Blue Book (1930)
Motion Picture News Booking Guide (1929)
Motion Picture Story Magazine (1913)
Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual (1921)
Motography (1915)
Non-Theatrical Film Catalogues (1936)
Picture Stories Magazine (1914-1915)
See and Hear: The Journal on Audio-Visual Learning (1945-1953)
Television Programming Catalogues (1957)
The Film Daily Year Book of Motion Pictures (1923-1963)
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science: thee Motion Picture in Its Economic and Social Aspects (1926)
The Film Daily Presents the Product Guide and Director’s Annual (1937)
The Motion Picture Almanac (1929)
The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal (1904-1905)
The World Film Encyclopedia (1933)
Who’s Who on the Screen (1920)

Many of these we have already described and championed at the Bioscope, and there’s no need to go through the details once again. The new website describes the collections, admirably, most helpfully dividing them up into curated section with useful background histories, under the themes of Hollywood Studio System Collection (1918-1948), Fan Magazines (1914-1940), Early Cinema Collection (1904-1918), Year Book Collection (1922-1963), Broadcasting Collection (1922-1957), Non-Theatrical Film Collection (1920-1973) and Technical Journals Collection (1929-1954).

This is not just a website to promote the existence of the project, but a properly functioning online library in itself. It presents the works and their contexts. There is a particularly informative and well-illustrated blog, written by Pierce, focussing on aspects of the collections; a forum awaiting new members, FAQs, a promised links section, and an invitation to asist in sponsoring further digitisation. A $1,000 contribution will support the scanning of 10,000 magazine pages, which is around a year for most of these publications. Among the titles awaiting sponsorship are The Film Daily, Motion Picture Daily, Motion Picture Herald, Radio Daily, Cine-Mundial, Broadcasting, Exhibitors Trade Review, Motion Picture News, Moving Picture World and The Hollywood Reporter. Some of these have been particually digitised, as indicated, but the full run remains to be completed.

More is promised from the site, aside from further digitised content. They intend to develop an Advanced Search to allow customisable searvches across multiple publications, volumes and years, which is going to be a huge boon to researchers. More on that when it appears. Meanwhile, individual journals and volumes are already word-searchable.

As Pierce’s blog shows, there is huge quantity of precious information to be mined. The Media History Digital Library represents a real tipping point for film research. We’ve gone beyond the point when it was quite fun to find a few texts available online, to supplement our visits to research libraries and perusing through microfilms. This is the new research library. This is where the bread-and-butter research documentation upon which we all depend is going to be found from now on. This is where we will now make our discoveries, and new kinds of discoveries too, as online research tools leads to new forms of analysis, new associations, and new conclusions. And we’ve only just started.