The other diamond jubilee

Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee procession, 22 June 1897, probably filmed by Prestwich at Parliament Square. The Queen’s carriage comes at the end of the sequence (look out for the crowds waving as the carriage approaches).

The tumult and the shouting have died, the captains and the kings have departed. The pomp, populism and absurdity of the diamond jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II have ended, and the critical eye of history can now take over.

The paraphrase of Rudyard Kiping’s ‘Recessional‘ in that opening sentence is appropriate, because Kipling wrote his famous lines about the uncertainties that lay behind the triumphalism of empire following the diamond jubilee procession of Queen Victoria, an event much discussed of late for its obvious parallels with 2012’s celebrations. The parallels are not just in the ceremonies to mark sixty years of a monarch’s reign, but in the calculated pageantry designed to overawe and to enthral the eye. In 2012 we had a rain-soaked flotilla, a pop concert and a religious service, with much controversy over the tone adopted by some of the television coverage. In 1897 there was a procession through London, witnessed by vast crowds, and recorded by a new industry eager to prove itself by documenting the greatest event in its short history – motion pictures.

The theme of the 1897 diamond jubilee was Empire. It was conceived of (by Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain) as a celebration of Empire, designed to impress upon the British people the nature of its colonial achievement, with the queen processing through London as the central piee of imperial showmanship. £300,000 (£30M in today’s money) was spent on decorating London, vast stands were put up along the route and an estimated three million visitors swelled London’s population for the day itself, 22 June 1897.

The procession was chiefly composed of 50,000 troops escorting assorted dignitaries, colonial premiers, and the British royal family, in carriages and landaus, culminating in the aged Queen Victoria herself. It started at Buckingham Palace, went up Constitution Hill, along Piccadilly, down St James Street, along Pall Mall, past the National Gallery, down The Strand and Fleet Street to Ludgate Circus, then to St Paul’s where official ceremonies were held outside the cathedral because the queen was too frail to climb the steps, into the City, across London Bridge, along The Borough, back across the river over Westminster Bridge, past Parliament Square and Horseguards Parade, then down The Mall and back to Buckingham Palace once more. The six mile journey was to take three hours.

Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee was a media event. It was documented by newspapers, photographers, cartoonists, painters, diarists and cinematographers along every inch of the procession. All along the way there were motion picture cameras. It is not certain how many firms or camera operators were there, but it seems likely that there were up to forty operators present representing up to twenty firms – mostly British, but at least two French and one Swiss concern also being represented.

The diamond jubilee procession with known motion picture camera positions marked. Other film companies were represented but their positions are not known or not certain.

The map above is taken from The Times of 21 June 1897, to which I have added colour markers to show where the cameras were positioned that we know about. The principal films were taken by Robert Paul (who had two operators, including himself) based outside St Paul’s and one at Westminster Bridge, Gaumont (led by its British representative John Le Couteur) with operators at Hyde Park and on the steps of St Paul’s itself, Joly-Normandin (‘Professor Jolly’) in St James’ Street, Biograph based at Horse Guards Parade, Velograph at Charing Cross, Prestwich at Parliament Square, Chard at four or five locations, and R.J. Appleton and Lumière (working with Fuerst Bros.) located in the Borough capturing the procession passing through South London.

Other firms known to have been there but whose location is unclear (or may not have produced successful films) were (according to the film historian John Barnes) W.& D. Downey, Haydon & Urry, the London Stereoscopic Company, the Ludgate Kinematograph Film Company, Northern Photographic Works (Birt Acres) J.W. Rowe, Dr J.H. Smith (from Switzerland), W. Watson and Wrench – though in some cases these firms may have merely advertised films that were taken by others.

The series of views taken by British Cinematographe, representing the French form of Joly-Normandin (which exhibited in the UK at ‘Professor Jolly’). The camera was positioned at the corner of Piccadilly and St James’ Street. The film shows an Indian contingent, Horse Guards, assorted carriages (the Queen is not seen in the surviving film), a gun carriage, a mounted band and Indian dignitary Sir Pratab Singh.

A number of these films survive. Each film was a single short record of around a minute’s duration, recording just one part of the procession from one angle, but each operator took several scenes from the one position, enabling each film company to then advertise a series of views that documented the highlights of the procession to the hundreds of thousands of people who missed it (or who wanted to see it all again) and were able to do so in variety theatres and halls up and down the country, as the motion picture camera made the pageantry of the moment reproducible, exportable and permanent. As theatre jounral The Era reported:

Those loyal subjects of her Majesty who did not witness the glorious pageant of the Queen’s progress through the streets of London to the thanksgiving service at St Paul’s on June 22nd, should not miss the opportunity of seeing the wonderful series of pictures at the Empire, giving a complete representation of the Jubilee procession. We owe much to the recent development of scientific photography; and by the invention of the cinématographe a means has been discovered for the preservation of what is to all intents and purposes living representations of memorable events. Our descendants will be able to learn how the completion of the sixtieth year of Queen Victoria’s reign was celebrated in the capital of the country.

Below are the surviving films from 22 June 1897, as held by the BFI National Archive (with links to the videos where these are available on YouTube courtesy of the Royal Channel):

I’ve had a lot to do with these films, ever since I put together a show that marked the centenary of the 1897 diamond jubilee procession back in June 1997. The show, helpfully entitled Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, recreates the event by having a narrator (yours truly) take the audience around the route taken by the procession, showing the surviving films in their correct sequences and filling out the story with eye-witness accounts from people such as Mark Twain, Molly Hughes, G.W. Steevens, Kier Hardy, Edward Burne-Jones and Victoria herself, read by two actors.

The show has been put on several times since then, and it will have its final outing on 21 June 2012 at the Bedford Park Festival, Chiswick, on 21 June 2012, with actors Neil Brand and Liz Fost. For anyone interested, I’ve made the script of the show – with frame stills from the films featured – available in PDF format on my personal website. Combine this with the YouTube videos above, and you can recreate your very own Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and see all the pomp of yesterday now one with Nineveh and Tyre …

For your diaries

Audience at the Giornate del cinema muto, Pordenone

Well folks, in just a few days it will be 2012, and it is time once again for our annual round-up of what is scheduled to be happening in the silent film world over the next twelve months. You can find further details about the conferences and festivals coming up in the relevant blog sections for these, while our calendar lists all that’s coming up in one handy place. We are considering a reorganiation of the site in the near future, but for the time being those sections remain.

OK, and it will come as a surprise to no one that things kick off with January. The Slapstick festival in Bristol, UK, returns 26-29th, with its traditional mixture of silent comedy classics and present-day TV and radio comedians. StummFilmMusikTage, the annual festival of silent films held in Erlangen, Germany, also takes place in January, though no dates have been given as yet.

February is going to have special interest for the silent film world as the Academy Awards take place on the 26th, and we’ll all be rooting for The Artist just so that we can tell everyone we’ve been backing the right horse all along. The Kansas Silent Film Festival takes place at Topeka, Kansas on 24-25th (no programme announced as yet).

March looks busy, with Cinefest, the annual collectors’ festival at Syracuse, New York, taking place 15-18th – no programme as yet, but bookings begin in January; the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, Scotland’s first silent film festival now in its second year, to be held in Bo’ness, 16-18th; another relative newcomer, the Toronto Silent Film Festival, to be held 29th March-3rd April; and the twelfth Festival du film muet in Servion Switzerland, 29th March-1st April. With any luck, the Kilruddery Silent Film Festival should be returning this month, held in Bray, Ireland. Finally, there will be the major event of the first US screenings with orchestra of the fully restored Napoléon at the Paramount Theatre, Oakland, CA, 24-25th, 31st and 1st April.

Spring will then be upon us, and April will see the British Silent Film Festival moving venue once again, this time to the Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, 19th-22nd- though officially both dates and venue remain provisional for now.

Then comes May, when we shall see the classic film convention Cinevent taking place at Columbus, Ohio, though no exact dates as yet. We do have dates for France’s Festival d’Anères, however, still going strong in Hautes-Pyrénées, 23rd-27th – or at least, we hope so, because just at present their website is down.

June will bring us the twelfth international Domitor conference, taking place in early cinema’s spiritual home, Brighton, UK, 25-28th [Update: dates are now 18-22 June], on the theme of ‘Performing New Media, 1890-1915’. There’s going to be something of a dilemma for some, as Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival, for many specialists an essential part of their year, runs virtually parallel to Domitor, over 23rd-30th, with special features on Raoul Walsh, Lois Weber and the regular Films from 100 Years Ago all promised so far. 29th June-1st July will see the fifteenth annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival, at Fremont, California, marking the centenary of Broncho Billy Anderson coming to Niles.

In July the sun is hot (is it shining? not it’s not). Aside from the sunshine, there will be the Olympic Games in the UK (27th July-12th August), and we’ll endeavour to have suitably Olympic things happening on the Bioscope as well. For those elsewhere, there will be the San Francisco Silent Film Festival taking place 12-15th; or else look out (hopefully) for something eye-catching once again from Babylon Kino’s StummfilmLiveFestival in Berlin this month. In 2011 Slapsticon, the annual silent and early sound film comedy festival traditionally held in Arlington, Virginia, was cancelled – we await news of what will happen this year.

Few silent film events have announced their dates as far ahead as August, though New York’s Capitolfest, scheduled for 10-12th, and Finland’s Mykkäelokuvafestivaalit, or the Forssa Silent Film Festival, is taking place 31st August-1st September. Festivals generally held this month are Strade del Cinema, held at Aosta, Italy; Jornada Brasileira de Cinema Silencioso in São Paulo, Brazil; Bonner Sommerkino, in Bonn, Germany; and the International Silent Film Festival held in Manila, Philippines. No dates or details for any of these as yet.

And then we will find ourselves in September, and ready for a particularly busy month. No dates announced as yet, but we should be getting Cinecon, the annual classic film festival held in Hollywood; New Zealand’s charming Opitiki Silent Film Festival; the Toronto Urban Film Festival of one-minute modern silent films, held in Toronto, Canada; Sydney, Australia’s Australia's Silent Film Festival (though this could turn up at any point between September and December, judging by past form); the Annual Buster Keaton Celebration held in Iola, Kansas, USA; and Cinesation, the silent and early sound film festival held in Massillon, Ohio, USA.

After all that, what might October hold? Why, Pordenone of course. The Giornate del Cinema Muto takes place 6-13th. Nothing else would dare to think even for a moment of clashing with it, and as things stand it has the month to itself.

November and December don’t seem to have anything fixed, though the Bielefelder Film+MusikFest in Germany and Poland’s Festival of Silent Films, held in Krakow and organised by Kino Pod Baranami, generally occur around this time.

If you know of other major silent films events – as opposd to individual screenings or general festivals with some silents included – do let me know. Hopefully there will be more than just the one conference happening in 2012, while the festivals all deserve your patronage. They take a lot of time, effort and money to put on, they are organised by people who believe passionately in the importance of what they do, and festivals remain the place where the real discoveries are made and silent film history is renewed and refreshed. Hope to see you at one or more such events in 2012.

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 impact of silent film

Just a short note to alert you to the existence of a video made of a talk Kevin Brownlow gave to the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge on 20 October 2011. Entitled ‘The Impact of Silent Film‘, it is a lecture with film clips and runs for 93 minutes.

When I saw the title I wondered whether Kevin had been cajoled into delivering some bold piece of socio-economic analysis which would seek to prove to government that watching a silent film a day will make each one of us healtheir, wealthier and wiser (and who’s to say if that might not be true?). But instead it is an account of silent films as the progenitor and pinnacle of motion picture art (“every visual advance, except CGI, was invented before talkies”), demonstrating innovation from “single-shot films of 1893 to the monumental epics of the 1920s”. It is illustrated with clips from his celebrated Hollywood series (albeit filmed from the screen in the Cambridge lecture theatre) and shows that his great belief in the medium continues completely unshaken.

Going digital

Well folks, the Bioscope is on its travels once more. I’m heading off to speak at a symposium with the heady title of “Film Archives and Their Users in the ‘Second Century’ – Risks and Benefits of the Transition to Digital“. The event is being held to mark the launch of the European Film Gateway, a major undertaking which I’ll be reporting on in detail on my return.

The event is taking place in Bologna, Italy, alongside the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival of archive films. The symposium is looking at

the consequences of the transition from analogue to digital by looking at the self-perception of the archives, their relationship with their users as well as the implications of this paradigm shift for their daily work.

In other words, whither the film archives now that the digital world is upon us? My talk may be familiar if there’s anyone in the audience who read the Bioscope, because it is going to be based on an old post here, Alice – random but cool, an analysis of the remarkable popularity of the 1903 film Alice in Wonderland when the BFI issued it on YouTube in February 2010 – since which time it has gained over one million views and a fascinating array of comments. Well, they’re my words, and they say what I want to say, so why not re-use them?

There is a good line-up of speakers, including Nicola Mazzanti, Thomas Christensen (Danish Film Institute), Manuela Padoan (Gaumont-Pathé Archives) and Georg Eckes (Deutsches Filminstitut and the European Film Gateway). What I am going to try to do is report on the symposium while I’m there, through a mixture of tweets (using my personal @lukemckernan address) and live aditions to this blog post – if the technology will let me do so this time. If it all fails, then no matter because I’ll just report in the regular way when I get back. The symposium takes place 30 June-1 July.

29 June 2011
OK, we’re here in Bologna, finding tweeting a bit of a problem, but hopefully we can produce a live symposium report by adding to the blog post. The symposium starts tomorrow, close by the Cinema Lumiere, where the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival is running. I’ve been down there to say hello to a few folks – it’s eighteen years since I was last here. A great festival, but it’s too darn hot for this pale Englishman. Two days will be enough.

30 June 2011
09.45 – So here I am, seated in a blessedly cool auditorium, headphone translation at the ready, all to learn about where film archives think they are going in a digital age. Hope my talk is provocative enough. But how will it come over in translation? Some of the YouTube teenspeak I’ll be citing is tough enough in English …

11.15 – A couple of high-powered presentations to kick things off. Giovanna Fossati from EYE Film Institute on new models film archiving – the freezer for all things analogue, the cloud for digital preservation, the virtual Steenbeck for the ‘haptic’ online film experience, curatorship by curators and the crowd.

She emphasized that film as a medium is on its way out, something stressed strongly by Nicola Mazzanti, with headlines from a forthcoming EU report (‘Digital Agenda for European Film Heritage’). Cinema is digital now, film will cease to be an exhibition medium within a year, scanners for film-to-digital are on their way out so we have to digitise now. If no action is taken we will lose the analogue past and have no means to preserve the digital future. The cost for the 1,100 features and 1,400 shorts made in Europe per year? 290M euros per year, approx the same as the annual budget of a large European opera house.

11.45 – Also Mazzanti pointed out necessity of legal deposit and said only Netherlands and UK among the member states don’t have it. Hmm, I detect pressure about to be applied …

12.00 – Thomas Christensen from the Danish Film Institute suggests fewer F-15 fighters rather than opera houses would be preferable. Analogue film collections to be a unique, treasured resource to be digitised on demand. Scholars don’t much go to film archives any more – they’ll seek out what they find online. Archives must make authentic digital cinema quality elements, especially for orphan and out-of-copyright films.

So much emphasis on ‘film’ heritage and the film experience when film itself is disappearing. But what about TV, nonfiction film, web video? Why this fixation on the feature film? The culture is changing, not just the medium.

13.45 – Sitting in the shade at lunchtime. Hot but not too hot, after thunderstorms last night. I’m on at 14.00, talking about users – largely absent from the discussions so far. Why do we leave our users out of the equation so often? Do they want us to preserve everything? How much do we film archivists know? But equally how dangerous will things be if we leave it all to the crowd?

14.35 – Well that shook them up a bit.

[Update: the text is available on my personal site, here]

16.45 – Some papers on use of archive content for TV and research projects given in Italian, then David Walsh from the Imperial War Museum speaking drolly on the theme “Digitise your film, sell it online, make lots of money – simple isn’t it?” Unfortunately he’s not able to tell us if it is making money for them, yet. They have been making 750,000 euros in footage sales p.a. by the traditional route. But what happens if even an archive like the IWM, which has the rights to 80% of its collection, can’t make money online?

17.05 – Talk on the Charlie Chaplin Archive, a database with documents you can only access at Bologna. All very interesting, but this symposium is supposed to be about discussing the issues for film archives at a time of great change. A bit too much of archives reporting on their projects. Archivist aren’t necessarily the right people to talk about archives. Discuss.

18.40 – OK, that’s it for today. Interesting presentation on Italian home movies archive which seems to have done everything right. Not sure if the organisers have quite got the debate they hoped for. But we get the European Film Gateway presentations tomorrow, which may open up more. The full Bioscope guide will follow in due course.

See you tomorrow, same place.

1 July 2011
Day two dawns in sultry Bologna. It’s the European Film Gateway presentations, so we can expect enthusiasm and idealism a-plenty. There will be introductions to the project overall, then archives from individual member states will talk about their contributions – Italy, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Czech Republic, Lithuania … with the conspicuous absence of eurosceptic UK.

10.05 – Film archivists, like policemen, are looking so much younger nowadays.

10.25 – Georg Eckes introduces the EFG. Funded by the EC, 16 archives plus 5 partners contributing. A digital showcase. Mostly nonfiction film. Users are 10 times more likely to click on a video item than a text item. But still only 2% of Europeana objects are audiovisual.

80% of EFG is images, 10% video, 10% text. Strong emphasis on early (out of copyright) film. Plea for archives to be consistent with metadata to make the work of gateways easier. Interesting power games underpin some of this. If your data isn’t harvestable it stays under your control.

Uses film metaphor, showing delightful Danish film of aviator Ellehammer in 1907 only just getting off the ground. Early days for EFG before it truly flies.

10.45 – Europeana presentation. Single, direct and multilingual access poin to European cultural heritage. Reflecting the diversity of Europe. 1500+ participating institutions. 90 direct providers. 16M items so far, aiming for 30M by 2015. 22,000 visits a day. That’s not terribly impressive. Does anyone care that much about Europe and its diversity?

11.20 – Europeana chap explains that it has been marketed more to providers than users so far, and that the individual sites get many more views than that. Fair enough, but this may be more about power politics than users. Europeana is biding its time. This is all so heartening really – all of these institutions competing to bring us more and more stuff in ever easier and more useful ways. How nice of them.

11.40 – Archivio Luce says that its footage sales figures are double those revealed by the IWM. 4000 hours of content. They own 99% of their collection. No 1 contributor to EFG. Touch of machismo here.

12.10 – Audience wakes up for presentation on silent erotic films made by Saturn films in Austria. Some tasteful nude bathing in 1906.

12.20 – Now products of association of amateur Swiss filmmakers. Presenters declines to show low res EFG versions and says he’d rather show 16mm!

12.50 – Fairly joyless presentation on Lithuanian documentaries topped by 5 mins clip of sand dunes. Norwegian polar films coming up, rather more to my taste. Amundsen heads out for the South Pole once again. It’ll be available on the EFG from August.

13.00 – Denmark’s first filmmaker, Peter Elfelt. Majority of his 250 films survive, 60 or so available via EFG. 700 Danish films + 1000 clips + 50000 stills on EFG, with no onscreen spoiler. Despite the great variety, the most sought after content remains sex films. It could be a bit depressing to be a Danish film archivist.

Interesting questions afterwards raising difference between EFG and commercial services like Netflix. But the public archives are never going to be able to win that game. They complement it.

13.35 – We finish with Czech film censorship documents, the Collate repository. Covers documents from CZ, Austria and Germany for 20s and 30s. Looks interesting. To be explored, later.

14.45 – Chatted afterwards with EFG’s Georg Eckes. More content is on its way, but thereafter EFG ticks along – on surprisingly little money – with care of the content in the hands of the archives. Not all moving image content on Europeana has to be filtered via EFG or its TV sidekick EU Screen.

And now it’s homeward bound. A worthwhile two days, some of it to do with silents, and hopefully the rest isn’t without interest. It all connects.

I’ve been blogging by phone while not being able to see how the results look. Hope they’re credible, legible and don’t leave me liable.

See you back in Blighty.

Parlons cinéma

Maurice Gianati speaking on Alice Guy at the Cinémathèque Française

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

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

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

Aller explorer.

Stage to screen

Members of the Society for Theatre Research at the Art Worker’s Guild

A couple of days ago I was fortunate to attend Viewing the Victorian Stage on 20th Century Film, an event organised by the Society for Theatre Research. Held in the quaintly elegant surroundings of the Art Worker’s Guild in London’s Queen’s Square, we saw a programme of rare and remarkable examples of Victorian stage practice preserved in one form or another on film. The programme was an outcome of years of research into the Victorian and Edwardian stage on film by Professor David Mayer and Helen Day-Mayer, and complementary research into its stage film holdings by the BFI’s Bryony Dixon. David introduced, Bryony talked us through the films, Neil Brand played the piano, and an enthusiastic and learned crowd lapped up the films with a mixture of amusement and astonishment.

We began with Georges Méliès’ Faust aux Infers (France 1903), presented as an example of a diablerie or férique film of the kind that was exhibited in British music halls and American vaudeville houses. The point made was that Méliès constructed a glass-roofed facsimile of his Robert Houdin’s theatre as his film studio, so that he could recreate stage effects as part of his films, using an array of ingenious machinery. For Méliès, film was a means to realise his theatrical dreams.

It was so useful to see these films from a theatre historian’s perspective. I have seen Edison’s Japanese Acrobats (USA 1904) before, and marvelled at the great skill on display, but had not known before that it shows an example of a ‘risley act’, named after Richard Risley Carlisle, an American acrobat who juggled with his feet while lying on his back, and act which he took to Japan in the 1860s. Will Evans, The Musical Eccentric (UK 1899) was less dazzling, showing a British variety comedians playing a ukelele and doing somersaults with a chair of the kind which you now see any week in the Premiership when the more acrobatic of footballers has scored a goal. He also had difficulty in keeping in shot, to a degree that you wondered why on earth the film company (Warwick) didn’t retake. But it was an unadorned demonstration of standard fare on a British variety stage on 1899, and that was what many in the audience were hoping to see – film as time machine, showing those who knew their theatre history something of what it was actually like to be there.

Particularly precious to witness was Lil Hawthorne sings ‘Kitty Mahone’ (UK 1900). This is a very early example of a synchronised sound film i.e. a silent film of a singer intended to be synchronised with a cylinder recording of their voice. The synchronisation wasn’t perfect, but it was very moving to hear her voice sing out ‘my pretty Kitty Mahone / I’m tired of living alone’ as she gestured to the audience in what looked like the stage of the Hippodrome in London, but which was actually a stage mock-up and was filmed on the roof of the theatre.

Faust aux Infers (1903)

American Mutoscope & Biograph’s Duel Scene from ‘Macbeth’ (USA 1905) was crude melodrama, Shakespeare reduced to knockabout swordfighting, the kind of rough-and-tumble extracts from plays that existed as popular variety theatre turns. Here We Are Again (UK 1913) was a surviving example of a harlequinade film, of the kind made for child audiences during holidays. It was simple knockabout stuff, but also gave the clearest of echoes to the proto-pantomimes of the early nineteenth century, when every such production had its Columbine and Harlequin.

One of the hits of the evening was Le Pied de Mouton (France 1907), a Pathé féerie or fairy play directed by Albert Capellani. To an audience of early film historians this would have been an interesting example of a fantasy film with two men (brightly stencil-coloured) encountering a giant head in a forest, notable for its staging in depth. For the stage historian, here were precious examples on show of vampire traps and star traps – types of trapdoor enabling performers to disappear and reappear through the floor at astonishing speed. Opinion afterwards was that Pathé had to have followed Georges Méliès’ lead and to have constructed its studio either from a theatre or by importing theatrical machinery. Not for the first time in the evening some argued that the film must show a scene inside a theatre – a holy grail for the theatre historian, again yearning to see what an actual audience member saw. But it was so much easier to recreate the effects in the studio than to go to the huge expense and inconvenience of setting up cameras in a theatre, with the considerable arc lighting that would have been required to illuminate the proceedings sufficiently. All of the films we were shown were filmed in a studio of one sort or another – with one astonishing exception, which we’ll come to.

The Whip (USA 1916) was a feature film version of a renowned Drury Lane drama about the attempts to nobble a horse, which on stage featured a sensational rail crash. What overwhelmed audiences when they saw it in a theatre was par for the course on the screen, and the realistic nature of Maurice Tourneur’s drama – from which we saw the sequence where the locomotive crashes, with the horse (The Whip) saved just in time – seemed worlds away from the theatre. The film could thrill, but it could not astonish. Rather better as a film was Pimple’s The Whip (UK 1917), a cheerfully stupid parody of film and play, in which the rescue of the horse (a pantomime horse) needs to be repeated a number of times because the train driver keeps on getting his cue wrong. As a practitioner of deconstructed comedy Pimple (the nephew of Will Evans, who we had seen earlier) seemed remarkably modern.

And then we found the holy grail. For many years now the BFI National Archive has had a film in its collection given the supplied title of (Collapsing Bridge) and dated c.1902. Here’s the description from the BFI database:

A section opening with an armed attack by men in peasant costume, led by a girl, against an unseen enemy. A painted backcloth represents mountain scenery and a bridge is in the foreground. The men and girl vanish at the aproach of two horse-drawn coaches from opposite directions which endeavour to cross the bridge simultaneously; water suddenly cascades down from the mountains, collapsing the bridge and plunging the horses and coaches into the water.

Described thus, it reads like part of a film scenario which we would expect to be divided up into a number of shots. But we see the entire action in one long shot, clearly filmed inside a hippodrome theatre, and featuring the stock-in-trade of hippodromes, a troupe of horses diving into the water. The effect is jaw-droppingly extraordinary. But what is the show, and who made the film? We don’t yet know. It’s quite likely that the film shows a 1902 show called The Bandits (described here), but no record has been found of any film made of the production. The filmmaker is possibly Walter Gibbons, future owner of the London Palladium, who we know filmed another Hippodrome production, Tally Ho!, around the same time, using an overpowering number of arc lights. But until we know for sure the film remains frustratingly fugitive even while it almost uniquely gives you the sense of truly being in the presence of the Victorian/Edwardian theatre at its maddest and boldest.

Trilby (UK 1914) is a disappointingly stolid piece of work. Its interest for the theatre historian is that it stars Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, in all his eye-rolling glory, as Svengali, but it fails to mesmerise. People talking afterwards noted the different acting styles of Tree and Viva Birkett, a florid Victorian manner alongside a subtler, even Ibsenian performance from her. It was good then to see Edison’s parodic Why Girls Leave Home (USA 1909), which cheerfully sends up every convention of the melodrama, including over-the-top acting, malfunctioning stage machinery and plot absurdities. The full film originally included a framing story in which a vicar tries to prevent his daughter from seeing a play, but she does so, and this is what she sees. Unfortunately what survives (held by the CNC archive in France) is in a dreadful state, with the image barely distinct, making us strain all the more to see laughs than would otherwise be the case. But it was clear that the Edwardians knew exactly how to laugh at the Victorians.

We finished with a long sequence (the tribunal scene) from The Only Way (UK 1926), an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and a star vehicle for theatrical great Sir John Martin-Harvey. He first appeared as Sidney Carton in 1899, and twenty-five years later he was still playing the same role, aged sixty-three. The feature film, directed by Herbert Wilcox, tries as far as possible to duplicate the stage production, though it was a film for all that and an engrossing example of the complex interrelationship between the two media. This came out in Martin-Harvey’s performance, which was a mixture of extravagant gestures and fine details that only the camera could pick up. It was pure ham from the theatrical knight, and you saw in his eyes someone who had played the same role a few hundred times too many, but you also saw such star magnetism that his great fame instantly made sense.

Silent film was profoundly indebted to the Victorian theatre. Actors, acting conventions, plays, genres, types of stage effect, its kudos, all had a huge effect on how the silent film grew. We can look at silent films and see endless traces of its Victorian stage origins, not just in films that clearly emulate a stage experience, but more subtly in how films were constructed, what they wanted to be, and then what they reacted against when they felt themselves outgrowing their theatrical inheritance.

But we cannot simply look at silent films for direct evidence of stage practice. Film changes everything it touches. Stage acts were changed to fit the dimensions of film – literally so, when the space in which a film could be made was smaller than stage space. The conventions of theatre were not so much borrowed as adapted for film, and then blended with the conventions of film itself. Also, film was not static, but changed greatly over the twenty-five years that we saw, during which the relationship between the two media grew ever more complex. In the end we witnessed not so much examples of stage practice recorded on film but rather a changing history of performance. Film became another stage for actors, dancers, comedians and magicians. Some adapted more happily than others, but as soon as they put themselves before a camera it changed them. It is that process of adaptation that film records rather than being some sort of literal mirror of what took place upon a stage. We may go looking for the evidence that we seek in a piece of film, but we will always end up finding something else.

Examples of American stage and variety stars from the early 1900s can be found on the Library of Congress’ American Memory site – the American Variety Stage 1870-1920 collection – and the Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment playlist on its YouTube channel.

The organisers of the event produced a handy bibliography, which I’m going to take the liberty of reproducing, as the aim was to encourage others to engage in research in this area:

  • Richard Abel, French Cinema: The First Wave, 1915-1929 (Princeton University Press) 1984
  • ____,The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914 (California University Press) 1994)
  • ____, (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Early Film (Routledge), 2005
  • Jacky Bratton, Jim Cook & Christine Gledhill (eds), Melodrama: Stage Picture Screen (British Film Institute), 1994
  • Ben Brewster & Lea Jacobs, Theatre to Cinema (Oxford University Press), 1997
  • Judith Buchanan, Shakespeare on Silent Film: An Excellent Dumb Discourse (Cambridge University Press), 2009
  • Jon Burrows, Legitimate Cinema: Theatre Stars in Silent British Films 1908-1918 (University of Exeter Press), 2003
  • Jim Davis (ed) Victorian Pantomime / A Collection of Critical Essays (Palgrave Macmillan), 2010
  • Bryony Dixon, Chaplin-In-Context A Catalogue of Music Hall Related Films 1895 – 1930 held by the bfi National Film and Television Archive, Downloadable as Chaplin-in-context.pdf No date
  • ____, 100 Silent Films (BFI & Palgrave Macmillan) forthcoming 2011
  • Linda Fitzsimmons & Sarah Street (eds), Moving Performance: British Stage and Screen 1890s-1920s (Flicks Books), 2000
  • Dennis Gifford, Books and Plays in Films 1896-1915: Literary, Theatrical and Artistic Sources of the First Twenty Years of Motion Pictures (McFarland & Mansell), 1991
  • Martin Miller Marks, Music and the Silent Film/ Contexts and Case Studies, 1895-1924 (Oxford University Press), 1997
  • David Mayer, Playing Out the Empire: Ben-Hur and other Toga Plays and Films 1883- 1908 (Clarendon Press), 1994
  • ___, Stagestruck Filmmaker: D.W. Griffith and the American Theatre (University of Iowa Press), 2009
  • Charles Musser, Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company (University of California Press), 1991
  • ___, Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900 (Smithsonian Institution Press & Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), 1997
  • Kemp R. Niver & Bebe Bergsten (eds) Early Motion Pictures: The Paper Print Collection in the Library of Congress (Library of Congress), 1985
  • David Robinson, Musique et Cinéma Muet (Réunion des Musées Nationaux), 1995
  • ____ From Peep Show to Palace: The Birth of American Film (Columbia University Press), 1996
  • Matthew Solomon, Disappearing Tricks: Silent Film, Houdini, and the New Magic of the Twentieth Century (University of Illinois Press), 2010
  • ____, (ed) Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination: Georges Méliès’s Trip to the Moon (SUNY Press) forthcoming 2011

Saving motion

Paolo Cherchi Usai (left) and Kevin Brownlow

On 19 January 2011 there is to be a notable event held at the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre of the Courtauld Institute of Art, Strand, London, by the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. This august institution is devoted to promoting the knowledge, methods and working standards needed to protect and preserve historic and artistic works from around the world, but as well as the paintings, sculptures, buildings, museum artefacts and such like that are its usual concern, it also considers moving images. As one of its series of ‘Dialogues for the New Century’ is inviting Kevin Brownlow and Paolo Cherchi Usai to debate Saving Motion – the conservation of the moving image.

Here’s how the IIC describes the event:

Motion pictures, the movies, enjoy a position of both mass entertainment and valued products of our creative heritage. From the era of silent films to today’s high budget features, masterpieces abound, as do intimate personal moments and historic documentaries that capture the intangible aspects of what surrounds us.

Moving image heritage makes up a large portion of the world’s memory and both commercial and personal examples are found in every country and in every size and type of institution across the world. Archives, libraries, and museums struggle to conserve these records in a manner that attempts to respect the authenticity and inherent values while assuring and encouraging broad access. As the idea of digitization presents itself as a solution to both preservation and accessibility, questions arise regarding the value of the original footage, the qualities unique to film based material, our stewardship responsibilities to preserve these works in their unique original form, and the essential role and definition of film archives.

Kevin Brownlow and Paolo Cherchi Usai will explore a wide range of issues pertaining to the preservation of moving image heritage (films, video and digital materials) as well as the particular challenges of access. This dialogue between two of the leading pioneers and experts of the preservation of motion pictures will also explore the reasons for an apparent disconnect between those pursuing the preservation of film and the larger conservation community working toward the preservation of heritage in other art forms.

Kevin Brownlow is a filmmaker, film historian, author, and Academy Award recipient, best known for his documentation of the history of silent films. He is the creator of the alternative-history film, It Happened Here and the 1975 film Winstanley. Brownlow has written numerous works on silent and classic films including The Parade’s Gone By (1968). In collaboration with David Gill he produced a number of documentaries on the silent film era, including the 1983 Unknown Chaplin and the 1995 Cinema Europe: the Other Hollywood. His book The Search for Charlie Chaplin was published this year, 2010.

Paolo Cherchi Usai, is director of the Haghefilm Foundation in Amsterdam, cofounder and co-director of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival and of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House. He has authored numerous works on film and its preservation including Burning Passions: An Introduction to the Study of Silent Cinema (1994), The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory, and the Digital Dark Age (2001) and co-author of Film Curatorship: Archives, Museums, and the Digital Marketplace (2008).

The event promises to be a fascinating one, with a strong bias toward silent film, and with two of the most prominent, thoughtful and opinionated people in our field addressing an audience of general conservationsists rather than the usual film crowd. In particular the theme of a disconnect between the conservation of film and the conservation of other heritage works promises much. Does the care of film exist in a world of its own, separate from the conservation or preservation of other media, and if so then why so, and is it a good or bad thing? If we could hang films in national galleries or museums might they be better cared for? Or might those who care for other heritage media have something to learn from how film archives manage huge problems with minimal resources while contending with thorny issues such as copyright which do not affect those caring for old masters or archaeological sites?

Previous such dialogues have been made available in transcript form on the ICC site, so if you can’t be there you can still read about it. The event takes place at 19:00 and is free to all.

At the Cinema Museum

The Cinema Museum, located in the administration block of the former Lambeth workhouse in which Charlie Chaplin’s mother was incarcerated

As part of a new fund-raising campaign which aims to secure its future and establish it as an exciting new London venue, the Cinema Museum announces a programme of events presented by key film industry figures and film historians. These are the silent-related ones:

Saturday – 11th September

The Silent Majority: Glenn Mitchell
Glenn Mitchell, the author of “The A-Z of Silent Film Comedy”, will show and talk about films from the less well known comedians, many of whom he regards as geniuses in their own right. There will be films of Charlie Chase, Billy Bevan, Alice Howell, Ben Turpin, Snub Pollard, Charlie Bowers, Al St. John, Lupino Lane, Lloyd Hamilton, to name just a few of these forgotten comic heroes of the silent screen.

Wednesday – 22nd September

Chaplin’s London in Hollywood: David Trigg
Charlie Chaplin was born in Walworth, not far from here. His father left when Charlie was only three, and he then lived at various addresses in and around the Kennington area with his mother Hannah for the next few years. With two young children and no work she slid into destitution, and eventually the family were admitted to this site – The Lambeth Workhouse. The memories and stigma of the extreme poverty never left him.

A hundred years ago to this day Charlie Chaplin left for America. The film historian David Trigg marks the event with a screening of “The Immigrant” – Chaplin’s take on what it was like to cross the Atlantic and start a new life. Chaplin made this in 1917; three years after his film career began. This will be accompanied live on the piano by Cyrus Gabrysch.

David Trigg, will also show clips from other Chaplin films demonstrating how much the film star’s life in the Kennington area influenced his film making, even to the extent of having sets built based on his own London childhood. David points out that one even resembles the building that is now the home of the Cinema Museum, where Chaplin and his mother spent some considerable time.

Thursday – 21st October

Clapperboard: Graham Murray
Graham Murray wrote and compiled around 500 editions of the popular film programme “Clapperboard” which ran from 1972-1982. Clapperboard was a programme about film history, and was presented each week by Chris Kelly. The series covered all aspects of film making and cinema history. Graham will show some clips of the programme plus a full 45 minute Bank Holiday edition of “Clapperboard”.

Film historian Graham Murray was born in Liverpool and came to London in the late 1950’s. In 1959 he joined the film division of the government’s Central Office of Information, and then joined Granada in 1962. He has worked over the years on a large number of mainly archive film based programmes starting with “All Our Yesterdays” – which looked at our history through the newsreels.

Thursday – 2nd December

From the Picturedrome to the Phoenix
Film historian Gerry Turvey explains how the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley (built 1910), featuring a later unique art deco auditorium has outlived rival cinemas, including those of the big chains. Moving from mainstream to art-house programming, then becoming a charitable trust and servicing North London’s local communities.

Gerry Turvey’s illustrated talk is based on his new book The Phoenix Cinema, A Century of Film in East Finchley published by Phoenix Cinema Trust. Following its fortunes through the various name changes (Picturedrome, Coliseum, Rex, and Phoenix), physical transformations and programming policies that have helped it to endure and outlast its rivals. The wide-ranging account will describe the Phoenix’s construction in the 1910s, the introduction of orchestras and live variety acts in the 1920s, and the response to the threat from the super-cinemas of the 1930s, how it dealt with the decline of cinema-going in the 1950s, the introduction of ‘art-cinema’ films in the 1970s. The story of this unique cinema will be of interest not only to its past and present audiences but also to all those with an enthusiasm for local history, cinema history and twentieth century development in popular culture and entertainment.

Other events taking which veer into the strange world of talking pictures include A Conversation with Julie Harris (7 October), A Conversation with Angela Allen MBE (4 November) and A Conversation with Burt Kwouk (18 November). And taking place at the Museum on 16 October is the annual Home Movie Day, London’s contribution to the international event promoting the personal film. Members of the public can bring in their home movies for inspection, projection and advice. More information on this from

Finally on 18-19 September there is a weekend fundraising event, a film and movie memorabilia bazaar between 10:00 and 17:00, entrance price £5. There will be dealers’ tables with books, psoters, stills, films, equipment, campaign books, DVDs and more.

More information on the and other upcoming events from the Cinema Museum site.

Suffragettes before the camera

Asta Nielsen playing a suffragette undergoing forcefeeding in Die Suffragette (1913), from Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek

Early film reflected the society in which it arose, and there is no clearer example of this than the campaign for women’s suffrage. The movement to gain women the vote in Britain reached its climax during the period when mass cinema-going was first underway in the early 1910s, and films reflected the popular understanding of the suffragettes. The militant woman became a standard figure in early ficition films, generally portrayed for comic or satiric effect. At the same time the suffragettes were regularly covered by the newsreels, a dynamic new medium for reporting what was happening in the world to a mass audience.

The relationship between women’s suffrage and early film is explored in Frühe Interventionen: Suffragetten – Extremistinnen der Sichtbarkeit (Early interventions / Suffragettes – extremists of visibility), a series of films and lectures being held at the Zeughauskino, Berlin, 23-27 September 2010. Behind the somewhat forbidding title is a tremendous programme of rare materials uncovered from archives across Europe and curated by Madeleine Bernstorff and Mariann Lewinsky. The films document not only the suffragettes as audiences saw them in fiction and non-fiction films, but also the role of women in early cinema generally, showing how trangressive, rebellious and sometimes just plain exuberant displays by women on screen echoed the drive for changes in society of which the campaign for the vote was but a part.

The Pickpocket (USA 1913), from EYE Film Institute Netherlands

Here is the programme:

Thursday 23. September 20:00 h

Radical maid(en)s
Cheerful young girls’ break-outs, class relations and radicalisations.

Sedgwick’ s Bioscope Showfront at Pendlebury Wakes, GB 1901, 30m 1’30“
La Grêve des bonnes, France 1907 184m, 10’
Tilly in a Boarding house GB 1911 D Alma Taylor, Chrissie White 7’
Pathé newsreel The Suffragette Derby, GB 1913, ca 5’
Miss Davison’s Funeral, GB 1913, 45m 2’
A Suffragette in Spite of Himself GB 1912 Edison R: Bannister Merwin D: Miriam Nesbitt, Ethel Browning, Marc McDermott 8’, 16mm
Robinette presa per nihilista Italy 1912, D: Nilde Baracchi, 124m, 8’
Cunégonde reçoit sa famille France 1912 D: Cunegonde – name unknown, 116m, 6’
Les Ficelles de Leontine France 1910, D: Leontine – name unknown, 155m, 8’
Tilly and the fire engines GB 1911 2’ D: Alma Taylor, Chrissie White
[A Nervous Kitchenmaid] France c.1908, 74m, 4’
Introduction: Madeleine Bernstorff
Live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Friday 24. September 18:00 h

The Fanaticism of the Suffragettes
Lecture with images and filmclips by Madeleine Bernstorff

Following the lecture Mariann Lewinsky will present the DVDs Cento anni fa/A hundred Years ago: European Cinema of 1909 and Cento anni fa/A Hundred Years ago: Comic Actresses and Suffragettes 1910-1914 [for more information, see end of this post].

Friday 24. September 19:00 h


Les Femmes députées France 1912 D: Madeleine Guitty 154m 8’
England. Scenes Outside The House Of Commons 28 January 1913 2’
Trafalgar Square Riot 10 August 1913 1913 2’
Milling The Militants: A Comical Absurdity GB 1913 7’
St. Leonards Outrage France 1913 21m 1’
Womens March Trough London: A Vast Procession Of Women Headed By Mrs Pankhurst. March Through London To Show The Minister Of Munitions Their Willingness To Help In Any War War Service GB 1915 23m 1’
Scottish Women’s Hospital Of The National Union Of Women’s Suffrage Societies France 1917 133m 6’30
Dans le sous-marin France 1908 Pathé 145m 5’
Introduction: Madeleine Bernstorff
Live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Friday 24. September 21:00 h

Women’s Life and Leisure in the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection
Presented by Vanessa Toulmin

The renowned Mitchell & Kenyon Collection provides an unparalled view of life at the turn of the twentieth century and this screening will allow us an opportunity to see women’s life and leisure in industrial England. The social and political background as well as working conditions will be shown on screen. The range and sheer diversity of women in the workplace will be revealed from the domestic to the industrial environment, women played an important role in the transition to modern society. From girls working in the coal mines to spinners and weavers leaving the factory this selection from the Collection will reveal previously unseen footage from the Archive, in a following workshop Vanessa Toulmin will speak about: Discovery and Investigation: The Research Process of the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection.

Women at Work: The ‘Hands’ Leaving Work at North-Street Mills, Chorley (1900), North Sea Fisheries, North Shields (1901), Employees Leaving Gilroy’s Jute Works, Dundee (1901), S.S. Skirmisher at Liverpool (1901), Birmingham University Procession on Degree Day (1901), Life in Wexford (1902), Black Diamonds – The Collier’s Daily Life (1904)
Women in the Social Environment: Liverpool Street Scenes (1901), Jamaica Street, Glasgow (1901), Manchester Street Scenes (1901), Manchester Band of Hope Procession (1901), Electric Tram Rides from Forster Square, Bradford (1902)
Leisure and Play: Sedgwick’s Bioscope Showfront at Pendlebury Wakes (1901), Spectators Promenading in Weston Park, Sheffield (1902), Trip to Sunny Vale Gardens at Hipperholme (1901), Bootle May Day Demonstration and Crowning of the May Queen (1903), Blackpool Victoria Pier (1904), Greens Racing Bantams at Preston Whit Fair (1906), Calisthenics (c. 1905).
Live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Saturday 25. September 18:00 h

La Neuropatologia
Lecture by Ute Holl+ screening of La Neuropatologia (I 1908)

La Neuropatologia is a medical instructional film by the Turin neurologist Camillo Negri. The film can be read – utilising medical-historical methology – as the presentation of an hysterical seizure, but it could also be called an expressionist drama, a love triangle. Medical fact cannot be visualized without the medical stage, the theatre, the mise-en-scène. End of the 19th century the visual turn in medical methodology and in neurological diagnosis gets introduced.

Saturday 25. September 19:00 h

Staging and Representation: A cinematographic studio

La Neuropatologia opens the view on representational relations. The Austrian company Saturn Film produced so-called ‘titillating’ films for a male audience, but the models also had her own ideas about erotic stagings. Normal work is part of an installation, and a re-enactment of four late-19th century photographies by Hannah Cullwick, who worked as a maid and produced numerous (self)portraits as part of a sado-masochist bond with her bourgeois boss Arthur Munby.

La Neuropatologia Italy 1908 Camillo Negro 107m 5’
La Ribalta (Fragment) Italy 1913 Mario Caserini D: Maria Gasparini 60 m 3’5’
Beim Photographen Austria 1907 Saturn 50m 3’
Das eitle Stubenmädchen Austria 1907 Saturn 50m 3’
Normal Work Germany 2007 Pauline Boudry, Renate Lorenz D: Werner Hirsch 13’ 16mm/DV
Concorso di bellezza fra bambini / Kindertentoonstellung Italy 1909 80m 4’
La nuova cameriera e troppo bella Italy 1912 D: Nilde Baracchi, 138m 7’
Rosalie et Léontine vont au théâtre France 1911, D: Sarah Duhamel + Leontine – name unknown 80m, 4’
L’intrigante France 1910 Albert Capellani 162m 8’
Introduction: Madeleine Bernstorff
Live piano accompaniment

Saturday 25. September 21:00h

Glittering stars, athletic women, first star personas
From 1910 on many female comedians had their own series. There was alsoa strong presence of female artistes and performers in the cinema before 1910.

Danse Serpentine / Annabella USA c.1902 Edison ca 2’ 16mm
La Confession France 1905 D: Name nicht bekannt 60m 3’
Femme jalouse France 1907 D: Name nicht bekannt 58m 3’
Lea e il gomitolo Italy 1913 D: Lea Giunchi 99m 5’
Danses Serpentines France / USA 1898-1902 D: U.a. Annabella 60m 3’
La Valse chaloupée France 1908 D: Mistinguett, Max Dearly 38m 2’
Sculpteur moderne France 1908 R: Segundo de Chomon D: Julienne Matthieu 8’
Les Soeurs Dainef France 1902 65m 3’
Introduction: Mariann Lewinsky
Live piano accompaniment Eunice Martins
Zigomar peau d’anguille France 1913 Eclair Victorin Jasset D: Alexandre Aquillere, Josette Andriot, 940m 45’
On the turntables: Julian Göthe

Sunday 26. September 18:00

Re-Reading Steinach
Lecture and video-presentation by Mareike Bernien

Re-Reading Steinach is a re-assembly of the popular-science film Steinachs Forschungen by Nicholas Kaufmann/UFA from 1922 – with the idea to analyze representations of normative and divergent body-and gender-constructions in the beginning of 20th century.

Sunday 26. September 19:00

Cross-dressings of men and women: Elegant page-uniforms and pantskirts, men in nurse-dresses and the wonderful Lotion Magique which grows beards on breasts and breasts on bald heads.

Mes filles portent la jupes-culotte France 1911 120m 6’
Monsieur et Madame sont pressés France 1901 20m 1’
Le Poulet de Mme Pipelard France 1910 84m 5’
Cendrillon ou La Pantoufle merveilleuse France 1907 R: Albert Capellani 293 m 15’
Il duello al shrapnell Italy 1908 100m 5’
La Lotion magique France 1906 Pathé 80m 5’
La Grève des nourrices France 1907 190 m 10’
Schutzmann-Lied from Metropol-Revue 1908, Donnerwetter! – Tadellos! Germany 1909 D: Henry Bender Beta 2’ (digital sound image reconstruction by Christian Zwarg)
Introduction: Mariann Lewinsky and Madeleine Bernstorff
Introduction to Schutzmannlied: Dirk Foerstner
Live piano accompaniment

Sunday 26. September 21:00

The Woman of Tomorrow
Cinema before 1910 was abundant in non-fiction films about daily work. La Doctoresse is part of a comedy-serial by Mistinguett and her partner Prince. The Russian film The Woman of Tomorrow is about a successful feminist female doctor.

Recolte du sarasin France 1908
L’Industria di carta a Isola del Liri Italy 1909 147m 7’30“
La Doctoresse France 1910, D: Mistinguett, Charles Prince 140m 7’
Zhenshchina Zavtrashnego Dnya / The woman of tomorrow Russia 1914, D: Vera Yurevena, Ivan Mosjoukine, 795m 40’
Live piano accompaniment

Monday 27. September 18:00

Political Stagings of the Suffragettes in England
Lecture by Jana Günther on strategic image politics of the militant English suffragette movement: between permanent spectacle and crusade. The Suffragettes appropriated activist strategies of the workers’ movement and tried out acts of civil inobedience like chaining themselves to railings, hunger strikes and other distruptive acts.
+ presentation of the film A Busy Day aka A Militant Suffragette D:Charlie Chaplin, USA 1914 16mm 6’

Monday 27. September 19:00h

Die Suffragette

The restored version (by Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek) of the Asta Nielsen melodrama Die Suffragette with some rediscovered scenes – including the force-feeding-scene which had been cut because of strict censorship regulations.

Bobby und die Frauenrechtlerinnen/Mijnher Baas + de vrije Vrouwen Germany 1911 Oskar Messter 112m 6’
Pickpocket USA 1913 260 m 13’
Les Résultats du féminisme France 1906 Alice Guy 5’
Die Suffragette Germany 1913 D: Asta Nielsen (Nelly Panburne) 60‘
Introduction: Karola Gramann + Heide Schlüpmann
Live piano accompaniment Eunice Martins

Monday 27. September 21:00h

The Year of the bodyguard
The film essay by Noël Burch deals with the subject of suffragettes in 1912 training under the first English female jiu-jitsu expert Edith Garrud to fight the police and protect their leaders.

Wife, The Weaker Vessel GB 1915 D: Ruby Belasco, Chrissie White, 190m 9’
Le Sorelle Bartels Italy 1910 74m 4’
The Year of the Bodyguard Noel Burch 1981 54’ ZDF
Works and Workers at Denton Holme GB 1910, 90m 5’

In the foyer of Zeughauskino there will be a video installation ‘I would be delighted to talk Suffrage’ by Austrian artist Fiona Rukschcio and a lightbox and bulletin board by Madeleine Bernstorff with materials from the National Archives, London on police spy photographs depicting the suffragettes.

Suffragette Demonstration at Newcastle, from BFI National Archive

Madeleine Bernstorff writes these words about women’s suffrage and film in the notes to the programme:

In the early twentieth century, the cause of women’s suffrage and the suffragette movement became a cinematic topic. Something seemingly untameable had appeared on the city streets, provoking a good deal of anxiety: women, often sheltered ladies of the bourgeoisie, were organising and even demanding participation in democratic processes! By 1913 more than 1,000 suffragettes had already gone to prison for their political actions. In addition to cartoons in the print media, newsreels and melodramas were produced along with countless comedies that referred – in all their ambivalence of subversion and affirmation – to the movement. They told the audience that women belonged at home and not at the ballot box, that these unleashed furies who now appeared in the streets en masse were growing mannish, neglecting their families and even setting public buildings ablaze. In the anti-suffragette films, women’s rights activists were often misguided souls who needed to be brought back to their proper calling. They also left plenty of room for nod-and-wink voyeurism on all sides. Men, too, masqueraded as suffragettes – to illustrate how inappropriate and grotesque it was for women to overstep their roles – or to act out against the prevailing order even more wildly?

The figure of the suffragette in early fiction (usually comedy- the seriousness of Asta Nielsen’s Die Suffragette is a notable exception) film is one that has been written about in several places, though never before has such an extensive collection of relevant films been seen in one place, to my knowledge. However, I would encourage those attending the event to look twice at the newsreels as well. There are many surviving newsreels showing the suffragettes – for the simple reason that they made it their business to be filmed.

The suffragettes showed themselves to be particularly media savvy by staging events that would attract the media. The simplest strategy was to organise marches with banners with bold slogans that could be easily picked up by the cameras. Then there was the obvious tactic of letting the newspapers and newsreels know beforehand of when a march or such like was going to take place. Just occasionally there was active co-operation with the newsreel companies. Rachael Low, in The History of the British Film 1906-1908, reproduces this report from the Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly 25 June 1908, p. 127, which shows how far this could go:

From certain sources whispers had reached us anent Mr. Harrison Ward’s secret conclaves with Mrs. Drummond and Miss Christabel Pankhurst, and as we surmised the plottings of the trio within the suffragette’s fortress have taken definite shape in the form of a picture history of recent performances of the ‘great shouters’ during their campaign … With exclusive right for kinematographing from the suffragists’ conning tower Mr. W. Jeapes obtained some exceptionally interesting pictures, those showing Mr. R.G. Knowles discussing the burning question with some of the leaders at the base of the tower being particularly good, the same remark applying to the life-size portraits of Mrs. ‘General’ Drummond, Miss Pankhurst and others. Mr. Jeapes and Mr. Ward probably never played to a bigger house than they did on Sunday, and the sight of the surging mass of humanity following the pantechnicon ‘conning tower’ as it emerged from Hyde Park, what time the energetic pair on top recorded the scene was something to arouse the envy of any kinematographer with an eye for picture effects.

The film, made by the Graphic Cinematograph Company, was a bit more than the average newsreel (it showed the major demonstration organised by the Women’s Social and Political Union that took place 21 June 1908 in Hyde Park). But the degree of pre-planning, co-operation and indeed the purchase of exclusive rights for a key camera position demonstrates that both news companies and suffragettes recognised the great value of one another, and that we should look on the newsreels of suffragettes as composed works rather than accidental actuality. We see what they wanted us to see.

Even when there wasn’t active co-operation with the newsreels, the suffragettes knew where cameras (still and motion picture) would be positioned, so that their protest acts would gain the greatest publicity. The best known example is that of the 1913 Derby, at which Emily Wilding Davison was killed after running onto the race-course and being knocked down by the King’s horse. The act was captured by a number of newsreels (the Pathé version is to be featured in Berlin) because they were all trained on the final bend before the end of the race, Tattenham Corner, and that is exactly where Davison chose to run out. Again, we see what they wanted us to see.

  • The Gaumont Graphic version of the 1913 Derby is here
  • The Pathé’s Animated Gazette version is here
  • The Topical Budget version is here (accessible to UK schools and libraries only)
  • (The Warwick Bioscope Chronicle version is here but I can’t make it play, and in any case Warwick either missed the incident or it has been cut from the extant film)
  • There are British Pathe compilations of suffragette newsreel footage here and especially here

There isn’t any information online about the Berlin screenings as yet (apart from this post, obviously), but information will appear on the Zeughauskino site once it gets round to publishing its September programme. (Now published)

Update (4 September): The full programme is now available (in German) from (full marks for the striking design).

Finally, the DVD from this year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato mentioned above is now available for sale. Curated by Mariann Lewinsky, Cento anni fa: Attrici comiche e suffragette 1910-1914 / Comic Actresses and Suffragettes 1910-1914 is a DVD and booklet on nineteen films (Italian, French, English, American), featuring such female comedy stars as Tilly and Sally (Alma Taylor and Chrissie White), Cunégonde, Mistinguett, Rosalie, Lea and Gigetta, plus newsreel films (including two compilations) of suffragette action from the UK and USA. The DVD is priced 19.90 € and is available from the Cineteca Bologna site. For those not able to be in Berlin it’s going to be the next best thing.

My thanks to Madeleine Bernstorff for providing the programme information and stills.