Lifting the curtain

A Throw of Dice (Prapancha Pash)

I had an idea to devote August to a particular theme here at the Bioscope, namely catalogues and databases, but problems with some resources I’ve been testing have put that on the back-burner for the time being. Instead, it looks like Asian cinema is becoming our hot topic. If you follow the comments to the recent post on digitised newspapers from Singapore you will find a rich array of information on early Asian cinema studies from two expert scholars in the field, Stephen Bottomore and Stephen Hughes.

It is Stephen Hughes who has alerted us to the existence of BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies, a new journal which will be including early film subjects within its remit, as an essay in its first number indicates, Sudhir Mahadevan’s “Traveling Showmen, Makeshift Cinemas: The Bioscopewallah and Early Cinema History in India”. If you follow the Asian cinema category here at this Bioscope you will find a number of posts which cover bioscopewallahs or Indian touring film showmen, some of whom are still operating original silent-era projectors. The term comes from the Bioscope projector first marketed in the USA and the the UK by Charles Urban in the late 1890s/early 1900s, which proved so popular that it spread worldwide not just as a projector but as the name of where you saw films (the term is still common as a place where you see films in South Africa). UK fairground film shows were called bioscopes, many of the first UK cinemas were referred to as bioscopes, and one of the leading British film trade journals of the period was called The Bioscope. Anyway, a warm welcome to a well-named journal, which is operating in a grand tradition.

And then there’s more. On 25 August, at the Nehru Centre in London, there is a launch event for a year-long project (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund) on the linkages between silent cinema in India and Britain, entitled Lifting the Curtain: Niranjan Pal & Indo-British Collaboration in Cinema in the UK (1902-29). This project is being managed by the South Asian Cinema Foundation (SACF) and began this May. The project main subject is screenwriter, director and playwright Niranjan Pal, who wrote the Anglo-Indo-German silent features The Light of Asia (1925), Shiraz (1928) and A Throw of Dice (1929, now available on DVD), before becoming chief scenarist at Bombay Talkies in 1934.

The Nehru Centre event will feature film clips and presentations on early cinema, filmmakers, filmmaking and film exhibition in Britain and India, together with information the various film sources that are available for students keen to conduct research in this area – a key aim of the project. The project is supported by the British Film Institute and the British Library, and among the speakers is the BL’s moving image curator, Luke McKernan i.e. me, talking about Charles Urban and the filming in Kinemacolor of the 1911 Delhi Durbar.

More information from the Nehru Centre (scroll down to 25 August) and the SACF site.

Summer on the Southbank

BFI Southbank

We don’t normally highlight what takes place on a regular basis at film theatres and cinematheques, but looking at the August booklet for the BFI Southbank, it’s time to make an exception. It’s certainly a rich offering for silents and archival film in general.

The headline attraction is the UK premiere of the reconstructed and restored Metropolis (1927), now with an extra twenty-five minutes of footage, as documented on the Bioscope here, here and here. The screening takes place on 26 August, at 18:00.

The BFI is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its achive. Originally known as the National Film Library, it has subsequently been known as the National Film Archive, the National Film and Television Archive, BFI National Film and Television Archive, BFI Collections, BFI National Film and Television Archive once again, and now BFI National Archive. Passing over whatever insecurities have led to such a long-running identity crisis, you can help celebrate its 75th by attending its Long Live Film screenings, which are highlighting previously lost films that the Archive had particularly sought. Now, after decades hidden from view, you can see Britain’s answer to Fantomas, George Pearson’s Ultus and the Grey Lady (1916) plus other Ultus fragments (9 August, 18:00), Cecil Hepworth’s Helen of Four Gates (1920) (11 August, 18:10), Walter Forde’s What Next? (1928) (18 August, 18:20) and Ivor Novello and Mabel Poulton in The Constant Nymph (1928) (20 August, 18:10). Look out soon for BFI Most Wanted, a relaunched search for 75 lost British films, which is certain to include some key silent titles.

Among other attractions, look out for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (23 August 20:40); a programme of early archival treasures, A Night in Victorian and Edwardian London (4 August, 18:10); and Kenneth MacPherson’s experimental classic Borderline (1930), with Paul Robeson and H.D., introduced by film artist Stephen Dwoskin (5 August, 18:10). Collecting for Tomorrow (7 August, 13:30) is a discussion event, hosted by Dylan Cave, on the future of film collecting, which will include clips of recently acquired material including the work of modern silent filmmaker Martin Pickles (previously covered by the Bioscope).

Along the non-silent material, I must note the screenings of nitrate prints that are taking place at the BFI Southbank in July and August, also part of Long Live Film. Cellulose nitrate film stock stopped being employed in cinemas in 1952, and became the defining challenge for film archives in the latter half of the twentieth century. Nitrate film, owing to its high silver content, gavce the films on the screen a lustrous finish which is missing from safety film stock (let alone digital copies). However, because of the fire risks, a special licence is required to show nitrate film and the BFI has the only such licence in the UK. No silent nitrate films are on offer, more’s the pity, but over the two months you can see Fugitive Lady (1950), The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), The Yearling (1946), Brighton Rock (1947), Anchors Aweigh (1945), The Ghost of St Michael’s (1941), Volga-Volga (1938) and Les Maudits (1946) as they were originally seen.

On the smaller screens at the BFI Southbank, the drop-in archive facility the Mediatheque has a special focus on British silents, including such titles as At the Villa Rose (1920), Comin’ Thro the Rye (1923), High Treason (1928), The Man Without Desire (1923) and Sweeney Todd (1928).

Finally there is the welcome return of the Ernest Lindgren Memorial Lecture. The Lecture, named after the National Film Archive’s esteemed founder curator, used to be a prestigious annual event at which a leading archivist or film historian would give a keynote presentation on the state of things. Sadly allowed to lapse in recent years, the Lecture returns on 24 August (18:10) with Paolo Cherchi Usai, Director of the Haghefilm Foundation. As film archivist of world renown and author of the provocative The Death of Cinema and co-editor of the essential text Film Curatorship: Archives, Museums and the Digital Marketplace, this should be a talk not to miss.

More information on all the above from the start of the July at the BFI Southbank site.

Olympic Hitch

The rugby game from Hitchcock’s Downhill (1927), from 1000 Frames of Hitchcock

Here in the UK we’re shaping up nicely for the Olympic Games in 2012. We’ve moved from being cynical to saying we can’t aford to wanting it to succeed to believing it could actually be fantastic (then after the Games we’ll revert to cynicism again, with is the natural order of things in Blighty). And for those who don’t actually like sport there’s the Cultural Olympiad – a programme of arts and culture events which have little if anything to do with the Olympic Games but, hey, arts organisations will grasp at any straw that goes floating by.

But enough of my own cynicism. We’re going to get a whole range of interesting cultural events grounded in fundamental Olympic themes such as community, regeneration, youth – you know the sort of thing. And silent cinema should get a look in, because what has just been announced by the BFI is a touring retrospective for 2012 of Alfred Hitchcock’s nine surviving silent films.

This is a bold and welcome move, as for most Hitchcock’s silent career remains a closed book, beyond possibly an awareness that he made The Lodger. Strictly speaking the retrospective isn’t formally a part of the Cultural Olympiad as yet, but the BFI is pointing out, rather ingeniously, that Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, near the Olympic park in East London. A report in The Independent describes the plans, which include an exhibition:

Eddie Berg, artistic director of the BFI, said … “One of the things we are trying to get off the ground is to restore the silent films. Most of the visual tropes in these titles appear in his later works. We want to look at his influence on the contemporary world. The season will look at his huge body of work and his influence in different ways,” said Mr Berg.

The silent titles will form the heart of the retrospective, but the exhibition may also include the music of the American composer Bernard Herrmann, who collaborated with Hitchcock on the scores for Psycho, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo. A staging of Douglas Gordon’s 24-Hour Psycho, a 1993 artwork featuring a slowed-down version of the horror film, will also feature.

Amanda Neville, director of the BFI, said the initiative would “resurrect the [Hitchcock] films that are not on the tips of everybody’s tongues”.

Some of the films need critical restoration work, she said, and “three of them cannot go through a film projector – the level of damage to them is phenomenal.”

Robin Baker, the BFI’s head curator, said he was keen to discover the whereabouts of Hitchcock’s silent movie The Mountain Eagle, which he called the “holy grail” of lost British films.

“It was made in 1926 and was his last silent film featuring a sexually vulnerable young woman and a case of miscarriage of justice,” he said. [I think that’s a misquote and what he actually said was “first film featuring…”]

Hitchcock began his career in Britain as a designer of film title cards before directing a dozen silent films, including The Lodger, in 1926 and which the BFI hopes to restore and screen.

His first “talkie” film Blackmail, released in 1929, was shot as a silent feature and later converted to sound.

Well, I don’t expect they were planning to project those three damaged nitrate prints in any case, but the retrospective should also play its part in educating audiences about film restoration, as well as offering new opportunities to see silent films and unfamiliar Hitchcock. And as further indications of Olympic relevance, let’s point out the sporty bits of Hitchcock’s silents – boxing in The Ring, the rugby game in Downhill, the tennis match in Easy Virtue

For an overview of Hitchcock’s extensive silent film career (he began as a title writer for the British Famous Players-Lasky studios in 1920), see this earlier Bioscope post. And let’s hope along with Robin Baker that a print of The Mountain Eagle finally turns up. That really would be an event worthy of any Cultural Olympiad.

Dave Berry memorial event

Dave Berry, from the Dave Berry Memorial / Man Coffáu Dave Berry Facebook group

To all who knew film historian Dave Berry, a memorial event is to take place at the Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on Friday 23rd April. There will be a matinee screening of Sidney Gilliat’s classic Welsh-themed movie Only Two Can Play (1962), then the memorial itself in the evening, from 6.15 – 8pm. The organisers promise that “there will be lots to share – tributes, memories, clips, and no doubt tears and laughter … hopefully we will do him proud”.

An obituary notice has now been published in The Independent. The Bioscope’s obituary notice for Dave (with plenty of tributes in the comments) is here.

Update: Here are details of the memorial event (with slight variations from information previously published):

Dave Berry Memorial Event

Fri 23 April • Gwe 23 Ebrill
Join us for a celebration of the life and work of our dear friend and colleague Dave Berry who died earlier this year at the age of 66. The event starts at 2.30pm with a screening of Only Two Can Play.

The evening session at 6.15pm includes personal contributions from his friends and colleagues and clips from some of Dave’s favourite films.
All are welcome.

“A moment in Dave’s company was something to treasure. Acerbic, fun, funny and generous, he was one of the great practitioners of journalism in Wales as well as one of its great characters. Our feelings for him went way beyond friendship and affection — but he was too self-effacing to recognise that. He’d interviewed everyone from the Rolling Stones to prime ministers. And of course he loved films. He was an original – and irreplaceable.”
Steve Groves, Western Mail.

+ Only Two Can Play
Fri 23 April • 2.30pm • Gwe 23 Ebrill
UK/1962/106 mins/PG . Dir: Sidney Gilliat.
With Ken Griffith, Peter Sellers, Richard Attenborough.

Described by Dave Berry in his book Wales And Cinema: The First Hundred Years, this is “undoubtedly the funniest of all Welsh screen comedies, a coruscating, almost sardonic view of Welsh insularity and punctured male vanities.” Sellers is on great form as John Lewis, a bored librarian, henpecked at home until the wife of a local councilor sets her sights on him.

We hope that this event will be introduced by Dave’s partner Gerhild Krebs, an archivist and film historian.

You can book for both events in advance, should you wish. This might be advisable as the cinema’s capacity is approximately 200.

1. The general public will be charged for the matinee but fund contributors can enter free of charge – give your name/s to the box office when booking and / or collecting your ticket/s as they will have a list of the contributors.

2. There will be no charge for the evening event but again give your name/s to the box office when booking or collecting your ticket/s.

For information see attachment or click here: (Place the cursor in the centre of the screen on the image of the April Magazine and Calendar, ‘View in fullscreen’ will appear, click on this to enlarge the image; there is a small white arrow in the middle, on the right hand edge of the image, level with the table top – click this until you arrive at page 29.)

If you have enquiries, please contact Sally Griffith, Chapter Cinema Manager, or Iola Baines, National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, E-mail iba [at]

Come to the bazaar

Helpers at the Cinema Museum (the museum’s owner Ronald Grant is on the left)

The Cinema Museum in London is hosting a film bazaar. Billed as the first of its kind, the intention is to help raise funds for this privately-owned institution which precariously holds on to so much precious British film heritage. The event takes place over the weekend of 27-28 February 2010, 10:00-17:00 each day. Here’s the what the publicty says about it:

The Film Bazaar, the first of its type to raise funds for the only museum of the cinema in the country, will be opened by famous British film director Michael Winner.

With dealers and visitors coming from all over the country and abroad, this will be one of the largest collections of film related collectables that has ever been seen in one sale room. Classic original posters from Hollywood to Bollywood, famous original film stills, films of all ages and gauges, cameras and projectors of all shapes and sizes and related film equipment, film books of all types and hundreds of mouthwatering DVD’s etc. etc.

Many will be on sale at bargain prices. An ideal opportunity to search for that ‘Fellini’ or ‘James Bond’ poster you always wanted, or to find that rare film or projector that has so far eluded you.

A Bring and Buy stall for visitors to sell their unwanted film related goods, and a top prize raffle draw.

Film Guests for the weekend – with most giving talks – will include; actress Fenella Fielding, famous for her distinctive voice; Caroline Munro, Bond girl and pinup of many British films of the 60’s and 70’s; Muriel Pavlow, who started as a child actress in 1934 and famously played in ‘Reach For the Sky’ and ‘Malta Story’.

From the world of film history; Kevin Brownlow, internationally renowned British leading silent film historian talking about finding an amazing collection of Charlie Chaplin’s original outtakes, and David Cleveland, founder of the East Anglian film archive talking about the fascinating history of home movie formats.

The Cinema Museum is a treasure-trove of original examples of Cinema, ranging from items relating to film production through to film exhibition and the experience of cinema going. It represents cinema’s rich history from the earliest days to the present.

Admission on the day is £5 and £3 on the second day with first day ticket.

Well that’s the first time – and let’s hope it’s not the last – that Michael Winner has got a mention in the Bioscope, and good on him for helping support the Cinema Museum’s work. If you’ve not been there before, the address is The Cinema Museum, The Masters House, 2 Dugard Way, Kennington, London, SE11 4TH (link to Multimap).

For further details, articles and pictures contact Martin Humphries, email martin [at], tel 020 7840 2200. And tell your friends.

The man who stopped time

Another day, another Muybridge image, but they always look so good, and fit practically any purpose. This time it’s because there’s news of what should be a highly worthwhile event at the British Library. Currently we’re running there an exhibition on nineteenth century photography, entitled Points of View, which I’ve seen twice and will see twice more if I can, and strongly recommend it to anyone in the vicinity. It’s as clear and illuminating an introduction to the history of photography as you’re likely to find. The exhibition stays open until 7 March.

There are events associated with the exhibition, and on 1 February there is to be The man who stopped time: Eadweard Muybridge – pioneer photographer, father of cinema and murderer. It will be presented by Brian Clegg, author of The Man Who Stopped Time, the recent biography of Muybridge, and an additional attraction will be some unique animations of Muybridge photographic sequences by Marek Pytel. Come along at witness the historical point at which photography wills itself into cinema.

The event takes place 18:30-20:00 at the British Library Conference Centre (close by St Pancras station), and tickets can be booked now, price: £6 / £4 concessions.

Cinema she wrote


There has been, in recent years, a growing interest in women filmmakers in the silent period. Early cinema offered greater opportunities for women (in some countries, that is) to make a mark in the film business than would be the case for decades thereafter, and if the number of women directors was few (Alice Guy, Nell Shipman, Lois Weber, Esfir Shub and Germaine Dulac are among the most notable names), once you look more widely to production, scriptwriting, editing, lab work, criticism, continuinty, cinema management, projection, and acting of course, the numbers begin to grow.

It is with an enthusiastic spirit of investigation and a determination to reblanace early film history that international and national projects have been launched. Internationally, there is Duke University’s Women Film Pioneers project, led by Professor Jane Gaines. And here in Blighty there is Women in Silent British Cinema. This is a lively project which has a team of researchers pursuing a fascinatingly varied group of names, from the reasonably well known (Alma Reville, Blanche McIntosh, Mary Field) to the tantalisingly obscure. Anyone interested to help join in should get in touch through the website – there are many names left demanding assiduous detective work to rescue them from obscurity.

Next up for the project is a study day taking place at the BFI Southbank in London on 7 November, entitled Women and Silent Britain 2: Writers. The day will consider all aspects of writing for the screen by women involved in the British cinema industry of the silent era, whether as screenwriters, critics, columnists, publicists, or authors of source novels and plays. The day will feature the results of new research on critic Nerina Shute, novelist and director Elinor Glyn, and the prolific screenwrier Lydia Hayward.

The day will consist of screenings from the BFI National Archive, talks and workshops, followed by Adrian Brunel’s rarely screened silent classic The Constant Nymph (1928), based on the play of a novel by Margaret Kennedy and Basil Dean and adapted for the screen by Alma Reville (pictured above, with husband Alfred Hitchcock).

The study day will include contributions from Christine Gledhill, Jane Gaines (Duke University), Drake Stuseman (editor Framework), Alexis Wheedon (University of Bedfordshore), Laurence Napper (Kings College, University of London), Claire Watson (UEA), Matthew Sweet (journalist and broadcaster), Amy Sargeant (Warwick University) and Nathalie Morris and Bryony Dixon of the BFI.

Tickets are £15 (concs £10) including the evening screening. The day takes place in NFT3, 10.00-17.00. For further details email nathalie.morris [at]

Sounds of the Silents workshop


The Sounds of the Silents is a one-day workshop focusing on live sonic practices for silent film exhibition to be held at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland on Tuesday 13 October 2009. The event is part of the Sounds of Early Cinema in Britain project, one of a number of academic investigations funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council as part of its Beyond Text programme.

This aim of the workshop is to enable participants to explore the use of live sonic practices with silent film. During the course of the day speakers will discuss approaches to, and the pragmatics of, these practices in a variety of contexts. The presentations and guest speakers are:

  • Sound effects in the silent era: historical evidence (exact title tbc)
    Dr Stephen Bottomore, film historian
  • The Film Explainer
    ‘Professor’ Mervyn Heard, cinema historian and lantern showman, explores the evolution, role and various dark arts of the describer in the early days of cinema.
  • The Art of Foley Sound
    Caoimhe Doyle, foley artist, and Jean McGrath, foley recordist
  • Plus contemporary responses from: Dr Martin Parker, Yann Seznec (aka The Amazing Rolo) and more

The workshop is aimed at postgraduate students of film, sound, and music (or related disciplines) and interested scholars. Owing to limited availability, attendance must be booked in advance, and early booking is advised to avoid disappointment. The organisers are also putting on a showcase of silent films with live accompaniment for the early evening in association with the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh (further details to follow), with tickets £3/£2 conc.

Registration is £10 – to include lunch and coffee/tea (waived for Royal Musical Association members). Cheques should be made payable to the University of Edinburgh, and sent (with booking form, PDF) to:

The Sound of the Silents
c/o Dr Annette Davison
Music, Alison House
12 Nicolson Square
Edinburgh EH8 9DF

Please contact Dr Annette Davison (a.c.davison[at] if you have any questions. Further details (directions etc.) will be forwarded on receipt of payment/booking form.

Finally, two student bursaries (courtesy of the Royal Musical Association) are available. These cover the registration fee, and provide a contribution towards accommodation for up to two nights and travel. To apply, please state your name, university affiliation, address, email address, estimated cost of travel and whether you will need accommodation, and include a 300-word statement outlining how attending this sound effects workshop will enhance your research. Email to Dr. Annette Davison (a.c.davison[at] by 5pm, Friday 11 September 2009.

Mr Laurel, Mr Hardy and Mr Bhaskar


The admirable attempts by the Bristol Silents crowd to rope in British comedy celebrities to promote the silent film proceeds apace. After Paul Merton, Eric Sykes, Phill Jupitus, Tim Brooke Taylor, Graeme Garden and Neil Innes, the latest welcome volunteer is Sanjeev Bhaskar, who is to be the host of a special event, Laurel and Hardy’s Comedy Mayhem, at the Colston Hall, Bristol, 9 September 2009. Here’s the blurb:

It’s 80 years since Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy made their transition from silent to sound film and Bristol’s Slapstick Silent Comedy Festival celebrates their extraordinary onscreen legacy with a special live gala evening of film and music hosted by writer and comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar.

Best known for his work on Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No 42 Sanjeev has selected his favourite Stan and Ollie comedies to delight new audiences including their oscar winning classic THE MUSIC BOX (1932) in which the boys play removal men who are trying to deliver a piano up a monumental flight of stairs!

Other highlights include live musical performances from a capella vocal group The Matinee Idles and a special appearance from Our Gang member and child performer with Stan and Ollie – Hollywood legend Jean Darling.

All this plus the world premiere of a newly commissioned orchestral score for the Laurel and Hardy classic silent comedy DOUBLE WHOOPEE (1929) featuring Jean Harlow’s screen debut and accompanied by the from Günter Buchwald and performed by the wonderful Emerald Ensemble.

A rare opportunity to see comedy legends Laurel and Hardy on the big screen with one of Britain’s best loved comic performers.

Let the mayhem begin!

The event is designed to help raise funds for next year’s Slapstick festival, so well worthy of your patronage if you’re anywhere in the Bristol vicinity.

Crazy all over again


Crazy Cinématographe, the Luxembourg-based project organised by the University of Trier which seeks to demonstrates the power of early cinema by recreating the travelling fairground film shows of the early years of the twentieth century, is returning for its third year. Crazy Cinématographe will be setting up its tent once more on the Schueberfouer, Luxembourg‘s fairground, from 21 August to 9 September 2009. There will also be a free workshop, ‘The Art of Programming Early Cinema’, for film archivists, programmers, curators, media scholars, teachers and journalists on 4-5 September, with contributions from Eric de Kuyper, Mariann Lewinsky Straeuli, Vanessa Toulmin, and the curators of the Crazy Cinématographe shows, Claude Bertemes and Nicole Dahlen.

This is some blurb from the project flyer:

More than 20.000 fairground visitors attended the Crazy Cinématographe shows in 2007 and 2008 – a success beyond expectations. Among thrill rides and food stalls they spotted a strangely different attraction, they were lured by barkers into the cinema tent and discovered a spectacular time ride with early films. Densely packed in the Crazy Cinématographe tent, people howled with laughter until tears rolled down their cheeks, shouted disrespectful comments, clapped, held their breath, and shrieked with pleasure and horror. Crazy Cinématographe showed striking evidence that the early “Cinema of Attractions” is still an attractive formula for 21th century showmanship and that it is possible to garner popular audiences of the digital age for 35mm screenings of early films from the Belle Epoque period.

All in all 25 European film archives participated to the project by contributing their early cinema treasures to programmes as “Magical Mystery Tour”, “The Cabinet of the Bizarre”, and the legendary late night programme called “The Sex Lives of our Grandparents”. For film scholars and cinematheque programmers, Crazy Cinématographe will not only be a hilarious and crazy trip, but also a striking professional experience. Don’t miss it.

Those not in the vicinity of Luxembourg who don’t want to let the organisers down by perforce missing the screenings may be comforted by the knowledge that a DVD exists of films from the original Crazy Cinématographe show, available from the excellent Edition Filmmuseum. Rumour has it that financial pressures may mean that this is the last Crazy Cinématographe, a great shame for what has been a spirited coming together of academia and entertainment (two words that – let’s face it – seldom occur in the same sentence).

Contact details for more information on Crazy Cinématographe are here.