Alice Guy-Blaché: cinema pioneer

Madame a des envies (1906), directed by Alice Guy

I’m a little late in taking note of an exhibition with associated screenings and events which is running at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Alice Guy Blaché: Cinema Pioneer runs 6 November 2009-24 January 2010, and is dedicated to one of the most interesting of cinema pioneers. Usually described as the first women film director (hmm, maybe), Alice Guy (later Alice Guy-Blaché) (1873–1968) played a significant role in both French and American cinema, writing, directing and producing early silent and sound-on-disc films, running her own studio (Solax) and establishing an individual vision as a filmmaker which makes her of that much more interest that just an historical ‘first’, however enterprising.

The blurb on the exhibition site describes things thus:

This is the first comprehensive retrospective of the films of Alice Guy Blaché (1873–1968), a key but unsung figure of the early years of cinema, the first woman director, and the first woman to establish and preside over her own film studio. Between 1896 and 1920, first in France and then in the United States, she wrote, directed, supervised, and/or produced more than 1,000 films. These ranged from short films of less than a minute’s duration to full-length multi-reel features and include some hand-tinted in color, and more than one hundred films with synchronized sound made between 1902 and 1906, some twenty years before sound revolutionized motion pictures as we now know them.

A screenwriter as well as director, she worked in a remarkable variety of genres including comedies, westerns, dramas, detective stories, and a biblical epic, as well as making films based on literary classics and theatrical productions. Alice Guy (as she was known at Gaumont Film Company), made her first story film at a time when the earliest motion pictures were used in the service of science and selling cameras—a time when the notion of motion pictures as a form of popular entertainment was not yet on the horizon. Radically shifting the parameters of cinematic imagination, production, and distribution, Blaché participated in every aspect of the evolving motion picture business, and her careers in the two countries where cinema was born testify to her extraordinary accomplishments.

The exhibition is organized by Whitney curator-at-large Joan Simon. It is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, published by Yale University Press in association with the Whitney, with contributions by noted film scholars Jane Gaines, Alison McMahan, Charles Musser, Alan Williams, film historian and preservationist Kim Tomadjoglou, and the show’s organizer, Joan Simon.

As well as the exhibition, there was a symposium (now past) and a series of screenings, which began yesterday and continues until December 4. For the record (since this is the most comprehensive Guy retrospective mounted, and because usefully the print sources are given), these are films being shown:

PROGRAM 1: Myth & Magic
Chirurgie fin de siècle [Turn-of-the-century Surgery], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
La Petite magicienne [The Little Magician], 1900 (Gaumont).
Lobster Films, Paris
Intervention malencontreuse [Untimely Intervention], 1902 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chiens savants [Performing Dogs], 1902 (Gaumont). Featuring Miss Dundee and her trained dogs. Lobster Films, Paris
Faust et Méphistophélès [Faust and Mephistopheles], 1903 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Une Histoire roulante [A Rolling Story], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Ballon dirigeable—Lebaudy N3 [The Dirigible—Lebaudy No. 3], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Greater Love Hath No Man 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Algie the Miner 1912 (Solax). Directed by Edward Warren and Harry Shenck. Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Alice Guy tourne une phonoscène [Alice Guy directs a phonoscène], 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
L’Anatomie du conscrip [Anatomy of a Recruit], 1905 (Gaumont, 1905; phonoscène) Performed by Polin. Gaumont. Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound
Questions indiscrètes [Indiscreet Questions], 1905 (Gaumont; phonoscène) Performed by Félix Mayol. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound

PROGRAM 2: Scoring Guy Blaché: Selections from the Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project

Roads Lead Home, 1913 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Tamar Muskal and performed for the recording by Erin Keefe (violin), Pedja Muzijevic (piano), and Wilhelmina Smith (cello), 2009
Falling Leaves 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Tamar Muskal and performed for the recording by Erin Keefe (violin), Pedja Muzijevic (piano), and Wilhelmina Smith (cello), 2009

PROGRAM 3: Saving Guy Blaché: Newly Restored Films

Mixed Pets 1911 (Solax) Library of Congress, Washington, DC
A House Divided 1913 (Solax) Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: musical score by Barbara Harbach

PROGRAM 4: Detective Story

Burstop Holmes’ Murder Case 1913 (Solax) Em Gee Film Library, Reseda, CA

PROGRAM 5: Sound Meets Silents: Featuring 35mm Films and Live Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin

Baignade dans le torrent [Swimming in the Stream], 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Le Pêcheur dans le torrent [The Fisherman in the Stream], 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Ballet libella 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Danse du papillon [Butterfly Dance], 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Danse serpentine [Serpentine Dance], 1897 (Gaumont). Performances by Mme Bob Walter. Lobster Films, Paris
Les Malabares [The Malabares], 1902 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chapellerie et charcuterie mécaniques [Mechanical Hat-and-sausage-maker], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chirurgie fin de siècle [Turn-of-the-century Surgery], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
La Petite magicienne [The Little Magician], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Intervention malencontreuse [Untimely Intervention], 1902 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Faust et Méphistophélès [Faust and Mephistopheles], 1903 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chiens savants [Performing Dogs], 1902 (Gaumont). Featuring Miss Dundee and her trained dogs. Lobster Films, Paris
Une Histoire roulante [A Rolling Story], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Ballon dirigeable—Lebaudy N3 [The Dirigible—Lebaudy No. 3], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
The Ocean Waif 1916 (Golden Eagle Features/International Film Service) Library of Congress, Washington, DC

PROGRAM 6: Players & the Played/Alice Guy in Spain

Au cabaret [At the Club], 1899 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
Avenue de l’Opéra 1900 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
La Bonne absinthe [The Good Absinthe], 1899 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
L’Aveugle fin de siècle [The Turn-of-the-century Blind Man], 1898 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
A Fool and His Money 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Missy Mazzoli and performed for the recording by the ensemble Victoire: Olivia De Prato (violin), Lorna Krier (keyboards), Eileen Mack (clarinet), Missy Mazzoli (keyboards), and Eleonore Oppenheim (double bass), 2009
Roads Lead Home 1913 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Tamar Muskal and performed for the recording by Erin Keefe (violin), Pedja Muzijevic (piano), and Wilhelmina Smith (cello), 2009
Alice Guy in Spain 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
Tango 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
Le Bolero [The Bolero], 1905 (Gaumont). Performed by Miss Saharet. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris

PROGRAM 7: Scoring Guy Blaché: Selections from the Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project

A Fool and His Money 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Missy Mazzoli and performed for the recording by the ensemble Victoire: Olivia De Prato (violin), Lorna Krier (keyboards), Eileen Mack (clarinet), Missy Mazzoli (keyboards), and Eleonore Oppenheim (double bass), 2009
When Marian Was Little 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Missy Mazzoli and performed for the recording by the ensemble Victoire: Olivia De Prato (violin), Lorna Krier (keyboards), Eileen Mack (clarinet), Missy Mazzoli (keyboards), and Eleonore Oppenheim (double bass), 2009

PROGRAM 8: Saving Guy Blaché: Newly Restored Films

The Sewer 1912 (Solax). Directed by Edward Warren; set design and script by Henri Menessier. Library of Congress, Washington, DC

PROGRAM 9: Seeing Sound

Canned Harmony 1912 (Solax). Em Gee Film Library, Reseda, CA

PROGRAM 10: Sound Meets Silents: Featuring 35mm Films and Live Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin

Alice Guy tourne une phonoscène [Alice Guy films a phonoscène], 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
Lilas-Blanc [White Lilacs], 1905 (Gaumont; phonoscène). Performed by Félix Mayol. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound
Five O’Clock Tea 1905 (Gaumont; phonoscène). Performances by Dranem. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound
Les Maçons [The Builders], 1905 (Gaumont). Performed by the O’Mers. La Cinémathèque royale de Belgique, Brussels
La Course à la saucisse [The Race after the Sausage], 1906 (Gaumont). La Cinémathèque royale de Belgique, Brussels
Le Matelas alcoolique or Le Matelas épileptique [The Alcoholic Mattress or The Epileptic Mattress], 1906 (Gaumont). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
La Glu [The Glue], 1906 (Gaumont). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Une Course d’obstacles [An Obstacle-course Race], 1906 (Gaumont). Restored by Archives Françaises du Film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy, France
Two Little Rangers 1912 (Solax). Filmmuseum, Amsterdam
Algie the Miner 1912 (Solax). Directed by Edward Warren and Harry Shenck. Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Greater Love Hath No Man 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC

PUBLIC PROGRAM: Film Evening Honoring the Women’s Film Preservation Fund of New York Women in Film and Television with live musical accompaniment by Ben Model

Mixed Pets 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
A Fool and His Money 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

The Ocean Waif (1916)

The Whitney website also includes an image gallery, with striking images such as this gem from her 1916 production, The Ocean Waif. And there is now a whole YouTube channel devoted to Alice Guy, courtesy of the Whitney Museum, with 16 titles so far (though I’d challenge the claim that Little Tich and his Big Boots is a Gaumont phonoscène – it was made by Clément-Maurice for the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre at the Paris Exposition of 1900).

Finally, some Alice Guy links for you:

Continuous performance

cinemamonthlogo

Continuous Performance: Going to the Cinema a Hundred Years Ago is an exhibition marking the centenary of cinema-going in Britain. Well, we can argue the point whether 1909-2009 is any real sort of centenary, since pedants like me would point to the first British cinemas having appeared in London in 1906 (specifically, the Daily Bioscope opposite Liverpool Street Station gets my vote as cinema no. 1), but 1909 was undoubtedly the year when the phenomenon undoubtedly took off in a huge way and started to make such a great impact upon society.

continuous

The exhibition is taking place at the Templeman Library, University of Kent, Canterbury, as part of the Canterbury Festival. The exhibition celebrates the first film shows and their audiences through cameras, projectors, books, photographs, fan magazines, and other ephemera from the early years of the cinema. The exhibition has been put together by Dr Nicholas Hiley, head of the university’s world-renowned British Cartoon Archive and a great collector of early cinema apparatus and memorabilia. The Bioscope plans to visit the exhibition soon and to review it in detail, but as that may take a week or two as yet, do note that it is open Friday 2 Oct – Friday 6 Nov, Mon-Fri 8.45am – 10pm, Sat-Sun 12pm – 7pm. Admission is free, and you get to visit the fair city of Canterbury into the bargain.

The Volta in Trieste

voltaexhibition

Exhibition on James Joyce, the Volta Cinematograph and Trieste, on show in Trieste

Well, it’s good to be home again. I’ve spent the past week or so in Italy, mostly in the fair city of Trieste for a conference on James Joyce and the cinema. And an excellent conference it was too, with some fine papers identifying the several ways in which Joyce’s work (particularly Ulysses) has affinities with early cinema.

There was yours truly, speaking about Joyce’s brief time as a cinema manager in Dublin; Marco Camerani, Philip Sicker, Carla Marengo Vaglio and Maria di Battista each speaking on aspects of early cinema in Joyce’s work, especially the ‘Circe’ episode in Ulysses, with references to Georges Méliès, Segundo de Chomon, Leopoldo Fregoli and more; and Katy Mullin on the relationship between the erotic in early Edison and Biograph actuality and comedy films and Joyce. Other speakers covered film adaptations of Joyce’s work, making it a very rounded event. I found the arguments convincing and illuminating, particularly regarding the debt Joyce (an avid filmgoer from 1904 onwards as well as a cinema manager, albeit briefly and somewhat ineptly) shows to early cinema in his fiction. The promised book of essays coming out of the conference will be something to look out for.

There was also (and continues to be) an exhibition on Joyce, the Volta and Trieste, entitled ‘Trieste, James Joyce e il Cinema: Storia di Mondi Possibili’, curated by Erik Schneider, who also spoke at the conference on the discoveries he made in the archives about Joyce’s brief foray into cinema management and cinema in Trieste generally. The reason for the Trieste connection is that Joyce – who was living in the city in 1909 as a language teacher – joined up with some local businessmen who ran cinemas in Trieste and Bucharest and offered to help extend their circuit to Ireland by setting up the Volta Cinematograph at 45 Mary Street, Dublin, in December 1909.

Report (in Italian) on the Joyce exhibition and screening of Volta films, from the Trieste Film Festival’s YouTube channel

Joyce was manager on the cinema for a few weeks only before handing over to Lorenzo Novak (the cinema was sold at a loss in June 1910), but enough exists in the archives to reveal a rich history. The above video, from the Trieste Film Festival (which housed a complementary Joyce film season), shows the exhibition, with contributions from assorted brainy Joyceans, plus scenes from an evening of films taken from the BFI National Archive which were known to have been shown at the Volta. You can see me, mercifully briefly, introducing the show (with much habitual hand-waving), Carlo Moser at the piano, and Paolo Venier heroically hand-cranking a Pathé projector for the whole show (with gaps in between each reel as the films were changed, giving the full house a taste of the authentic 1909 cinema experience).

The films shown were:

  • Une Pouponiere a Paris (France 1909) (first shown at the Volta 20 Dec 1909)
  • Francesca da Rimini, or the two brothers (USA 1907) (6-7 Jan 1910)
  • Come Cretinetti paga I debiti (Italy 1909) (17-19 Jan 1910)
  • Il signor Testardo (Italy 1909) (17-19 Jan 1910)
  • A glass of goat’s milk (GB 1909) (3-5 Feb 1910)
  • The Way of the Cross (USA 1909) (14-16 Feb 1910)
  • (Der Kleine Schlaumeier) [original title not known] (France c.1909) (21-23 Feb 1910)
  • (Hunting Crocodiles) (France 1909) (7-9 Mar 1910)
  • Une Conquete (France 1909) (10-12 March 1910)

(Note – some of the films are possibily those shown at the Volta, and are not definite identifications. Le Huguenot (France 1909), which was advertised for the festival, wasn’t shown)

Also shown was Georges Mendel’s 1908 opera film of the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor (with Enrico Caruso’s voice) as an example of the synchronised sound film Joyce wanted to show at the Volta, but never did.

For me, the most remarkable discovery in the exhibition was Joyce’s own hand-written list of expenses at the Volta for its first three or four weeks, from the collection of Cornell University Library, accompanied by a letter from Pathé in Britain advising him on the choice of projector, lenses, light source and so forth. Joyce’s venture into cinema, though short-lived, generated a significant amount of information on cinema in 1909 to make it worthy of study for those interested in general cinema history. We know the identity many of the films shown, thanks to extensive advertising in the Dublin press; we have the contracts drawn up; we know the initial expenses; we know about the background business in Trieste; we know how the cinema was decorated; we have the names of three or four of the staff (such as Lennie Collinge, the projectionist who lived long into a ripe old age and was interviewed by film historian Liam O’Leary, who first uncovered the Volta history). What we don’t have, alas, is a contemporary photograph of the cinema, interior or exterior.

There is much in the exhibition on early cinema in Trieste itself, which had a remarkable twenty-one cinemas in 1909. There is a history of cinema in Trieste, 1896-1918, written by Dejan Kosanovic, though in Italian only. Another gem from the archives was the advertised programme for Lifka’s Bioscope, a travelling film show which visited Pola in December 1904, when James and Nora Joyce attended the show. Joyce wrote to his brother Stanislaus: “The other evening we went to a bioscope. There were a series of pictures about betrayed Gretchen … Lothario throws her into the river and rushes off, followed by rabble. Nora said ‘O, policeman, catch him'”. I’m working on trying to identify which film moved Nora so. Would you believe Lifka’s Bioscope mostly got its film from Charles Urban…?

Anyway, a stimulating conference, a fine exhibition, and bright winter’s sunshine to delight us all.

james1

Statue of James Joyce by the Canal Grande, Trieste

New science, old science

http://www.youtube.com/user/newscientistvideo

The New Scientist magazine has published this short video of early science film (from the BFI National Archive) to coincide with the Films of Fact exhibition at the Science Museum and the book of the same title by Tim Boon.

The video is a peculiar hodge-podge (goodness knows what the still from the 1960s BBC series Tomorrow’s World is doing in there), and early cinema clearly isn’t the commentator’s strong point, but you do get Tim Boon sneaking in a few words of wisdom, plus clips from F. Martin Duncan’s now legendary Cheese Mites (1903), Percy Smith’s time-lapse masterpiece The Birth of a Flower (1910) and and his perenially eye-popping The Acrobatic Fly (1908). Somewhat less scientifically, you also get a glimpse of one of my all-time favourite film titles, Edison’s Laura Comstock’s Bag-Punching Dog (1901), plus other Edison clips whose presence is difficult to comprehend.

For information on book, exhibition and filmmakers, see the earlier Seeing the Unseen World post.

Seeing the unseen world

Francis Martin Duncan with microcinematographical equipment

Opening today is an exhibition at the Science Museum on the history of the science film. Entitled Films of Fact, it looks at the development of scientific films and television programmes from 1903 to 1965. Its subject, and that of the book that accompanies it, is not really scientific film as in film used in the study of science, but rather the presentation of science on film. So it’s about popularisation and communication.

Films of Fact as a title comes from the name of the company of social documentarist Paul Rotha, once renowned not just as a filmmaker but as a theorist and film historian. But the exhibition also focuses on an earlier period, when science film meant films of nature, and it has generated quite a bit of press interest in one film in particular, Cheese Mites, made by zoologist Francis Martin Duncan in 1903 using microcinematopgrahic equipment (microscope + cine camera, basically) for producer Charles Urban. Urban had had the extraordinary idea of putting science films before a music hall audience, in a show he called The Unseen World. This contemporary review from the Daily Telegraph gives an idea of the astonished audience reaction:

Science has just added a new marvel to the marvelous powers of the Bioscope. A few years ago it was thought sufficiently wonderful to show the picture of a frog jumping. Go to the Alhambra this week and you may seen upon the screen the blood circulating in that same frog’s foot. This sounds a trifle incredible, but it is an exact statement of the truth. The new miracle has been performed by the adaptation of the microscope to the camera which takes the Bioscope films. Last night The Charles Urban Trading Company Ltd, who has taken the photographs, had many other miracles to show and explain to a fascinated audience. There was a blood-curdling picture of cheese-mites taking their walks abroad, the tiny creatures looking on the screen as large as small crabs. The minute hydra which lives in stagnant water appeared shooting out its tentacles and taking a meal … Twenty-five minutes, the length of the exhibition, is a long time to give to a Bioscope turn, but the rapt attention of the audience and the thunders of applause at the conclusion testified to the way in which popularity had been at once secured by these unique pictures.

Cheese Mites (1903)

Cheese Mites was the hit of the show, and is only one the Unseen World films to survive (the BFI has it). Originally the film just showed the magnified creatures. Later Urban added a comic framing story, as this Charles Urban Trading Company catalogue entry explains:

A gentleman reading the paper and seated at lunch, suddenly detects something the matter with his cheese. He examines it with his magnifying glass, starts up and flings the cheese away, frightened at the sight of the creeping mites which his magnifying glass reveals. A ripe piece of Stilton, the size of a shilling, will contain several hundred cheese mites. In this remarkable film, the mites are seen crawling and creeping about in all directions, looking like great uncanny crabs, bristling with long spiny hairs and legs.

Unfortunately, these extra scenes don’t survive. There’s a news report on the BBC site about the exhibition, which include the Cheese Mites film, so do take a look, and ponder the alarm that was said at the time to have spread among cheese manufacturers, who begged for the film to be stopped being shown. There’s also an article in this week’s New Scientist magazine which tells the story behind the film and that of Percy Smith, a later collaborator with Charles Urban, who made such classics as The Balancing Bluebottle (1908) and The Birth of a Flower (1910), employing time-lapse photography, before going on to make the once-famous series The Secrets of Nature in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Acrobatic Fly (a retitled version of The Balancing Bluebottle), made by Percy Smith in 1908. As Smith explained, “The fly is quite uninjured and is merely supported by a silken band when performing with weights which would otherwise overbalance it. When its feats are accomplished it is allowed to fly away.”

And then there’s the book. Timothy Boon’s Films of Fact: A History of Science in Documentary Film and Television is something quite special. It’s a history of a type of film which has barely been covered by historians, and has much that is new or revalatory, for the silent era and beyond. But it’s also a cultural history, which addresses why these films were made, what the popularisation of science means, and how science relates to society at large. It’s an exciting read, and I’ll try and give it more space at another time, while looking at the literature of the early science film in general. Anyway, Charles Urban, F. Martin Duncan and Percy Smith are the flavour of the moment, which is unexpected but should be fun while it lasts. I saw Cheese Mites and Percy Smith’s The Acrobatic Fly shown before an audience this evening, and they excited much the same mixture of amusement and amazement as they did a century ago. The filmmakers of old did know a thing or two.

The Science Museum exhibition runs until February 2009.

Georges Méliès, magicien du cinéma

http://www.cinematheque.fr

Why so much activity concerning Georges Méliès just now? First the (virtually) complete DVD box set of his work released by Flicker Alley, and now a major exhibition with lavish catalogue, screenings, DVDs etc from the Cinémathèque française. He’s neither one hundred years born nor one hundred years dead. In fact he’s seventy years dead, and that’s the point. Under European copyright law, 2008 is the year when the works of Georges Méliès, who died in 1938, come out of copyright, under the rule which says a creative work remains in copyright until seventy years after the death of the author.

So M. Méliès has become fair game – a fact which can be of no small amount of irritation to the Malthete-Méliès family which has so assiduously guarded his legacy until now. They had nothing to do with the acclaimed Flicker Alley set, but they have co-operated with the Cinémathèque française exhibition, which opens in Paris on 16 April and which is described in some detail (in French) on the Cinémathèque’s website.

Where to start? The exhibition itself is divided into three sections: Magie et cinématographe, Le Studio Méliès de Montreuil and L’univers fantastique de Méliès, covering his life, background, work and influence. Many artefacts not previously exhibited in public are promised, and Méliès is championed for the modern generation as the master of special effects and fantasy cinema, foreshadowing Georges Lucas and Steven Spielberg. A 360-page catalogue has been produced, edited by Jacques Malthete et Laurent Mannoni, with some 500 illustrations, which from reports I’ve had so far sounds like an outstanding production in itself.

There are two DVDs published to coincide with the exhibition. The first, Georges Méliès, produced by StudioCanal/Fechner Productions, is a two-disc set featuring thirty remastered Méliès films 1896-1912, with 32-page booklet but no indication of what film titles are included nor their source.

The second DVD is Méliès, le cinémagicien, another two-disc set, produced by Arte Vidéo. This features a documentary, La magie Méliès, by Jacques Mény (1997, 130 mins), a selection of fifteen of the films from 1898 to 1909 (55 mins in total) and the renowned Georges Franju film Le grand Méliès (1952, 37 mins) which is also available on the Flicker Alley set.

This documentary, which introduced many to his films for the first time, features Méliès’ son André, playing his father, and Méliès’ second wife and star of many of his films, Jehanne d’Alcy (then aged ninety).

And there’s more. There are screenings in April-May of Méliès films and in June-July of ‘L’héritage méliès’. A complete Méliès filmography is also promised, which will be a boon, particularly if it goes the whole hog and identifies the films by Star-Film catalogue number (his production company), length, English release title, which copies are extant and where. Meanwhile, Méliès, magicien du cinéma looks like a very good reason to visit Paris over the next few months (as though there weren’t reasons enough anyway, but you know what I mean).

Where to find out more about Georges Méliès? It’s a shame – indeed something of a mystery why there isn’t a single good site dedicated to him (interesting to see that http://www.melies.com, http://www.georgesmelies.com, http://www.georgesmelies.org and http://www.georgesmelies.fr have all been bought up opportunistically by domain sellers). Cinémathèque Méliès (in French) is a so-so effort of ancient design which I’ve had trouble accessing, but you can trace it back through the Wayback Machine. The Magical World of Georges Méliès likewise isn’t going to win any design awards, but it has a biography, filmography, and links to his films on YouTube. There’s a useful one page biography (written by David Robinson) on the Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema website. The Flicker Alley DVD set Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913) has already been championed here, and serious questions will have to be asked of any silent film enthusiast who hasn’t purchased a copy before the year is out.

As for reading matter, apart from the new catalogue (which is in French, of course), a really good book in English doesn’t exist. The best, albeit slim and not easy to track down nowadays, is David Robinson’s Georges Méliès: Father of Film Fantasy (1993). Elizabeth Ezra’s Georges Méliès (2000) is one for the film studies courses. A standard, substantial, up-to-date biography in English (I don’t know of one in French, either) ought to be written – we repeat so much that has already been written in the film history/film studies field, and yet we leave a yawning gap like this. So you will have to make do with Brian Selznick’s haunting children’s book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007), already championed by The Bioscope, in which Georges Méliès features as a central character. And wait to see if Martin Scorsese really does decide to make a film out of it.

Moving pictures going around London

Whitehall, Cheam

Whitehall, Cheam, from http://www.friendsofwhitehallcheam.co.uk

The touring exhibition, Moving Pictures Come to London, already reported on here, continues on its tours around London. Currently it can be found at the Whitehall, Cheam (which looks a delightful spot), where it runs until 30 March. Based on research carried out at Birkbeck College, the exhibition focuses on the history of moving pictures in London before World War I, looking at the filmmakers, the technology and the audiences. It’s a fine small exhibition, not least for showing how academic research can – indeed should – find a popular outlet. Each version of the exhibition has had a section reflecting the area of London where it is being put on. It’s already been to Camden, Hornsey, Hampstead and Westminster, plus a whirlwind couple of days in Leicester Square, and other venues that I think I’ve missed. Take a look if you can.

What happens next?

Sleep with me series, Pihla, Nanna Saarhelo, 2007

Sleep with me series, Pihla, Nanna Saarhelo, 2007, from PM Gallery

Occasionally on the Bioscope we look to cinema’s roots in chronophotography, optical toys, magic lanterns and such like, and a new exhibition has just opened which both takes us back to chronophotography and up to the present day.

What Happens Next? is an exhibition dedicated to the photographic sequence. It takes as its inspiration the work of the nineteenth century photographer, Eadweard Muybridge, whose sequence photography – or chronophotography – of the 1870s/80s did so much to inspire the creation of cinema. The exhibition runs at the PM Gallery in West London 8 February-15 March 2008, and it explores the work of artists working in sequence photography from the nineteenth century to today. The artists featured are John Blakemore, Julie Cassels, Matt Finn, Steffi Klenz, Mari Mahr, Edweard Muybridge, James Newton, Nanna Saarhelo, Andrew Warstat, Sally Waterman and Cary Welling.

Coinciding with the exhibition is an article on Muybridge in this week’s New Scientist magazine (only an extract is available online). It’s a thoughtful piece (certainly a lot more thoughtful than its dire title, ‘Lights, camera, action!’ would seem to promise), with more emphasis on Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope discs that one normally finds. The Zoopraxiscope was Muybridge’s proto-animation device, whereby he transferred some of his photographic sequences in silhouette form onto the edges of a glass disc so that they could be projected as fleeting animated images.

What Muybridge did not do was ever show his photographic sequences themselves as projected images in motion – he wasn’t able to. And yet how often to we see something like the animated sequences featured in this video?

This short piece on the exhibition has been posted on YouTube by the New Scientist, which rather goes to show that there are some limits to its knowledge of science. Muybridge’s photographic sequences were never seen in motion like this. To make them move he had to produce silhouettes derived from the photographs, making him a genuine pioneer of the animation film. The pure photographs he only displayed like so:

Ascending Stairs

Ascending Stairs

Of course, it is hugely tempting to animated Muybridge’s images, as has been done ever since Thom Andersen’s 1975 film Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer. Animated Muybridge sequences are found all over the Web, and have become an iconographic staple. But they falsify history – unless one argues that they display what Muybridge wanted to have displayed but was unable to achieve himself. In which case, they are a form of virtual history, which is all well and good, so long as we do not foget the true one.

As What Happens Next? demonstrates, chronophotography or sequence photography is alive and well today, practiced both as an art and as a science (either equally appropriate for Muybridge), for a sequential series both demonstrates a process and betrays a narrative. Chronophotographic sequences were used to striking effect for analysis in the BBC’s coverage of the last Winter Olympics, and there are numerous artists’ sites which display the possibilities of the medium. Some choice examples include P.J. Reptilehouse, Sequences, and my particular favourite, David Crawford, who photographs sequence of people on tube trains and at airports.

There’s also this review of What Happens Next?, which connects Muybridge with The Matrix, on the Telegraph‘s website.

Le Cinéma Expressionniste Allemand

Expressionismus und Film

Rudolph Kurtz’s Expressionismus und Film (1926), from http://cinema.expressionnisme.bifi.fr

I’ve just learned about an online exhibition on German Expressionisst cinema, which was published by BiFi (La Bibliothèque du film) towards the end of 2006.

The exhibition is entitled Le Cinéma Expressionniste Allemand, so yes it’s in French, but I encourage you to look even if you’re not able to read much. The exhibition was put together by regular Bioscopist Frank Kessler, of Utrecht university, and it examines the idea of Expressionism as it found expression in German cinema of the 1920s, and as it was interpreted subsequently by critics.

The exhibition is in two main parts: Exposition – which takes us through the history, the ideas, their realisation, and their critical exegesis; and Les repères documentaires, which proides supporting information and documentation, including a filmography, bibliography, a text by Laurent Mannoni on film historian-critic Lotte Eisner (author of The Haunted Screen), links and a glossary for such terms as Cubisme, Futurisme and ‘Caligarisme’.

It is handsomely illustrated with stills and documents, and is well-laid out and easy to navigate. Well worth investigating.

The City of the Future

Carrington Street, Nottingham with 1902 inset

Carrington Street, Nottingham in 2003, with inset from Tram Ride Through Nottingham, Carrington Street (Mitchell & Kenyon, 1902)

An exhibition, The City of the Future, has just opened at the BFI Southbank. It has been created by the psychogeographical filmmaker Patrick Keiller, director of London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997). Keiller is currently a Research Fellow at the Royal College of Art, where he has been developing his City of the Future research project. His exploration of urban space through archival film has found varied expressions. This multi-screen installation creates a virtual landscape composed of sixty-eight early actuality films from the years 1896-1909, arranged in the BFI Southbank gallery on a network of maps from the period, and displayed over five screens.

Keiller casts a fascinated eye on the mysteries of the urban environment as expressed through archive film which is so much a part of its time and yet can connect with the here and now. Keiller makes particular use of that distinctive genre of the period, the ‘phantom ride’ (which must be such an evocative phrase for him) – journeys filmed at the front or back of moving vehicles. One haunting expression of his vision is Keiller’s simple idea of placing the original film image within a wider frame of the same location filmed today, as illustrated above. The exhibition (which I’ve not seen as yet), also promises visitor interaction:

Visitors are invited to explore this landscape, both by moving among its various screens, and by departing from the sequences displayed on them to create an individual journey using the ‘menu’ functions of a DVD.

The site of Queensbury station in 2004, with inset from Queensbury Tunnel (Riley Brothers, 1898)

The site of Queensbury station in 2004, with inset from Queensbury Tunnel (Riley Brothers, 1898)

The exhibition is open until 3 February 2008. For other expressions of Keiller’s research, a description of The City of the Future and a downloadable ‘database’ (Excel) of titles from the BFI National Archive that he has viewed and identified as relevant to his investigations is on the Visual Arts Data Service website. There is also an account of his project as a ‘case study’ demonstrating the academic use of archive film on the Moving History site.

There’s an interview with Keiller about the exhibition on the Time Out site.

A striking example of phantom ride, A Trip on the Metropolitan Railway (1910), is available from the BFI’s Creative Archive pages. This is a remarkable, prolonged journey filmed from the front of an Underground train on London’s Metropolitan Line, travelling from Baker Street outwards to Uxbridge and Aylesbury. (The original is seventeen minutes long, but the downloadable clip is just under five minutes)