100 years of Georgian cinema

Regular readers will recall than we marked 100 years of Russian cinema a few months ago, and now it’s time to recognise 100 years of cinema in Georgia. This news report turned up on The Georgian Times today, of which I’ll give you the silent bit:

Georgia has been making films for one hundred years. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgian cinema was known across Soviet blocs as being vibrant and creative. The Italian director Federico Fellini once described it as “a strange phenomenon, special, philosophically light, sophisticated, and at the same time, childishly pure.” But the economic breakdown which followed Georgian independence has made it very difficult to make films, although recently, experts say that quality Georgian filmmaking is beginning to return.

Georgian film production began at nearly the same time as European cinema. The first film festival took place in Tbilisi in 1896. In honor of the 100th anniversary of Georgian cinema, a number of exhibitions, festive events and showings of Georgian silent films have been planned. “A festive opening for Georgian cinema’s jubilee celebration will be held at Rustaveli Theater,” Nino Anjaparidze, a public relations department representative for the Georgian National Film Center, said, inviting the public to attend.

According to her, the Georgian filmmaking has begun to revive. “It turned out that the anniversary coincided with the 60 year anniversary of a well-known Georgian film Keto and Kote by Vakhtang Tabliashvili and Shalva Gedevanishvili,” Anjaparidze says.

“The film festival, will also consist of showing this film and we have newly reconstructed the film and a documentary about the period when this film was made is in the works by independent company ‘Kiono Project’ headed by Archil Geloavni,” stated Anjaparidze.

Experts widely consider 1908 the year cinema was born in Georgia, when film directors Dighmelov and Amashukeli made their first experimental shots. In 1912, Amashukeli shot the first full-length documentary movie, Akakis Mogzauroba [Akaki’s Journey], about poet Akaki Tsereteli. The film was unparalleled by any other movie in world at that time as to its theme, length and artistic level. The first full-range feature film in Georgia, Kristine was shot from 1916 to 1918. The film was directed by Aleksandre Tsutsunava. In 1924 “Three Lives” by Perestiani was a great success – the film was the first attempt to provide psychological insight into the heroes.

In the mid 1920s, theatre, literature and art professionals came to the cinema. When Samanishvili’s Stepmother (Marjanishvili) and Khanuma (Tsutsunava) appeared on the screen, they marked the beginning of a new genre of comedy film. Films of this period were very popular due to the first Georgian film star, Nato Vachnadze {from such films as The Story of Tariel Mklavadze, Who can Be Blamed, and others), the country’s first silver screen diva.

Next came a period of new genres and style in the Georgian Cinema. One of the best representatives of the generation was Nikolai Shengelaia. Though he lived in Stalin’s epoch, watching his films we feel the directors active strive for innovation and artistic expressions in his films. Now, N. Shengelaias and N. Vachnadzes sons Eldar and Giorgi Shengelaia are also famous directors of the Georgian cinema.

The film My Grandmother by Kote Mikaberidze (1929) was also a crucial turning point for Georgian film. In this movie, for the first time in Georgian and Soviet cinematography, the principles of expressionism appeared.The film was forbidden to appear on the screen, but many years later the film was restored and shown in La Rochelle. Soviet ideology was so pressing in the 1930s that little innovation took place. Only some films of the period were noteworthy: Siko Dolidze’s Dariko (1936), David Rondeli’s Lost Paradise (1937), and a few others.

Keti Dolidze a famous Georgian film director and a daughter of a well-known Georgian film director, says that she must congratulate the anniversary to the Georgian cinema in the past, and that nowadays, “Georgian cinema is in very bad condition because our government puts little money into cinema.. It is very difficult to revive after 15 years of falling and how can we overtake European cinema and even Russian cinema, as they have already produced 600 hundred movies this year because their government gives them enough money to produce films… Businessmen will never put money into this field because if they put money in, they will have to pay more taxes on it,” Keti Dolidze claimed.

To read the rest, go to The Georgian Times site. The great period of Georgian filmmaking (albeit overshadowed by Soviet ideology) was the 1960s/70s, with filmmakers of world renown like Otar Iosseliani and Sergei Parajanov (arguably one of the truly great silent directors). Of Georgian pioneers Vasil Amashukeli and Alexander Dighmelov I knew nothing before now, but there is information on them and silent cinema in Georgia generally on the Georgia & South Caucus blog.

Neversink Valley Area Museum

The Neversink Valley Area Museum is in Cuddebackville, NY, an area know to film historians as a popular location for New York film companies in the pre-Hollywood era. In particular it was a favoured location of D.W. Griffith and the Biograph company, which filmed in Cuddebackville six times over the period 1909-1911. The local museum (which takes its name from the optimistically-named Neversink river) has a section on filmmaking in the area (Thanhouser and the Victor Film Company were other visitors). But more than that, it has established competitions for silent filmmaking today and writing scores or silent films. The rules for the silent film competition are as follows:

We will accept any film up to 18 minutes in length, it may be from any country and does not have to premiere at our festival. Films currently in distribution are not eligible.
Film makers to submit entries on DVD (all region compatible, as one judge is UK-based).
Length not to exceed 18 minutes.
No synchronized sound.
Music, if used, must be original or provide proof of licensing.
Intertitles acceptable.
DVD should be marked with Title Only.
Enclose sheet with all credits in submission packet.

And here are the rules for the original film score competition:

Entrant to compose an original score for one of these three films: King Lear, The Vagabonds and The Marvelous Marathoner, all made by Thanhouser Motion Picture Company.
Thanhouser will provide a copy of the film to interested entrants.
The winning entry (i.e. film + winner’s music) will be posted on the Thanhouser web site for viewing the winner can use the film with their music royalty free.

Prizes are to be announced later. All screenings to take place 23 August. Further details and application form on the museum’s website.

Filmed by Curtis, directed by the Kwakwaka’wakw

Billboard for In the Land of the Head Hunters, from http://www.curtisfilm.rutgers.edu

In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914) is a remarkable, anomalous and much-misunderstood film. It was made by Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), the renowned photographer of Native American life, in the hopes of attracting funds to support his North American Indian book series (the series, completed in 1930, would eventually run to twenty volumes). His chief benefactor, J.P. Morgan, had died in 1913, and it seemed a good idea to create a dramatic work which would appeal to the millions that were by then flocking to the cinema.

Note the term ‘dramatic work’. In the Land of the Head Hunters has gone down in rather too many film histories as a documentary endeavour, and one which falsified reality by getting the Kwakwaka’wakw, or Kwakiutl, people of British Columbia to enact customs that they no longer practiced (not least, head hunting), and to cheapen things further by spinning a love story in the hopes of attracting an audience. As the impressive, indeed almost dauntingly thorough and knowledgable website Edward Curtis meets the Kwakwaka’wakw states:

Since the 1970s, Curtis’s film has been treated as a documentary, adorning the halls of natural history and anthropology museums and being criticized for its staging of savage scenes from a “pre-contact” past as if they were part of the everyday life of contemporary tribal communities (as was also the case with his photography). Yet the film was intended as an innovation in feature film—one meant to stand out in the already crowded field of popular Westerns or “Indian Pictures” of the time—because of its exclusive use of “authentic” Native actors, its on-location shooting, its dynamic camera work, its spectacular color tinting and toning, and its ambitious musical score. The film truly represents an active, artistic collaboration between two dramatic traditions: the rich Kwakwaka’wakw history of staged ceremonialism and the then-emergent mass-market colossus of American narrative cinema.

The website has been created to complement a restoration of the film, which is about to start doing the rounds of American venues. In the Land of the Head Hunters was not the financial success that Curtis had hoped, despite glowing reviews, and it soon disappeared from view. In 1947 a single, incomplete copy was rescued from being binned as rubbish and was donated to the Field Museum, Chicago. A re-edited version of this was released in 1974 as In the Land of the War Canoes, with a new soundtrack recorded by members of the Kwakwaka’wakw. More material also turned up at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, and a copy of the original orchestral score ended up at the Getty Research Library. The present resotration has brought all of this material together, in the hands of project co-ordinators Brad Evans and Aaron Glass.

The website currently makes available a handful of clips of the unrestored version, with the promise of clips from the restored version to follow soon. The remainder of the website explains in incisive detail the film’s history, restoration, score, images and above all its relatation to and reflection of Kwakwaka’wakw culture. It is significant that in giving the history of the film’s production the site reverses the usual narrative by relating things from the Kwakwaka’wakw perspective. From this point of view, the Kwakwaka’wakw had significant control over the film’s production – agreeing to its being made in the first place, vetoing inauthentic scenes, while actively encouraging scenes which recreated customs that were on the wane or archaic in part through the assimilationist policies of the Canadian government. The film therefore became an important means for their cultural self-expression.

So to look on In the Land of the Head Hunters as either drama or documentary is merely to hold up both terms for their inadequacy. The film used the tools of the cinema to express a collaboration between two cultures, to document through drama. This is not to say that it is not a problematic film – that sensationalist title alone betrays Curtis’ muddled sympathies. But for a cinema where ‘cowboys and indians’ were predominant, any tale which put the native people (there are no white performers in the film) and the commemoration of a culture first was radical and affirmative. No wonder it failed at the box office.

The restored version of In the Land of the Head Hunters recives its premiere at the Getty Research Centre on 5 June 2008, with the score performed by the UCLA Philharmonia. Various screening dates are then in place for June and November 2008, with more to follow.

To find out more about Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian project, visit the Library of Congress’ excellent American Memory exhibit, which reproduces Curtis’ famous photographs volume by volume.

Rohauer for sale

Sherlock Jr

Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., from http://www.guardian.co.uk

Got a million or two spare? Or maybe three? I’m not sure how much these things cost. Anyway, one of the world’s major commercial collections of silent films is up for sale. The Rohauer collection of some 700 titles, including many Buster Keaton titles, is being offered for either licensing deals or for a buyer to take the whole collection. The legendary collection was built up over three decades by collector Raymond Rohauer, around whom many a story has revolved but who has been rightly credited with bringing Keaton’s name back into public recognition.

The collection was bought by Gary Dartnall in 1995, who formed Douris to manage it, but they went into administration last year. So now the collection is on the market, and as The Guardian report says of the administrators Deloitte:

It sees potential buyers among those looking for steady income streams from licensing deals to the DVD, TV and video-on-demand industries as well as from film festival royalties. It also believes the collection could catch the eye of academics or a film enthusiast.

If you are interested in the story of Rohauer’s restoration (in more than one sense) of Keaton’s reputation, there’s an informative piece by David Shepard, ‘Polishing the Stone Face’, which discusses the problems involved in creating authentic restorations, because Rohauer had an unfortunate habit of ‘improving’ the prints in his care, rewriting titles and making editorial alterations.

But don’t let that put you off seeking that steady income stream, if you happen to be an academic or film enthusiast with a few pennies tucked away somewhere…

Welcome to NitrateVille


NitrateVille, http://nitrateville.com

It is with a degree of trepidation that I pass on the news of the creation of a new online forum for silent films. After all, I hope that The Bioscope serves as a handy source of information on some, if not all aspects of silent film today and yesterday. But NitrateVille looks like it is going to be an important source of information and discussion. It was set up last month in response to the decline of the once excellent alt.movies.silent, which has become awash with spam and tired tirades. NitrateVille has strands on Silent News, Talking About Silents, Talkie News, Talking About Talkies, Collecting and Preservation, and Music for Silents. Many names familiar from alt.movies.silent have moved over to the new forum, and the knowledge on display is impressive. The use of illustrations in some posts is welcome. And of course it’s moderated, and has established some sensible rules of engagement. Go explore – but keep reading the Bioscope too.

Silent night…

D.W. Griffith in the snow

A merry Christmas to all you Bioscopists. I’m going to be away for the next few days with the nearest and dearest. Have a great holiday, and look out for lots of new ideas and features for the Bioscope in 2008.

The Anima lodge

Too many topics and too little time. There are so many subjects I have tucked away for research at some time, but many of them I will never get round to tackling. So the best thing to do is to offer them up in their raw state here on The Bioscope, in the hope that they may interest someone else sufficiently to take up challenge.

A case in point is the Anima lodge. I’m unlikely ever to get to the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, and indeed I would hardly know where to start, freemasonry being an entirely closed book to me. But the intriguing story nevertheless is that there was a British freemasonry lodge for those in the film business, and it was established in 1912. I have, from I know not where, a list of the subscribing members of the Lodge 1912-1920, and a fascinating document it is too.

These were the founder members (links are to the Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema and London Project websites):

  • Edward Thomas Heron [publisher of the Kinematograph Weekly]
  • J. Brooke Wilkinson [secretary of the Kinematograph Manufacturers’ Association and later of the British Board of Film Censors]
  • Edwin Houghton Rockett [inventor and general jack-of-all-trades]
  • Frederick Arton [managing director]
  • Francis William Baker [managing director of Butcher’s Film Service]
  • Will Day [film equipment supplier and later film historian]
  • Matt Raymond [Lumière operator, exhibitor, and future master of the Anima lodge]
  • W. Firth [not known]
  • George Henry Smith [British representative for Vitagraph Company of America]
  • James Charles Squier [can’t remember, involved in production]
  • Charles Urban [producer, particularly of Kinemacolor]
  • A. Pearl Cross [executive]
  • John Frank Brockliss [film distributor]

That’s a notable list of a few of the major figures in the British film business at that time. More joined in subsequent years – I’ll identify them where I can:

  • 1913 – Edward Henry Montagu [executive]
  • 1913 – Alexander Liddle
  • 1913 – E.H. Bishop [managing director]
  • 1913 – Walter Northam [executive with Provincial Cinematograph Theatres]
  • 1914 – H.S. Chambers
  • 1915 – Harold John Fisher
  • 1915 – Paul Kimberley [executive]
  • 1915 – Albert Simmons
  • 1915 – George Henry Saffell
  • 1916 – Reginald Charles Bromhead [executive with Gaumont company]
  • 1916 – Sidney Thornton Smurthwaite
  • 1917 – Thomas Arthur Welsh [producer]
  • 1917 – John Pearson
  • 1918 – John Charles Ernest Mason [cameraman]
  • 1918 – Solomon Gabriel Newman
  • 1919 – Robert Chetham
  • 1920 – Alfred G. Challis
  • 1920 – Edward Maxwell Heron
  • 1920 – Samuel Woolf Smith
  • 1920 – Ernest Edgar Blake [executive]
  • 1920 – E.W. Fredman
  • 1920 – Victor Sheridan
  • 1920 – Frederick Holmes Cooper [cameraman]
  • 1920 – George William Pearson [director]
  • 1920 – Chas. J. Miller
  • 1920 – Ernest Peall [executive]
  • 1920 – Lionel Phillips [distributor]

Well, there’s a fascinating line-up of the famous (in their small world, in their day) and the unknown. Figures like Urban, Wilkinson, Welsh, Kimberley, Pearson, Raymond and Heron were leading figures in the early British film business; many of the others were minor figures then, and are undoubtedly obscure now. What did the Anima lodge do? What advantages might it have brought to those who joined? How did the grand and the less-than-grand figures rub together? What alternative history of British silent cinema might some ingenious researcher draw from this line-up? Sadly, I cannot even tell you when the Anima lodge closed – if it ever closed. Perhaps it lingers somewhere. Someone will know.

Anyone who can identify the roles of the names I haven’t been able to identify, please let me know.

Odd links

Anyone hoping to use the right-hand column links on The Bioscope may notice that they are all in the wrong categories. This is a general problem across WordPress which their brightest minds are at this very moment trying to fix. So, normal service to be resumed as soon as possible.

Who said that?

A little quiz for you. I’m planning assorted future strands for The Bioscope, and as a taster for one of these (while also thinking of the views of the cinema from elites evidenced in the Stephen Paget essay yesterday), here are six quotations. Each is a response to silent cinema, and the authors are all connected in some way. I’ve given the dates of the utterances, but can you guess who they are? Answers tomorrow…

Quotation no. 1 (1907)

I have gradually slid down until I have ceased to take any interest in any subject. I look at God and his theatre through the eyes of my fellow-clerks so that nothing surprises, moves or excites or disgusts me. Nothing of my former mind seems to have remained except a heightened emotiveness which satisfies itself in the sixty-miles-an-hour pathos of some cinematograph or before some crude Italian gazette-picture.

Quotation no. 2 (1908)

If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly; then I’d go out in the back streets and main streets and bring them in, all the sick, the halt, and the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile me a weary thanks; and the band would softly bubble out the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.

Quotation no. 3 (1913)

Was at the movies. Wept. Lolotte. The good pastor. The little bicycle. The reconciliation of the parents. Boundless entertainment. Before that a sad film, Catastrophe at the Dock, afterwards the amusing Alone at Last. Am completely empty and meaningless, the electric tram passing by has more living meaning.

Quotation no. 4 (1922)

With the decay of the music-hall, with the encroachment of the cheap and rapid-breeding cinema, the lower classes will tend to drop into the same state of protoplasm as the bourgeoisie. The working-man who went to the music-hall and saw Marie Lloyd and joined in the chorus was himself performing part of the act; he was engaged in that collaboration of the audience with the artist which is necessary in all art and most obviously in dramatic art. He will now go to the cinema, where his mind is lulled by continuous senseless music and continuous action too rapid for the brain to act upon, and will receive, without giving, in that same listless apathy with which the middle and upper classes regard any entertainment of the nature of art. He will also have lost some of his interest in life.

Quotation no. 5 (1924)

In spite of my earnest resolution never again to waste time at a cinema I have spent both yesterday and this afternoon in that unprofitable way. I am ashamed and more than ever strengthened in my resolution.

Quotation no. 6 (1926)

People say that the savage no longer exist in us, that we are at the fag-end of civilization, that everything has been said already, and that it is too late to be ambitious. But these philosophers have presumably forgotten the movies. They have never seen the savages of the twentieth century watching the pictures. They have never sat themselves in front of the screen and thought how, for all the clothes on their backs and the carpets at their feet, no great distance separates them from those bright-eyed, naked men who knocked two bars of iron together and heard in that clangour a foretaste of the music of Mozart.

Quotations 1 and 2 comes from letters, quotations 3 (in translation) and 5 are from diaries, quotations 4 and 6 come from essays.


The Bioscope has just received its 20,000th visit! It’s been just under eight months in existence, and took the first five to reach the 10,000 mark, so we’re on the up-and-up. Thank you to everyone who reads the outpourings, and do keep on sending me ideas, news and comments.

I thought that to mark the occasion I should point out some of the past posts which have useful reference information, and which have got buried now in the achives, as not everyone may be aware of them:

By far and away the most visited post on The Bioscope has been Searching for Albert Kahn. This is a guide to Autochromes (colour photographs) and the collection of Albert Kahn which featured in the BBC4 series The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn.

There are two posts on the digitisation of newspaper collections worldwide which have materials of value for the study of silent film, Times Past and More Times Past.

There is the eight-part series extracted from a 1912 guide, How to Run a Picture Theatre. Look out for other such series in the future.

There’s the two-part guide to the huge collection of downloadable newsreels, non-fiction and fiction films to be found on the British Pathe site, in British Pathe – part one (the fiction) and British Pathe – part two (the rest). Look out also for Movietone and Henderson, another freely-available newsreel collection – although Movietone was a sound newsreel, the site has a significant early film presence through the remarkable Henderson collection.

There’s a guide to good books on silent cinema, in A Good Read or Two; and a guide to Researching patents, demonstrating what can be found online for free.

Then there are some of my favourite posts: The Silent Worker, on silent films and the deaf; the spectacular Hollywood stage production of Julius Caesar in 1916, described in Shakespeare in the Canyon; the several posts on digitised books such as the 1917 National Council of Public Morals report The Cinema, the Paul McCartney video which uses the Pepper’s Ghost trick, explained in It’s all done with mirrors (well, glass actually); the intrepid war reporter Jessica Borthwick, in A Girl Cinematographer at the Balkan War; thoughts on Martin Scorsese’s wish to save lost films, in Nine out of Ten; discussions of optics coming out of Simon Ing’s book The Eye, in Land and Kinemacolor (the colour experimenter Edwin Land, that is) and The Persistence of Vision; the story of James Joyce’s brief career as a cinema manager, in Visiting the Volta; and the unlikely Croydon pioneer of film achiving, Louis Stanley Jast, whose work is described in Croydon and film archives and The camera as historian.

Plus there’s the Library, FAQs, the latest information on upcoming conferences and festivals, and a Calendar of events. And there are lots of new ideas lined up for the future.