Arthur Conan Doyle – a silent era filmography

John Barrymore as the detective in Sherlock Holmes (1922)- a trailer for the Kino International DVD release

Arthur Conan Doyle: Silent era filmography

This filmography accompanies the Pen and Pictures post on Arthur Conan Doyle and his involvement in film during the silent period. Instead of being strictly chronological, it divides up the silent films of Doyle’s works by producer and series, for greater ease of reference. There are also sections on individual films that weren’t part of any series, films of or about Doyle himself, and films which borrow Sherlock Holmes’ name or characteristics but which aren’t strictly speaking adaptations of Doyle’s works.

Each record gives title, country, year, literary source, genre (using terms adopted by Alan Barnes in Sherlock Holmes on Screen), director, production company, leading actor, length, archive (where the film exists) and DVD (where commercially available). Any corrections or additions are most welcome – please add them to the comments at the end of this post.

1. Films of or about Doyle
Films in which Doyle appeared (deliberately or inadvertently), including fiction films, newsreels and documentaries.

  • The $5,000,000 Counterfeiting Plot (USA 1914), none, none, d. Bertram Harrison, p.c. Dramascope, William J. Burns (as himself), 6 reels, lost [Doyle briefly appeared in this feature film alongside its star and subject the real-life detective William J. Burns]
  • Our Mutual Girl: Episode 21 (USA 1914), none, none, ?, p.c. Reliance, Norma Phillips, ?, lost [Doyle was filmed as himself as he arrived by ship to the USA]
  • The Chevrons Club (for POs and NCOs) (Topical Budget 338-1) (UK 13/02/1918), none, newsreel, none, p.c. Topical Film Company, none, 56ft, Imperial War Museum [newsreel showing Doyle at opening of Club]
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Family (Fox News) (USA 1922), none, newsreel, none, p.c. Fox, none, 132ft, University of South Carolina [newsreel showing Doyle family arriving in New York – same event also filmed by the Kinograms and Pathé newsreels]
  • [Conan Doyle and family] (USA 1923), none, newsreel, none, p.c. Fox, none, ?, lost [newsreel of Doyle and family arriving in New York in 1923]
  • Is Conan Doyle Right? (USA 1923), none, documentary, Cullom Holmes Ferrell (‘author’), p.c. Pathé Exchange, none, ?, lost
  • The Lost World (USA 1925 ), The Lost World, adaptation, d. Harry O. Hoyt, p.c. First National, Wallace Beery (Professor Challenger), 9700ft , George Eastman House, DVD [Image Entertainment] [Doyle appeared in prologue, missing from existing copies)
  • Sir A. Conan Doyle (Topical Budget 792-2) (UK 01/11/1926), none, newsreel, none, p.c. Topical Film Company, none, 56ft, BFI [newsreel showing Doyle laying foundation stone of spiritualistic church]

2. Single titles (Holmes)
Sherlock Holmes films that are not otherwise part of a series or collection of films made by a single film company.

  • Sherlock Holmes Baffled (USA 1900), character, parody, d. Arthur Marvin [credited with photography], p.c. Biograph, ?, 284 ft[?], Library of Congress
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; or, Held for a Ransom (USA 1905), character, pastiche, d. J. Stuart Blackton, p.c. Vitagraph, ?, 221 metres, lost
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Great Murder Mystery (USA 1908), character, pastiche, d. ?, p.c. Crescent, ?, 800 ft, lost
  • [The Latest Triumph of Sherlock Holmes] (France 1909), character, ?, d. unknown, p.c. Gaumont, ?, 566 ft [unclear provenance – original title not traced]
  • A Study in Scarlet ( USA 1914), A Study in Scarlet, adaptation, d. Francis Ford, p.c. Universal, Francis Ford (Sherlock Holmes), 2 reels, lost
  • Sherlock Holmes (USA 1916), A Scandal in Bohemia/The Final Problem, adaptation, d. Arthur Berthelet, p.c. Essanay, William Gillette (Sherlock Holmes), 7 reels, Cinémathèque Française [print discovered in 2014]
  • William Voss, der Milliondeib (Germany 1916), character, pastiche, d. Rudolf Meinert, p.c. Meinert-Film Burstein und Janak, Herr Boerns (Sherlock Holmes), 1041m, Nederlands Filmmuseum
  • Sherlock Holmes (USA 1922), character, adaptation, d. Albert Parker, p.c. Goldwyn, John Barrymore (Sherlock Holmes), 8200 ft, George Eastman House, DVD [Kino]
  • Der Hund von Baskerville ( Germany 1929), The Hound of the Baskervilles, adaptation, d. Richard Oswald, p.c. Erda-Film, Carlyle Blackwell (Sherlock Holmes), 7815ft, DIF
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes (USA 1929), character, pastiche, d. Basil Dean, p.c. Paramount, Clive Brook (Sherlock Holmes), 6376ft (sound version 7102ft), Library of Congress (sound version only?)

3. Single titles (non-Holmes)
Films made of Doyle’s non-Holmes works that are not otherwise part of a series or collection of films made by a single film company.

  • Brigadier Gerard (UK 1915), Brigadier Gerard, adaptation, d. Bert Haldane, p.c. Barker, Lewis Waller (Brigadier Gerard), 5260 ft, lost
  • Rodney Stone (UK 1920), Rodney Stone, adaptation, d. Percy Nash, p.c. Screen Plays, Rex Davis (Boy Jim), 6500 ft, BFI
  • Un drame sous Napoléon (France 1921), Uncle Bernac, adaptation, d. Gérard Bourgeois, p.c. Éclair, ? , lost
  • The Croxley Master (UK 1921), The Croxley Master, adaptation, d. Percy Nash, p.c. Screen Plays, Dick Webb (Robert Montgomery), 3900 ft, BFI
  • Fires of Fate ( UK 1923), The Tragedy of Korosco, adaptation, d. Tom Terriss, p.c. Gaumont, Wanda Hawley (Corinne Adams), 7185 ft, lost
  • How It Happened (Twisted Tales) (UK 1925), How it Happened, adaptation, d. Alexander Butler, p.c. Repricocity, Sydney Seaward (The Motorist), 750 ft, lost
  • The Lost World (USA 1925 ), The Lost World, adaptation, d. Harry O. Hoyt, p.c. First National, Wallace Beery (Professor Challenger), 9700 ft, George Eastman House, DVD [Image Entertainment]
  • The Fighting Eagle (USA 1927), The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard, adaptation, d. Donald Crisp, p.c. DeMille, Rod La Roque (Etienne Gerard), 8002 ft, extant

Droske 519 (Sherlock Holmes V) directed by and starring Viggo Larsen, from http://www.dfi.dk

4. Nordisk
Danish series of detective dramas which used Sherlock Holmes as a name but which were not adapted from any of the Doyle stories.

  • Sherlock Holmes I/Sherlock Holmes i Livsfare (Denmark 1908), character, pastiche, d. Viggo Larsen, p.c. Nordisk, Viggo Larsen (Sherlock Holmes), 1140ft, lost
  • Sherlock Holmes II/Raffles’ Flugt fra Faengslet (Denmark 1908), character, pastiche, d. Viggo Larsen, p.c. Nordisk, Viggo Larsen (Sherlock Holmes), 680ft, lost
  • Sherlock Holmes III/Det hemmelige Dokument (Denmark 1908), character, pastiche, d. Viggo Larsen, p.c. Nordisk, Einar Zangenberg (Sherlock Holmes), 890ft, lost
  • Sangerindens Diamanter/Sherlock Holmes IV (Denmark 1909), character, pastiche, d. Viggo Larsen, p.c. Nordisk, Viggo Larsen (Sherlock Holmes), 591ft, lost
  • Droske Nr. 519/Sherlock Holmes V (Cab no. 519) (Denmark 1909), character, pastiche, d. Viggo Larsen, p.c. Nordisk, Viggo Larsen (Sherlock Holmes), 1125ft, lost
  • Den grå dame (The Grey Dame)/Sherlock Holmes VI (Denmark 1909), character, pastiche, d. Viggo Larsen, p.c. Nordisk, Viggo Larsen (Sherlock Holmes), 1007ft, lost
  • Sherlock Holmes i Bondefangerklør/Den stjaalne Tegnebog (A Confidence Trick) (Denmark 1910), character, pastiche, d. ?, p.c. Nordisk, Otto Lagoni (Sherlock Holmes), 873ft, Danish Film Institute
  • Den Sorte Haand/Mordet i Bakerstreet (The Blackmailer) (Denmark 1910), character, pastiche, d. Holger Rasmussen, p.c. Nordisk, Otto Lagoni (Sherlock Holmes), 958ft, lost
  • Den forklaedte Barnepige/Den forklaedte Guvernante (The Bogus Governess) (Denmark 1911), character, pastiche, d. ?, p.c. Nordisk, Otto Lagoni (Sherlock Holmes), 1050ft, lost
  • Den stjaalne Millionobligation/Milliontestament (The Stolen Legacy) (Denmark 1911), character, pastiche, d. ?, p.c. Nordisk, Alwin Neuss (Sherlock Holmes), 1017ft, lost
  • Hotelmysterierne/Hotelrotterne (Hotel Thieves) (Denmark 1911), character, pastiche, d. ?, p.c. Nordisk, Einar Zangenberg (Sherlock Holmes), 837ft, lost
  • Den sorte haette (Denmark 1911), character, pastiche, d. William Augustinus, p.c. Nordisk, Lauritz Olsen (Sherlock Holmes), 1273ft, lost

5. Mack Sennett series
Some sources say that Mack Sennett starred in eleven Sherlock Holmes spoofs for Keystone, but these four titles (one made for Biograph) are all I have traced, so far, and the degree to which these were Holmes films at all is unclear.

  • The $500 Reward (USA 1911), character, parody, d. Mack Sennett, p.c. Biograph, Mack Sennett (Sherlock Holmes?), ?, lost
  • The Stolen Purse (USA 1913), character, parody, d. ?, p.c. Keystone, Mack Sennett (Sherlock Holmes?), ?, lost
  • The Sleuth’s Last Stand (USA 1913), character, parody, d. ?, p.c. Keystone, Mack Sennett (Sherlock Holmes?), ?, lost
  • The Sleuths at the Floral Parade (USA 1913), character, parody, d. ?, p.c. Keystone, Mack Sennett (Sherlock Holmes), ?, lost

6. Éclair
The first official Holmes films, sanctioned by Doyle. The first film was produced separately in France; the other eight were produced as a series in Britain.

  • Les aventures de Sherlock Holmes (France 1911), ?, ? , d. Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset, p.c. Éclair, Henri Gouget (Sherlock Holmes), ?, lost
  • Le ruban moucheté / The Speckled Band (Sherlock Holmes no. 1) (France/UK 1912), The Speckled Band, adaptation, d. Adrien Caillard? Georges Tréville?, p.c. Franco-British Film/Éclair, Georges Tréville (Sherlock Holmes), 1700ft, lost
  • Flamme d’argent / The Silver Blaze (Sherlock Holmes no. 2) (France/UK 1912), The Silver Blaze, adaptation, d. Adrien Caillard? Georges Tréville?, p.c. Franco-British Film/Éclair, Georges Tréville (Sherlock Holmes), 1300ft, lost
  • The Beryl Coronet (Sherlock Holmes no. 3) (France/UK 1912), The Beryl Coronet, adaptation, d. Adrien Caillard? Georges Tréville?, p.c. Franco-British Film/Éclair, Georges Tréville (Sherlock Holmes), 2300ft, lost
  • The Musgrave Ritual (Sherlock Holmes no. 4) (France/UK 1912), The Musgrave Ritual, adaptation, d. Adrien Caillard? Georges Tréville?, p.c. Franco-British Film/Éclair, Georges Tréville (Sherlock Holmes), 1290ft, Lobster Films
  • The Reigate Squires (Sherlock Holmes no. 5) (France/UK 1912), The Reigate Squires, adaptation, d. Adrien Caillard? Georges Tréville?, p.c. Franco-British Film/Éclair, Georges Tréville (Sherlock Holmes), 1800ft, lost
  • The Stolen Papers (Sherlock Holmes no. 6) (France/UK 1912), The Stolen Papers, adaptation, d. Adrien Caillard? Georges Tréville?, p.c. Franco-British Film/Éclair, Georges Tréville (Sherlock Holmes), 1400ft, lost
  • Le mystère de Val Boscombe / The Mystery of Boscombe Vale (Sherlock Holmes no. 7) (France/UK 1912), The Boscombe Valley Mystery, adaptation, d. Adrien Caillard? Georges Tréville?, p.c. Franco-British Film/Éclair, Georges Tréville (Sherlock Holmes), 1700ft, lost
  • The Copper Beeches (Sherlock Holmes no. 8) (France/UK 1912), The Copper Beeches, adaptation, d. Adrien Caillard? Georges Tréville?, p.c. Franco-British Film/Éclair, Georges Tréville (Sherlock Holmes), 1700ft, extant, DVD [Grapevine and Synergy Entertainment]

7. London Film Productions
Authorised adaptations of two of Doyle’s non-Holmes novels by leading British film company.

  • The House of Temperley ( UK 1913), Rodney Stone, adaptation, d. Harold Shaw, p.c. London, Charles Maude (Captain Jack Temperley), 4500ft, lost
  • The Firm of Girdlestone (UK 1915), The Firm of Girdlestone, adaptation, d. Harold Shaw, p.c. London, Edna Flugrath (Kate Horston), 5100ft, lost

8. Thanhouser
Unauthorised productions from American film company specialising in literary adaptations.

  • Sherlock Holmes Solves The Sign of Four (USA 1913), The Sign of Four, adaptation , d. Lloyd Lonergan, p.c. Thanhouser, Harry Benham (Sherlock Holmes), 2 reels, lost
  • The Crogmere Ruby (USA 1915), character, pastiche, d. Ernest C. Warde, p.c. Thanhouser, Hector Dion (Sherlock Holmes), short, lost
  • The Crimson Sabre (USA 1915), character, pastiche, d. ?, p.c. Thanhouser, Hector Dion (Sherlock Holmes), short, lost

Der Hund von Baskerville, 2. Teil – Das einsame Haus (1914), from http://www.filmportal.de

9. Vitascope / Greenbaum / PAGU
Two series from producer Jules Greenbaum (or connected with him). The Arsène Lupin series featured the star of the earlier Nordisk series Viggo Larsen; the Der Hund von Baskerville series that followed (unauthorised) was initially made by Greenbaum’s Vitascope company in association with PAGU, but the two split and ended up producing rival episodes – see Alan Barnes’ Sherlock Holmes on Screen for an explanation of the complex history.

  • Arsène Lupin Contra Sherlock Holmes 1: Der alta sekretär (Germany 1910), character, pastiche, d. Viggo Larsen, p.c. Vitascope,Viggo Larsen (Sherlock Holmes), 1115ft, lost
  • Arsène Lupin Contra Sherlock Holmes 2: Der blaue diamant (Germany 1910), character, pastiche, d. Viggo Larsen, p.c. Vitascope, Viggo Larsen (Sherlock Holmes), 1411ft, lost
  • Arsène Lupin Contra Sherlock Holmes 3: Die falschen Rembrandts (Germany 1910), character, pastiche, d. ?, p.c. Vitascope, Viggo Larsen (Sherlock Holmes), 968ft, lost
  • Arsène Lupin Contra Sherlock Holmes 4: Die flucht (Germany 1910-11), character, pastiche, d. ?, p.c. Vitascope, Viggo Larsen (Sherlock Holmes), length?, lost
  • Arsène Lupin Contra Sherlock Holmes 5: Arsène Lupins ende (Germany 1910-11), character, pastiche, d. ?, p.c. Vitascope, Viggo Larsen (Sherlock Holmes), 902ft, lost
  • Sherlock Holmes contra Professor Moryarty – Serie 1: Der Erbe von Bloomrod (Germany 1911), character, pastiche, d. Viggo Larsen, p.c. Vitascope, ?, 2231ft, lost
  • Der Hund von Baskerville ( Germany 1914), The Hound of the Baskervilles, adaptation, d. Rudolf Meinert, p.c. Vitascope, Alwin Neuss (Sherlock Holmes), 4386ft, Munich Filmmuseum, DVD [Edition Filmmuseum, forthcoming release]
  • Der Hund von Baskerville, 2. Teil – Das einsame Haus (Germany 1914), The Hound of the Baskervilles, adaptation, d. Rudolf Meinert, p.c. Vitascope, Alwin Neuss (Sherlock Holmes), ?, lost
  • Detektiv Braun / Sherlock Holmes contra Dr Mors (Germany 1914), character, pastiche, d. Rudolf Meinert, p.c. Vitascope, Alwin Neuss (Sherlock Holmes), ?, lost
  • Der Hund von Baskerville, 3. Teil – Das unheimliche Zimmer (Germany 1915), The Hound of the Baskervilles, adaptation, d. Richard Oswald , p.c. Greenbaum, Alwin Neuss (Sherlock Holmes), ?, lost
  • Der Hund von Baskerville, 4. Teil- Die Sage vom Hund von Baskerville (Germany 1915), The Hound of the Baskervilles, adaptation, d. Richard Oswald , p.c. Greenbaum, Alwin Neuss (Sherlock Holmes), ?, lost
  • Das dunkle Schloss (Der Hund von Baskerville. III. Teil) (Germany 1915), The Hound of the Baskervilles, adaptation, d. Willy Zeyn, p.c. PAGU, Eugen Berg, ?, lost
  • Der Hund von Baskerville – 5. Teil: Dr. Macdonalds Sanatorium (Germany 1920), The Hound of the Baskervilles, adaptation, d. Willy Zeyn, p.c. Greenbaum, Erich Kaiser-Titz , ?, lost
  • Der Hund von Baskerville – 6. Teil: Das Haus ohne Fenster (Germany 1920), The Hound of the Baskervilles, adaptation, d. Willy Zeyn, p.c. Greenbaum, Lu Jürgens, ?, lost

James Braginton as Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet (UK 1914)

10. Samuelson
Authorised versions by leading British film company.

  • A Study in Scarlet (UK 1914), A Study in Scarlet, adaptation, d. George Pearson, p.c. Samuelson, James Bragington (Sherlock Holmes), 5479ft, lost
  • The Valley of Fear (UK 1916), The Valley of Fear, adaptation, d. Alexander Butler, p.c. Samuelson, H.A. Saintsbury (Sherlock Holmes), 6500ft, lost

11. Kowo-Gesellschaft
Unauthorised series of feature films which appear to have carried on the Nordisk/Vitascope tradition of exciting detective dramas borrowing Holmes’ name and little more. Some sources say there were up to twelve titles in the series.

  • Die Kassette (Germany 1917), character, pastiche, d. Carl Heinz Wolff, p.c. Kowo-Gesellschaft für Filmfabrikation, Hugo Flink (Sherlock Holmes), 3983ft, lost
  • Der Erdstrommotor ( Germany 1917), character, pastiche, d. Carl Heinz Wolff, p.c. Kowo-Gesellschaft für Filmfabrikation, Hugo Flink (Sherlock Holmes), 4 reels, lost
  • Der Schlangenring (Germany 1917), character, pastiche, d. Carl Heinz Wolff, p.c. Kowo-Gesellschaft für Filmfabrikation, Hugo Flink (Sherlock Holmes), 3724ft, lost
  • Was er im Spiegel sah (Germany 1918), character, pastiche, d. Carl Heinz Wolff, p.c. Kowo-Gesellschaft für Filmfabrikation, Ferdinand Bonn [?] (Sherlock Holmes), 4 reels, lost

Eille Norwood, star of the Stoll series of Sherlock Holmes films

12. Stoll Film Company
The classic adaptations of the silent era, starring Eille Norwood throughout and adapting most of the Holmes stories published to that date.

  • The Dying Detective (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 1) (UK 1921), The Dying Detective, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2273ft, BFI, DVD [Grapevine]
  • The Devil’s Foot (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 2) (UK 1921), The Devil’s Foot, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2514ft, BFI, DVD [Grapevine]
  • A Case of Identity (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 3) (UK 1921), A Case of Identity, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2610ft, BFI
  • Yellow Face (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 4) (UK 1921), The Yellow Face, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2020ft, BFI
  • The Red-Headed League (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 5) (UK 1921), The Red-Headed League, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2140ft, BFI
  • The Resident Patient (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 6) (UK 1921), The Resident Patient, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2404ft, BFI
  • A Scandal in Bohemia (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 7) (UK 1921), A Scandal in Bohemia, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2100ft, BFI
  • The Man with the Twisted Lip (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 8) (UK 1921), The Man with the Twisted Lip, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2412ft, BFI, DVD [Grapevine and Synergy Entertainment]
  • The Beryl Coronet (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 9) (UK 1921), The Beryl Coronet, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2340ft, BFI
  • The Noble Bachelor (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 10) (UK 1921), The Noble Bachelor, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2100ft, BFI
  • The Copper Beeches (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 11) (UK 1921), The Copper Beeches, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2193ft, BFI
  • The Empty House (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 12) (UK 1921), The Empty House, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1800ft, BFI
  • The Tiger of San Pedro (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 13) (UK 1921), The Tiger of San Pedro, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2080ft, BFI
  • The Priory School (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 14) (UK 1921), The Priory School, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2100ft,BFI
  • The Solitary Cyclist (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 15) (UK 1921), The Solitary Cyclist, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2140ft, BFI
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (UK 1921), The Hound of the Baskervilles, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 5500ft, BFI
  • Charles Augustus Milverton (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 1) (UK 1922), The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1900ft, BFI
  • The Abbey Grange (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 2) (UK 1922), The Abbey Grange, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2200ft, BFI
  • The Norwood Builder (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 3) (UK 1922), The Norwood Builder, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2100ft, BFI
  • The Reigate Squires (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 4) (UK 1922), The Reigate Squires, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1900ft, BFI
  • The Naval Treaty (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 5) (UK 1922), The Naval Treaty, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1600ft, BFI
  • The Second Stain (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 6) (UK 1922), The Second Stain, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2200ft, BFI
  • The Red Circle (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 7) (UK 1922), The Red Circle,adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1780ft, BFI
  • The Six Napoleons (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 8) (UK 1922), The Six Napoleons, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1790ft, BFI
  • Black Peter (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 9) (UK 1922), Black Peter, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1800ft, BFI
  • The Bruce Partington Plans (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 10) (UK 1922), The Bruce Partington Plans, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2196ft, BFI
  • The Stockbroker’s Clerk (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 11) (UK 1922), The Stockbroker’s Clerk, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1830ft, BFI
  • The Boscombe Valley Mystery (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 12) (UK 1922), The Boscombe Valley Mystery, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2450ft, BFI
  • The Musgrave Ritual (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 13) (UK 1922), The Musgrave Ritual, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1750ft, BFI
  • The Golden Pince-Nez (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 14) (UK 1922), The Golden Pince-Nez, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1675ft, BFI
  • The Greek Interpreter (The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 15) (UK 1922), The Greek Interpreter, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1862ft, BFI
  • Silver Blaze (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 1) (UK 1923), Silver Blaze, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2100ft, BFI
  • The Speckled Band (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 2) (UK 1923), The Speckled Band, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1800ft, BFI
  • The Gloria Scott (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 3) (UK 1923), The Gloria Scott, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2070ft, BFI
  • The Blue Carbuncle (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 4) (UK 1923), The Blue Carbuncle,adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2000ft, BFI
  • The Engineer’s Thumb (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 5) (UK 1923), The Engineer’s Thumb, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2000ft, BFI
  • His Last Bow (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 6) (UK 1923), His Last Bow, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1600ft, BFI
  • The Cardboard Box (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 7) (UK 1923), The Cardboard Box, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1800ft, BFI
  • The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 8) (UK 1923), The Disappareance of Lady Frances Carfax, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1800ft, BFI
  • The Three Students (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 9) (UK 1923), The Three Students,adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2500ft, BFI
  • The Missing Three Quarter (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 10) (UK 1923), The Missing Three Quarter, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2200ft, BFI
  • The Mystery of Thor Bridge (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 11) (UK 1923), The Mystery of Thor Bridge, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2200ft, BFI
  • The Stone of Mazarin (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 12) (UK 1923), The Stone of Mazarin, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1878ft, BFI
  • The Mystery of the Dancing Men (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 13) (UK 1923), The Mystery of the Dancing Men, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2600ft, BFI
  • The Crooked Man (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 14) (UK 1923), The Crooked Man, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 2228ft, BFI
  • The Final Problem (The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes no. 15) (UK 1923), The Final Problem, adaptation, d. George Ridgwell, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 1686ft, BFI
  • The Sign of Four (UK 1923), The Sign of Four, adaptation, d. Maurice Elvey, p.c. Stoll, Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), 6750ft, BFI

Douglas Fairbanks parodying Holmes as the detective Coke Ennyday in The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916), from http://www.nytimes.com

13. Holmes parodies, allusions etc.
This is a selection of the many individual silent era films which parodied, spoofed, emulated or borrowed the names of Sherlock Holmes. No definitive list could be produced, given the all-pervasiveness of the idea of Holmes as master detective. Title, country, date and production company are given.

  • Un rivale di Sherlock Holmes (Italy 1907), p.c. Ambrosio
  • Miss Sherlock Holmes (USA 1908), p.c. Edison
  • Ein Meisterstück von Sherlock Holmes (Germany 1908), p.c. Internationale Kinematograph
  • A Squeedunk Sherlock Holmes (USA 1909), p.c. Edison
  • The Italian Sherlock Holmes (USA 1910), p.c. Yankee Film Company
  • A Case for Sherlock Holmes (UK 1911), p.c. Cricks & Martin
  • Sherlock Holmes Jr. (USA 1911), p.c. Rex
  • A Canine Sherlock Holmes (UK 1912), p.c. Urban
  • Cousins of Sherlock Holmes (USA 1912), p.c. Solax
  • [Sclau, schlauer, am schlauesten!] (France c.1912, p.c. Eclipse [listed by Barnes as a meeting of detectives Nick Winter, Nick Carter, Nat Pinkerton and Sherlock Holmes – original French title not know]
  • Fricot emulo di Sherlock Holmes (Italy 1913), p.c. Ambrosio
  • The Sherlock Holmes Girl (USA 1914), p.c. Edison
  • Sherlock Bonehead (USA 1914), p.c. Kalem
  • Sherlock Holmes roulé par Rigadin (France 1914), p.c. Pathé
  • Shorty and Sherlock Holmes (USA 1914), p.c. Broncho
  • The Sherlock Boob (USA 1915), p.c. Mica
  • Kri Kri contro Sherlock-Holmes (Italy 1915), p.c. Cines
  • La disfatta di Sherlok-Holmes (Italy 1915), p.c. Cines
  • The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (USA 1916), p.c. Triangle, DVD [Kino]
  • A Black Sherlock Holmes (USA 1918), p.c. Ebony
  • Das Detektivduell (Germany 1920), p.c. Valy Arnheim
  • Lya als Sherlock Holmes (Germany 1921), p.c. Albert Löwenberg
  • Sherlock Brown (USA 1922), p.c. Metro
  • Sherlock Jr (USA 1924), p.c. Buster Keaton Productions, DVD [Kino]
  • Sherlock Sleuth (USA 1925), p.c. Pathé Exchange
  • Københavns Sherlock Holmes (Denmark 1925 ), p.c. Palladium

This filmography has been compiled from many sources. Particular acknowledgments to Alan Barnes, Sherlock Holmes on Screen: The Complete Film and TV History, Jay Weissberg’s notes for ‘Sherlock and Beyond: The British Detective in Silent Cinema’ in the 2009 Pordenone Silent Film Festival catalogue, the German film database Filmportal, the two volumes of the American Film Index, Denis Gifford’s The British Film Catalogue and Books and Plays in Films 1896-1915, the American Film Catalog (online version), the Danish Film Institute online national filmography, and the Internet Movie Database.

An excellent dumb discourse

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Ruggero Ruggeri as Hamlet in Amleto (1917)

It was the fervent belief of many in the early years of cinema that justification for the medium lay in how it interpeted stage drama. At a time when censorious authorities looked down upon the dubious cinema (with its low class audiences) and cinema was reaching out for respectability (and properties that were out of copyright), Pathé with its Film d’Art and Film d’Arte Italiana companies, and Adolph Zukor’s policy of ‘Famous Players in Famous Plays’ showed that there was financial good sense in bringing high-class drama to the cinema screen, however mutely.

The pinnacle of stage drama was, of course, William Shakespeare, and film companies in the silent film era took on the Bard with enthusiasm. The numbers are extraordinary. Some two hundred films, most of them one-reelers of the pre-war period, were produced that closely or loosely owed something to one or other of Shakespeare’s plays. Some film companies showed a particular interest: Vitagraph filmed Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Othello, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet (all 1908), King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1909), Twelfth Night (1910) and As You Like It (1912). Thanhouser made A Winter’s Tale (1910), The Tempest (1911), The Merchant of Venice (1912), Cymbeline (1913) and King Lear (1916). Cines, Kalem, Biograph, Ambrosio, Gaumont, Eclair, Nordisk, Milano and several others filmed the plays.

This was more than enthusiasm for high culture; it was good business. Shakespeare films appealed to an audience which found costume dramas in general to be a treat, and which was accustomed to boiled-down Bard from school texts and stage productions which concentrated on the highlights from the plays (such as the Crummles’ hectic production of Romeo and Juliet portrayed in Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickelby). Of course, not everyone wanted to see high culture quite as much as the cinema sometimes wanted to be associated with such culture (see the cartoon at the end of this post), but more than enough were impressed, and entranced.

Once films became longer – ironically as the cinema became closer in form to the theatre – the number of Shakespeare films fell, because longer productions were more of a challenge to audiences. But even then there was a burst of activity in 1916 (the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death), with half-a-dozen or more productions in that year alone, and versions of the plays continued in silent form throughout the 1920s, with four key titles coming from Germany – Hamlet (1920, with Asta Nielsen as the Dane), Othello (1922, with Emil Jannings and Werner Krauss), Der Kaufman von Venedig (The Merchant of Venice) (1923, with Henny Porten) and Ein Sommernachtstraum (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) (1925, Werner Krauss again).

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Prospero in his cave, from The Tempest (Clarendon 1908)

So where is the literature to back up this self-evidently significant corner of silent film history? Sadly, until recently, there has been very little. The silent film enthusiasts and film scholars have shied away from Shakespeare as being falsely worthy and far too uncinematic, while the Shakespeareans looked down on cinema per se, while finding the very notion of silent Shakespeare an absurdity. Jack J. Jorgens, a noted scholar, went so far as to write these dreadful words in his Shakespeare on Film (1977):

First came scores of silent Shakespeare films,one- and two-reelers struggling to render great poetic drama in dumb-show. Mercifully, most of them are lost.

Oh dear, oh dear. However, there was one work which almost eccentrically fought against the tide. Robert Hamilton Ball’s Shakespeare on Silent Film: A Strange Eventual History (1968) is one of the most remarkable books ever produced on silent cinema. It is a passionately-pursued archaeological investigation into every kind of Shakespeare film made during the silent era, encomapssing parodies, allusions, plot borrowing as well as ‘conventional’ adaptations, with Ball diggedly tracking down every obscure reference, every hidden print, every list of intertitles, with abundant fervour and an infectious interest in the people involved. This magnum opus has been cherished by the dedicated few for four decades, and for most of that time its discoveries and assertions have been taken as gospel. Yet even Ball ended his investigations with these disappointing words:

Silent Shakespeare film could not be art, a new art. The aesthetic problem is how to make good film which is good Shakespeare. It could not be good Shakespeare because too much was missing.

It is has been the task of a few of us (and I’ve been involved) to prove those words wrong. Silent Shakespeare was good Shakespeare, not because of what was missing, but because of what was there to be seen – a new medium expressing itself imaginatively while asserting its social worthiness and cultural relevance. To study silent Shakespeare films is to see films discovering what they could do. Yes there are histrionics at times, and yes there is some aburdity involved when complex plots are crammed into a ten-minute reel, but equally there is artistry, feeling and subtlety of interpretation. Have you ever seen a ballet of Romeo and Juliet and complained that the words were missing? Of course not. Shakespeare without the words is not a lesser form, but simply a form that requires its own special understanding. It expresses the significance of its subject within its specific constraints – which is precisely what art is.

The tide started to turn with the release of the British Film Institute’s video compilation Silent Shakespeare (1999), a work that was a revelation to many. Even hardened theatricals could see the special virtues in the Clarendon Film Company’s delightful reworking of The Tempest (1908) or the elemental passion evident in Ermete Novelli’s stunning performance in Re Lear (1910). The DVD has found its way onto many a university library shelf, while a number of scholars have begun to take on the silent Shakespeare film with fresh eyes – among them Jon Burrows, Roberta Pearson, Anthony Guneratne and Kenneth Rothwell.

buchanan

The leading champion, however, has been Judith Buchanan, whose quite marvellous Shakespeare on Silent Film: An Excellent Dumb Discourse is published this month by Cambridge University Press. This is the sympathetic, understanding account of a phenomenon that we have been waiting for. It is not a comprehensive history of the silent Shakespeare film – Buchanan defers to Ball in that respect – instead it concentrates on exemplary films and on uncovering the social, cultural and economic contexts. So it is that an opening chapter details a nineteenth-century legacy of performance, with particular attention to Shakespeare and the magic lantern, showing that the silent Shakespeare film was part of an established tradition. Chapters then follow on the first Shakespeare film, King John (1899), featuring Herbert Beerbohm Tree (also on the BFI DVD); Shakespeare films of the ‘transitional era’ between the early and late 1900s, with close, engrossing readings of Clarendon’s The Tempest and Film d’Arte Italiana’s Othello (1909); the ‘corporate authorship’ of Vitagraph’s productions; the contrasting interpretations of Hamlet by Hepworth (a renowned British 1913 production with theatrical great Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson) and Amleto, a 1917 Italian film starring Ruggero Ruggeri, little-known but perhaps the most accomplished extant realisation on Shakespeare on silent film (it’s crying out for the two Hamlets to be released jointly on DVD); the several films of the tercentary year, including the rival Romeo and Juliets starring Francis X. Bushman/Beverley Bayne and Theda Bara/Harry Hilliard, both films alas lost; the German productions of the 1920s; and wordless Shakespeare today (there are some stage productions experimenting with silence, notably Paata Tsikurishvili’s Synetic Theatre).

It’s written for a literary studies audience, but it is grounded in exemplary original research (Buchanan has toured the world to track down the relevant prints) and it is a pleasure to read. There is much here to detain anyone keen to extend their knowledge of film history. She knows her films as well as her plays – a rare and most welcome combination. Above all, Buchanan opens up the subject in all its richness of theme, inviting others to explore further, illuminating the films that we are so fortunate have survived. We will still turn to Robert Hamilton Ball for his extensive documentary evidence, but to Buchanan for her sophisticated understanding.


romeocartoon

A 1913 cartoon from London Opinion, speaking for anyone resistant to the cinema’s occasional urge to impress Shakespeare upon us. Taken from Stephen Bottomore, I Want to See this Annie Mattygraph: A Cartoon History of the Coming of the Movies

If you are keen to seek out silent Shakespeare films for yourself (and you should, you really should) this is what’s currently available on DVD:

  • Silent Shakespeare: includes King John (Biograph 1899), The Tempest (Clarendon 1908), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Vitagraph 1909), Re Lear (Film d’Arte Italiana 1910), Twelfth Night (Vitagraph 1910), Il Mercante di Venezia (Film d’Arte Italiana 1910), Richard III (Co-operative 1911) [BFI] [Milestone]
  • Thanhouser Presents Shakespeare [Thanhouser series vol.7]: includes The Winter’s Tale (1910), Cymbeline (1913), King Lear (1916) [Thanhouser]
  • Richard III (Shakespeare Film Company 1912) [Kino]
  • Othello (Wörner-Filmgesellschaft 1922): also includes Duel Scene from Macbeth (Biograph 1905), The Taming of the Shrew (Biograph 1908), Roméo se fait bandit (Pathé 1910), Desdemona (Nordisk 1911) [Kino]

The International Database of Shakespeare on Film, Radio and Television, an online filmographic database not yet officially released but available in a test version, hopes to be comprehensive for the silent Shakespeare film. Buchanan herself provides a filmography (restricted to films mentioned in her text), including the location of archive prints. Around forty silent Shakespeare films survive today, mercifully.

Pen and pictures no. 7 – Leo Tolstoy

tolstoy

Our series on literary figures and silent film has seen each confront the upstart medium of moving pictures in their own particular way. Thomas Hardy saw his works strangely adapted for the screen, yet welcomed the royalty cheques. J.M. Barrie and Evelyn Waugh, at different ends of their literary careers, both dabbled in filmmaking, one to challenge ideas of theatrical realism, the other as a testing bed for his brand of mocking satire. John Buchan unexpectedly found himself in charge of British film propaganda during the First World War and incorporated the experience in his fiction. Bernard Shaw critiqued the new medium, intrigued yet wary of letting his own works be filmed for fear of losing control of them. Now we turn to Leo Tolstoy, to see the man of letters pursued by cameras anxious to capture something of his fame.

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910) enjoyed a reputation as an author and thinker unmatched in his time, and perhaps at any other time. Known worldwide as the great man of Russian literature, chiefly on the basis of his monumental novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), he was revered (or feared) just as much as a political thinker. His advocacy of a form of Christian anarchism, of pacifism and non-interventionism disturbed the Russian authorities but encouraged fanatical belief among some and helped inspire the later actions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

The peak of Tolstoy’s fame coincided with the emergence of the modern media. Newspapers, photographs and motion pictures could capture one’s essence and distribute it to the masses, across the world. Tolstoy was plagued by enthusiasts, advocates, disciples, fanatics, hangers-on, mendicants, lunatics, artists, reporters and photographers, all anxious to gain something from the great man. As the end of his life came near, there was an immense urge to record something of the great man while he was still breathing – and to take one’s own place alongside him in that record.

Motion pictures had come to Russia in 1896, and Tolstoy certainly knew of them by 1903, because he mentioned his adversion to them when a friend V.V. Stasov tried to organise the recording of Tolstoy in sound and motion pictures, an act which received this angry response by letter, dated 9 October 1903:

I have just read your letter to Sofya Andreyevna (she is in Moscow) and was horrified. For the same of our friendship, drop the business and save me from these phonographs and cinematography. I find them very unpleasant, and I most certainly do not agree to pose and speak.

Sofya Andreyevana was Tolstoy’s wife, and as many biographies have recounted, Tolstoy’s private life in his latter years was tumultuous and unhappy, chiefly on account of his deteriorating relations with his wife, a situation exacerbated by the malign influence of his chief disciple, Vladimir Chertkov, who drove apart the idealist husband from his supposedly materialist wife, sending the latter into a kind of madness. Sofya Andreyevana was the victim of Tolstoy’s complete failure to maintain his principles of pacifism and non-authoritarianism into his private life. She battled to maintain control, not least of her reputation come Tolstoy’s death, partly because of what her husband said about her in his all too frank diaries. Some of this personal battle involved her working with the press, and particularly the motion picture cameramen, to manage the image of Tolstoy and his family.

adrankov

And so into the Tolstoy’s life in 1908 came Aleksandr Osipovich Drankov (left). The founding father of Russian cinema was the former owner of a dancing school and then a successful photographer with a network of studios. In 1907 he took up cinematography, shooting numerous topicals on Russian life and events but also some of Russia’s first dramatic films, starting with an abortive Boris Godunov (1907) but then success with Sten’ka Razin in October 1908. As films grew in popularity in Russia, there was increased competition among production companies, both native (chiefly Drankov and Khanzhonkov) and foreign companies eyeing the huge Russian market, among them Pathé, Cines, Urban and Gaumont. Rashit Yangirov, in Silent Witnesses, gives us this less than flattering picture of Drankov, culled from impressions provided by his contemporaries:

… a repellent caricature of a plump but extraordinarily familiar and restless character with red hair, always dressed in pretentious lack of taste, a vainglorious man of considerable ambition always invovled in various dubious schemes.

The Russian film industry was viewed with great suspicion by the authorities (the Russian authorities viewed practically everything with great suspicion). A smart move would be for the industry to ally itself with Russia’s literary greatness. Many films culled for the classics would soon follow, but the same impetus led Drankov (with the connivance of Sofya Andreyevana) to join the throng of reporters and still photographers trying to capture something of the great man on the occasion of Tolstoy’s eightieth birthday, 28 August 1908. Tolstoy’s daughter Alexandra (in The Tragedy of Tolstoy, published 1933) describes the scene:

The precursors of every memorable event – the photographers – began to make their appearance at our house. I remember father sitting, exhausted, on the porch with his ailing leg stretched out, and mother coming in to ask him to consent to being photographed for the moving pictures. He made a grimace of pain and started to refuse, but the camera men swore that they were not going to disturb him and would not ask him to pose. They tried to photograph him from the lawn and from the verandah, while father sat motionless, looking before him with a melancholy stare.

Drankov captured only few feet of film of Tolstoy, seated in a chair on a balcony at his Yasnaya Polyana home, staring like some trapped creature at the camera trained upon him. The brief footage needed much padding out with footage of the family and grounds, but it made Drankov’s reputation. Happily, it survives today.

Drankov’s 1908 film of Tolstoy. The film shows relatives and friends in a carriage, then Sofya Andreyevna picking flowers. Vladimir Chertkov distributes alms at the “tree of the poor”. Chertkov and Tolstoy’s sons leave the main house. The camera looks up at a first-floor balcony where Tolstoy can just be glimpsed, sitting. He is then seen in medium close shot on the balcony, seated in a wicker chair, with Sofya Andreyevna standing beside him. Information from Andrew D. Kaufman’s Tolstoy site, which has better quality versions of the film available, in Windows Media Player and QuickTime versions.

This was not the end of the motion pictures camera’s pursuit of Tolstoy, nor the last time that Drankov would film him. Jay Leyda, in his authoritative Kino: A History of the Russia and Soviet Film (1960), provides the fullest account. With the further support of Sofya Andreyevna, anxious to control the family image, more films were taken of him, in a series of events recalled again by Alexandra Tolstoy:

On September 3, 1909, father, Dushan Petrovich, Ilya Vasiliyevich, and I went to visit the Chertkovs at the estate of their relatives, the Pashkov family, at Krekshino. Father wanted to see Vladimir Grigoriyevich and to rest awhile from the life at Yasnaya Polyana. But people dogged his every step. Several days before our departure, a moving picture company requested permission to photograph his departure from Yasnaya Polyana. Mother liked being photographed and made no objections, but for father it was annoying.

“What for?” he said. “It’s so disagreeable, so embarrassing! Couldn’t we arrange it so that they would not come?”

“Let’s send them a telegram, very simply,” I said. “Why should we have any compunctions about them?”

“That would not be right at all,” mother argued. “Why should we hurt people’s feelings? They will come and photograph, and it won’t be any trouble whatever.”

But Aunt Marya Nikolayevna, who was visiting us just then, supported father so energetically that mother had to give in. I sent a telegram in father’s name asking them not to come. But to our amazement and indignation, on the eve of our departure, the camera men nevertheless made their appearance.

“You are asking my consent to be photographed,” father said to them, making an effort to control his irritation. “I cannot give this consent. and if you do it without permission.”

“Our firm would never permit itself to do that!” one of the men replied.

Next morning, as we drove to the station, the photographers were waiting for us at the gates of the estate. We reached the station just ahead of them. The railroad gendarme forbade their photographing on the railway premises, but they telephoned to the authorities at Tula and received the necessary permit. Again their cameras buzzed.

The cameraman on this occasion was Joseph Mundviller, Pathé’s chief operator in Russia at this time. The Tolstoys were going to see relatives at Kriokshino, and having learned of Pathé’s coup, Drankov followed after. With inside information provided by Tolstoy’s driver, he learned that the author could be found walking alone in morning before breakfast at five o’clock. According to Drankov (as reported by Leyda), Drankov cornered Tolstoy, who was not unwilling to be filmed, but then Drankov tripped over his camera equipment, ruining the film which spilled out of the magazine. He returned to the fray a day or so later, at first chased off by Chertkov, but then capturing film of the Tolstoys at the railway station, even filming the party in their railway carriage.

This film also exists. Parts of it can be found in footage libraries around the world, and happily what looks to be most of the film can be seen (though not embedded here) on the ITN Source site, as part of its remarkable Trinity Bridge collection of Russian and Soviet film. The relevant film is called Russian 1900-1949 Compilation (clip 34), and we see Tolstoy and Sofya Andreyevna at the railway station, Tolstoy with family friends out in woodland, the party getting onto a train, Tolstoy walking alone with walking stick, Tolstoy and Sofya walking in the garden at Yasnoya Polyana, and most remarkably Tolstoy and another man sawing wood (the latter scenes come from September 1910, when Drankov was shooting Krestyanskaya Svadba – see below). The high degree of co-operation with the camera operator is obvious.

tolstoy_trinity

Tolstoy and Sofya Andreyevna in Drankov’s 1909 film, from http://www.itnsource.com

Alexandra’s version of these encounters shows her mother’s point of view, imagining that the motion picture record might confirm her status as Tolstoy’s confidant which rumours and her enemies were assiduously undermining.

To comfort father, I volunteered to accompany mother. We stayed a few days at Yasnaya Polyana. Without father, mother was much more calm. But as soon as we returned to Kochety her nervousness returned. A photographer from the Drankov moving-picture firm came and pressed us for a chance to photograph father. This was enough to upset mother. At any cost, she wished to be photographed with him, and she put as much emotion into the situation as if it were a question of life and death. “They printed in some paper,” she said, “that Tolstoy has divorced his wife! Let them all see now that it is not true!” During the photographing, she begged father several times to look at her.

Tolstoy had been to the cinema at least once, before he had the experience of witnessing himself on film when Drankov gave a screening at Yasnaya Polyana on 6 January 1910. He showed Tolstoy and an audience of local peasants all of the film of Tolstoy he had taken to that point. Tolstoy apparently expressed some interest in the potential of the cinema for recording Russian life, and this inspired Drankov to take a number of scenes of the Tolstoy family’s peasants, in national costume, including a village wedding, with the co-operation of Tolstoy family members. Cheekily, Drankov would issue this film in 1911 (shortly after the writer’s death) under the title Krestyanskaya Svadba (A Peasant Wedding), advertised as having been written and directed by Tolstoy himself.

Tolstoy’s last days have been much written about (practically everyone in the building was writing a diary). The poisonous atmosphere at Yasnaya Polyana, centered upon Sofya Andreyevna’s disturbed behaviour, led Tolstoy to flee his own home. First joining his sister in a convent, he journeyed on (with entourage) by train, being forced to stop at the railway station of Astopovo by ill-health. Housed in the station master’s cottage, Tolstoy’s health worsened, while the media flocked to the scene. His family joined him, but cruelly his wife was kept outside. Alexandra records the scene:

While we were engrossed in taking care of father, following his slightest ups and downs, now losing heart, now cheering up again, reporters milled around the walls of the house, catching every word. The telegraphers could not dispatch all the messages; there were so many that urgent telegrams went as ordinary ones. Every minute camera men were taking photographs of persons and places: my mother, brothers, our little house, the station. an old monk, Father Varsonofi, asked all the family to let him in to see father or order “to restore him, before his death, to the fold of the Orthodox Church.”

I heard of all this only from the conversations of those around me, but one time I nearly got into a movie film. Goldenweiser, who stood watch in the anteroom, called me saying that mother was on the steps and asked me to come out for a minute so that she could inquire about father’s condition. I stepped out and began to answer her questions, but she asked me to let her into the anteroom, swearing that she would not enter the rooms. I was on the point of opening the door when I heard a buzz and, turning around, saw two photographers grinding away. I waved my hands and shouted to them to stop photographing and then turned to mother and asked her to leave at once.

“You are keeping me from him,” she replied to my reproaches, “then at least let people believe that I have been with him!”

departure

Leo Tolstoy died on 20 November 1910. Part of the battle between Tolstoy, his wife and Chertkov had been over the copyright in his writings, which Chertkov wanted him to hand over to the Russian nation and Sofya wanted to support their home and large family. She won that battle, Tolstoy only renouncing copyright in his recent writings, and it was the family that benefitted from the numerous screen adaptations of Tolstoy’s works that followed (a filmography of Tolstoyan adaptations from the silent era will appear in a follow-up post). However, she and Chertkov joined forces in their disgust at Yakov Protazanov and Elizaveta Thiman’s Ukhod velikovo startza (The Departure of a Great Man) (1912, illustrated above, from http://www.kinokultura.com), a dramatisation of Tolstoy’s last days which made so bold as to show how tormented Tolstoy was, and even showed his wife’s attempted suicide by drowning (an event which occured). Banned from Russia, the film was only seen abroad – and survives to this day (it can be found on the Early Russian Cinema video series.

As noted above, the 1908 film taken by Drankov on Tolstoy’s eightieth birthday can be found on YouTube and Andrew Kaufman’s site, and the 1909/1910 films at ITN Source. Kaufman also has a 1909 sound recordings of Tolstoy’s voice (Tolstoy had his own phonograph, a gift of Thomas Edison, and would make recordings of interesting visitors).

The Tolstoy Studies Journal site has the 1908 film, a Tolstoy filmography, and an article supposedly giving Tolstoy’s views on the cinema in 1908 which probably had considerable embellisment from its source, one I. Teneromo.

Jay Leyda’s peerless Kino: A History of the Russia and Soviet Film is available to download from the Internet Archive.

Aleksandr Drankov left Russia after the 1917 revolution, moved to America, failed to find any foothold in the film world, ran a Viennese cafe for a while, then slipped back into the photography business. He died in California in 1948 or 1949.

Words on the screen

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First the classics, now the Eng Lit department – UK universities are discovering silent films and examining them in welcome new ways. The Film and Literature Programme, Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York is organising a one-day symposium on silent cinema and literature on Friday 1 May, led by the university’s Judith Buchanan, whose forthcoming book on silent Shakespeare films will receive close attention here once it has forthcome.

Here’s the blurb on the symposium:

Silent Cinema and Literature

One-day Symposium

Friday 1 May 2009

University of York, 9.30am-6.30pm

  • Lawrence Rainey: ‘Modern melodrama: Chickie (1925)’
  • Erica Sheen: ‘Imperishable bodies: Graham Greene’s A Little Place Off the Edgeware Road
  • Judith Buchanan: ‘The biblical, the literary and the olfactory: synaesthetics in MGM’s 1925 Ben Hur
  • Lawrence Napper: on British cinema of the 1920s (title tbc)
  • Jon Burrows: ‘“A Vague Chinese Quarter Elsewhere”: The Cinematic Mapping of Thomas Burke’s Limehouse, 1919-1936’
  • Andrew Higson: ‘Becoming Michael Curtiz: “European” cinema, literary connections, and the challenge of Hollywood in the 1920s’

The day will end with a roundtable discussion of issues of shared interest followed by a drinks reception. To register, please email Emily Blewitt: seb518 [at] york.ac.uk.

Full registration (including refreshments and lunch): £25
Student registration (including refreshments and lunch): £10
University of York Department of English students: free registration

(Early registration is advised since places are limited.)

Let’s have more of this – medical departments looking at the work of Jean Comandon and other such pioneers, history departments considering the significance of early newsreels, art classes looking at 1920s set designs, geography students considering pioneering travelogues for their topographical content, medievalists looking at how their age is depicted in one-reelers, sport studies assessing the correct running speeds for silent films of … runners. Just so long as they tell us something new and jolt us out of our complacency.

The Kinetoscope of Time

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Title of ‘The Kinetoscope of Time’, from Cornell University Library

Tales of Fantasy and Fact is an 1896 collection of short stories by James Brander Matthews. He was Professor of Literature at Columbia University, subsequently America’s first professor of drama, among whose achievements was his own theatre museum. The collection includes a remarkable story, ‘The Kinetoscope of Time’, which is the reason for adding the collection to the Bioscope Library.

‘The Kinetoscope of Time’ was originally published in Scribner’s Magazine, December 1895. It takes the form of a Gothic horror story. The narrator finds himself at midnight in a large hall, the walls furnished with dark velvet. He comes across “four curiously shaped narrow stands”, about one foot wide and four feet high, each equipped with eye-pieces inviting the beholder to look within.

So of course he does, and he sees a succession of visions which, though they are not immediately identified as such, are the dance of Salomé, Hester Prynne and Little Pearl from The Scarlet Letter, Topsy dancing in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Nora in A Doll’s House, the fight between Achilles and Hector, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the duel of Faust and Valentine, and Custer’s Last Stand. The narrator raises his head from these visions and is approached by a man who, though middle-aged, says that he had witnessed all these scenes, even though they mingle fact with fiction. He may or may not represent Time itself. He invites the narrator to behold two further visions, for which there will be a charge, one to witness his past, the other his future. The narrator refuses, and exists the hall to find himself in the outside world, “in a broad street”, with an electric light flashing and a train clattering by. He sees a shop window, and in it there is a portrait of the man he has just met, who is revealsed to be Cagliostro, the 18th century Italian occultist and adventurer.

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Kinetoscope parlour in San Francisco

This is a remarkable tale in a number of ways. Firstly, its Poe-like fantasy clearly takes place somewhere akin to a Kinetoscope parlour, where the Edison peepshow viewers that preceded projected film shows were placed side by side, offering a view of one film per machine. But the velvet walls, the dark of the hall and that disorienting exit into what Matthews calls “the world of actuality” seem to be a premonition of the cinemas that were to come, while the subjects are remarkably prescient, almost all of them soon to become iconic scenes in motion pictures.

But the story’s real subject is the Kinetoscope’s relationship with time. The great fascination that motion pictures held for many observers when they first appeared was their quality as a time machine. The Kinetoscope turned one, potentially, into the observer of all time – able to witness the continuum of time as events passed before one’s eye on a ribbon of film. As Mary Ann Doane writes in The Emergence of Cinematic Time:

The story conjoins many of the motifs associated with the emerging cinema and its technological promise to capture time: immortality, the denial of the radical finitude of the human body, access to other temporalities, and the issue of the archivability of time … Its rhetoric echoes that which accompanied the reception of the early cinema, with its hyperbolic recourse to the figures of life, death, immortality, and infinity. The cinema would be capable of recording permanently a fleeting moment, the duration of an ephemeral smile or glance. It would preserve the lifelike movements of loved ones after their death and constitute itself as a grand archive of time.

The story provides a metaphor for the fundamental mysteries of the moving image, in what it shows, in what it supposes it shows, and in what it supposes it is able to capture. What does it mean to represent time in any case? The cinema is a mechanical thing, a conjuror’s illusion, a Cagliostro trick. It does not portray time but rather an idea of time. The narrator does not realise this, but maybe Matthews did.

‘The Kinetocope of Time’ has been much cited down the years, and the full text is reproduced in George C. Pratt’s classic compilation of original texts about the silent cinema, Spellbound in Darkness.

Tales of Fantasy and Fact is available from the Internet Archive in PDF (17MB), b/w PDF (6.2MB), full text (219KB) and DjVu (5.2MB) formats. It is available as a single story from a number of sources – Cornell University Library‘s version reproduces the look of the individual pages from the Scribner’s Magazine original, each page (GIF image) with an illustration of the appropriate vision.

Pen and pictures no. 6 – George Bernard Shaw

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The literary intelligensia of the early twentieth century responded in various ways to the appearance of moving pictures. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), more than most, responded with words. All writers depend on words, but Shaw’s reputation in particular was based on words in profusion. He loved to talk, the characters in his plays love to talk and talk, and his writings in every other form beyond the theatre were all part of an unstoppable conversation the man was compelled to have with his times. So what possible interest could there be for him in the silent film?

When the first motion pictures were projected in Britain in 1896, Shaw was already renowned as a critic and a playwright, and into the new century gained increasing stature as a public figure whose opinion on everything was sought and enthusiastically given. His plays and the long prefaces he wrote for their printed versions became vehicles for his opinions on artistic, social and political matters.

It is no surprise, therefore, that Shaw had views on the cinema. Those views were many, but mostly they can be subdivided into filmgoing, film and theatre, money, education and censorship. So let us address each one of these in turn.

Filmgoing
Shaw was a keen cinemagoer from the 1900s onwards and throughout his long life. He enjoyed the full range of dramatic delights on offer, even if he thought some of the performers poor. In this extract from a 1912 letter to the renowned stage actress Mrs Patrick Campbell, he praises Max Linder and an unnamed Danish actress (maybe Asta Nielsen):

Do you ever study the cinema? I, who go to an ordinary theatre with effort and reluctance, cannot keep away from the cinema. The actor I know best is Max Linder, though I never heard his voice or saw his actual body in my life. But the difficulty is that though good looks and grace are supremely important in the cinema, most of the films are still made from pictures of second, third and fourth rate actresses, whose delighted willingness and energy, far from making up for their commonness, make it harder to bear. There is one woman whom I should shoot if her photograph were vulnerable. At Strassburg, however, I saw a drama which had evidently been played by a first rate Danish (or otherwise Scandanavian) company,with a really attractive leading lady, very sympathetic and expressive, without classical features but with sympathetic good looks …

Interesting that Shaw at this stage cannot really see the cinema as anything other than photographed drama rather than something truly with a life of its own, to be judged by what one saw on the screen rather than by what one thought of the process by which it got there.

Shaw’s most notable commitment to cinemagoing was as one of the original subscribers to the Film Society, formed in 1925 by a coterie of British intellectuals as a place to show artistic films (chiefly from the Soviet Union) which were unviewable elsewhere. Ivor Montagu was the founder: other notable members included Julian Huxley, John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, Michael Balcon, John Gielgud and Ellen Terry. It formed the cornerstone of British intellectual film culture.

Film and theatre
Shaw was fascinated by the relationship between film and stage, as a professional writer and as a theorist. He saw that films were a threat to the drama (and would be all the more so once they acquired sound), not least for what they exposed of the specialised nature of theatre. In Shaw’s eyes, the cinema was open to a wide range of talents, while “the art of the theatre is a far more specialized, more limited, and consequently more exacting art than the art of the picture palace”. This simplistic view, from 1915, he may have revised in later years, but he saw clearly (at a time when many still believed that better films would be made by employing renowned playwrights) that the two arts differed significantly. In 1921 he wrote:

I agree with [Eugène] Brieux that cinematography is an art in itself, and that the practice of transfering stage plays from the stage to the screen is a superstition. It imposes the very narrow physical limits of the stage on the practically boundless screen; and it deprives the stage play of the only feature that distinguishes Lear from Maria Marten or The Murder in the Red Barn; that is, the dialogue. Its success is in direct propotion to the quantity of screen stuff interpolated by the film producer; the more complete the transformation, the better the result.

Authors should write for the stage and the screen; but they should not try to kill the two birds with one stone.

Money
Shaw was a professional writer. He wrote plays to air social issues, but also to make money. So he was interested in the cinema as it affected him as a writer, and also (from his socialist viewpoint) as a capitalistic enterprise. Shaw received many invitations from film companies to film his plays, requests which he turned down throughout the silent era, even as the proffered sums grew higher and higher, for two reasons: (i) because his works could only best be served by the talkies, and (ii) because once a play had be filmed, it would lose its commercial worth in the theatres. This interesting latter point he made clear in a letter to writer William Lestoq in 1919:

Pygmalion is not available for filming.

Never let anyone tempt you to have a play of yours filmed until it is stone dead. The picture palace kills it for the theatre with mortal certainty. Pygmalion is still alive and kicking very heartily.

But it was also the deals that he was being offered that offended him. He knew, in any case, that all the movie magnates really wanted from him was his name – the product they could turn to their own desires as they pleased, if he would let them. Shaw’s canny business head is revealed in this letter from 1921:

Hearst [William Randolph Hearst, the press baron, was a movie producer as well] has sounded me out on the subject of films; but he has never suggested that his very handsome purchases of serial rights from me should carry Movie Rights with them. On the contrary, it is I who have been sounding him on the subject, because if I sell a film down for £10,000 down, the taxation is so enormous, both on the sum itself and on all the rest of my income (which is raised in the scale by the addition of this big sum), that I prefer an annual payment spread over years; and yet as the film firms are here today and gone tomorrow, one cannot trust to anything but a lump sum in dealing with them. A permanent institution like W.R.H. [William Randolph Hearst] would be much safer.

Shaw signed no contract with Hearst or anyone else. Wary of the silly sums of money being waved at him, warier still of how his art might be spoiled by the screen, he hung on until sound films (whose potential had interested him since the earliest synchronised sound experiments from the 1900s) were a commercial reality. However, he has less control over what got produced in some European countries, and a Czechoslovakian version of Cashel Byron’s Profession, Román boxera, appeared in 1921, while a little-known Austrian film, Jedermanns Weib, made in 1924 by Alexander Korda and starring his wife Maria, is loosely based on Pygmalion (she plays a Montmartre flower seller who is turned into a high society lady). The film was released in Britain in 1926 (as The Folly of Doubt) but there seems no evidence that Shaw was aware of it. (Korda in later years bid for the rights for Shaw’s works, but it was another Hungarian, Gabriel Pascal, who finally gained Shaw’s trust).

Education
Shaw demonstrated his habitual imagination in his views on the value of the cinematograph in education. Most social commentators, if they could find any good word for the early cinema, would point to its possible educative possibilities, but Shaw knew how narrow such sentiments usually were. It was the cinema itself that was an education, as he wrote in The Bioscope in 1914:

The cinematograph begins educating people when the projection lantern begins clicking, and does not stop until it leaves off. Whether it is shewing [sic] you what the South Polar ice barrier is like through the films of Mr [Herbert] Ponting, or making you silly and sentimental by pictorial novelets, it is educating you all the time. And it is educating you far more effectively when you think it is only amusing you than when it is avowedly instructing you in the habits of lobsters.

The cinema was not there to teach the moral virtues but rather the “immoral virtues” of “elegance, grace, beauty … which are so much more important than the moral ones”. Shaw is being too clever, as usual, but when he ends this intellectual sally by by declaring that the cinematograph “could easily make our ugliness look ridiculous” then one starts to understand what he is trying to say. The cinema teaches us to appreciate the beautiful. How true.

Censorship
On censorship, Shaw was bracingly sensible. In this 1928 piece, he defends screenings of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and the British film Dawn (about the execution of Nurse Edith Cavell in the First World War):

All the censorships, including film censorships, are merely pretexts for retaining a legal or quasi-legal power to suppress works which the authorities dislike. No film or play is ever interfered with merely because it is vicious. Dozens of films which carry the art of stimulating crude passion of every kind to the utmost possible point – aphrodisiac films, films of hatred, violence, murder, and jingoism – appear every season and pass unchallenged under the censor’s certificates. Then suddenly a film is suppressed, and a fuss got up about its morals, or its effect on our foreign relations … One of the best films ever produced as a work of pictorial art has for its subject a naval mutiny in the Russian Fleet in 1904 … The War Office and the Admiralty immediately object to it because it does not represent the quarterdeck and G.H.Q as peopled exclusively by popular and gallant angels in uniform. It is suppressed. Then comes the Edith Cavell film. It is an extraordinarily impressive demonstration of the peculiar horror of war as placing the rules of fighting above the doctrine of Christ, and geographical patriotism about humanity. No matter: the film is at once suppressed on the ridiculous pretext that it might offend Germany … The screen may wallow in ever extremity of vulgarity and villainy provided it whitewashes authority. But let it shew a single fleck on the whitewash, and no excellence, moral, pictorial, or histrionic, can save it from prompt suppression and defamation. That is what censorship means.

dukore

Shaw’s views on cinema are boldly expressed, and touch upon every corner of its production and its relationship to society. It is fortunate that there is a volume (to which this post is much indebted) which gathers together his writings on film: Bernard F. Dukore, Bernard Shaw on Cinema (1997), which I warmly recommend. Shaw did not wholly understand the medium about which he was so ready with an opinion (something which could be said about Shaw and any number of subjects). His careful nurturing of his plays until the talkies arrived was no protection against the persuasive tongues of such producers who promised him faithfulness to his text, and the first two Shaw talkies, How He Lied to Her Husband (1931) and Arms and the Man (1932) talked too much. Only with Pygmalion (1938), one of the jewels of 1930s British cinema, did Shaw and the cinema finally understand one another (and only then after two unofficial versions, one German (1935), one Dutch (1937), had vulgarised his work to the point of unrecognisability).

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‘Well this is a surprise, have you all come to see me?’ Shaw addresses the Movietone newsreel cameras in 1929, from http://www.movietone.com

Is there anything else to add to Shaw’s interest in film in the silent era? Well, there was Shaw the film performer. As told in an earlier Pen and Pictures post, Shaw appeared in J.M. Barrie’s spoof cowboy film How Men Love, in 1914. In 1917 he turned up in the prologue, filmed at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, to the film Masks and Faces. He gives a silent ‘interview’ to Pathe Gazette in a 1927 newsreel available on the British Pathe site.

But for Shaw the word was everything, and it is no surprise that his real film debut came with sound. He made a short film of some kind in 1926 (according to Dukore it was a ‘filmed interview’ made using film and phonograph, produced in Italy), and may have been interviewed for the Lee De Forest Phonofilm system in 1927 (information on this is contradictory). But it was in 1928 that he caused a sensation with his ebullient address to the Movietone newsreel cameras:

Well this is a surprise, have you all come to see me … ladies and gentlemen well I should never have expected this … its extremely kind of you and I’m very glad to see you … I’m very glad to have come as I like people to see me, I don’t know how it is but people who only know me from reading my books or sometimes see my plays get an unpleasant impression of me, and the people who meet me as you’ve been kind enough to meet me, when they see that I’m a most harmless person, I’m really a most kindly person …

This was a man who needed the camera to hear him.

(You can see and hear the 1928 interview at www.movietone.com – you have to register first, but it is free thereafter. The site dates the film as 1929, but that is for its British release).

Are you ready? Shoot!

Until now, we have not had any fictional works in the Bioscope Library (the collection of texts on silent cinema which are freely available online from assorted sources). First up, therefore, is one of the first – if not the first – novels to tackle the subject of film (it was preceded by numerous short stories on the theme), Luigi Pirandello’s Si gira, published under that title in 1915 and in revised form in 1925 as Quaderni di Serafino Gubbio operatore (The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator), the latter published in English in 1927 as Shoot!.

Pirandello, one of Italy’s greatest writers, best known for plays such as Six Characters in Search of an Author), does not have much good to say about cinema. Si gira is a bitter attack on modernity, in which Gubbio, the first-person narrator, becomes one with his machine in being increasingly desensitized to true life, a denial or absence of experience which is transmitted to people through that arch-representation of modern life, the cinema. The sense of the disturbing nature of modernity as annoying, incessant noise, with the cinematograph as machine, comes out in this passage:

There is one nuisance, however, that does not pass away. Do you hear it? A hornet that is always buzzing, forbidding, grim, surly, diffused, and never stops. What is it? The hum of the telegraph poles? The endless scream of the trolley along the overhead wire of the electric trams? The urgent throb of all those countless machines, near and far? That of the engine of the motor-car? Of the cinematograph?

The beating of the heart is not felt, nor do we feel the pulsing of our arteries. The worse for us if we did! But this buzzing, this perpetual ticking we do notice, and I say that all this furious haste is not natural, all this flickering and vanishing of images; but that there lies beneath it a machine which seems to pursue it, frantically screaming.

Will it break down?

Serafino Gubbio is a cinematographer operator working the Kosmograph studio by day, and writing his absurdist journal by night, as he describes the world that appears before his camera. Pirandello doesn’t attack the cinematograph so much for its own sake as to use it as a means to broaden his target to include all that is dehumanizing. His camera alienates him from society; the act of writing helps him recover his humanity. It is a thesis that some will recognise in Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Reproduction’, and Benjamin cites Pirandello’s book as identifying the alienation inherent in the film performance – “the part is not acted for an audience but for a mechanical contrivance”. Says Pirandello (or rather, Gubbio):

Here they feel as though they were in exile. In exile, not only from the stage, but also in a sense from themselves. Because their action, the ‘live’ action of their ‘live’ bodies, there, on the screen of the cinematograph, no longer exists: it is ‘their image’ alone, caught in a moment, in a gesture, expression, that flickers and disappears. They are confusedly aware, with a maddening, indefinable sense of emptiness, that their bodies are so to speak subtracted, suppressed, deprived of their reality, of breath, of voice, of the sound that they make in moving about, to become only a dumb image which quivers for a moment on the screen and disappears, in silence, in an instant, like an unsubstantial phantom, the play of illusion upon a dingy sheet of cloth.

Ah, poor movies, cause of such anguish and alienation among the intelligensia. How much Si gira represents Pirandello’s own point of view is a matter of debate. There is some knowledge of the workings of the film industry, and Kosmograph owes something to the great Italian studios of the period, such as Cines. But one does not read Si gira (the English title, Shoot, is the phrase so constantly used of Gubbio that it becomes his name in effect) for any documentary accuracy. Its subject is the human, or the ongoing death of the human, rather than cinema per se.

The book is freely available from the Australian branch of Project Gutenberg (oddly enough, it is not on the main Gutenberg site), in its 1927 English translation by C.K. Scott Moncrieff. The same translation is published by Chicago University Press.

Pen and pictures no. 5 – John Buchan

For the next in our series of literary figures who became involved in their various ways with silent films, we turn to John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (1875-1940). Assorted films and television programmes have of course been made of Buchan’s popular novels, in particular The Thirty-Nine Steps, but it is not the adaptation of Buchan’s work that interest us here (almost all of which come after the silent era), but rather his probably unique contribution to film production – unique, that is, for a novelist. For during the First World War Buchan served as the head of the Department of Information, with responsibility for British propaganda, and consequently was the person ultimately responsible, at least for a time, for British official films of the war.

Though these things are partly a question of much contested definition, it is generally held that the arts of state propaganda, through use of the mass media, were established during the First World War, and that the British were the masters of those arts. Certainly the British were quick off the mark, seting up the covert War Propaganda Bureau under MP Charles Masterman within days of the outbreak of war. One of Masterman’s first acts was to invite a number of Britain’s leading authors to Wellington House (the Bureau’s London headquarters) to discuss how they could use their arts secretly (i.e. without anyone knowing that they were being guided by the government) to promote British interests. Those invited to the meeting on 2 September 1914 included Thomas Hardy, Arnold Bennett, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling (who was unable to attend), H.G. Wells, John Galsworthy and J.M. Barrie.

The War Propaganda Bureau wanted to use the literary intelligensia for all the influence on hearts and minds that they could command, but Masterman was also interested in using film to target other audiences, and commissioned Charles Urban to produce a documentary feature, Britain Prepared (1915), which was exhibited around the world.

John Buchan was not yet of sufficient literary eminence to be named among Masterman’s greats, but he had political experience, having served as private secretary to Alfred Milner, the High Commissioner for South Africa. His African adventure novel, Prester John (1910), enjoyed great popularity, and The Thirty Nine Steps in 1915 made him famous. Buchan was increasingly courted by the British authorities, leading delegations and delivering lectures on behalf of the Foreign Office and the War Office. Meanwhile, the somewhat elitist approach of the War Propaganda Bureau was coming under increasing internal criticism (the public knew nothing of its existence). Buchan’s former mentor recommended Buchan to the new Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and after Buchan had written a memorandum on propaganda for the cabinet in January 1917, a new Department of Information (DOI) was set up, with Buchan as its head.

British propaganda policy had originally targeted neutral nations, particularly America, with the hope that America might join Britain as combatant. Not long after Buchan took over, America did indeed join the war, but the need for a propaganda policy was felt all the more, now to persuade America of Britain’s contribution to the fighting, while seeking to keep a war-weary home audience convinced of the necessity of the struggle. Film had become an increasingly important aspect of this work, particularly as the emphasis shifted from convincing influential elites to persuading the masses.

Buchan was therefore in charge when an official newsreel was established, the War Office Official Topical Budget, a wide variety of actuality, documentary and instructional films were produced and distributed around the world (including the feature-length documentaries The Battle of the Ancre and The Battle of Arras), and production started on the fiction epic Hearts of the World, directed by D.W. Griffith. This was bold and committed policy, a world away from the general suspicion – if not contempt – that most of those in authority felt towards film (and its lowly audiences) at the start of the war. However, the DOI Cinematograph department battled throughout 1917 with the War Office Cinematograph Committee (WOCC), which produced most of the films, for overall control. The WOCC was run by Max Aitken, soon to be Lord Beaverbrook, who ultimately had greater political clout than Buchan. He took charge of British propaganda when he became head of a new Ministry of Information early in 1918, for the first time unifying the various conflicting strands of British war information policy (including film). Buchan became Director of Intelligence under him.

Buchan therefore had a strategic eye over film as a part of propaganda policy in 1917, but Beaverbrook (later to be a notorious newspaper magnate) was closer to the actual production of films, and ultimately did more with them. Nevertheless Buchan recognised the necessity and the potential effectiveness of film as a medium of persuasion. But, like most of his class, he found the medium had its ridiculous side. This sense of the absurd comes out in the Richard Hannay novel (Hannay is the hero of The Thirty-Nine Steps) that Buchan published in 1919, Mr Standfast.

In the novel, Hannay is being pursued and is running across Yorkshire moorlands when he stumbles across a peculiar scene, which gives us some insight into Buchan’s view of the industry with which he had to tangle:

Suddenly from just in front of me came a familiar sound. It was the roar of guns – the slam of field-batteries and the boom of small howitzers. I wondered if I had gone off my head. As I plodded on the rattle of machine-guns was added, and over the ridge before me I saw the dust and fumes of bursting shells. I concluded that I was not mad, and that therefore the Germans must have landed. I crawled up the last slope, quite forgetting the pursuit behind me.

And then I’m blessed if I did not look down on a veritable battle.

There were two sets of trenches with barbed wire and all the fixings, one set filled with troops and the other empty. On these latter shells were bursting, but there was no sign of life in them. In the other lines there seemed the better part of two brigades, and the first trench was stiff with bayonets. My first thought was that Home Forces had gone dotty, for this kind of show could have no sort of training value. And then I saw other things – cameras and camera-men on platforms on the flanks, and men with megaphones behind them on wooden scaffoldings. One of the megaphones was going full blast all the time.

I saw the meaning of the performance at last. Some movie-merchant had got a graft with the Government, and troops had been turned out to make a war film. It occurred to me that if I were mixed up in that push I might get the cover I was looking for. I scurried down the hill to the nearest camera-man.

As I ran, the first wave of troops went over the top. They did it uncommon well, for they entered into the spirit of the thing, and went over with grim faces and that slow, purposeful lope that I had seen in my own fellows at Arras. Smoke grenades burst among them, and now and then some resourceful mountebank would roll over. Altogether it was about the best show I have ever seen. The cameras clicked, the guns banged, a background of boy scouts applauded, and the dust rose in billows to the sky.

But all the same something was wrong. I could imagine that this kind of business took a good deal of planning from the point of view of the movie-merchant, for his purpose was not the same as that of the officer in command. You know how a photographer finicks about and is dissatisfied with a pose that seems all right to his sitter. I should have thought the spectacle enough to get any cinema audience off their feet, but the man on the scaffolding near me judged differently. He made his megaphone like the swan-song of a dying buffalo. He wanted to change something and didn’t know how to do it. He hopped on one leg; he took the megaphone from his mouth to curse; he waved it like a banner and yelled at some opposite number on the other flank. And then his patience forsook him and he skipped down the ladder, dropping his megaphone, past the camera-men, on to the battlefield.

That was his undoing. He got in the way of the second wave and was swallowed up like a leaf in a torrent. For a moment I saw a red face and a loud-checked suit, and the rest was silence. He was carried on over the hill, or rolled into an enemy trench, but anyhow he was lost to my ken.

I bagged his megaphone and hopped up the steps to the platform. At last I saw a chance of first-class cover, for with Archie’s coat and cap I made a very good appearance as a movie-merchant. Two waves had gone over the top, and the cinema-men, working like beavers, had filmed the lot. But there was still a fair amount of troops to play with, and I determined to tangle up that outfit so that the fellows who were after me would have better things to think about.

My advantage was that I knew how to command men. I could see that my opposite number with the megaphone was helpless, for the mistake which had swept my man into a shell-hole had reduced him to impotence. The troops seemed to be mainly in charge of N.C.O.s (I could imagine that the officers would try to shirk this business), and an N.C.O. is the most literal creature on earth. So with my megaphone I proceeded to change the battle order.

I brought up the third wave to the front trenches. In about three minutes the men had recognized the professional touch and were moving smartly to my orders. They thought it was part of the show, and the obedient cameras clicked at everything that came into their orbit. My aim was to deploy the troops on too narrow a front so that they were bound to fan outward, and I had to be quick about it, for I didn’t know when the hapless movie-merchant might be retrieved from the battle-field and dispute my authority.

It takes a long time to straighten a thing out, but it does not take long to tangle it, especially when the thing is so delicate as disciplined troops. In about eight minutes I had produced chaos. The flanks spread out, in spite of all the shepherding of the N.C.O.s, and the fringe engulfed the photographers. The cameras on their platforms went down like ninepins. It was solemn to see the startled face of a photographer, taken unawares, supplicating the purposeful infantry, before he was swept off his feet into speechlessness.

It was no place for me to linger in, so I chucked away the megaphone and got mixed up with the tail of the third wave. I was swept on and came to anchor in the enemy trenches, where I found, as I expected, my profane and breathless predecessor, the movie-merchant. I had nothing to say to him, so I stuck to the trench till it ended against the slope of the hill.

It is gentle mockery, and there’s a degree of sympathy for the filmmaking process, in that Hannay thinks that the scenes will impress their target audience, but also a touch of naivety in how he believes the director could so easily lose control of his own film. Was Buchan thinking of any director in particular? Griffith hardly seems to be the target, but maybe there is an element of Herbert Brenon, who late in 1917 (during Buchan’s time with the DOI) began filming another officially-backed but ill-fated feature-length fiction film, which was to have been called Victory and Peace (it was unfinished at the end of the war and was never exhibited). It was filmed in Chester with British troops used to portray Germans (the scenario was provided by Hall Caine, a once famous and now unreadable author, who was one of those invited to Masterman’s meeting on 2 September 1914). But I doubt that Brenon ever wore a loud-checked suit.

Buchan had some connection with the film business after the war, joining the board of British Instructional Films in 1925, and contributing to the script of one of the company’s acclaimed semi-documentary recreations of events from the war, The Battles of the Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927), directed by Walter Summers. His novel Huntingtower was filmed by George Pearson in 1928 (Prester John had been filmed in South Africa by African Film Productions in 1920).

Buchan could be argued to have had the greatest influence over film production of any author during the silent era, albeit for a year only. His political role in overseeing British official film production as an integral part of British propaganda policy had little connection with his fiction, but he treated the medium with greater respect than the comedy of the Mr Standfast scene might suggest. Nevertheless, the passage shows how Buchan intellectually remained at a remove from this popular, peculiar new medium, and it was Beaverbrook who showed the greater instinctive feeling for film, its audiences, and for the political arts of propaganda in general.

Pen and pictures no. 4 – Evelyn Waugh

Evelyn Waugh (right) and John Greenidge in The Scarlet Woman

The subject of the latest in our series on literary figures and silent film is unusual in that his significant engagement with film preceded his first book publication. Evelyn Waugh was twenty-one, had just come down from Oxford, and was working on a novel, The Temple of Thatch (which was never to be completed), when he became involved in films.

Waugh was both fascinated and repelled by cinema. He professed a lowly opinion of films and commercial film production, but he was a compulsive filmgoer throughout his life (as his diaries reveal), and was fascinated by the narrative qualities of the medium. Such qualities he admired when appropriated in the literary works of others (Ronald Firbank, Graham Greene), and encouraged in other would-be writers, as in this 1921 exhortation to his friend Dudley Carew:

Try and bring home thoughts by actions and incidents. Don’t make everything said. This is the inestimable value of the Cinema to novelists (don’t scoff at this as a cheap epigram it is really very true). Make things happen. … Whatever the temptation, for God’s sake don’t bring characters on simply to draw their characters and make them talk. Fit them into a design. … It is a damn good idea. Don’t spoil it out of slackness or perversity but do MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. Have a murder in every chapter if you like but do do something. GO TO THE CINEMA and risk the headache.

Waugh found inspiration in films not for pictorial values as such, but in what he saw films could offer in terms of narrative design and continuity, of montage, propulsion, and changing fields of vision. Moreover, Waugh the satirist was inspired by film’s propensity for exposing falsity through display. As George McCartney (in Confused Roaring: Evelyn Waugh and the Modernist Tradition) puts it, ‘the medium’s peculiar perceptual qualities seemed to express just those unquestioned assumptions of his age that he most wanted to satirize’. Waugh would first experiment with filmic devices in his fiction in the 1926 short story ‘The Balance’, which uses scene directions and titles in the manner of a silent film, but before then he had engaged directly in exploring film’s potential to expose human folly.

One of Waugh’s Oxford friends, Terence Greenidge, was an enthusiastic member of the university’s cinema club and had acquired a 16mm camera. Greenidge made several satirical amateur films in early to mid-1920s, including 666, The Mummers, and The Cities of the Plain, in the first and third of which at least Waugh acted, for the latter as a ‘lecherous black clergyman’. None of these films is known to survive. Greenidge later wrote of the new-found enthusiasm for cinema among Oxford undergraduates at this time:

After ‘The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari’ had been shown in our city there was only one topic of conversation at gatherings of the Aesthetic individuals for several weeks to come. Finally undergraduates began to turn to the big task of film-production itself. Various nomadic groups made several vigorous little burlesques, negligible from the point of view of artistic quality, but capable of raising a good laugh in the University clubs wherein they were shown – and at any rate films.

One of Greenidge’s films does survive, however: The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama. As the titles of the lost films indicate, religion was a favourite target, and for The Scarlet Woman Waugh provided the scenario, as well as acting in the film. It is a ribald satire on the Roman Catholic church, concerning as it does the attempt of the Dean of Balliol to convert the English monarchy to Catholicism. Waugh was of course to convert to Catholicism just a few years later, which gives The Scarlet Woman a particular piquancy, the final rebellious assault of one more drawn to the religion than he knew.

With £6 put up by each of the leading performers to finance the production, filming started in July 1924 and lasted largely until September, though the film was not ready for showing until November 1925, when it received its premiere in Oxford. We know a fair bit about the film’s production, from Waugh’s autobiography A Little Learning and the diaries, where he wearily records that he was quite disgusted with how bad it was. However, such disdain has an air of show about it: in A Little Learning, his brief account of the film’s production does refer to ‘the fun of our venture’, particularly noting his father’s delight in the amateur theatrical nature of the filming, recognising his own possessions being used as props. In the film Waugh acts his two parts with gusto. He plays the Catholic Dean of Balliol, a real figure of Waugh’s acquaintance whom he had come to despise, depicting him as a blonde-wigged homosexual with designs on the Prince of Wales; Waugh also plays the impecunious peer Lord Borrowington. Other performers John Sutro as Cardinal Montefiasco, Waugh’s writer brother Alec Waugh, as the cardinal’s drunken mother, Lord Elmley as the Lord Chamberlain, Guy Hemingway as the Pope, John Greenidge as the Prince of Wales, and Terence Greenidge as a Jesuit priest.

Elsa Lanchester and Evelyn Waugh in The Scarlet Woman, from An Evelyn Waugh Website (www.abbotshill.freeserve.co.uk)

What makes the film exceptional, apart from Waugh’s contribution, is the appearance of the young Elsa Lanchester. The same age as Waugh, the precocious Lanchester ran a London club called The Cave of Harmony, which Waugh often frequented. Playing the drug-addicted actress Beatrice de Carolle, who attracts the Prince of Wales away from the lascivious Dean, she clearly demonstrates the talent that would see her in Hollywood ten years later, married to Frankenstein’s monster. The film was shot in Oxford, on Hampstead Heath, and in the Waugh family’s Hampstead back garden. Waugh recalled that his publisher father was delighted at this new extension of the notion of amateur theatricals:

My father fully appreciated the fun of our venture … he delighted to find the cast at his table and when the film was shown him took particular satisfaction in recognising his own possessions. ‘That’s my chair’ … ‘Take care you don’t break that decanter.’

The film was first shown at the Oxford University Dramatic Society, where the future composer Lennox Berkeley provided the music accompaniment with gramophone recordings. A second screening was requested by the Society of Jesus at Campion Hall. Showing that the Catholic Church could take a joke, Father C.C. Martindale sanctioned a subtitle that remains on the print: ‘Nihil Obstat – projiciatur – C.C. Martindale SJ’. It was only ever shown among friends and private groups. Greenidge retained a copy, exhibiting it from time to time, and it resurfaced in the 1960s and is now preserved by the BFI National Archive.

The Scarlet Woman (which runs for 45mins) is both a juvenile jape, and an extraordinary window into the evolution of a satirical mind. Elsa Lanchester’s fevered performance raises it to a level that sometimes matches its pretensions, and makes it watchable today. It is an amateur film in perfomance, costumes, sets, picture quality and so forth, but judged on its own merits it has survived remarkably well. Waugh published his first novel, Decline and Fall, in 1928, and became a Roman Catholic in 1930. In the 1930s he worked for a time for Alexander Korda writing film scenarios (of which the title Lovelies from America indicates the wild improbabilty of any of Waugh’s work ever being produced). He was never involved in film production again, but offered a vicious satire of Hollywood life and the American way of death in his novel The Loved One.

More information on the film’s production can be found on the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter vol. 3 no. 2 (1969), which has much information on its rediscovery in the 1960s and records all of the intertitles, and on the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies vol. 33 no. 2 (Autumn 2002), which has a detailed description of the film’s action. Both are available online. The Scarlet Woman is available on DVD from Charles Linck, P.O. Box 3002 TAMU-C, Commerce, Texas 75429, USA, email linck [at] tamu-commerce.edu (earlier VHS copies were transferred at sound speed; the DVD corrects this). It can also be seen for free by anyone passing through London at the BFI Mediatheque on the South Bank.

Pen and pictures no. 3 – J.M. Barrie

There were many authors in the silent era of cinema who dabbled with the film business, usually by having their works adapted for the screen. But some went further. J.M. Barrie, now chiefly known for Peter Pan, and for his custody of the sons of the Llewellyn-Davies family, the ‘Lost Boys’ (as recently retold in the film Finding Neverland), was among the most highly regarded writers of his time, as a novelist and especially as a dramatist. Barrie was fascinated by the cinema. Many silent films were made from his plays, among them Male and Female (1919, based on The Admirable Crichton), Peter Pan (1924) and A Kiss for Cinderella (1926). For Peter Pan Barrie wrote an original script, though it was not used. But Barrie did more than dabble with film scripts – he had been making his own films, which experimented with the relationship between film and theatre, fantasy and reality.

Two of these films were each connected with a combined theatre-and-film revue that Barrie had dreamt up in July 1914, only to abandon. Barrie had become fascinated by the French music hall actress, Gaby Delys, and wanted to write a revue for her that would extend his dramatic capabilities, and which would allow him to experiment with the borderline between cinema and theatre. He made notes to himself that indicate his radical way of thinking:

Combine theatre with cinematography – Cinema way of kissing. Burlesque of American titles, ‘Nope’ & ‘Yep’ – Gaby a chorus-girl, flirts with conductor in pit.

Barrie’s ideas became more ambitious. He organised a ‘Cinema Supper’ at the Savoy Hotel in London, to which he was able to invite such luminaries as the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, Edward Elgar, George Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton. His august guests first went to the Savoy Theatre to a series of short sketches written by Barrie and acted by such theatrical greats as Marie Lohr, Dion Boucicault, Marie Tempest, Gerald Du Maurier and Edmund Gwenn, before moving to the Savoy Hotel for supper, Barrie having hired a team of cameramen to film everyone arriving and then seated at their tables. Many apparently had no idea that they were being filmed, though the necessary lighting must sure have raised some questions among some. At one point in the evening Bernard Shaw got up and started delivering a speech haranguing three other guests present, namely G.K. Chesterton, the drama critic William Archer and the philanthropist Lord Howard de Walden, getting so heated as to start waving a sword around. The three he had insulted then all got up, bearing swords of their own, and chased him off stage. This was all a further part of Barrie’s plan, and according to Chesterton, Barrie had ‘some symbolical notion of our vanishing from real life and being captured or caught up into the film world of romance; being engaged through all the rest of the play in struggling to fight our way back to reality’.

The following day came the second part of Barrie’s plans. He had hired a cameraman, and with the playwright and theatre producer Harley Granville-Barker as director, he made a comedy Western, starring Shaw, Archer, de Walden and Chesterton. Chesterton has left us with the best description of this extraordinary little episode:

We went down to the waste land in Essex and found our Wild West equipment. But considerable indignation was felt against William Archer; who, with true Scottish foresight, arrived there first and put on the best pair of trousers … We … were rolled in barrels, roped over fake precipices and eventually turned loose in a field to lasso wild ponies, which were so tame that they ran after us instead of our running after them, and nosed in our pockets for pieces of sugar. Whatever may be the strain on credulity, it is also a fact that we all got on the same motor-bicycle; the wheels of which were spun round under us to produce the illusion of hurtling like a thunderbolt down the mountain-pass. When the rest finally vanished over the cliffs, clinging to the rope, they left me behind as a necessary weight to secure it; and Granville-Barker kept on calling out to me to Register Self-Sacrifice and Register Resignation, which I did with such wild and sweeping gestures as occurred to me; not, I am proud to say, without general applause. And all this time Barrie, with his little figure behind his large pipe, was standing about in an impenetrable manner; and nothing could extract from him the faintest indication of why we were being put through these ordeals.

Chesterton says that the film was never shown, while Barrie’s biographer Denis Mackail suggests that Barrie’s ideas were still half-formed and objections from some of the participants (notably Herbert Asquith, who sent a stern letter from 10 Downing Street forbidding his celluloid likeness from being used in a theatrical revue) caused both films to be withdrawn. However, the cowboy film was shown publicly, two years later at a war hospital charity screening at the London Coliseum on 10 June 1916, where it was given the splendid title of How Men Love. A review of the event indicates that Chesterton’s description of the action is what was seen on the screen, with the added detail that the others hanging from the rope over a cliff were too much even for a man of his great bulk to support, and he was forced to drop them. According to Mackail, a print was still in existence in 1941, but sadly no copy is known to exist today. Happily, this photograph does exist to demonstrate that it was not all just some mad dream:

(Left to right) Lord Howard de Walden, William Archer, J.M. Barrie, G.K. Chesterton and Bernard Shaw, in the middle of making the cowboy film How Men Love. From Peter Whitebrook, William Archer: A Biography

After a revue of his, Rosy Rapture, the Pride of the Beauty Chorus (1915), starring Gaby Delys, had a filmed sequence directed by Percy Nash included in one scene, Barrie turned filmmaker again in 1916. The Real Thing at Last was a professional film production by the British Actors Film Company, for which Barrie supplied the script. 1916 was the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death, and among numerous celebratory productions, there was to be a Hollywood production of Macbeth, produced by D.W. Griffith and starring the English actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. The idea of Hollywood tackling Shakespeare filled many with hilarity, and Barrie wrote a thirty-minute spoof which contrasted Macbeth as it might be produced in Britain, with how it would be treated in America. The film starred Edmund Gwenn as Macbeth, and among a notable cast Leslie Henson and A.E. Matthews both have left droll accounts of its production.

The film had a director, L.C. MacBean, but according to Matthews, ‘Barrie did all the work – MacBean just looked on admiringly’. The film gained all its humour from the contrasts in the British and American interpretations of Macbeth. In the British version, Lady Macbeth wiped a small amount of blood from her hands; in the American she had to wash away gallons of the stuff. In the British, the witches danced around a small cauldron; in the American the witches became dancing beauties cavorting around a huge cauldron. In the British, Macbeth and Macduff fought in a ditch; in the American Macbeth falls to his death from a skyscraper. The intertitles were similarly affected; a telegram was delivered to Macbeth that read, ‘If Birnam Wood moves, it’s a cinch’. Sadly, no copy (nor even a photograph, it seems) of this happy jest of Barrie’s is known to exist today.

What does exist, however, is The Yellow Week at Stanway. This film was made in 1923, and is a record of a house party held by Barrie at Stanway, the Cotswolds home of Lord and Lady Wemyss, which Barrie rented every summer. Barrie invited his many guests, which on one occasion included the entire Australian cricket team, to take part in theatricals, cricket matches and other such entertainments, and in 1923 he hired a professional cameraman, name unknown, to film a story that he initially called Nicholas’s Dream. Nicholas, or Nico, was the youngest of the five Llewellyn-Davies boys, and a little of their history is required to put the film in proper context.

The five boys were the sons of Arthur and Sylvia Llewellyn-Davies, friends of J.M. Barrie and the models for Mr and Mrs Darling in Peter Pan. Both died tragically early, with Barrie assuming the guardianship of the five boys. They were, of course, the inspiration for the ‘Lost Boys’ of Barrie’s imagination, and Michael Llewellyn-Davies in particular became the inspiration for the character of Peter Pan. But the family was to be visited by further tragedy. George, the eldest, was killed in action in 1915, then Michael, Barrie’s favourite, was drowned in 1921. Two of the others, Jack and Peter, moved away from Barrie, and the youngest, Nico, still at school at Eton, stayed with Barrie during holidays but felt Michael’s death deeply and knew that he was no substitute for him.

It is with this background, knowing both Nico and Barrie’s great personal sadness, that we should look at The Yellow Week at Stanway, which records a Stanway house party in 1923 to which Nico invited several of his Eton friends, with a complementary female component made up of friends of the Wemyss family, whose daughter Cynthia Asquith was Barrie’s secretary. She has provided us with a short account of the film’s production:

He [Barrie] was in marvelous form all through the cricket week, and in his most masterful mood – presenting the Eleven with special caps at a speech – making dinner, and summoning from London a ‘camera-man’ to film a fantasy called Nicholas’s Dream, into which he’d woven a part for everyone – a bicycling one for me. He also wrote a duologue for me and sister Mary. It was great fun having her to beguile the Etonians. Pamela Lytton, as lovely as ever, came, too, with her daughter, Hermione.

The film is largely in the standard home movie style (albeit at a time when home movies were a comparative rarity), with some simple trick effects and a distinctive tone of whimsy typical of Barrie, who wrote all of the rhyming intertitles as well as directing the film. It begins with the title, ‘The Yellow Week at Stanway. A record of fair women and brainy men’. The opening shots establish Stanway house and the Wemyss family. Nico Llewellyn-Davies greets the various guests for the Cricket Week, including roughly equal numbers of young men and women.

A game of cricket follows, where the umpire appears to be Barrie. A couple of rudimentary trick shots, with people disappearing or riding bicycles backwards come next, before an extended fantasy sequence. Nico is seen to fall asleep in ‘the forest of Arden’, and in his dream he seeks ‘his Rosalind’ but sees all the other house guests pair up without him. Mary Strickland leaves him for Anthony Lytton; another couple walk away when he greets them; another couple hit croquet balls at him; two others cycle past him; even Nico’s dog abandons him. Each vignette is accompanied by Barrie’s rhyming titles documenting Nico’s series of rejections.

Nicholas, Antony and Mary –
‘Your offer’s read sir, and declined
I will not be your Rosalind.’

Edward and Pamela –
From the East to Western Ind
To Edward comes his Rosalind.

Sam and Rosemary –
Same drove him off with deeds unkind
And so did gentle Rosalind.

Pasty and Hermione –
If t’were not that love is blind
He’d keep an eye on Rosalind.

Eventually he wakes to find himself petted by all of the women, while the men walk away in disgust.

Following some further general shots, there comes the film’s most intriguing sequence. A title introduces ‘The Pirates’ Lagoon. An intruder’. Barrie and Michael Asquith (Cynthia Asquith’s young son) are seen on a small punt on a pond. The next title reads, ‘Michael the captain could stand when pressed. But drink and the devil had done for the rest.’ Michael and three other children, including his younger brother Simon, are seen in a boat. ‘’Ware the Redskins’, reads the next title, and Michael points a gun and a smaller boy a bow and arrow. ‘Escaping the tomahawks by a miracle’, reads the title, ‘Red Michael reached Stanway by a perilous descent.’ Michael is shown climbing through a window. The film concludes with Nico pretending to sleep and embracing an imaginary person; final shots of Stanway and the house guests; shots of Eton school; and concluding with Simon and Michael Asquith waving handkerchiefs through windows in a garden wall.

J.M. Barrie and Michael Asquith in The Yellow Week at Stanway, from http://www.knebworthhouse.com

The film is jointed, illogical and often plain silly in the manner of many home movies. The two fantasy sequences are notable, however. The ‘Nicholas’s Dream’ betrays some unfathomable and unconscious cruelty on Barrie’s part, depicting Nico as the unloved outsider, rejected by his peers, denied the pleasures of young love. Its allusions to Shakespeare’s As You Like It prefigure Barrie’s later involvement in the 1936 film of the play (the later film’s credits read ‘treatment suggested by J.M. Barrie’), with Elisabeth Bergner as a Peter Pan-like Rosalind. The pirate sequence, though brief and not elaborate in any way, is remarkably close in conception to his photo-story The Boy Castaways which was in turn the inspiration for Peter Pan.

The Yellow Week at Stanway is preserved in the BFI National Archive, and you can read the minutely detailed shotlist (penned by yours truly, long ago) on the BFI database. And there is just a fleeting extract from the film available on the Knebworth House website, showing Barrie and Michael Asquith on a punt.

Finally, just for the record, here’s a filmography of films from the silent era made from Barrie’s plays (play’s name where different in brackets), demonstrating just how popular his works were – and how ingenious producers were in renaming The Admirable Crichton:

  • US 1910 Back to Nature [The Admirable Crichton]
    p.c. Vitagraph Company of America
  • US 1913 The Little Minister
    d. James Young p.c. Vitagraph Company of America
  • US 1913 Shipwrecked [The Admirable Crichton]
    p.c. Kalem
  • US 1914 The Man of her Choice [The Admirable Crichton]
    p.c. Powers
  • US 1915 The Little Gypsy [The Little Minister]
    d. Oscar C. Apfel p.c. Fox
  • GB 1915 The Little Minister
    d. Percy Nash p.c. Neptune
  • GB 1915 Rosy Rapture, the Pride of the Beauty Chorus
    d. Percy Nash p.c. Neptune [for use in the play’s stage production (scene six)]
  • GB 1917 What Every Woman Knows
    d. Fred W. Durrant p.c. Barker-Neptune
  • GB 1918 The Admirable Crichton
    d. G.B. Samuelson p.c. Samuelson
  • US 1919 Male and Female [The Admirable Crichton]
    d. Cecil B. DeMille p.c. Famous Players-Lasky
  • US 1920 Half an Hour
    d. Harley Knoles p.c. Famous Players-Lasky
  • GB 1920 The Twelve Pound Look
    d. Jack Denton p.c. Ideal
  • US 1921 The Little Minister
    d. Penrhyn Stanlaws p.c. Famous Players-Lasky
  • US 1921 Sentimental Tommy
    d. John S. Robertson p.c. Famous Players-Lasky
  • US 1921 What Every Woman Knows
    d. William C. DeMille p.c. Famous Players-Lasky
  • GB 1921 The Will
    d. A.V. Bramble p.c. Ideal
  • US 1922 The Little Minister
    d. David Smith p.c. Vitagraph Company of America
  • US 1924 Peter Pan
    d. Herbert Brenon p.c. Famous Players-Lasky
  • US 1925 Peter Pan Handled (Dinky Doodle series) [featured Peter Pan as a character] [animation]
    d. Walter Lantz p.c. Bray Productions
  • US 1926 A Kiss for Cinerella
    d. Herbert Brenon p.c. Famous Players-Lasky
  • US 1927 Quality Street
    d. Sidney Franklin p.c. Cosmopolitan Productions