Bioscope Newsreel no. 36

Spot the difference

It is hard for any news provider to offer a full service at Christmas time, but even harder for the person trying to document silent films when there is only one story on everyone’s minds. The newsfeeds are choc-a-bloc with reviews of The Artist and thought pieces on what it all means when a silent film gets made in 2011. Part of the same silent mania is Martin Scorsese’s cine-nostalgic Hugo, and it only takes two films on a broadly similar theme for the world to discover a trend and seek to explain it. But we shall do our best to report what is worth reporting. And so we start with …

Silent films after The Artist and Hugo
Daniel Eagen at the Smithsonian’s rather fine Reel Culture blog takes a wry look at the impassioned debates both The Artist and Hugo have caused, viewing with amusement both those instant experts on silents who have hitched onto the bandwagon and the ‘film geeks’ who are agonising over the fine details. What is it that is so different about silent films? Eagen suggests that there probably isn’t anything different at all. Maybe they are just films, much like films of today. Read more.

Toronto Silent Film Festival
The schedule for the Toronto Silent Films Festival (one of the newer festivals out there) has been published. Lined up include Clara Bow in Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Murnau’s Tabu (1931), Rudoph Valentino in Blood and Sand (1922) and E.A. Dupont’s much-cited but not all that often seen Variety (1925). The festival runs 29 March-3 April 2012. Read more.

The birth of promotion
New York Public Library is currently hosting an exhibition on promotional and distibution materials from the silent era, entitled “The Birth of Promotion: Inventing Film Publicity in the Silent-Film Era”. The exhibition runs until January and has a cheerful promotional video. The New York Times has a fine survey of the exhibition and history its documents. Read more.

Life in the air
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley are putting on a series of silent films devoted to aviation in its broadest sense. “Dizzy Heights: Silent Cinema and Life in the Air” takes place 23-26 February 2012 and has been imaginatively curated by Patrick Ellis, with such titles as High Treason (UK 1929), A Trip to Mars (Denmark 1918) and rarity The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower (France 1927). Read more.

Keaton in colour
Kino has been doing a great job releasing Buster Keaton’s work on Blu-Ray. Their latest release is Seven Chances (1925), with its Brewster’s Millions-style plot (Buster must marry before 7pm to inherit $7M) and the famous scene when Buster is pursued downhill by an absurd number of boulders. This ‘ultimate edition’ is of especial interest for including the film’s two-colour Technicolor opening sequence. It also comes with the classic shorts Neighbors (1920) and The Balloonatic (1923). Read more.

Now where have I seen that before?
A sixth item for once, and it’s another Kino release, this time a boxed set of some of its silent classics cheekily packaged to look like the poster for for a certain Oscar favourite and entitled The Artists. Full marks to somebody in their marketing team for the sheer nerve of it. Read more.

All these stories and more on our daily news service.

‘Til next time!

Looking back on 2011

News in 2011, clockwise from top left: The White Shadow, The Artist, A Trip to the Moon in colour, Brides of Sulu

And so we come to the end of another year, and for the Bioscope it is time to look back on another year reporting on the world of early and silent film. Over the twelve months we have written some 180 posts posts, or well nigh 100,000 words, documenting a year that has been as eventful a one for silent films as we can remember, chiefly due to the timeless 150-year-old Georges Méliès and to the popular discovery of the modern silent film thanks to The Artist. So let’s look back on 2011.

Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès in Hugo

Georges Méliès has been the man of the year. Things kicked off in May with the premiere at Cannes of the coloured version of Le voyage dans la lune / A Trip to the Moon (1902), marvellously, indeed miraculously restored by Lobster Films. The film has been given five star publicity treatment, with an excellent promotional book, a new score by French band Air which has upset some but pleased us when we saw it at Pordenone, a documentary The Extraordinary Voyage, and the use of clips from the film in Hugo, released in November. For, yes, the other big event in Méliès’ 150th year was Martin Scorsese’s 3D version of Brian Selznick’s children’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, in which Méliès is a leading character. Ben Kingsley bring the man convincingly to life, and the film thrillingly recreates the Méliès studio as it pleads for us all to understand our film history. The Bioscope thought the rest of the film was pretty dire, to be honest, though in this it seems to be in a minority. But just because a film pleads the cause of film doesn’t make it a good film …

And there was more from Georges, with his great-great-grandaughter Pauline Duclaud-Lacoste Méliès producing an official website, Matthew Solomon’s edited volume Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination: Georges Méliès’s Trip to the Moon (with DVD extra), a conference that took place in July, and a three-disc DVD set from Studio Canal.

For the Bioscope itself things have been eventful. In January we thought a bit about changing the site radically, then thought better of this. There was our move to New Bioscope Towers in May, the addition of a Bioscope Vimeo channel for videos we embed from that excellent site, and the recent introduction of our daily news service courtesy of Scoop It! We kicked off the year with a post on the centenary of the ever-topical Siege of Sidney Street, an important event in newsreel history, and ended it with another major news event now largely forgotten, the Delhi Durbar. Anarchists win out over imperialists is the verdict of history.

Asta Nielsen in Hamlet

We were blessed with a number of great DVD and Blu-Ray releases, with multi-DVD and boxed sets being very much in favour. Among those that caught the eye and emptied the wallet were Edition Filmmuseum’s Max Davidson Comedies, the same company’s collection of early film and magic lantern slide sets Screening the Poor and the National Film Preservation Foundation’s five disc set Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938. Individual release of the year was Edition Filmmuseum’s Hamlet (Germany 1920), with Asta Nielsen and a fine new music score (Flicker Alley’s Norwegian surprise Laila just loses out because theatre organ scores cause us deep pain).

We recently produced a round-up of the best silent film publications of 2011, including such titles as Bryony Dixon’s 100 Silent Films, Andrew Shail’s Reading the Cinematograph: The Cinema in British Short Fiction 1896-1912 and John Bengston’s Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd. But we should note also Susan Orlean’s cultural history Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, which has made quite an impact in the USA, though we’ve not read it ourselves as yet.

There were all the usual festivals, with Bologna championing Conrad Veidt, Boris Barnet and Alice Guy, and Pordenone giving us Soviets, Soviet Georgians, polar explorers and Michael Curtiz. We produced our traditional detailed diaries for each of the eight days of the festival. But it was particularly pleasing to see new ventures turning up, including the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Scotland, which launched in February and is due back in 2012. Babylon Kino in Berlin continued to make programming waves with its complete Chaplin retropective in July. Sadly, the hardy annual Slapsticon was cancelled this year – we hope it returns in a healthy state next year.

The Artist (yet again)

2011 was the year when the modern silent film hit the headlines, the The Artist enchanting all-comers at Cannes and now being touted for the Academy Award best picture. We have lost count of the number of articles written recently about a revival of interest in silent films, and their superiority in so many respects to the films of today. Jaded eyes are looking back to a (supposedly) gentler age, it seems. We’ve not seen it yet, so judgement is reserved for the time being. Here, we’ve long championed the modern silent, though our March post on Mr Bean was one of the least-read that we’ve penned in some while.

Among the year’s conferences on silent film themes there was the First International Berkeley Conference on Silent Cinema held in February; the Construction of News in Early Cinema in Girona in March, which we attended and from which we first experimented with live blogging; the opportunistically themed The Second Birth of Cinema: A Centenary Conference held in Newcastle, UK in July; and Importing Asta Nielsen: Cinema-Going and the Making of the Star System in the Early 1910s, held in Frankfurt in September.

In the blogging world, sadly we said goodbye to Christopher Snowden’s The Silent Movie Blog in February – a reminder that we bloggers are mostly doing this for love, but time and its many demands do sometimes call us away to do other things. However, we said hello to John Bengston’s very welcome Silent Locations, on the real locations behind the great silent comedies. Interesting new websites inclued Roland-François Lack’s visually stunning and intellectually intriguing The Cine-Tourist, and the Turconi Project, a collection of digitised frames for early silents collected by the Swiss priest Joseph Joye.

The Bioscope always has a keen eye for new online research resources, and this was a year when portals that bring together several databases started to dominate the landscape. The single institution is no longer in a position to pronounce itself to be the repository of all knowledge; in the digital age we are seeing supra-institutional models emerging. Those we commented on included the Canadiana Discovery Portal, the UK research services Connected Histories and JISC Media Hub, UK film’s archives’ Search Your Film Archives, and the directory of world archives ArchiveGrid. We made a special feature of the European Film Gateway, from whose launch event we blogged live and (hopefully) in lively fashion.

Images of Tacita Dean’s artwork ‘Film’ at Tate Modern

We also speculated here and there on the future of film archives in this digital age, particularly when we attended the Screening the Future event in Hilversum in March, and then the UK Screen Heritage Strategy, whose various outputs were announced in September. We mused upon media and history when we attended the Iamhist conference in Copenhagen (it’s been a jet-setting year), philosophizing on the role of historians in making history in another bout of live blogging (something we hope to pursue further in 2012). 2011 was the year when everyone wrote their obituaries for celluloid. The Bioscope sat on the fence when considering the issue in November, on the occasion of Tacita Dean’s installation ‘Film’ at Tate Modern – but its face was looking out towards digital.

Significant web video sources launched this year included the idiosyncractic YouTube channel of Huntley Film Archives, the Swedish, the Thanhouser film company’s Vimeo channel, and George Eastman House’s online cinematheque; while we delighted in some of the ingenious one-second videos produced for a Montblanc watches competition in November.

It was a year when digitised film journals made a huge leap forward, from occasional sighting to major player in the online film research world, with the official launch of the Media History Digital Library. Its outputs led to Bioscope reports on film industry year books, seven years of Film Daily (1922-1929) and the MHDL itself. “This is the new research library” we said, and we think we’re right. Another important new online resource was the Swiss journal Kinema, for the period 1913-1919.

It has also been a year in which 3D encroached itself upon the silent film world. The aforementioned Hugo somewhat alarmingly gives us not only Méliès films in 3D, but those of the Lumière brothers, and film of First World War soldiers (colourised to boot). The clock-face sequence from Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last (also featured in Hugo) was converted to 3D and colourised, much to some people’s disgust; while news in November that Chaplin’s films were to be converted into 3D for a documentary alarmed and intrigued in equal measure.

The Soldier’s Courtship

Film discovery of the year? The one that grabbed all the headlines – though many of them were misleading ones – was The White Shadow (1923), three reels of which turned up in New Zealand. Normally an incomplete British silent directed by Graham Cutts wouldn’t set too many pulses running, but it was assistant director Alfred Hitchcock who attracted all the attention. Too many journalists and bloggers put the story ahead of the history, though one does understand why. But for us the year’s top discovery was Robert Paul’s The Soldier’s Courtship (1896), the first British fiction film made for projection, which was uncovered in Rome and unveiled in Pordenone. It may be just a minute long, but it is a perky delight, with a great history behind its production and restoration.

Another discovery was not of a lost film but rather a buried one. Philippine archivists found that an obscure mid-1930s American B-feature, Brides of Sulu, was in all probability made out of one, if not two, otherwise lost Philippines silents, Princess Tarhata and The Moro Pirate. No Philippine silent fiction film was known have survived before now, which makes this a particularly happy discovery, shown at Manila’s International Silent film Festival in August. The Bioscope post and its comments unravel the mystery.

Among the year’s film restorations, those that caught the eye were those that were most keenly promoted using online media. They included The First Born (UK 1928), Ernst Lubistch’s Das Weib des Pharao (Germany 1922) and the Pola Negri star vehicle Mania (Germany 1918).

Some interesting news items throughout the year included the discovery of unique (?) film of the Ballet Russes in the British Pathé archive in February; in April Google added a ‘1911’ button to YouTube to let users ‘age’ their videos by 100 years (a joke that backfired somewhat) then in the same month gave us a faux Chaplin film as its logo for the day; in May the much-hyped film discovery Zepped (a 1916 animation with some Chaplin outtakes) was put up for auction in hope of a six-figure sum, which to few people’s surprise it signally failed to achieve; and in July there was the discovery of a large collection of generic silent film scores in Birmingham Library.

Barbara Kent

And we said goodbye to some people. The main person we lost from the silent era itself was Barbara Kent, star of Flesh and the Devil and Lonesome, who made it to 103. Others whose parting we noted were the scholar Miriam Hansen; social critic and author of the novel Flicker Theodore Roszak; the founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael Hart; and the essayist and cinéaste Gilbert Adair.

Finally, there were those ruminative or informational Bioscope posts which we found it interesting to compile over the year. They include a survey of cricket and silent film; thoughts on colour and early cinema; a survey of digitised newspaper collections, an investigation into the little-known history of the cinema-novel, the simple but so inventive Phonotrope animations of Jim Le Fevre and others, thoughts on the not-so-new notion of 48 frames per second, the amateur productions of Dorothea Mitchell, the first aviation films, on silent films shown silently, and on videos of the brain activity of those who have been watching films.

As always, we continue to range widely in our themes and interests, seeing silent cinema not just for its own sake but as a means to look out upon the world in general. “A view of life or survey of life” is how the dictionary defines the word ‘bioscope’ in its original use. We aim to continue doing so in 2012.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 35

Trailer for the other, not quite so heavily discussed 2011 silent feature film, Silent Life

Well, when we introduced the Bioscope’s Scoop It! news-gathering service for silent film-related subjects, I thought there wouldn’t be the need for our Friday newsreel any more. But such is the quantity of news stories that we are now scopping up, it seems all the more necessary to keep the newsreel going, to note the week’s leading stories, just for the record. So here they are.

The Artist, The Artist, The Artist…
The news-wires have been groaning all week with information on silent films, but it’s been almost all about the one film. The widely-acclaimed The Artist, which recreates the end of the silent filmmaking era as a silent film, has been released in the USA and is delighting critics and audiences alike. It’s even said to be a favourite for the Academy Award next year. Of the many reports on the film, we were especially intrigued by Tom Shone’s essay in Slate, which argues that The Artist, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (eh?) are all part of a trend to bring back the purer values of silent cinema. Read more.

Valentino’s silent life
So are we going to start seeing more silent or pseudo-silent films produced? It doesn’t seem too likely, but the producers of Silent Life must be wondering whether The Artist‘s success is their lucky break or the worst thing that could have happened to them. For it too is a recreation of the silent film made as a silent film, this time telling the story of Rudolph Valentino. It’s a humbly-produced indie, though it does boast Isabella Rossellini in the cast, and there’s a website where you can find out more on its production (including the teaser trailer above). Read more.

And Hugo too
The Artist isn’t quite having things all its own way, news-wise, becuase Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, in part of homage to the early cinema period of Georges Méliès, is likewise enchanting all who see it. Among the many accounts of the film’s production, there’s a useful piece by Kristopher Tapley on HitFix which rounds up Scorsese’s film, the discovery of the colour version of Voyage dans la lune and its restoration, the music score by Air (due for release in extended form as an album), Méliès’s lasting influence, and the centenary of the first film made in Hollywood (which we all missed). Read more.

The art of the film improviser
Enough of all these 21st century attempts to remake the films of another era, let’s turn to 21st century attempts to provide the music for the films of that era. Moving Image Archive News has an interview with Neil (“doyen of silent film pianists”) Brand, which ranges eloquently and informatively over the many different aspects of Neil’s silent film career. As always with Neil, he makes sure you end up learning as much about the films and their contexts as you do about him. Read more.

Return to the Odessa Steps
Finally, courtesy of the tirelessly useful Silent London, we learn the intriguing news that Battleship Potemkin is to be given the flash mob treatment. Tomorrow, 26 November, the iconic Odessa Steps sequence will be recreated on the Duke of York steps next-door to the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. A mixture of actors and volunteers will take part in three recreations, which will be filmed on mobile phones (naturally) for the delectation of posterity. Troops with rifles, panicking people and a pram are all promised. Cinema will never look the same again. Read more.

All these stories and more on our new news service.

‘Til next time!

Silent stories

Do you know what? There’s quite a lot being said about the modern silent film at the moment. Some film called The Artist, an affectionate pastiche of the silent era in a silent film style has set the film world’s hearts a-flutter. There’s even talk of it being favourite for the Academy Awards this year. Well, well.

It’s a phenomenon we ought to comment on, perhaps when we’ve had a chance to see the film. But here at the Bioscope we’ve been championing the modern silent film for quite a while now, and what interests us is not so much films that ape the styles of the past but rather those films which think in a silent way about the world today. And there are a great many of these films, not much in the cinemas, but usually turning up in short film festivals and now most likely to be found online. The considerable creativity they often display in by-passing dialogue needs championing, because increasingly they represent a genre all of their own.

One such champion is Lemo (aka Guihelm), filmmaker and creator of Silent Stories, a channel on Vimeo which curates examples of short modern films made wordlessly which are to be found on the Vimeo site. A couple have featured on the Bioscope already, but most are new to me, and each has been selected with care. They are not simply films made without speech as a trick but rather each demonstrates how the discipline of telling a story through images alone sharpens the observation and wit of the best filmmakers.

There are around thirty to view so far, such as the expertly handled Common Practice (shown above), by Marcus Efron, in which a Mexican-American boy’s talent brings together a disparate Latino community in Los Angeles. See how character and situation are subtly delineated through what we are allowed to see – though music plays a key part in the film. This is where the enduring art of silent film lies.

Or try out Jason Wingrove’s Moving Day, only just posted on Vimeo, which comes garlanded with awards from various short film festivals. Be warned, it starts out ever so sweet, but things don’t quite turn out that way.

Silent Stories is a channel to follow, while you can find other examples of modern silents featured on this blog on our own Bioscope Vimeo channel.

Michel Hazanavicius, do take note.

Just a second

A Eye for Details, by Wim Wenders, from The Beauty of a Second

How short can a film be and still be a film? We had a discussion here a little while ago on a seven frame fragment of an 1897 film, and whether it still counted as a lost film or not. Compared to seven frames, a whole second of film may seem practically epic, and one second is the length of the films currently on show at The Beauty of a Second.

This is a competition website, launched by Montblanc, a producer of watches and other fine goods, to mark the invention 190 years ago of the chronograph, a pocket watch accurate to one fifth of a second. The competition invites any interested to film anything, just so long as the subject is precisely one second long (and in 16:9 format).

The competition has been running since September 23rd, and is divided into three rounds, with the current one open from November 16th to December 13th, should you wish to participate. The 20 videos in each round that get the most votes from people visiting the site go through to a final, which is to be judged by none other than Wim Wenders. Wenders is also the judge for a side competition to create a playlist out of the submitted videos (for 2 to 60 seconds long), adding a soundtrack from the Montblanc audio library.

It’s a beautifully designed site, with the videos artfully arranged around a clockface. You can view the videos individually or as a set, which as each one last a second may be preferable. Though some have sounds, even music in one or two cases, most are silent, and I think we can see this as yet another instance of modern silent artistry. Because while most of the videos are essentially snapshots with a wobble, more than a few of the videos do artfully catch the eye in the instant that they have in which to do so.

I warmly recommend browsing through the main competitition entries and the playlists, though if the number of seconds you can spare is few, then you should go to the Inspiration section, where a number of model one-second videos are on show to demonstrate what can be done. Some of these are made by Wenders himself, and are a delight – see for example his film An Eye for Details, in which a woman turns her head, with her eyes coming briefly into focus (literally for a split-second) before going out of focus once more. It is witty, observant, a hymn to the instant.

It would good to see other filmmakers of note presented with such a challenge. I expect it is an idea that someone else will pick up on, in time.


Tacita Dean’s artwork Film, projected in the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London

Will film die? Seen in one way, it never will: our cinematic history exists on celluloid and as long as there are viable film cameras and film, someone will be shooting it. Seen another way, film is already dead … what we see today is the after-life of a medium that has become increasingly marginalized in production and distribution of films and TV. Just as the last film camera was sold without headlines or fireworks, the end of film as a significant production and distribution medium will, one day soon, arrive, without fanfare.

Anyone with an interest in cinema can hardly have failed to pick up on the news that, apparently, film is dead. An article by Debra Kaufman for Creative Cow, ‘Film Fading to Black‘, from which the above quote comes, has had a huge impact, with many writing obituary columns for the medium in the face of the inexorable rise of digital. Kaufman’s specific impetus was the news that three major producers of film cameras, ARRI, Panavision and Aaton, have each over the past year decided to cease production of film cameras.

Kaufman’s article is not quite as brutal as the headlines might suggest. ARRI and the rest might not be producing new film cameras, but it is pointed out that there are plenty of film cameras out there already, which are presumably being kept to good use. There is no indication yet that Kodak and Fuji, the major producers of film stock, are to cease production, even though the demand for release prints is falling and the profit margins shrinking. 50% of American cinemas may now be digital, but that’s still 50% that aren’t, even if digital screens are being added at a rate of some 750 a month. Film archives still see film as the best preservation medium for film itself, with cold storage solutions for a medium already proven to last 100 years preferable to the huge uncertainties around digital, given the rapid obsolesence of file formats and technologies. Film hasn’t quite come to the end of the road yet.

But the end is in sight, isn’t it? Whatever the claims those of a traditional frame of mind make for the special visual qualities of film, it is on its way out. Nothing lasts forever, and film is after all just a carrier of images. If a more efficient, more flexible and – let’s face it – more appealing medium as far as the general public is concerned turns up, namely digital, then we bow to historical inevitability. Moving images may not ever look quite the same, as digital’s cleaness, brightness and rather antiseptic effect override film’s more textured and subtle qualities (though cinematographers are increasingly championing digital as new cameras promise deeper, richer qualities), but who in the end will notice? Things change, because things always change.

Certainly future audiences won’t miss anything in the switch from film to digital, and that’s not just because they will lack our experience of seeing film but because people change just the same as technologies change. They will grow up at ease with something else. So it is a rather odd experience that is provided at the moment by the installation Film at Tate Modern, which bemoans the disappearance of analogue. Film is an artwork by Tacita Dean. It takes the form of a giant projection (portrait shaped) on the far wall of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. Dean has devised the work as an expression of her concern at the threat to analogue film. It was shot, edited and is projected on film, and boasts an impressive list of production credits that is testimony to the craftmanship of film – grading, neg cutting, hand tinting, printing. As the exhibition notes state:

This is not a case of clinging to outmoded technology for nostalgia’s sake. As any practitioner will testify, digital and analogue formats are markedly different. The constraints and disciplines of working with a medium are essential to shaping the finished product. Photochemical film has its own distinctive texture and qualities, capturing light, colour, movement and depth in ways that digital cannot.

The eleven-minute film is abstract in form, being a succession of still and moving images bordered by perforations like a strip of film held vertically (as though passing through a projector). Images of buildings, trees, plants, water, circles, landscapes, rocks, but not people (apart from a fleeting figure passing by some stairs, and at one point a toe) play against and are overlaid with one another, someone with strong colour tinting reminiscent of the work of Len Lye. At a couple of points an eye appears in a circular frame that would appear to be a reference to G.A. Smith’s 1900 film Grandma’s Reading Glass, a key film in early film form. In most cases the images seem private to the artist and do not lend themselves to any particular interpretation except film itself.

It’s hypnotic stuff, but though plenty of people are watching it and children played happily in the light at the based of the screen, who among them really cares about film’s demise? Where are the lines of protestors outside cinemas, demanding that they see film as film? Where are the queues of unhappy customers returning their plasma screens to the shops, saying that the film experience is so much better? In truth, it’s not an issue that is going to concern anyone other than the afficionado and the specialist – and film/cinema is not the preserve of either of those. It is a popular medium, and the populace likes digital.

But that doesn’t mean the death of film, even after its main commercial life as over. Just as vinyl has survived the introduction of CD and audio files, so film is going to become the preserve of the select. Archives will still depend on it, though the rising costs of an increasingly rare medium (and rare skills able to maintain it) will mean higher access costs – if we want to see those films when they come out of cold storage so many years from now, we will have to pay handsomely for the privilege. Film buffs will still value it, and will collect prints and technologies required to show prints. They will sustain an aesthetic and cultural appreciation of film, and what will be exciting is when that appreciation is taken up by those who have grown up with digital but nevertheless look for something more in film. And artists, such as Tacita Dean, will continue to value it, for as long as it is available to them, for its plastic and particular qualities. Film is a canvas, after all.

The gloriously analogue Lomokino Movie Maker

And the first steps towards the second life of film as being made. I am greatful to Stephen Herbert for alerting me to the existence of Lomokino. Lomokino is a 35mm film camera for amateurs. Advertising itself as ‘gloriously analogue’, the camera allows you to shoot just 144 frames of film (curiously reminiscent of Twitter’s 140 characters) – and silent film at that. You need to find a lab able to process the film for you (which may prove tricky), then you can view your film via a LomoKinoScope viewer, or else scan it frame by frame, convert using iMovie, Windows Movie Maker or the like, and upload it to the Lomography site on Vimeo.

I’ve no idea whether this Austrian-based business is going to succeed, but its website certainly goes into a great deal of detail about how to make and present such films, with a large number of sample videos. There is a great range of cameras, film stock, accessories and bundles available on its online shop (including, I am intrigued to see, a Kinemacolor bundle). Do take a look – it feels like a cult in the making.

Sample Lomokino films

So film lives on, for the time being. It is important to the appreciation of silent cinema, because the entire genre (modern silents excepted) was produced using celluloid, whereas the history of sound cinema may run for centuries yet, of which just a few decades involved film as its primary medium. Yet silent cinema can also be rescued from historical oblivion by digital, given a new look and a new life, and that’s a cause for celebration. Silent films have a life beyond their temporary carriers. That they can change with the times is the best sign we have for their continued survival, and appreciation.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 32

Carla Laemmle and Gary Busey, from Hollywood Reporter

Here in the scriptorium at New Bioscope Towers we’re setting the staff to transcribing our scarcely decipherable notes made in the dark (of course) at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, in readiness for the first of our diary reports – we hope not to keep you waiting too long. Meanwhile, other events have been taking place in the world of silent film. These are five of them.

Carla’s second century
Carla Laemmle, niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle, has will be 102 on October 20th, and is not just one of the few silent film performers still alive, but very probably the only one still acting. She appeared as a prima ballerina in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and plays alongsde Gary Busey in the forthcoming feature Mansion of Blood. Read more.

A dog’s life
The silent star of the moment, however, has four legs. Susan Orlean’s cultural history Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend has gained much acclaim and aroused new interest in silent cinema’s leading canine star. The book tells a “powerfully moving story of Rin Tin Tin’s journey from orphaned puppy to movie star and international icon”, telling a history that is as much about American entertainment and society as it is about the dog. Read more.

Silent cinema and the secrets of London
The Daily Telegraph site has a thoughtful article by Neil Brand on his experience of London through the medium of silent film and his music accompaniments, from Siege of Sidney Street newsreels, to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger, to his own orchestral score for Anthony Asquith’s Underground (premiered on October 5th at the Barbican). Read more.

Louis Louis
Louis, Dan Pritzker’s modern silent film on the childhood of Louis Armstrong, with Wynton Marsalis’ jazz score, has its European debut on 13 November, as part of the London Jazz Festival, at the Barbican (again). Marsalis himself won’t be there, but the eight-piece group, led by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, includes saxophonist Wes Anderson, and drummer Herlin Riley. Tickets are now on sale. Read more.

La Parade est passée
One of the quite essential silent film books, Kevin Brownlow’s 1968 The Parade’s Gone By, is to be published in French for the first time. Its translator is Christine Leteux, the knowledgeable soul behind the highly commendable Ann Harding’s Treasures blog. It is to be published by Acte Sud/Institut Lumière on 19 October (according to Brownlow himself is a guest of honour at the Lumière 2011 film festival in Lyon this week, marking the publication of his book. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Thought waves

Is it, perhaps, that all films are really silent films? Isn’t cinema just about conjuring up moving pictures in our heads, matching what we see to the world that we know? Aren’t sound and speech mere decorations, means simply to guide us what we want to see? Isn’t everything that we want to find in cinema to be found in silent cinema, when the medium was new and trying to discover all that it could do? And what, fundamentally, has it done that is new since the silent era? And might that be because, perhaps, all films are really silent films?

I offer up these thoughts by way of reaction to the above video, which I present to you as a silent film, simply because it is silent. Sometimes when I point out modern films without soundtracks I wonder whether the connection with silent cinema is purely tokenistic. But now I don’t think so. Films that have lost their sound have returned to some sort of pure state. After all, a story that isn’t told in pictures can’t really be thought of at all cinema, can it?

The video illustrates work undertaken by neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, who have been scanning the brain activity of volunteers who have been watching films. A computer was then able to produce rough reconstructions of what they had viewed, with reference to an archive of 18 million one-second clips taken from YouTube not previously seen by the participants. The computer then matched the clips to the brain activity it had recorded.

The results are peculiarly haunting, indeed dreamlike – ghostly distortions of images that look like a combination of Francis Bacon and Odilon Redon in motion. They are silent, of course, and a form of moving image previously unseen, unimagined. As an Associated Press report says,

Scientists … speculated such an approach might be able to reveal dreams and hallucinations someday. In the future, it might help stroke victims or others who have no other way to communicate, said Jack Gallant, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of the paper.

He believes such a technique could eventually reconstruct a dream or other made-up mental movie well enough to be recognizable. But the experiment dealt with scenes being viewed through the eyes at the time of scanning, and it’s not clear how much of the approach would apply to scenes generated by the brain instead, he said.

Greater results could be achieved by greater access to a moving image archive (there was no equivalent clip for an elephant, for example), which makes you think how the whole of YouTube might be viewed as the collective dreams of us all.

This second video demonstrates the range of clips from which the computer selected its composite moving image (shown in the top left-hand corner):

The dream videos have gone viral, with over a million views in just a few days. Clearly something speaks deeply to people about the idea of these films, if not necessarily the images themselves. It’s not just that we might, hypothetically, one day be able to recover an entire movie from our brains, or indeed visualise our dreams. It’s that all these pictures are playing in our heads, and that this experiment opens a small window upon them. It’s an idea of the mind as pure cinema.

The paper on which the research is based is ‘Reconstructing Visual Experiences from Brain Activity Evoked by Natural Movies‘, by Shinji Nishimoto1, An T. Vu, Thomas Naselaris1, Yuval Benjamini, Bin Yu and Jack L. Gallant. Further information on the project is available from

Pordenone line-up

Teaser trailer for The Force That Through The Green Fire Fuels The Flower, by Otto Kylmälä, receiving its international premiere at the Giornate del Cinema Muto

The upcoming Pordenone silent film festival, or Gionate del Cinema Muto (1-8 October), has the look of a real classic about it. After last year’s interesting but slightly thin offering, the festival organisers look to have gone town, impressing us with an amazing array of silent treasures both famous and obscure, from across the globe, and with a number of restorations and discoveries which have been the talk of the silent world featuring during what is the 30th Giornate.

The festival puts up all the information that it can about the programme, when it can, and there is now quite extensive programme information, including a provisional daily schedule. Details of the programme are given below, but before we get there, I’d like to draw your attention to one film receiving its international premiere at the festival which I think is going to be a bit special. The festival programmers have always tried to give the modern silent film its due, and there are usually a few modern shorts dotted about the programme, of variable quality it has to be said. The bar is probably about to be raised for the modern silent quite substantially by The Force That Through The Green Fire Fuels The Flower (2011), directed by Otto Kylmälä. The Bioscope has had a sneak preview of this, and I can promise you that it is really quite something. Not least it will be screened with live score by Pordenone regular Stephen Horne. To quote my own words from the filmmaker’s Vimeo page:

You couldn’t imagine the film with dialogue; it’s about words unspoken. Stands head and shoulders above most of the modern silent shorts.

The teaser trailer above should whet the appetite.

As for the rest of the programme, there are Italian classics, more robust works from the USSR, a special focus on Georgian silents, more revisiting of films from the silent canon (including films some of us will have heard of, which is reassuring), Michael Curtiz before he was Michael Curtiz, lots of polar exploration films which won’t be to everyone’s taste but will certainly entrance me, an appearance by the annual and eternal Baby Peggy, and headline discoveries such as The White Shadow (1923), The Soldier’s Courtship (1896), Georges Méliès’ Voyage Dans la Lune in colour and a fragment from the mostly lost The Divine Woman (1928), with Greta Garbo. It’s going to be the only place to be.

– 01.10.2011 | 20.30 | Serata inaugurale/Opening event
NOVYI VAVILON [La nuova Babilonia /New Babylon] (Grigori Kozintsev & Leonid
Trauberg, USSR 1929). Partitura di/Score by Dmitri Shostakovich diretta da/
conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald; esegue/performed by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra

– 02.10.2011 | A colpi di note/Striking a New Note
OH, TEACHER (Oswald the Lucky Rabbit; Walt Disney, US 1927)
Orchestra della Scuola primaria “Carlo Collodi” di Pordenone
THE ELECTRIC HOUSE (Buster Keaton Productions, US 1922)
Orchestra della Scuola Media Centro Storico di Pordenone

– 02.10.2011 | 20.30 | Chaplin à la Spilimbrass
EASY STREET (Charles Chaplin, Mutual, US 1917)
THE ADVENTURER (Charles Chaplin, Mutual, US 1917)
Accompagnamento musicale/Musical accompaniment: SpilimBrass

– 04.10.2011 | 20.30
SHINEL [Il cappotto/The Overcoat] (Grigori Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg, USSR 1926)
Partitura di/Score by Maud Nelissen; eseguono/performed by: Lucio Degani (violino/
violin), Francesco Ferrarini (violoncello), Fábian Pérez Tedesco (percussioni/ percussion), Maud Nelissen (piano).

– 05.10.2011 | 20.30
THE CIRCUS (Charles Chaplin, US 1928)
Partitura di/Score by Charles Chaplin diretta da/conducted by
Günter A. Buchwald; esegue/performed by Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone
Replica/Repeat Show: 9.10.2011 | 17.00 | Teatro Zancanaro, Sacile

– 08.10.2011 | 20.30 | Serata finale/Closing event
THE WIND (Victor Sjöström, cast: Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson; MGM, US 1928)
Partitura scritta e diretta da/Score composed and conducted by Carl Davis
Esegue/performed by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra

– 09.10.2011 | 17.00 | Teatro Zancanaro, Sacile (replica/repeat show)
THE CIRCUS (Charles Chaplin, US 1928)
Partitura di/Score by Charles Chaplin diretta da/conducted by
Günter A. Buchwald; esegue/performed by Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone

– UN AMORE SELVAGGIO (Cines, 1912)
– PADRE (Itala, 1912)
– PIÙ CHE LA MORTE (Cines, 1912)
– SANTARELLINA (Ambrosio, 1912)
– TRA LE PINETE DI RODI (Savoia, 1012)
– IL VELENO DELLE PAROLE (Celio Film, 1913)
– LE ACQUE MIRACOLOSE (Ambrosio, 1914)
– LA MOGLIE DI CLAUDIO (Itala, 1918)
– LA SERPE (Caesar Film/Bertini, 1920)
– MADDALENA FERAT (Caesar Film/Bertini, 1921)
– LA GRAZIA (A.D.I.A., 1929)
+ comiche con/comedies with Cretinetti, Fringuelli, Robinet, Polidor, Kri Kri

SHOSTAKOVICH & FEKS (Elenco incompleto/Incomplete listing)
– CHYORTOVO KOLESO (Moryak c “Avrorvrii”) [La grande ruota; Il marinaio
dell'”Aurora”/The Devil’s Wheel; The Sailor from the “Aurora”]
(Grigori Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg; USSR 1926)
– ODNA [Sola/Alone] (Grigori Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg; USSR 1931)
– SHINEL [Il cappotto/The Overcoat] (Grigori Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg, USSR 1926)
– SKAZKA O POPE I EGO RABOTNIKE BALDE [La storia del prete e del suo servo
Balda/The Story of the Priest and His Servant Balda] (frammento/fragment)
(Mikhail Tsekhanovsky, 1934)
– S.V.D. – SOYUZ VELIGOVO DELA [L’Unione per la Grande causa/The Club of the
Great Deed] (Grigori Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg; USSR 1927)
– NOVYI VAVILON [La nuova Babilonia /New Babylon]
(Grigori Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg; USSR 1929)

– TARIEL MKLAVADZIS MKVLELOBIS SAQME (Delo Tariela Mklavadze) [L’affare Tariel Mklavadze / The Case of Tariel Mklavadze ] (Ivan Perestini; Georgia SSR, 1925)
– AMERIKANKA [L’americana/The Jobbing Press] (Leonard Esakya, Georgia SSR, 1930)
– ELISO (Nikoloz [Nikolai] Shengelay, Georgia SSR, 1928)
– MZAGO DA GELA [Mzago and Gela] (Shalva Khuskivadze, Lev Push; Georgia SSR,
1930; data uscita/rel. 1934)
– GANTSIRULNI (Obrechennye/Russkie vo Frantsii) [I condannati/The Doomed; Russi
in Francia/Russians in France] (Lev Push, Georgia SSR, 1930)
– KHABARDA [Chabardà / Khabarda] (Mikheil Chiaureli; Georgia SSR, 1931)

– ASPHALT (Joe May, DE 1929)
– BORDERLINE (Kenneth Macpherson, UK 1930)
– THE CIRCUS (Charles Chaplin, US 1928)
– EL DORADO (Marcel L’Herbier, FR 1921)
– DIE HINTERTREPPE (Leopold Jessner, Paul Leni, DE 1921)
– KLOSTRET I SENDOMIR (Victor Sjöström, SE 1920)
– OBLOMOK IMPERII [Un frammento d’impero/Fragment of an Empire]
(Fridrikh Ermler, USSR 1929)

– A TOLONC (HU 1914)
– JÖN AZ ÖCSÉM [My Brother Is Coming] (HU, 1919)
– EINSPÄNNER NR 13 (AT 1925)

– SALOMY JANE (Lucius Henderson, William NighCalifornia, US 1914)
– THE BETTER MAN (Rollin S. Sturgeon; Vitagraph, US 1912)
– MANTRAP (Victor Fleming, US 1926)
– DESCHUTES DRIFTWOOD (Robert C. Bruce, US 1916)
– LADY OF THE DUGOUT (W.S. Van Dyke, US 1918)

LYTTELTON N.Z. 1ST JAN. 1908 (NZ 1908)
(Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition) (NO 1912)
Esquimaux dogs with Dr. Mawson’s Australian Antarctic Expedition on the deck
of the SS Aldenham, Sydney, November 1911
– NIHON NANKYOKU TANKEN (The Japanese Expedition to Antarctica)
(M. Pathé Shokai, JP 1912)
(AU, 1911-1912) (1914-1916 lecture version)
(Regia/dir., f./ph: Frank Hurley; Imperial Trans-Antarctic Film Syndicate, GB 1919)
(Henry Maurice, UY 1922)
– THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE (Herbert Ponting, GB 1924)

– Anime delle origini: i pionieri dell’animazione giapponese
The Birth of Anime: Pioneers of Japanese Animation
– Laugh-O-grams (Walt Disney)

– THE SOLDIER’S COURTSHIP (Robert William Paul, GB 1896)
– VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE (George Méliè, FR 1902)
– The Corrick Collection – 5
– Thanhouser

– Hitchock!
THE WHITE SHADOW (dir: Graham Cutts, asst dir: Alfred Hitchcock; GB 1924)
– Garbo!
THE DIVINE WOMAN (Victor Sjöström, US 1928) (frammento/fragment)
– Perils of the Pictures
LOST AND WON (Selig Polyscope Company, US 1911)
AT THE HOUR OF THREE (Clarendon, GB 1912)
AMOUR ET SCIENCE (Éclair, FR 1912)
MUTT AND JEFF IN THE MOVIES (Bud Fisher Films Corporation, US 1920)
– ItalianAmericans
MOVIE ACTOR (Bruno Valletty; Roman Film Co., US 1932)
– Selznick/Haghefilm Fellowship 2011
ROSALIE FAIT DU SABOTAGE (Roméo Bosetti; Pathé Frères, FR 1911)
– THE CANADIAN (William Beaudine, 1926)
– THE INDIAN WOMAN’S PLUCK (Frank Wilson; Hepworth, GB 1912)
– THE LITTLE MINISTER (Penrhyn Stanlaws; Famous Players-Lasky, US 1921)
– DAS SPREEWALDMÄDEL (Hans Steinhoff, DE 1928)
– TONAUFNAHMEN BERGLUND [Berglund sound recordings] (Ernemann AG, DE 1922)

– SANTOS DUMONT PRÉ-CINEASTA? (Carlos Adriano; BR 2010)
– JANOVICS JENÖ, A MAGYAR PATHÉ (Bálint Zágoni; Romania 2011)

– THE BLIND DATE (Patrick McCarthy, US 2010)
– A HOLE IN THE BUCKET (Rex Harsin; Songshine Entertainment, US 2010)

Information on films, acommodation, travel and registration can be found on the festival site. Needless to say, for those who cannot be there we will be providing you with by now the traditional Bioscope diary.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 24

Jean Dujardin and Uggy share the acting honours in The Artist

Things are still unsettled here at New Bioscope Towers, what with so much stuff still in boxes and electrical matters needing to be sorted out, but your scribe will for a while rest upon a handy packing case and record for you some of the news items from the world of silents this week (and the week before).

Best film dog
As many of you will know now, the modern day silent film The Artist did not win the Palm d’Or at Cannes, though it was a close run thing. Jean Dujardin did pick up the award for best actor, but probably a little closer to the Bioscope’s heart was the announcement of the Palm Dog – an unofficial award for the best performance by a dog in a film shown at Cannes – which went to Uggy, a Jack Russell member of the cast of The Artist. Uggy’s performance has been variously described as “stunning”, “stand out” and “the finest in the 11 year history of the Palm Dog”. Read more.

The world remembers part 1
UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme highlights important documentary heritage artefacts from around the world, and as we have reported before now, a few films have been included so far. Newly inscribed on the register is the important Desmet collection of films, company documents, posters and film stills from the 1910s, submitted by the EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam(formerly the Nederlands Filmmuseum). Also inscribed in 2011, by the Russian Federation, is Tolstoy’s Personal Library and Manuscripts, Photo and Film Collection. I wasn’t aware Tolstoy had a personal film collection – as we have noted before, he was no lover of the medium. We will have to find out more. Read more.

The world remembers part 2
But there are also national registers, and new to the UK Memory of the World register is the extraordinary Mitchell & Kenyon collection of some 800 films from the Edwardian era, mostly actualties depicting lives in English and Irish working towns. Congratulations to the BFI National Archive which cares for the collection and successfully argued for the collection’s inclusion on the UK register (along with the GPO Film Unit collection of the 1930s). Read more.

Tuff times ahead
Toronto’s annual festial of modern, one-minute long silent films is open for entries once more. Describing itself as ‘the world’s only true “underground” film festival’, films submitted and selected get to reach over 1.3 million daily commuters who ride the Toronto subway system. The event takes place 9-18 September 2011 and this year’s guest judge is Atom Egoyan. The deadline for submissions is 15 July. You can see past award winners on TUFF’s Vimeo site – and the standard is high. Read more.

The genius of Buster
A thoughtful and observant article by Jana Prikyl on Buster Keaton has been published in The New York Review of Books to coincide with the screening of twelve feature-length and twelve short films by Buster Keaton, at Film Forum, New York City, 23 May – 8 August 2011. The essay covers Kino’s recent DVD and Blu-Ray releases, the Brownlow/Gill documentary A Hard Act to Follow, Kevin W. Sweeney’s Buster Keaton: Interviews, and James L. Neibaur’s The Fall of Buster Keaton: His Films for M-G-M, Educational Pictures, and Columbia. Read more.

‘Til next time!