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.
Staging Illusion: Digital and Cultural Fantasy is a two-day conference taking place 8-9 December 2011 at the University of Sussex, whose themes, while not directly referencing silent cinema, are highly relevant to it. So here’s the conference blurb:
Staging Illusion: Digital and Cultural Fantasy,
December 8th and 9th, University of Sussex
Keynote speakers: Professor Vanessa Toulmin (Director of the National Fairground Archive), Dr Sarah Kember (Goldsmiths) and Professor Sally R Munt (Director of the Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies).
Plenary speakers: Dr Astrid Ensslin (Bangor), Dr Melanie Chan (Leeds Met), Professor Nicholas Till (Sussex), and Dr Jo Machon (Brunel).
Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies & the Centre for Material Digital Culture present:
From magicians and mediums to immersive media, and from the circus to cyborgs, the celebration and/or mistrust of illusion has been a central theme across a range of cultures. Notions of fakery and deception remind us that our identities that are performative. The figure of the ‘mark’ of the fairground scam remains culturally ubiquitous, perhaps more so than ever, in an era of (post) mechanical reproduction. Is new technology a flight from the real or merely a continuation of older cultural forms? Is it necessary, or even possible, to define reality in relation to the illusory? What realms of ‘otherness’ remain to be embraced? This international conference will discuss staged illusions across a spectrum of historical, geographical and cultural contexts, featuring original and exciting papers and performances.
Panels interrogate staging illusion from diverse perspectives, including: 3D cinema, the paranormal, the music hall, digital trickery, the fairground, magicians and illusionists, theatre, science, the museum, the magic of cinema, the gothic, digital gaming, social networking, the circus, advertising, illusory bodies and genders, theme parks and digital animation. Over two days the conference will also showcase illusory performance pieces, installations and magic.
Panel speakers so far confirmed: Jon Armstrong, Adam Bee, Victoria Byard, Diane Carr, Eleanor Dare, Cristina Miranda de Almeida with Matteo Ciastellardi, Lane DeNicola, Yael Friedman, Aristea Fotopoulou, Kate Genevieve, Jonathan Gilhooly, Dr Rachael Grew, Birgitta Hosea, Jacqueline Hylkema, Jane Insley, Lewis Johnson, Laura Ellen Joyce, Frances A. Kamm, Ewan Kirkland, Chara Lewis with Kristin Mojsiewicz & Anneke Pettican, Liang-Wen Lin, Joe Marshall, John Carter McKnight, Jenny Munro, Constantino Oliva, Professor Deborah Philips, Burcu Yasemin Şeyben, Jayne Sheridan, Peter Sillett, Frances Smith, Marian St. Laurent, Nozomi Uematsu, Owen Weetch, John Wills.
Gilbert Seldes (1893-1970) was an American cultural critic, one the pioneering champions of the popular arts in the age of mass media. His made his name, and established his life-long theme, with his 1924 book, The Seven Lively Arts. The seven are the movies, musical comedy, vaudeville, radio, comic strips, popular music and dance. Seldes championed what was excellent in what was popular. As his biographer Michael Kammen puts it:
Seldes … is conspicuous among his contemporaries because of his abiding commitment to the democratization of culture … Seldes genuinely believed that the taste level of ordinary Americans was not inevtably contemptible, and that, in any case, taste levels could be elevated.
Several decades’ worth of cultural criticism since the 1920s have rather dulled the revolutionary nature of Seldes’ stance. Elitism has become an ugly word; there is no high art or low art; and we seek to understand the components of a culture and how artefacts embody these rather than to say that one work of ‘art’ is better than another. Seldes didn’t think like a present-day cultural critic, but he did work to overturn preconceptions about supposedly low cultural forms. Of these the form that interested him the most, and to which he devoted most attention in his book, was film.
The opening chapter, ‘The Keystone the Builders Rejected’, sets out his agenda:
For fifteen years there has existed in the United States, and in the United States alone, a form of entertainment which, seemingly without sources in the past, restored to us a kind of laughter almost unheard in modern times. It came into being by accident – it had no pretensions to art. For ten years or more it added an element of cheerful madness to the lives of millions and was despised and rejected by people of culture and intelligence. Suddenly – suddenly as it appeared to them – a great genius arose and the people of culture conceded that in his case, but in his case alone, art existed in slap-stick comedy; they did not remove their non expedit from the form itself.
The great genius is of course Chaplin, but while some critics acknowledged that genius (particularly after The Kid, about which he is ambiguous), Seldes argues for the importance of not separating the man from the form in which his greatness was made manifest. The art was not in the man was in slapstick itself. For Seldes, ‘everything in slap-stick is cinematographic’: the slapstick comedy of Mack Sennett and Keystone was pure cinema because it was achieving results which could be acomplished by no other medium, and which were perfectly suited to that medium,; whereas D.W. Griffith, despite all the ways in which he advanced the art of the motion picture, still had half a mind in another medium (the stage, or the novel).
Seldes goes on the champion the slapstick form, taking pot-shots at his fellow critics for dismissing it without reasons. He writes illuminatingly about Ben Turpin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and lesser lights such as Chester Conklin. He cherishes slapstick for its absence of pretension and consequently its lack of vulgarity:
I consider vulgar the thing which offends against the canons of taste accepted by honest people, not by imitative people, not by snobs. It is equally bad taste, presumably, to throw custard pies and to commit adultery; but it is not bad taste to speak of these things. What is intolerable only is the pretense, and it was against pretentiousness that the slap-stick comedy had its hardest fight. It showed a man sitting down on a lighted gas stove, and it did not hesitate to disclose the underwear charred at the buttocks which were the logical consequence of the action.
There is a touch of paradox for paradox’s sake, but it is an engrossing set of arguments for all that. Every line makes you think again about what you have seen. Seldes goes on to tackle different aspects of his seven lively arts, with an entertaining variety of approaches to the different chapters. A chapter on D.W. Griffith is in the form of a duologue outside an Ancient Greek theatre. There is a mocking open letter to movie magnates (‘I am trying to trace for you the development of the serious moving picture as a bogus art, and I can’t do better than assure you that it was best before it was an “art” at all’). His chapter on Chaplin reveals a deep appreciation of the ebbs and flows of his work which reads like a critic commenting on a display of paintings in gallery. He is alert to the aesthetic experience of Chaplin’s overall output: ‘The flow of his line always corresponds to the character and tempo; there is a definite relation between the melody and the orchestration he gives it’. As noted, he also champions the cinema novel (it is almost the only section of the book not devoted to American culture), because it shows literary people thinking cinematically rather than people of the cinema losing faith in the essential value of their medium and weakly copying literature or the theatre. Other chapters cover jazz, comic strips, Al Jolson and Fanny Brice, Krazy Kat, clowns, Pablo Picasso and more.
The Seven Lively Arts is available in online as one of the hypertext series from American Studies at the University of Virginia. The online version incudes all appendices and illustrations. The digitisation isn’t perfect, with some slips in the OCR (there are problems with split words, accents and some punctuation). In places words are missing. But it is helpfully divided up into chapters and shows page breaks and page numbers. Into the Bioscope Library it goes.
The cinema novel does not mean novelisations (which began in the silent era and may well be the subject of another post). Rather I mean a phenomenon identified by the American cultural critic Gilbert Seldes in his 1924 book, The Seven Lively Arts. Seldes wrote:
[I]t is interesting to note that the cinema influence in literature in France is almost exactly opposite to what it is here [in America]. There it seems to make for brevity, hardness, clarity, brilliance. You will find it in the extraordinary stories of Paul Morand and Louis Aragon; and you will find in neither of these those characteristic sloppinesses which American authors are beginning to blame on the movies. If they would take the trouble of studying the pictures, instead of trying to make money out of them, and discover the elements in the cinema technique which are capable of making their own work fruitful, we might have better novels, and we certainly would have a few less bad pictures.
Two Frenchmen have, at the same time, used the scenario as a method of fiction, and each of them has written a highly ironic piece which is capable of being transferred to the film, but which reads sufficiently well to be considered as an end in itself.
Seldes was excited by what looked like an emerging trend – writers of the modernist school seeing exciting possibilities in transferring the dynamism and visual quality of cinema to literary works. There were plenty among the modernist, Futurists, Cubists and other sorts of ists whose imaginations had been fired by cinema (especially Chaplin, Keystone and serial films). Some, such as the Futurist Anton Giulio Bragaglia managed to put their ideas into film; others, like Apollinaire, Kandinsky and Schoenberg theorised about the possibilities of combining their art forms (poetry, painting, music) with film.
None was more enthused than the first of Seldes’ examples, Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961). Cendrars was a poet, journalist, novelist and creative autobiographer (much of what he wrote about his personal history needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt). He was an arch modernist, as experimental in his life as he was in his works. Like many French intellectuals of the period, he was excited by cinema’s possibilities as a new and universal language, but unlike most he was able to get involved in production itself. He served as an all-round production assistant on Abel Gance’s J’Accuse (1919), appearing briefly in the film as an actor, and was assistant director on Gance’s La roue (1923), for which Cendrars directed the innovative (and extant) promo film Autour de la roue. He went on to write an impressionistic theoretical text, L’ABC du cinéma (1926), which expounded his ideas on the ways in which cinema’s multifariousness captured the very essence of modern life. His 1925 novel of the American west, L’or, attracted interest in Hollywood, with Sergei Eisenstein trying to get Paramount to produce it during his American phase. Eventually James Cruze directed it as Sutter’s Gold in 1936 while Luis Trenker made an unofficial adpatation, Der Kaiser von Kalifornien, in Germany the same year. Cendrars also wrote a quirky, perversely observant account of two weeks in Hollywood, Hollywood: La Meque du cinéma (1936).
What Seldes highlighted, however, were two works, La Fin du monde (1919) and La Perle fiévreuse (1921), in which Cendrars brought the cinema into his writing. La Fin du Monde, filmée par l’Ange N.-D. [The End of the World, filmed by the Angel of Notre-Dame] was conceived of as a film-novel and is ostenibly organised as a film scenario. It tells of God as a ruthless businessman, for whom business has been good in the war because it has yielded up so many souls. God travels to Mars, visits all manner of plagues upon earth and kills off mankind all in the name of business, only for the story to rewind like a reel of film back to the beginning to reveal human life starting again, only this time God is bankrupt.
It is not your average novel, and it did not look like one. Published by Éditions de la Sirène, which specialised in innovative designs, the book was illustrated with abstract designs and colourful lettering by the artist Fernard Léger (see example right), who also designed the typography. Léger would of course go on to turn filmmaker with Ballet mécanique in 1924. There is no English translation available, but the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (the Dutch national library) provides a background history in English and what’s more a multimedia presentation on the book (in Dutch, French or English) which outlines the narrative, illustrated with many of the original images.
Cendrars next wrote La Perle fiévreuse [The Feverish Pearl] in 1921, a work with a curious history. In his imaginative autobiography, The Astonished Man, he says that he was responsible for an Italian film which he calls La Vénus noire,
starring Dourga, the Hindu dancer from the Opéra Comique, and using all the animals from the zoological gardens.
He says that he fell victim to a financial scandal which led to the collapse of the Italian film industry, personally losing 1,250,000 francs and ruining any opportunities the film might have had. Long thought of as a piece of Cendrars fantasy, the late Italian film historian Vitorio Martinelli, discovered that the film was indeed made and reviewed, as La Venere nera (1923), though little evidence of it can be found thereafter. It may be possible that the film was destroyed by Cendrars himself, as he himself claimed.
But before the film had been made, Cendrars had published his script in serial form, subtitled a ‘roman cinématographié’. This was La Perle fiévreuse. It is a spoof on detective fiction, with a host of renowned fictional detectives engaged in frantic pursuit of two women. The text is presented as though a director’s script, with precise filming instructions. Richard Abel (in Dada and Surrealist Film) provides a translated example of the effect:
1. Iris in on a small statue of Shiva dancing. Hold, then pan slowly over to the maid Co-Thaô, standing in a simple black dress. Hold; then track-dolly (in the same direction as the pan) until the camera reaches the door, which opens.
2. Now dolly through the doorway toward the meeting of the Hindu dancer Rougha and Miss Ethel Berkshire, who enters with an armful of flowers.
3. Close shot of Miss Ethel, surprised and delighted, brightly lit, a little in front of the door.
And so on, for around 850 ‘shots’. Gilbert Seldes was rather dismissive of the results:
American movie technique … M. Cendrars has evidently learned all too well, because he uses it, in all its tedious detail, in La Perle Fievreuse, for which he is publishing not a scenario but a director’s script, with the cutbacks and visions and close-ups all numbered and marked. It is in the manner of the old Biograph movies with what may turn out to be not such innocent fun at the expense of the detective film. Among its characters are Max Trick, director of Trick’s Criminal Courier, the great daily which specializes in criminal news. He is marked “Type: le President Taft” and is first shown in his office with twenty-five telephones in front of him; among his collaborators are Nick Carter and Arsène Lupin, Conan Doyle and Maurice Leblanc.
There is a long tradition of unfilmed screenplays published as texts, often because the demands of the writer’s imagination were too much for those who needed to finance such films and put them before an audience. One can either sees these as absurdities rightly turned down by level-headed producers, or a longing for a truly imaginative cinema unconstrained by the petty demands of the money man. Some French film theorists and avant garde-ists such Jean Epstein and Marcel L’Herbier did successfully bridge the gap between dreams and reality to become noted film directors, and of course Cendrars’ La Venere nera was produced. But diverting as his text may be, it is not truly a new work of the imagination.
Rather more to Seldes’ taste, because his cinema-novel was more fully realised and a genuine breakthrough in literary creation, was the work of his second example, Jules Romains (1885-1972). Romains was a poet, novelist and prosletyser for a literary movement of his own devising, Unanimism, which was concerned with a collective state of mind. He wrote many books, showed rather too much interest in Fascism, but what interests us here is one work with an extraordinary title: Donogoo-Tonka ou Les Miracles de la science: conte cinématographique, in English Donogoo Tonka or The Miracles of Science: A Cinematographic Tale (1920).
Donogoo had its genesis in a Blaise Cendrars initative. In 1918 Cendrars invited Jean Cocteau, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jules Romains and other to collaborate on a ‘cinema book’ which would bring together putative filmscripts by leading experimental writers. The book never happened, but Romains completed his scenario. However, although he argued that the text could be taken as a perfectly serviceable film script, in reality it was something halfway between the two media, and artfully achieved to be just so.
Romains’ cinema novel tells of a famous geographer, Yves Trouhadec, whose reputation depends on the discovery of the South American gold mining town Donogoo-Tonka which he placed on the map but unfortunately doesn’t exist. A would-be suicide Lamendin offers to float a company and lead an expedition to discover the lost town and save Trouhadec’s reputation. Lamendin creates fake films of the supposed town, sparking off a gold-rush. Adventurers come from all over the world to find Donogoo-Tonka, and having failed to find the town, build one anyway. Lamendin arrives to discover that the imaginary town exists after all, in which a religion is established, dedicated to scientific error (Romains’ main theme). Trouhadec is now a revered figure.
This is entertaining satire, but what is most interesting is the technique. Romains sets out his agenda in a prefatory note:
The framed portions of the text are to be projected on the screen. All the rest should be represented by the actors’ movements and by the possibilities of the staging.
Except when indicated in the text itself, the scenes should unfold with the normal rhythm of events in life. One should be especially wary of that unvarying and lamentable speed that too many people seem to see as one of the essential conventions of the cinematographic art.
Where there is some doubt on this point – in the scenes, for example, where the only events that unfold are the thoughts of the characters – it is better to err on the side of excessive slowness and overly scrupulous attention, so as to bring out all intentions and nuances.
These are, of course, instructions for reading, not viewing. Romains makes it clear that this is a cinematograph of the mind, though he does indeed have framed portions which serve as intertitles (though they are far more than that, serving as commentary and providing verbal illustrations), and the present tense narrative gives the sense of watching a film – yet it is a film where one sees equally the outward show and what is going on inside someone’s mind.
The technique is apparent in this extract:
A rapid succession of short scenes, each lasting barely a minute, shows us the propaganda for Donogoo-Tonka, insidious, rich in detail, irrepressible.
1. A fat fifty-year-old man has his morning hot chocolate in a pleasant dining room. The maid brings in the mail. The first envelope, when opened, lets out the prospectus for Donogoo-Tonka. The man skims it, without ceasing to eat his bread and butter. But watch how the twelve letters Donogoo-Tonka rise up, tear themselves free, escape from the paper and start scurrying, one after another, on the table, like a band of little mice …
… 3. A man struggles up the steps of an underground staircase. On the edge of each step: DONOGOO-TONKA. The inscription, at first lifeless and neutral, becomes more glistening, more active, from stair to stair. By the end the letters bulge out, corrode, burn. The man half-turns his head and through his no longer opaque skull we make out his brain, marked, like the shoulder of a convict, with twelve small, cracking letters.
We move from the literally visual (we’ve seen films like this before), to the arrestingly visual (OK, you could achieve that with animation, I’ve seen it done somewhere before) to the psychically visual (sorry M. Romains, but these sort of special effects won’t be around for another sixty years). It is avant garde cinema, before avant garde cinema existed.
Pages from the 1932 Dutch edition of Donogoo Tonka, with illustrations by Jo Spier, showing the ‘intertitle’ style on the left-hand page. From Markplatts.nl
Donogoo-Tonka is rather too obvious as satire, but it is an entertaining read and a constant stimulus to the imagination. It makes you think how you apprehend things, when reading, when watching, when simply living. Its dramatic possibilities did not interest film producers at the time, but a stage version was produced in Paris in 1930 and in Delft in 1931, the latter having filmed sequences shot by Joris Ivens, no less (sadly it is a lost film). It has been occasionaly staged since. In 1936 a German film version was produced, Donogoo Tonka, die geheimnisvolle Stadt, loosely based on the stage version but with a romantic plot. It was directed by Reinhold Schünzel and starred Anny Ondra. Romains disowned it.
Seldes is ringing in his praise of Romains’ achievement:
In the scenes which exploit the shares in Donogoo-Tonka we enter into the minds of individuals, of groups, of crowds; at the end the very framework of a building succumbs to the madness of the idea. And then, with a technical mastery not yet put into practise, M. Romains directs that the various scenes just projected be shown again, side by side, with a gradually accelerated rhythm. In the scenes of the adventurers we get glimpses at Marseilles, London, Naples, Porto, Singapore, San Francisco; then we see the groups starting out; the lines of their voyage converge. These scenes are projected first in succession and then simultaneously. Each time we see them we recognize some of the individuals we have seen before “And when by chance the faces are turned towards us, we have a feeling that they, too, recognize us.” The cinema has not yet accomplished that; chiefly, I fancy, because it never has been asked to.
Happily Donogoo Tonka was published in an English translation for the first time in 2009, with a knowledgable afterword by Joan Ockman.
There were other attempts at marrying the film text with the literary text at this time, for example Pierre Albert-Birot’s 2 x 2 = 1 (1919) and the dadaist poet Ivan Goll’s Die Chapliniade (1920). But the best known example from our period comes not from the French avant garde but from the English novelistic tradition, H.G. Wells‘ novel The King who was a King (1929).
The King who was a King is not one of Wells’ best works. It had its origins in an idea of his to produce a propaganda film on the subject of world peace, and it is as portentous and hectoring in tone as that might suggest. The film was never made, so Wells turned his ideas into a novel. What is interesting is its critique of cinema. In a long preface expressing disappointment with cinema story-telling, he expresses arguments that the literary modernist would have shared:
[T]he idea that the film was just a way of telling stories in moving pictures dominated the cinema theatre entirely for nearly a couple of decades, and still dominates it. It satisfied a hitherto unsuspected need for visual story-telling. It worked out lucratively … Can we get off the ground of the realistic story-film?
Wells set out to write a novel that demonstrates what he believes film should be able to achieve, as a vehicle for Wellsian ideas. Unfortunately he chose the wrong subject, and with insufficient appreciation of the method he was adopting. He shows some imaginative touches, describing the action throughout as though it is a film that we are watching, giving some indication of camera movements and scene-setting, but it remains novelistic in its thinking and in its unfolding. It lacks Romains’ wit. It makes the mistake of trying to correct film rather than trying to re-imagine the novel. The effect can be seen in this passage:
The film now plunges into the midst of Dr. Harting’s Steelville lecture upon The Causes of War.
Dr. Harting is an old distinguished-looking American, lean and tall, after the type of the late President Eliot of Harvard. He uses glasses to read his notes, and holds them in his hand while he speaks, often tapping the papers. He stands upon a platform at a reading-desk. Behind him are diagrams, indistinctly seen at first, and a chairman sits beside him. The picture is photographed with the camera turned somewhat upward in such a way as to make Dr. Harting slenderly dominant, like the prow of a ship.
A glimpse is given of Zelinka and Margaret sitting together in the front row of the audience, and then one sees a few other figures in the audience. Man the Destroyer is present, hostile and critical, and several commonplace and excitable types.
The lecturer says:
“Do not imagine you can secure the Peace of the World by good resolutions. So long as you have national flags, national competition, national rivalry, you will have war.”
Man the Destroyer in the audience shouts, “Traitor,” and an old gentleman sitting near him says, “My country, right or wrong!” and looks round excitedly for approval.
A middle-aged man rises, points to the lecturer and says:
“You go too fast and too far.”
The picture centres back on the lecturer.
This thinks that it is cinematic, but it isn’t. It simply sets out that which one might find in an ordinary novel, with the addition of camera placements. We would see the action anyway, without these additions. The use of present tense masks what is actually quite conventional. Wells understood film well enough, but he was too much the novelist to be able to express such understanding in words.
The cinema novel was an interesting by-product of the enthusiasm of the literary intelligensia for film in the late teens and early 1920s, as modernist ideas were evolving. It did not turn into a genre, because avant garde cinema emerged in the mid-1920s to fill the need. The true successors of La Fin du monde and Donogoo-Tonka were L’entracte (1924), La Coquille et le Clergyman (1928) and Un chien andalou (1929). However, the cinema novel did return three decades later through the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose concept of the ciné-roman presented the film script as a text which had an independent existence as a literary work. L’Année dernière à Marienbad is an example.
This post is indebted to the introduction by Garrett White to Blaise Cendrars, Hollywood: Mecca of the Movies (University of California Press, 1995), Joan Ockman’s afterword to Donogoo Tonka or The Miracles of Science (Buell Center/Princeton Architectural Press, 2009) and Richard Abel, ‘Exploring the Discursive Field of the Surrealist Film Scenario Text’, in Rudolf E. Kuenzli (ed.), Dada and Surrealist Film (MIT Press, 1996).
Conference image for Cinema Across Media, showing the construction of miniatures for Metropolis
Cinema Across Media: The 1920s is the title of what is promisingly advertised as the First International Berkeley Conference on Silent Cinema. It takes place 24–26 February 2011 at the University of California, Berkeley, and describes itself as follows:
Cinema’s institutional consolidation in the 1920s enlisted practitioners from many other fields and transformed the entire ensemble of established media. Avant-garde cinemas borrowed extensively from a variety of artistic practices, while the “cinematic” became the new standard for both modernist aesthetics and popular culture. Today’s multimedia environment brings cinema of the 1920s into new focus as the site of rich intermedial traffic, especially if the term “media” encompasses not only recording technologies and mass media, such as photography, phonography, radio, and illustrated press, but also the physical materials used for aesthetic expression, such as paint, print, plaster, stone, voice, and bodies.
Indeed what do they know of silent cinema who only silent cinema know. The starry line-up of plenary speakers will be Thomas Elsaesser (University of Amsterdam), Tom Gunning (University of Chicago), Gertrud Koch(Free University of Berlin), Paolo Cherchi Usai (Haghefilm Foundation) and Anthony Vidler (Cooper Union), and the full conference schedule has been issued, plus screenings (at the Pacific Film Archive Theater), as follows:
Saturday, Feb 19th
Pre-conference screening at 6.00pm of The Complete Metropolis, Fritz Lang (Germany, 1926)
Wednesday, Feb 23rd
Pre-conference screening at 7:30 pm of Rien que les heures, Alberto Cavalcanti (France, 1926)
Introduced by Anne Nesbet, Judith Rosenberg on Piano
Preceded by Architecture d’aujourdhui (Pierre Chenal, France, 1930) Die Neue Wohnung (Hans Richter, Switzerland, 1930)
Thursday, Feb 24th
Tom Gunning, From the Cinema of Attractions to the Montage of Attractions: The Art of Running Film History Backwards
Screening of L’Inhumaine (Marcel L’Herbier, 1924)
Introduction by Gertrud Koch
Judith Rosenberg on Piano
Friday, Feb 25th
Gertrud Koch, Off/On/In: Configurations of voice, body and apparatus
11 am–12:30 pm
“Local” Aesthetics and the Aesthetics of Location
Sarah Keller, Approaches to Truth: Jean Epstein and Intermedial Revelations of the 1920s
Luciana Corrêa de Araújo, Movie prologues in Rio de Janeiro (1926–1927)
Laura Isabel Serna, Picturing la patria: Ethnography, Costumbrismo, and Mexican Feature Film Production in the 1920s
The Body: Forms, Models, Constructions
Weihong Bao, Plastic Cinema, Flexible Media: Dan Duyu’s Amateur Art of Beauty and the Politics of Intermedial Embodiment in 1920s China
Kaveh Askari, Sculpture, Modeling, and Motion-Picture Craft: Promoting Rex Ingram at Metro
Mark Lynn Anderson, Deserts of Modernity: Valentino and The National Geographic
Cinema, Light, Architecture
Megan Luke, Film-Space, Light-Architecture: Theo van Doesburg and Kurt Schwitters
Brian Jacobson, Producing Cinema and Industrial Modernity at the Cité Elgé, 1919–1929
Noam Elcott, Invisible Architectures
Media Consolidation and Conglomeration
André Gaudreault & Louis Pelletier, From Photoplays to Pictures: An Intermedial Perspective on the Names for “Moving Pictures” in the Late Silent Era
Charlie Keil, Inventing Hollywood for the 1920s
Ross Melnick, The Emergence of Convergence: Intermediality and the Convergence of Film, Broadcasting, and Music Publishing and Recording in the 1920s
Anthony Vidler, The Promenade Architecturale: Space and Movement in 1930s Modernism from Eisenstein to Le Corbusier
Paolo Cherchi Usai, The Unbearable Lightness of Canon: Silent Comedies in the 1920s
Pass the Gravy (Fred L. Guiol, 1928) Springtime Saps (Les Goodwin, 1927) Should Men Walk Home? (Leo McCarey, 1927)
Judith Rosenberg on Piano
Saturday, Feb 26th
Mobilizing the Archive: Projectors, Exhibitors, Industries
Haidee Wasson, Suitcase Cinema: The Case of the Portable Film Projector
Dino Everett, Old Dog New Tricks: Using 9.5mm films to revisit the final films of Vitagraph
Masaki Daibo, Umbilical links or discontinuities—Reconsidering the Early Japanese Sound Cinema in terms of Phonofilms
Kim Tomadjoglou, Itinerant Exhibitors Felix and Edmundo Padilla
David Wood, Sound, Colour and Intertitles in Silent Black and White Films: On Originality and Performance in 1920s Mexican Cinema
Jan-Christopher Horak, The Czech Film Industry in the 1920s: Questioning National Cinema
11:30 am–1 pm
Film Artistry and Multimedia Practice
Tami Williams, The Musicality of Gesture in the Cinema of Germaine Dulac
Oksana Bulgakowa, Eisenstein as multimedia artist, Peter Greenaway as his curator
Lucy Fischer, La Roue (The Rail), Silent Cinema and the “Wheels of Consciousness”
Theory, Performance, Fantasy
Johannes von Moltke, Classical Film Theory: A Novel
Jason McGrath, From Semiosis to Mimesis: Performance in Chinese Drama and Film Theory of the 1920s
Doron Galili & Yuri Tsivian, The Skybook: A Ubiquitous Media Fantasy
Intermediary Zones: Film and the Avant-Gardes
Jennifer Wild, Reproductive Reception: The case of Francis—Marcel
Diane Wei Lewis, Words on Film: Avant-Garde Artist Murayama Tomoyoshi in “The Film Age”
Michael Cowan, The Moving Surface of Design: Abstraction and the Weimar Advertising Film
Sound, Aesthetics, Technology
Michael Raine, The limits of silent cinema: Ozu Yasujiro and the “neo-film sans silence”
Anupama Kapse, Song and Dance in the Indian Silent Film
Rob King, Stultification and Sensation: The Impact of Sound on the American Slapstick Tradition, 1928–1929
Thomas Elsaesser, Cinema Across Media: Expanding the Avant-Garde beyond the Political Divide
Thomas Elsaesser, Tom Gunning, Gertrud Koch, Paolo Cherchi Usai, Anthony Vidler
Well, that’s a heady line-up of speakers and subjects, while showing that silent film conferences are always going to have a clear advantage over any other kind of academic conference because you can get to do something like screening Pass the Gravy. It shows how dynamic the field is these days, and how much rich and genuinely international work is going, particularly looking at the interconnections between cinema and other media with which it always was so closely intertwined.
The conference site has details of speakers, locations, registration (it’s all free) and accommodation. It looks like the major event it has set out to be, and it will be very interesting to see what outputs derive from the conference and whether it does become the first in a series. If any Bioscopist is going to the conference and can report on some or all of it, do get in touch. I certainly wish I could be there – but I can’t.
Brad Koenig and Edita Vilkeviciute in Karl Lagerfeld’s Coco Chanel film
Let’s bring a little glamour to the sometimes rather fusty Bioscope, and take a look at the world of fashion. Because designer Karl Lagerfeld has made a ten-minute silent film about Coco Chanel, which premieres in Paris tomorrow. This article from Women’s Wear Daily Fashion provides us with the essential details:
A glamorous, big-budget short film of the silent variety will premiere in Paris this week, and it’s all due to Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld, who donned a director’s hat and let rip his encyclopedic knowledge of Gabrielle Chanel’s early years.
The 10-minute movie — in all its flapper glory, as these stills illustrate — will be screened at Le Ranelagh theater on Wednesday night, along with a showing of Chanel’s Paris-Moscow, a luxury pre-fall ready-to-wear collection embellished by the couture ateliers Chanel owns.
“Today, people are ready for silent movies again, as they spend time — hours, I would say — looking at text messages and e-mails,” says Lagerfeld. “I always loved silent movies.”
The designer gathered some familiar members of his entourage, including model Brad Koenig and his bodyguard/private secretary Sébastien Jondeau (mustachioed and surly as a Russian nightclub owner), for the cast, along with model Edita Vilkeviciute, her gamine allure, jutting chin and ramrod posture creating a beguiling portrayal of the young Coco from 1913, when the legendary designer first set up shop. As reported in WWD Nov. 17, Tallulah Ormsby-Gore plays a Chanel model who has to sell her real-life mother, Lady Amanda Harlech, a hat in the film. Even the workers in the Chanel atelier got to play parts as workers in the fashion house. “I cannot take extras,” Lagerfeld notes. “They don’t know how to touch the clothes.”
The second part of the film takes place in 1923, when Chanel was already established, and is interspersed with newsreel images from the First World War. The plot, conveyed with title cards, involves a fascinating cast of characters, many tied to Russia, including Chanel’s lover the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, from whom she borrowed the pea jacket and pelisse, giving them a feminine touch. “It’s a funny movie, unpretentious,” says Lagerfeld. “Chanel was a charming woman, at liberty to seduce men. Everybody this year has decided to make a movie about Chanel, and you know their historical worth is not always too exact.”
Lagerfeld’s mini movie took two days to shoot in a studio on the outskirts of Paris, and was “made like a Hollywood production,” the designer says. “I had every image in my head.” As for the collection he will show, he says it will be “constructed,” incorporating elements of imperial Russia and Russian folklore.
Well, I think we’re all pleased that Karl loves silent movies even if – were one to be cynical – he may not actually have seen one. And I’m impressed by the intellectual leap displayed when he says that people are ready for silent films once more because they dedicate so much of their time to reading texts and emails. If anyone has wise words on that one, I’d be glad to see them.
A title for Lagerfeld’s film does not appear to have been advertised, but no doubt it will generate far more column space than any conventional silent film screening today, and the same hackneyed ideas about what silents looked like and what they represented will persist. The WWD Fashion article includes an eleven-picture slideshow of images from the film, so you may judge for yourselves.
There is a growing interest in exhibiting the alliances the silent cinema had with variety. Those alliances were undoubtedly there (so many early cinema shows were really variety programmes interspersed with films, or else the other way around), but what is novel is expounding the thesis through live entertainment. We have had the Crazy Cinématographe shows in Luxembourg, and in London there is The Smoking Cabinet.
This intriguing combination of early cinema screenings, cabaret and panel discussions was launched last year. A year on, the same concept returns to the Curzon Soho, 12-14 December. Billed as a ‘festival of early cabaret and burlesque cinema, 1894-1933’, the programme is suitably eclectic and exotic:
Opening Night The Smoking Cabinet Vs. Midnight Movies: Piccadilly (1929)
For this year’s opening night The Smoking Cabinet have teamed up with Midnight Movies to offer something a little different; live performance and music in the bar from 8:30pm followed by a special screening of E.A. Dupont’s Piccadilly (1929) featuring Anna May Wong.
Fri 12th Dec Bar performances and live music from 8:30pm, screening 11.30pm
Tickets £8 advance / £12 on door
On with the Dance!
A joyous evening of dance and showgirl themed films, featuring delights from Divine and Charles, Fatima and Carmencita, The Whirl of the Charleston (1927) and chorus girls galore.
+ Discussion Boom or Bust?
1894-1933 tracks the emergence of an entirely new form of entertainment in the shape of the moving image and cinema. We look at how the film absorbed more established forms of entertainment of the time from vaudeville to cabaret, burlesque and the musicals. We’ll also look at the cyclical nature of trends, asking why certain forms have boomed at specific times and bust at others. We’ll also ask if the death bell tolls for the current fascination with burlesque?
Sat 13th Dec 6:00pm
Sandow the Muscle Man and the Spirit of Coney Island
Roll up, roll up to witness boxing cats, the king of coins, and Edwin S Porter’s classic Coney Island at Night (1905), screening in a celebration of the extraordinary amusement empire that astonished, delighted and shocked a nation. There’s a rare opportunity to see Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton’s 1917 romp Coney Island and to revel in the most magnificent spectacle of the world’s mad hunt for pleasure!
We’ll provide a Coney Island experience in the bar as we tip our sailor hats to the seaside fun and amusements of yesteryear and offer a free tipple to all guests!
+ Special guest speaker on the history and significance of New York’s decadent palace of pleasure.
Sun 14th Dec 4:00pm
Closing Night: That’s all folks!
Join us for our last screening, live music, cakes and dancing as we wind down with an eclectic variety finale including Bob’s Electric Theatre (1909), Gus Elen: It’s a Great Big Shame and La Boite a malice (1903).
Sun 14th Dec 6:00pm
There’s more information, including how to book, on The Smoking Cabinet website. Attendees are also encouraged to ‘dress to impress’, which – let’s face it – so few silent film audiences ever do these days. All this, and lessons in dancing the Charleston as well.
You may remember that last year there was an exhibition at the PaceWildenstein gallery in New York on Picasso, Braque and Early Film in Cubism. It took the interesting if contentious line that Picasso and Braque were enthusiasts for early cinema (for which there is scant actual evidence), and that their experience of early film helped inform their cubist art.
A year on, and a film has appeared, Picasso & Braque Go to the Movies, made by art dealer Arne Glimcher, who was behind the exhibition, and featuring, among other, Martin Scorsese. The sixty-minute documentary features at this month’s Toronto International Film Festival, whose sites provides this blurb on the film:
Anyone with the remotest interest in the relationship between film and the visual arts will want to pay careful attention to this Mavericks presentation. It features heavy hitters from both cultural worlds, brought together by a most intriguing interlocutor. Arne Glimcher is among the great tastemakers of the art world. The artists he represents through his PaceWildenstein Gallery in New York City – including the recently departed Robert Rauschenberg – would alone embody a rich and coherent history of twentieth-century art. Glimcher is also a filmmaker, acting as a producer (The Good Mother) and director (The Mambo Kings) on several significant films.
A decade or so ago, Glimcher asked himself a question: if photography could have had such an impact on Manet and the Impressionists, shouldn’t cinema have had a similar impact on subsequent generations? His thinking turned to the advent of cubism, and especially the groundbreaking paintings of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Soon a major gallery show and book emerged. “Picasso, Braque and Early Film in Cubism” explicitly contrasted film clips from early cinema (especially those of Georges Méliès) with cubist paintings.
Glimcher has now turned that show into an hour-long documentary, featuring today’s leading artists, intellectuals and curators. The result is both great fun and intellectually adventurous. Martin Scorsese, as great a film historian as he is a filmmaker, signed on as a producer, and contributes a personal and fascinating narration. The ever-articulate Chuck Close provides enormous insight as a (celebrated) painter fascinated by how motion and artificiality is captured and transposed onto canvas. And in a tour-de-force series of intellectual connections, master painter and Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Julian Schnabel reflects on time, stillness, colour, experiential desire and the necessity of colourless boxes.
There a clip from the film on Cinematical, which has Scorsese speculating on how you photograph a dream, accompanied by clips from the Edison Frankenstein on 1910. And this 2007 New YorkTimes article discusses the original exhibition and its ideas. Apparently there’s talk of it being nominated for an Oscar (or Academy Award®, if you will).
A monument to Charlie Chaplin has appeared in Kostanai last week. As reported, it is the 12th in the world. The very fact of a sculpture to the cinematographe idol being installed in our city is quite weird for the town’s standards, especially taking into account that the only movie theatre in Kostanai was recently demolished. In any case, now we have Charlie and a bench near charlie. And as Farid writes in the local newspaper, “the bench is good enough to sleep on it — that’s practical, because we have as much vagabonds in town as in NYC in early 1900s”.
What intrigues me is where the other eleven statues are. I wasn’t able to find a helpful source for this, and so I set out to track them down for myself – though it all depends on how you define ‘statue’. Anyway, I thought I’d share this information with you; certainly it’s pleasing to see how admiration for silent cinema’s most celebrated practitioner is marked worldwide in bronze. So to start with (left) we have the twelfth and most recent statue, that which has gone up in Kostanai.
Next, there’s the renowned statue of Chaplin in London’s Leicester Square. He is located in the heart of London’s movieland, with cinemas all about him, while his fellow statues in the Square are Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, Sir Joshua Reynolds, John Hunter (a pioneer of surgery), and William Hogarth. The Chaplin statue is by John Doubleday, and was created in 1981.
On to Chaplin’s final home, Vevey in Switzerland. In the Square Chaplin, Quai Perdonnet is you’ll find the double of John Doubleday’s statue, showing the little tramp looking out over his favourite view of Lake Geneva and the Alps. It is said to be the subject of pilgrimage, and certainly there are plenty of blogs out there showing people photographed next to Chaplin, leaving flowers there, or even kissing the statue. It was erected in 1982, and is a copy of the Leicester Square statue.
Our next statue is in the seaside town of Waterville, Co. Kerry, Ireland. Waterville was a favourite holiday destination of the Chaplin family. The legend on a stone nearby reads, “For the man who made the movies speak in the hearts of millions. Charlie spent many years in our midst as a welcome and humble guest and friend to many. This image was created by sculptor Alan Ryan Hall. It was funded by the generosity of Josephine Chaplin and by the EU Leader Programme”. It was unveiled in 1998.
And on to Norway. In Oslo, near the Frognerpark, in front of the Coliseum cinema there is a bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin by the renowned Norwegian sculptor (well, renowned to Norwegians, anyway) Nils Aas, dated 1976. Frustratingly, I haven’t been able to track down an image of this in situ [see comments], but here at least is a studio copy. There doesn’t seem to have been any special association of Chaplin with Norway, unlike most of the other statues on view here.
Now let’s away to China, no less. This statue is located outside the ‘Old Film Cafe’. Duolan Road, Hongkou District, Shanghai. The personal connection is that Chaplin secretly honeymooned in Shanghai with Paulette Goddard in 1936. No information as to sculptor or date, but much like most of the statues on display here, you have to say it looks nothing like him. It’s so easy to capture the outline figure, so difficult to capture the man.
I’m not quite sure why there should be a statue on Charlie Chaplin in Venezuela, but there is. It is located in the city of Mérida, where it is to be found in the Plazoleta Charles Chaplin. No information that I can find as to artist or reason. So on to Disneyland Paris, where a statue of Charlie Chaplin welcomes visitors to the Production Courtyard, but I’ve not yet found a picture of this one.
And now we travel to Alassio in Italy. This sheltered spot on the Ligurian coast (the Italian Riviera) is another place where Chaplin often stayed on holiday. The legend on the base of the elongated and not terribly Chaplin-like statue simply reads ‘Charlot’. No information as yet on sculptor or date.
The statue on the left is located in Gabrovo, a small mountain town in Bulgaria. Gabrovo and Gabrovians are apparently the butt of Bulgarian national jokes, but they have responded ingeniously by creating a museum of humour and satire. So it is an appropriate location for a statue of Chaplin. The statue was created by Georgi Chapkanov, and is situated next to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. It also wins some marks for being a little different.
This sitting statue of Chaplin is to be found in the foyer to the Roosevelt Hotel, along Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles. It common with most of the statues, there is particular reason for its location. It was at the Roosevelt Hotel where Chaplin received his Academy Award for The Circus in 1929. Another favourite subject for a host of tourist photos.
Well, that makes eleven. Where’s the twelfth? I don’t think the twelve-foot statue of Kermit the Frog as Chaplin outside the Jim Henson Studios (the former Chaplin Studios) really counts. Nor do assorted figures of Chaplin outside restaurants. I think I’ll go with the statue of him outside the Hollywood Entertainment Museum in Los Angeles, which is pleasingly dynamic (pictured left). If anyone knows of any others, or has more information about those described, do say.
Update (16 March 2009): For the news story about the attempt to build a giant statue of Chaplin in India, which have aroused religious protests, see The 13th Statue.
Another day, another outstanding website. Out of the blue Flipbook.info has appeared (well, out of the blue to me – it’s been around for a while), and I warmly recommend it to you. It is a site dedicated to the history, definition and usage of the flipbook, that sister technology of the silent cinema. It defines the flip book, or flick book, thus:
A flip book is a collection of combined pictures intended to be flipped over to give the illusion of movement and create an animated sequence from a simple small book without machine.
Flipbooks became very popular in the late nineteenth century, and are still produced today – indeed, who among us has not created their own basic flip sequence by drawing successive figures at the corner of the pages of a school exercise book? (You mean you haven’t? – go out and do so straight away and discover what intermittent motion and animation mean). But it was at the end of the nineteenth and into the early years of the twentieth century that flipbook technology overlapped with, indeed shared with cinema technology.
The Mutoscope (left), better known to many as ‘what the butler saw’, was one of the first photographic motion picture viewers. Invented by Herman Casler in 1895, the Mutoscope presented radially-mounted photographs on card which were flicked over in rapid sequence to give an illusion of movement. The American Mutoscope and Biograph Company was formed to exploit this invention, in tandem with 70mm films created by the Mutagraph camera, so that the same source generated product for showing on the big screen to a variety theatre audience or as a private pleasure for the single peepshow viewer. The company eventually shed the Mutoscope part of the business and became simply Biograph, took on a film director by the name of D.W. Griffith, and you know the rest. Other such hybrid technologies, using cinematograph films to generate the photographic sequences for flip cards, were the smaller Kinora viewer, invented by Auguste and Louis Lumière, and the Filoscope, invented by Henry Short.
All this and much, much more is covered by the site, which describes (with beautiful illustrations) an amazing range of flipbook views from the early years of the twentieth-century, demonstrating the interelationships with cinema, and how the form has been employed to illustrate sport, advertising, comic strips, pornography, even news and politics, how it has been used by artists, and how books themselves have use flipbook images. It is an astonishingly diverse field
And that’s not all. As well as the rich selection of images, there are demonstration movies for some of the types of viewer, including the Filoscope and the Kinora (frame grab right). The bilingual (English and French) site is the creation of Pascal Fouché, and is divided up into History, Typology, Viewers, Links (publishers, retailers, artists etc) and a blog (in French). The pags come with footnotes, and the knowledge on display is mightily impressive. Indeed my only criticism is that the search option only works in French – but do use it, because it brings up a whole load more images from a database, apprently of 4,250 flipbooks. Amazing stuff, lovingly put together, but as accessible as it is scholarly. Go explore.