The transit of Venus

An animation of Jules Janssen’s photographic sequence showing the transit of Venus, 8 December 1874

5-6 June 2012, will see the transit of the planet Venus across the face of the Sun. It’s worth looking out for, not least because the next time it occurs won’t be until 10 December 2117.

It was certainly something to look out for on 8 December 1874, when French scientist Pierre-Jules-César Janssen (1824-1907), a keen observer of eclipses (and now most famous as the discoverer of Helium), decided to try and capture the motion of Venus crossing the sun through sequence photography, something now recognised as one of the key milestones on the route to cinematography itself.

Janssen’s purpose was not to capture motion for its own sake, however. What was of particular interest to astronomers was capturing the very point of contact between planet and sun, which was needed to help determine solar distance more precisely. Since the exact moment could not be predicted, making a single-shot photograph strategy a hazardous one, Janssen planned to take a rapid sequence of photographs – or at least as rapid as the technology of 1874 would allow. This he achieved by constructing a ‘revolver photographique’ – a camera, somewhat similar in concept to a Colt revolver, driven by a clockwork-driven Maltese Cross-like mechanism capable of taking forty-eight exposures on a Daguerrotype plate over a period of seventy-two seconds. Daguerrotypes were becoming an antiquated technology, but, as Stephen Herbert explains on Who’s Who in Victorian Cinema:

… the metal plate ensur[ed] an absence of halation (flare) that could have been a problem if a glass plate had been used – and a wet plate would in any case have been inconvenient to use in such a camera. With the sun as the source there was no shortage of light, so the ‘slow’ daguerreotype process was ideal.

Janssen’s revolver photographique, pointed at a heliostat (a clockwork-operated mirror following the movement of the sun), as published in La Nature in 1875. The operator was the Brazilian astronomer d’Almeida

Janssen journeyed to Japan to take his photographic sequence (the actual operator of the revolver was a Brazilian, Francisco Antônio d’Almeida), while inspiring several British expeditions with the same purpose to use similar photographic apparatus constructed by J.H. Dallmeyer and using a form of dry plate photography (the expeditions were based in Egypt, India, Australia, Rodrigues, Honolulu, New Zealand and the Kerguelen Islands). Janssen presented the results to the Société Française de Photographie in 1875 – as still images, that is, not of course as a projected sequence, the technology for which was several years away from being invented. We can animate the sequence now, and all six seconds of it can be seen in the video above. The conditions under which Janssen ‘filmed’ were not ideal, it being a cloudy day, and the images were touched up slightly, making Janssen perhaps as much a proto-animator as he was a proto-cinematographer. (Although Janssen definitely produced a successful series of photographs, some suggest that the images we have today are from an earlier simulation made by Janssen to test his equipment).

Janssen’s work inspired others to capture scientific subjects through sequence photography, notably the physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey, and he lived long enough not only to see cinematography becaome a reality, but to appear in two early Lumière films: Débarquement du Congres de Photographie a Lyon and M. Janssen causant avec M. Lagrange, filmed on 11 June 1895.

The transit of Venus as photographed by Professor David Peck Todd on 6 December 1882

Jules Janssen’s capturing of the transit of Vanus as a sequence of images invariably features in pre-histories of cinema (or histories of pre-cinema). The British astronomers using similar technology are seldom mentioned, and in none of the histories will you find mention of the next transit of Venus, which took place on 6 December 1882, and which was also captured in sequence on photographic plates by astronomers ahead of eventual motion picture technology.

How many did so in 1882 I do not know, but one who definitely did was the American astronomer Professor David Peck Todd (1855-1939). Positioned on Mount Hamilton in California, his ‘solar photographic telescope’ was constructed by the optical firm Alvan Clark & Sons and enabled Todd to capture 147 wet-plate glass negatives. These images were rediscovered 120 years later, digitally copied and animated, and premiered before the International Astronomical Union in Sydney in July 2003. The conditions under which Todd operated were better, and the photographic plates superior, to Janssen’s expdition in 1874, and the resultant video is marvellously sharp. Once again, it needs to be pointed out that the images preceded motion picture projection by some years and were never seen in this way in 1882.

There is an excellent article on Janssen and his British imitators by Francoise Launay and Peter D. Hingley, ‘Jules Janssen’s “Revolver Photographique” and its British derivative, “The Janssen Slide”‘, originally published in Journal for the History of Astronomy vol. 36 pt. 1 no. 122 (2005).

From the same journal comes William Sheehan and Anthony Misch, ‘Ménage à trois: David Peck Todd, Mabel Loomis Todd, Austin Dickinson and the 1882 Transit of Venus‘ vol. 35 pt 2 no. 119 (2004), which includes the reanimation of Todd’s photographic plates and plenty on his interesting private life (his wife Mabel was responsible for the rediscovery of the poetry of Emily Dickinson).

After 1882, the next transit of Venus was in 2004. Tomorrow’s transit will be best viewed under cloudless skies around the Pacific Ocean, while in Europe we’ll see the transit already underway during sunrise on June 6th. There’s a guide on how and where to see it (don’t look at the sun with the naked eye, please) provided by The Guardian here. You can be certain of following it by watching one of the main live video streams on offer, a guide to which is provided here.

Everything you could possibly want to know about the transit of Venus is at, which rather wonderfully has a counter counting down the days until the 2117 transit. Just 38,538 days to go …

Googling Muybridge

Today is 9 April 2012, and by the end of the day we can reasonably expect 700 million people to know something about Eadweard Muybridge, the visionary 19th century photographer whose rapid action sequential images pointed the way to motion pictures. That’s the number of individuals estimated to visit Google every day, and today they would have come across the latest variant on the Google logo, or doodle, a grid of horses as photographed by Eadweard Muybridge, which animates into a succession of galloping horses. Of course, probably 90% of those individuals won’t both to click on the logo to make the animation run in an endless loop, and 90% of those who do won’t both to follow up the links to Muybridge sites that occur when you click on the logo again. But that still leaves seven million people who learned something about Muybridge today. Now doesn’t that make it sound like the world just became a marginally better place?

Of course, Google being Google, the list of links is a bit overwhelming for the newcomer, and most of the first two pages is given over to sites telling you that Google has just put Eadweard Muybridge on its front page, so that the whole thing becomes a bit of an endless loop in itself which doesn’t actually tell you much.

So, for the select few of you among the 700 million, here are some of the most useful Eadweard Muybridge links around. Do explore.

Oh, by the way, happy 182nd birthday to Eadweard.

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.

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

October 27th is designated World Day for Audiovisual Heritage by UNESCO. Had we enterprise enough and time, the Bioscope would have produced its own celebration of this event, but instead (and what is much better) let us point you to an exceptional resource produced for this day by the Museu del Cinema in Girona and Girona City Council through the Centre for Image Research and Diffusion (CRDI), with the collaboration of the International Council on Archives.

It is an online, interactive ‘poster’, entitled Audiovisual Heritage that provides a chronology of the historical development of the audio-visual media of cinema, photography, television, video and sound recording. Arranged by horizontally by decades and vertically by theme, it is a well-researched, well-illustrated, and compulsively browsable resource. Click on any box and a potted history pops up, with further illustrations, including some video demonstrations (also available through the Museu del Cinema’s YouTube channel). You can then explore that theme further by clicking through page arrows, or else return to the main arrow. The poster is available in Spanish, Catalan, English and French.

For a list of World Day for Audiovisual Heritage events taking place worldwide, visit For the Bioscope’s own account of the Museu del Cinema from earlier this year, click here.

Publisher’s blurb

Small publishers producing works on film and film-related subjects are a rare breed, and it is good to be able to report the return of The Projection Box, the enterprising Hastings business run by Stephen Herbert and Mo Heard. After “a period of slumber”, as their site puts it, they have returned with a new title, The Dickens Daguerreotype Portraits, by Herbert himself, and a new publishing strategy. They are using Blurb, the online print-on-demand service which is attracting a lot of interest from self-publishers and those just looking for alternative publishing options.

The first three titles to be available in this way are The Dickens Daguerreotype Portraits, a history of the very few daguerreotype portraits of Charles Dickens, and the single known daguerreotype portrait of his wife Catherine, well-timed for the bicentenary celebrations next year; the previously published The Kinora: motion pictures for the home, 1896-1914, by Barry Anthony, in a new extended version which includes a reprint of the Bond’s Ltd. 1911 Catalogue of Living Pictures that your may show in your own home; and also previously published, a facsimile of 1890 account of a famous Victorian optical illusion, The True History of the Ghost by ‘Professor’ John Henry Pepper, with an introduction by Mervyn Heard.

Other titles from The Projection Box back catalogue will be made available in this way in due course. These can still be ordered direct from The Projection Box in the traditional away, along with their CD publications and The Magic Lantern Society (UK) titles. The full list is (with prices):

  • Eadweard Muybridge: the Kingston Museum Bequest, eds. Ann McCormack and Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 30.00 p&p 4.50
    US dollars: 48.00, shipping US dollars 19.00
  • The Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern, eds: Richard Crangle, Stephen Herbert, David Robinson
    GB Pounds: 45.00 p&p 9.50
    US dollars: 70.00, shipping US dollars 40.00
  • For Ladies Only? Eve’s Film Review: Pathe Cinemagazine 1921-33, by Jenny Hammerton
    GB Pounds: 9.00 p&p 2.50
    US dollars: 14.00, shipping US dollars 10.00
  • From Frontiersman to Film-maker. The Biography of Film Pioneer Birt Acres, by Alan Birt Acres
    [details of CD-ROM to follow]
  • The Illustrated Bamforth Slide Catalogue – DVD-ROM
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • The Incomparable Testot! Selections from a 19th Century Magician’s Paragraph Boo – Introduced by Edwin A. Dawes
    GB Pounds: 9.00 p&p 2.00
    US dollars: 14.00, shipping US dollars 6.00
  • Industry, Liberty and a Vision: Wordsworth Donisthorpe’s Kinesigraph, by Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • The Lantern Image: Supplement No. 1, compiled by David Robinson
    GB Pounds: 4.00 p&p 2.50
    US dollars: 7.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • New Magic Lantern Journal – Volume 6
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • New Magic Lantern Journal – Volume 7
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • Phantasmagoria: the secret life of the magic lantern, by Mervyn Heard
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 4.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • Realms of Light: Uses and Perceptions of the Magic Lantern from the 17th to the 21st Century, edited by Richard Crangle, Mervyn Heard and Ine van Dooren
    GB Pounds: 35.00 p&p 9.50
    US dollars: 62.00, shipping US dollars 28.00
  • Servants of Light, ed. Richard Franklin and Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 20.00 p&p 3.50
    US dollars: 30.00, shipping US dollars 16.00
  • Theodore Brown’s Magic Pictures: the art and inventions of a multi-media pioneer, by Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • The Titanic and Silent Cinema, by Stephen Bottomore
    GB Pounds: 11.00 p&p 3.00
    US dollars: 18.00, shipping US dollars 10.00
  • Victorian Film Catalogues, ed. Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 5.00 p&p 2.00
    US dollars: 8.00, shipping US dollars 6.00
  • When the Movies Began: a chronology of the world’s first film shows, by Stephen Herbert
    GB Pounds: 3.00 p&p 1.00
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00
  • A Yank in Britain: The Lost Memoirs of Charles Urban, Film Pioneer, ed. by Luke McKernan
    GB Pounds: 25.00 p&p 1.50
    US dollars: 40.00, shipping US dollars 7.00

Further details of all titles are available on The Projection Box website. And welcome back.

Poverty on screen 1880-1914

Comment les pauvres mangent à Paris / How the Poor Dine in Paris (Pathé 1910), from the Screening the Poor DVD

Recently we reviewed the the double-DVD release from Edition Filmmuseum, Screening the Poor 1888-1914, which innovatively brings together early films and magic lantern sets on the theme of poverty. Now the DVD release and the Screen1900 Project at the University of Trier which encouraged it have led to a conference taking place 1-3 December at the German Historical Institute in London. The title of the conference is ‘Screen Culture and the Social Question: Poverty on Screen 1880-1914’, and the convenors are Professor Dr. Andreas Gestrich (GHIL) and Dr Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (University of Trier). Here are the descriptive blurb and preliminary programme:

This conference will bring together different international research approaches looking at how the optical lantern (‘art of projection’) and cinematography were used in the context of the Social Question around 1900. The media history relevance of the Social Question to the establishment of these new visual media has hardly so far been examined. Nor have these media been critically investigated as social history sources. The conference aims to make a fundamental contribution towards establishing an innovative field of research in the area where social history and media history overlap.

The rapid success of ‘cinematography’ at the beginning of the twentieth century owed much to what was known as the ‘art of projection’. The screen became firmly established as a part of international cultural life in the second half of the nineteenth century by the ‘art of projection’. The enormous creative potential of these new visual media in public performances was used not only for commercial purposes, but also for events in areas such as education, religion, and social policy.

The interdisciplinary comparison will discuss the state of research on the motifs, production, dissemination, and reception of the projection media in the field of poor relief and social policy. Different methodological concepts will be introduced for researching the performative potential of existing scripts and artefacts (glass slides, films, projectors). In addition, projects editing sources will be presented, and new processes for digitally reproducing and documenting historical sources and artefacts will be discussed.

Preliminary Conference Programme

Thursday, 1 December 2011:


Welcome and Introduction
Andreas Gestrich (German Historical Institute London) and Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (University of Trier)

14:30 – 17:00
Panel 1: Screen Culture and the Public Sphere – Historic Context and Social Impact 1880 – 1914
Chair: Ian Christie (London)
Martin Loiperdinger (Trier): The Social Impact of Screen Culture 1880 – 1914.
Stephen Bottomore (Bangkok): The Lantern and Early Film for Social and Political Uses.

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break

16:00 – 17:00 Comment and Discussion Panel 1
Comment by Andreas Gestrich (London)

17:15 – 19:00
Road Show: Approaches to the Hidden History of Screen Culture
Frank Gray (Brighton): The Lucerna Network for the History of Projection.
Ine van Dooren (Brighton): Archiving and preserving lantern slides and related resources.
Richard Crangle (Exeter): Digitizing the History of Screen Culture: The Lucerna Database.

Friday, 2 December 2011:

09:30 – 12:30
Panel 2: Raising Public Awareness for the Living Conditions in Slums and Tenements
Chair: Clemens Zimmermann (Saarbrücken)
Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (Trier): Slum Life and Living Conditions of the Poor in Fictional and Documentary Lantern Slide Sets.
Joss Marsh (Bloomington) / David Francis (Bloomington): “Poetry of Poverty” – The Magic Lantern and the Ballads of George R. Sims.
Bonnie Yochelson (New York): Jacob Riis, His Photographs, and Poverty in New York, 1888-1914.

11:00 – 11:30 Coffee Break

11:30 – 12:30
Comment and Discussion Panel 2
Comment by tbc

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch Break

14:00 – 17:00
Panel 3 – Education and Entertainment for the Poor – the Use of Lantern Shows and Early Films by Charity Organisations
Chair: Ine van Dooren (Brighton)
Karen Eifler (Trier): Free Meals and Lantern Shows: Charitable Events in Great Britain and Germany.
Judith Thissen (Utrecht): Educating Moyshe: Jewish Socialists, Gentile Entertainments, and the Future of the Jewish Immigrant Masses in America.
Caroline Henkes (Trier): Early Christmas Films in the Tradition of the Magic Lantern.

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break

16:00 – 17:00 Comment and Discussion Panel 3
Comment by Frank Gray (Brighton)

19:00 tbc

Evening Programme at The Foundling Museum:
A festive and true-made Victorian Magic Lantern Show for the deserving poor of London”
by Mervyn Heard with Juliette Harcourt (recitation and song) and Stephen Horne (piano)

Saturday, 3 December 2011:

09:00 – 12:00
Panel 4 – Social Prevention with the Aid of the Screen and Exhibitions
Chair: Richard Crangle (Exeter)
Annemarie McAllister (Preston): The Promotion of Temperance by means of the Magic Lantern.
Marina Dahlquist (Göteborg): Health Entrepreneurs: American Screen Practices in the 1910s.
Michelle Lamuniere (Harvard University): From Jacob Riis’s Lantern Slide Presentations to Harvard University’s Social Museum.

10:30 – 11:00 Coffee Break

11:00 – 12:00 Comment and Discussion Panel 4
Comment by Scott Curtis (Evanston)
12:00 – 13:00
Closing Remarks and General Discussion
Chair: Andreas Gestrich
Closing Remarks by Ian Christie (London) and Clemens Zimmermann (Saarbrücken)

Spaces are limited (with all those speakers they can’t have much space left) and those interested to register should contact the organisers via this link.

The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal

Pages from The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal for February 1905, including interview with A.C. Bromhead

Regular readers will be aware of the praise we have heaped upon the Media History Digital Library, the initiative of David Pierce to provide access to digitised film trade journals for free to all via the Internet Archive. You may know that we are listing all of the titles made available through this source and others in the Journals section of the Bioscope, arranged by country. We now want to draw your attention to just one such journal, because its (currently) unique nature raises a vital issue. Pierce has recently digitised a volume of The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal, covering November 1904 to October 1905. This is an exciting development because it is the first British film trade journal to be made available in digitised form on the Web. But why has British silent cinema studies fared so badly, when there are now extensive film journals from America, France, Italy and others now available online?

Founded as The Optical Magic Lantern Journal in 1889, the journal changed its name to The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal in 1904 in response to a changing industry, as many lantern operators and photographers moved across to the new medium. The publisher was E.T. Heron, the editor Theodore Brown. Published monthly, the journal included notices of new films, news, issues of the day, information on new patents, interviews (Charles Urban, James White, A.C. Bromhead), advice columns, correspondence, and information on magic lantern practice as well, providing a fascinating picture of an industry in transition.

The volume on the Internet Archive covers October 1904 to November 1905 though it’s not easy to calculate when individual pieces were published as the relevant months are not given (or not easily identifiale). It’s all word-searchable and compellingly browsable. To whet your appetite, below is the idiosyncratic index to the volume, included at the start of the digitised text:

Animatography, The Science of … 61, 79, 99, 133. 160, 237
Announcements with the Lantern … 277
Apparatus for Science Teaching … 64
Applications for Patents … 23
Architecture and Slide Making … 225
Assassination of the “Grand Duke” Cinematographed … 127
Carbon Frocess for Lantern Slides … 55
Caricaturist and the Cinematograph, The … 106
Catalogues and Books Received … 23, 93,119, 140, 168, 171, 203, 232, 282
Chats with Trade Leaders … 13, 37, 85
Cinematography in Colours … 36
Cinematograph Work, Hints on … 11, 29
Cloud Effects in Lantern Slides … 201
Colouring Lantern Slides with Aniline Dyes … 147
Contact and Reduction … 199
Correspondence … 52, 82, 104, 134, 148, 175, 21S, 258
Editor’s Pen, From the … 1, 25, 49, 73, 97, 121, 145, 169, 191, 213, 259
Extremes of Temperature … 60
Eyes and How to Use Them … 129, 149, 179
Fires from Moving Pictures … 251
Flickerless Projection from Motion Pictures … 195
Four Hundred Arc Lamps used for Cinematograph Work … 5
Fourth Photographic Exhibition … 100
Freedom … 159
Full or Empty Houses — A Lesson in Advertising … 262
Getting Good Lantern Slides from Weak Negatives … 223
Hint for Over-Exposed Slides, A … 123, 231
Home-made Lantern Plates … 208
How to Obviate the Acquirement of Cover Glasses at a Penny Each … 54
How to Colour Lantern Slides … 136
How to Deliver a Lantern Lecture … 67
How to Make Neat and Effective Title Slides … 235
Illuminants for Optical Lanterns … 3
Illustrated Interviews … 239, 271
“Impressionist” in Photography, The … 117
Inch of Negative, An … 27
Journal of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia, The … 242
Kinematograph for the Blind … 127
Lanternist, Notes for the Non-Photographic … 81
Lantern, Announcements with the … 277
Lantern, To Make Money with the… 101
Lantern Lectures on British Industries … 161
Lantern Lecture, How to Deliver … 67
Lantern Lecture, Three Requisites for a Successful … 156
Lantern Plates, Home-made … 2g8
Lantern Plates, On the Development of … 105
Lantern Slide Hint, A … 277
Lantern Slides at the Northern Photographic Exhibition, 1905, Leeds … 215
Lantern Slides, Carbon Process for … 55
Lantern Slides, Cloud Effects in … 201
Lantern Slides, How to Colour … 136
Lantern Slides, On Photographing with a View to the Production of … 33
Lantern Slides, Reducing and Intensifying … 190
Lantern Work, Notes on … 58
Light and Shade … 24
Living Lamp, A … 158
Marvels of Science … 211
Method for Putting Printed Matter on Finished Lantern Slides … 205
Microscope and its Use, The … 245
Moving Pictures, Fires from … 251
Moving Pictures, Flickerless Projection from … 195
Negative Making for Lantern Slides … 135
Negative, An Inch of … 27
New Films … 20, 30, 51, 83, 1 15, 141, 164, 189, 204, 222, 242, 269
New Form of Music Hall Matinee … 59
New Screen Elevator, A … 257
Non-inflammable Celluloid … 80
Note for Slide Makers … 28
Notes on Slide Making, Some … 7
Notes for the Non-Photographic Lanternist … 81
Notices … 12, 43. 71, 84, 114, 158, 190, 193, 215, 23S, 259
Notes … 232
Oil Lanterns in Use … 111
On the Development of Lantern Plates … 105
On Photographing with a View to the Production of Lantern Slides … 33
Only Coloured Film in England, The … 25
Optical Illusions … 41, 75, 10S, 137, 153, 184, 219, 253
Optical Lantern, Revival of … 183
Optical Lanterns, Illuminants for … 3
Our Suggestion Bureau … 21
Over-Exposed Slides, A Hint for … 123, 231
Patents … 4S, 96, 163, 1S7, 210, 217, 244, 274
Patents, Applications for … 23
Photography of Microscopic Objects, The … 9
Photography as a Method of Pictorial Expression … 65
Photographic Society of Philadelphia, The Journal of the … 242
Pictorial Treatment of Subjects, The … 65
Pictures and Politics in the West … 98
Planet Mars in the Kinematograph, The … 242
Praise, A Word of … 12, 16, 44, 60, 90, 140, 152, 194, 232, 235
Recent Encouraging Expressions … 140
Reducing and Intensifying Lantern Slides … 190
Review of Apparatus … 17, 45, 72, 94, 118, 178
Revival of the Optical Lantern, The … 183
Round and About … 236
Round the Trade … 2S0
Science of Animatography, The … 61, 79, 99, 133, 160, 237
Science Teaching, Apparatus for … 64
Screens and their Erection … 124
Slide Making, Notes on … 7
Slide Makers, Note for … 28
Slides of the Month … 2S2
Slides, How to Make Neat and Effective Title … 235
Stereoscopic Notes … 6, 32, 66, 78, 101, 128, 162, 176, 206, 229, 256, 276
Stereoscopic Photograph, A … 117
Stereoscopic Vision … 173
Sun and Magnetic Storms, The … 89
St. Louis Exhibition, Unique Pictures at the … 36
Temperance and the Lantern … 106
Temperance, Extremes of … 60
Three Requisites for a Successful Lantern Lecture … 156
Tit Bits … 22, 40, 69, 91, 102, 142, 107, 172
To Make Money with the Lantern … 101
Trade Organisation Needed Among Operators, Is … 224, 265
Unique Pictures at the St. Louis Exhibition … 36
We Have Others … 252
Weak Negatives, Getting Good Lantern Slides from … 223
What our Contemporaries Say … 73
What is Legitimate Trading — Some Curses and their Cure … 275
Winter Work … 53
Wonderful Bioscope, A … 111
Word of Praise, A … 12

Though this is a highly welcome offering, it does highlight the sad fact that it is currently the only historical British film journal available online. Two theatre-based journals with plenty of information on silent films, The Era (up to 1900 only) and The Stage, are available online, though both require a subscription. A project from a few years ago by the University of East Anglia to tackle The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly (the journal which succeeded The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal in 1907) was a disappointing flop, with no digitised pages, only a very incomplete index for the 1890s, early 1915, 1943-mid-1954 and 1955-1971. And that’s it.

Cartoon from The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal (p. 261) by journal editor Theodore Brown at the time of a crisis in the industry when Pathé introduced film on the British market at a price of five pence per foot, at a time when the standard rate was six pence. Brown’s cartoon shows Robert Paul asking the question “What’s your proposition, Charlie?” to a cigar-smoking Charles Urban. Others depicted include Cecil Hepworth (far right) and A.C. Bromhead (centre), while Brown himself is the figure with a moustache in the background

There were three main film trade journals in Britain for the silent era: The Bioscope, The Cinema and The Kinematograph Weekly, while Picturegoer was the main fan jounal. There were many other journals of abiding interest- the British Library provides a listing of the British and Irish film journals that it holds, which is eye-opening in its great variety. Titles include The Film Censor, The Film Renter, The Irish Limelight, The Picture Palace News, and Rinking World and Picture Theatre News (roller skating rinks and cinemas were closely allied around 1909-10, as many rinks were converted into cinemas).

Other countries have done so much better. Either through private enterprise, or through the dedicated endeavours of film institutes or national libraries, a good selection of film journals for the silent era is now available from Italy (the leader, thanks to the remarkable efforts of the Museo Nazionale del Cinema), France (courtesy of the national library’s Gallica website), USA (private enterprise and the Internet Archive) and Brazil (courtesy of the Biblioteca Digital das Artes do Espetaculo), with one-offs from Austria, Sweden, Spain and others.

The reason the UK has done so badly so far is partly down to no money, and partly down to copyright laws which effectively put the 20th century out of bounds for the time being (the British Library, for example, has made the decision that it will only digitise from its newspaper and journal collections up to 1900, to be on the safe side). There are research council funds available for an academic able to put together a persuasive bid, but there has been no success there as yet bar the Kinematograph Weekly project which – it has to be said – did things so badly that it may have queered the pitch for any other project hoping to digitise film journals.

The UK is not the only country with such a poor record (Germany, anyone?), but the lack of enterprise shown so far is profoundly disappointing. So, as things stands, we have one year of one journal, and that made available through the Internet Archive. How are we going to do better that this?

Parlons cinéma

Maurice Gianati speaking on Alice Guy at the Cinémathèque Française

How’s your French? Regular Bioscopist Frank Kessler has kind sent me a listing of video on silent cinema and pre-cinema subjects which are available on the Cinémathèque Française website as part of its ‘Parlons cinéma‘ series. This is a series of videos (all in French) recording talks, conferences, debates, interviews and such like held at the Cinémathèque. They are knowledgeable and well-presented, with clips and PowerPoint slides interspersed among the talking heads.

This is list of some of the talks that fall within our area, covering such subjects as the Phantasmagoria, Alice Guy, Emile Reynaud, the phonograph in France, and introductions to Sergei Eisenstein and Laurel and Hardy:

From the little I’ve sampled, these are people who take their cinema seriously, and who can say that they’ve really tried cinema until they’ve tried it in French?

Aller explorer.

Poor people

Screening the Poor 1888-1914

Two posts are coming up on two important DVD releases from that excellent label Edition Filmmuseum. Post number one is on an innovative two-DVD set of magic lantern slides and early films, Screening the Poor 1888-1914.

Cinema was the ‘poor man’s theatre’ (to use a common phrase of the time); it also spoke to and documented the lives of the poor. In doing so it built on a tradition of social concern filtered through visual entertainment that had its roots in the magic lantern. In church halls, schools and missions throughout the late Victorian period, audiences were presented with sentimental but often heart-rending tales of the hardship suffered by those at the lowest rung on the ladder. The showmen, lecturers and propagandists who put on such lantern shows swiftly adopted the cinematograph as an additional weapon in their armoury, with early projectors often capable of presenting both film and slides. This multimedia nature of early ‘cinema’ shows is well-known, but is seldom reflected in modern-day exhibition of early film, still less in DVD releases. And that is what makes Screening the Poor so unusual – it brings together the lantern and the cinematograph on DVD in a conscious echo of the programmes of the late 1890s/early 1900s. The blurb for the DVD explains this further:

Around 1900, the issues of poverty and poor relief were the source of heated controversy. This DVD illustrates in seven chapters how examinations of the ‘Social Question’ were presented in magic lantern slide sets and early films. On the screens of auditoriums, Sunday schools, music-halls, cinemas and churches, visitors could witness orphans freezing to death in the snow, drunkards plunging their families into misery and helpless old people begging for a scrap of bread. Audiences experienced poignant moving pictures in performances with music, singing and recitations. The
photographic and film industries delivered glass slide sets and films in very large runs on a variety of themes relating to poverty.

This DVD recalls the forgotten art of projection and presents it anew on the modern electronic screen: drawing on original images and using authentic projection equipment, Ensemble illuminago shows enchanting Victorian slide shows and films in a live musical performance at the Munich Film Museum. Digital slideshows reconstruct the interaction between slide sets und text recitals, and early silent films are accompanied with music as they were a century ago: piano and violin underscore the moods that find visual expression in the films.

Nowadays it is rather unusual to find both films and slide sets presented on one DVD. Around 1900 it was common knowledge that the “moving pictures” in a film had evolved from photographic slide sets. Showmen, touring lecturers, music-hall entrepreneurs and cinema operators often used both projection media alternately in their live shows.

It is also unusual to compile DVDs thematically, according to social themes, rather than in a form that reflects pure film history (such as the output of a studio, director or actor). So this is a curated DVD, and the words below are from the DVD booklet, written by Martin Loiperdinger and Ludwig Vogl-Bienek. Whether an item is a film or a set of magic lantern slides is identified at the start of each description. Often the same subject from the same literary source (particularly the poems of George R. Sims, a once highly popular and influential documenter of the lives of London’s poor) cross from lantern to cinematograph. So, if you have tears, prepare to shed them now …

Comment les pauvres mangent à Paris


Charitable organisations and dedicated journalists decried the misery of the slums in industrial cities. ‘Slumming’ was the term used to describe tourist outings or philanthropic day-trips to witness the poverty. Those who eschewed direct confrontation could visit magic lantern shows or the cinema: the photographic and film industries provided a constant supply of new material covering diverse issues of the ‘Social Question’.

  • Magic Lantern: The Magic Wand (GB 1889). Producer: York & Son, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard. – During an excursion through the slums of London, an author hears the story of an 8-year-old girl who discovers a magical way to cope with her mother’s death.
  • Film: Comment les pauvres mangent à Paris / How the Poor Dine in Paris (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – The first film reportage about the ‘clochards’ of Paris: it is difficult to distinguish the extras acting in the film from the real homeless people.
  • Film: Le Violoniste della carità / The Two Violonists (IT 1910). Producer: Cines. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – Two elegant young ladies embark on a slumming adventure: they swap their clothes with two poor sisters and perform as street musicians in their place.
  • Film: La Tournée des Grands Ducs / Seeing the Real Thing (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé, Director: Yves Mirande, Cast: Armand Numès, Gaston Sylvestre, La Polaire. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano ) – This film parodies the slumming trips made by members of Paris high society. An acting troupe satisfies the demand for entertainment by playing ‘real Apaches’.

Children in Misery
The huge number of poor children was a central issue of the ‘Social Question’. They were not to blame for their wretched situation – and their need of help was obvious. Nonetheless, they were often suspected of being petty criminals. Slide shows and film screenings, however, usually presented impoverished children to their audiences as needy creatures deserving of help and affection.

  • Magic Lantern: Ora pro nobis (GB 1897). Producer: Bamforth, Text: A. Horspool, Music by M. Piccolomini. Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Piano: Judith Herrmann – Ignored by passing churchgoers, an orphan girl freezes to death at her mother’s grave – an appeal to the Christian duty to provide help and alms to the poor.
  • Film: Le Bagne des gosses / Children’s Reformatory (FR 1907). Producer: Pathé. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – An orphan boy flees from a correctional institution in which children aged between eight and twelve are mistreated in the manner of prisoners in a penal colony.
  • Film: Bébé veut imiter St. Martin / Baby Pantomimes St. Martin (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé, Director: Louis Feuillade, Cast: Clément Mary. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – Cinema’s very first child star gives a freezing girl half of his overcoat and learns that half a coat is of little help against the cold.
  • Magic Lantern: Billy’s Rose (GB 1888). Producer: York & Son, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – Death and salvation in the slums: a girl goes in search of a rose for her dying brother, but she freezes to death in the process and hands him the rose in heaven.

Child Labour
Impoverished children were made to work as street peddlers, shoe-shines, and messengers to help support their families. The labour unions, social reformers and charitable organisations were particularly critical of the perilous conditions faced by child labourers in factories.

  • Film: The Cry of the Children (US 1912). Producer: Thanhouser, Director: George O. Nichols, Cast: Marie Eline, Ethel Wright, James Cruze, Lila H. Chester, Text: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1843). Score by Andrew Crow (Wurlitzer organ) – A moving appeal against child exploitation featuring highly realistic staged film footage. The story of a young girl’s death in a textile factory became a manifesto of the American reform movement against child labour.
  • Magic Lantern: The Little Match Girl (US 1905). Producer: McAllister, Text: Hans C. Andersen (1845), Images: Joseph Boggs Beale (1905). Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Karin Bienek
  • Film: The Little Match Girl – Print title: Het Luciferverkoopstertje (GB 1914). Producer: Neptune Films, Director: Percy Nash. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – The young street vendor in H.C. Andersen’s fairytale The Little Match Girl (1845) is one of the most famous and enduring icons of poverty. The story of her death and salvation has inspired countless book illustrations, magic lantern shows and film productions to the present day.

Rigadin a l’âme sensible

Charity and Social Care
Controversies concerning the justification, necessity and limits of aid surrounded the public discussion on the ‘Social Question’ from the beginning: able-bodied poor people of working age were generally suspected of being themselves to blame for their poverty due to negligence, idleness, or alcoholism, or even of deviously abusing
the benevolence shown to them. Slide sets and early films on the issue of poor relief addressed such prejudices – and also made fun of over-enthusiastic benefactors.

  • Film: Le Chemineau / Print title: De Zwerver (FR 1905). Producer: Pathé, Director: Albert Capellani, according to Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862). Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – A tramp who has stolen the holy silverware is acquitted. The pastor places charity before the law and claims that he had given the tramp the plundered goods. The missing scene at the end of this film can be seen on a postcard in the ROM section of this DVD.
  • Film: Rigadin a l’âme sensible / Whiffles Has a Sensitive Soul (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé / S.C.A.G.L.,Director: Georges Monca, Cast: Charles Prince, Gabrielle Chalon, Andrée Marly. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano, viola & violin) – In this comedy, our sympathy is not directed at the poor, but rather at the aristocratic benefactor who cannot bear to see suffering: he hands out all of his money – and even gives away most of the clothes on his back.
  • Magic Lantern: In the Workhouse (GB 1890). Producer: Bamforth, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – During Christmas celebrations at the workhouse, an old man attacks the British poor relief system: his sick wife had died of starvation the previous Christmas because the care authorities had ruthlessly stuck by their regulations.
  • Film: Christmas Day in the Workhouse (GB 1914). Producer: G. B. Samuelson Productions, Director: George W. Pearson, Text: George R. Sims. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – In the film version of this ballad, the old man dies just as he finishes his lament.
  • Film: Ahlbeck. Der Kaiser bei den Berliner Arbeiterkindern in dem von ihm gestifteten Heim / Ahlbeck. Wilhelm II visits a Working-Class Children’s Home (DE 1914). Producer: Eiko-Woche. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – At the Baltic Sea spa town of Ahlbeck on the island of Usedom, Kaiser Wilhelm II becomes convinced that playing in the sand of the dunes is beneficial to the recuperation of children.

Enter not the Dram Shop

Drink and Temperance Movement
Alcoholism was often blamed as the cause of poverty. However, many social reformers emphasised that it was instead a consequence of poverty. In their war against the ‘demon alcohol’, the Temperance Movement relied on the persuasive power of projected images. Tales of drunken fathers who drove their families to ruin were part of the standard repertoire in early cinema and magic lantern shows.

  • Film: Manchester Band of Hope Procession (GB 1901). Producer: Mitchell and Kenyon. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – The Temperance Movement held street parades to rally support for their cause among the local populace.
  • Magic Lantern: Enter not the Dramshop (GB 1890). Unknown Producer. Text & Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek. – The pub threshold marks the crossroads between well-being and downfall: victims of alcohol are presented for purposes of pedagogical instruction. Medical diagrams illustrate the devastating effects of alcoholism on the human body.
  • Film: Les Victimes de l’alcoolisme / Victims of Drink (FR 1902). Producer: Pathé, Director: Ferdinand Zecca. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – Based on Émile Zola’s novel L’Assommoir, this film depicts the gradual decline of a labourer who starts out as a decent family man and ends up an inmate of a madhouse wracked by delirium tremens.
  • Film: Une Vie gaspillée (Print title) / A Life Wasted (DK 1910). Producer: Continental Films. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin). Original title not known. – A drunkard’s daughter likewise falls victim to alcoholism and freezes to death because her parents refuse to take her in.
  • Magic Lantern: Buy Your Own Cherries! (GB 1905). Producer: Bamforth, Text: John W. Kirton. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – The landlady of a pub refuses a carpenter the cherries that are standing on the bar. He thus renounces alcohol, instead spending his money on his family, and starts his own business.
  • Film: Buy Your Own Cherries! (GB 1904). Producer: Robert W. Paul. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano, viola & violin) – The film version foreshortens the ending: instead of continuing to drink, the carpenter buys gifts for his wife and children.
  • Magic Lantern: Dustman‘s Darling (GB 1894). Producer: Bamforth, Text: Matthew B. Moorhouse. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – At the door of a tavern, a widowed dustman tells the story of how his little daughter inspired him to give up drinking.
  • Film: A Drunkard’s Reformation (US 1909). Producer: American Biograph (US 1909), Director: David W. Griffith, Cast: Arthur V. Johnson, Linda Arvidson, Adele DeGarde, Robert E. Harron, Florence Lawrence, Mack Sennett. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – While visiting the theatre with his young daughter, a drunkard is cured of his alcoholism. By cross-cutting between the Temperance Movement play on the stage and the reactions of the father and his daughter in the auditorium, D.W. Griffith makes visible the psychological process of an internal catharsis.

Don’t go down the mine, Dad

Perils of Wage Labour
Poor people who were able to work received no support. The working classes were forced to take on poorly-paid and dangerous jobs in order to survive. Mining accidents spread fear and terror among mining communities. Sensational special effects on the screen, such as firedamp explosions, helped reinforce demands by the labour unions and charitable organisations for safer working conditions and improved support for surviving dependants.

  • Magic Lantern: A Bunch of Primroses (GB 1889). Hersteller / Producer: York & Son, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – A bunch of primroses lies on the death bed of a young female worker and tells of how she blossomed in the country and met an early death doing factory work in an industrial city.
  • Film: Au Pays noir / Tragedy in a Coal Mine (FR 1905). Producer: Pathé, Director: Ferdinand Zecca. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & viola) – Mining accidents used to be part of daily life for miners: Pathé, the leading film company of the time, condemned this scandalous situation by releasing this melodramatic social reportage which was shot partly on location at a mining site and partly on a recreated set in a film studio.
  • Film: Die Beerdigung der Opfer des Grubenunglücks auf der Zeche Radbod bei Hamm i. W., den 16. Nov. 1908 / Funeral of the Victims of the Radbod Mine Desaster near Hamm in Westfalia, Nov 16, 1908 (DE 1908). Producer: Welt-Kinematograph. Score by Günter A.Buchwald (piano) – The mourners pass by the camera, silently following the coffins of colleagues killed in the accident: they start to move – they are alive! They escaped with their lives once more …
  • Magic Lantern: Don’t Go Down in the Mine, Dad (GB 1910). Producer: Bamforth, Text: Robert Donnelly, Score by Will Geddes. Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Score by Judith Herrmann (piano) – Dramatic slides illustrate a popular miners’ song: the sick son senses an impending accident and thus saves his father’s life.

Magic Lantern shows and early films about the ‘Social Question’ rarely tell of a successful escape from poverty, and the elimination of poverty is not an issue. The flood of emigrants was addressed by slide sets used by charitable organisations to prepare the migrants for an uncertain future. However, other means of escape from poverty were at hand: salvation in the afterlife or in the world of fantasy.

  • Film: The Two Roses (USA 1910). Print title: Les Deux roses, Producer: Thanhouser, Cast: Marie Eline, Frank Hall Crane, Anna Rosemond. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – Tony Prolo is a track worker, and his son is run over by a car driven by the company boss: the boy recovers and the worker’s family is given a nice new home as a gift.
  • Film: Deux petits Jésus / The Foundling (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé / S.C.A.G.L., Director: Georges Denola, Cast: Jeanne Delvair, Jeanne Grumbach, Georges Paulais. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – Abandoned by the father of her child, a young mother is confronted with ignorance when she goes begging: in desperation she seeks refuge in an abbey church, lays her baby in the nativity crib – and dies.
  • Magic Lantern: The Emigrant Ship (GB 1890). Unknown Producer. Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Score by Judith Herrmann (piano) – This magic lantern show about the departure and sinking of an emigrant ship was extremely popular due to its motion and dissolve special effects. It is accompanied with emigrant songs, slides of the blessings of the New World and a dazzling light show – the Chromatrope …
  • Film: Geheimnisvolle Streichholzdose / A Match Box Mystery (DE 1910). Deutsche Bioscop, Director: Guido Seeber. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano, viola & violin) – A man without legs sells matches: in a surprising animation, the matches group together to form a variety of forms, until ultimately a small windmill made of matches burns down.

This is an excellent compilation, which illuminates the visual media of the late 19th/early 20th centuries and illuminates what concerned society and how it chose to express that concern. Like the best of the magic lantern and cinematograph shows, it imparts a strong impression upon the mind, teaching us of the sorrows of an age not so far away. I hope the DVD finds its way to new audiences.

The Zoetrope lives!

Phonotrope animation by Jim Le Fevre made in collaboration with DJ Malcolm Goldie

A favourite website of mine is Jim Le Fevre, the personal site of a British freelance animator. Aside from his standard animation work, Jim Le Fevre is a focal point for what has become a whole school of film artists working with what was once called pre-cinema technology to explore new forms of animation.

It works like this. The Zoetrope was an optical toy devised in the 1830s which presenting a strip of successive images around the inside of a drum. When the drum was revolved, viewing through slits in the side created the illusion of a single moving image. Le Fevre’s reinterpretation of this he originally called the (take a deep breath) Phonographantasmascope and now, a little more practically, calls the Phonotrope. For this he used a record player (revolving at 45 rpm) combined with a video camera shooting at 25 frames per second. By placing images or objects on the revolving turntable, and then playing with assorted variations on the basic set-up, some extraordinary animations emerge.

Here, for example, is Le Fevre demonstrating the process at the Flatpack Festival in 2009:

Le Fevre has a page on his website dedicated to the work of other animators and video artists working with their own variations on the Phonotrope idea. The level of invention is outstanding. You must visit his site (or follow his blog for regular updates) to see a fuller list of names working in this area, but here are few examples to whet the appetite (with links to the artists’ personal websites).

Retchy (aka Graeme Hawkins) uses balsa wood and a turntable to create what he calls 3D Zoetrope Sine Waves:

This extraordinary work is by Sculpture, who are Reuben Sutherland (animator) and Dan Hayhurst (music). They recently released a picture disc LP, ‘Rotary Signal Emitter’ and the video shows the disc being played:

Clemens Kogler calls his version of the technique Phonovideo. This ingenious video was created with two turntables, cameras, a videomixer and prints on cardboard.

Simon Oosterdijk has produced this brief but haunting video with 3D running figures on his turntable (sound design by Paul Gerring):

Here is David Wilson with a deluxe version of the technique made for a pop video (Moray McLaren, ‘We Got Time’). Everything you see in this video was created in camera.

On a humbler but no less inventive level is Tim Wheatley’s inspired use of a bicycle wheel instead of a turntable to create what he calls the Cyclotrope:

What is so pleasing to see in these videos is the continuation of the Victorian delight in motion recaptured. Narrative, or photographic realism aren’t required (though some have started to introduce both). All that is needed to engross us is a repeated motion, the very basics of the inanimate brought to life. It takes you back to the wonder that is the motion picture. What has been done with the medium since 1896 is all very well, but it’s just extending the basic idea to pass the time. Go back to that primal capture and replaying of motion, and you have the eureka moment played over and over again. Look, it moves!

I must just show you one more – Eric Dyer‘s ‘The Bellows March’. Motion pictures in their purest form.