Museu del Cinema

Giant film cans (floor to ceiling) at the entrance to the Museu del Cinema, Girona, Spain

I’m back from my sojourn at the Origins of News in Early Cinema seminar in Girona, some thoughts on which will follow in due course. While I was there, I visited the town’s Museu del Cinema. It’s an excellent place in every degree, and worth a short description here to encourage you to visit should you ever think of being that sunny corner of the world (which I can warmly recommend in any case).

For some, the history of the motion picture begins with Edison or the Lumière Cinématographe. For others, that’s more or less where it ends. The delight is in pursuing the history of the projected image and the recreation of motion by their various routes from antiquity through to the late nineteenth century, when these innovations finally coalesced into the phenomenon that is cinema. Thereafter what we have is a playing out of principles confirmed by 1896. The period before is usually, if not uncontentiously, described as pre-cinema, and pre-cinema is the primary subject of the Museu del Cinema.

Late eighteenth century Catalonian peepshow in the Museu del Cinema

The Museum’s core collection was amassed by amateur filmmaker and collector Tomàs Mallol, who was inspired by C.W. Ceram’s famous book The Archaeology of the Cinema to concentrate on objects that documented cinema’s antecedents. The collection of some 20,000 objects comprises 8,000 museum objects, apparatuses and pre-cinematographic and early cinema accessories, 10,000 images documents (photographs, posters, prints, drawings and paintings), 800 films of all types and a library of over 700 books and magazines. Much of it was apparently acquired from Paris flea markets in the 1960s, when such objects (now worth thousands) were unwanted discards. It was purchased by the Girona authorities in 1994.

The museum is arranged on four floors. You begin by sitting through a six-minute three-screen video projection on the history of the human desire to place moving images on a screen. You then take a lift to the top floor and work your way downwards. The collection is in ten sections:

1. Shadow Projections
2. Mirrors and anamorphosis
3. Magic lantern
4. Capturing images
5. The moving image
6. The race to cinematography
7. The cinema arrives
8. The tools of the cinema
9. Amateur cinema
10. Children’s cinema

What you will see are shadow theatres, camera obscuras, anamorphic projection devices, magic lanterns, lantern slides, peepshows, optical toys and devices, stereoscopes, optical boxes, Chromatropes, Thaumatropes, Zoetropes, photographic equipment, Daguerrotypes, Calotypes, flick card devices, a rare projecting Praxinoscope, Mutoscopes, a reproduction Kinetoscope, early motion picture cameras and projectors, toy lanterns and cinematographic devices, and then a quick rush through the remainder of motion picture history, including a side-step into television (a 1930s Baird televisor) and an interesting foray into cinematographic toys for children.

Display of magic lanterns

It’s a museum of the traditional sort, in that it predominantly consists of objects behind glass, though there are plenty of optical devices to peer through, working models of assorted ‘tropes and ‘scopes, and video projections of Edison, Lumière and Méliès films. What makes it special is how it documents the great human urge to see the essence of life recaptured. Since the mid-seventeenth century, when the magic lantern was devised (arguably), or as far back as pre-history if you want to think of the magical powers that were invested in pictures drawn on the walls of caves, we have thrilled to our world and ourselves reflected on a screen. The instruments devised to satisfy this need have been various, ingenious and often beautiful. In sum they show that cinema answered a powerful human need, and indeed that everything since 1896, be it cinema, television, the VCR or YouTube, is a continuation of that expression. Those later developments don’t need to be in the museum – it is the opening of the eye, not what the eye then saw, that matters.

The Museu del Cinema is one of just a handful of cinema museums in Europe. Others include the Museum of PreCinema in Padua, Italy; the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin; the Musée de la Cinémathèque of the Cinémathèque Française in Paris, France; the National Media Museum in Bradford, UK; the Bill Douglas Centre at the University of Exter; and the private Cinema Museum in London. The Museu del Cinema itself has a useful tri-lingual website (Catalan, Spanish and English), with a tour of the museum through many illustrated objects, and background information including a listing of cinema and pre-cinema museums and collections throughout the world.

A set of photographs of exhibits in the Museu del Cinema can be seen on the Bioscope’s Flickr site.

Slides and clippings

Slide announcing the screening of Daughters of the Night (US 1924), which deserves some sort of prize for selling a mundane subject (telephone operator) with a tempting title. From the George Eastman House collection

I’m going to revisit the subjects of a few of the earliest Bioscope posts, way back in 2007 when the reading figures were not high and consequently resources were highlighted which may have been missed by many. Also the writing was more sparse in those days; now we wax lyrical.

So, first up is George Eastman House’s Pre-Cinema Project. GEH has published relatively small samples from its vast photographic collections, as and when it digitises them, presenting them collectively as a ‘digital image sampler’. The Photography Collection Online site, of which Pre-Cinema Project is a part, could not be more plainly presented, but what it lacks in web design it more than makes up for in richness of content.

Slide accompanying the multi-media entertainment The Photo-Drama of Creation (1914), from the George Eastman House collection

The Pre-Cinema Project itself is dedicated to ‘Images of media and devices used before motion picture film’, though in fact there is more there than pre-cinema images. You will find a fine selection of magic lantern images, including photographs of lanterns, magic lantern slides, toy lantern slides, a Muybridge Zoopraxiscope disk, slip slides, paper silhouette slides, and the dauntingly-named megalethoscope slides. There are children’s tales, travelogues, and slides depicting Shakespeare’s plays. But what you wouldn’t know about from the pre-cinema name is the sub-collection of movie-related lantern slides: slides used in film shows, including announcement of forthcoming attractions, song slides, slides from the multimedia Christian show The Photo-drama of Creation, and slides passing on messages to the audience. Unfortunately none comes with any catalogue data, and it doesn’t look like the collection has been added to since 2007.

Early cameras and projectors from the George Eastman House collection

It’s well worth checking other parts of Photography Collection Online for material related to cinema: for instance, lantern slides, stereo views, selected cine cameras and especially Coming Attraction slides – a large collection of slides advertising forthcoming films.

More recently George Eastman House has added a new image licensing section to its site, which has more of interest to us. It makes available images which can be licensed for educational use and scholarly research, publishing, advertising and so on. The ‘thumbnails’ provided are somewhat larger than thumbnails, making this a handy research resource in itself, and among the collections is Turconi Frame Clippings, a collection of two- or three-frame clipping from early films made by the Italian archivist Davide Turconi. They are a mixture of French, Italian and unidentified. As well as being beautiful in their own right, they provide a good opportunity for looking up close at perforations, frame-lines, edge lettering, and so forth.

Frame clippings from Au Pays de l’Or (Pathé 1908)

This is just a small sample from the substantial and important Turconi collection of up to 20,000 clippings covering films 1905-1915, many of them hand-coloured, which is undergoing preservation in a joint programme between George Eastman House, the Cineteca del Friuli, and the Giornate del Cinema Muto. Most come originally from the collection of films collected by Swiss priest Joseph Joye which was discovered by Turconi and is now held by the BFI National Archive. More information on the project can be found here.

La photographie animée

The De Bedts Kinetograph (1896), from La photographie animée

The latest publication to enter the Bioscope Library of early film texts freely available online is Eugène Trutat’s La photographie animée. Trutat was the director of the museum of natural history at Toulouse, a naturalist, mountaineer and photographer. He wrote a number of books on photography and discovery, and in 1899 he produced one of the first books to document the new technology of cinematography, in La photographie animée.

It is a book known to the specialist but not as widely cited as say its British counterpart, Henry V. Hopwood’s Living Pictures which was published the same year (and can be found in the Bioscope Library and on the Internet Archive, in its 1915 edition). That may simply be on account of its comparative rarity, and because it is in French. The Internet Archive has triumphantly overcome the rarity hurdle; whether the language remains a challenge is down to the individual. In any case one of the book’s particular riches is its copious illustrations of film technologies, which need no translation.

A film winder, from La photographie animée

The main part of the book is a survey of moving image technologies up to 1899, with a particular emphasis on French machines. There is the usual opening thesis on the principles of animated photography and its antecedents found in the ‘pre-cinema’ work of Muybridge, Marey, Londe, Janssen and others. Trutat had a particular interest in multiple-lens cameras, and includes his own invention among those discussed. He then describes the principles and the mechanics of the film devices of Thomas Edison, Georges Demeny, Georges de Bedts, the Lumière brothers and Henri Joly, along with many minor names and technologies now mostly forgotten. For those who have a grasp of such things, Trutat is much given to marking his many illustrations with letters to point out particular mechanical points. It is very much a technician’s book.

He concludes with some practical advice on the production and presentation of films, finishing with a handy list of French patents. So, not a book for everyone, but an invaluable text for the specialist and a fine resource for the iconography of late nineteenth-century motion pictures for the rest of us.

Early cinema, early news

A while ago we announced the call for papers for a two-day seminar to be held in Girona, Spain, entitled The Construction of News in Early Cinema. The event is being co-organised by the Museu del Cinema, the University of Girona, and the Spanish Ministry of Science & Innovation Project, and is one of a series of seminars that have been held on the origins and history of cinema (La construcción de la realidad en el cine de los orígenes). It will be held at the Auditori Narcís de Carreras in Girona, 31 March-1 April 2011. The organisers have produced this overview of the seminar’s rationale:

The film industry emerged at a key moment in the development of the written and graphic press and it would not be too long before it was playing a role in creating the imaginary of current affairs through images. Although these news images did not begin to be gathered together into a specific programme until the year 1908 thanks to Pathé Frères, in the very beginnings of cinema there were already images of current events, royal visits, official openings, sports events or exceptional situations that were to bind the image to its present context and bring it into the territory of what could be deemed as newsworthy. We are interested in images that captured reality, such as the reconstructions of events that are to become news. The seminar will focus on trying to define the relationship between cinema and news, to see how it began to build the news imaginary that presaged many of the questions of the future news images both in the subsequent newsreels and in those that came along with the birth of television. We are also interested in observing film as an area of intermediality, bringing together a variety of forms from other areas such as photography, painting and popular theatrical shows, in which the idea of news began to be presaged. The time period of the study is to be from 1895 up to 1914, since we believe that the newsreels underwent a different development with the outbreak of World War I. The proposal of the seminar is to establish a methodology of research and reflection in the context of news and, eventually, to find out how and if we can talk about a kind of birth of the documentary image.

The event is going be rather more of a conference than a seminar, and there is a strong line-up of speakers in the programme which has now been published, alongside registration details. Here’s the programme:

Thursday, March 31

9:00 – 9:30 Reception

9:30 – 9:45 Introduction and welcome

9:45 – 10:30 Conference: Rafael F. Tranche (Universidad Complutense de Madrid): Atracciones, actualidad y noticiarios: la información como espectáculo

10:30 – 10:45 Debate

10:45 – 11:00 Pause

11:00 – 12:20 Lectures: Archives I

  • The public wanted new. Programming the Biograph, 1896-1901. Paul Spehr
  • L’actualitat al catàleg Pathé Frères (1896-1914): Terminologia, lèxic i estudi quantitatiu. Daniel Pitarch
  • La imatge tòpica d’Espanya als films de Pathé i Gaumont. M. Magdalena Brotons i Capó
  • Creating an event out of nothing happening: the making of the “Death villages” of the zuiderzee region (The Netherlands) and the negotiation of its imagery (1880-1914). Sarah Dellmann

12:20 – 12:30 Pause

12:30 – 14:00 Lectures and debate: Archives II

  • The Vincenzo Neri Medical collection (1908-1928) a visual repertory between cinema, photography, typography. Simone Venturini
  • Antes del discurso, luego la imagen: el comentario de la película de no ficción en Italia en la época del cine mudo. Luca Mazzei

14.00 – 15:00 Lunch

15:00 – 15:45 Conference: Stephen Bottomore: Filming and ‘Faking’ a News Event – The Coronation of Edward VII (1902)

15:45 – 16:00 Debate

16:00 – 16:40 Lectures: Reconstructions

  • Actualidad reconstruida y reconstrucción de la actualidad. El caso de “Asesinato y entierro de Canalejas”. Begoña Soto y Encarni Rus
  • Actualitats reconstruïdes: del museu del cera als fake. El cas de l’erupció volcànica del Mont Pelée (Georges Méliès, 1902) com a punt de confluència. Marta Sureda

16:40 – 17:00 Pause

17:00 – 19:30 Lectures and debate: Newspapers and information

  • The true-crime films of Antonio Leal, 1906-1909: From newspaper reportage to film re-enactments in Brazil’s “Bela Época”. Rielle Navitski
  • How actual was an actualité in early cinema? Time as agency in presenting moving images of news of fairground and variety theatre. Ansje van Veusekom
  • How to tell a catastrophic event. The earthquake of Messina (Italy) in 1908. Luigi Virgolin
  • La mirada cinematogràfica dels primers fotoperiodistes. Lluïsa Suárez
  • The birth of Italy’s newsreel: study of the Italo Turkish War (1911-1912). Sila Berruti i Luca Mazzei

20.30 Presentation of the book-DVD “Segundo de Chomón. The fantasy film”. Next, cinema session, with live piano music, with films from the Filmoteca de Catalunya. Place of the session: Cinema Truffaut

Friday, April 1

9:30 – 10:15 Conference: Charles Musser: Cinema, Newspapers and the US Presidential Election of 1896

10.15-10:30 Debate

10:30 – 11:00 pause

11:00 – 13:30 Lectures and debate: War and politics

  • What’s in a name? The Russo-Japanese/Japanese-Russian War. Dafna Ruppin
  • El cinema d’animació dels primers temps i la reconstrucció de l’actualitat: el cas de l’enfonsament del Lusitània. Núria Nadal i Jaume Duran
  • El último espectáculo de la confederación: la recepción cinematográfica de la Guerra Civil Americana, 1896-1914. Kirby Pringle
  • Les actualitats Edison de la Guerra de Cuba: entre el Wild West show i el western. Ramon Girona

13:30 – 15:30 Lunch

15:30 – 16:15 Conference: Luke McKernan: Links in the chain: early newsreels and newspapers

16:15 – 16:30 Debate

16.30 – 16:45 Pause

16:45 – 18:30 Lectures and debate: Precinema and early cinema

  • El panorama de Waterloo de Charles Verlat i l’escena artística Barcelonesa a la dècada dels 90 del segle XIX. Neus Moyano
  • La llanterna i les seves variants com a antecedents dels diferents gèneres cinematogràfics. Jordi Artigas
  • La fascinació lúdica i participativa: entre Segundo de Chomón i el primer videojoc. Manuel Garin
  • Antonio Ramos i els orígens del cinema a la Xina. David Martínez-Robles i Teresa Iribarren
  • Los reportajes de festividades locales en la región de Murcia a comienzos delsiglo XX: el caso de la restauración de “La Cruz de Mayo” (Caravaca de laCruz, 1924). Ángel Morán
  • L’actualitat tecnocientífica en el cinema dels orígens: els films d’Edison i l’electromagnetisme. Manuel Moreno

18:30 – 18:35 Closing

19:30 Guided tour of the permanent exhibition at the Museu del Cinema (approx. 75’)

Well, it’s certainly going to be an honour to be speaking at such an event, and in such company. I’m delighted to see that there are scholars actively engaged in studying early newsfilm – this certainly wasn’t always the case in times past – and across such rich and pertinent topics.

The Museu del Cinema site has further details on the seminar, including registration details and other such information. The seminar will be multi-lingual, with simultaneous translation into Catalan, Spanish and English.

Looking back on 2010

Lillian Gish knows just what it’s like in north Kent, from Way Down East

The snows of winter are piling up in fantastic drifts about the portals of Bioscope Towers. Icy blasts find their way through every crack and cranny. Outside, civilization grinds to a glacial halt, and the end of the year now beckons. In the relative warmth of the Bioscope scriptorium, I’ve been thinking it would be a good idea to look back on what happened in the world of silent film over 2010. So here’s a recap of highlights from the past twelve months, as reported on the Bioscope (and in a few other places) – silent memories to warm us all.

There were three really big stories in 2010. For many of us, the most welcome news story of this or any other year was the honorary Oscar that went to Kevin Brownlow for a lifetime dedicated to the cause of silent films. The restored Metropolis had its premiere in a wintry Berlin in February. It has now been screened acround the world and issued on DVD and Blu-Ray. And there was the sensational discovery by Paul E. Gierucki of A Thief Catcher, a previously unknown appearance by Chaplin in a 1914 Keystone film, which was premiered at Slapsticon in June.

It was an important year for digitised documents in our field. David Pierce’s innovative Media History Digital Library project promises to digitise many key journals, having made a good start with some issues of Photoplay. The Bioscope marked this firstly by a post rounding up silent film journals online and then by creating a new section which documents all silent film journals now available in this way. A large number of film and equipment catalogues were made available on the Cinémathèque française’s Bibliothèque numérique du cinéma. Among the books which became newly-available for free online we had Kristin Thompson’s Exporting Entertainment, and the invaluable Kinematograph Year Book for 1914.

Among the year’s restorations, particularly notable were Bolivia’s only surviving silent drama, Wara Wara, in September, while in October the UK’s major silent restoration was The Great White Silence, documenting the doomed Scott Antarctic expedition.

We said goodbye to a number of silent film enthusiasts and performers. Particularly mourned in Britain was Dave Berry, the great historian of Welsh cinema and a friend to many. Those who also left us included Dorothy Janis (who starred in The Pagan opposite Ramon Novarro); film restorer and silent film technology expert Karl Malkames; the uncategorisable F. Gwynplaine Macintyre; and film archivist Sam Kula. One whose passing the Bioscope neglected to note was child star Baby Marie Osborne, who made her film debut aged three, saw her starring career end at the age of eight, then had a further ninety-one years to look back on it all.

Arctic conditions in Rochester uncannily replicated in Georges Méliès’ A la Conquête du Pôle (1912)

On the DVD and Blu-Ray front, Flicker Alley followed up its 2008 5-disc DVD set of Georges Méliès with a sixth disc, Georges Méliès Encore, which added 26 titles not on the main set (plus two by Segundo de Chomón in the Méliès style). It then gave us the 4-DVD set Chaplin at Keystone. Criterion excelled itself by issuing a three-film set of Von Sternberg films: Underworld (1927), The Last Command (1928) and The Docks of New York (1928). Other notable releases (aside from Metropolis, already mentioned) were Flicker Alley’s Chicago (1927) and An Italian Straw Hat (1927), Kino’s Talmadge sisters set (Constance and Norma), the Norwegian Film Institute’s Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition (1910-1912) and Il Cinema Ritrovato’s Cento anni fa: Attrici comiche e suffragette 1910-1914 / Comic Actresses and Suffragettes 1910-1914, while the Bioscope’s pick of the growing number of Blu-Ray releases is F.W. Murnau’s City Girl (1930), released by Eureka. But possibly the disc release of the year was the BFI’s Secrets of Nature, revealing the hypnotic marvels of natural history filmmaking in the 1920s and 30s – a bold and eye-opening release.

New websites turned up in 2010 that have enriched our understanding of the field. The Danish Film Institute at long last published its Carl Th. Dreyer site, which turned out to be well worth the wait. Pianist and film historian Neil Brand published archival materials relating to silent film music on his site The Originals; the Pordenone silent film festival produced a database of films shown in past festivals; the daughters of Naldi gave us the fine Nita Naldi, Silent Vamp site; while Kevin Brownlow’s Photoplay Productions finally took the plunge and published its first ever website.

The crew for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Mountain Eagle, ready for anything the elements can throw at them

Among film discoveries, in March we learned of the discovery of Australia’s earliest surviving film, the Lumière film Patineur Grotesque (possibly October 1896); in June we heard about a major collection of American silents discovered in New Zealand; and digital copies of ten American silents held in the Russian film archive were donated to the Library of Congress in October. That same month the Pordenone silent film festival unveiled the tantalising surviving frgament of F.W. Murnau’s Marizza, Genannt die Schmuggler-Madonna (1921-22). There was also time for films not yet discovered, as the BFI issued its Most Wanted list of lost films, most of them silents, while it also launched an appeal to ‘save the Hitchcock 9” (i.e. his nine surviving silents).

The online silent video hit of the year was quite unexpected: Cecil Hepworth’s Alice in Wonderland (1903) went viral after the release of the Tim Burton film of Lewis Carroll’s story. It has had nearly a million views since February and generated a fascinating discussion on this site. Notable online video publications included UCLA’s Silent Animation site; three Mexican feature films: Tepeyac (1917), El tren fantasma (1927) and El puño de hierro (1927); and the eye-opening Colonial Films, with dramas made in Africa, contentious documentaries and precious news footage.

2010 was undoubtedly the year of Eadweard Muybridge. There was a major exhibition of the photographer’s work at Tate Britain and another at Kingston Museum (both still running), publications including a new biography by Marta Braun, while Kingston produced a website dedicated to him. He also featured in the British Library’s Points of View photography exhibition. There was also controversy about the authorship of some of Muybridge’s earliest photographs, and a somewhat disappointing BBC documentary. In 2010 there was no avoiding Eadweard Muybridge. Now will the proposed feature film of his life get made?

Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance trapped in the Medway ice, from South (1919)

It was an interesting year for novel musical accompaniment to silents: we had silent film with guitars at the New York Guitar Festival; and with accordions at Vienna’s Akkordeon festival. But musical event of the year had to be Neil Brand’s symphonic score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929), given its UK premiere in November.

Noteworthy festivals (beyond the hardy annuals of Pordenone, Bologna, Cinecon etc) included the huge programme of early ‘short’ films at the International Short Film Festival at Oberhausen in April/May; and an equally epic survey of Suffragette films in Berlin in September; while the British Silent Film Festival soldierly on bravely despite the unexpected intervention of an Icelandic volcano.

On the conference side of things, major events were the Domitor conference, Beyond the Screen: Institutions, Networks and Publics of Early Cinema, held in Toronto in June; the Sixth International Women and Film History Conference, held in Bologna also in June; and Charlie in the Heartland: An International Charlie Chaplin Conference, held in Zanesville, Ohio in October.

It wasn’t a great year for silent films on British TV (when is it ever?), but the eccentric Paul Merton’s Weird and Wonderful World of Early Cinema at least generated a lot of debate, while in the US sound pioneer Eugene Lauste was the subject of PBS’s History Detectives. Paul Merton was also involved in an unfortunate spat with the Slapstick festival in Bristol in January over who did or did not invite Merton to headline the festival.

The art of the silent film carried on into today with the feature film Louis (about Louis Armstrong’s childhood), and the silent documentary feature How I Filmed the War. Of the various online modern silent shorts featured over the year, the Bioscope’s favourite was Aardman Animation’s microscopic stop-frame animation film Dot.

Charlie Chaplin contemplates the sad collapse of Southeastern railways, after just a few flakes of snow, from The Gold Rush

What else happened? Oscar Micheaux made it onto a stamp. We marked the centenary of the British newsreel in June. In October Louise Brooks’ journals were opened by George Eastman House, after twenty-five years under lock and key. Lobster Films discovered that it is possible to view some Georges Méliès films in 3D.

And, finally, there have been a few favourite Bioscope posts (i.e. favourites of mine) that I’ll give you the opportunity to visit again: a survey of lost films; an exhaustively researched three-part post on Alfred Dreyfus and film; the history of the first Japanese dramatic film told through a postcard; and Derek Mahon’s poetic tribute to Robert Flaherty.

It’s been quite a year, but what I haven’t covered here is books, largely because the Bioscope has been a bit neglectful when it comes to noting new publications. So that can be the subject of another post, timed for when you’ll be looking for just the right thing on which to spend those Christmas book tokens. Just as soon as we can clear the snow from our front doors.

And one more snowy silent – Abel Gance’s Napoléon recreates the current scene outside Rochester castle, from

Pordenone diary 2010 – day six

Pordenone at night

Thursday 7 October loomed, and your scribe was packing his bags. I had decided that five days in Pordenone at the Giornate del Cinema Muto was enough for me this year, and I was heading off to spend a couple of days in beautiful Trieste. But I could not do so without having set in place plans to ensure that the Bioscope could provide its habitual comprehensive coverage of the festival. You may remember that last year, when I didn’t attend the Giornate, the Bioscope reports were written by an anonymous reporter, subsequently dubbed The Mysterious X. Happily X was at the festival this year and just as keen to pick up the quill pen once again, while just as insistent on maintaining his anonymity. And, by a remarkale coincidence, the first film he reports on is a Benjamin Christensen masterpiece, the film the great director made after producing The Mysterious X … spooky, eh?

Bright and early – well, early – to the Verdi for a film I had anticipated since seeing it had been programmed; Hævnens Nat (Denmark 1916) (Blind Justice) an early feature directed by Benjamin Christensen; Pordenone in the past has given me a taste for Scandinavian silents; on the whole, the lighting and camera techniques seem to me, to have been way in advance of the rest of the world … and one sequence in particular in this thriller demonstrated that to me yet again.

After a strange prologue where we see the director demonstrating an illuminated model of the house where the main action of the film is to take place, we’re into the action; Strongman John is on the run, for a crime he didn’t commit and with his very young son; hiding out in a barn, he decides to try and steal milk from the main house, but is discovered by the young daughter of the family; he explains the situation, and persuades her not to betray him … but the awakened father forces the story out of her, John is captured while vowing revenge, and jailed …

Hævnens Nat (1916), with director Benjamin Christensen playing Strongman John, from

Fifteen years later, John has suffered physically and psychologically inside the prison, but is now out; naively, even unknowingly, he falls in with a gang of burglars intent on robbing the same house … fifteen years on, the girl is married and now the mistress of the house with a young family … in his confused state, John starts to exact his revenge, not knowing that one of the children is his now-adopted son …

The setting of the film – an ornately reproduced and highly realistic mansion, as introduced proudly at the start – almost becomes a character within it; while light and airy during the day, it seems both claustrophobic and yet flimsily undefendable as night falls and menace lurks. The bravura sequence occurs at the point where the invader spies the young woman through the keyhole; we see it from his point of view, the young girl vignetted, deep focus, within the ornate Edwardian escutcheon, the layers of the lock’s mechanism visible; she senses the viewer’s presence and moves out of shot … seconds later the keyhole cover is slid across our view from her side of the door. We cut to a view of the room’s interior … the woman seemingly
paralysed with fear; the camera slowly tracks back, initially revealing the french windows we are looking through … and then the silhouetted shape of the hulking intruder, seeing the same thing … and those french windows look so fragile now …

It’s a powerful shot now; through the use of imaginative sets, superb lighting and a dramatic camera move, the audience is utterly involved in the menace at work … in the voyeuristic sense, and in the complete powerlessness of our situation as an audience, let alone the situation of the girl in the room … it would be impressive in a film made ten or
twenty years later; stunning in a film of 1916. I won’t reveal the ending; that would spoil things for you if you have yet to see the film; if not screening near you, it’s available on DVD from the Danish Film Institute with a Neil Brand piano score.

Shingun (1930), from

Straight on into the next film in the Shochiku strand of Japanese dramas, Shingun (Japan 1930) (Marching On) … in the programme billed as being the Japanese near-equivalent, and inspired by, Wings and The Big Parade … well, up to a point … it starts delightfully; a farmer’s boy, obsessed with his balsa-and-paper flying models and with dreams of real aircraft, develops a friendship with the daughter of the local squire, who introduces the lad to her pilot brother and his flying officer friends; through hard work, and despite the handicap of a lowly class status, he eventually succeeds in qualifying as a pilot and joining the air force. So far, so good, a peacetime Wings story, a cute cross-class nascent love story developing through fine performances by the two leads; Denmei Suzuki and Kinuyo Tanaka were becoming old friends to us by now … the pairing obviously a prized asset to the studio. But right at this point the film takes the most sinister turn, particularly with the hindsight of history. “Is War Likely??” asks a title (I may be paraphrasing, but not wildly) “Yes, Japan has suffered enough indignities” and so we march into the final third of the film …

Well, from here, The Big Parade or Wings, it ain’t. The film-makers might well have seen them, but failed to learn much from them in how to construct either feasible aerial or battlefield sequences. Unlike Wings, the aerial sequences are constructed from a combination of appalling model work – honestly, they look like they were shot using the boy’s balsa models from the start of the film – and laughably bad back projection, as the gunner from a doomed plane passes vital strategic information to another by wing walking and handing it to his opposite number … our farmboy hero. Inevitably, this second plane, piloted by the girl’s brother, is brought down into the battlefield – full of shellfire but little else – but look! A convenient Harley Davidson and sidecar for our hero to requisition, and to load his wounded friend into … after a few minutes bouncing around the field – if the pilot wasn’t seriously injured before, he would be now – they get caught in an explosion, and the bike wrecked … but look!! A convenient horse, grazing in a contented manner, but about to get a rude shock as two airmen clamber on board to complete their getaway … except more shrapnel comes their way, and the horse is abandoned … but look!!! A convenient artillery tractor, abandoned in full working order, it seems, and our heroes complete their escape to safety at around 1½ miles per hour … the strategic information is delivered to the relevant Colonel, the battle is heroically won, etc. Which would be fairly hilarious, except for the nagging thought that the massive amount of military hardware on and personnel on screen, supplied by the Japanese army, are rehearsals for the invasion of Manchuria that would happen within the year. If a silent film with such a nationalistic propaganda theme existed from, say, Germany in 1938, would it be shown with such alacrity? I wonder … anyway, it could have been a great film; it started with real charm, but it did seem as if the film was kidnapped by a propaganda ministry two-thirds of the way through.

The film screened after lunch, Bukhta Merti (USSR 1926) (Death Bay), was an Abram Room-directed film set in the Russian Navy at the time of the Russian Civil War, and described by Ian Christie in the catalogue as a “Propagandist adventure story” … well, I had just sat through one of those, so I gave it a rest, and decided a Spritz Aperol in the Italian sunshine, and a bit of a natter with like-minded people held more appeal. These things happen on the Thursdays, I find … shamingly, I enjoyed the chatting so much that I decided to forego the Jonathan Dennis lecture, given by former Channel Four supremo Jeremy Isaacs, and the man who green-lit Kevin Brownlow’s Hollywood series; for which the world remains grateful; on the basis that he had given a talk locally and recently, so I felt no desire to hear it again; a mistake, as this was a totally different event, and took the form (I was told subsequently) of an extended tribute to Kevin Brownlow, David Gill, and the making of Hollywood; that I would loved to have seen. A mistake on my part … these things, too, happen on Thursdays …

But no missing the night’s big event; the farewell performance of Laura Minici Zotti and her magic lantern show La Grande Arte della Luce e dell’Ombra (The Great Art of Light and Shadow), culled from the enormous collection she has established at her museum in Padua, the Museo del Precinema; the transportation of priceless fragile glass slides no longer being a good idea; Madame Zotti acts as lanternist herself (resplendent in a late-Victorian blue-black shot-silk evening dress, bustle and all) while a lecturer read from the stage; the Verdi had been heavily adapted to enable the lantern to display on the cinema screen, which looked fine from where I was sat, but I did wonder quite how much some people saw from their positions, what with the Verdi’s sightlines.

The show was terrific; the slides spectacular, particularly those examples where, by use of fades, daytime scenes transform to night as we watch; not to mention special slides designed to hold live insects, and live small fish, swimming across the screen … extraordinary. The stalwart of every magic lantern show I’ve ever seen seem to be the kaleidoscopic slides … here they were spellbinding; we really were getting the highlights of the collection. If there was one slight personal disappointment, it was that it was presented very much as a history lecture … which is fine as an approach, obviously; but I was hoping for a recreation of a big magic lantern show of the era, and that wasn’t quite what we saw. But what we saw was unforgettable too.

There was then a fair gap in the programme as the Verdi was turned back into its cinema format, ready for the late screening of more of the 1910’s French comedy shorts … so I took in some air, honestly meaning to take in the second half of the set which included some Max Linder … and possibly the 1hr 37m Shochiku drama Kinkanshoku (Japan 1934) (Eclipse) due to start at 11.20pm … but I failed you. I feel deeply ashamed …

No shame, please, Mysterious. I haven’t made it to a late screening at Pordenone for years now. Many thanks for an attentive and illuminating account. The report on Friday’s offerings will follow soon (hopefully with just as many eye-catching ellipses, semi-colons and classy use of words like ‘escutcheon’).

Pordenone diary 2010 – day one
Pordenone diary 2010 – day two
Pordenone diary 2010 – day three
Pordenone diary 2010 – day four
Pordenone diary 2010 – day five
Pordenone diary 2010 – day seven
Pordenone diary 2010 – day eight

The running man

It is perhaps the most iconic of all photographic images. Eadweard Muybridge‘s running man (he made several photographic sequences of a man running, but I’m thinking of the one illustrated here) conjures up the very idea of photography. It has captured the instant, has brought a moment out of its specific time into all time. We can hear the click of the shutter. It is one of a sequence of twelve, any one of which can seen as representative, as all document the same action, but the point where both legs leave the air is the most quintessentially photographic. It is the image for which photography was made.

It is the point where the nineteenth century turns into the modern age. It doesn’t just offer a view of the past – it makes the past coterminous with us. He started running in 1887 and he is running still in 2010. The plain background accentuates the timelessness, leaving us nothing to contemplate save bare, unaccommodated man. It sums up who we are: hurtling forward from who knows where to who knows where, yet never really going anywhere. It simultaneously celebrates and laughs at progress.

The image has classical resonances. There is an echo of Ancient Greek statuary and the Olympic ideal, but the stronger echo is with Leonardo dan Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man‘ or the ‘Proportions of Man’, the idealised, perfectly proportioned figure inscribed within a circle and a square. Muybridge’s man, similarly ideally proportioned, is inscribed within a square. And Da Vinci’s image has an intimation of motion about it – the figure’s body is static but there are two sets of arms and two sets of legs, indicating that idealised man can only be revealed in movement. I run therefore I am.

The image is about time itself. Just as in times past a skull might be used as a memento mori, a means for the observer to contemplate the death that must come to us all, the running man obliges us to contemplate the ceaseless flow of time. The image seeks to defeat time by capturing the moment – the science of sequence photography that Muybridge inspired was called chronophotography, which means ‘picturing time’. A photograph does not capture time in any actual sense; it is a chemical (or now digital) illusion. But it does capture the idea of time, a thing for contemplation.

The image also represents the historical moment between the still image and the motion picture. Muybridge was interested in dissecting motion by capturing that which could not be detected by the naked eye, namely the individual elements of motion. He was not trying to create motion pictures (though he did experiment with these as a sideline). Motion pictures do not reveal the invisible as such; they replicate visible reality. But Muybridge’s vision and technical accomplishment led the way to motion pictures as others built on the logic of what he had established. It is right that he is the usual starting point for histories of film.

The running man is also telling us a story. One of the most engrossing elements of the Muybridge exhibition currently on show at Tate Britain is how it leads us to imagine Muybridge playing out the psychodrama in his head following his acquittal for the murder of his wife’s lover (and she died soon after). Much has been made of the women in his sequence photographs, shown as they are in submissive, playful, dancing, teasing, eroticised or domestic roles. The men, however, are all going somewhere, doing physical, masculine things – lifting, wrestling, throwing, marching, chopping, running. Muybridge himself appears (naked) in some sequences, and just as we can see all of the women in the photographs as Flora Muybridge, so all the men are Eadweard Muybridge, emblematised as the man running for the sake of running, wanting to be doing something that it is good for man to be seen doing, without really knowing why.

Then there is athletics itself. This is not just an image of a man out of time. It is a photograph, or a set of photographs, of an athlete. Competitive sports became hugely important in the late nineteenth century, and in 1878 Muybridge photographed members of the San Francisco Olympic Club. In 1884 he started work at the University of Pennsylvania, producing hundreds of photographic sequences, many of them showing athletes from the university. American universities were hotbeds of the new enthusiasm for sports, and sport was becoming an important expression of what it meant to be a (male) American. The running man is someone who ran with a purpose, who knew what it meant to run.

The sequence photographs of the running man did not come out of nowhere. Produced as part of Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion series (1887), they came as the culmination of an exceptional career in photography. As the exhibition makes clear, Muybridge was a photographer of considerable accomplishments long before he started photographing galloping horses and running men. His work ranged from stereoscopes (3D images) to extraordinary panoramas. He was a photographer of landscapes and cityscapes, always able to capture something beyond the mere replication of a reality. Even before he began his motion studies in the late 1870s he was revealing something of the mystery of time and motion in his work. The necessarily long exposures that came with wet plate photography meant that the apparent instant is really a record of the passage of seconds. The passing of time is reflected in the stillness.

The running man as an instantly recognisable symbol of what it is to be human is a part of modern culture. The man running ever forwards yet getting nowhere has been used in pop videos such as Talking Heads’ Road to Nowhere and U2’s Lemon. Videos inspired by Muybridge’s work, often inspired by the figure running endlessly against a black background with white lines, can be found all over such sites as YouTube and Vimeo, as modern artists demonstrate a compulsion to revisit his vision. Muybridge sequences have been used on posters, book covers, murals, television trailers and T-shirts. The running man even runs endlessly across twelve frames on the lenticular ruler I bought at the exhibition.

And then there is the science. For all that we can philosophise about time, or see the image(s) as depicting a crisis in the idea of masculinity, or see them for the inspiration they gave to artists such as Duchamp, Bacon and Twombly (and Muybridge wanted to inspire artists), the running man and all the other Animal Locomotion sequences were commissioned by a body of scientists. The University of Pennsylvania paid him $40,000 to undertake work of a scientific character, and the committee than oversaw his work included an anatomist, a neurologist and a physiologist. The running man was there to be studied. He was demonstrating the processes of human motion, revealing action and musculature as it had not been possible to show before. The white grid on the black background is there for scientific reasons: to gain the measure of a man.

The running man is not a complete work in itself. It/he is part of Plate 62 of Animal Locomotion; one of twelve images taken in succession (plus another twelve images giving a side-on view of the same action). It is one twelfth of a work that one cannot ever pin down. Looking at the twelve images in sequence does not really tell us what the work signifies; looking at one of the images does not give us the full work; looking at the sequence animated falsifies what Muybridge tried to achieve. And the man did not run forever, as the animations suggest. He ran from one end of the track to another. Then he stopped. Muybridge’s work is endlessly mysterious to contemplate.

The Muybridge exhibition at the Tate is a marvellous experience, and you should go if you can. It covers every aspect of his remarkable career, clearly explained and illuminatingly displayed. There are his haunting images of the Yosemite, the breathtaking panoramas of San Francisco, hypnotically beautiful cyanotypes (the blue-toned contact proofs from which published collotypes were made), and a Zoopraxiscope projector with which he exhibited proto-animation ‘films’ on disc based on his photographic sequences. A little more context, in the form of the works of his peers and those he has influenced, would have been welcome, but of his work there can be no complaint. OK, perhaps just one. In the exhibition there is no Plate 62. There is Plate 63, in which the same athlete runs a little faster, and not quite as iconically (he leans forward too much). The quintessential Muybridgean image isn’t there.

The Muybridge controversy

Eadweard Muybridge, The Human and Animal Locomotion Photographs, published by Taschen

The long-awaited Eadweard Muybridge exhibition opens at Tate Britain on 8 September, running until 16 January 2011. The exhibition has been developed by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC, where it ran April-July under the title Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change. The Tate exhibition is entitled ‘Eadweard Muybridge: The Photographer who Proved Horses Could Fly’, which has to win some sort of an award for direst exhibition subtitle of the decade, but the change from the Washington show is significant. Because since the Muybridge show opened in America controversy has arisen over the authenticity of some of Muybridge’s works, and in particular the name ‘Helios’.

‘Helios’ was a name adopted by Eadweard Muybridge when marketing his photographs in the United States in the 1860s, in the period before he took up sequence photography. Muybridge had emigrated from the UK to the USA in 1851, when his surname was still that which his parents would have recognised, Muggeridge, and initially was involved in book selling. He moved to California and changed his name to Muygridge. After a traumatic stagecoach crash he returned to Britain in 1860. The biography is a bit vague for the next few years, but somewhere along the line he pick up considerable skills in the wet collodion photographic process. He returned to the United States in 1867, traded as Helios, and revealed himself to be a photographic genius (now named Muybridge), with stereoscopic and panoramic views of landscapes and cityscapes which reached the pinnacle of the art-form. Then in 1872 he was approached by railroad baron Leland Stanford to help settle a debate about whether a horses hooves left the ground when galloping, using rapid photography, and the rest was proto-motion picture history.

‘Helios’ photograph of Yosemite Falls, credited to Eadweard Muybridge, from Yosemite: Its Wonders and Its Beauties (1868) by John S. Hittell, c/o Note the ‘Helios’ credit in the bottom right-hand corner

The controversy lies in the ‘Helios’ period. Just as the Washington exhibition opened, a photography historian Weston Naef was interviewed for a fairly explosive three-part piece about Muybridge for Artinfo which claimed that much of Muybridge’s work at this time was the work of another photographer, Carleton Watkins, who photographed the Yosemite region at around the ame time as Muybridge. Here are the three parts:

You’ll have to read Naef’s interview to get the full conspiracy theory, but essentially he argues that Muybridge bought negatives from other photographers, particularly Watkins, marketing them under the ‘Helios’ name, then goes on to claim that Watkins taught Muybridge all he knew, sometimes standing over him to coach him (there is no evidence for either of those last two assertions). There are two aspects to this: the arguments and the conclusion. The arguments range from the intriguing to the silly. The silliest is where Naef says that no one could become a photographic genius with the speed that Muybridge showed, giving this reasoning:

It seems very likely that when Muybridge returned to San Francisco in 1867 that he would have acquired — in the same way he acquired patents and the rights to publish books — he would have used the same kind of method to establish himself in a new business in San Francisco, and that new business would have been as a publisher of photographs rather than as a maker of them. There is no evidence for how in 1868 he could have gained the mastery required to make many of the exceptional small works that are on view in the first several galleries. The mystery remains: When did Muybridge perform the 10,000 hours of practice in photography that people who are involved in studying the psychology of learning believe is required to become a world-class master in any subject?

What tosh. There are very few people who put in 10,000 hours of practice at anything and come out geniuses. They come out as averagely proficient. Geniuses tend to leap-frog the stages that we ordinary mortals have to follow, and to do so damn quickly. Muybridge was a photographic genius because he was gifted.

But if some of the reasoning is faulty (and I should add that Naef has many more arguments in favour of the photographer he admires, namely Watkins), the conclusion has an element of probability about it. Why might not have Muybridge marketed the work of others under the Helios trademark? He was a businessman before he became an artist (or scientist, depending on your point of view). It may have taken a while before he saw photographs as something he wanted to create rather than objects he wanted to sell. It’s a speculative area that merits further investigation, but with the realisation that this is but one small aspect of the career of a major creative artist. One of the exciting things about Muybridge is that we are still discovering so much about him, and that so many intriguing mysteries remain about him.

Naef’s allegations have led to all sorts of online speculation. The best responses have been Muybridge authority Stephen Herbert’s Muy Blog, which looks at Muybridge’s ‘lost’ years of the 1860s while artfully debunking Naef, and Rebecca Solnit, author of the excellent Muybridge biography Motion Studies (aka River of Shadows) whose piece in The Guardian ably defends Muybridge against the campaign of innuendo.

Part of Muybridge’s 1878 photographic panorama of San Francisco, from America Hurrah!

Meanwhile, there’s a major exhibition to enjoy, which promises to bring together “the full range of his art for the first time”, exploring the ways win which Muybridge created and honed such remarkable images, works which influenced artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Francis Bacon and Philip Glass’s music, and which continue to resonate powerfully with artists today. Highlights include a seventeen foot panorama of San Francisco and recreations of the Zoopraxiscope (pre-film motion pictures on a disc) in action.

Needless to say, plenty of associated publications and events will be around to coincide with the exhibition. Most exciting among the former is probably going to be Taschen’s monumental Eadweard Muybridge, The Human and Animal Locomotion Photographs (published 25 September), put together by Hans Christian Adam. This reproduces all 781 plates from Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion (1887), the entirety of The Attitudes of Animals in Motion (1881), and an authoritative chronology by Stephen Herbert. At long last it looks like we have a replacement for the venerable volumes produced by Dover Publications. No less essential will be Marta Braun’s new biography, Eadweard Muybridge, published on 24 September, by Reaktion. Plus there’s the exhibition book, Eadweard Muybridge, edited by Philip Brookman, and from the Tate shop an irresistible selection of Muybridgean goodies, including posters, bags, calendars, prints, postcards, notebooks, T-shirts, rulers, and the inevitable fridge magnets.

Muybridge photographic sequences, from

On the events side, Muy Blog provides this list (with the promise of adding more as they emerge):

Eadweard Muybridge at Tate Britain
8 Sept – 16 Jan
Tate Britain, Millbank
First major UK retrospective of Muybridge’s entire career.
Tickets £10/£8.50 from htpp://

Muybridge in Kingston Launch Day
Sat 18 Sept 12.30-7pm
Kingston Museum & Stanley Picker Gallery
Public launch of the Muybridge in Kingston exhibitions with special events for all the family, including a magic lantern show from Professor Heard, shadow puppetry from Zannie Fraser and an evening launch lecture on Muybridge’s links to the history of the moving and projected image by Muybridge expert Stephen Herbert.
All welcome – no booking required.

Park Nights at Serpentine Gallery Pavilion
Becky Beasley & Chris Sharp
Fri 24 Sept 8pm
Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens
13 pieces, 17 feet is a monologue in thirteen parts that finds its point of departure in Muybridge’s extraordinary 1878 San Francisco panorama.
Tickets £5/£4 from

Late at Tate: Eadweard Muybridge
Fri 1 Oct 6pm-10pm
Tate Britain, Millbank
An evening of Muybridge-inspired events.
Visit htpp:// for further details.

In Conversation: Trevor Appleson
Wed 6 October 7pm
Stanley Picker Gallery
Exploring Muybridge’s influence on contemporary arts practitioners.
Limited seating – to reserve a FREE place please call 020 8417 4074

Muybridge & Moving Image History
Thurs 14 Oct, 28 Oct & 11 Nov 7pm
Kingston Museum
Evening lecture series offering unique insights into the relationship between Muybridge’s work and the history of visuality, film and animation.
Limited seating – to reserve a FREE place please call 020 8547 6460

See also the events programme given on the Muybridge at Kingston site (Kingston-on-Thames being the birth and deathplace of Muybridge and home of a huge collection of his works at its museum).

Once again, the Tate Britain exhibition runs from 8 September 2010 to 16 January 2011.

Well, all I can say is, beat that, Carleton Watkins.

Australia’s silent film festival

Miss Mend, from

Australia’s eponymous Silent Film Festival returns a month earlier in the year than last year, with screenings over 11, 16, 18, 23 and 25 September. The festival takes place at Pitt Street Uniting Church and the Wesley Conference Centre, Sydney and features films from Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the USA. Here’s the full programme:

6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
For the Term of His Natural Life 1927 (Australia)
Pitt Street Uniting Church 264 Pitt Street Sydney

Directed: Norman Dawn
Starring: George Fisher, Arthur McLaglen, Jessica Harcourt, Beryl Gow, Mayne Lynton, Arthur Tauchert, Eva Novak and Dunstan Webb
Tickets: $20/$15 concession and children
Film: digital presentation of restored film
Duration: 98 minutes
Live music: accompanist Colin Offord
Presenter: Bruce Elder Senior Entertainment Writer with the Sydney Morning Herald

7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Passing Fancy Dekigokoro 1933 (Japan)
Wesley Conference Centre 220 Pitt Street Sydney

Directed: by Yasujiro Ozu
Starring: Sakomoto Takeshi, Fushime Nabuko and Tomio Aoki
Tickets: $20/$15 concession and children
Film: digital presentation of restored film
Duration: 101 minutes
Live music: accompanist Riley Lee, world-class master of the shakuhachi.
Presenter: Dr. Carol Hayes Senior Lecturer, Japan Centre,School of Culture, History and Language College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University

Peace through a bowl of tea. The Festival is pleased to present prior to the screening from 6.15-6.45pm a demonstration of a Japanese tea ceremony. This unique and rich event for Festival supporters is presented by the Japan Foundation and Chado Urasenke Tankokai Sydney Association Inc. The Festival acknowledges the assistance of Wakao Koike; Masafumi Konomi , Yoshiaki Matsunaga,, Ryoko Freeman and David Freeman.

10:15 AM to 12:00 PM
The Last Great Magic Lantern Show (Australia)
Wesley Conference Centre 220 Pitt Street Sydney

Presenters: Professor Ian and Margery Edwards and Antony Catrice
Tickets: $20/$15 concession and children
Film: Magic Lantern Slide Presentation
Duration: 75 minutes

12:15 PM to 2:15 PM
Comedies for Kids and the Young at Heart! (USA)
Wesley Conference Centre 220 Pitt Street Sydney

A selection of the Kings of Comedy at their funniest and at full throttle!
Charlie Chaplin in THE ADVENTURER (1917) 23 minutes; Buster Keaton in COPS (1922) 18 minutes; Laurel and Hardy in WRONG AGAIN (1929) 20 minutes; and Max Sennett’s LIZZIES OF THE FIELD (1924) 10 minutes. Winsor McKay, THE PET (1921) 11 mins See the Australian born star Billy Bevan in Lizzies of the Field driving his snoozenburg!

Tickets: $20/$15 concession and children
Film: digital presentation of restored film
Duration: 90 minutes
Live music: accompanist Mauro Colombis
Presenter: Dr Stephen Juan
Anthropologist Dr Stephen Juan is a commentator on all things human in books, newspapers, on radio and television. For more than three decades he taught at the University of Sydney where in retirement he remains the Ashley Montagu Fellow. The author of several best-selling books and member of Channel Nine’s Today, Stephen has long had an interest in cultural history generally and films in particular.

2:30 PM to 4:15 PM
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari / Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari 1919-20 (Germany)
Wesley Conference Centre 220 Pitt Street Sydney

Directed: by Robert Wiene
Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover
Tickets: $20/$15 concession and children
Film: digital presentation of restored film
Duration: 76 minutes
Live music: accompanist Mauro Colombis
Presenter: Klaus Krischok Director, Goethe-Institut Australien

4:30 PM to 6:30 PM
Miss Mend Part One / Mess Mend 1926 (Russia)
Wesley Conference Centre 220 Pitt Street Sydney

Directed: by Boris Barnet and Fedor Ozep
Based on the novel by “Jim Dollar” aka Marietta Shaginian
Starring: Natalya Glan, Igor Ilyinsky and Vladimir Fogel
Tickets: $20/$15 concession and children
Film: digital presentation of restored film
Duration: 88 minutes
Live music: accompanist Maria Okunev
Presenter: Dr. Karen Pearlman Head of Screen Studies; Australian Film, Television and Radio School

7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
The Italian Straw Hat / Un chapeau de paille d’Italie 1927 (France)
Wesley Conference Centre 220 Pitt Street Sydney

Directed: by René Clair
Starring: Albert Préjean, Geymond Vital, Olga Tschechowa and Paul Ollivier
Tickets: $20/$15 concession and children
Film: digital presentation of restored film
Duration: 105 minutes
Live music: accompanist Sharolyn Kimmorley
Presenter: Jason di Rosso, Associate Producer MOVIETIME ABC Radio National and Film Writer GQ

10:15 AM to 12:00 PM
Buster Keaton and Snub Pollard! (USA)
Wesley Conference Centre 220 Pitt Street Sydney

Romeo and Juliet given an update and set in a tenement neighbourhood where Buster and Virginia’s family fight over the fence separating their respective homesteads. * 18 Minutes

The genius of old Stoneface as Buster plays everyone, including a monkey, in a theatre simultaneously. * 22 Minutes

Buster to the fore again is falsely accused of breaking a window and is hauled before a judge who speaks no English and assumes they are there to be married. The family nightmare starts. * 22 Minutes

IT’S A GIFT – 1923
The talents of the incomparable Australian born, Snub Pollard. * 10 Minutes

Tickets: $20/$15 concession and children
Film: digital presentation of restored film
Duration: 72 minutes
Live music: accompanist Robert Constable
Presenter: Jason di Rosso, Associate Producer MOVIETIME ABC Radio National and Film Writer GQ

12:15 PM to 2:15 PM
Bardelys the Magnificent 1926 (USA)
Wesley Conference Centre 220 Pitt Street Sydney

Directed: by King Vidor
Starring: John Gilbert, Eleanor Boardman, Roy D’Arcy, Karl Dane and John T Murray
Tickets: $20/$15 concession and children
Film: digital presentation of restored film
Duration: 91 minutes
Live music: accompanist Robert Constable
Presenter: Jason di Rosso, Associate Producer MOVIETIME ABC Radio National and Film Writer GQ

3:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Fashion 1920s
Wesley Conference Centre 220 Pitt Street Sydney

Fashion 1920s – Presented by Charlotte Smith

Silent films have played a significant part in the evolution and development of fashion, and it is therefore very appropriate to include this special session in our journey back in time through the silent film medium.

Besides being a time capsule by giving us a fascinating and entertaining glimpse into how people lived and dressed in the past, silent films of the 1920s also presented fashion styles to a worldwide audience and to all classes of society. Many silent screen stars became fashion icons, leading new fashion trends and inspiring people of all walks of life to dress in a similar way.

Charlotte Smith, author of the best-selling book, Dreaming of Dior: Every Dress Tells a Story (HarperCollins Australia) is the curator of the famous Darnell Collection, having inherited it from her godmother, Doris Darnell, in 2004. Since then it has continued to grow to number over 5500 pieces representing 23 different countries, and is considered the largest private vintage clothing collection in Australia.

Tickets: $10/$5 concession and children
Duration: 60 minutes

4:30 PM to 6:30 PM
Chicago 1927 (USA)
Wesley Conference Centre 220 Pitt Street Sydney

Produced: by Cecil B DeMille
Directed: by Frank Urson
Starring: Phyllis Haver, Julia Faye, May Robson and Victor Varconi
Tickets: $20/$15 concession
Film: digital presentation of restored film
Duration: 112 minutes
Live music: accompanist Mauro Colombis
Presenter: Bruce Elder Senior Entertainment Writer with the Sydney Morning Herald

There are more details on the festival site, including booking information, further information on the films and the musicians, and an archive covering the programmes for 2009 and 2007.

Reconstituting Hobbs

Jack Hobbs batting at the Oval cricket ground in 1914

Recently I purchased a copy of A.C. MacLaren’s The Perfect Batsman: J.B. Hobbs in Action (1926). The book is an instructional guide for playing cricket, using the legendary Surrey batsman Jack Hobbs as its example. The text is written by Archie MacLaren, another of the greats from cricket’s golden era. What makes The Perfect Batsman of interest here is that it is illustrated by frames of film taken of Hobbs in 1914.

MacLaren tells us that the films were taken eleven years before his book was published, the filmmakers being Cherry Kearton Ltd., and he indicates that the films were made on his behalf. Certainly there seems to be no commercially released film of Hobbs in 1914 made by Kearton, so presumably the sequences were specially commissioned. Why it took eleven years to publish them is not explained. There are ten plates, each with sequences of between eight and twelve frames. Hobbs was in his prime in the 1910s but hardly any film from this period exists of him (plenty exists of him in the 1920s) – indeed there is very little surviving film at all of cricket in the 1910s.

Plate VIII from The Perfect Batsman, with Hobbs demonstrating ‘A High Straight Drive’

What one can do with such filmstrip is reanimate it, which is what I have done with three of the plates (2, 8 and 10). They now make up the video above. Because the longest sequence is just twelve frames, I have repeated the sequences several times and have them running at a frame rate a little slower than real time. Anyway, brief as they are, they bring back to a sort of life one of English cricket’s greats, and capture him in swashbuckling mode as well. MacLaren writes of the films:

It is a great pleasure to me to have kept these action photographs of Hobbs, which I present in this book in the hope that all our schoolboys and young cricketers generally will benefit their play by a careful perusal of them, not failing to notice his footwork, the grace of his style, and his perfect balance in all his strokes, to say nothing of his delightful follow through at the very end of his strokes.

Anyone who follows cricket would have to agree. The high straight drive in particular demonstrates the comment made in Wisden’s obituary for Hobbs, “Before the war of 1914-1918 he was Trumperesque, quick to the attack on springing feet, strokes all over the field, killing but never brutal, all executed at the wrists.”

There were a number of sports instruction books with film sequences published in the silent era. I have seen examples for cricket, tennis, boxing and ju-jitsu, and doubtless there were others. Usually the films were shot especially for the book, so that they represent unique records of their subjects. Such encouragement to study closely the individual frame echoes the ambition of some of the pre-cinema sequence photographers such as Eadweard Muybridge, Etienne-Jules Marey, Georges Demeny and Ernst Kohlrausch, who saw their proto-films of the 1880s and 90s as means to analyse movement, particularly sporting movement.

Eadweard Muybridge’s ‘Cricket, batting, drive’ from The Human Figure in Motion (1887). His unnamed naked model was ‘the best all-round cricketer in the University of Pennsylvania.

Reconstituting films from non-film sources has also been done for flick card devices such as Kinoras and Filoscopes. One of the few films that survives of the greatest of all English cricketers, W.G. Grace, only exists as a Filoscope which the BFI was able to rephotograph and convert back to film, despite heavy half-tones impairing the image. One would always rather have the film, of course, but movement is movement and somehow the very fragmentary nature of such records makes the brief glimpse of life that they capture seem all the more precious.