The Pirate King

Well, there I was, thinking to put together another Bioscope newsreel, and struggling to dig up news stories that wouldn’t better served as full posts, when I came across what I think is a first. It’s the first promotional video that I’ve come across for a book on silent films. If you don’t know, publishers are becoming increasingly keen to produce what are effectively trailers for the books they publish, which can feature author interviews, extracts being read out, or sometimes scenes being dramatised. It’s a whole genre to itself, and you just hope that some archivist somewhere is collecting them all.

Most of these videos are for fictional works, and that’s the case with Pirate King (I can hear the cries of disappointment that it is not some severe tome on Deleuzean film theory that has been given the video promo treatment). No, Pirate King is the latest production from American novelist Laurie R. King, who writes novels in which Sherlock Holmes works alongside his wife Mary Russell, an undercover detective. No, you won’t find her in the Arthur Conan Doyle works, but King has imagined that Holmes had retired to the Sussex Downs after His Last Bow and met the 16-year-old Russell in 1915, when he was aged 54. Well, of course.

Pirate King is the eleventh in this series, and this time Mary and Sherlock becomes involved in the murky world of British silent films of the 1920s. The Pirate King is a film producer with a criminal past, named Randolph Flytte, a sort of English Erich von Stroheim, who is making a film of The Pirates of Penzance in Portgual and Morocco. And then real pirates get involved.

Alas, the author has missed the chance to produce something with added complexity, because of course there was an extensive series of short films based on the Holmes stories filmed at Stoll Film Studios in the early 1920s, many directed by Maruice Elvey, with Eille Norwood as one of the best screen Sherlocks there has been. There’s a whole Bioscope post on the history of Conan Doyle’s works and the silent screen, if you want to know more. What fun it would have been had Sherlock and Mary had their mystery to solve amid the film company filming one of his adventures. It would have been a whole lot more plausible than pirates or indeed a British cinema of the period with anything like someone like Erich von Stroheim beside the camera. Indeed, a missed chance.

You can read extracts on Laurie R. King’s website, from which you may also learn that the renowned Portguese Poet Fernando Pessoa is also a character, and that either the author or her web manager can’t spell D’Oyly Carte. And there’s an interview with King, focussing on the film side of things (about which she doesn’t appear to know a great deal, though she does note the existence of Sherlock Jr.) done by Thomas Gladysz for his SFGate blog.

Triangle Film Corporation

The House Built upon Sand (1916), with Lillian Gish and Roy Stewart, from La Triangle (1915-1919): Archives, recherche et histoire du cinéma

Here’s a couple of websites to bring to your attention, each dedicated in one way or another to the Triangle Film Corporation. Triangle was formed in 1915 following a parting of the ways between the brothers Harry and Roy Aitken and other board members at the Mutual Film Corporation. Harry Aitken formed the Triangle Film Corporation in July 1915 with the plan of releasing the films of three prominent producers: D.W. Griffith, Thomas Ince and Mack Sennett. For three years it was a considerable force in American film production before it was dissolved, brought down in part by the huge costs of Intolerance – ironically enough, given that it was formed on a tide of optimism and finance that followed the great success of The Birth of a Nation.

The first site is The Harry & Roy Aitken Collection, created by the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research, Madison. The WCFTR holds the papers of the Aitken brothers, comprising scripts, photos, promotional materials, company ledgers, legal records, and both personal and business correspondence. The site exhibits documents from one part of the collection, the Scripts and Scenarios series, using selected digitised documents to illustrate the great changes that took place in American film practice in the 1910s.

From the continuity script for Love of Justice? (working title The Woman of It) (1917)

The site comprises a timeline of developments in cinema in the 1910s; and a summary history of such developments, focussing on such key aspects as the arrival of feature films, the formation of exchanges, the distribution of features, and their exhibition. The central section is Continuity Script and the Rationalization of Film Production, which illustrates its historical thesis with digitised documents showing examples of Proof of Copyright, Detailed Scenario, Credits and Condensed Story, Locations, List of titles, Continuity Script Excerpt, Complete Picture Report and Budget Summary, all of them for Triangle releases. Another section, Changes in Film Style in the 1910s, demonstrates changes in lighting, staging, performance, editing and cinematography films at the start and end of the decade, with clips and stills as illustration. Finally there’s a case study based on The Clodhopper (1917), directed by Victor Scherzinger for Kay-Bee and released by Triangle, with a clip from the film and its matching continuity script.

From the gallery of photographs of Triangle productions on the Cinémathèque française site

Secondly, there’s the recently-launched La Triangle (1915-1919): Archives, recherche et histoire du cinéma, created by the Cinémathèque française. This brings together film clips (William S. Hart in The Desert Man, 1916 and Thomas Ince’s The Despoiler, 1915) with analyses of their restoration, photographs, digitised archival documents (including another contintuity script, for Lieutenant Danny, 1916, essays, catalogue records for relevant papers in Paris, Madison and Chicago, filmography, bibliography and weblinks.

Even if you don’t read French, the gallery of photographs alone is gorgeous to look at, and both sites are properly scholarly and just a little bit enthusiastic about their their subject, which is not just Triangle but the extraordinary way in which American film production stylistically and structurally evolved, matured and conquered the world over the period of the 1910s.

My thanks to Andrew Comiskey for alerting me to both sites.

The Soldier’s Courtship

Fred Storey and Julie Seale in The Soldier’s Courtship (1896), one of a few frames held by the National Media Museum

As we reported yesterday, a copy of Robert Paul’s The Soldier’s Courtship (1896) has been discovered at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome and will be premiered at the Pordenone silent film fesival in October. This is a discovery of major importance, since the film is generally recognised as the first British fiction, or narrative film. However, the film has never been entirely lost, nor is it (arguably) the first British fiction film. Let us examine the history.

In 1936 Robert W. Paul, the British film pioneer, reminisced about the residency his Animatograph projector enjoyed at the Alhambra music hall in London’s Leicester Square in 1896, a little over a month after projected films were first shown to an audience in Britain:

The first public exhibition of the Lumière cinematograph in England took place … on February 20th, at the Polytechnic in Regent Street, and the results were then superior in steadiness and clearness to my own. To compete with that machine, as shown at the Empire Theatre in Leciester Square, the Manager of the Alhambra asked me to give a show, as a ten-minute item in the programme, with my Theatrograph, which he renamed the Animatographe. This engagement was for two weeks, beginning March 25th, but actually continued for about two years. The salary, or fee, was at the rate of eleven pounds for each performance, far more than I has expected. In April, the Alhambra manager, Mr. Moul, who wisely foresaw the need for adding interest to wonder, staged upon the roof a comic scene called The Soldier’s Courtship, the 80-foot film of which caused great merriment.

Paul’s account suggests that both the idea and the setting up of the film were the idea of the Alhambra’s manager, Alfred Moul, and the leading performers in the mini-drama were two Alhambra regulars, dancer and comedian Fred Storey and and dancer Julie Seale. Paul was chiefly there to turn the handle of the camera, though his wife Ellen did play the role of the interloper in the simple comic scene, described in the theatre journal The Era (16 May 1896):

Mr R.W. Paul has much improved the animated pictures presented by means of his clever invention … The element of humour is introduced by a picture of a soldier’s courtship. Mars and Venus (a befeathered Harriet) are interrupted in their ‘billing and cooing’ by a lady of maturer years, who insists on making a third on the seat occupied by the lovers. Protestations are in vain. Finally, the linesman, taking the law into his own hands, tips up the seat violently and throws the uninvited one to the ground. The courtship then continues.

The film appears to have been a great hit, so much so that Paul produced a remake two years later, entitled Tommy Atkins in the Park. The Soldier’s Courtship has since gone down in British film mythology as the first British fiction film.

But what is a fiction film, and what is a first? Anyone familiar with early film history will recognise the perils – nay, the folly – of describing any film as being the ‘first’ of something. Apart from anything else, such labels are meaningless when it comes to describing films produced at a time before such labels existed.

Arrest of a Pickpocket, made by Birt Acres and Robert Paul in April 1895, and a stronger candidate for the first British fiction film

If we want to dip into such controveries and argue that a fiction film is one that contains dramatic elements, then The Soldier’s Courtship had its predecessors. Robert Paul had begun film production in February or March of 1895, when he and the photographer Birt Acres collaborated on producing films for the Edison peepshow Kinetoscope, which Edison had notoriously neglected to patent in Europe, presenting a money-making opportunity to the two quick-minded London men. They produced a number of films between March and May 1895, before they fell out and went their separate ways, each finding his way towards a projected film system by early 1896. But among the films they made in 1895 (the full extent of which remains unknown) were:

  • An untitled ‘comedy’ filmed outside Acres’ Barnet home, ‘starring’ Henry Short (an acquaintance of both Acres and Paul), a few frames of which survive and which is various known as Incident at Clovelly Cottage or Cricketer Jumping Over Garden Gate. Whether it contained any genuine dramatic content is unclear – it seems chiefly to have been a test to demonstrate movement and image contrast (Short dressed in cricket whites).
  • Arrest of a Pickpocket – made in April 1895, this is the strongest candidate for the first British fiction film. It shows in single shot a pickpocket pursued by a policeman; he escapes the policeman’s clutches only to be captured by a passing sailor. The present tense is apposite, because the film survives, at the National Fairground Archive, and can be seen online at the Europa Film Treasures site.
  • Comic Shoeblack – made around May 1895. No description survives (and no film), but the title indicates an element of dramatisation, even if it is only to add spice to an actuality.
  • Carpenter’s Shop – made around May 1895, in emulation of Edison films showing scenes in a barroom and a blacksmith’s, this was ostensibly a scene from actuality, but had small dramatic points designed to capture the interest of the peepshow viewer, and could therefore be argued as being fictionalised. It is a lost film.
  • Arrest of a Bookmaker – John Barnes dates this Paul production to August 1896, but Denis Gifford in the British Film Catalogue puts it as May 1896, possibly even before The Soldier’s Courtship. A film which may be this is held by the BFI National Archive [The BFI has the film under the supplied title of Footpads – see comments]. Gifford also places Acres’ Golfing Extraordinary (a comic scene with golfers) as May 1896 and considers Acres’ Boxing Match to be a January 1896 production and to have dramatic elements (i.e. a staged match).

So, The Soldier’s Courtship is not the first British fiction film, if we can talk of fictional or narrative films in their later sense. Nor is it entirely a lost film. Firstly, a few frames from the film survived in the Kodak collection for many years and are now preserved by the National Media Museum in Bradford – one of the frames is used as the illustration at the top of this post. Secondly, as John Barnes points out – and illustrates – in The Beginnings of the Cinema in England, vol. 1 – 1894-1896, a Filoscope exists of the film. The Filoscope was a hand-held flickbook with sequential images taken from cinefilms (a demonstration video is here). It was the invention of Henry Short, the same man who appeared in the ‘Clovelly Cottage’ film made by Acres and Paul in February or March of 1895. John Barnes had a copy of the Filoscope himself (his collection is now held by Hove Museum and Art Gallery) and reported that there were 176 leaves, or images. Hardly a complete film, but enough to show the central action. It was marketed as The Soldier’s Embrace, and at least one other copy has come up for auction before now.

Well, this leaves us with The Soldier’s Courtship being neither the ‘first’ British fiction film, nor a ‘lost’ film. But it is a landmark film for all that, and we have a complete 35mm copy in good condition, and that is a marvel all by itself, given that it is 115 years old. Moreover it’s a film with an identified cast, among whom Fred Storey in particular was a musical comedian of some fame. It is the first British film where we can set out a full set of credits (because we do not know the cast members of Arrest of a Pickpocket):

    The Soldier’s Courtship (UK 1896)
    director: Robert Paul
    production company: Paul’s Animatograph Works
    supervised by: Alfred Moul
    length: 80 feet
    location: Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square, London
    cast: Fred Storey (soldier), Julie Seale (his sweetheart), Ellen Paul (woman)

And that’s a movie.

I hope that there will be chances for everyone to see it following its Pordenone premiere in October. It certainly is an exciting and important discovery.

The O’Kalems

Trailer for Blazing the Trail

Blazing the Trail is the title of a new documentary about the New York film company Kalem in Ireland. Kalem was founded in 1907 by George Kleine, Samuel Long and Frank Marion (K-L-M, see?). One of the major American film producers of the silent period, one of their directors, Sidney Olcott, was of Irish descent, and he took a company of players to Ireland in 1910.

Basing themselves in Co. Kerry, the company shot fiction films with strong Irish themes and extensive use of Irish locations. Initially they made The Lad from Old Ireland (1910) [extant] plus a number of travel and scenic films. Such was the success of the fiction film that Olcott returned with a larger company the following year. Among the performers were Gene Gauntier (lead actress and scenarist), Robert Vignola, Jack P. McGowran and Alice Hollister. For this second phase they settled in the village of Beaufort and made the following fiction films (as well some non-fiction) (links are to their entries on the Irish Film & TV Research Online database):

It is generally argued that the object was to make films that would appeal to the Irish-American audience in America, though the films were just as much intended for the general audience. Nevertheless, they made for a distinctive body of work with strong themes of nation, history and landscape, earning them the nickname the O’Kalems. Olcott and Gauntier returned to Ireland in 1913 after leaving Kalem with the Gene Gauntier Feature Players, then Olcott came back again in 1914, hoping to set up a permament studio at Beaufort. The First World War intervened, and this enterprising chapter in Irish (or Irish-American) film history came to a close.

The Gene Gauntier Feature Players made this titles in Ireland:

Sidney Olcott made two further films in Ireland in 1914, released by Lubin:

The films and their story have long attracted interest, for their position in Irish film and for their romantic nationalism. The latest such is Blazing the Trail, written and directed by American academic Peter Flynn, an 86-minute documentary which takes its title from Gene Gauntier’s series of autobiographical articles written for Woman’s Home Companion in 1928/29. It has been produced in conjunction with the Irish Film Institute and is to be released on DVD this summer together with all extant Kalem Irish films. The film is screening tomorrow at the Boston Irish Film Festival (of which Flynn is co-founder and co-director) and recently opened the Killruddery Film Festival. The Boston website has background information on the film, a trailer (see above) and sample clips.

Kalem’s Rory O’More (1911), which tells of Irishman O’More at the time of the 1798 rebellion, pursued by British soldiers. From Irish Film & TV Research Online

Gene Gauntier’s series of autobiographical articles (or at least the first seven) is available from The Silent Bookshelf.

There is a website dedicated to Sidney Olcott – please note it is in French.

On silent film in Ireland generally, see Denis Condon’s Early Irish Cinema 1895-1921.

Thanhouser on Vimeo

As many will know, the name of the Thanhouser Film Company – a mid-ranking American company of the early cinema period – has been kept very much alive by the efforts of the Thanhouser family, with DVD releases, research and publications. Now Ned Thanhouser has gone one step further by releasing a number of Thanhouser films previously available on DVD through the Vimeo online video site.

Above, for example, is the famous The Evidence of the Film (1913). Discovered in 1999 on the floor of a Montana projection booth, it is a crime tale typical of the period made especially fascinating on acount of its filmmaking background. It has acquired the status of a classic, and in 2001 was selected inclusion in the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. It comes with original music composed and performed by Ray Brubacher.

Some fifty videos have been made available on the Thanhouser Vimeo channel over the past few weeks. They include The Voice of Conscience (1912), the five-reeler Woman in White (1917) based on Wilkie Collins’ novel, the Wagner-based Tannhäuser (1913), She (1911) with Marguerite Snow and James Cruze, a number of Shakespeare titles including The Winter’s Tale (1910), Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1912) with James Cruze in the dual role, and perhaps the most celebrated of all Thanhouser films, The Cry of the Children (1912), on child labour reform, which uses an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem (Thanhouser was notable for its dedication towards the literary classics) to highlight the wretched living and working conditions of the contemporary poor.

Each of the videos comes with informative but not too extensive background notes, and all in all this is a bold and welcome move on Thanhouser’s part. Quite probably it’s a reaction to the several examples of these films which can be found on YouTube, which have been ripped from the DVD releases by other hands. Far better, of course, that the videos come from a legitimate source, and hopefully it will help promote DVD sales in any case and further the preservation and promotional work of the Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc.

Update: There is now a page on the Thanhouser site which lists all 56 films, provides links to the videos, and supplies useful background notes. See

The London Project

Next up for Catalogue Month (our survey of online catalogues and databases, selected for inscription in the Bioscope Library) is The London Project. I did write about this in the very early days of the Bioscope, in a very cursory manner, and it is high time that we returned to it. It’s a work I know quite a bit about, since I produced half of it, and it’s something of which I’m quite proud, even if the database has become a little compromised since the time when it was published in 2005, because it has not been possible to update it since. Databases should never be allowed to stand still. It is contrary to their nature.

The London Project database documents the film venues and film businesses to be found in London during the period 1896-1914 – around 1,000 venues and 1,000 businesses all told. It was the major output of a year-long project (2004-05) sponsored by the AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies, hosted by Birkbeck, University of London, and managed by Professor Ian Christie. The two researchers were Simon Brown (working on film businesses) and myself (working on cinemas and audiences). As well as the database we produced several essays, conference presentations and a touring exhibition (‘Moving Pictures Come to London’). But the star of the show was the database.

Interior view of Hale’s Tours (a film show set inside a mock train carriage) on London’s Oxford Street, which first opened May 1906

The London Project documents film businesses in London 1896-1914 and film venues (a more inclusive term than cinemas) from the date of the first identifiable cinema in London (The Daily Bioscope, opened May 1906), again to the start of the First World War. The information is taken from a wide range of sources, including film and stage year books, film trade papers, street and business directories, the records of the London County Council, local newspapers, published and unpublished memoirs, police reports and company records. The database allows searching by name of venue or business, address, London borough (as they were pre-1914), by business type (e.g. production, distribution, production, exhibition, venue), and by person (including notes relating to people).

A typical film business record will give you name, address (and any secondary addresses), category and tp of business, original share capital, trading information, the names of directors, and sources. Names and sources are hyperlinked to other records, making the pursuit of such links a fascinating business as you discover that, say, Cecil Hepworth was not only the managing director of the Hepworth Manfacturing Company, but a director of Film Agency (Russia) Ltd. You find all sorts of unexpected additional business interests and alliances in these lists of directors, especially as we chosen to interpret the film business quite broadly and to include equipment manufacturers, cinema uniform suppliers, electrical engineers, vending machine suppliers, musical instrument suppliers, and so on, reflecting the larger picture of what the cinema business really was (as indicated by the lists of such companies provided by the film trade year books of the period).

Film venues covers every sort of entertainment place in London which showed film on a regular basis betwen 1906 and 1914. That means cinemas, of course, but also theatres, music halls, town halls, sports arenas, converted shops, public baths and amusement parlours. The records are not as extensive as those for businesses (more’s the pity) but they do give you name, address, audience capacity, notes, related businesses and people, and sources of information. So it is possible to trace every cinema managed by Montagu Pyke or by Electric Theatres (1908) Ltd, or to pursue every film show surveyed by the Metropolitan Police in 1909 at a time of social alarm at these new dens of vice which allowed the young of either sex to mix unchaperoned in the dark.

The Bioscopic Team Rooms, aka The Circle in the Square, the first true cinema in Leicester Square, opened June 1909

One feature we were particularly pleased with is the map of London boroughs, which allows you to search for businesses and venues in say Chelsea, Wandsworth, Lambeth or Poplar. It was an important part of the project that we were able to connect cinema history to social history and in particular to the many other histories of London. Geographical data is a good way of helping to achieve this, though we had neither the time nor the resources to take this further and use GIS data or mapping software.

Indeed there is much about the database that could do with an update, as new information has come in and there are plenty of corrections that need to be made. And if only we could have added pictures. But the project money ended in 2005 and it has not been possible to add to the database since. It is hosted by Birkbeck, and I hope that the university continues to do so and to maintain the URLs as they are – each individual business and venue has a unique web address with its ID number included in the URL, essential for citation and future reference.

If you want to pursue the project’s work further and look at what we wrote, four of our essays are freely available online (at present):

The London Project website itself has background information on the project and on the London of the 1896-1914 period. The database is a freely-available resource, and even if the website is not being updated there is still an email address on the site to which you can send fresh information. It’s being collected, somewhere, and maybe one day a fresher, more extensive London Project database will emerge, one that might even go beyond 1914 or beyond the confines of London. We can but hope.

Kinematograph Year Book

Here’s some really welcome news from those sterling people at the British Film Institute. The BFI National Library has started digitising some key reference works that either are BFI-produced or sufficiently ancient enough to be out of copyright. They are being made available as PDFs and are free for anyone to download. Top of the pile and particularly pleasing to see is the Kinematograph Year Book for 1914. The Kine Year Book (The Kinematograph Year Book Diary and Directory, to give it its full name) was one of two British film trade annuals established before the First World War, the other being the Bioscope Annual and Trades Directory, first published in 1910. The Kine Year Book was established in 1914 to accompany the Kinematograph & Lantern Weekly trade journal and is an invaluable directory of the British film business, listing every producer, distributor, equipment manufacturer, cinema, representative body and much more, in the country. It’s necessary to qualify that a little, because the existence of two film trade year books meant that some businesses registered with one and not the other, but you are not going to miss much. It also supplied a detailed account of the previous year’s activity in British film (in this case 1913). Here’s a list of the book’s contents:

A Retrospect Of The Year
Kinematograph Finance in 1913
Survey of the Year’s Technical Progress
Important Film Subjects of the Year
Picture Theatre Music during 1913
The Law and the Kinematograph
Interesting Social Functions
New Theatres Opened in 1913
New Companies Registered in 1913
Review of Decisions made under the
Cinematograph Act 1909
Important Law Cases of the Year
Pictorial Reminiscences extending
over 40 years – 1873-1914
Exhibitions during 1913
Trade Associations
Useful Tables and Recipes

Film Manufacturers and Agents
Film Renters
Apparatus and Accessory
Picture Theatres in Great Britain
– London
– Provincial
Supplementary List of Provincial
Picture Theatres
Picture Companies and Theatre

A slight downside is that the book has been digitised as plain images i.e. without any word-searchability, which is a great shame. it is to be hoped that the BFI can revisit the digitisation with fresh software to make the ebook all the more useful to researchers – and to do the same for any other silent era books is has in the pipeline. However the individual section are bookmarked in the PDF, which is a help.

Among the other publications the BFI has made available, do look out for Linda Wood’s British Films 1927-1939, a key catalogue and statistical information source for the period, originally published in 1986 (and much used by me ever since). The other books and booklets that have been made available this way are:

  • The Stats: an overview of the film, television, video and DVD industries 1990-2003
  • Producing the Goods? British Film Production since 1991
  • Back to the Future; the Fall and Rise of the British Film Industry in the 1980s
  • British Films 1971-1981
  • British Film Industry (1980)
  • At a cinema near you: strategies for sustainable local cinema development (2002)
  • A Filmmakers’ Guide to Distribution and Exhibition (2001)
  • How to Set Up a Film Festival (2001)
  • Lowdown: the low budget funding guide (1999)

The Kinematograph Year Book 1914 is available in PDF format, size 30MB, and has been lovingly placed in the Bioscope Library.


‘An odd type of theatre front’: illustration from Motion Picture Making and Exhibiting

One of the indications of the speculative, exploratory nature of early cinema is the uncertainty felt at the time over what it or its products were to be called. Living pictures? Animated photography? Cinema? Kinema? Kinematography? Motion pictures? Moving pictures? Photoplays? Bioscope? It’s worth bearing in mind such terms when searching for early cinema subjects in digitised book and newspaper sources (alongside such other handy terms as kinetoscope, biograph, electric theatre etc.). One term you might not think to use is ‘motography’. I’m not sure how long the lifespan was of this word, but for a short period it was used by some seeking for a distinctive, all-encompassing term for the new art – indeed it was the title of an American film journal of this period (it ran 1909-1918 and was originally called The Nickelodeon).

The term was certainly favoured by John B. Rathbun, author of Motion Picture Making and Exhibiting: A comprehensive volume treating the principles of motography; the making of motion pictures; the scenario; the motion picture theater; the projector; the conduct of film exhibiting; methods of coloring films; talking pictures, etc. (1914), the latest volume to go into the Bioscope Library.

John B. Rathbun was a technical writer (and an associate editor of Motography, which helps explains his attachment to the term). His book is yet another of those all-purpose guides to the new industry of motion pictures, a blend of potted history, social history, technical explanation and marvelment at the rise of this extraordinary business and the huge sums that it was starting to earn. As indicated by its subtitle, Rathbun’s book takes us through the principles, production processes and exhibition of motion pictures up to 1914. It is addressed to a reader with a general interest in the phenomenon, though it sometimes forgets this.

The book starts with the familiar pre-history of the medium, from Zoetropes to Muybridge to Edison to motion picture projection. The principles of the taking and projecting of films are covered, with practical information on film stock itself, including development, printing and colour tinting. Film production follows, covering both studio and non-fiction work, then the almost obligatory chapter on the mysteries of scenario writing with suggestions on how to sell your scenario to the studios. If the lay reader did not fancy his or her chances as a scriptwriter, then they might consider opening a motion picture theatre as the best way to make money out of this new business, and advice follows on setting up a cinema, putting together the programme (with handy advice on dealing with different ages of film reels), advertising the show, an interesting discussion on whether to include vaudeville acts or not, and operating profitable sidelines.

The filming of an ‘industrial’, with Cooper-Hewitt mercury vapour lamps on the right, from Motion Picture Making and Exhibiting

A long chapter on the technicalities of projection seems to belong to another book, and might have been enough to scare off one or two would-be speculators. Rathbun follows this with guidelines on local censorship laws and regulations, then rounds off matters with an interesting chapter on colour (covering stencil colour, the Friese-Greene process, Kinemacolor and Gaumont Chronochrome), stereoscopy and synchronised sound films.

Motion Picture Making and Exhibiting is rather muddled in the guidelines it provides, as it is unsure at what level or precisely to whom it is directing its advice. Buyers at the time might have been less than satisfied, but for us now it has plenty of handy information on how the industry was perceived and some useful data and social observations relating to the exhibition sector. There are illustrations of studio interiors, laboratories, wardrobe rooms, camera operators, cinema floor plans, projection booths and so on, to add to its value as a reference source. It’s available from the Internet Archive, and into the Bioscope Library it goes.

In the studio

The Ambrosio studio during the film of Cenerentola (1913), from

There’s always some particularly fascinating about seeing films of films in production from the silent era. The business-like way a team has to go about creating fantasy, the sheer number of people who made up that team, the famous mingling with the functional. So here are some of the clips of silent films in production which you can find online. Above we have the Ambrosio studio, Turin, in 1913, with the director Eleuterio Rodolfi and actors Fernanda Negri Pouget, Mary Cleo Tarlarini and Ubaldo Stefani, during the filming of Cenerentola (Cinderella). The provenance is unclear, but the video comes from the Inpenombra YouTube channel, offshoot of the excellent In Penombra website, which features a number of clips of early Italian films.


Manning Haynes directing London Love at the Gaumont studios in 1926, from

Next up, the this Gaumont Graphic newsreel (which I can’t embed but which you can find on the ITN Source site) shows the filming of the 1926 British film London Love, directed by Manning Haynes at the Gaumont studios, Lime Grove, and starring Fay Compton, John Stuart and Fay Compton. The intriguing story behind this one is the newsreel was made on the occasion of a BBC radio broadcast about the film (the known as The Whirlpool), so we see not only film production but radio production too (including dance band). With thanks to Eve from bringing this one to my attention.


Henny Porten and Emil Jannings during the filming of Anna Boleyn, from

Newsreel websites are a handy source for films of film production, though examples from the silent era are rare. From the British Pathe site, this fleeting clip (originally from the German newsreel Messter-Woche) shows Emil Jannings (Henry VIII) and Henny Porten (Anna) incongrously arriving on set in full costume by car for the filming of Anna Boleyn (1920). A second brief clip shows Ernst Lubitsch directing the film from a platform.

Harishchandrachi Factory


Early cinema is making a bid for world recognition with the announcement that the film Harishchandrachi Factory has just been nominated as India’s official entry to the 2010 Academy Awards. The film, written, produced and directed by Paresh Mokashi, tells the story of Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, producer of India’s first full-length feature film in 1913, Raja Harishchandra.

Harishchandrachi Factory has a lively website, where you can see clips, stills and learn about the production and D.G. Phalke himself. It tells the romanticised story of how Phalke took the medium that was the plaything of Europeans, Americans and elitist Indians, and gave it to the people, creating the Indian film industry in the process.


Phalke was the one-man pioneer of Indian dramatic cinema – director, productor, cameraman, editor, actor, and all points in between. He was born in 1870, the son of a Sanskrit scholar, and after studying art and architecture became a photographer, make-up artist and even had a magic act, before established a printing works in in 1908. It was apparently the experience of seeing a filmed life of Christ in Bombay around 1911 that inspired him to establish a native Indian cinema. He travelled to Britain in 1912, puchasing a Williamson camera and gaining instruction in film techniques from Cecil Hepworth.

He formed the Phalke Films Company that same year, and made his first film Raja Harishchandra, in 1913 (Phalke encouraged the belief that his was India’s first dramatic film, but it was preceded by two short dramatic films). The film told the story from Hindu mythology of King Harishchandra, as told in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The story tells how the virtuous king sacrifices his kingdom and his family in the pursuit of truth, only to be restored to power through the intervention of the grateful gods. The film was originally 3,700ft long, and around half survives of what is said to be the film at the National Film Archive of India, though some sources state that what survives comes from Phalke’s 1917 remake Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra. The Archive lists eight Phalke films in its collection: Raja Harishchandra, Lanka Dahan (1917), Shree Krishna Janma (1918), Kaliya Mardan (1919), Sinhasta Mela (1921), Tukaram (1921), Brick Laying (1922), Setu Bandhan (1932) and the undated Pithache Panje. Scenes of Phalke at work also exist from a 1917 short Chitrapat Kase Tayar Kartat (How Films are Made).


Scene from Raja Harishchandra (either 1913 or 1917 version), from

Phalke Films made four more films, then in 1914 Phalke returned to London to established business contacts and obtain fresh production equipment, later setting up Hindustan Cinema Films and going on to make over forty silent features and one talkie. He died in 1944. Harishchandrachi Factory is bound to generate renewed interest in the revered founding father of Indian cinema, whose own history is now almost as much bound up in mythology as the subjects of his pioneering films.