From 1896 to 1926 – part 7

We return to the reminiscences of Edward G. Turner of the Walturdaw company, pioneer film distributors. Turner is now talking about their business situation in the 1900s, when they turned to production as well as distribution. As is usual with Turner, what gives him equal pleasure is the mechanical side of the business, here devices for preventing fire, and getting the better of the London County Council.

Prior to our moving to Dane Street, the three partners had not definite duties. We all put our hands to whatever was required of us during the day, and acted as operators at night. We were buyers and sellers of everything in the kinematograph Industry, new or secondhand.

There was one member, however, whose inclinations were photographically inclined, and so we took lease of Wembley Park and erected there something novel in the way of outdoor studios – a revolving platform, which allowed us to put up three sets of scenery at a time, when the wind allowed it, and each could be brought to the camera as required. Further, it was so constructed that we could always get the best of the light and sunshine.

[Ernest] Howard took charge of this department – his lieutenants being J.B. McDowell and E. Bloomfield – these latter were our cameramen.

Albert Bloomfield left Walturdaw in 1908, forming the British & Colonial Kinematograph Company, J.B. McDowell soon joining him. McDowell would go on to achieve lasting fame as a cameraman in the First World War, filming much of the documentary feature The Battle of the Somme (1916). Interestingly, one of the companies he worked for before Walturdaw was the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company, which had a revolving open-air studio (on the Thames embankment) much as Turner describes, dating around 1899.

[J.D.] Walker took over the Film Hire Department, [G.H.J.] Dawson the Entertainment Department, and myself the Sales and Accessory Department. The business thus became sectionalised, each man devoting himself exclusively to his own side of the business, whereas in the past we had been cosmopolitan in this respect. Things grew apace, and we were doing business with all parts of the world.

A Fireproof Spool

One day at Dane Street, the late Mr. Holmes, of Essex Road, who was the chief kinematograph mechanic to Levy Jones, of Horton Square, called to see me, and found me experimenting with a tin box. Instantly he said to me, ‘I see what you are after, I am working on the same thing; suppose we join forces?’

While we were discussing the point, my eye fell on a kinematograph camera film box (in those days the boxes were outside the camera). At once we had solved the problem. Why not make a copy of the camera film box in metal, fit it to the top of the kinema machine, make a similar box for the bottom spool-arm and so get fire-proof spool boxes?

The first pair were made of mahogany, and Mr. Holmes used them pretty regularly. They answered their purpose perfectly. We then had them made in metal and thus came about one of the greatest improvements in the kinema world.

A Lost Fortune

I took the model to Mr. Wrench and asked his advice as to taking out a patent, as I had done previously with the fireproof gate. I shall remember his words as long as I live:

He told me he had taken out over 100 patents on his lanterns, and never made any money out of any of them; other makers copied, and rarely was he able to stop them, except at great expense. Further, non-flam film was bound to be perfected in a month or two (it was always to be a month or two as it is to-day), and when non-flam film did come out, that would solve all our difficulties with the L.C.C., insurance companies and other authorities.

Alas! I took his advice and lost a fortune. The owner of those patents would be rolling in untold wealth to-day, as spool-boxes are compulsory all over the world.

Films, of course, were of cellulose nitrate, and were highly inflammable. ‘Non-flam’, or safety films (cellulose acetate) were often talked about, but in general they lacked the robustness of nitrate. Some safety systems were available around 1908, but cellulose acetate really only found use for narrow gauge systems designed for non-theatrical and amateur use, of which Edison’s 22mm Home Kinetoscope system, introduced in 1912, was the first.

The L.C.C. Butts In

No more was heard of fireproof spool-boxes until the demonstration which was given at the London Hippodrome, on December 17, 1908, when no fewer than ten firms exhibited, before the representatives of the London County Council and insurance bodies, their machines, showing how they had tackled the question of making the machines safe.

Incidentally, I claim to have had a good deal to do with this demonstration. It came about in this way. Passing the Hippodrome about a fortnight previously, I found that a demonstration of fire extinguishing apparatus for kinematographs was being given inside the Hippodrome. I walked in to see what was moving, and discovered that the apparatus was similar to an ordinary water cistern, such as are used in w.c.’s, fitted on four rods and suspended over the machine; this was the ingenious arrangement that the trade had been called together to see.

The apparatus was so arranged that if a piece of film caught fire it released a spring and the water supposed to come down and put the fire out. I, with a number of other exhibitors, saw this absurd apparatus, and laughed it to scorn, but certain members of the County Council were strongly in favour of foisting this wretched thing upon the trade.

The Test that Failed

Mr. Brandon (one of the oldest exhibitors) and myself, stepped into the ring and challenged the efficacy of this absurd invention, and I, as spokesman, asked that a fair test might be given, first to the apparatus which the various makers were selling, and secondly, that the County Council would call us together to demonstrate. The test was to be under the same conditions that we would have if we were actually showing, and this challenge was accepted.

Frank Allen kindly granted us the use of his ring, and on December 7 the demonstration was given, and proved the death knell of the water cistern, for when the film was set fire to by means of the rays from the arc lamp, the wretched invention failed, the water instead of coming down all over the spool and putting the fire out, simply fell over the bottom spool and damaged the film – and let the rest flare away.

All the other machines were tested very severely by the judges, and each came out triumphant. Some of the tests were really severe, inasmuch as they fired the film on the top sprocket, the bottom sprocket, and in the gate, and yet in no instance did the fire enter into the spool cases.

Stay turned for the next episode, when Turner tells us about ‘Flicker Alley’ and discusses the rise of the exclusive.

God’s soldiers

Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry, from http://www.salvationarmy.org.au

While at Pordenone I met with Tony Fletcher, early film researcher extraordinaire, who told me about a DVD made by the Salvation Army, William Booth – God’s Soldier. This includes a substantial amount of film of Booth, the founder of the Army, in the early years of the twentieth century. The Salvation Army site includes a clip from the film, showing Booth’s motor tour through Britain in 1904 (unfortunately with added-on crowd noises and sound effects). It just goes to show how it’s worth looking in odd places to find early film materials.

It’s also a reminder of the great importance played by the Salvation Army in early film history, and I thought I provide a quick survey with links to assorted online resources. Many social interest groups and charities took an interest in using moving pictures to support their work, almost as soon as films were first made widely available on screen in 1896. None was more active in this area than the Salvation Army, particularly in Australia.

Herbert Booth

Herbert Booth, from http://www.victorian-cinema.net

There in 1896 Herbert Booth, rebellious son of William, joined Joseph Perry, who ran the Army’s Limelight Department. Together they added film to the Limelight Department’s multi-media show of Bible stories and uplifting instruction, which combined magic lanterns, photography, choral singing and sermons to create powerful, and hugely popular, narrative spectaculars. One such show, Soldiers of the Cross, first created in 1900, is sometimes cited as being the world’s first feature film, though in fact it was not a single film but rather a combination of slides, film, scripture and song. Moreover, it was preceded by an earlier effort, the two-and-a-half-hour Social Salvation (1898).

Booth and Perry built a glass-walled film studio at 69 Bourke Street, Melbourne in 1898. The room still exists as a archive and museum maintained by the army, with exhibits on the Limelight Department’s work. Initially they filmed with a Lumière Cinématographe, but by 1901 the were using a Warwick Bioscope. Soldiers of the Cross was exhibited across Australia, but Herbert Booth clashed with Salvation Army command in London, and left the Army in 1902, moving to San Francisco and taking Soldiers of the Cross with him. Perry continued in the film industry, increasingly making secular films, and continued as a film distributor into the 1920s.

William Booth himself made good use of film to propagandise for his cause. He had a film cameraman assigned to the Army, Henry Howse, who went with him to the Holy Land in 1905, and filmed many, if not all, of the early films of Booth featured in the God’s Soldier DVD. The original films are now preserved in the BFI National Archive.

There is an excellent site, Limelight, telling the story of the Limelight Department in Australia, based on a 2001 Australian Broadcasting Commission programme and exhibition. This has extensive information on the people behind the Limelight Department, the films they made and used, their tours, and the broader context of Australian early film history.

The Salvation Army in Australia provides its own history of the Limelight Department and its filmmaking activities, plus a history of the making of Soldiers of the Cross.

The National Film and Sound Archive in Australia has a feature on Soldiers of the Cross, which includes selections of the magic lantern slides that were a part of the show (none of the original film is known to survive, but the show did include some Lumière life of Christ films, which do survive).

The Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema site has biographical entries on Herbert Booth and Joseph Perry.

Much research has been done into the Salvation Army and its use of film in these early years by the American scholar Dean Rapp. His essay, ‘The British Salvation Army, the Early Film Industry and Urban Working-Class Adolescents, 1897-1918’, in 20th Century British History 7:2 (1996), is well worth tracking down (it’s available online through some academic subscription services).

Finally, the Salvation Army continues to make use of moving images, and has an active video unit.

The Wisconsin Bioscope

Urban Bioscope

Urban Bioscope Model D, from http://www.wisconsinbioscope.com

The Wisconsin Bioscope is, as its own proud boast has it, “the leading silent film production company in the Midwestern United States, if not the world, today”. It is the brainchild of Dan Fuller, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison department of communication arts, who every year takes a group of students on a seminar, “Making the Early Silent Film”, with the result being a genuine silent film production.

The company takes its name from an Urban Bioscope Model D of 1907, with which their first two films, Plan B (1999) and Winner Takes All (2000) were filmed. Since then they have used a more accommodating Universal newsreel camera, circa 1923. The films are made in imitation of silent films of the 1907-1912 period, with loving attention paid to sets, performance, titles, developing, printing and music. The Wisconsin Bioscope website (recently revised), goes into fascinating detail about the technology employed, and the whole exercise is a delightful mixture of authentic investigation and tongue-in-cheek pastiche, as these introductory words from the website’s front page indicate:

All our productions are photographed with a hand-cranked motion picture camera on black & white 35 millimeter film, almost always at the rate of 16 frames per second. To crank faster is simply wasteful.

All our productions are developed, printed, toned, and edited by ourselves, following the motto:

If you want it done right, do it yourself.

Whenever possible, we film using daylight. Why pay for something that the sun freely provides?

We understand that other companies have experimented with motion pictures that, to some extent, duplicate color and sound.

This is a grave error.

If the public were to want color, it would visit a picture gallery or, better still, a botanical garden in the full bloom of spring!

If it were to want sound, it would attend the theatre or concert hall!

Although it may be temporarily seduced by kinemacolor, talking pictures, or even tele-vision, we know the great mass of the public has a deep desire for high-quality motion pictures produced and exhibited in the tried-and-true manner:

Pantomime accompanied by Live Music.

When false attractions grow tiresome, as they always do, the public will again demand the product pioneered by Mr. Edison and the frères Lumiére.

The Wisconsin Bioscope stands ready for that day!

Well, it’s hard to argue with any of that, but are the films any good? You bet they are – remarkably so. Technically excellent, but also wittily and sympathetically constructed. They’ve been good enough to feature regularly at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, where three new titles will be showing next week. The revised website now has QuickTime examples of several of them: A Expedição Brasileira de 1916 (2006), Cosmo’s Magical Melt-A-Ways (2006), Rent Party (2006), A Day’s Work (2006), The Rivals (2005), Daddy Don’t (2005), The Dancer (2004), The Starving Artist (2004), The Sick Child (2004), Cadtastrophe (2003), The Magic Tree (2003) and Winner Takes All (2000). All of them are worth a peek. Or else take a look on YouTube at A Visit with Grandmother (2005), with piano by David Drazin.

The website is rich in information, including production stills. All in all, a project done in absolutely the right spirit. and named after just the right piece of equipment, of course.

From 1896 to 1926 – part 2

Lumière train (1897)

L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (1895)

Part two of our series taken from the series of articles written in 1926 by Edward G. Turner of the British film company Walturdaw, reminiscing on thirty years in the film trade, has him describe the sorts of films he showed in the 1890s. He recalls many individual titles, and interestingly the majority of them are from British producers.

The first films used were Edison Kinetoscope subjects, 40 ft. long. I can remember “The Cock Fight,” “Scene in a Bar Room,” “Tyring a Wheel,” “The Black Diamond Express,” and “The Comic Wrestlers.”

Then McGuire and Baucus, of Dashwood House, Bishopsgate street, provided us with a number of subjects, the saleswoman there being Miss Rosenthall, sister of J. Rosenthall, whom all old operators will remember. McGuire and Baucus were years after taken over by the Warwick Trading Co., when Chas. Urban presided over its fortunes.

Lumière were the best source of our supply, as he had sent out to various parts of the world a number of cameras. Of his subjects I remember: “The Dancers from the Moulin Rouge,” “A Market Scene in Paris,” “Diving from a Raft,” “A Pillow Fight,” “A Street Scene in Paris,” “The Gardener,” “Bad Boy and Hose Pipe,” “High Diving at Milan Baths,” “A Train Arriving at a Station,” “The Sleeping Coachman,” “Comic Boxing in Tubs,” “Dublin Fire Brigade,” “Heavy Load of Stone.”

R.W. Paul’s list included “The Miller and the Sweep,” “Whitewashing a Fence,” “David Devant Conjuring,” “Children at Tea,” “Bill Stickers,” and “A Sea Cave.”

Films were also supplied by Birt-Acre, of Barnet, the most famous of which were “Policeman, Solider and Cook,” “The Magic Sausage Machine,” and “A Man Going to Bed.”

G.A. Smith, of Brighton, produced “The Corsican Brothers,” in 75 ft., and a number of excellent subjects besides.

Williamson, of Brighton, produced a large number of small subjects, including his films of the Boxer Rising in China.

Later, came the old showman’s wonderful film “The Poachers,” of which I think Col. Bromhead will bear kindly remembrance; the Sheffield Photo Co.’s “Daylight Burglars”; and later, the faked films of the South African War, made by Mitchell and Kenyon.

The South African War provided many films, and the public wanted more.

What an impetus these films gave to the Trade!

What a remarkable memory he had. Historians of the period will note that his chronology may be a little awry, but he is almost completely spot on with which producer supplied which titles – some of which survive to this day, others now are lost with only evidence such as this to tell us of their one-time significance. “Miss Rosenthall” is Alice Rosenthal, sister of Anglo-Boer War cameraman Joseph Rosenthal, and later a film producer herself. Birt-Acre is Birt Acres, “McGuire and Baucus” were Franck Z. Maguire and Joseph Baucus. “Williamson” is James Williamson. Next up, financial crisis, and a crucial change of exhibition policy…

Screen heritage survey

Magic lantern slide from National Media Museum

Magic lantern slide from the National Media Museum, http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk

A online survey was launched today, to uncover collections in the UK with moving image and screen-related artefacts. It is organised by a body called the Screen Heritage Network (of which the organisation I work for, the British Universities Film & Video Council, is a member). The survey is open to any UK collection with artefacts relating to the moving image and screen-related media which may be accessible to the public or researchers. There are ten categories of artefact being sought:

1. Film production equipment
2. Television and video equipment
3. Animation and special effects
4. Sound
5. Sets and costumes
6. Cinema and projection
7. Magic lanterns, slide projectors and viewers
8. Toys and games
9. Installations
10. Documentation

The information gathered will be used to create the first-ever online database of moving image and screen-related objects in UK collections.

Behind this activity lies a definition of ‘screen heritage’ which goes beyond moving picture to encompass the machinery that produces and exhibits them, the culture that supports them, and a notion of ‘screen’ that extends beyond cinema and television back to magic lanterns and forward to video games, consoles and the handheld technologies of today.

So the survey, in looking at artefacts, is concentrating on just a part of this vision of what ‘screen heritage’ comprises. It’s all most appropriate to the study of silent cinema, and where silent cinema fits in within the broader scheme of things. Do take a look at the project site, and if you know of a museum or other heritage organisation within the UK that ought to be taking part, and which we may have missed, let us know.

The Film Industry

British film studio

Unidentified British film studio, from The Film Industry

Just arrived in The Bioscope Library is The Film Industry (1921), by Davidson Boughey. This British publication is a relatively short but knowledgeable and helpful account of film production techonology and techniques, from a British perspective. It was much used by Rachael Low in her classic work, The History of the British Film 1918-1929. Boughey covers the history of film production (with an emphasis on British legislation), the manufacture and use of cinematograph film, the cinematograph camera, developing film, printing, tinting and toning, titling, the set-up of a motion-picture studio (particularly useful for the picture of British conditions, which were somewhat behind Hollywood), the production of films (again very informative on British practice), fiction films, travel, topical and scientific films, distribution, publicity, projection and exhibition. Boughey also provides useful figures on cinema attendance, the numbers employed by the cinema industry, and investment in film. It’s available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (3.5MB), PDF (11MB) and TXT (179KB) formats.

The Theatre of Science

The Theatre of Science – hard to imagine a general guide to the cinema having such a title nowadays. But Robert Grau’s The Theatre of Science: A Volume of Progress and Achievement in the Motion Picture Industry was published in 1914, when cinema was seen as a home of knowledge as much as place of entertainment (at least among commentators), a product of science and a technical achievement par excellence.

Grau’s book, published in a limited edition of 3,000, has become a standard reference source for the early cinema period. It provides an extraordinary amount of detail on the history and development of motion pictures in America to 1914 – their technological, economic, social and artistic changes, and the key events and personalities involved. Grau (a theatrical agent) was witness to much of the history he describes, and if his understanding of the development of the pictures towards the ideal of the theatre, he was a keen observer who provides hugely useful factual information on histories such as the rise of the nickelodeons and the emergence of a film trade press which scarcely exist elsewhere. He champions the names of pioneers of the industry who would otherwise be forgotten, the run-of-the-mill performers as well as the stars, and the book is rich in portrait photographs. It has much information on the leading and not so leading film companies of the period, and is at all points particularly interested in the business of making pictures. It is thrilled with how motion pictures were made, sold and exhibited, and for that enthusiasm alone it is strongly recommended.

It’s available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (21MB), PDF (66MB), b/w PDF (23MB) and TXT (711KB) formats, and it’s been added to the Bioscope Library.

How to Run a Picture Theatre – part 7

Back to our on-going series on how to set up your own cinema, taken from the publication How to Run a Picture Theatre (c.1912). Having got the building and equipment all prepared, the staff recruited, it is time to select the films we are going to show and to decide how we are to present them:

The Programme. In the selection of the program, the tastes of the locality in which the show is situated is the governing factor. Films that will please the audience of a theatre located in a neighbourhood made up of the labouring classes will not gain favour in a house situated in a high grade residential district, but it is surprising how well the films that please in the exclusive neighbourhood are received by the lower classes. I refer to high class subjects, such as classic romantic dramas, travel subjects etc. Theatre owners will do well to cultivate the taste of their audiences by gradually increasing the number of high class film subjects, thus cutting down the demand for some of the rubbish sold as comics …

Proper film selection is really a system of insurance. It is the best policy of protection against competition and loss …

The shame or embarrassment that many cinema owners had for their lower class audiences is noticeable throughout the literature of this period. There was an insistent drive towards higher-class presentation, in venue as well as in the films. This was partly a strategy to attract a more genteel clientele which would pay more for tickets, of course, but also just a general wish for ‘class’. Nevertheless, it is odd to see the dismissal of ‘rubbish’ comics which were the bread-and-butter entertainment for so many cinemas.

Sunday Selections. … the films shown on that day should differ from the general run on week days. They should be of a more sacred and educational character …

Much of the odium attaching to the opening of the kinematograph theatre has been due to the lack of judgment shown in the selection of the Sunday programs …

The question of Sunday shows was hugely controversial at the time. The audience was naturally interested in finding cheap entertainment available on what was generally its one free day of the week, while others were shocked at the idea of entertainment – and particulaly such vulgar entertainment – on a Sunday. Many cinemas put on special Sunday shows of a more ‘suitable’ character to overcome such censure, and to protect their licence. It was common for these to give the profits from Sunday shows to charity.

First Runs and Repetitions. “First runs” faddism was born of a desire to compel the other fellow to follow suit. The “first-run” fiend figured that if he could get the newest picture first he would kill it for future use in his town, and that those who came next would just be “imitators” …

There is a mistaken idea among picture theatre managers that if a picture has been once run in a town, it is useless to show it again.

Keeping Track of Films. The card system should be adopted for keeping track of films, both coming releases and films that have been had from the renter …

When you get your KINEMATOGRAPH WEEKLY go carefully through it from first page to last and make a careful lists of all the films that have not been previously released …

The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly was one of the main British film trade papers (its big rival was The Bioscope, of course), and the publisher of How to Run a Picture Theatre.

How to Make Feature Films Money Earners. Feature films may be divided into two classes, firstly those running well into 3,000 feet or over, such as Vitagraph’s “Tale of Two Cities”, or “Vanity Fair”, Nordisk’s “In the Hands of Impostors”, Selig’s “Christopher Columbus”, Jury’s “Lady of the Camelias”, E.S. Williams’ “Carmen”, or Clarendon’s “Saved by Fire”, and secondly those of 1,000 feet, such as Selig’s animal pictures, B. and C.’s “Lieut. Daring” and Clarendon’s “Lieut. Rose”, or Vitagraph’s Life Portrayals.

A fascinating selection of what were considered strong sellers in 1912. American productions predominate, but there is still some merit seen in the output of British producers British and Colonial (B. & C.) and Clarendon. In the Hands of Impostors was a sensational ‘white slave’ melodrama from Denmark. The 3,000-foot film (50 minutes or over) indicates that the feature film is on its way; that is, a main attraction of an hour or more in length, around which the rest of the programme has to fit.

There is no doubt that the three reel subject has come to stay and as a money earner, provided care be taken in its selection and it is properly handled, there is nothing to equal it …

… These three reel subjects are in great measure handled on the exclusive system by renting houses and are in many cases let out on the principle of one hall, one town …

Program Number Indicators. Nearly every kinematograph theatre that is worth speaking of now has programs printed describing the pictures, and it is therefore most desirable to install some form of number indicator so that each forthcoming item is made known to the audience.

Finally, it is worth remembering that the early cinema was full of song. There were films which were synchronised to gramophone disks (such as Hepworth’s Vivaphone) and live singing, often to lantern slides. Interestingly, this was more popular in the provinces than in London, and a necessity in Australia.

The Singing Picture and Singing to Pictures. In all up-to-date picture theatres it is now the custom to provide one or more singing pictures, or one or two vocalists to sing to the pictures, and this even where a fairly large orchestra is employed. This may not be so general in London, but in the provincial towns this variety in the program is much appreciated, whilst in Australia and the Colonies it is a necessity for success.

We will end our series with the eighth part, on obtaining a cinematograph licence.

Tom Fletcher remembers

Posting that item on Norman Studios and the black cinema of the silent era reminded me of a passage in a book that I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to tell someone about. Tom Fletcher’s The Tom Fletcher Story: 100 Years of the Negro in Show Business (1954) is a classic memoir that has been much-plundered by musical theatre historians, but I don’t know how many film historians know of this passage which records the experience of two black actors at the Edison film company in the early 1900s:

When the flickers, or moving pictures, were developed along around 1900, my partner, Al Bailey, and I got leading comedy parts. The studio was on 22nd Street, between Broadway and Fourth Avenue. I was the talent scout for the colored people. There were no “types,” just colored men, women and children. Bailey and I did parts in the pictures that today would pay no less than four figures weekly, but we didn’t take it seriously. To us it was just something that would never get any place.

You never heard the words “lights,” “action,” “camera,” “roll ’em,” or “cut” which are so common today. There were no script writers, no make-up artists, just one man, everybody called him Mr. Porter, and I never took time to find out his first name, who placed you in your positions and gave you your actions, lit the scene and then turned the camera. His assistant was a fellow named Gilroy whom everyone called Gil. When we went on location it was to North Asbury Park, about the best place around New York for the purpose. The trees, gardens and farms gave just the right atmosphere.

At the end of each day Gilroy would hand me the money to pay off. I am not quite sure but I think it was three dollars a day for each of the people. Bailey and I got eight dollars each. We all considered it a lot of fun with pay. Vaudeville, private parties, music and show business kept me too busy to pay any real attention to the moving picture business.

Porter is of course Edwin S. Porter; Gilroy is his assistant William J. Gilroy. Fletcher’s less than awe-struck view of the early film business is illuminating, and shows how for most stage performers the new medium was a minor curiosity with little bearing on their professional lives except that the extra money was welcome. Is this a unique memoir for black performers in film at such an early date? I don’t know.

I first found the passage in Thomas L. Riis, Just Before Jazz: Black Musical Theater in New York, 1890 to 1915 (1989), which is an excellent, instructive history in itself, with wonderful illustrations.

It doesn’t show Edison films such as Tom Fletcher appeared in, but the Black Film Center/Archive site has some QuickTime clips of African-American performers (and some white actors in blackface) from the 1890s. The Uncle Tom Cabin’s & American Culture site has a huge range of information about the many expressions of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, including the history behind the 1903 Edison film Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with QuickTime video clips of this and subsequent film versions from the silent era. The lead parts in the 1903 film are played by white actors in black face; the black performers are all extras.

Terra Media

chronomedia.jpg

A key aspect of The Bioscope’s mission is to highlight resources for the study of silent film, particularly those not well known or obvious.

A model example is Terra Media. This is a one-man marvel of information on the history of media, beautifully arranged, and filled with riches. Its centrepiece is Chronomedia, a detailed chonology of media history year-by-year. As the site says, “Chronomedia is designed to become the most comprehensive and accurate timeline of developments in communications media ever compiled. By integrating references to all audio-visual media—film and cinema, radio and television, cable and satellite, interactive (multi)media, photography, telegraphy, telephony and even printing and publishing—it becomes easier to see the parallel developments and interactions that have formed the media scene we know today.” The year-search option alone is a joy to see, individual entries are to the point, and it is all very satisfactorily cross-indexed, linked and illustrated.

There are other sections on quotations, the history of television as public performance, the quest for home video, a reference section, and a fascinating section on British media legislation. There are further sections on statistics (including early British cinema circuits) and contemporary documents (none covering the silent era). The site continues to grow, and is just such a pleasure to use. Its editor is David Fisher, whose day job is editor of the media news and market research journal Screen Digest. Take a look.