Bioscope Newsreel no. 33

While we continue to compile the Pordenone diaries (which is no light task), here’s the latest edition of our regular newsreel, which today has a special publications theme this time around, noting some of the new books on silent film published recently.

Early cinema today
Early Cinema Today: The Art of Programming and Live Performance, edited by Martin Loiperdinger, published by John Libbeyis the first in a series of studies in early cinema issued by KINtop. KINtop’s publications to date have been predominantly in German, so this marks an interesting and welcome depature. The volume reviews recent work in programming early cinema, from the Crazy Cinématographe shows to Mariann Lewinsky’s A Hundred Years Ago programmes at Bologna. Read more.

But let’s not overlook German language works. Claus Tieber’s Stummfilmdramaturgie: Erzählweisen des amerikanischen Feature Films 1917-1927, published by LIt Verlag, is a study of modes of narration in American silent cinema 1917-1927, and sets out to challenge accepted notions of classical Hollywood cinema. Read more.

Emerald illusions
Gary D. Rhodes’s Emerald Illusions: The Irish in Early American Cinema, published by Irish Academic Press, is based on his doctoral thesis and provides what he calls the first history of pre-cinema and the Irish in America. So its subject is not Irish film as commonly studied but rather the rich theme of the portrayal of the Irish in American film and pre-film stagings, as he looks back to the magic lantern and the variety stage, and covers non-fiction films as well as fiction. Read more.

Cinema audiences and modernity
Cinema Audiences and Modernity: An Introduction is edited by Daniel Biltereyst, Richard Maltby and Philippe Meers, and published by Routledge. It brings together papers on cinema-going in Europe first given at the 2007 ‘Glow in their Eyes‘ conference. This is the second volume of papers to be published from the conference, the first (by the same editors), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies having been published earlier this year. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 32

Carla Laemmle and Gary Busey, from Hollywood Reporter

Here in the scriptorium at New Bioscope Towers we’re setting the staff to transcribing our scarcely decipherable notes made in the dark (of course) at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, in readiness for the first of our diary reports – we hope not to keep you waiting too long. Meanwhile, other events have been taking place in the world of silent film. These are five of them.

Carla’s second century
Carla Laemmle, niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle, has will be 102 on October 20th, and is not just one of the few silent film performers still alive, but very probably the only one still acting. She appeared as a prima ballerina in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and plays alongsde Gary Busey in the forthcoming feature Mansion of Blood. Read more.

A dog’s life
The silent star of the moment, however, has four legs. Susan Orlean’s cultural history Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend has gained much acclaim and aroused new interest in silent cinema’s leading canine star. The book tells a “powerfully moving story of Rin Tin Tin’s journey from orphaned puppy to movie star and international icon”, telling a history that is as much about American entertainment and society as it is about the dog. Read more.

Silent cinema and the secrets of London
The Daily Telegraph site has a thoughtful article by Neil Brand on his experience of London through the medium of silent film and his music accompaniments, from Siege of Sidney Street newsreels, to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger, to his own orchestral score for Anthony Asquith’s Underground (premiered on October 5th at the Barbican). Read more.

Louis Louis
Louis, Dan Pritzker’s modern silent film on the childhood of Louis Armstrong, with Wynton Marsalis’ jazz score, has its European debut on 13 November, as part of the London Jazz Festival, at the Barbican (again). Marsalis himself won’t be there, but the eight-piece group, led by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, includes saxophonist Wes Anderson, and drummer Herlin Riley. Tickets are now on sale. Read more.

La Parade est passée
One of the quite essential silent film books, Kevin Brownlow’s 1968 The Parade’s Gone By, is to be published in French for the first time. Its translator is Christine Leteux, the knowledgeable soul behind the highly commendable Ann Harding’s Treasures blog. It is to be published by Acte Sud/Institut Lumière on 19 October (according to Brownlow himself is a guest of honour at the Lumière 2011 film festival in Lyon this week, marking the publication of his book. Read more.

‘Til next time!

By kind permission of …

Frame still from the documentary film of the 1928 Olympic Games held in Amsterdam, Olympische Spelen, showing distance runners Paavo Nurmi, Ville Ritola and Edvin Wide, with innovative on-screen titles

Fascinated by the deathless prose demonstrated by this blog? Fancy reading more, only this time with footnotes? Well, if you go to my personal website you’ll find a growing number of my articles for scholarly journals which I’ve been able to put up online for free by kind permission of the publishers. There are two very welcome trends being demonstrated by journal publishers: one, they are offering increasing amounts of content online for free, though obviously in the hope of attracting subscribers to the greater amount of content that remains behind paywalls; and two, when you do write an essay for them, often they allow you to post a PDF (or a link to it) on a personal web page or departmental page, just so long as you acknowledge the source and link to the journal in question.

I raise this now because, just in time for 2012, I’ve just put up a new essay, ‘Rituals and Records: The Films of the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games‘, recently published in European Review, vol. 19 no. 4, 2011, by kind permission of Cambridge University Press. The link here is to my web page, so that readers see the full acknowledgment before finding the PDF.

Below, in reverse chronological order, are other essays of mine that currently are freely available, via one route or another (others are listed on my site that link to subscription-only sites):

In praise of Project Gutenberg

The sad news was reported last week of the death of Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg. Where the original Johannes Gutenberg, it is argued, manufactured the first printed book, Michael Hart invented the e-book. In 1971 he first typed out the Declaration of Independence on his university’s mainframe computer, and so began one of the world wide web’s greatest creations, a couple of decades before the web itself existed. Hart had created the electronic form of a printed text, but much more than that he saw the potential of creating a vast repository of freely-available texts, open to all.

His was an invention not only made for the Internet, but one which in a profound way helped inspire its ideals. One of the first things anyone learned about once they had logged on in those pioneering mid-1990s days was that there was this wonderful, altruistic project to make available the world’s public domain texts. Nor was it just one man with a keyboard, but rather a growing band of volunteers were giving up their time to type, proof-read, check OCR and present texts to the rest of the world simply because it was a noble thing to do. This, we learned, was what the Internet and the world wide web were all about – knowledge freely shared by all.

Many others have followed where Hart led, with the Internet Archive making available many of the same texts, Google now digitising out-of-copyright texts on a gigantic scale, and Amazon working hard to overturn centuries of reading practice with the Kindle e-book reader. But Project Gutenberg ploughs on, now with 36,000 books available, plus tens of thousands more through its affailiate organisations. Here at the Bioscope we have from time to time noted important texts in our field which have been made available by Gutenberg; they are described in the Bioscope Library. Below is a list of these and some of the other silent film-related books available on Project Gutenberg. The best thing you can do, by way of tribute to Hart’s great work, is to download and read at least one.

  • ‘Victor Appleton’, The Moving Picture Boys on the War Front (1918)
    One of a series of children’s adventure stories featuring the daring exploits of cameramen, a number of which feature on Gutenberg.
  • J. Berg Esenwein and Arthur Leeds, Writing the Photoplay (1919) [orig. 1913]
    A standard guide to writing a screenplay.
  • Frank Lewis Dyer and Thomas Commerford Martin, Edison: His Life and Inventions (1929)
    Early biography of the inventor of the Kinetoscope.
  • Arnold Fredericks [Frederic Arnold Kummer], The Film of Fear (1917)
    Thriller novel with a film background.
  • Vachel Lindsay, The Art of the Moving Picture (1915) [1922 revision]
    Classic, poetical study of the motion picture as an art form.
  • Geoffrey H. Malins, How I Filmed the War (1920)
    Classic account of an official cinematographer’s experiences of filming in the First World War.
  • Brander Matthews, ‘The Kinetoscope of Time’ in Tales of Fantasy and Fact (1896)
    Book of short stories with hauting tale inspired by the Kinetoscope.
  • Hugo Münsterberg, The Photoplay: A Psychological Study (1916)
    Generally considered the first serious work of film theory.
  • E. Phillips Oppenheim, The Cinema Murder (1917)
    British detective story with an American motion picture background.
  • Luigi Pirandello, Shoot! (si gira) (1927) [orig. 1915] [from Project Gutenberg Australia]
    Pirandello’s satirical novel about a cinematographer who is also an absurdist writer.
  • Jose Maria Rivera, Cinematografo (1920)
    A play (written in Tagalog) about the popularity of cinema in Filipino society.
  • Harry Leon Wilson, Merton of the Movies (1919)
    Celebrated comic novel about a terrible movie actor who is cast for laughs while he thinks he is playing in straight drama.

Thank you Michael Hart and all the volunteers at Project Gutenberg.

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.

The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad influence

From time to time we have noted the various publications from the silent era or just after which looked at the social effects of the cinema, particularly on children. Like most sociological treatises they are predicated on the anxieties of their age, or at least of the enquirer, and most are concerned with why children were spending so much time in front of the screen, how what they were watching might influence them adversely, and why they might not rather do something far healthier, like sports or visting public parks. And if they had to watch films, then why couldn’t they be educational ones? And so on. A number of these are freely available online, with links and short descriptions in the Bioscope Library.

Now, and with acknowledgements to the Research into Film blog where I came across it, UNESCO has published a word-searchable PDF of its 1961 annotated international bibliography, The influence of cinema on children and adolescents. The 107 page document is an extraordinary monument to fifty years of angst, with 491 reports on cinema’s influence on the young from the 1920s to the 1950s from all around the world. There is plenty here for the student of silent cinema, not just from the publications from the 1920s, but in later reports which (especially in the 1930s) interview people about their past experiences of filmgoing which inevitably look back to the silent era.

There are too many to list in their entirety, but by searching under “192” you can find everything with a 1920s publication date (there are none listed before that decade). Below are some choice examples, including the summaries provided by the UNESCO report which reveal that these documents often contains important primary evidence of filmgoing practice as well as evidence of contemporary attitudes.

Lscis, A. and Kejlina, I. Deti i kino.
[Children and the cinema]. Moscow,
General Directorate of Social Education,
Peoples I Commissariat of Instruction of the
RSFSR, Moscow, 1928, 85 p.
Chapter 1 presents information about collective infatuation or “cinematomania” of children collected by the Institute of Curricular Methods through an examination of 2,000 children in Moscow. Data are included on the dangerous influence on children of films which are not appropriate to their age. Chapter 2 describes the adaptation of film services for child audiences, the opening of a cinema for children, and the arrangements made for special children’s matinees. For the sake of comparison, information is also given about a children’s cinema in Germany during the same period.

Various practices adopted at the first children’s cinema (800 seats) in Moscow are outlined: in the foyer was a “cinema corner” with a mural newspaper and publicity material; a co-operative snack bar was opened and group games were organized; in the cinema hall proper, the services of an educational expert were made available.

Other subjects treated are the equipment needed for children’s cinemas and liaison between the children’s cinema and other children’s organizations. A report on the work of a children’s cinema and notes on several children’s films are included.

A diagram of educational work in connexion with the screening of three films before child audiences is given in the annex. Illustrated with six scenes from Soviet children’s films.

Japan, Ministry of Education.
Seishonen no Eiga-kogyo Kanran-jokyo Chosa Gaiyo, jo. / Summary of surveys on film-viewing by Children and adolescents, vol.I, Tokyo, Ministry of Education, Social Education Burecu, 1929, 79 p. (Kyoiku Eiga Kenkyu Shiryo / Data
for Research on Educational Films series, 3).

This volume is a summary of data collected on the cinema attendance of boys and girls of primary and secondary schools in Tokyo and Osaka. The surveys which produced the data were made in October 1927 in Tokyo, and in December 1921, in Osaka.

Part 1. Survey on primary schoolchildren
(1) Film-viewing by primary schoolchildren, accoring to sex.
(2) Film-viewing by primary schoolchildren, according to zones of industry.
Part 2. Survey on middle school pupils.
Part 3. Survey on pupils of girls in high schools.
Part 4. Comparison of Parts 1, 2 and 3, and conclusions.
Supplement. Observations of school authorities on the films shown and on the influence of film-viewing.

Dale, Edgar. The Content of Motion Pictures,
New York, MacMillan, 1935, 234 p.

A content analysis of 1,500 feature films (500 from each of the years 1920, 1925 and 1930). Ten categories were made: crime, sex, love, the comic element, mystery, war, children, history, travel and social propaganda. In 1930, love (29.6 per cent), crime (27.2 per cent) and sex (15 per cent) were the most important subjects, i.e. a total of 72 per cent of all subjects. 16 per cent were taken up by comedy, and 8.6 per cent jointly by mystery and war. Only one out of 500 films was a children’s film; in 1930 there were 7 historical and 9 travel films, but not one social propaganda film. An average of one crime film was seen each month by those who visited the cinema once a week. In nearly two-thirds of all cases, adolescents find crime films unattractive. Of 115 crime films shown in Columbus (Ohio) cinemas, murder techniques are shown in nearly every film, actual murder in 45, attempted murder in 21, and revolvers were used in 22 films. Sex films show: extra-marital relations, seduction, adultery, procuring, illegitimacy, prostitution and bedroom jokes. Romantic love films have for subject: melodrama, courtship, love, flirting, difficulties in marriage, historical romances.

Jimenez de Asua. L. Cinematagrafo y delincuencia.
[The cinema and delinquency] / In:
Revista de Criminalogia, Psiquiatria y Medicina
Legal, Buenos Aires, May-June 1929, p. 377-384.

Earlier studies of the influence of literature and art upon delinquency, especially of the young, began to be extended to the field of the movies soon after 1910. Such studies were undertaken in the United States of America and later in most leading countries of the world. The general conclusion is that the cinema is widely effective in suggesting crime. Various prophylactics have been attempted, of which public censorship has been most commonly and widely applied.

Pedro Casablanca has agitated for the international censorship and control of films, but the plan is scarcely practicable. The Brussels Congress for the Protection of Childhood (1921) sought to stimulate the production of a more educational type of picture. The only legitimate control over films must be in the interests of children and
here considerations of health are more important than morals.

Shuttleworth, F.K. and May, Mark A. The Social Conduct and Attitudes of Movie Fans. New York, MacMillan, 1933, 142 p. (Payne Fund Studies).

The first part concerns the relationship between cinema attendance and the character and social behaviour of young people. The test groups were composed of an equal number of “movie” and “non-movie” children, i.e. children who attended the cinema 4 or 5 times a week and children who went only twice a month. The results were based on
information obtained from the children and their teachers. It was found that “movie” children behaved less satisfactorily in general – were less co-operative, had less self-control and emotional stability, poorer judgement, poorer school performance – than the “non-movie” children. They were, however, more often cited by their class-mates as “best friends” and were more apt to admire others. No differences in honesty, perseverance, obedience and moral consciousness were observed between the two groups.

In the second part of the investigation the opinion of 416 “movie” and 443 “non-movie” children on a variety of matters were compared. Movie children were found to have more admiration for cowboys, popular actors, ballet girls, than “non-movie” children; they believe more readily that alcoholism exists, attach more importance to clothes, object more to parental control, go more often to dance parties, and read more, but what they read is not of good quality. The “non-movie” children showed a greater interest in students and teachers as film characters than did the “movie” children. However, these differences cannot be attributed solely to the cinema.

Such reports often reveal prejudice and partiality, but they also show the seriousness with which sociologists began to treat cinema in the 1920s. They placed emphasis upon empirical study, using such primary evidence as questionnaires, interviews, on-site observations and such like to reach their conclusions, rather than unsubstantiated opinion. They were as an important part of taking films seriously as were the film first theorists, film societies and film archives which likewise recognised the fundamental importance of the medium – a radical step in each case from what had gone before. In treating cinema seriously, however, they had a tendency to view their young subjects as laboratory animals. There is something rather unsettling about reading about children as objects to be controlled better if only they could be better understood. It is salutory to read audiences memoirs of the period, or indeed to think back to one’s own memories of cinema-going when young to and realise that cinema was, as it has always has been, about escape. And that includes escape from adult control or adult assumption of understanding. Worthy and impeccably empirical as such studies were, fundamentally they coiuld only ever uncover so much. The real cinema remains in our heads.

The examples above by Shuttleworth, May and Dale from the famous series of Payne Fund studies which in the 1930s investigated how the movies were influencing America’s youth. A thorough history, with much unpublished material included, is Garth S. Jowett, Ian C. Jarvie and Kathryn H. Fuller’s Children and the Movies: Media Influence and the Payne Fund Controversy.

Film industry year books

MGM advertisement from the Motion Picture News Booking Guide 1929

We have previously reported enthusiastically and in detail on the digitisation of American film journals such as Photoplay and Film Daily undertaken by David Pierce for the Media History Digital Library, all of which can be located on the Internet Archive at

And now there’s more, because Pierce is branching out into books. He has digitised a number of essential American and British studio directories and trade annuals from the 1920s to the 1950s. They are as follows (in chronological order):

I can’t begin to tell you what a fabulous collection these represent (you can find them all through the one link here). The film trade almanacs and annuals are among the best guides we have to the workings of the motion picture industry, because they were produced for the industry and with huge contributions from that industry, as performers, filmmakers, studios, technicians and services supplied vital information to these reference sources that everyone else in the industry would then consult. If you weren’t in Quigley’s Motion Picture Almanac, Wid’s Film Daily Yearbook or the Kine Year Book in Britain, then you were invisible. So everyone had to be listed (though competing yearbooks meant that some submitted details to one reference source and not another – so always double-check if you can). Such reference books have been the bread and butter of film history research for decades. They include lists of films produced over the previous year, studio details, biographies of actors, filmmakers and technicians, statistics, background information, gossip and anecdote, information on legal cases, and copious advertisements. Above all they are full of names, and in the word-searchable form in which they are given on the Internet Archive, they are even more useful to the researcher than arguably the printed volume would be (though it’s handiest to have both).

Quigley’s Motion Picture Almanac for 1929

There isn’t space to go through each of the volumes, though I heartily recommend the immensely informative Motion Picture Almanac for 1929, the Kine Year Books for their invaluable primary information on British film, and the fascinating overview of the American film industry in 1926 that is The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science: The Motion Picture in Its Economic and Social Aspects (not strictly speaking a film year book). I also have great fondness for Clarence Winchester’s The World Film Encyclopedia, not because it is especially useful as a reference source (“close to useless”, says Mr Pierce), but because it was one of the first film books I ever bought and I found it so full of apparent riches. It’s also of value for being the sort of reference guide that a fan would have bought rather than a film industry type.

I may write posts on individual volumes in due course, but what I have done is create yet another section of the Bioscope Library, this time devoted to directories, to go alongside those for books, journals, and catalogues and databases. All of the directories above are listed (including those for the post-silent era, because they generally have information going back to the silent period), plus those directories previously reported on by the Bioscope.

Thank you once again to David Pierce for his digitisation efforts. He continues to add film trade journals to the Internet Archive, and we will continue to try and keep up somehow by listing them all.

The Bioscope interviews … Matthew Solomon

Matthew Solomon

We’re going introduce a new feature here at the Bioscope. It’s our first interview, and it’s intended to be the start of series of interviews with people involved in one way or another with silent film and related areas.

Our debut interviewee is Matthew Solomon. Solomon is Associate Professor in the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He is the author of the award-winning Disappearing Tricks: Silent Film, Houdini, and the New Magic of the Twentieth Century (University of Illinois Press, 2010) and the editor of the recent Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination: Georges Méliès’s Trip to the Moon (SUNY Press, 2011), which focusses on that single film from 1903. The interview covers Fantastic Voyages, Le voyage dans la lune/A Trip to the Moon itself, magic in cinema, and man of the moment Georges Méliès.

TB: How did the book Fantastic Voyages come about?

MS: About the time I was finishing the first draft of the manuscript of Disappearing Tricks, I realized there was a lot to say about Méliès that had nothing to do with magic. Editing an anthology seemed like a good way to explore that further while also keeping busy during the long stretches of time when the process of publishing Disappearing Tricks was out of my hands. I also wanted to see if a single early film could be a viable subject for a book-length treatment. I like reading and teaching books that look closely at one specific film, but I had never seen such a book written about a film made before 1914. I knew I’d need a lot of help and luckily a number of people whose work I admire were willing to be part of the book and make it what it is.

TB: Please describe the book for the readers of the Bioscope.

MS: The contributors to Fantastic Voyages closely analyze A Trip to the Moon from a number of different perspectives while exploring its connections to countless other works in many different media. While the book relates the film to Méliès’s oeuvre and firmly anchors it within the historical contexts of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century, it also tries to open it up to other kinds of relationships and contexts that might suggest why A Trip to the Moon has had such a long and varied ‘afterlife’, one that continues right up to the present day. It is a highly international volume, with contributors from some eight different countries. The appendix includes a dossier of primary-source documents, including two previously un-translated essays by Méliès, and the book is published with a critical edition DVD.

TB: How did the DVD extra come about?

MS: Two of the big issues that emerged for me in researching the book were the ways that truncated prints and projection speed have shaped our understanding of A Trip to the Moon. What I found was that the film has been seen throughout much of its history in versions that were missing part or all of the last two scenes. And even though Méliès’s catalogs specify a running time of sixteen minutes, which comes out to about 14 frames per second, all available versions of the film had been transferred at a much higher frame rate, which speeds the action up by close to 100% in some cases and results in a frenetic pace that was likely never intended. I wanted to make a complete version of A Trip to the Moon available at the specified speed and I got that opportunity when the book was being prepared to go to press. Charlie Johnston, a film editor with Lost Planet New York, got interested in the project and made creation of the DVD possible. We began by scanning a reconstructed 35mm print generously loaned from the collections of Film Preservation Associates by David Shepard. Simultaneously, Nico de Klerk discovered a previously unknown color-tinted and German-titled version of A Trip to the Moon in Amsterdam. The Eye Film Institute scanned the print and consented to have it included. Musical accompaniment was by Martin Marks, who recorded a 1903 score he had discovered in London, and Donald Sosin, whose original music for the tinted version ended up being one of the highlights of the disc.

TB: There are many different interpretations of A Trip to the Moon in Fantastic Voyages. Which one surprised you most?

MS: I was surprised by at least one thing in each of the essays — an overlooked detail, a new understanding, a previously unmentioned connection, or a relevant contemporary work. Those surprises were one of the pleasures of working with such a knowledgeable and smart group of collaborators, whose contributions demonstrate that maybe we didn’t know A Trip to the Moon as well as we thought we did.

The iconic moment when the lunar capsule lands in the Moon’s eye, from A Trip to the Moon/Le voyage dans la lune

TB: Why was A Trip to the Moon so popular in 1903?

MS: One defining feature of A Trip to the Moon which made it so popular was the way it drew upon so many things circulating in the culture around 1902-1903 that would have been familiar to audiences: the Jules Verne book, of course, the Offenbach operetta, a ride that was the hit of the 1901 Buffalo World’s Fair, as well as countless other works discussed in the book. It was also a compelling storyline and a virtuoso display of the most current visual effects by the undisputed master of the trick film. Méliès was a gifted synthesizer and this film is evidence of his ability to combine diverse elements into a coherent and engaging spectacle.

TB: Why is A Trip to the Moon so important today? Why has it lasted?

MS: On one hand, A Trip to the Moon is important today because it is part of the canon — a film that gets viewed and taught as a historically important work. This is itself the result of a process that began with its rediscovery at the end of the 1920s, one which I explore in my introduction to the book. On the other hand, A Trip to the Moon continues to be an important film because it resists singular interpretation and instead lends itself to constant reinvention. When it was first rediscovered, it retroactively became a surrealist film, just as it retroactively became an early work of science fiction when that genre proliferated a few decades later. More recently, as Viva Paci points out in the last chapter of the book, Méliès’s aesthetic has been readily appropriated in music videos that give new life to A Trip to the Moon. It is a film that seems to have aged well, becoming fresh and relevant in different ways over the years.

TB: Why was there such a strong relationship between magic and illusion and early cinema?

MS: Magicians were one of the first professional groups to really recognize the potential of the cinematograph and to begin to exploit some of its possibilities. Méliès was among these turn-of-the-century magicians, of course, and he remained committed to the core principles of magic, as I discuss in Disappearing Tricks. Viewers as well as filmmakers understood film as an illusion partly since moving pictures were often screened as part of magic shows. This is just how A Trip to the Moon was first presented to viewers in Paris in September 1902 at Méliès’s magic theatre. A major draw of the film would have been its trick shots—the moon’s approach, the dream sequence, the exploding Selenites, the underwater shots—all of which were cutting-edge visual effects at the time.

TB: Are the films of Georges Méliès still ‘magical’ today?

MS: I contend they are. Méliès’s films still have the capacity to deceive us: we know that what we’re seeing is an illusion, that we’re being tricked, but we may not know just how it was done — which is not all that different from how the films were received in 1902. For many years, one of Méliès’s primary tricks went by the name of the ‘stop-camera effect’, even though Jacques Malthête pointed out thirty years ago that all these tricks involved editing as well as simply stopping and restarting of the camera. Méliès actually cut, or edited, his films to create the appearances, disappearances, and immediate transformations we see. Yet, this crucial part of the operation, the ‘substitution splice’ as it is sometimes called, often seems to have gone undetected. Likewise, by looking closely at A Trip to the Moon, one discovers that several scenes that appear to be simple straightforward long takes are actually made up of separate shots that were very carefully choreographed and seamlessly matched together. The magician of Montreuil can still trick us, more than a hundred years later.

A captive Selenite on earth, from the final scene of A Trip to the Moon

TB: Is A Trip to the Moon really a satire on imperialism, as is argued in the book? Aren’t we a little guilty of imposing our idea of how films work onto a film which audiences would have read very differently in 1903?

MS: A Trip to the Moon is a lot of things, and a satire is one of them. The last two scenes, which are missing from so many prints (including most now circulating on the Internet) really make this clear. The medal ceremony with all of the posturing by the explorers, who have been so inept and violent; the captured Selenite on a leash that is beaten with a stick until it dances for the cheering crowd; and the statue of the conqueror Barbenfouillis with his foot firmly planted on the head of an unhappy vanquished moon: all that points to a highly ironic take on exploration and, with it, imperialism. We have to remember that Méliès was a political cartoonist as well as an illusionist before he started making films. The ‘magician of Montreuil’ was not nearly as innocuous as he has been made out to be in retrospect. I certainly wouldn’t claim that movies are viewed in the same way today as they were in 1902 or 1903, but contemporary audiences may in fact be less attentive to detail than the viewers of Méliès’s time, who were in the habit of reading and interpreting images dense with meaning like political caricatures much more carefully than most of us do today. During the 1890s, for example, commentators on Lumière films drew attention to leaves fluttering in the wind in the background, but this detail passes unnoticed today. If you slow down A Trip to the Moon to 14 frames per second, as we did on the DVD, and really look carefully at what is happening onscreen, you notice there’s a whole lot more to it than a compelling story and a clever series of visual effects.

TB: 2011 is turning out to be a remarkable year for Georges Méliès, with the colour restoration, the Hugo Cabret film to come – and of course your book. And we have had exhibitions and the Flicker Alley DVD releases. Why is there so much interest in Méliès just now?

MS: Yes, Méliès is getting a lot of attention right now — just in time for the 150th anniversary of his birth. The cluster of Méliès events in 2011 may be partly coincidence. I know that restoration of the hand-colored print of A Trip to the Moon discovered in Spain has been in the works for more than a decade and might well have appeared sooner, just as the film adaptation of Brian Selznick’s wonderful book perhaps could have been produced earlier. In addition to Fantastic Voyages, you might also note the Méliès conference taking place later this month in Cerisy-la-Salle. But most importantly, the level of interest in Méliès would not be what it is now if not for the long-awaited entry of his work into the public domain a year-and-a-half ago, which more or less coincided with the release of the Flicker Alley DVDs. The timing has worked in favor of Méliès’s legacy: given his preference for the short form and his skill in staging virtual onscreen environments, Méliès’s work seems more prescient than ever right now.

TB: Fantastic Voyages seems to suggest that film studies is no longer enough if we are to appreciate such a film as A Trip to the Moon? Is film studies changing, or does it need to change?

MS: I hope the book demonstrates the value of treating cinema as a part of a much broader set of cultural practices while remaining attentive to the specifics of individual films. This is something that historians of early cinema have become accustomed to doing because so much contextual and intertextual knowledge is sometimes needed simply to make sense of the films. Film studies has become more inclusive and interdisciplinary, I think, and we can see some of the ways the field has changed by comparing the essays in Fantastic Voyages to accounts of A Trip to the Moon in earlier books, where it was often mentioned only as a forerunner of narrative cinema. Although I certainly wouldn’t deny this, such a narrow view centered on storytelling seems rather impoverished when one considers the true richness of the film and the diverse contexts that helped to generate it.

TB: What is your next project going to be?

MS: I’m working on a study of Méliès that examines his work as it cut across the various media in which he worked during his career, including (but not limited to) caricature, cinema and theater. While Méliès was undoubtedly a multi-media auteur, I’m ultimately less interested in his singular genius and vision than in using archival research and close examinations of his work to explore the ways that images and performances were staged, politicized, manipulated, commodified, circulated and exchanged in particularly modern ways during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

TB: Thank you.

100 silent films

Who can resist a list? Everyone loves to take part in top ten lists of this or top 100s of that, pitting personal preference against the canon. Debates on which are the top silent films, be they box office (a contentious areas given the unreliability of data from the silent era), most popular or most esteemed. The Silent Era website maintains a top 100 silent films based on votes supplied by visitors to the site. It comes across as a mixture of popularity and critical esteem, and the top ten (as of today, but they haven’t changed much in ages) has a stale familiarity about it:

1. The General (USA 1926), d. Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman
2. Metropolis (Germany 1927), d. Fritz Lang
3. Sunrise (USA 1927), d. F.W. Murnau
4. City Lights (USA 1931), d. Charles Chaplin
5. Nosferatu (Germany 1922), d. F.W. Murnau
6. The Gold Rush (USA 1925), d. Charles Chaplin
7. La passion et la mort de Jeanne d’Arc (France 1928), d. Carl Theodor Dreyer
8. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (Germany 1920), d. Robert Wiene
9. Bronenosets ‘Potyomkin’ (USSR 1925), d. Sergei M. Eisenstein
10. Greed (USA 1924), d. Erich von Stroheim

All great films, and all films that you would recommend to anyone first getting interested in silent films and wanting to know what to see. But there is no surprise.

Very different is 100 Silent Films, by Bryony Dixon, just published by Palgrave Macmillan/BFI, and one of a series of books recommending 100 moving image titles in a variety of genres. Dixon points out in her introduction that silent film is not a genre – it is the first thirty or so years of cinema and embraces almost all genres – and also makes it clear that her 100 films and not the 100 best, but rather 100 titles which represent the breadth as well as the greatness of the type.

It’s certainly an idiosyncratic list of films, each of which is described across a couple of pages, and arranged alphabetically by title to avoid any sense of a top 100. These are silent films to see because it will be an adventure to do so. There are the familiar warhorses, of course – all bar one of the top ten above are represented (City Lights is the casualty) – but what one notices far more are the choices that delight or intrigue: Ernst Lubitsch’s The Oyster Princess (Germany 1919), William Wellman’s Beggars of Life (USA 1928), Sun Yu’s Daybreak (China 1933), Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley’s Suspense (USA 1913), Yakov Protazanov’s The Queen of Spades (Russia 1916), Tomu Uchida’s Policeman (Japan 1933), Joris Ivens’ Rain (Netherlands 1929), or Henri Frescourt’s Monte Cristo (France 1929).

Dixon is a strong advocate of British silent film, and fifteen of the titles were produced in Britain, which might raise an eyebrow or two. But it’s hard to disagree much with the choices, from James Williamson’s iconic The Big Swallow (1901), to Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929), Arthur Robison’s The Informer (1929), Anthony Asquith’s A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929) or Walter Summer’s overlooked masterpiece of drama-documentary The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927).

Alfred Butterworth & Sons, leaving the works, Glebe Mills, Hollinwood (Mitchell & Kenyon 1901)

Dixon is keen to demonstrate the full breadth of of silent film, so there is a lot more here than the traditional feature film. She includes advertising films (The Spirit of his Forefathers, c. 1900), newsreels (Topical Budget 93-1 The Derby, 1913 – the ‘suffragette’ derby), and actualities, such as Mitchell & Kenyon’s Alfred Butterworth & Sons, leaving the works, Glebe Mills, Hollinwood (1901). There are assorted magical early cinema titles from Gaston Velle, Albert Capellani and Georges Méliès (Voyage à travers l’impossible rather than Voyages dans la lune). And there are examples of the avant garde (Manhatta), documentary (Drifters), propaganda (The Battle of the Somme), animation (Winsor McCay’s How a Mosqutio Operates) and even natural history (Oliver Pike’s Les hôtes de l’air). There’s even one token modern silent, Guy Maddin’s delirious The Heart of the World (Canada 2000).

And so on. What makes the book successful, however, is not really its eclecticism and disdain for established classics (though one senses one or two titles have been included because the publishers insisted upon it). Rather it is the unpretentious, informal style of writing. Dixon knows her subject deeply, but writes as much for the person just starting to explore the field as the afficionado. Jargon is largely banned. It almost reads like a blog. The emphasis is on availability (there are few titles here that aren’t to be found on DVD or online somewhere) and the reader is soon totting up a list of must-see-soon or must-buy-soon titles (I know I have).

In short we have as good an introductory guide to silent film as you might hope to find, one calculated to please the newcomer and the expert. No one will agree with all of Dixon’s choices, but no one will be the poorer for seeking out each one of them. It’s just the pocket-book guide needed to accompany the resurgence of interest in silent film we’ve witnessed in the past few years.

Now if you’d asked me to name 100 silent films, well…