Filmportal

We return to Catalogue Month, during which the Bioscope is highlighting freely available filmographic catalogues and databases for silent film, while entering them into the new Catalogues and databases section of the Bioscope Library. Next up is the first electronic database to be listed, though it is a resource that we have cited several times in previous posts as among the most useful and reliable out there. The database is the Deutsche Filminstitut’s Filmportal, an encyclopaedic database of information on German cinema.

Filmportal documents some 73,500 German fiction films from 1895 to the present day, and is effectively the German national filmography. 7,000 of those records go into great detail, with synopses, reviews, posters and other illustrative material, photographs etc, but even the most basic records list title, cast, credits, and release information, taken from primary sources. There are also 165,000 names, 3,000 of which come with detailed biographies, and names and titles are extensively hyperlinked, making Filmportal eminently, indeed compulsively, browsable. It is also bi-lingual – the site’s primary language is German, of course, but all introductory and explanatory material is also available in English, with further English content promised for the future.

Page from Filmportal for Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari

Searching is by a small search box on the front page, with an advanced option simply letting you search by title, person, role name, content, or freetext. This is very useful in itself, but it is a little disappointing not to have a more comprehensive advanced search offering allowing one to select across time periods, or by combining search terms. It isn’t possible, for example, to determine how many silent films it covers, or even simply to search across the period 1895-1930. Nor does there seem to be a year-search option. To get the best out of Filmportal you just have to start with a simple enquiry, and then explore laterally by utilising the very impressive cross-linking.

These are minor quibbles. In general Filmportal is rigorous, thorough and usefully set out (look out for the red arrow symbols which indicate further information for any one record). It doesn’t name its filmographic sources (except by inference when one is given a review reference or censorship record) but it exudes an air of accuracy and authority. It goes back as far as the first German film production of Max Skladanowsky, and as well as adding information on new German releases it keeps up a fresh feel by presenting new material on the front page and ever-changing features such as Director of the Week. It has a topics section which covers aspects of German film history in depth (and in English too), of which the section on Weimar cinema is going to be of greatest value to silent film afficionados.

There’s more besides, including a multimedia section with trailers, rare film clips, and exclusive audio and video materials to its features, plus an English-language edition of the Deutsche Welle-TV programme Kino (unfortunately not word-searchable). Filmportal does an excellent job in promoting German film and an equally excellent job of making German film enticingly researchable. Go explore.

Wills and probate

Alfred Darling, the Hove-based film engineer (including Bioscope manufacturer) who left £25,871 in his will when he died in 1931 – approximately £864,608 in today’s money

Was it worth it being a film pioneer? It’s a valid question, because too often the film histories (and the memoirs) can make us think that people helped form the motion picture business for the most romantic of reasons, making their mark on film history. But of course the chief reason they got involved at all was to make money. But did they? We know about the magnates and the handful of stars who found riches, but what about everyone else? Was it really worth it, or might they have been a lot better off not being so starry-eyed about things and working in a bank instead?

We can find some answers, for Britain at least, with the release online of the latest collection of family history records published by the genealogy site Ancestry. This time it is wills – to be precise, England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1861-1941. Here we can see those members of the film business who died before 1941 and who left a will (not all did, of course), and through such records see what effects they left (and to whom) once probate had been granted.

The physical version of the National Probate Calendar is to be found in the Probate Search Room, First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London, and I can vouch for its great value as a film history research tool. It was through the 1937 will of producer Charles Urban’s second wife Ada Aline (a film executive in her own right) that I found out information about relatives which led me to a living descendant who was holding on to the manuscript of Urban’s unpublished memoirs. The registers themselves do not give such detailed information. They simply give name, address, date of death, where and to whom probate was granted, and the effects i.e. the money they left in their will. To see the full will you need to order it through the Probate Service (information on how to do so is given by Ancestry), but the registers are an excellent starting point.

The Ancestry service is not free, but I have championed the value of online family history resources for film history research before now, and I can’t stress enough how useful such resources are when it comes to researching lives. So, to give you a taster of what you could find, here are some British film pioneers and what they left behind them (in pounds, shillings and pence):

  • Avery, Jack (camera operator, producer) (d. 1927) – £254-7s-4d
  • Brown, Theodore (inventor) (d. 1938) – £311
  • Darling, Alfred (engineer) (d. 1931) – £25,871-18s-6d
  • Day, Will (dealer in film equipment, historian) (d. 1936) – £1,584
  • Haggar, William (producer) (d. 1925) – £16,690-4s-9d (resworn as £16,912-13s-5d)
  • Kearton, Cherry (wildlife filmmaker, producer) (d. 1940) – £1,178-3s-6d
  • Mottershaw, Frank (producer) (d. 1932) – £2,007-11s-7d
  • Pyke, Montague (cinema owner) (d. 1935) – £1
  • Urban, Ada Aline (executive) (d. 1937) – £7,413-18s-4d
  • Williamson, James (producer, chemist) (d. 1933) – £15,046-13s-10d

To calculate what those amounts approximate in today’s money, use The National Archives’ Currency Converter – roughly multiply the figures by between 30 and 35 to get a modern day equivalent.

On the small sample above, it looks like you were a whole lot better off having a film engineering firm than being an inventor, while being a ruined cinema magnate was worst of all. Of course some will have made (or lost) their money on other ventures. Also those who died before 1942 tend to be on the technical side of things – the actors and filmmakers of the 1910s and 20s were still alive in the 1940s.

Anyway, it’s a very welcome resource, and even if you don’t subscribe to Ancestry you can still search for names on the database – you just won’t be able to see the digitised documents. Or make a visit to First Avenue House, where of course you can find indexes and wills post-1941 as well.

Catalogues commerciaux

We have mentioned the large number of cinema-related catalogues that have been digitised by the Cinémathèque française for its online digital library, Bibliothèque numérique du cinéma. Some of these we will go on to describe in detail, but for ease of reference here’s a complete list of all the commerical catalogues. Not all are from the silent era (though most are), and the majority are equipment catalogues, covering cameras, projectors, electrical supply, lighting, fire protection, cinemas seats etc. Notable firms mentioned include Gaumont, Pathé frères, Paul, Urban, Edison, Tyler and Williamson. Many of the catalogues come from the collection of Will Day, whose exceptional collection of films, publications and documentation relating to early film was acquired by the Cinémathèque and comprises one of the most substantial collections devoted to early film anywhere. A number of the catalogues relate to Day’s own film equipment supply business.

All of the links are to the digitised documents, which are in PDF form, downloadable and fully word-searchable.

The National Archives goes to the movies

The National Archives

The National Archives is the UK government’s official archive – not to be confused with the National Archives and Records Administration in the USA. In 2003 the UK’s Public Record Office merged with the Historic Manuscripts Commission to become The National Archives (known to its friends as TNA), which pointed to a broader, more inclusive remit, but some still hanker for the reassuring days of the PRO. The location has remained the same – an imposing modernist building in Kew, to the west of London, with ponds and swans in its grounds, and hordes of historians and amateur genealogists within. It holds government and public records from the Domesday Book onwards, which are released to the public generally after thirty years have elapsed from their original production.

All of which is preamble to the news that TNA has produced a podcast entitled The National Archives Goes to the Movies, and it’s rather good. Written and presented by Joseph Pugh, the podcast is a knowledgeable guide to the history of British cinema through the records of The National Archives. Recorded before an audience, around half of the hour-long talk is about the silent period. Among the subjects he covers are Will Barker’s 1911 film of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, all copies of which were burned in a publicity stunt; the efforts of the Colonial Office to ban The Birth of a Nation; concern within the Home Office at how Cecil B. De Mille’s The Cheat could offend the Japanese; the production of Maurice Elvey’s ill-fated epic The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918); the British government-sponsored dramas Hearts of the World (1918) and The Invasion of Britain (1918); Home Office efforts to ban Graham Cutts’ sensationalist Cocaine (1922); and Marie Stopes’ correspondence with the Home Office over her birth control film Married Love (aka Maisie’s Marriage) (1923).

The point of the talk is not only to entertain but to encourage research. Consequently most of the films that Pugh refers to are also listed on Your Archives, TNA’s wiki where researchers can post information on files that they have found. I’m not sure how much the wiki gets used, because researchers tend to be a little wary of giving away all their sources, but the principle is noble.

A trade paper advertisement for Cocaine and a poster for Maisie’s Marriage, taken from The National Archives’ Flickr site, original file references HO 45/11599 and HO 45/11382

The sort of records one find in The National Archives are those which document the day-to-day processes of government departments. There are memos, memos responding to memos, and memos responding to memos responding to memos. There are letters, minutes, briefing papers, personal papers, official papers, diaries, reports, lists, registers, passenger lists, medal rolls, photographs, maps and posters. The contents are generally arranged chronologically, identified by government department and then gathered together by theme into individual numbered folders.

The National Archives can be a daunting place for any newbie researcher. There is no single index, and although they produce an amazing rich online catalogue (helpfully named the Catalogue) they also have to produce a multitude of specialist guides that explain how to pursue particular topics. One of these research guides covers The Arts, Broadcasting and Film, and it’s a very good starting point. As said, The National Archives arranges its records by department, so it is important to know that responsibility for film was held by the Board of Trade’s Industries and Manufactures Department (formed 1918), but information on film is spread widely across particularly all departments. To produce a complete guide to TNA records to silent film would require a blog (or a wiki) all of its own, but here’s an outline guide to some of the key departments to explore. Please note that catalogue references will simply take you to the barest of descriptions online, and to view the documents themselves you will have to visit Kew.

  • AIR (Air Ministry, Royal Air Force etc)
    Records of aerial photography and cinematography during World War One are held in AIR 2 (search under ‘cinematography’).
  • BT (Board of Trade)
    Records of registered companies (since dissolved), including hundreds of film businesses (producers, distributors, cinemas etc), with information on capital and shareholders, are in BT 31; records of liquidated companies 1890-1932 are in BT 34; trade marks (BT 42-53) includes film company trademarks, though there is no overall index so you need to search on-site by date (see the TNA guide on registered designs and trade marks); BT 226 has bankruptcy records for companies and individuals. BT 26 and BT 27 contains lists of ship passengers who arrived in (1878-1960) or left (1890-1960) the UK. The incoming lists themselves can be viewed online (payment required) at Ancestry, and the outgoing list (again payment required) at Ancestors on Board.
  • CAB (Cabinet)
    Papers from the very heart of government. Nicholas Reeves’ Official British Film Propaganda During the First World War has a handy guide to PRO/TNA papers relating to official film, including Cabinet papers in CAB 21, 23-25, 27, 37 and 41.
  • CO (Colonial Office etc)
    Many records relating to the production, distribution and exhibition of films in British colonies and countries of the empire, including records of the Empire Marketing Board (for which John Grierson worked) in CO 758 (correspondence), CO 759 (index cards), CO 760 (minutes, papers) and CO 956 (posters).
  • COPY (Copyright Office, Stationers’ Company)
    Before the 1911 Copyright Act if a UK film producer wanted to copyright a film (usually they did so only if there had been a case of their work being copied) then they had to do so as it if was a photograph; consequently there are numerous records of films 1897-1912 registered under COPY 1. The registration forms were accompanied by single frames, bromide prints, or in a few cases a few frames of film (the originals are now held by the BFI). For a guide to this collection, which comprises a few hundred titles among the many thousands of photographs, see Richard Brown’s essay in Simon Popple and Colin Harding’s In the Kingdom of Shadows. There are also registers and indexes under COPY 3. Some film posters and other promotional material can also be found in the COPY records.
  • ED (Department of Education and Science)
    Disparate documents on film and education, a theme of growing interest throughout the 1920s, including assorted commissions of enquiry.
  • FO (Foreign Office)
    The Foreign Office was concerned with promoting British foreign policy. There are extensive records relating to British propaganda films being shown overseas during World War One, in particular FO 115 on propaganda in the USA and Canada, FO 371 covering general correspondence, and FO 395 which covers war films and American propaganda 1916-17. There is a card index to the FO papers in TNA’s search rooms, making this a particularly fruitful area to explore.
  • HO (Home Office)
    The Home Office oversaw domestic policy. There are extensive records on actual legislation (starting with the 1909 Cinematograph Act) and proposed regulation affecting the British film business, including such issues as censorship, local authority control, unlicensed film exhibitions and the filming of contentious events (political marches etc) are in HO 45. See also HO 158 for relevant general papers and correspondence.
  • INF (Ministry of Information etc)
    A particularly valuable source, with records of the War Propaganda Bureau, the War Office Cinematograph Committee, the Department of Information and the Ministry of Information, all of which were concerned with film production during the First World War (further official papers on war film production are held by the Imperial War Museum). The main section to follow is INF 4. Of particular interest is one chapter from the unpublished memoir by J. Brooke Wilkinson, leading film industry representative and first head of the British Board of Film Censors, at INF 4/2
  • J (Supreme Court of Judicature)
    Covers records of court cases (Chancery), often a rich source of information on how a film company operated. See in particular the winding up orders under J 13.
  • LAB (departments responsible for labour and employment matters and related bodies)
    Includes documents on film industry employees and industrial relations (though relatively little here for the silent era).
  • MEPO (Metropolitan Police)
    The Metropolitan Police conducted surveys of early London cinemas around 1908-09 after they were causing some social concern. The result is a rich record of the early cinema business and audiences, to be found in MEPO 2. They are described in detail in Jon Burrows’ two essays ‘Penny Pleasures: Film exhibition in London during the Nickelodeon era, 1906-1914,’ Film History vol. 16 no. 1 (2004) and ‘Penny Pleasures II: Indecency, anarchy and junk film in London’s “Nickelodeons”, 1906-1914,’ Film History vol. 16 no. 2 (2004), while the London Project database lists the venues covered by files MEPO 2/9172 file 590446/7 and MEPO 2/9172, file 590446 (see also HO 45/10376/16142). There are later surveys of cinemas and screenings of indecent films in the 1920s.
  • RG (General Register Office)
    Has census returns from 1861 onwards (1841-1851 are under HO 107). These can all be found online through various commercial services (see details here), but all are available for free at Kew – see the helpful TNA guide to researching census records.
  • WO (War Office)
    There is relatively little that specifically relates to film here, as most papers relating to the War Office Cinematographic Committee will be found at the Imperial War Museum and the House of Lords Record Office (Beaverbrook Papers). But surviving records of film personnel who served during the War (including Official cameramen) can be found at WO 338 (officers’ service records), WO 363 (service records), WO 364 (pension records) and WO 372 (medal cards). Digitised copies of the actual documents in all four categories can be found online through TNA’s Documents Online or Ancestry (in both cases payment is required for downloads).
  • Other records where information on silent era films can be found include ADM (Admiralty), CUST (Customs and Excise), IR (Inland Revenue), and T (Treasury).

This is a very simplistic overview, and it must be stressed that information on films will be found all over the place. For example, type in the term ‘cinematograph’ in the catalogue and you will get 1,108 records from forty-four separate departments (448 records from twenty-five departments if you narrow the date search to 1896-1930). It is a good idea to look at the bibliographies of books and the end notes of journal articles which have benefited from research at TNA (or PRO before it) to pick up specific references and useful indications of where it would be profitable to search.

The National Archives has produced some substantial publications which explore a subject in depth with copious file references. However, there is no such guide for film (one has been talked about for years but has never been forthcoming). However, there is a classic article by Nicholas Pronay, ‘The “Moving Picture” and Historical Research’, Journal of Contemporary History vol. 18 (1983) (available to higher education users on JSTOR) which describes in details the several kinds of government records which can be used for the study of film, describing why they were created, and giving specific file names. Note also that the above file information relates only to silent films – there is a huge amount of information at The National Archives relating to film (and television) from later periods, particularly govering the GPO Film Unit, film during World War II, the COI Film Unit, the Colonial Film Unit, broadcasting policy, British Council records, and much more besides.

The National Archives is still an underused resource for film history, though we have got beyond the days when Rachael Low could write a multi-volume history of British film apparently without any reference to the Public Record Office. If you’ve not been, and you can get there, then you really should – it’s the most engrossing and rewarding research experience imaginable. Go explore.

By the way, films can be public records too, but the productions of the Ministry of Information, the COI Film Unit and others are preserved on TNA’s behalf by the BFI National Archive and the Imperial War Museum.

My thanks to Brad Scott for alerting me to the podcast.

The Dreyer standard

Dreyer puts his hand up to block the camera, from a documentary ‘Carl Th. Dreyer’ available on http://english.carlthdreyer.dk

After a long period of waiting, it is good to be able to announce the official launch of the Danish Film Institute’s much-anticipated Carl Th. Dreyer website.

It has been worth the wait. The website (available in Danish and English versions) contains extensive and handsomely presented information on Denmark’s greatest filmmaker. There is a biography (creatively illustrated by photographs of Dreyer running down the right-hand column); thoughtful essays and articles on Dreyer’s visual style, his working method, and workplaces with which he was associated; explorations of key themes in his work; and biographical pieces on his various collaborators.

And then there is the gallery. Here is where things get really good. On one side there is a great selection of photographs and posters, the former including both personal photos as well as production stills. On the other side, there are the film and sound clips. There are extracts from some of the feature films (including Leaves from Satan’s Book among the silents), shorts, videos and sound interviews with Dreyer (some in Danish, some in English or with English titles), and films about Dreyer.

Then there is Dreyer’s Archive. This is a database of original scripts, work papers, photos, research material, newspaper clippings, book collection and more than 4,000 letters, mostly deriving from Dreyer’s estate. It is well put together, with exemplary indexing and hyperlinked cross-linking, though it is all in Danish and contains description of the archive contents, not digitised copies (the introduction to the database says that “all relevant material has been digitised, e.g. artifacts, photos and manuscripts” but this seems to relate to onsite access at the DFI).

Carl Th. Dreyer’s Die Gezeichneten (Love One Another) 1922, from http://english.carlthdreyer.dk

There is also an excellent filmography, providing a complete overview of every film with which Dreyer was involved, as screenwriter, director, editor and actor. Each record contains a short introduction, complete credits, stills, posters, technical data, scripts, plot summaries, DVD availability, selected reviews from Danish papers, and background information on the films’ production, reception and sources.

Here’s a list of all of Dreyer’s silent films (with director’s name in parenthesis and Dreyer’s credit on the second line):

The Leap to Death (Rasmus Ottesen, DK, 1912)
Scriptwriter Actor

Dagmar (Rasmus Ottesen, DK, 1912)
Scriptwriter

The Hidden Message (Kay van der Aa Kühle, DK, 1913)
Scriptwriter

War Correspondents (Vilhelm Glückstadt, DK, 1913)
Scriptwriter

Won by Waiting (Sofus Wolder, DK, 1913)
Scriptwriter

The Secret of the Bureau (Hjalmar Davidsen, DK, 1913)
Scriptwriter

Lay Down Your Arms! (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1915)
Scriptwriter

The Skeleton Hand (Alexander Christian, DK, 1915)
Scriptwriter

Money (Karl Mantzius, DK, 1916)
Scriptwriter

The Devil’s Protegé (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1916)
Scriptwriter

Evelyn the Beautiful (A.W. Sandberg, DK, 1916)
Scriptwriter

The Spider’s Prey (August Blom, DK, 1916)
Scriptwriter

A Criminal’s Diary (Alexander Christian, DK, 1916)
Scriptwriter

The Temptation of Mrs. Chestney (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1916)
Scriptwriter

The Mystery of the Crown Jewels (Karl Mantzius, DK, 1916)
Scriptwriter

The Mysterious Companion (August Blom, DK, 1917)
Scriptwriter

Which is Which? (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1917)
Scriptwriter

Convict No. 113 (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1917)
Scriptwriter

The Hands (Alexander Christian, DK, 1917)
Scriptwriter

Hotel “Paradise” (Robert Dinesen, DK, 1917)
Scriptwriter

The Music-hall Star (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1918)
Scriptwriter

Misjudgement (Alexander Christian, DK, 1917)
Scriptwriter

Gillekop (August Blom, DK, 1919)
Scriptwriter

Lace (August Blom, DK, 1919)
Scriptwriter

The President (Carl Th. Dreyer, DK, 1919)
Director Scriptwriter

Leaves from Satan’s Book (Carl Th. Dreyer, DK, 1921)
Director Scriptwriter

The Parson’s Widow (Carl Th. Dreyer, SE, 1921)
Director Scriptwriter

Love One Another (Carl Th. Dreyer, DE, 1922)
Director Scriptwriter

Once upon a Time (Carl Th. Dreyer, DK, 1922)
Director Scriptwriter

Michael (Carl Th. Dreyer, DE, 1924)
Director Scriptwriter

Master of the House (Carl Th. Dreyer, DK, 1925)
Director Scriptwriter Production design

The Bride of Glomdal (Carl Th. Dreyer, NO, 1926)
Director Scriptwriter

The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer, FR, 1928)
Director Scriptwriter Editor

The whole site is a model of how to present any creative person’s legacy, let alone a leading filmmaker. It is easy to navigate, well-designed, amply visual, and has extensive cross-linking to encourage one to explore further and see how the site is structured. And new material is promised, so it is only going to get better and better. If only some other of the great names in silent film history could have similar definitive treatment (D.W. Griffith? Georges Méliès? Louis Lumière? Sergei Eisenstein? Where are the sites that these people deserve?). It’s about time – and the standard has been set.

Defining Muybridge

http://www.eadweardmuybridge.co.uk

As was pointed out here recently, this is turning out to be the year of Eadweard Muybridge. The sequence photographer whose work laid paths both technological and intellectual towards motion pictures isn’t enjoying a centenary of any sort, but nevertheless we have a major exhibition now running Washington until July, moving to Tate Britain in London in September, and San Francisco in February 2011; a new critical biography by Marta Braun to be published in September; other events, exhibitions and symposia (there was a one-day event at the BFI South Bankon May 21st); and now a new website: Eadweard Muybridge: Defining Modernities.

The website has been produced in collaboration by Kingston University and Kingston Museum in the UK, Kingston being Muybridge’s home town. It sets out “to provide a definitive research resource surrounding the work of 19th Century photographer Eadweard Muybridge”, and it has gone about its task in a particularly handsome way. The site is divided into four main sections: Collection Map & Database; Muybridge: Image & Context; Comparative Timelines; and Bibliography.

The Collections Map & Database lists “all known physical collections of Muybridge’s work housed in cultural organisations around the world; as well as selected collections of rare books published by Muybridge during his lifetime”. The search form on the front page suggests that the research will be able to locate individual items in these collections through a single database, but in fact you are pointed to a more basic collection guide with indication of number of Muybridge-related items held. You can refine your research by country and category, and see the collections arranged on a world map.

‘Boy. Child without legs. Getting off chair’, from http://www.eadweardmuybridge.co.uk

Muybridge: Image & Context is a set of useful short essays on key aspects of Muybridge’s work, beautifully illustrated with slide shows (Muybridge remains an absolute gift to any designer). Themes include The Modern City, Landscape, Foreign Bodies, and The Human Figure in Motion.

Comparative Timelines is a browsable timeline of the Muybridge era, 1800-1907 (he lived 1830-1904). It allows you to trace events in his personal life, film history, invention, photography, US history and world history side-by-side. Finally there is a bibliography, with a surprisingly brief supplementary list of web links.

Eadweard Muybridge: Defining Modernities is a pleasure to look at and easy to navigate. It has ambitions to become the definitive resource for Muybridge online, and hopefully it will indeed build on these good foundations, though it has a little way to go before it can match Stephen Herbert’s solo production The Compleat Muybridge (oddly not included among the site’s links) for its range and comprehensiveness.

And there’s more. Also just launched is Muybridge in Kingston, a site which usefully brings together Muybridge collections, events and projects located in Kingston, which certainly is doing its native son proud. Next, the always excellent Luminous Lint photography website has an online exhibition entitled Scientific Movement. Created by Alan Griffiths, the exhibition traces the history of the efforts by scientists to capture movement through photography, covering Muybridge, his great French contemporary E.J. Marey, and others whose less familiar work continued well into the twentieth-century: Ottomar Anschütz (1846-1907), Arthur Clive Banfield (1875-1965), Prof. A.M. Worthington, Ernst Mach, the Bragaglia brothers in Italy, Frank B. and Lillian Gilbreth and Harold E. Edgerton (1903-1990).

Finally, as a taster for what we in the UK can expect in September, here’s short promo for the Washington exhibition, Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change:

The DIY silent film score

A Silent Film, one video in the series 365: No Day is Ordinary 049/365, by owlsongs (real name Wanda). It uses an Incompetech soundtrack, and I like the imaginative combination of webcam vlogging with silent film titles

If you have spent any time browsing through YouTube for silent films (especially silent pastiches), or indeed for a good many other kinds of video requiring a made-to-measure soundtrack, you are bound to have heard the music of Kevin McLeod. He runs Incompetech, a music download site with an extensive range of royalty-free music, including a section on silent film scores.

For anyone with a three-minute video requiring a generic piano acompaniment in traditional silent film style, this is the place to go. Tunes such as ‘Plucky Daisy’, ‘Work is Work’ and ‘Look Busy’ have been used countless times for YouTube videos, for mock silents, animation films, cute animals (lots of cute animals) and more. A typical piece will come with this information:

Gold Rush
Genre: Silent Film Score
Length: 0:47
Instruments: Piano
Tempo: 120

Peppy piano duet. 031 Bouncy, Driving, Humorous 2007

You can play the tune on the site or download it for free as an MP3 file. Other themes include ‘Comic Plodding’, ‘Old Timey’, ‘Friendly Day’ and ‘Hammock Fight’ provide bright, immediate piano scores between thirty seconds and two minutes, sometimes with additional instrumentation coming in as the music progresses. You get music for chases, villains, nostalgia, comic scenes, fanfares, and multi-purpose linking tunes.

Professional silent film accompianists might have a word or two to say about the formulaic nature of the sound clips, but there’s no denying that McLeod is good at conjuring up catchy accompaniments with strong hooks that find use across thousands of online videos – though it needs to be pointed out this include scores produced by McLeod across many other genres. Under Royalty Free he lists African, Blues, Classical, Contemporary, Disco, Electronica, Funk, Holiday, Horror, Jazz, Latin, Modern, Musical, Polka, Pop, Radio Drama, Reggae, Rock, Silent Film Score, Soundtrack, Stings, Unclassifiable and World. Truly something for everyone.

Of course, sites like Incompetech help reinforce the idea of silent films as being inexorably wedded to tinkly piano. Here at the Bioscope we have tried to champion different kinds of silent film scores. So we would hope that Electronica, Modern, Unclassifiable or World might supply equally serviceable soundtracks for the budding silent film producer (but possibly not Polka). Meanwhile, do take a browse – and remember that in the silent era many cinemas installed player pianos (such as the Fotoplayer, illustrated in an earlier post). The automatic score is part of the silent film tradition too.

Researching Ireland

Irish Film & TV Research Online is a monument to the passion for national film history. It is a website that serves as a focal point for Irish and Irish-themed film and television of all kinds. It is hosted by Trinity College Dublin, and it is mainly comprised of three searchable databases, each of which has extensive content relevant to the study of silent film (and beyond, of course).

Irish Film & Television Index
The Index documents “all Irish-made cinema and major television productions as well as Irish-themed audio-visual representations produced outside of Ireland.” It’s a bold claim, but it would be a challenge to prove them wrong, as its coverage is extensive – nearly 40,000 titles – and it includes important areas that other national filmographies often ignore, such as newsreels, interest films (and indeed silents). It based on the book publication by Kevin Rockett, The Irish Filmography: Fiction Films 1896-1996 (1996), with additional material chiefly researched by Eugene Finn. The database includes films of uncertainty identity which exist in film archives, as well as films which are now lost. As noted it includes bot Irish production and Irish-themed productions – so the researcher will find plenty of American films included because of their Irish themes and characters. However it doesn’t document the films of Irish filmmakers who operated out of Ireland if their films did not have Irish themes (so Rex Ingram is represented in the Biographies section but not in the Film Index).

There are simple and advance search options, the latter enabling you to refine searches by country, genre, reference, location, years, songs, or date – including date range, so it is possible to isolate films from the silent period (just under 1,000 titles, fiction and non-fiction), though seemingly no way of arranging by date order, which prevents the researcher from getting an idea of chronology and change (unless you seach year-by-year, which is laborious). The records themselves are often extensive, as this record for Kalem’s The Lad from Old Ireland demonstrates:

Title LAD FROM OLD IRELAND, THE
Production company Kalem Co
Country of origin USA
Producer OLCOTT, Sidney
Director OLCOTT, Sidney
Script/Adaptation GAUNTIER, Gene
Photography HOLLISTER, George
Cast Sidney Olcott (Terry O’Connor), Gene Gauntier (Aileen), Arthur Donaldson (priest), J P McGowan, Robert Vignola (men in campaign office on election night), Thomas O’Connor (Murphy, a landlord), Jane Wolfe (Elsie Myron, an American heiress), Laurene Santley, Agnes Mapes.
Colour b&w
Sound sil
Footage 8241009 [it’s not explained what this means]
Release date 1910
Copy IFA, NFTVA, IFA (VHS)
Summary In the rural Ireland location of Rathpacon, County Cork, Terry is working in the fields. Determined to improve his poverty-stricken existence, he decides to emigrate to America. He bids a sad farewell to Aileen, his sweetheart, who is left in the care of her mother, but he promises to return to her. Arriving in New York, Terry works on a building site and eventually rises to become the Tammany Hall mayor of the city. Forgetting about Aileen, he is seen in the company of an American heiress on the night of his electoral victory. However, he finds a letter from Aileen informing him of her family’s desperate economic plight and declaring that they are in danger of being evicted from their home. Returning home, Terry is seen on a ship in mid-ocean conjuring up an image of Aileen. When he arrives at Aileen’s cottage the eviction is in progress. He enters the cottage and confronts the landlord. He thrusts the rent arrears into his hand and sends him out of the house. The following Sunday the banns are read by the priest announcing the forthcoming marriage of Terry and Aileen. (V).
Note USA Rel 23/11/1910; re-issued 1/8/1914. GB distr: Markt & Co. Filmed in Ireland and USA. Farnham, whose names are sometimes given as ‘Al(l)an’ or ‘Farnum’, did not participate in the production of scenes taken in Ireland, as Herbert Reynolds points out, but would likely have been responsible for the New York studio interiors. Unpublished cast members Donaldson, McGowan and Vignola have been identified by Reynolds in the extant film. THE LAD FROM OLD IRELAND is regarded by some as the first American-produced fiction film made outside the USA (Sight and Sound, Oct-Nov 1953:96), though this may have been confused with what is contemporaneously described as ‘the first production ever made on two Continents’ (Bio 12/1/1911:47). It may also be the first fiction film made in Ireland, but see note with A DAUGHTER OF ERIN (USA 1908). The available print, with intertitles in German, ends with the penultimate scene, at the cottage.
Reference Bio 12/1/1911:47; Bio 6/4/1912:v; Bio 21/8/1913:21; Kalem Kalender 1/8/1914:2 (reissue); MPN 10/12/1910:9; MPN 17/12/1910:19; MPN 21/10/1916, Sec 2:109-10; MPW 26/11/1910:1246, 1249; MPW 3/12/1910:1296,1343; MPW 17/12/1910:1405; MPW 1/8/1914:732; NYDM 2/11/1910:29; Var 3/12/1910. AFI Cat 1893-1910:574; Bowser, 1990:153-5; Rockett et al, 1987:7-8.

All reference materials cited below are held at the Tiernan McBride Library of the Irish Film Institute.

Old file record giving film stock details, plot summary, review and subjects references for film (D.C. Swift)

The Bioscope, 12/1/1911:2, plot-synopsis of the film.

Sight and Sound, Dec. 1953:96-8, ‘Ireland’s first films’, article on Sidney Olcott’s contribution to early Irish films (Proionsias O Conluain).

‘Kalem’s Great Trans-Atlantic drama…’, copy of advertisement for the film.
Format 35mm
Distributor Markt & Co
Language English
Production credits p.c/distr: Kalem Co, p/d: Sidney Olcott, c: George Hollister, sc: Gene Gauntier, scenic dsgn: Henry Alien Farnham.
Location Cork, USA
Genre/Category Short Film Drama, Historical Drama
Keywords Migration, Labourers, Politics, Rural Ireland, Evictions, Landlords, Tenants, Priests

However there is no hyperlinking for these results e.g. you can’t click on ‘Kalem’ in this record and go to other films produced by the American company, which is a shame. This is a fine resource for the extensive information it contains, but it is fundamentally a book catalogue with some search functions rather than something fully re-imagined as an electronic database.

Irish Film & Television Biographies
Described as a work in progress, the Biographies database documents conributors to the history of both cinema and television in Ireland and those who have worked on Irish-theme films made outside the country. It is a work in progress, and unfortunately it doesn’t seem to cover anyone from the silent period of film production (e.g. Sidney Olcott, Norman Whitten, John McDonagh).

Irish Film & Television Bibliography
Another work in progress, ths Bibliography lists books, articles in journals, chapters in collections, and selections from specialist magazines. As well as being able to search across the whole database, you can browse by title or author.

The site also contains details of an annual Irish Postgraduate Film Research Seminar and a links page. Irish Film & TV Research Online has been overseen by Professor Kevin Rockett, a noted historian of Irish cinema. He describes the website as a living archive, and additional information and amendments are welcomed. No database should ever be static, but the price of relevance is eternal vigilance, as records have to be maintained and resources hosted. Hopefully Trinity College will continue to support it and researchers as dedicated as Rockett and Finn will always recognise the importance of sustaining it.

Giornate database

Pordenone catalogues

In 2002 the Giornate del Cinema Muto (aka Pordenone Silent Film Festival) produced a CD-ROM that listed and described every film shown at the festival 1982-2001. The CD-ROM is now out of print, but what was really wanted was an online version which could be updated year by year. And now we have it.

The Giornate database lists every one of the 6,330 films featured at the festival 1982-2008. You can search by year, title, director, year of release, production company, country and archive. It is a little disappointing that no searching is offered by cast member or other credits, still more that there is no searching of descriptions or a free-text search generally. Hopefully such functionality can be introduced later (such search options are available on the CD-ROM version), but as it is the database is still a very useful and welcome resource.

The database lists every film shown at the festival since 1982, with additional entries for films which have been shown more then once (i.e. in later years). The information available varies, with no synopses for earlier years, though that’s because such data was not included in the festival catalogue/booklet. More recent records are richer in detail as the catalogue has become an ever more handsome production, with background information in both English and Italian. What every record does provide is title, any alternative titles, year of production, year in which it was shown at the festival, the production company, director (where known), format (i.e. 35m, 16mm etc), the film speed at which it was shown, its duration, and the archive which supplied the copy. You even get the name of the musician who played to the film.

Such core data yields all sorts of information. For instance, the festival has shown 473 films directed by D.W. Griffith, 104 films made in 1905, 71 films made by the Cines company, 374 films made in Germany, and 505 films from the Nederlands Filmmuseum. One can find out so much – not just about the contents of films shown at the festival, but their provenance and location. Moreover, it is information that was rigorously researched in the first place for the Pordenone catalogue, and which can be relied upon. Also, there are records here for films from across the world of silent cinema which the researcher will simply not be able to find anywhere else. It is a treasure trove.

That said, it could be even better. The potential for searching by credits or across synopses has been mentioned. However, it might be that the festival could open up this resource still further to our research community, with a bit of Web 2.0 functionality. For instance, where there are gaps in the data for earlier years (if this is the case – it’s not clear is the database represents all the published information in the festival catalogues from 1982), volunteers might be willing to type in the missing text or credits. Contributing archives could add updated information on prints that they provide, likewise the scholars who contributed information to the catalogue could add updated information – in both cases not altering the original catalogue record, but putting data into a separate notes field. Anyone might contribute comments on films that they have seen – obviously with some form of moderation. Databases are such powerful tools – we mustn’t just see them as searchale lists, but instead must make full use of them as structured and updatable data.

But even as it is the Giornate database is a fabulous resource, and one that hopefully will be updated year-on-year from now on. Grateful thanks and congratulations are due to the Giornate del Cinema Muto for making the database available to all. Go explore.

Image

Production still from Georges Méliès’ Eclipse de soleil en pleine lune (1907), from Image vol. 34 (1991)

The number of digitised film journals on the Web remains very few, the number dedicated to silent film miniscule, and the number of those in English nanoscopically small. So it is terrific to be able to report that George Eastman House has published online most of Image, 1952-1997.

Image was the journal of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, for forty-seven years. It reported on and documented scholarship in photography and motion pictures, with particular reference to its own collections. Its distinguished contributors included photography historian and GEH’s first curator Beaumont Newhall, GEH’s first motion picture curator, James Card, George Pratt, author of one of the essential silent film books, Spellbound in Darkness, and more recently GEH curators Jan-Christopher Horak and Paolo Cherchi Usai. Today the name of Image lives on in part through Marshall Deutelbaum’s fine collection ‘Image’ on the Art and Evolution of the Film (1979).

Image covered photographic and motion picture history, so only a part of the journal run relates to silent film, but what is there is excellent, often with key historical or filmographic data published for the first time, and gorgeously illustrated. Below is a selection of some of the articles with links to web page for the individual issues (many of which are also reproduced in Deutelbaum’s book). Please note that the journal has been digitised volume-by-volume and each PDF file is 30MB or more in size. Be aware also that the journals are not arranged in complete chronological order, so one can find oneself jumping from the 1950s to the 1970s then back to the 50s in places. There do not seem to be many issues for the 1960s, for reasons that are not explained (it appears it just wasn;t published too often that decade).

  • Collecting Old Films: Article stressing the importance of motion picture archives and the need for a collective effort to preserve film history. IMAGE (1952. vol 1. issue 7.)
  • The Kammatograph: Description of the apparatus developed and patented by Leo Kramm in England, 1897. The Kammatograph, a camera and projector in one unit, recorded up to 550 images in a spiral pattern on a circular glass plate that could then be projected. IMAGE (1952. vol 1. issue 8.)
  • Silent Film Speed, by James Card. Discusses the factors in trying to determine correct projection speeds for silent films, as the speeds vary, sometimes even from scene to scene within a single film. The end of the article provides a list of 29 silent films and their correct projection speeds. IMAGE (1955. vol 4. issue 7.)
  • Eadweard Muybridge and the Motion Picture, by Beaumont Newhall. IMAGE (1956. vol 5. issue 1.)
  • Out of Pandora’s Box: New light on G. W. Pabst from his lost star, Louise Brooks, by James Card, and Mr. Pabst, by Louise Brooks. IMAGE (1956. vol 5. issue 7.)
  • The George K. Spoor Collection. Equipment and film recently given to the museum, by James Card. IMAGE (1956. vol 5. issue 8.)
  • Early Days of Movie Comedies: Reminiscences by a director in the early silent comedy days, by Clarence G. Badger. IMAGE (1957. vol 6. issue 5.)
  • Film Archives: Historians of the future might have had the rare privilege of consulting filmed documents of all the world events from the year 1898, by James Card. IMAGE (1958. vol 7. issue 6.)
  • The Posse is Ridin’ Like Mad: An account of Westerns and Western stars from 1907 through 1914, by George Pratt. IMAGE (1958. vol 7. issue 4.). Part II IMAGE (1958. vol 7. issue 7.)
  • The Films of Mary Pickford: On early screen legend Mary Pickford and her enduring appeal. With An Index to the Films of Mary Pickford. IMAGE (1959. vol 8. issue 4.)
  • The Jack-Rabbits of the Movie Business: On the prolific and profitable nickelodeon theatres of the early 1900s. IMAGE (1961. vol 10. issue 3.)
  • Firsting the Firsts. George Pratt posits that film projection on the Eidoloscope in America pre-dated the first public screenings by Lumière in France and Skladanowsky in Germany. IMAGE (1971. vol 14. issue 5–6.)
  • “”If You Beat Me, I Wept””: Alice Terry Reminisces About Silent Films. Excerpts from a taped interview with actress Alice Terry and veteran cameraman John Seitz conducted by George Pratt in 1958. IMAGE (1973. vol 16. issue 1.)
  • “”It’s Just Wonderful How Fate Works””: Ramon Novarro on his Film Career. Ramon Novarro, who played the title role in Ben Hur (1925), reminisces about his film career in this taped interview conducted by George Pratt. IMAGE (1973. vol 16. issue 4.)
  • The Most Important Factor was the ‘Spirit’: Leni Riefenstahl During the Filming of The Blue Light. IMAGE (1974. vol 17. issue 1.)
  • “Anything Can Happen—and Generally Did”. Buster Keaton gives a detailed account of his silent film career during a talk with an unnamed interviewer in Los Angeles in 1958. IMAGE (1974. vol 17. issue 4.)
  • “She Banked in her Stocking; or, Robbed of her All”: Mutoscopes Old and New. IMAGE (1976. vol 19. issue 1.)
  • Early Film Activities of William Fox. Excerpt from Paul C. Spehr’s book The Movies Begin: Making Movies in New Jersey. IMAGE (1977. vol 20. issue 3–4.)
  • Cue Sheets for Silent Films: On Theodore Huff’s collection of thematic cue sheets for silent films presented to George Eastman House in 1953. IMAGE (1982. vol 25. issue 1.)
  • The Color of Nitrate: Some Factual Observations on Tinting and Toning Manuals for Silent Films, by Paolo Cherchi Usai. IMAGE (1991. vol 34. issue 1–2.)
  • A Trip to the Movies: Georges Méliès, Filmmaker and Magician (1861-1938) by Paolo Cherchi Usai. IMAGE (1991. vol 34. issue 3–4.)

And that’s just a selection on what’s available on silent film. It’s such a treasure trove, and all word-searchable – do note, by the way, that once you have searched for a keyword, you must uncheck the box on the left which says ‘Search within results’, or else further keyword searches will only be within the results of the previous search. Also, search under More Options for browing by author, keyword, volume number and year.

Warm praise is due to George Eastman House for making the journal available in this way. Go explore.