A sociology of the cinema

Mannheim, c.1914

One of the very first scholarly theses to be written about the cinema, Emilie Altenloh’s Zur Soziologie des Kino: Die Kino-Unternehmung und die Sozialen Schichten Ihrer Besucher (A Sociology of the Cinema) (1914) has proven to be of lasting worth. Altenloh’s study of the habits of cinemagoers in Mannheim, Germany has greatly grown in reputation in recent years, partly because her interest in the social drivers behind the popularity of cinema anticipate modern interests and concerns, and partly because of the increase in studies of cinema as social space generally.

So it is welcome that the German publishing initiative KINtop (which produces both volumes of essays and single volume studies) has republished Zur Soziologie des Kino together with background articles on Altenloh, the influence on her of sociologist Alfred Weber, cinema in Mannheim in 1912/13 (the period of her study), and the rediscovery of her study since the 1970s and the great influence that it has had since. The study and accompanying articles are in German, but for English readers you can find part of the essay published as ‘A Sociology of the Cinema: the Audience,’ in Screen, vol. 42 no. 3, Autumn 2001. The original German text can also be found online via the Massenmedien.de site. It is in two parts: part 1 on production; part 2 on audiences and reception.

Emilie-Kiep Altenloh (1888-1985) was a politician and economist with strong social welfare interests, who served in the Bundestag 1961-1965. She conducted her famous study for her doctoral dissertation (University of Heidelberg), inviting 2,400 cinema-goers in Mannheim to fill in questionnaires as to their gender, age, social standing, marital status, employment, religious persuasion, politics and filmgoing habits. It is not an extensive questionnaire, and its preoccupation with class (specifically trying to understand the behaviour of the working classes) is typical of the time. But Altenloh has a sharp economist’s eye for the industrial structures and the profound relationship between producer and consumer that underpinned cinema, while dispaying great interest in (and sympathy for) the audiences themselves. She frets over evidence of a lack of political engagement, and worries over how much the cinema may or may nor contribute to an increase in musical taste – typical concerns of her class and trade – but the picture her text supplies of society responding to cinema, and reflected through cinema, is a powerful one.

There were other studies of the cinema by sociologists at this time, though few have the depth of understanding Altenloh shows, and too many reveal strong prejudice against a working class wasting time which could be more profitably spent in art galleries or public parks. Examples covered in these pages before now (and the original texts of which can be found for online) are:

The rejected

Nosferatu, rejected by the BBFC in 1922, from DVD Beaver

Last week we wrote a post on the British Board of Film Classification, whose centenary occurs this year, and whose website includes a database of the films it has examined since 1912. The films can be searched by date and classification, and so it is possibile to produce a list of all of the films of the silent era rejected by the BBFC as being unsuitable for screening in the UK.

There are 208 of them, but the database provides little more than English language title, the date of examination, the distributor who submitted the film, and the classification (R for Rejected). Some of the films are familiar titles (Battleship Potemkin, America, The Seashell and the Clergyman) others much less so, and while most are American there are films from several other countries less easy to identify. It should be noted that this is not a complete list of all films rejected by the BBFC in the silent era, records for the rejection of some films (such as Lois Weber’s abortion drama Where Are My Children?) apparently no longer existing. Other films (such as Auction of Souls) were never submited to the BBFC, which would have rejected them otherwise.

It would be good to know the correct title, date and country of origin for each film. There records at the BBFC that may say more, though in most cases the films are simply listed in annual reports and give no more information than is provided on the database. So we have produced a list and started to identify them. This has mostly involved cross-checking with the Internet Movie Database, plus books written on the BBFC which discuss particular titles. But there are many gaps, and the Bioscope invites you to help fill them.

Each record below gives the title as submitted to the BBFC (hyperlinked to the BBFC database record), the date of examination, the name of the distributor, and then the true title, country, year, director and production company where I have been able to find these. Certain producers and distributors recur with interesting frequency: Fox Films, Nordisk, Cines, Trans Atlantic (European agents for Universal), Thanhouser and Pathé Frères among them, while there are some obscure companies involved, such as Inter Ocean, about whom it would be good to know more. The BBFC records have been copied as they appear, including typos and anachronistic references to film companies that only came into being after this period (Gaumont-British, 20th Century-Fox).

As for the kinds of film censored, the BBFC’s website does not give the reasons for rejection and to give plot summaries where these exist could be misleading, as the reason for rejection was not always so obvious (Nosferatu, for example, was probably rejected – under the title Dracula – on account of a copyright claim in Germany from the estate of Bram Stoker rather than for its horrific content). But there are films on prostitution (The White Slave Traffic), drugs (The Case of the Doped Actress), venereal disease (The Spreading Evil), politics (Irish Destiny), childbirth (The Mysteries of Birth), racial prejudice (Free and Equal) and religion (Leaves from the Book of Satan). Some of these were not so much rejected for their content as for being propagandist in tone, the BBFC having decided to rule against films which solicited public opinion. There are newsreels from the wartime period, the only time topicals were subject to censorship. There are films whose offensive character it is now hard to see (how did Hal Roach come to upset them so often?).

If you can help to identify any of the films (or correct y identifications), please say so through the comments and I’ll add the details to the post. The films are listed in the alphabetical order offered by the BBFC database, with definite articles (A and THE) recognised.

A BACHELOR APARTMENT – 24/03/1922 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = perhaps Bachelor Apartments (USA 1921 d. Johnnie Walker p.c. Georgia Hopkins)
A DAUGHTER OF THE DON – 25/09/1922 – Inter Ocean Photoplays Ltd = possibly The Daughter of the Don (USA 1916 d. Henry Kabierske p.c. Monrovia)
A FOOL THERE WAS – 06/06/1916 – Fox Film Company Ltd = A Fool There Was (USA 1915 d. Frank Powell p.c. Fox)
A HERO OF GALLIPOLI – 27/09/1916 – A1 Features & Exclusives = perhaps The Hero of the Dardanelles (Australia 1915 d. Alfred Rolfe p.c. Australasian Films)
A MAN WITHOUT A SOUL – 21/07/1916 – London Film Co Ltd = The Man Without a Soul (UK 1916 d. George Loane Tucker p.c. London)
A PARISIAN ROMANCE – 20/07/1916 – Fox Film Company Ltd = A Parisian Romance (USA 1916 d. Frederick A. Thomson p.c. Fox)
A ROYAL BULL FIGHT – 24/04/1923 – Tayers Ltd
A SALVAGE – 11/07/1913 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
A SCREAM IN THE NIGHT – 05/01/1923 – Ward’s Productions Ltd = possibly A Scream in the Night (USA 1923 d. Leander De Cordova, Burton L. King p.c. A.H. Fischer Features)
A SHOP GIRL’S PERIL – 15/10/1913 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
A SNAKE’S MEAL – 15/10/1913 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
A SPLENDID WASTER – 12/07/1917 – International Variety Agency Lt = The Splendid Waster (South Africa 1916 d. Harold Shaw p.c. African Film Productions)
A TRUTHFUL LIAR – 22/10/1924 – W & F Film Service Ltd = A Truthful Liar (USA 1924 d. Hampton el Ruth p.c. Hal Roach) (or possibly The Truthful Liar, USA 1922)
A WOMAN – 08/01/1915 – Cines Co
A WOMEN’S [i.e. Woman’s] FATE – 14/01/1924 – M & F Film Agency Ltd
ACROSS NO MANS LAND WITH TANKS – 23/04/1917 – Screen Plays Co
ADVENTURES OF MAIZIE CH 10 “LITTLE ANNIE LOONIE” – 16/07/1926 – Wardour Films Ltd = The Adventures of Mazie: Little Andy Looney (USA 1925)
AIR RAID ON LONDON – 01/06/1915 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd
ALL MAN – 30/04/1919 – Vitagraph Film Hiring Co. Ltd = All Man (USA 1918 d. Paul Scardon p.c. Vitagraph)
ANIMALS LIKE HUMANS – 31/08/1923 – Gaumont Co Ltd
ARRIVAL OF SINN FEIN PRISONERS OF DUBLIN – 14/07/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
ARRIVAL OF THE GUNTESS MARKEIVING [i.e. Countess Markievicz] ON HER RELEASE – 14/07/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
AS MAN MADE HER / 04/05/1917 – Gaumont British Dist = As Man Made Her (USA 1917 d. George Archainbaud p.c. Peerless)
AS THE SHADOW FALLS – 11/02/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = As the Shadow Falls (USA 1915 d. William Worthington p.c. Universal)
AT THE MERCY OF MAN – 18/09/1919 – Littleton Park Film Prods = possibly At the Mercy of Men (USA 1918 d. Charles Miller p.c. Select Pictures)
BATTLING BUNYAN – 30/04/1925 – Ideal Films Ltd = Battling Bunyan (USA 1924 d. Paul Hurst p.c. Crown)
BELOW THE DEADLINE – 15/09/1929 – Argosy Film Co Ltd = probably Below the Deadline (USA 1929 d. J.P. McGowan p.c. Chesterfield)
BEYOND THE BARRICADE – 15/12/1921 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd = Har jeg Ret til at tage mit eget Liv? (Denmark 1920 d. Holger-Madsen p.c. Nordisk)
BIRDS OF PREY – 07/06/1927 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = probably Birds of Prey (USA 1927 d. William James Craft p.c. Columbia)
BLINDFOLDED – 07/08/1918 – Gaumont British Dist = probably Blindfolded (USA 1918 d. Raymond B. West p.c. Paralta)
BOLSHELVISM ON TRIAL – 21/03/1922 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères]
BOSTON BLACKIE – 27/06/1923 – Fox Film Company Ltd = Boston Blackie (USA 1923 d. Scott R. Dunlap p.c. Fox)
CABARET NIGHTS – 10/09/1928 – First National Pathe Ltd
CAPTURING WILD ANIMALS IN THE ROCKIES – NOS 1, 2, 3, 4 – 22/07/1920 – Gaumont Co Ltd
CAPTURING WILD ANIMALS IN THE WILDERNESS – NOS 1, 2, 3, 4 – 22/07/1920 – Gaumont Co Ltd
CASANOVA’S SON – 11/02/1929 – Leon Wynbergen Ltd
CHILDREN OF DESTINY – 05/01/1923 – Ward’s Productions Ltd = maybe Children of Destiny (USA 1920 d. George Irving p.c. Weber Productions)
COCAINE – 12/05/1922 – Astra Films Ltd = Cocaine (later While London Sleeps) (UK 1922 d. Graham Cutts p.c. Master)
CONSCIENCE – 09/11/1917 – 20th Century Fox Film Co. Ltd = Conscience (USA 1917 d. Bertram Bracken p.c. Fox)
CORALIE & CO – 30/07/1914 – Cines Co = Madame Coralie & Co. (Italy 1914)
CUPID ARTHUR & CO – 22/11/1915 – Cines Co
DAMAGED GOODS – 21/11/1919 – Royal Film Agency = Damaged Goods (UK 1919 d. Alexander Butler p.c. Samuelson)
DEALERS IN HUMAN LIVES – 18/09/1914 – Ruffles [i.e. Ruffell’s] Imperial Bioscope Ltd
DON’T FLIRT – 14/05/1925 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = presumably Don’t Flirt (USA 1923 d. Len Powers p.c. Hal Roach)
DRACULA – 11/12/1922 – Y Froehlich = Nosferatu (Germany 1922 d. F.W. Murnau p.c. Jofa-Atelier Berlin-Johannisthal)
EAGLE’S EYE,THE – 29/10/1918 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = The Eagle’s Eye (USA 1918 d. George Lessey et al p.c. Wharton)
ECLAIR JOURNAL NO.13 1ST EDITION ARMOURED MOTOR CARS – 27/03/1915 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd = newsreel
ENGLISH AVIATOR IN THE FAR EAST – 12/05/1916 – Urban Trading Co Ltd
ENGLISH SEAPLANE AT SALONIKA – 12/05/1916 – Urban Trading Co Ltd
FEAR – 18/01/1917 – Llanhouser Films Ltd [i.e. Thanhouser] = Fear (USA 1917 p.c. Thanhouser)
FIT TO MARRY – 22/03/1923 – Joseph Klein
FLYING WHEELS – 08/06/1926 – Famous Players Film Co Ltd = Flying Wheels (USA 1926 d. Edward Ludwig p.c. Century)
FOUR IRISH GIRLS – 22/02/1917 – Western Import Co Ltd
FREE AND EQUAL – 25/03/1919- Stoll Film Co Ltd = possibly Free and Equal (USA 1918 d. Roy William Neill p.c. Thomas H. Ince)
FRENCH HOWITYERS [i.e. Howitzers] – 13/08/1915 – Gaumont Co Ltd
FRENCH TROOPS LEAVING MARSEILLES FOR THE EAST – 19/03/1915 – Gaumont Co Ltd = newsreel
FROU FROU – 14/06/1913 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd (There were American film adaptations of the play Frou-Frou in 1914, 1917 and 1918)
FUNNICUS THE MINISTER – 27/01/1913 – Tyler Film Co Ltd = Gavroche remplace le ministre (France 1913 d. Romeo Bosetti p.c. Éclair)
GERMAN KULTUZ [presumably Kultur] – 16/06/1917 – Kineto Ltd
GETTING STRONG – 25/02/1924 – Regent Film Corp Ltd
GLITTERING BROADWAY – 11/12/1916 – Pathe Freres Ltd
GOD’S LAW – 24/04/1918 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = probably The People vs John Doe (USA 1916 d. Lois Weber p.c. Universal)
GREATER THAN LOVE – 15/12/1921 – Associated Producers Ltd = Greater than Love (USA 1921 d. Fred Niblo p.c. J. Parker Read Jr. Productions)
GREED NO. 14 – 19/05/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
GRIT – 11/02/1925 – George Smith Films Ltd = probably Grit (USA 1924 d. Frank Tuttle p.c. Film Guild)
HANDCUFFS AND KISSES – 22/02/1922 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = presumably Handcuffs or Kisses (USA 1921 d. George Archinbaud p.c. Selznick)
HEARTS IN EXILE – 09/08/1915 – Clarion Film Agency Ltd = Hearts in Exile (USA 1915 d. James Young p.c. World)
HER DANGEROUS PATH EPISODE 9 – 21/01/1924 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = Her Dangerous Path [serial (USA 1923 d. Roy Clements p.c. Hal Roach)
HER WHITE GOD – 20/05/1919 – Essanay Film Service Ltd
HIS MODEL WIFE – 10/01/1918 – Oppidan Film Productions Ltd = possibly His Model Wife (USA 1917 d. Al Christie p.c. Christie)
HIS ONLY SON – 30/05/1913 – Pathe Freres Ltd = possibly His Only Son (USA 1912 d. Jack Conway p.c. Nestor)
HONOR’S CROSS – 01/08/1918 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = Honor’s Cross (USA 1918 d. Wallace Worsley p.c. Selexart Pictures)
HUMAN WRECKAGE – 16/01/1924 – R C Corporation ltd = Human Wreckage (USA 1923 d. John Griffith Wray p.c. Thomas H. Ince)
HUMAN WRECKS – 08/04/1915 – Davison’s Film Sales Agency = possibly Wykolejeni (Poland 1913 d. Kazimierz Kamiński p.c. Sfinks)
HYPOCRITES – 18/05/1917 – Western Import Co Ltd = probably Hypocrites (USA 1915 d. Louis Weber p.c. Hobart Bosworth Productions)
I ALSO ACCUSE – 24/04/1923 – Foyers ltd = Moi aussi, j’accuse (France 1923 d. Alred Machin, Henri Wulschleger p.c. Les Films Alfred Machin/Pathé)
INNOCENT – 24/03/1915 – Cines Co = L’Innocente (Italy 1912 p.c. Cines)
INSPIRATION – 19/05/1916 – Thanhouser films ltd = Inspiration (USA 1915 d. George Foster Platt p.c. Thanhouser)
INTERRUPTED – 24/01/1913 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd
IRISH DESTINY – 21/04/1926 – Eppels films ltd = Irish Destiny (Ireland 1926 d. George Dewhurst)
IRISH REBELS ARRIVE IN LONDON AND ARE INCASCERATED IN – GAOL – 09/05/1916 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères] = newsreel
IT MAY BE YOUR DAUGHTER – 10/02/1917 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd = It May be Your Daughter (USA 1916 p.c. Moral Uplift Society of America)
JUST AS HE THOUGHT – 30/11/1917 – American Film Co = Just as He Thought (USA 1916 p.c. American Film)
LA CULOTTE DE RIGADIN – 05/12/1913 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd = La culotte de Rigadin (France 1914 d. George Monca p.c. Pathé Frères)
LAWFUL CHEATERS – 30/11/1925 – Vitagraph Film Hiring Co. Ltd = presumably The Lawful Cheater (USA 1925 d. Frank O’Connor p.c. B.P. Schulberg)
LEAVES FROM THE BOOK OF SATAN – 15/12/1921 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd = Blade af Satans bog (Denmark 1921 d. Carl Th. Dreyer p.c. Nordisk)
LIFE’S SHADOWS – 03/05/1927 – Wardour Films Ltd
LITTLE MONTE CARLO – 15/12/1916 – M.P. Sales Agency Ltd
LITTLE WHITE SLAVES – 03/07/1914 – Tyler Film Co Ltd = Kleine weiße Sklaven (Germany 1914 d. Oskar Ludwig Brandt p.c. Lloyd-Film)
LOVE – 15/12/1921 – Assoc. Ind. Producers Ltd
LOVE AND SACRIFICE – 21/07/1924 – Allied Artists Corpn. Ltd = America (USA 1924 d. D.W. Griffith p.c. D.W. Griffith Productions)
LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT – 20/02/1929 – Wardour Films Ltd = Love at First Flight (USA 1928 d. Edward F. Cline p.c. Mack Sennett)
LOVE IS BLIND – 28/10/1913 – Gerrard Film Co Ltd = probably Love is Blind (USA 1913 d. Allan Dwan p.c. American Film Manufacturing Company)
MARRIAGE – 19/12/1929 – Pro Patria Films Ltd
MEPHISTS [presumably Mephisto] – 03/03/1913 – Elite Sales Agency Ltd
MIRACULOUS WATERS – 23/02/1914 – New Agency Film Co
MOTHER’S CONFESSION – 21/01/1916 – A. Reid & Co = A Mother’s Confession (USA 1915 d. Ivan Abramson p.c. Ivan Film)
MOTHER, I NEED YOU – 23/10/1919 – L. Zimmerman = Mother, I Need You (USA 1918 d. Frank Beal)
MY WIFE AND I – 07/04/1914 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
NABBED – 19/05/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd (There were two films titled Nabbed in 1915, one USA, one UK, neither connected to Universal/Trans Atlantic)
NIGHT LIFE – 16/02/1928 – British Exhibitors Films Ltd
NIGHT OUT, A – 08/09/1916 – Eclair Film Co. Ltd
NOBODY – 30/04/1923 – Associated National Pictures
NOBODY WOULD BELIEVE – 11/03/1913 – J. Frank Brockliss Ltd
NORTH OF 50-50 – 14/05/1925 – Pathe Freres Ltd = North of 50-50 (USA 1924 d. Len Powers p.c. Hal Roach)
OPEN ALL NIGHT – 27/11/1924 – Famous Players Film Co Ltd = Open All Night (USA 1924 d. Paul Bern p.c. Famous Players-Lasky)
OUR LITTLE NELL – 14/05/1925 – Pathe Freres Ltd = Our Little Nell (USA 1924 d. Len Power p.c. Hal Roach)
OUTSIDE THE LAW – 25/03/1927 – European Motion Picture Co Ltd
PATHE DAILY GAZETTE – 03/10/1914 – Pathe Freres Ltd = newsreel
PATHE GAZETTE – “BOMBING SCHOOL OF THE 10th MIDDLESEX” – 11/10/1915 – Pathe Freres Ltd = newsreel
PATHE GAZETTE- “AFTER AN ADVANCE” AND “THROWING A GRENADE” – 12/10/1915 – Pathe Freres Ltd = newsreel
PLUSCH AND PLUMOWSKI – 18/11/1927 – Butchers Film Service Ltd = Plüsch und Plumowski (Germany 1927 d. Hans Steinhoff p.c. Georg-Jacoby-Film)
POTEMKIN – 30/09/1926 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = Bronenosets Potyomkin (USSR 1925 d. Sergei Eisenstein p.c. Goskino)
RIDERS OF THE NIGHT – 09/09/1919 – David Mundell = Riders of the Night (USA 1918 d. John H. Collins p.c. Metro)
ROSE OF THE TENEMENTS – 10/06/1926 – Ideal Films Ltd = Rose of the Tenements (USA 1926 d. Phil Rosen p.c. Robertson-Cole)
SALWATER [i.e. Saltwater] JANE – 10/06/1927 – Ideal Films Ltd
SEALED LIPS – 30/03/1917 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = possibly Sealed Lips (USA 1915 d. John Ince p.c. Equitable Motion Pictures)
SHOOTIN’ FOR LOVE – 07/12/1923 – European Film Dist Ltd = Shootin’ for Love (USA 1923 d. Edward Sedgwick p.c. Universal)
SINS OF YOUR YOUTH – 16/06/1914 – Oscar Rosenberg = possibly Ekspeditricen (Denmark 1911 d. August Blom p.c. Nordisk)
SKIRTS – 26/02/1917 – Western Import Co Ltd = Skirts (USA 1917 d. Al Christie p.c. Christie)
SPANISH BULL FIGHT – 14/03/1913 – Gerrard Films Ltd
STORY OF SISTER RUTH – 11/04/1913 – Gaumont Co Ltd
STRAFING THE KAISER – 03/02/1917 – Walturdaw Co Ltd = Pimple Strafing the Kaiser (UK 1916 d. Fred Evans/Joe Evans p.c. Piccadilly)
TANKS – 14/10/1916 – Kineto Ltd
THE ACE OF BADS – 21/03/1927 – Famous Players Film Co Ltd = The Ace of Cads (USA 1926 d. Luther Reed p.c. Famous Players-Lasky)
THE BACHELOR GIRL – 03/10/1923 – London & Counties Film Bureau
THE BATTLE OF LIFE – 12/03/1917 – Fox Film Company Ltd = The Battle of Life (USA 1916 d. James Vincent p.c. Fox)
THE BLACK TERROR – 12/06/1917 – Thanhouser Films Ltd = The Black Terror (USA 1916 d. Fred Kelsey p.c. Thanhouser)
THE BLUE ROOM – 07/04/1914 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
THE CASE OF THE DOPED ACTRESS – 11/02/1919 – Life Dramas Ltd = The Case of a Doped Actress (UK 1919 d. Wilfred Carlton p.c. Life Dramas)
THE CITY OF SIN – 20/09/1926 – Peter Freres Cinema Ltd [presumably Pathé Frères]
THE COMPANIONATE MARRIAGE – 29/10/1928 – First National Pathe Ltd = Companionate Marriage (USA 1928 d. Erle C. Kenton p.c. C.M. Corporation)
THE CRIMSON CROSS – 08/10/1913- Eclair Film Co. Ltd = The Crimson Cross (USA 1913 p.c. Eclair)
THE CRIMSON STAIN – 08/03/1918 – Ideal Film Renting Co Ltd
THE CRIMSON STAIN MYSTERY – 03/07/1919 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd = The Crimson Stain Mystery (USA 1916 d. T. Hayes Hunter p.c. Consolidated)
THE DIVA IN STRAITS – 23/03/1914 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
THE DIVIDED LAW – 13/05/1919 – Inter Ocean Films Ltd
THE DOUBLE ROOM MYSTERY – 12/03/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Double Room Mystery (USA 1917 d. Hobart Henley p.c. Universal)
THE DOWNFALL – 18/06/1924 – Regent Film Corp Ltd
THE DRAGON – 31/05/1916 – F. Simmonds
THE EEL – 26/02/1916 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Eel (USA 1916 d. Harry F. Millarde p.c. IMP)
THE END OF THE ROAD – 01/10/1925 – Carcopal Film Co Ltd
THE FIRE – 11/02/1916 – McEnnery Syndicate Ltd
THE FOUR FEATHERS – 03/10/1917- Albion Cinema Supplies Ltd = probably The Four Feathers (USA 1915 d. J. Searle Dawley p.c. Dyreda)
THE FOURTH ESTATE – 14/06/1917 – Fox Film Company Ltd = The Fourth Estate (USA 1916 d. Frank Powell p.c. Fox)
THE GIRL FROM CHICAGO – 22/02/1917 – Players Management Ltd = The Girl from Chicago (USA 1916 p.c. Thanhouser)
THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE – 11/12/1928 – Wardour Films Ltd = The Girl from Everywhere (USA 1927 d. Edward F. Cline p.c. Mack Sennett)
THE GOOD PRECEPTRESS – 28/01/1913 – New Agency Film Co
THE GREAT PHYSICIAN – 21/01/1913 – Thos. A. Edison Ltd = The Great Physician (USA 1913 d. Richard Ridgely p.c. Edison)
THE GREAT SHADOW – 27/05/1920 – Walturdaw Co Ltd = The Great Shadow (USA/Canada 1920 d. Harley Knoles p.c. Adanac)
THE HAND THAT RULES THE WORLD – 23/07/1914 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Hand that Rules the World (USA 1914 d. Edwin August p.c. Powers)
THE HAUNTED SHIP – 16/02/1928 – British Exhibitors Films Ltd = The Haunted Ship (USA 1927 d. Forrest Sheldon p.c. Tiffany-Stahl)
THE INHERITED BURDEN – 24/05/1915 – Dominion Exclusives
THE KISS OF HATE – 22/09/1916 – Ruffles [presumably Ruffell’s] Exclusives Ltd = The Kiss of Hate (USA 1916 d. William Nigh p.c. Columbia)
THE KITCHENER FILM – 13/04/1922 – Mr A Freeman = How Kitchener Was Betrayed (UK 1921 d. Percy Nash p.c. Screen Plays)
THE LAND OF THE FOREFATHERS – 10/02/1917 – Gaumont Co Ltd
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH – 27/11/1924 – Fox Film Company Ltd = The Last Man on Earth (USA d. John G. Blystone p.c. Fox)
THE LAST SUPPER – 17/04/1914 – American Film Co = The Last Supper (USA 1914 d. Lorimer Johnston p.c. American Film Manufacturing Company)
THE LIBERTINE – 09/05/1917 – Bolton’s Mutual Films = probably The Libertine (USA 1916 d. Joseph A. Golden, Julius Steger p.c. Triumph)
THE LOST BAG – 23/05/1913 – Nordisk Films Co. Ltd = Naar Fruen gaar paa Eventyr (Denmark 1913 d. August Blom p.c. Nordisk)
THE LOVE ADVENTURES OF FAUBLAS – 19/06/1913 – Paramount Film Service Ltd = Les aventures du chevalier de Faublas (France 1913 d. Henri Pouctal)
THE LURE – 30/08/1915 – Elasion Film Co Ltd = possibly The Lure (USA 1914 d. Alice Guy p.c. Blaché Features)
THE MARIONETTES – 29/10/1917 – Vitagraph Film Hiring Co. Ltd = The Marionettes (USA 1917 d. Thomas R. Mills p.c. Vitagraph)
THE MOTHER – 06/12/1928 – Brunel & Monatgu Ltd = Mat (USSR 1926 d. Vsevolod Pudovkin p.c. Mezhrabpom-Rus)
THE MYSTERIES OF BIRTH – 18/02/1929 – L. Wechsler
THE NEW MOON – 16/02/1922 – Pathe Freres Ltd
THE NIGHT BEFORE – 11/03/1913 – A.E. Hubsch and Co. Ltd
THE ONE WOMAN – 10/07/1919 – Film Booking Offices Ltd = probably The One Woman (USA 1918 d. Reginald Barker p.c. Mastercraft
THE PRICE OF YOUTH – 24/03/1921 – L. Zimmerman = probably The Price of Youth (USA 1922 d. Ben F. Wilson p.c. Berwilla)
THE PRIEST AND PETER – 06/02/1913 – Universal Pictures
THE RACK – 24/05/1916 – American Film Co = probably The Rack (USA 1915 d. Emile Chautard p.c. William A. Brady)
THE RACKETEERS – 19/12/1929 – Producers Releasing Corp Ltd = possibly Love’s Conquest (USA 1929 d. Howard Higgin p.c. Pathé Exchange)
THE RED KIMONA – 15/01/1926 – A Claresing [probably Clavering] = The Red Kimona (USA 1925 d. Walter Lang p.c. Blanc de Chine)
THE SCARLET MARK – 12/03/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Scarlet Mark (USA 1916 d. Lucius Henderson p.c. Victor)
THE SEASHELL & THE CLERGYMAN – 13/11/1929 – Cinema Exclusives Ltd = La coquille et le clergyman (France 1928 d. Germaine Dulac p.c. Délia Film)
THE SPREADING EVIL – 16/10/1919 – James Keane Productions = The Spreading Evil (USA 1918 d. James Keane p.c. James Keane Feature Photo-play Productions)
THE UNPAINTED PORTRAIT – 10/05/1916 – Western Import Co Ltd = The Unpainted Portrait (USA 1914 p.c. Majestic)
THE WAGER – 18/01/1917 – Ruffles [i.e. Ruffell’s] Exclusives Ltd = The Wager (USA 1916 d. George D. Baker p.c. Rolfe Photoplays)
THE WEAVERS – 25/07/1927 – Pathe Freres Ltd = possibly Die Weber (Germany 1927 d. Friedrich Zelnik p.c. Friedrich-Zelnik-Film)
THE WHELP – 01/03/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Whelp (USA 1917 d. Millard K. Wilson p.c. IMP)
THE WHISPERED NAME – 18/06/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = The Whispered Name (USA 1917 d. Donald MacDonald p.c. Rex)
THE WHITE SLAVE TRAFFIC – 25/07/1927 – F. Alfred = Mädchenhandel – Eine internationale Gefahr (Germany 1927 d. Jaap Speyer p.c. Liberty-Film)
THE WOMAN HOUSE OF BRES[C]IA – 23/03/1921 – Elijah Day & Sons Ltd = Das Frauenhaus von Brescia (Germany 1920 d. Hubert Moest p.c. Moset-Film)
THE WORD THAT KILLS – 25/02/1914 – Cines Co
THE WRECKED ZEPPELIN – 03/10/1916 – H.D. Girdwood [i.e. Hilton DeWitt Girdwood]
THE YOKE – 31/12/1915 – International Cine Corpn-Ltd = The Yoke (UK 1915 d. James Warry Vickers p.c. International Cine Corps)
THE ZEPP[E]LINS LAST RAID – 20/02/1918 – Lionel Phillips
THOSE WHO TOIL – 20/07/1916 – J.F. Brockliss Ltd
THREE MEN AND A MAID – 22/06/1914 – Nordisk Films Co.Ltd
THROUGH THE DARK – 11/02/1924 – Jury Metro-Goldwyn Ltd = Through the Dark (USA 1924 d. George W. Hill p.c. Cosmopolitan)
TOIL AND TYRANNY – 31/05/1916 – Pathe Freres Ltd = Toil and Tyranny (USA 1915 d. Harry Harvey p.c. Balboa Amusement Producing Company)
TRAPPED FOR HER DOUGH – 18/01/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd
TWO’S COMPANY – 03/08/1928 – Brunel & Monatgu Ltd = possibly Tretya meshchanskaya (Bed and Sofa) d. Abram Room p.c. Sovkino)
TWO-TIME MAMA – 05/05/1927 – Ideal Films Ltd = Two-Time Mama (USA 1927 d. Feed Guiol p.c. Hal Roach)
UNDER THE BED – 18/06/1917 – Trans Atlantic Film Co Ltd = Under the Bed (USA 1917 d. Louis Chaudet p.c. Universal)
VERA – 30/12/1915 – Cines Co
WHAT HAPPENED AT 22 – 12/06/1917 – Bolton’s Mutual Films = What Happened at 22 (USA 1916 d. George Irving p.c. Frohman Amusement Corp.)
WHAT THE CURATE SAW – 12/05/1916 – Regal Films International
WHY MEN LEAVE HOME – 18/07/1913 – Imperial Film Co Ltd = Why Men Leave Home (USA 1913 p.c. IMP)
WOMAN, WOMAN – 20/05/1919 – Fox Film Company Ltd = Woman, Woman! (USA 1919 d. Kenean Buel p.c. Fox)
YOU CAN’T BEAT THE LAW – 09/05/1928 – First National Pathe Ltd = You Can’t Beat the Law (USA 1928 d. Charles J. Hunt p.c. Trem Carr Pictures)
ZEPP[E]LIN’S VISIT LONDON – 01/06/1915 – Gaumont Co Ltd

Looking back on 2011

News in 2011, clockwise from top left: The White Shadow, The Artist, A Trip to the Moon in colour, Brides of Sulu

And so we come to the end of another year, and for the Bioscope it is time to look back on another year reporting on the world of early and silent film. Over the twelve months we have written some 180 posts posts, or well nigh 100,000 words, documenting a year that has been as eventful a one for silent films as we can remember, chiefly due to the timeless 150-year-old Georges Méliès and to the popular discovery of the modern silent film thanks to The Artist. So let’s look back on 2011.

Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès in Hugo

Georges Méliès has been the man of the year. Things kicked off in May with the premiere at Cannes of the coloured version of Le voyage dans la lune / A Trip to the Moon (1902), marvellously, indeed miraculously restored by Lobster Films. The film has been given five star publicity treatment, with an excellent promotional book, a new score by French band Air which has upset some but pleased us when we saw it at Pordenone, a documentary The Extraordinary Voyage, and the use of clips from the film in Hugo, released in November. For, yes, the other big event in Méliès’ 150th year was Martin Scorsese’s 3D version of Brian Selznick’s children’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, in which Méliès is a leading character. Ben Kingsley bring the man convincingly to life, and the film thrillingly recreates the Méliès studio as it pleads for us all to understand our film history. The Bioscope thought the rest of the film was pretty dire, to be honest, though in this it seems to be in a minority. But just because a film pleads the cause of film doesn’t make it a good film …

And there was more from Georges, with his great-great-grandaughter Pauline Duclaud-Lacoste Méliès producing an official website, Matthew Solomon’s edited volume Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination: Georges Méliès’s Trip to the Moon (with DVD extra), a conference that took place in July, and a three-disc DVD set from Studio Canal.

For the Bioscope itself things have been eventful. In January we thought a bit about changing the site radically, then thought better of this. There was our move to New Bioscope Towers in May, the addition of a Bioscope Vimeo channel for videos we embed from that excellent site, and the recent introduction of our daily news service courtesy of Scoop It! We kicked off the year with a post on the centenary of the ever-topical Siege of Sidney Street, an important event in newsreel history, and ended it with another major news event now largely forgotten, the Delhi Durbar. Anarchists win out over imperialists is the verdict of history.

Asta Nielsen in Hamlet

We were blessed with a number of great DVD and Blu-Ray releases, with multi-DVD and boxed sets being very much in favour. Among those that caught the eye and emptied the wallet were Edition Filmmuseum’s Max Davidson Comedies, the same company’s collection of early film and magic lantern slide sets Screening the Poor and the National Film Preservation Foundation’s five disc set Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938. Individual release of the year was Edition Filmmuseum’s Hamlet (Germany 1920), with Asta Nielsen and a fine new music score (Flicker Alley’s Norwegian surprise Laila just loses out because theatre organ scores cause us deep pain).

We recently produced a round-up of the best silent film publications of 2011, including such titles as Bryony Dixon’s 100 Silent Films, Andrew Shail’s Reading the Cinematograph: The Cinema in British Short Fiction 1896-1912 and John Bengston’s Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd. But we should note also Susan Orlean’s cultural history Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, which has made quite an impact in the USA, though we’ve not read it ourselves as yet.

There were all the usual festivals, with Bologna championing Conrad Veidt, Boris Barnet and Alice Guy, and Pordenone giving us Soviets, Soviet Georgians, polar explorers and Michael Curtiz. We produced our traditional detailed diaries for each of the eight days of the festival. But it was particularly pleasing to see new ventures turning up, including the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Scotland, which launched in February and is due back in 2012. Babylon Kino in Berlin continued to make programming waves with its complete Chaplin retropective in July. Sadly, the hardy annual Slapsticon was cancelled this year – we hope it returns in a healthy state next year.

The Artist (yet again)

2011 was the year when the modern silent film hit the headlines, the The Artist enchanting all-comers at Cannes and now being touted for the Academy Award best picture. We have lost count of the number of articles written recently about a revival of interest in silent films, and their superiority in so many respects to the films of today. Jaded eyes are looking back to a (supposedly) gentler age, it seems. We’ve not seen it yet, so judgement is reserved for the time being. Here, we’ve long championed the modern silent, though our March post on Mr Bean was one of the least-read that we’ve penned in some while.

Among the year’s conferences on silent film themes there was the First International Berkeley Conference on Silent Cinema held in February; the Construction of News in Early Cinema in Girona in March, which we attended and from which we first experimented with live blogging; the opportunistically themed The Second Birth of Cinema: A Centenary Conference held in Newcastle, UK in July; and Importing Asta Nielsen: Cinema-Going and the Making of the Star System in the Early 1910s, held in Frankfurt in September.

In the blogging world, sadly we said goodbye to Christopher Snowden’s The Silent Movie Blog in February – a reminder that we bloggers are mostly doing this for love, but time and its many demands do sometimes call us away to do other things. However, we said hello to John Bengston’s very welcome Silent Locations, on the real locations behind the great silent comedies. Interesting new websites inclued Roland-François Lack’s visually stunning and intellectually intriguing The Cine-Tourist, and the Turconi Project, a collection of digitised frames for early silents collected by the Swiss priest Joseph Joye.

The Bioscope always has a keen eye for new online research resources, and this was a year when portals that bring together several databases started to dominate the landscape. The single institution is no longer in a position to pronounce itself to be the repository of all knowledge; in the digital age we are seeing supra-institutional models emerging. Those we commented on included the Canadiana Discovery Portal, the UK research services Connected Histories and JISC Media Hub, UK film’s archives’ Search Your Film Archives, and the directory of world archives ArchiveGrid. We made a special feature of the European Film Gateway, from whose launch event we blogged live and (hopefully) in lively fashion.

Images of Tacita Dean’s artwork ‘Film’ at Tate Modern

We also speculated here and there on the future of film archives in this digital age, particularly when we attended the Screening the Future event in Hilversum in March, and then the UK Screen Heritage Strategy, whose various outputs were announced in September. We mused upon media and history when we attended the Iamhist conference in Copenhagen (it’s been a jet-setting year), philosophizing on the role of historians in making history in another bout of live blogging (something we hope to pursue further in 2012). 2011 was the year when everyone wrote their obituaries for celluloid. The Bioscope sat on the fence when considering the issue in November, on the occasion of Tacita Dean’s installation ‘Film’ at Tate Modern – but its face was looking out towards digital.

Significant web video sources launched this year included the idiosyncractic YouTube channel of Huntley Film Archives, the Swedish Filmarkivet.se, the Thanhouser film company’s Vimeo channel, and George Eastman House’s online cinematheque; while we delighted in some of the ingenious one-second videos produced for a Montblanc watches competition in November.

It was a year when digitised film journals made a huge leap forward, from occasional sighting to major player in the online film research world, with the official launch of the Media History Digital Library. Its outputs led to Bioscope reports on film industry year books, seven years of Film Daily (1922-1929) and the MHDL itself. “This is the new research library” we said, and we think we’re right. Another important new online resource was the Swiss journal Kinema, for the period 1913-1919.

It has also been a year in which 3D encroached itself upon the silent film world. The aforementioned Hugo somewhat alarmingly gives us not only Méliès films in 3D, but those of the Lumière brothers, and film of First World War soldiers (colourised to boot). The clock-face sequence from Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last (also featured in Hugo) was converted to 3D and colourised, much to some people’s disgust; while news in November that Chaplin’s films were to be converted into 3D for a documentary alarmed and intrigued in equal measure.

The Soldier’s Courtship

Film discovery of the year? The one that grabbed all the headlines – though many of them were misleading ones – was The White Shadow (1923), three reels of which turned up in New Zealand. Normally an incomplete British silent directed by Graham Cutts wouldn’t set too many pulses running, but it was assistant director Alfred Hitchcock who attracted all the attention. Too many journalists and bloggers put the story ahead of the history, though one does understand why. But for us the year’s top discovery was Robert Paul’s The Soldier’s Courtship (1896), the first British fiction film made for projection, which was uncovered in Rome and unveiled in Pordenone. It may be just a minute long, but it is a perky delight, with a great history behind its production and restoration.

Another discovery was not of a lost film but rather a buried one. Philippine archivists found that an obscure mid-1930s American B-feature, Brides of Sulu, was in all probability made out of one, if not two, otherwise lost Philippines silents, Princess Tarhata and The Moro Pirate. No Philippine silent fiction film was known have survived before now, which makes this a particularly happy discovery, shown at Manila’s International Silent film Festival in August. The Bioscope post and its comments unravel the mystery.

Among the year’s film restorations, those that caught the eye were those that were most keenly promoted using online media. They included The First Born (UK 1928), Ernst Lubistch’s Das Weib des Pharao (Germany 1922) and the Pola Negri star vehicle Mania (Germany 1918).

Some interesting news items throughout the year included the discovery of unique (?) film of the Ballet Russes in the British Pathé archive in February; in April Google added a ‘1911’ button to YouTube to let users ‘age’ their videos by 100 years (a joke that backfired somewhat) then in the same month gave us a faux Chaplin film as its logo for the day; in May the much-hyped film discovery Zepped (a 1916 animation with some Chaplin outtakes) was put up for auction in hope of a six-figure sum, which to few people’s surprise it signally failed to achieve; and in July there was the discovery of a large collection of generic silent film scores in Birmingham Library.

Barbara Kent

And we said goodbye to some people. The main person we lost from the silent era itself was Barbara Kent, star of Flesh and the Devil and Lonesome, who made it to 103. Others whose parting we noted were the scholar Miriam Hansen; social critic and author of the novel Flicker Theodore Roszak; the founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael Hart; and the essayist and cinéaste Gilbert Adair.

Finally, there were those ruminative or informational Bioscope posts which we found it interesting to compile over the year. They include a survey of cricket and silent film; thoughts on colour and early cinema; a survey of digitised newspaper collections, an investigation into the little-known history of the cinema-novel, the simple but so inventive Phonotrope animations of Jim Le Fevre and others, thoughts on the not-so-new notion of 48 frames per second, the amateur productions of Dorothea Mitchell, the first aviation films, on silent films shown silently, and on videos of the brain activity of those who have been watching films.

As always, we continue to range widely in our themes and interests, seeing silent cinema not just for its own sake but as a means to look out upon the world in general. “A view of life or survey of life” is how the dictionary defines the word ‘bioscope’ in its original use. We aim to continue doing so in 2012.

The Delhi Durbar

The 1911 Delhi Durbar, showing the royal pavilion. From Wikimedia Commons

To the north of Delhi lies a deserted and desolate patch of open ground, surrounded by slums and a dual carriageway. Trees and scrub are broken up here and there by empty pedestals. Some statues stand there, though most have lost the inscriptions that told passers-by who the once great figures they represented were. One statue is still cared for, that of King George V, standing forlornly over a space where he once witnessed the pinnacle of his greatness, if greatness was what it was.

The space is Coronation Park, location in 1877, 1902/3 and 1911 of the three Durbars held to mark the establishiment of the Empress or Emperor of India. Though there are moves to restore the park, its desolate state now seems a rather appropriate comment on the vaingloriousness of the British Raj, and on human ambition generally. But while the Durbars are now chiefly of interest to imperial historians, romantics and collectors, the 1911 Durbar in particular is of importance to film history. It was one of the most important newsfilm subjects of its time, serving as a testing ground for the newsreels which had only recently be established. One film in particular of the Durbar, whose main ceremony took place 12 December 1911, one hundred years ago, became the most celebrated and influential film of its age. So let us spend a little time recounting the history.

A durbar was a Mughal word (taken from the Persian) meaning a reception, a court, or body of officials at such a court. The term was appropriated by the British Raj and used to describe the formal ceremonies held in 1877 to acknowledge the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India. Delhi was selected as the location, being the old Mughal capital, and the Viceroy Lord Lytton devised a celebration that set the pattern for the Durbars that followed. A temporary city of tents was constructed, and an ampitheatre wherein the main ceremonies were staged. In a richly colourful display, British rule in India, and the privileged but inferior position of the Indian princes (on whose presence particular emphasis was placed) within the ruling hierarchy was illustrated through procession, pageantry and obeisance. Queen Victoria did not attend.

When the second Delhi Durbar was held in 1902-3 (at the same location), to recognise Edward VII as the new Emperor of India, once again the King-Emperor did not go to India and was represented by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. The ceremonies attracted several film companies, and some pioneering Indian filmmakers. The significant difference when it came to the Delhi Durbar of 1911 was that this time the King-Emperor himself attended. It was King George V’s own idea to go to India. George believed profoundly in the solemnity and responsibility of his position, and he wished to see his annointment as Emperor of India properly sanctified, as well as expressing a wish to do what he could to calm seditious tendencies (which had been insufficiently placated by the India Act of 1909 which established the Indian councils) by his presence.

His idea was not greatly welcomed by the British parliament, which feared the great expense that would fall upon the government of India. The eventual cost would be £560,000, plus a further £207,000 covering the management and manoeuvres for 80,000 troops (multiply those figures by 100 to get a rough idea of what those cost would be today). The King had suggested that he should be crowned Emperor on Indian soil, an idea vetoed by the Archbishop of Canterbury (noting that a ceremony of Christian consecration would be offensive to Muslim and Hindu sensibilities), and instead a new crown was made, the existing crowns not being allowed to leave British soil, at a cost to the people of India of £60,000. Preparations took over a year, and were organised by Sir John Hewett, the Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces.

The ceremonies were to take place in the same location outside Delhi as in 1877 and 1902/3, and a giant ‘city’ of 40,000 tents was erected, which was eventually to house some 300,000 inhabitants. On 11 November 1911 King George V and Queen Mary left on the P&O ship Medina for the three-week voyage to Bombay, arriving on 2 December.

Charles Urban (centre) with his camera team at Delhi

Awaiting them in Bombay were the film cameramen. Five British film companies had successfully applied to the organising committee for permission to film the ceremonies: Barker Motion Photography, Gaumont, Pathé, Warwick Trading Company and the Charles Urban Trading Company. Each sent at least two operators; Charles Urban had a team of seven or eight, of whom probably four were cameramen (Joseph De Frenes, Hiram Horton, Alfred Gosden, Albuin Mariner). Urban’s intentions were to make two films – one newsfilm in black-and-white, but the other on a far greater scale was to be in colour. There were various announcements by Indian film companies that they would be filming the Durbar, though only the Bengali film pioneer Hiralal Sen definitely did so (his films, sadly are lost).

The day of the Coronation Durbar itself was 12 December. Up to 100,000 people filled the ampitheatre during the morning before the formal ceremonies began. At the head of the procession came veterans of past wars, including over a hundred survivors of the 1857 Mutiny, both Indian and British. Next came the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge (temporarily divested of his official power during the King-Emperor’s visit) and Lady Hardinge in an open carriage. An escort and the sound of fanfares preceded the entry of the royal carriage, with its canopy of crimson and gold, the King-Emperor and Queen-Empress dressed in their purple imperial robes, each wearing crowns. They processed down the central road, then round in a semi-circle past the central Royal Pavilion, to the Shamiana (a pavilion at the far end of the arena in front of the guests’ enclosure), where the Viceroy led them to their thrones. Here the Indian princes were to do homage to their Emperor, and after the King had given a short address, the maharajahs and princes of India came one by one (in strict order of precedence) to express their loyalty to the crown. One of the maharajahs, the Gaekwar of Baroda, caused a diplomatic incident when he declined to bow properly and then walk backwards after paying homage, instead turning his back on the King and Queen. Accident or deliberate act of defiance? Whichever, frame stills from the film record would later be used by the newspapers as evidence of the slight, for those who might not otherwise believe that such an act could even have been contemplated.

The prince identified on the Gaumont newsfilm of the Delhi Durbaras being the Gaekwar of Baroda, turning his back to King George and Queen Mary. Whether it is the Gaekwar is uncertain (see discussion below)

The Emperor and Empress rose from their thrones and walked to the central Royal Pavilion. Fanfares sounded. The official proclamation of the King’s coronation in June was made, in English and Urdu, and there were various announcements concerning beneficial funds and concessions made to the people of India. The royal couple returned to the Shamiana, while a salute was fired and cheers were taken up by the thirty thousand troops, then the sixty or more thousand guests, then those many thousands more outside the arena. At the Shamiana, the Emperor gave two last announcements concerning political changes, which had been kept in the greatest secrecy for months. These were that the capital of India was to move to Delhi, and that the partition of Bengal (an unpopular decision from the Curzon era) was to be cancelled. Both announcements, but particularly former, were received in almost stunned silence, before being greeted by general cheering. The Durbar was declared formally closed, the royal couple returned to their carriage, and departed.

The mood at the time, at least among the British, was one of complete awe as the majesty and colour of the spectacle, which seemed to be the very apex of the imperial dream. Journalist Philips Gibbs summed up its (British) impact:

Sound and colour combined to form a panorama of beauty and grandeur such as one might suppose could have its being only in a dream. Uniforms, robes, turbans of every shade and tone produced an effect which, though infinitely varied in its contrasts, was blended into one flawless harmony by the orderliness of the entire scheme. There seemed a mystic bond that welded the tremendous music of the bands, the clear notes of the bugles, and the tramp-tramp-tramp of marching hosts, into one vast paean of triumphant praise to the King-Emperor, and that found its more material counterpart in the riot of colour displayed so lavishly on every side.

The film companies hurried back to Britain. Only Urban’s camera team filming in the Kinemacolor process stayed behind (his black-and-white films were returned to Britain, however). He was seeing things beyond the news, and felt that so precious were the films that his team has captured that there was danger of their being stolen or damaged by his rivals. He later recalled:

We had the choicest of all possible positions; the officials afforded us the best of protection. They had heard rumors that rival film companies were bent on damaging or destroying our pictures and inasmuch as the King expected to see these pictures in London, it was up to the Army to see that we got them safely there. Each night we used to develop the negatives exposed during the day, and bury them in cases dug in the sand in my tent with a piece of linoleum and a rug on top – my bed on top of them, a pistol under my pillow and armed guards patrolling our camp.

The other film companies had also brought with them film processing equipment, so that they could show their films locally as well as dispatch prints back to Britain. Prints were sped back to Britain by ship and train. According to Stephen Bottomore, pre-eminent historian of the films of the 1902/3 and 1911 Durbars, all of the companies got their films onto screens in London on the same day, Saturday, 30 December 1911, including Kineto (Urban’s company filming in black-and-white), most if not all showing their results in the first show of the morning at 11:00. The films were news records, between five and fifteen minutes in length.

King George and Queen Mary viewing Barker Motion Photography’s black-and-white films of the Durbar at Calcutta House, 6 January 1912, from the Illustrated London News. Lord Hardinge noted in his diary: “In the evening we had a dinner of 50 and a cinematograph afterwards giving scenes from the Durbar and the Calcutta visit. They were not good but the King and Queen seemed to enjoy seeing them”

The films were a great, if brief, commercial success. Viewed as news, they were the toast of the town in January, and a dead duck by February, as Bottomore notes. News has to be fast, then it has to die, and a strategy of speed in order to capture the passing interest of the crowd was the only one the newsreel companies understood. Prints were sent out around the world, though perhaps not surprisingly few territories view the ceremonies with quite the same enthusiasm as did the British. But wherever you were, and whatever your sympathies, by February the Delhi Durbar was history. Its pomp was past.

On 2 February 1912 at the Scala Theatre in London Charles Urban revealed his strategy. He did not see the Delhi Durbar as news; he saw it as living theatre. His plan was to recreate the experience and the emotion of the Delhi Durbar as far as might be possible on a London stage. It was not that people were tired of the Durbar; they had not seen it as it had been seen, and as it could now be presented. Urban organised his Kinemacolor footage into a two and a half hour programme (16,000 feet), a previously unheard of length for a film show, and with introductions and intervals it in fact stretched to three hours in full. It had the overall title With Our King and Queen Through India. Its centrepiece was entitled the Coronation Durbar at Delhi, but the programme as a whole covered the whole tour. The Scala stage was turned into a mock-up of the Taj Mahal, with special lighting effects. Music was composed and scored for forty-eight pieces, a chorus of twenty-four, a twenty-piece fife and drum corps, and three bagpipes. Music that had been played at the actual event was used whereever possible, including fanfares. This was virtual reality – pictures, sound, colour, pomp and circumstance, and all for a better and cheaper seat than if you had been one of those who had sailed off to India. The show at the Scala was going to be better than the real thing.

The Taj Mahal backdrop used for the screenings of With Our King and Queen through India at the Scala Theatre, from the National Media Museum collection

Things turned out as Urban had dreamed. With Our King and Queen in India became a huge hit, commercially and socially. It became the show that every discriminating person in London had to go and see, then repeated that success acros the UK, and then worldwide (it did particularly well in America). Society came to the Scala to see a medium that it would never have deigned to cast an eye on before. Duke and duchesses, lords and ladies, royalty themselves (King George and Queen Mary visited the Scala to see the film on 11 May 1912), all came to see the Durbar recreated on the screen. Children were taken to a show whose worthiness greatly commended it to parents who had previously been suspicious of moving pictures. Among such visitors were the young John Grierson (aged 11), Ivor Montagu (7) and Paul Rotha (4), future lions of the British documentary movement.

With our King and Queen in India was not a conventional film. Quite aside from its length, and the fact that it was in colour, it was more of a theatrical event than a film per se. Its different components recording incidents from the whole royal tour could be selected or ordered according to the length of available programme, so that no one screening might be the same as the next. The use of a lecturer throughout, the special music, stage and lighting effects, the whole sensory impact created something that was rather more than a mere picture show (to use a phrase said by one of Urban’s acquaintances at the time).

Four colour images from the 1912 Kinemacolor catalogue showing scenes from With Our King and Queen through India. It was not possible to reproduce Kinemacolor in print, so the images were conventionally coloured for print and do not accurately represent how the film actually looked. Clockwise from top left – the arrival of the royal couple in Bombay, state entry into Delhi, the royal review, and the Durbar ceremony itself

The film made a fortune. Urban calculated that through a combination of the Scala programme and five touring road shows in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the film grossed more than £150,000 (though this figure may be for all Kinemacolor exhibited in UK); over the two years that Kinemacolor had its residency at the Scala, gross receipts (from a theatre that seated just 920) were £64,000. That’s six and a half million pounds in today’s money, from one small theatre alone.

And what of the film now? Just as Coronation Park, venue for vaingloriousness has become a deserted wasteland, so the Kinemacolor film that so entranced a world that still believed in the pageantry of empire is lost, with only reviews, catalogue records and memoirs to give us a second-hand sense of what experiencing it must have been like. Well, not entirely lost. Just as a statue or two, a commermorative obelisk and a plaque stand in the park as reminders of once was, so something of the Kinemacolor film survives, having been discovered in the Russian state film archive in 2000. It doesn’t show the main ceremonies; the single reel shows a parade of British troops and an artillery display that took place two days later. It is marvellous that it survives, and was undoubtedly grand to experience at the time, but it is a sideshow. The greater part is lost.

Frame still showing the Kinemacolor effect from the surviving reel of With Our King and Queen through India. The colour synthesis has been recreated electronically, because true Kinemaclor can only be see by projecting the films (via a rotating red/green filter). From the Russian State Archives

But fate has been kinder when it comes to the black-and-white films that were made. Those of Barker, Gaumont, Pathé, Warwick survive and can be found online in various places. They show us the spectacle, the deep sense felt of the power of the visual to express power, and the absurdity of it all. The best to watch is probably that by Gaumont, which is available on the Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire site (despite some nitrate damage at the start). It includes a title that reads “How the Gaekwar of Baroda paid homage to King George”, but Stephen Bottomore has queried whether the prince shown is in fact the Gaekwar. Intriguingly the evidence of the films show that there was more than one Indian prince who turned his back on the royal couple (two turn their backs, both dressed in white, but one with a dark turban, the other white). Was this mass disdain, or was the whole incident manufactured by the press?

If you are interested to pursue the history of the 1911 Delhi Durbar and its films, there are several online sources available:

Parts of this post have been taken from my article “The modern Elixir of Life”: Kinemacolor, royalty and the Delhi Durbar, Film History, vol. 21 no. 2, 2009. I am also indebted to Stephen Bottomore’s essay ‘Have You Seen the Gaekwar Bob?’: filming the 1911 Delhi Durbar, Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, vol. 17 no. 3, August 1997. Both are available online, but only via academic subscription services.

Finally, there are plans to redevelop Coronation Park, with gardening, more trees, a cricket area, an interpretation centre, and a general tidying up, though they have missed their original deadline which was the Durbar centenary. The Wall Street Journal has the story.

Coronation Park today, from The Wall Street Journal blog

Poverty on screen 1880-1914

Comment les pauvres mangent à Paris / How the Poor Dine in Paris (Pathé 1910), from the Screening the Poor DVD

Recently we reviewed the the double-DVD release from Edition Filmmuseum, Screening the Poor 1888-1914, which innovatively brings together early films and magic lantern sets on the theme of poverty. Now the DVD release and the Screen1900 Project at the University of Trier which encouraged it have led to a conference taking place 1-3 December at the German Historical Institute in London. The title of the conference is ‘Screen Culture and the Social Question: Poverty on Screen 1880-1914’, and the convenors are Professor Dr. Andreas Gestrich (GHIL) and Dr Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (University of Trier). Here are the descriptive blurb and preliminary programme:

This conference will bring together different international research approaches looking at how the optical lantern (‘art of projection’) and cinematography were used in the context of the Social Question around 1900. The media history relevance of the Social Question to the establishment of these new visual media has hardly so far been examined. Nor have these media been critically investigated as social history sources. The conference aims to make a fundamental contribution towards establishing an innovative field of research in the area where social history and media history overlap.

The rapid success of ‘cinematography’ at the beginning of the twentieth century owed much to what was known as the ‘art of projection’. The screen became firmly established as a part of international cultural life in the second half of the nineteenth century by the ‘art of projection’. The enormous creative potential of these new visual media in public performances was used not only for commercial purposes, but also for events in areas such as education, religion, and social policy.

The interdisciplinary comparison will discuss the state of research on the motifs, production, dissemination, and reception of the projection media in the field of poor relief and social policy. Different methodological concepts will be introduced for researching the performative potential of existing scripts and artefacts (glass slides, films, projectors). In addition, projects editing sources will be presented, and new processes for digitally reproducing and documenting historical sources and artefacts will be discussed.

Preliminary Conference Programme

Thursday, 1 December 2011:


Welcome and Introduction
Andreas Gestrich (German Historical Institute London) and Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (University of Trier)

14:30 – 17:00
Panel 1: Screen Culture and the Public Sphere – Historic Context and Social Impact 1880 – 1914
Chair: Ian Christie (London)
Martin Loiperdinger (Trier): The Social Impact of Screen Culture 1880 – 1914.
Stephen Bottomore (Bangkok): The Lantern and Early Film for Social and Political Uses.

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break

16:00 – 17:00 Comment and Discussion Panel 1
Comment by Andreas Gestrich (London)

17:15 – 19:00
Road Show: Approaches to the Hidden History of Screen Culture
Frank Gray (Brighton): The Lucerna Network for the History of Projection.
Ine van Dooren (Brighton): Archiving and preserving lantern slides and related resources.
Richard Crangle (Exeter): Digitizing the History of Screen Culture: The Lucerna Database.

Friday, 2 December 2011:

09:30 – 12:30
Panel 2: Raising Public Awareness for the Living Conditions in Slums and Tenements
Chair: Clemens Zimmermann (Saarbrücken)
Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (Trier): Slum Life and Living Conditions of the Poor in Fictional and Documentary Lantern Slide Sets.
Joss Marsh (Bloomington) / David Francis (Bloomington): “Poetry of Poverty” – The Magic Lantern and the Ballads of George R. Sims.
Bonnie Yochelson (New York): Jacob Riis, His Photographs, and Poverty in New York, 1888-1914.

11:00 – 11:30 Coffee Break

11:30 – 12:30
Comment and Discussion Panel 2
Comment by tbc

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch Break

14:00 – 17:00
Panel 3 – Education and Entertainment for the Poor – the Use of Lantern Shows and Early Films by Charity Organisations
Chair: Ine van Dooren (Brighton)
Karen Eifler (Trier): Free Meals and Lantern Shows: Charitable Events in Great Britain and Germany.
Judith Thissen (Utrecht): Educating Moyshe: Jewish Socialists, Gentile Entertainments, and the Future of the Jewish Immigrant Masses in America.
Caroline Henkes (Trier): Early Christmas Films in the Tradition of the Magic Lantern.

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break

16:00 – 17:00 Comment and Discussion Panel 3
Comment by Frank Gray (Brighton)

19:00 tbc

Evening Programme at The Foundling Museum:
A festive and true-made Victorian Magic Lantern Show for the deserving poor of London”
by Mervyn Heard with Juliette Harcourt (recitation and song) and Stephen Horne (piano)

Saturday, 3 December 2011:

09:00 – 12:00
Panel 4 – Social Prevention with the Aid of the Screen and Exhibitions
Chair: Richard Crangle (Exeter)
Annemarie McAllister (Preston): The Promotion of Temperance by means of the Magic Lantern.
Marina Dahlquist (Göteborg): Health Entrepreneurs: American Screen Practices in the 1910s.
Michelle Lamuniere (Harvard University): From Jacob Riis’s Lantern Slide Presentations to Harvard University’s Social Museum.

10:30 – 11:00 Coffee Break

11:00 – 12:00 Comment and Discussion Panel 4
Comment by Scott Curtis (Evanston)
12:00 – 13:00
Closing Remarks and General Discussion
Chair: Andreas Gestrich
Closing Remarks by Ian Christie (London) and Clemens Zimmermann (Saarbrücken)

Spaces are limited (with all those speakers they can’t have much space left) and those interested to register should contact the organisers via this link.

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.

Poor people

Screening the Poor 1888-1914

Two posts are coming up on two important DVD releases from that excellent label Edition Filmmuseum. Post number one is on an innovative two-DVD set of magic lantern slides and early films, Screening the Poor 1888-1914.

Cinema was the ‘poor man’s theatre’ (to use a common phrase of the time); it also spoke to and documented the lives of the poor. In doing so it built on a tradition of social concern filtered through visual entertainment that had its roots in the magic lantern. In church halls, schools and missions throughout the late Victorian period, audiences were presented with sentimental but often heart-rending tales of the hardship suffered by those at the lowest rung on the ladder. The showmen, lecturers and propagandists who put on such lantern shows swiftly adopted the cinematograph as an additional weapon in their armoury, with early projectors often capable of presenting both film and slides. This multimedia nature of early ‘cinema’ shows is well-known, but is seldom reflected in modern-day exhibition of early film, still less in DVD releases. And that is what makes Screening the Poor so unusual – it brings together the lantern and the cinematograph on DVD in a conscious echo of the programmes of the late 1890s/early 1900s. The blurb for the DVD explains this further:

Around 1900, the issues of poverty and poor relief were the source of heated controversy. This DVD illustrates in seven chapters how examinations of the ‘Social Question’ were presented in magic lantern slide sets and early films. On the screens of auditoriums, Sunday schools, music-halls, cinemas and churches, visitors could witness orphans freezing to death in the snow, drunkards plunging their families into misery and helpless old people begging for a scrap of bread. Audiences experienced poignant moving pictures in performances with music, singing and recitations. The
photographic and film industries delivered glass slide sets and films in very large runs on a variety of themes relating to poverty.

This DVD recalls the forgotten art of projection and presents it anew on the modern electronic screen: drawing on original images and using authentic projection equipment, Ensemble illuminago shows enchanting Victorian slide shows and films in a live musical performance at the Munich Film Museum. Digital slideshows reconstruct the interaction between slide sets und text recitals, and early silent films are accompanied with music as they were a century ago: piano and violin underscore the moods that find visual expression in the films.

Nowadays it is rather unusual to find both films and slide sets presented on one DVD. Around 1900 it was common knowledge that the “moving pictures” in a film had evolved from photographic slide sets. Showmen, touring lecturers, music-hall entrepreneurs and cinema operators often used both projection media alternately in their live shows.

It is also unusual to compile DVDs thematically, according to social themes, rather than in a form that reflects pure film history (such as the output of a studio, director or actor). So this is a curated DVD, and the words below are from the DVD booklet, written by Martin Loiperdinger and Ludwig Vogl-Bienek. Whether an item is a film or a set of magic lantern slides is identified at the start of each description. Often the same subject from the same literary source (particularly the poems of George R. Sims, a once highly popular and influential documenter of the lives of London’s poor) cross from lantern to cinematograph. So, if you have tears, prepare to shed them now …

Comment les pauvres mangent à Paris


Charitable organisations and dedicated journalists decried the misery of the slums in industrial cities. ‘Slumming’ was the term used to describe tourist outings or philanthropic day-trips to witness the poverty. Those who eschewed direct confrontation could visit magic lantern shows or the cinema: the photographic and film industries provided a constant supply of new material covering diverse issues of the ‘Social Question’.

  • Magic Lantern: The Magic Wand (GB 1889). Producer: York & Son, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard. – During an excursion through the slums of London, an author hears the story of an 8-year-old girl who discovers a magical way to cope with her mother’s death.
  • Film: Comment les pauvres mangent à Paris / How the Poor Dine in Paris (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – The first film reportage about the ‘clochards’ of Paris: it is difficult to distinguish the extras acting in the film from the real homeless people.
  • Film: Le Violoniste della carità / The Two Violonists (IT 1910). Producer: Cines. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – Two elegant young ladies embark on a slumming adventure: they swap their clothes with two poor sisters and perform as street musicians in their place.
  • Film: La Tournée des Grands Ducs / Seeing the Real Thing (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé, Director: Yves Mirande, Cast: Armand Numès, Gaston Sylvestre, La Polaire. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano ) – This film parodies the slumming trips made by members of Paris high society. An acting troupe satisfies the demand for entertainment by playing ‘real Apaches’.

Children in Misery
The huge number of poor children was a central issue of the ‘Social Question’. They were not to blame for their wretched situation – and their need of help was obvious. Nonetheless, they were often suspected of being petty criminals. Slide shows and film screenings, however, usually presented impoverished children to their audiences as needy creatures deserving of help and affection.

  • Magic Lantern: Ora pro nobis (GB 1897). Producer: Bamforth, Text: A. Horspool, Music by M. Piccolomini. Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Piano: Judith Herrmann – Ignored by passing churchgoers, an orphan girl freezes to death at her mother’s grave – an appeal to the Christian duty to provide help and alms to the poor.
  • Film: Le Bagne des gosses / Children’s Reformatory (FR 1907). Producer: Pathé. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – An orphan boy flees from a correctional institution in which children aged between eight and twelve are mistreated in the manner of prisoners in a penal colony.
  • Film: Bébé veut imiter St. Martin / Baby Pantomimes St. Martin (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé, Director: Louis Feuillade, Cast: Clément Mary. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – Cinema’s very first child star gives a freezing girl half of his overcoat and learns that half a coat is of little help against the cold.
  • Magic Lantern: Billy’s Rose (GB 1888). Producer: York & Son, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – Death and salvation in the slums: a girl goes in search of a rose for her dying brother, but she freezes to death in the process and hands him the rose in heaven.

Child Labour
Impoverished children were made to work as street peddlers, shoe-shines, and messengers to help support their families. The labour unions, social reformers and charitable organisations were particularly critical of the perilous conditions faced by child labourers in factories.

  • Film: The Cry of the Children (US 1912). Producer: Thanhouser, Director: George O. Nichols, Cast: Marie Eline, Ethel Wright, James Cruze, Lila H. Chester, Text: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1843). Score by Andrew Crow (Wurlitzer organ) – A moving appeal against child exploitation featuring highly realistic staged film footage. The story of a young girl’s death in a textile factory became a manifesto of the American reform movement against child labour.
  • Magic Lantern: The Little Match Girl (US 1905). Producer: McAllister, Text: Hans C. Andersen (1845), Images: Joseph Boggs Beale (1905). Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Karin Bienek
  • Film: The Little Match Girl – Print title: Het Luciferverkoopstertje (GB 1914). Producer: Neptune Films, Director: Percy Nash. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – The young street vendor in H.C. Andersen’s fairytale The Little Match Girl (1845) is one of the most famous and enduring icons of poverty. The story of her death and salvation has inspired countless book illustrations, magic lantern shows and film productions to the present day.

Rigadin a l’âme sensible

Charity and Social Care
Controversies concerning the justification, necessity and limits of aid surrounded the public discussion on the ‘Social Question’ from the beginning: able-bodied poor people of working age were generally suspected of being themselves to blame for their poverty due to negligence, idleness, or alcoholism, or even of deviously abusing
the benevolence shown to them. Slide sets and early films on the issue of poor relief addressed such prejudices – and also made fun of over-enthusiastic benefactors.

  • Film: Le Chemineau / Print title: De Zwerver (FR 1905). Producer: Pathé, Director: Albert Capellani, according to Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862). Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – A tramp who has stolen the holy silverware is acquitted. The pastor places charity before the law and claims that he had given the tramp the plundered goods. The missing scene at the end of this film can be seen on a postcard in the ROM section of this DVD.
  • Film: Rigadin a l’âme sensible / Whiffles Has a Sensitive Soul (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé / S.C.A.G.L.,Director: Georges Monca, Cast: Charles Prince, Gabrielle Chalon, Andrée Marly. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano, viola & violin) – In this comedy, our sympathy is not directed at the poor, but rather at the aristocratic benefactor who cannot bear to see suffering: he hands out all of his money – and even gives away most of the clothes on his back.
  • Magic Lantern: In the Workhouse (GB 1890). Producer: Bamforth, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – During Christmas celebrations at the workhouse, an old man attacks the British poor relief system: his sick wife had died of starvation the previous Christmas because the care authorities had ruthlessly stuck by their regulations.
  • Film: Christmas Day in the Workhouse (GB 1914). Producer: G. B. Samuelson Productions, Director: George W. Pearson, Text: George R. Sims. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – In the film version of this ballad, the old man dies just as he finishes his lament.
  • Film: Ahlbeck. Der Kaiser bei den Berliner Arbeiterkindern in dem von ihm gestifteten Heim / Ahlbeck. Wilhelm II visits a Working-Class Children’s Home (DE 1914). Producer: Eiko-Woche. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – At the Baltic Sea spa town of Ahlbeck on the island of Usedom, Kaiser Wilhelm II becomes convinced that playing in the sand of the dunes is beneficial to the recuperation of children.

Enter not the Dram Shop

Drink and Temperance Movement
Alcoholism was often blamed as the cause of poverty. However, many social reformers emphasised that it was instead a consequence of poverty. In their war against the ‘demon alcohol’, the Temperance Movement relied on the persuasive power of projected images. Tales of drunken fathers who drove their families to ruin were part of the standard repertoire in early cinema and magic lantern shows.

  • Film: Manchester Band of Hope Procession (GB 1901). Producer: Mitchell and Kenyon. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – The Temperance Movement held street parades to rally support for their cause among the local populace.
  • Magic Lantern: Enter not the Dramshop (GB 1890). Unknown Producer. Text & Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek. – The pub threshold marks the crossroads between well-being and downfall: victims of alcohol are presented for purposes of pedagogical instruction. Medical diagrams illustrate the devastating effects of alcoholism on the human body.
  • Film: Les Victimes de l’alcoolisme / Victims of Drink (FR 1902). Producer: Pathé, Director: Ferdinand Zecca. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin) – Based on Émile Zola’s novel L’Assommoir, this film depicts the gradual decline of a labourer who starts out as a decent family man and ends up an inmate of a madhouse wracked by delirium tremens.
  • Film: Une Vie gaspillée (Print title) / A Life Wasted (DK 1910). Producer: Continental Films. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & violin). Original title not known. – A drunkard’s daughter likewise falls victim to alcoholism and freezes to death because her parents refuse to take her in.
  • Magic Lantern: Buy Your Own Cherries! (GB 1905). Producer: Bamforth, Text: John W. Kirton. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – The landlady of a pub refuses a carpenter the cherries that are standing on the bar. He thus renounces alcohol, instead spending his money on his family, and starts his own business.
  • Film: Buy Your Own Cherries! (GB 1904). Producer: Robert W. Paul. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano, viola & violin) – The film version foreshortens the ending: instead of continuing to drink, the carpenter buys gifts for his wife and children.
  • Magic Lantern: Dustman‘s Darling (GB 1894). Producer: Bamforth, Text: Matthew B. Moorhouse. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – At the door of a tavern, a widowed dustman tells the story of how his little daughter inspired him to give up drinking.
  • Film: A Drunkard’s Reformation (US 1909). Producer: American Biograph (US 1909), Director: David W. Griffith, Cast: Arthur V. Johnson, Linda Arvidson, Adele DeGarde, Robert E. Harron, Florence Lawrence, Mack Sennett. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – While visiting the theatre with his young daughter, a drunkard is cured of his alcoholism. By cross-cutting between the Temperance Movement play on the stage and the reactions of the father and his daughter in the auditorium, D.W. Griffith makes visible the psychological process of an internal catharsis.

Don’t go down the mine, Dad

Perils of Wage Labour
Poor people who were able to work received no support. The working classes were forced to take on poorly-paid and dangerous jobs in order to survive. Mining accidents spread fear and terror among mining communities. Sensational special effects on the screen, such as firedamp explosions, helped reinforce demands by the labour unions and charitable organisations for safer working conditions and improved support for surviving dependants.

  • Magic Lantern: A Bunch of Primroses (GB 1889). Hersteller / Producer: York & Son, Text: George R. Sims. Reconstructed by Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Speaker: Mervyn Heard – A bunch of primroses lies on the death bed of a young female worker and tells of how she blossomed in the country and met an early death doing factory work in an industrial city.
  • Film: Au Pays noir / Tragedy in a Coal Mine (FR 1905). Producer: Pathé, Director: Ferdinand Zecca. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano & viola) – Mining accidents used to be part of daily life for miners: Pathé, the leading film company of the time, condemned this scandalous situation by releasing this melodramatic social reportage which was shot partly on location at a mining site and partly on a recreated set in a film studio.
  • Film: Die Beerdigung der Opfer des Grubenunglücks auf der Zeche Radbod bei Hamm i. W., den 16. Nov. 1908 / Funeral of the Victims of the Radbod Mine Desaster near Hamm in Westfalia, Nov 16, 1908 (DE 1908). Producer: Welt-Kinematograph. Score by Günter A.Buchwald (piano) – The mourners pass by the camera, silently following the coffins of colleagues killed in the accident: they start to move – they are alive! They escaped with their lives once more …
  • Magic Lantern: Don’t Go Down in the Mine, Dad (GB 1910). Producer: Bamforth, Text: Robert Donnelly, Score by Will Geddes. Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Score by Judith Herrmann (piano) – Dramatic slides illustrate a popular miners’ song: the sick son senses an impending accident and thus saves his father’s life.

Magic Lantern shows and early films about the ‘Social Question’ rarely tell of a successful escape from poverty, and the elimination of poverty is not an issue. The flood of emigrants was addressed by slide sets used by charitable organisations to prepare the migrants for an uncertain future. However, other means of escape from poverty were at hand: salvation in the afterlife or in the world of fantasy.

  • Film: The Two Roses (USA 1910). Print title: Les Deux roses, Producer: Thanhouser, Cast: Marie Eline, Frank Hall Crane, Anna Rosemond. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – Tony Prolo is a track worker, and his son is run over by a car driven by the company boss: the boy recovers and the worker’s family is given a nice new home as a gift.
  • Film: Deux petits Jésus / The Foundling (FR 1910). Producer: Pathé / S.C.A.G.L., Director: Georges Denola, Cast: Jeanne Delvair, Jeanne Grumbach, Georges Paulais. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano) – Abandoned by the father of her child, a young mother is confronted with ignorance when she goes begging: in desperation she seeks refuge in an abbey church, lays her baby in the nativity crib – and dies.
  • Magic Lantern: The Emigrant Ship (GB 1890). Unknown Producer. Live Performance: illuminago – Karin Bienek, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Score by Judith Herrmann (piano) – This magic lantern show about the departure and sinking of an emigrant ship was extremely popular due to its motion and dissolve special effects. It is accompanied with emigrant songs, slides of the blessings of the New World and a dazzling light show – the Chromatrope …
  • Film: Geheimnisvolle Streichholzdose / A Match Box Mystery (DE 1910). Deutsche Bioscop, Director: Guido Seeber. Score by Günter A. Buchwald (piano, viola & violin) – A man without legs sells matches: in a surprising animation, the matches group together to form a variety of forms, until ultimately a small windmill made of matches burns down.

This is an excellent compilation, which illuminates the visual media of the late 19th/early 20th centuries and illuminates what concerned society and how it chose to express that concern. Like the best of the magic lantern and cinematograph shows, it imparts a strong impression upon the mind, teaching us of the sorrows of an age not so far away. I hope the DVD finds its way to new audiences.

Pordenone diary 2010 – day two

Verdi theatre, Pordenone

There’s no time for slouching at Pordenone if you are serious about your film-watching. A few habitués of the Giornate del Cinema Muto seem to have come for the sun and conversation, taking up near permanent residence in the pavement cafés, but for the rest of us breakfast was swiftly followed by the first film of the day at 9.00am sharp and the final film of the day concluding around midnight. They do let you out for lunch and dinner, but in general it’s a tough regime we had to follow.

And so we move to day two, Sunday 3 October, and what was to become the daily routine of starting off with a long Japanese film, just to test our stamina. Our 9.00am offering was Nanatsu No Umi (Seven Seas) (Japan 1931-32), made in two parts and shown back-to-back over 150 minutes. The films were made by Hiroshi Shimizu, director of the previous day’s Japanese Girls at the Harbour, and there were clear similarities in preoccupations and style.

The film tells of Yumie (played by Hiroko Kawasaki) who is torn between two brothers. She is engaged to the first but seduced by the second, following which her father dies and her sister goes mad. She marries her seducer but takes her revenge by refusing to let him touch her and spending all his money on her sister’s care in a mental hospital. It was pure soap opera, with a somewhat discontinuous narrative (particularly in part 1) characterised by seemingly random elements (just who was it who committed suicide in part 1, and why?) and unclear connections between some of the characters. Then it all ended with a happy ending so rapidly organised that you suspected that a reel was missing. As with Saturday, Shimizu showed off plenty of directorial tricks but lacked the basic skill of connecting one shot with another to propel a narrative forward. But he also showed the same intriguing, codified cultural elements, dividing the action up into public lives that showed the influence of the West (clothing, occupations, the key location of a sports shop) and traditional Japanese dress and manners within the private sphere. You felt you had been given a privileged glimpse into early 1930s Japanese life in the kind of middle-brow film that doesn’t usually make it to retrospectives. Japan’s leading silent film pianist Mie Yanashita was an excellent accompanist for this and all the other Japanese films that featured in the festival.

Scenes from Rituaes e festas Borôro (1916), from http://www.scielo.br

Now these dramatic films are fine in themselves, and even the severest of film critics likes to see a story told well, but regulars will know that what really stirs the heart of the Bioscope is the non-fiction film. So I was looking forward greatly to what was next on the list – Brazilian documentaries – and was not disappointed. In particular the first film of three, Rituaes e festas Borôro (Rituals and Festivals of the Borôro) (Brazil 1916) was one of the highlights of the festival. The filmmaker was Luiz Thomas Reis, photographer and cinematographer with the Commission of Strategic Telegraph Lines from the Mato Grosso to the Amazon, more simply known as the Rondon Commission. The Commission was tasked with mapping the unknown regions of Brazil and making contact with remote tribes. Reis documented this work on film, in part with the hope that the exhibition of such films would raise further funding.

Rituaes e festas Borôro is an extraordinary work, simply by letting the extraordinary speak for itself. Its subject is the Borôro people of the Mato Grosso region, specifically the funeral ceremonies for an elder of the village. I am no expert in anthropology, but the film seemed to me notable for its observant, unpatronising, humane manner. The camera never intruded, only witnessed, and the Borôro were not looked upon as objects of curiosity but as people respected for their customary practices and milieu. This was somewhat charmingly exemplified by the dogs. Stray dogs in early films are something of a Bioscope fetish, and Reis’ film captured not just the dances of the Borôro but the dogs who casually wandered in and out of the frame, surveying the strange things that these humans do in whatever part of the globe that humans happen to gather. The only questionable note was the assurance made by the film’s titles that these rites were not permitted to be seen by whites or women – yet here was the camera filming them. Such are the paradoxes of the anthropological film, a subject to which the Giornate would find itself returning in subsequent days.

Two other Reis films made for the Rondon Commission followed, Parima, fronteiras do Brasil (Brazil 1927) and Viagem ao Roroima (Brazil 1927). Each just under 30mins in length, these were more conventionally ‘travelogue’ in style. The first documented an inspection of the Brazilian-French Guiana border, following the river, with some thrilling shots taken from the front of a travelling canoe (the Brazilian version of the phantom ride), but with plenty of signs of encroaching colonisation in the builings that littered the banks of the river. The second explored the borderland between Brazil, Venezuela and British Guiana and concluded with breathtaking views of 1,000-foot high rock faces. In both films there were sequences where they came upon tribes, so positioned in the film as to be the big pay-off shots, the exotic conclusions which would capture the interest and wallets of likely funders. Rituaes e festas Borôro was in every sense the better film.

Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück, with a band in the understage area playing the Internationale

So that was the morning session. A foul snack lunch and earnest conversations about budget cuts (again) and we were back at 14:30 for Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück (Mother Krause’s Journey to Happiness) (Germany 1929). This was being shown as pat of the Giornate’s ‘The Canon Revisited’ strand. There is an occasional air of pompousness about the festival, and this idea of re-assessing canonical films exemplifies it. It’s a good idea to revisit classics, especially for the new audiences the festival is attracting, but a number of these films were titles that many of us had not had any chance to see the first time round; indeed I suspect most of us had not even heard of them. Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück was a case in point; a film I’d vaguely heard of, but never seen, though I will admit it’s a classic of sorts and certainly merits being brought back to the screen once more.

Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück is as agit-prop a film as you could expect to see. Directed by Piel Jutzi, it combines melodrama with documentary realism in its depiction of the ground-down lives of the Berlin proletariat. It tells of the family and tenants of an apartment managed by the aged Mother Krause (Alexandra Schmidt), pitting the apathy and resignation of the individualised poor (generally the elderly) against the positive binding together of those who follow the Communist party (generally the young). Its highpoint is where the harassed daughter (Ilse Trautschold) joins her boyfriend in a protest march to the sounds of the Internationale – literally so in our case, because at this point a marching band of red-suited musicians entered the Verdi theatre and played the marching song to much applause. It was a wonderful thearical coup – typical of the imagination that goes into the Giornate.

However, despite such rousing gestures, the film’s message was an unsettling one. We were supposed to reject Mother Krause’s miserablist view of her fate, but only after the film had done all it could to make us feel sorry for her, so that the ending – where she gasses herself and a sleeping child, because life simply isn’t worth it for either of them – was distasteful and the conclusion ambiguous. It was a stylish and imaginatively experimental film, but what it expounded was more posture than principle.

Next up came a selection of Pathé short comedies with surprisingly sophisticated live musical accompaniment from pupils of the Scuola Media “Balliana-Nievo” from nearby Sacile, music that was a good deal richer in colour and instrumentation than other schools’ work with silent films that I have heard. They were followed by pupils of Pordenone’s Scuola Media Centro Storico, who took on the truly bizarre Charley Bowers, an American comedian whose gimmick was to combine comedy with stop-frame animation. In There it is (USA 1928) he plays a Scottish detective from Scotland Yard who tackles the case of a haunted house with the aid of his cockroach sidekick, MacGregor. It wasn’t strictly funny, but it left this viewer – whose first Bowers film it was – opened-mouthed at its unabashed weirdness. If Salvador Dali had been employed by Leo McCarey, he might have made There it is.

In need of a break, I missed the new documentary Palace of Silents (USA 2010) on the story of Los Angeles’ Silent Movie Theater, returning for the evening’s screenings. The Giornate was celebrating the 75th anniversary of two of the world’s leading film archives, MOMA and the BFI National Archive. To mark its 75th year, the BFI took the interesting decision to try and recreate part of a programme of the Film Society. The Film Society was formed in London in 1925 by a bunch of radicals led by the Hon. Ivor Montagu, which eventually included such notables as Anthony Asquith, Iris Barry, Sidney Bernstein, Roger Fry, Julian Huxley, Augustus John, Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. The Society (the first of its kind in the world) put on films of artistic, historic or political interest at the New Gallery Kinema in Regent Street, often showing films from the USSR which had been refused a licence by the British Board of Film Censorship (they could do so because the films were shown to members of a private club). The Film Society had a huge influence on British film culture, and after it ceased operating in 1939 its collection went to the BFI.

On 10 November 1929 the members of the Society witnessed perhaps the most remarkable film programming coup ever – the world premiere of John Grierson’s Drifters, the cornerstone of the British documentary movement, and the UK premiere of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, plus James Sibley Watson’s avant garde classic The Fall of the House of Usher (USA 1928) and Walt Disney’s Barn Dance (USA 1929). Now that’s programming.

Drifters (1929)

Audiences were made of sterner stuff in 1929, because we were only shown the first two. Drifters (UK 1929) is one of those classics more cited than seen and those who have seen it generally did years ago. Looking at it again after twenty years in my case, it is a work that easily merits its high reputation. It documents the work herring fishermen, and by its Soviet-inspired use of montage combined with a very British tatse for understated realism it immediately stands out from any other film of actuality produced in the UK (or anywhere else) to that date. One understands why its effect on audiences at the time was so electric, and why it did indeed inspire a whole school of documentary filmmaking.

However, it is also an odd film. It falls into three parts. The first, where the fishermen go out to sea, is in classic documentary style, showing man pitted against the elements, elevated (but not excessively ennobled) by toil. Part two, the night-time sequence, is strange. The fishermen sleep, but in the seas beneath we see the herring shoals swimming to and fro, menaced by dogfish. What has this to do with documentary? It tells us nothing of the people involved. Are we mean to gain insight into the lives of the fish? What is going on? It’s a sequence that dosn’t seem to get discussed much in studies of Drifters, yet here is the archetypal Griersonian documentary, and at its heart it slips into a strange, blue-tinted reverie, a fisherman’s dream. Part three is where the catch is taken to harbour, with often exhilaratingly scenes of commerce, industrialisation and human interaction. As Russell Merritt notes in the Giornate catalogue, “Grierson claimed the sequence was pointed social critique, exposing capital’s exploitation of the workers”. It is no such thing. It is unabashed championing of the power of the marketplace. Grierson the instinctive filmmaker was not the political filmmaker that he thought that he should be – he was too good for that.

Do you really need my thoughts on Bronenosets Potemkin (Battleship Potemkin) (USSR 1925)? As probably the most discussed film in history outside of Citizen Kane, I guess not. It was an odd way of celebrating the anniversary of the BFI National Archive, especially as the print came from the Deutsche Kinemathek, but it was enriching to compare and contrast with Drifters. It’s a film that disappointed me greatly when I first saw it (with the original Edmund Meisel score), probably because I was so expecting to be impressed and because of the absence of conventional narrative. As a story, it hasn’t got much going for it. As cinematic posturing, particularly as one of a planned series of films celebrating the 1905 revolution, it makes absolute sense. Every scene is overplayed, but it is always compelling to watch. There is not a dull composition in it.

And that was enough for a Sunday. I did see the first twenty minutes or so of Dmitri Buchowetski’s Karusellen (Sweden 1923), which looked fabulous. but I was sceptical of any story where a circus sharpshooter somehow is able to afford a vast country house and where the happily married wife instantly falls for a stranger because that’s what always happens with strangers. Enough of such artificiality – give me the kine-truth of documentary, and better still the unvarnished simplicity of actuality. For all of the canonical classics on show, the film of the day was a plain record of tribal dances from the Amazonian forest in 1916. So often the simplest is best.

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

100 years of newsreels in Britain

Frame still from Pathé Gazette’s The Movie Cameramen’s Derby, released 7 September 1922, which shows a race between British newsreel cameramen (with their cameras) – available to view at www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=19541

One hundred years ago, give or take a few days, a new kind of film appeared for the first time on British cinema screens. The Bioscope of those days took note of this interesting new development with this report:

There is no mistaking the smartness of Messrs Pathé, and their latest achievement — the production of a weekly cinematograph paper, The Animated Gazette — has just about beaten all records for the interest which it has awakened among the great B.P. [British Public]. The daily Press has been devoting considerable space to it, with the result that curiosity has been aroused, and people are now busily discussing the latest thing in moving pictures.

Briefly the idea is to incorporate the usual journalistic methods of writing into filming, and to portray, in lengths of about 80 odd feet, the chief items of interest that have happened during the week. Thus the illustrated newspaper is being superseded by The Animated Gazette, which depicts the actual scenes of contemporary history in living and moving reality.

Mr Valentia Steer, a well-known journalist, is editor of this moving picture periodical, and he has a staff of photo-correspondents, who are stationed in all the big cities of Europe, besides another staff at home. Last week’s news consisted of pictures of the cross-channel flight, Oxford University Eights’ trial, Peary at Edinburgh, Roosevelt at Cambridge, besides many interesting ‘glimpses’ from home and abroad.

This week’s contents bill announces motor-racing at Brooklands, the manouevres at Salisbury Plain, the departure of the Terra Nova, Chinese mission in Paris, quarrymen’s strike, Caruso in the street, Modes in Paris, and other ‘newsy’ films.

That the idea will catch on is undoubted, and it is perhaps not looking too far into the future to anticipate the time when the weekly Animated Gazette will become an indispensable ‘daily’.

The Bioscope, 9 June 1910

This piece announced the arrival of the British newsreel, in the form of Pathé’s Animated Gazette, edition no. 1 of which appeared at some point in the first week of June 1910. It wasn’t the first newsreel in the world – that honour generally goes to Pathé Fait-Divers (later Pathé Journal), launched in France in 1908. There has been film of news events ever since films had been invented, but they weren’t newsreels. Newsreels meant regularity of service, and that was dependent on a network of cinemas and an audience which could be guaranteed to come back to the cinema week after week. Before cinemas started to appear – the first ten years or so of film history – a film might be made of a news event, but it seldom could be presented as news, that is while the event was still current and with the report being understood as being part of a regular, always updated filmed news service. Cinemas supplied the loyal audience, and it is the audience that makes the news, because what is news to one person isn’t necessarily news to another – it all depends where you are, and where that news is coming from.

Pathé’s Animated Gazette main title card from 1915 (with British Pathé spoiler). Note the boast that it was reaching 20 million people (5 million is more likely for the UK) and the line about having been passed by the British Board of Film Censors – only in wartime were British newsreels subject to censorship

Pathé’s Animated Gazette was immediately recognised as an exciting innovation. It was a product of cinema, yet it had a clear relationship with newspapers. It gave a new social purpose to cinema-going. This new film form was called by a variety of names – animated newspapers, topicals etc.- but not as yet newsreels (that term didn’t begin to catch on until 1917 or so), and Pathé’s model was soon followed by Warwick Bioscope Chronicle (1910), Gaumont Graphic (1910), Topical Budget (1911), Eclair Journal and Williamson’s Animated News, all before the First World War. In the US there was Pathé’s Weekly (1911), Gaumont Animated Weekly (1912), Mutual Weekly (1912) and Universal’s Animated Weekly (1912); France added Gaumont Actualités and Eclair-Journal; Germany had Tag im Film (1911), Eiko-Woche (1913), Union-Woche (1913) and Messter-Woche (1914). Russia had Zerkalo voiny (Mirror of the World) (1914); Australia had Australasian Gazette.(Note by the way how the newsreels all emulated newspapers by taking on names like Gazette and Journal)

The form spread around the world, often as off-shoots of the French parent companies of Pathé and Gaumont. Filmed news became a product of the early film multinationals, and through means of international exchange, world news was screened in cinemas across the globe, though the time taken to transport film internationally lessened its value as news, and audiences expressed a strong preference for local news, on subjects that were news to them. ‘Foreign’ news often wasn’t news at all, in its timing or in how the audience viewed it.

The newsreels were released at regular intervals to match the pattern of cinema-going that people in their millions were starting to adopt. In Britain newsreels were very early on issued twice-weekly and stayed that way for five decades. In the US the distances were greater and so news tended to be issued weekly. Newsreels had become firmly established as part of practically cinema programme by the start of the First World War, and newsreels were to play a key part in informing audiences about how the war was progressing. Such was their importance that the British, French and American governments each took over or created a newsreel to act as a means to deliver officially sanctioned footage (i.e. propaganda) – respectively War Office Offical Topical Budget, Annales de la Guerre and Official War Review.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks visit Britain, from Pathé Gazette issue 679, released 24 June 1920. Available to view at www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=27815

In the 1920s newsreels built on these strong foundations and became an essential and popular element of the cinema programme. The average newsreel in the silent era ran for some 7-8 minutes and contained anywhere between four and eight stories, eached introdued by a title card with the story title and a short comment, and sometimes with further titles cut into the story as the newsreels increasingly sought to add commentary even before sound gave them their voice. The newsreels rapidly gained a repuation for light-hearted items, stunts and gimmicks, with a fascination for sport, royalty, pageantry, tradition and sensation. Oscar Levant notoriously summed up newsreels as being “a series of catastrophes ended by a fashion show”.

That’s unfair. Anyone who has looked at newsreels in any sort of depth will soon find that there was a lot more too them than fashion shows. The newsreels were acutely aware of what were the current topics of conversation (they were released after the daily newspapers, so the news agenda had been already set for them) and picked up on the personalities and issues of the day that audiences wanted to see covered with an astute eye. This propensity for the topical makes them an excellent barometer of contemporary social concerns, albeit usually sugared with that lightness of tone that the newsreels deemend necessary because they were, after all, in the entertainment business, and their audience had come to the cinema to be entertained.

The newsreels entertained, and that ultimately became the noose around their necks that condemned them. That however was in the future – our concern is with the silent era, and in the 1910s and 1920s the newsreels reigned supreme, and we cannot understand what silent cinema means if we do not take them into consideration. Indeed no other area of silent cinema is so well represented online as newsreels (such is their continuing commercial value).

Fortunately there is amply opportunity to consider them. The newsreels may have faded away in the 1950s and 60s, but their libraries live on, selling footage to television programmes. In the UK there are five major newsreel libraries and a great deal of what they hold has been made available online, either available to all or free at point of use for educational users. They are:

  • British Pathé
    Pathé operated a newsreel in Britain between 1910-1970. Its entire archive (3,500 hours) is freely available online, albeit with low resolution copies
  • ITN Source
    ITN holds the British Gaumont (1910-1959), Paramount (1929-1957) and Universal (1930-1956) newsreel libraries. A substantial amount of this is available on its site, included among other footage managed by ITN – go to the advanced search option and select ‘New Classics’ to narrow searches down to newsreels. The entire Gaumont collection is available in download form for UK higher and further education users only via Newsfilm Online
  • British Movietone
    The entire British Movietone News collection 1929-1979 is available for free, alongside non-Movietone silent material going back to the 1890s
  • BFI National Archive
    The BFI owns the Topical Budget (1911-1931) newsreel, examples of which are available on its Screenonline site (accessible to UK educational and library users only) and on its YouTube channel
  • Imperial War Museum
    The IWM holds service newsreels from the First and Second World Wars, a number of which are available through Film and Sound Online (UK higher and further educational users only)

These services has been covered by the Bioscope before now (see links below). As it is Pathé’s centenary, let’s finish with a few words about them. First of all, happy centenary! the Bioscope sends its congratulations on having achieved such a major milestone and still a significant commercial moving image presence. Pathé has changed hands several times down the years. Until a couple of years ago it was owned by the Daily Mail newspaper; now it is managed by venture capitalists.


For anyone who cares about newsreels, the British Pathé site is a mixed blessing. It is a wonderful window onto the past, the digitisation of the films having been originally funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund but kept on as a free service long beyond the original agreement with the HLF. But on the other side it has of late become a little soulless, disfigured by front page advertising, and dominated by an idea of news as gimmick and sensation, a lucky dip into the quaint ways in which our ancestors behaved rather than showing what the newsreel fundamentally was – a vehicle for the news.

One cannot get a sense of the Pathé newreels as newsreels i.e. as a set of stories released on a single reel, and for that it is necessary to cross-refer to the BUFVC’s News on Screen site (formerly the British Universities Newsreel Database) where you will find an almost complete record of issues for all British newsreels 1910-1979, together with background histories, biographies of those who worked in the newsreels, digitised documents, and links across to the British Pathé site. It is place to go if you appreciate newsreels for what they mean to the study of society and history. Newsreels matter – and the more we understand them the more we will get from viewing them.

Finding out more
These Bioscope posts have covered British newsreel collections and the use of online resources: British Pathe part one, British Pathe part two, Revisiting Pathe, Movietone and Henderson and Welcome to Newsfilm Online

Pathé editor P.D. Hugon wrote an informative booklet Hints to Newsfilm Cameraman (1915) with much information on how newsreels operated at that time. The online text has an important introduction by Nicholas Hiley.

British Pathé has a lively Twitter feed, drawing attention to exciting novelties they discover in their collection.

I’ve written lots about newsreels in the past. My history of the Topical Budget newsreel (1992) is long out of print (but you can get it dirt cheap second-hand), but there’s Yesterday News: The British Cinema Newsreel Reader (2002) which tells the history of British newsreels through texts contemporary and modern, and most recently I’ve an essay on newsreels in Richard Howells and Robert W. Matson’s Using Visual Evidence (2009).

Fit to win

It’s time to go back to the Bioscope Library, and to look at the latest addition, Karl S. Lashley and John B. Watson’s A psychological study of motion pictures in relation to venereal disease campaigns (1922). The study on which the book was based was initiated in 1919, and is said to have been the first large scale research project on the educational effectiveness of educational films, something which greatly exercised minds at the time. Films were self-evidently popular with the masses, and noticeably so with young minds, but could that popularity be converted into lessons for life? Did one actually learn anything from motion pictures? Plenty were saying that you did, but they were chiefly those with a vested interest i.e. film producers themselves. What was needed was controlled studies and verifiable evidence.

In 1919 the United States Interpartmental Social Hygiene Board awarded a grant of $6,000 to the Psychological Laboratory of John Hopkins University for the purpose of “investigating the informational and educative effect upon the public of certain motion-picture films used in various campaigns for the control, repression, and elimination of venereal diseases.” Psychologists Lashley and Watson headed the research and produced the report.

The problem of venereal disease exercised minds hugely at the time. Specifically VD had debilitated so many troops meant for fighting during the First World War that campaigns with official backing arose in Britain and America. In the latter, the campaign operated under the slogan ‘Fit to Fight’, which became the title of a 1917 film, directed by Lieutenant Edward H. Griffith and promoted by the US Public Health Service, which followed the fortunes of five men suitable for military service, four of whom succumb to “bootleggers and prostitutes”. In 1919 the film was revised and extended, and released under the title Fit to Win. The John Hopkins University study provides this synopsis:

The first 1,000 feet of the picture are devoted to the showing of lesions resulting from venereal disease, by photographs of cases and explanatory legends. A story is then introduced. It deals with five young men of diverse education and traditions. They are shown first as civilians, then as drafted and in training. On leave, they are approached by bootleggers and prostitutes. One, Billy Hale, influenced by the memory of his sweetheart, resists temptation. The others are exposed to venereal disease. Of the latter, Kid McCarthy resorts to medical prophylaxis promptly and escapes infection. The others are infected.

Kid McCarthy accuses Billy Hale of being a “mollycoddle,” and a fight ensues in which Kid is defeated. He admits himself beaten and at Billy’s instigation reforms. These two are then held up as examples of physical fitness and are selected for service abroad. The other three, infected, are disqualified for foreign service. One, infected with gonorrhea, is discharged and the others, infected with syphilis, are sent to the hospital for treatment.

The remaining reels were constructed after the signing of the armistice and added as an epilogue to the original picture. Billy is shown returning from France as a captain. Kid McCarthy has been killed, after citation for bravery in action. The youth afflicted with gonorrheal arthritis is shown at home, his father heartbroken over his infection, his mother ignorant of its cause. Billy carries Kid McCarthy’s medal for bravery to McCarthy’s sweetheart. He then meets and sympathizes with the men afflicted with syphilis, telling them that they are now probably completely cured. He then bids farewell to his company, advising them to be wary of prostitutes and to keep morally clean in civilian life. After purchasing a civilian outfit, he visits his sweetheart, and in the final scene they are shown at the altar.

Fit to Win was shown to segregated audiences, and not to children. It aroused considerable controversy, owing to its frankness over the causes of venereal disease, and was banned from exhibition in New York City.

For the purposes of the study, a shortened version of the film was shown – effectively the original Fit to Fight, since the post-Armistice scenes were left out – to 5,000 people, divided up into different groups. There was a Medical Group (around forty physicians and nurses), an Executive and Clerical Group, a Literary Club Group, a mixed audience (250 people from a village in Pennsylvania), a Car Men Group (railway employees in NYC), a Merchant Sailor Group, and a Soldier Group.

The study describes the film, the methodology and the statistical analysis in great detail. They were interested to discover what the levels of understanding were among the different types of audience, then how much and what kind of information might be imparted to each by a film, and what the effect of a single film over a programme of films or other kinds of information might be. Lashley and Watson had no interest in promoting the film for its own sake, and their conclusions are refreshingly frank. The medical group, they reported, “was frankly bored throughout the picture”, finding it exaggerated and falsely dramatic. The mixed audience displayed mixed responses, from ribald laughter to expressions of embarassment, reactions which in turn worried the investigators. The car men “reacted rather strongly to the suggestive parts of the picture”. The seamen showed an unexpected intelligent interest in the film. The soliders were under orders to stay silent, and did so apart from laughter at the bawdy house scene.

Unltimately, the study’s findings were inconclusive. On the film’s informational effect, it was discovered that audiences gained general impressions rather than accurate knowledge, and that while many came away with some basic facts acquired, others still displayed confusion over causes and details. On the film’s emotional effect, it was found to engender horror in most of those who saw it, but precision of influence was difficult to identify, and for many “the appeal of sympathy for the innocently infected is greater than of fear of disease”. However, in answer to the worries of censorious authorities who sought to prevent the film’s exhibition, they noted:

The picture does not produce any sexual excitement in the majority of the men. The replies to questionnaires, comments of the audience, and data gained from interviews with men after the performance all indicate that there is, instead, a temporary inhibition of sex impulses.

Fit to Fight and Fit to Win are lost films; not even a still appears to survive. The study provides such meticulous detail, however (down to the number of seconds in which audiences were exposed to various examples of syphilitic infection) that one has a very clear idea of the film’s contents, strengths and limitations. In the end it finds, a little surprisingly, that such a film’s appeal to the emotions that little value in changing hearts and minds, but that it could impart some basic information which could then be built upon by other educational means. So they judge the film before them, but do not call for better films, which might have provided the way forward that they were seeking.

A psychological study of motion pictures in relation to venereal disease campaigns is available from the Internet Archive in PDF (2.46MB), full text (209KB) and DjVu (1.49MB) formats.