Memory of the world

Roald Amundsen and his Norwegian team reach the South Pole. From

In the report on the British Silent Film Festival I covered the Amundsen polar films. What I didn’t mention is that the films have been included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme. It seems worthwhile just taking a look at Memory of the World and identifying those silent films which are registered on it.

UNESCO’s Memory of the World is an ongoing programme of identification and commemoration of key artefacts held in archives that are important to the world’s documentary heritage. The objective of the programme is described thus:

The vision of the Memory of the World Programme is that the world’s documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and, with due recognition of cultural mores and practicalities, should be permanently accessible to all without hindrance.

It has these three main mission statements:

  • To facilitate preservation, by the most appropriate techniques, of the world’s documentary heritage.
  • To assist universal access to documentary heritage.
  • To increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of documentary heritage.

In practice the Memory of the World means a register of the world’s archival gems. Archives, museums and libraries vie with one another for the honour of having their prized items listed on on the register (though nominations are by country, not by institution). There’s no monetary gain involved: merely glory, plus all the strength and worldwide recognition that comes from UNESCO’s backing. Consequently it is quite an achievement for the silent films and film collections that have made it to the register, although together they present a rather uneven picture of what is most precious about the world’s early film heritage.

These are the silent films (with their nomination details) currently on the register, alongside such world treasures as the Bayeux tapestry, the diaries of Anne Frank, Magna Carta and Criminal Court Case No. 253/1963 (State Versus N Mandela and Others).

METROPOLIS – Sicherungsstück Nr. 1: Negative of the restored and reconstructed version 2001

Documentary heritage submitted by Germany and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2001.

Fritz Lang’s motion picture METROPOLIS (1927) is without doubt famous testimony of German silent film art, a testimony that made history. The combination of motion picture and architecture: this is above all and still METROPOLIS, the film which was shot by Fritz Lang in the Babelsberg Film Studios in 1925/1926, which, due to its immense expenditure, caused the UFA, the largest German film group, to run into financial difficulties, which then had a glittering première in Berlin in January 1927, and an unparalleled success all over the world ever since – and which became the symbol of a (film-) architectural model of the future.

Substantially shortened and changed almost immediately after the première in Berlin, only one (though fragmentary) of the initially three original negatives of METROPOLIS has been left in the possession of the German Federal Archives, as well as master copies of the lost original negatives in a few archives abroad.

As a result of intense investigations on the initiative of the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, a new reconstruction has been produced. It was first shown in February 2001, on the occasion of the Berlin Film Festival. Considering that the result this time is again not the original version of METROPOLIS, but “only” a synthetic version made of the fragments handed down, it comes, however, as close to the original piece of work as possible. With this reconstruction project a new digitized “original” negative has been produced to provide more independence and better copying quality in the future. This reconstructed version of METROPOLIS is proposed for nomination here.

Lumière Films

Documentary heritage submitted by France and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2005.

The collection nominated for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register comprises all the original films (negatives and positives) known as the Lumière films (i.e. having round perforations) and listed in the catalogue of 1,423 titles produced at the factory of the brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière. Since 18 films have been lost, the collection comprises the original films of the 1,405 Lumière titles that have been identified and restored.

Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition (1910-1912)

Documentary heritage submitted by Norway and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2005.

Roald Amundsen and his 4-man team reached the South Pole, with the help of polar dogs, on 14 December 1911. The expedition, and particularly the dog-sled journey to the Pole, is described as daring and with an exceptionally good logistic planning and execution.

The Antarctic and the Arctic Polar Regions, for several centuries, were regarded as the final frontiers for mankind to conquer, and the North and South Poles were for a long period of time the great goals to attain within geographic discovery.

The discoveries in the polar areas contributed, not least in Norway but also internationally, to greater consciousness of, and political interest in, questions concerning sovereignty and rights in these sea and land areas.

The original film material of Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition documents a great historic achievement, outside the borders of the civilized world and in an extreme climatic environment.

In his time, Roald Amundsen (1872 – 1928) contributed, through several expeditions and together with his teams, to new knowledge within several aspects of polar research. First and foremost, however, he is remembered as a master of the classic polar expedition’s planning and execution.

The film collection is unique, as it documents the important events of this first expedition to reach the South Pole. Though the material is incomplete, it is made up of original sequences, filmed between 1910 and 1912, consisting of negative film and first and second-generation print material.

The Battle of the Somme

Documentary heritage submitted by United Kingdom and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2005.

The 1916 film The Battle of the Somme is uniquely significant both as the compelling documentary record of one of the key battles of the First World War (and indeed one which has come to typify many aspects of this landmark in 20th Century history) and as the first feature-length documentary film record of combat produced anywhere in the world. In the latter role, the film played a major part in establishing the methodology of documentary and propaganda film, and initiated debate on a number of issues relating to the ethical treatment of “factual” film which continue to be relevant to this day. Seen by many millions of British civilians within the first month of distribution, The Battle of the Somme was recognized at the time as a phenomenon that allowed the civilian home-front audience to share the experiences of the front-line soldier, thus helping both to create and to reflect the concept of Total War. Seen later by mass audiences in allied and neutral countries, including Russia and the United States, it coloured the way in which the war and British participation in it were perceived around the world at the time and subsequently, and it is the source a number of iconic images of combat on the Western Front in the First World War which remain in almost daily use ninety years later …

Finally, it has importance as one of the foundation stones of the film collection of the Imperial War Museum, an institution that may claim to be among the oldest film archives in the world.

The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906)

Documentary heritage submitted by Australia and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2007.

Just as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) is testimony to German silent film art, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) symbolises both the birth of the Australian film industry and the emergence of an Australian identity. Even more significantly it heralds the emergence of the feature film format.

The Story of the Kelly Gang, directed by Charles Tait in 1906, is the first full-length narrative feature film produced anywhere in the world. Only fragments of the original production of more than one hour are known to exist and are preserved at the National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra. The original poster and publicity booklet provide confirmation of those fragments’ authenticity and together this material represents the unique and irreplacable beginning of feature film culture.

What is striking is just how much film is represented on the register so far. As well as the above, from the sound era there is Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados (1950), Norman McClaren’s animation film Neighbours (1952), The Wizard of Oz (1939), the Ingmar Bergman Archives, and the John Marshall Ju/’hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection – though one might query the documentary value of some of these choices. The prominence of film can be seen by looking an individual countries: there have been five items registered by the UK – the Hereford Mappa Mundi, Magna Carta, the Registry of Slaves of the British Caribbean 1817-1834 (submitted by the UK and Caribbean nations), the Appeal of 18 June 1940 (a radio broadcast, submitted by the UK and France), and The Battle of the Somme.

Not everyone would argue that The Battle of the Somme should be among the UK’s top five archival treasures (though I would), and its presence there is due in part to the strong arguments made in its favour by its host archive, the IWM – but nevertheless film is there on the register, again and again. It is not only heartening, but it adds significant strength to the arguments of archives that need to argue the case for the preservation of film as a medium equal to any other. Celluloid is the equal of vellum.

The individual records for the films listed above are worth checking out because there is a link to the nomination forms, which give much supporting information (in English and French) on the films’ preservation and current status. There are also some photographs.

But if you were picking five examples of silent film heritage to represent the world’s documentary heritage, would you have picked those five – or what would you argue should be included?

Finally, the restored Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition film is to be made available on DVD from the Norwegian Film Institute on May 6th – details here.

The show goes on

Among all the hurdles that the valiant British Silent Film Festival has had to face over the past thirteen years as it has fought to keep going, one that its organisers cannot have imagined would ever be a problem is volcanoes. Quite a few millennia have passed since Leicester was last troubled by volanic eruptions, but perhaps it was appropriate that The Lost World was screened at the festival to remind us of climactic conditions when dinosaurs last ruled the earth.

So yes, the cloud of volanic ash currently spreading itself over Europe and taking us all back to a pre-aeroplane age of clear skies, parochial occupations and holidays at home affected the British Silent Film Festival too. Phil Carli, who flew over from America to play piano ended up stranded in Dublin, and a group of Norwegians intending to present a specially prepared programme of polar films remained firmly in Norway, while the films themselves were uploaded then downloaded to the festival overnight in a process that took several hours. So somehow the show went on, and many congratulations to those who fought to ensure that it did. The theme of the festival was exploration, science and nature, and it took a spirit of adventure and some science to overcome what nature decided to throw at us.

British Silent Film Festival audience settling down to witness With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia

I was only there for the one day, and the event continues until tomorrow, so this isn’t a festival report. I will just note the two main presentations on the Friday, for the record (and if anyone wants to add their impressions of the rest of the festival to the comments, please do). First was the work-in-progress show devised and presented by Neil Brand and myself, a partial recreation of With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia. This was the title of a multimedia show presented by the American journalist Lowell Thomas over 1919-1920 (described in detail in an earlier post) which brought ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ to popular attention.

Thomas’ original show was a mixture of music, photographic slides (many of them coloured) and film clips. We used our edited version of an original script held by Marist College Archives in the USA, original images taken by Thomas’ photographer Harry Chase from the collections of Marist and the Imperial War Museum, and a few clips from Chase’s films – showing Arab forces, T.E. Lawrence himself with Emir Feisal and Lowell Thomas, an scenes of motorised transport in the Arab army camp – also from the IWM. Neil read out Thomas’ original words in an easy-going American accent intended to emulate Thomas’ own delivery, while I introduced and manned the laptop, as the whole show was delivered by that magic lantern de nos jours, PowerPoint.

Did it work? I hope so. It was a 40-minute extract from what was originally a two-hour show, and it was presented in a rough-and-ready low-res manner because it was done in a huge hurry and on a budget of nil – thanks to the kind co-operation of Marist and the IWM. There seem to be two lessons to be drawn here. One is the importance of Thomas’ show in building up the Lawrence legend. All the Lawrence biographies acknowledge the importance of With Allenby in Palestine and Larence in Arabia in creating popular enthusiasm for Lawrence and the Arab revolt. But the chance to experience this key work has never been there before, as its component parts lay scattered. A full-scale restoration of the show would seem to be a more than worthwhile exercise, though some sort of balance in the presentation needs to be struck between the show as it actually was and the need for contextualisation, since much of what Thomas told was factually dubious or least over-romanticised.

The second lesson of the show is to realise the importance of the multimedia show at that time. There were numerous other examples of shows which combined live presenter with film, still images and music, in a form that we might now describe as televisual. The Victorian tradition of the lecturer with his magic lantern carried on long into the silent era, with films simply being added to the mix. Adventurers, propagandists and entertainers could combine multimedia with their own personal charisma to create complex entertainments whose importance as popular entertainments is not always fully recognised. Film archives restore films, other archives collect photographs or documents, but ‘restoration’ seldom entails bringing all these elements together. At the festival we saw the films of Roald Amundsen (covered below), which were originally part of a lecture show that combined these with photographs and Amundsen himself as presenter. Herbert Ponting, Scott’s photographer, did likewise, and Ernest Shackleton was inspired by Lowell Thomas’ example to lecture himself to the films and photographs taken of his 1914-16 Antarctic expedition taken by Frank Hurley. Thomas and Harry Chase went on to produce ‘travelogues’ of India and Afghanistan. The Shackleton expedition film South (1919) was shown during the festival, but were Shackleton’s lecture script ever to turn up there would be a strong imperative for a new kind of restoration, once which combined film, images and someone able to project Shackleton’s commanding personality as presenter, proud of his achievements yet night after night forced to lecture to audiences before images of his expedition’s failure – all so he might recover the expedition’s costs.

An extract from A Dash to the North Pole (1909), a Charles Urban production showing footage taken 1903-04 by Anthony Fiala of the Ziegler North Pole expedition, re-released in 1909 to capitalise on the polar fever of 1909 when Robery Peary supposedly reached the North Pole and Shackleton came within 112 miles of the South Pole

All of which leads us to the other main event of the day, The Race to the Pole – a programme of Arctic and Antarctic film from the so-called heroic age of polar exploration, which was to have been presented by Jan-Anders Diesen from University of Lillehammer in Norway, but thanks to the Eyjafjallajoekull eruption (remember that name) was presented by Festival organiser Bryony Dixon instead. Happily Bryony knows quite a bit about polar film, having overseen the restoration of Herbert Ponting’s The Great White South (1924), due to be premiered at this year’s London Film Festival, and it was a relaxed, assured and informative presentation in trying circumstances.

The Bioscope has been contemplating a series of posts on polar exploration films for some while now, and I won’t go into detail about the films now, but we did see sequences from Anthony Fiala’s expedition to the Arctic of 1903-04 (illustrated above), the Wellman polar expedition of 1906 (sadly without seeing the balloon with which Wellman hoped – and failed – to make it to the North Pole), a sneak preview of the BFI’s restoration of the Scott/Ponting film with quite astonishing colour tinting and toning likely to cause a sensation when it gets unveiled in full in November, and film of Shackleton’s funeral on South Georgia from the expedition film Southwards on the Quest (1922), an expedition sadly curtailed by its leader’s death by heart attack on the journey out.

But the highlight was the sixteen minutes of film taken of Roald Amundsen’s successful Norwegian expedition to the South Pole – the man who won the race. Few know that Amundsen took a cinematograph with him. It was operated by Kristian Prestrud, and the films show Amundsen’s ship the Fram, life on board and at the Framheim base camp, whales and penguins, and some singularly evocative shots of dog teams leading their sledges and drivers away into the distance. As said, the films were presented to audiences (in Britain and Norway) in the form of a lecture show, intercut with photographs and Amundsen’s own commentary. It would have been the next best thing to being there – and considerably warmer.

The show goes on today and tomorrow, and hopefully next year and many years after that. Congratulations to all on keeping things going despite acts of God and man, finding a space not only for British silents but increasingly for other silents from around the world, and with a commendable emphasis on imaginative presentation and unearthing less obvious material. Long may it continue.

Lives in Film no. 2: T.E. Lawrence

I am currently working on a project with Neil Brand to recreate, at least in part, a multimedia show of considerable importance to the popular understanding of one theatre of the First World War, and one man in particular. With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia was the creation of the American journalist Lowell Thomas, who journeyed to Europe on a propaganda mission to uncover stories that would encourage American support for the war. Not satisfied with what he found on the Western front, Thomas moved to Palestine, where General Allenby’s war against the Turks promised a less sullied, more symbolic conflict. And it was there, in Jersualem in March 1918 that Thomas met the man who was to make his fortune, and whose own fame he was to play a major part in securing.

Thomas famously said of Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888-1935) that he had “a genius for backing into the limelight”. The shy archaeologist working for British intelligence who was instrumental in organising the Arab revolt was simultaneously repelled by and fascinated by fame. This post will not attempt to tell the story of T.E. Lawrence, which is amply documented elsewhere, but it will cover the handful of occasions on which the man who shied away from publicity, to the point where he took on an assumed name and a humble occupation after the war, nevertheless appeared before motion picture cameras. By my calculation he was filmed on five occasions, each for a brief moment only, yet each iconic in its own way. Unlike the many photographs of Lawrence that exist, which seem filled with mystery and contradiction, the films of him capture his ordinariness in extraordinary circumstances.

General Allenby’s Entry into Jerusalem
The first two films of Lawrence to be made were two shots from the same newsreel film taken on 11 December 1917. On 9 December Jerusalem fell to the Allied forces led by General Edmund Allenby, the great hero of the hour. There was obviously huge symbolic significance for Western audiences in seeing Jerusalem being freed from centuries of occupation by the Ottoman Empire. Two days after the city’s capture, Allenby organised a march on foot into the city (intended as a humble gesture to contrast with the Kaiser’s earlier choice to drive into the city). A proclamation was then read out promising respect for all religions.

Taking part in the ceremonies was T.E. Lawrence. He was dressed in British uniform, and appears twice in the official film of the events. The film was made by Harold Jeapes, cameramen for the War Office Official Topical Budget – which changed its names to Pictorial News (Official) when the newsreel was released on 23 February 1918. Jeapes was assisted by a second cameraman, probably the official photographer George Westmoreland. Lawrence was, of course, quite unknown to the outside world at this point, and marches past anonymously as part of the column following Allenby into the city. (Unfortunately I’m not able to illustrate this)

Allenby and Lawrence shown in the newsreel film General Allenby’s Entry into Jerusalem; frame still taken from a compilation film British WWI Film on the Mideast and other Naval Operations, from

But the second shot of him in the film is more mysterious. It shows Allenby in conversation with someone, but the figures standing around part, and the small figure of Lawrence emerges, glancing coyly at the camera, almost as if to say you don’t know who I am – but one day you will do. So far as I have been able to tell (and it’s a film I have studied over many years), Lawrence does not appear in that part of the film where the proclamation is read, though it is very likely that he is somewhere among the crowd listening to Allenby’s significant words being read out.

With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia
It was just over two months later, in March 1918, when Lowell Thomas turned up in Jerusalem and asked to see the young officer whose exploits were the subject of marvelled rumour. Thomas was accompanied by Harry Chase, a seasoned photographer also equipped with a motion picture camera, with whom he had been recording Allenby’s campaign, mostly in retrospect.

Lawrence recognised Thomas as the journalist in search of a good story that he was, but also as a reasonable man. He saw that Thomas’ mission could be used to help promote the little-known Arab revolt, but also that he would need to keep Thomas at arms’ length to protect his much-valued privacy. This is borne out in the photographic and cinematographic record. Lawrence permitted Chase to take a number of photographs of himself in Arab dress, both in Jerusalem and outside his tent in Aqaba. Thomas had persuaded Lawrence of the need to have several photographs, on account of the illustrated show that he had in mind. But Thomas only spent a couple of days close to Lawrence, and the film record bears this out.

Emir Faisal (bearded) in centre, with Lowell Thomas to his right and a hunched Lawrence (in Arab dress) to his left, translating Thomas’ words. Filmed by Harry Chase. From

Lawrence turns up just twice in the films that Chase took. In the first sequence, he is seen in Arab dress amongst a group of Bedouin warriors in an urban setting. Emir Faisal, the future King Faisal I of Iraq (the Alec Guinness character in David Lean’s film) is the central figure. Lawrence is barely visible to the side until Thomas himself walks and speaks to Faisal, at which point Lawrence comes forward to act as interpreter. In the second sequence, Lawrence and Faisal drives past the camera in an army truck, neither distinguishable unless one has prior knowledge. [Doubt has been cast on whether it is Lawrence and Faisal in this shot – see comments]

It is not much of a documentary record, but Lawrence could not have imagined how Thomas’ genius would turn his relatively slender material into a show that would be viewed by millions. Putting together all that he gathered from the various war fronts into a series of shows which he put on in New York in March 1919, Thomas found that his Arabia and Palestine material was easily the most popular. A British impresario, Percy Burton, saw the show, and brought Thomas and Chase (who served as projectionist) over to London, where With Allenby in Palestine opened at the Royal Opera House in the unpromising month of August.

Within days the show – which Thomas labelled a ‘travelogue’ – had become With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia and it was the talk of the town. Londoners were charmed by Thomas’ easy-going narrative style (he presented every screening, two a day of a two-hour show) and enthralled by the romance of Lawrence’s exploits. As Thomas told them, here was being “one of the most picturesque personalities of modern times, a man who will be blazoned on the romantic pages of history with Raleigh, Drake, Clive and Gordon”.

Lawrence (left) and Faisal in army truck, filmed by Harry Chase. From [See comments – this is not thought to show Lawrence]

It wasn’t exactly historical truth, but it was exactly what audiences wanted. An estimated one million people saw it during its London run (it also played at the Royal Albert Hall, the Philharmonic Hall and the Queen’s Hall) and four million world-wide. The show was a combination of prologue, musical interludes (organ music and the band of the Welsh guards), Thomas’ narration, photographic slides (many of them hand-coloured) and films. It established the romantic legend of Lawrence of Arabia, enshrined in Thomas’ book of that name published in 1924, in the short documentary film of the same title in 1927, and on to the David Lean film, which builds on the image of Lawrence created by Lowell Thomas (who is portrayed in the film as Jackson Bentley, played by Arthur Kennedy).

Versailles peace treaty
This is a speculative one. Lawrence attended the Versailles peace conference negotiations as part of Faisal’s delegation between January and May 1919. Some twenty years ago I was watching a television programme on the First World War when an archive film sequence was shown of the Versailles conference. A group of men walked past the camera in the palace grounds, and one of them – I swear – was T.E. Lawrence. I’ve searched high and low for this sequence ever since and never found it (and I can’t remember what the programme was) but I’m certain I saw him. Perhaps someone out there could confirm this or otherwise for me.

Lawrence at a picnic with publisher Frank N. Doubleday, at some point in the late-1920s/early-30s. From

The Doubleday ‘home movie’
Following Versailles and a short period serving as an advisor to the Colonial Office, Lawrence turned his back on his growing fame by enlisting in the RAF under the name of John Hume Ross. This attempt as disguised was soon rumbled, but he tired against, this time enlisting in the Tank Corps as Private T.E. Shaw, later rejoining the RAF under this name. But while he was hiding from those who pursued him because of his fame, he was also worked to increase that fame by publishing an account of his experiences as The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922). The US publisher of this was Frank N. Doubleday, and the next film of Lawrence is a film taken at some point in the late 1920s (or possibly early 1930s) at a picnic and for a photo shoot outside Doubleday’s home (the first sequence feels like a home movie, but the latter looks professional). A somewhat world-weary-looking Lawrence eyes the camera with something that comes half-way between caution and amusement.

Lawrence (shown arrowed) when Aircraftsman Shaw, disembarking from a ship off Plymouth, from Gaumont Graphic newsreel. From

Aircraftsman Shaw
Our final film of Lawrence is pure paparazzi. He was pursued by photographs and cameramen throughout the last years of his life, and finally in Feburary 1929 one newsreel cameraman got lucky. There is a Gaumont Graphic newsreel which shows some wobbly, long-distance shot of the then Aircraftsman Shaw disembarking at Plymouth from India, where he had been on a supposedly secret mission. “Despite all precautions Gaumont Graphic cameraman secures exclusive pictures of ‘elusive Lawrence'” boast the intertitles.

T.E. Lawrence died in a motorcycle accident in May 1935, and the several newsreel films on his funeral lauded his achievements and his legend with what little footage they could muster. The Doubleday picnic film, the Shaw footage and the Thomas footage were used (the latter without anyone pointing out which shots showed Lawrence), but not Lawrence’s appearance in the Jerusalem film. This was not spotted for many years thereafter.

Lawrence’s experience with the motion picture camera says a lot about the progress of twentieth-century fame. Lawrence’s time in the limelight came at just that point where cameras were becoming inescapable and the celebrated had to learn not to avoid them but how to live with them. Television made the game of escape impossible, but the newsreel camera was a little more cumbersome, and those who wanted to flee its gaze could do so for a while, or at least be caught only on the sly. Lawrence mastered photography (and still portraiture in general) because he could control the conditions under which still images of him were taken, but the motion picture camera was more dangerous. It showed more than the myth – it could capture the real man, which above all is what Lawrence wanted to hide.

Our partial recreation of With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia features at the British Silent Film Festival at the Leicester Phoenix or Friday 16 April, at 11.15am. It’s being presented as a work in progress, and depending on how well it goes we’ll see if we can take the project further and devise a fuller recreation of Lowell Thomas’ travelogue.

General Allenby’s Entry into Jerusalem (the short newsreel versions – a longer, ten-minute version also exists) can be seen on the BFI’s Screenonline site, accessible to UK libraries, schools and colleges only. The film is held both by the BFI National Archive and the Imperial War Museum.

Shortened versions of the Lawrence sequences filmed by Harry Chase in 1918 can be seen in a 1935 Gaumont-British News item available on the ITN Source site.

The Doubleday picnic film can be seen on ITN Source and used in a 1935 Fox Movietone memorial item with commentary by Lowell Thomas, included in the same clip.

The various Lowell Thomas films of Allenby and Lawrence, in unedited and edited form, are held by the Imperial War Museum.

An almost complete version of Lowell Thomas’ script for With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia is available on the web archives website of Marist College, USA, which holds the Lowell Thomas papers. The script comes from a presentation of the show in Ireland and has several local references. The Marist site also has a selection of Harry Chase’s photographs and a digitised copy of Thomas’ diary.

Lawrence’s official biographer Jeremy Wilson has an excellent blog on Lawrence, which includes this recent post on Lowell Thomas’ 1919-1920 shows. There is also a fascinating thread from the T.E. Lawrence Studies list, managed by Wilson, discussing the relationship between Lowell Thomas and Lawrence.

A war film

From time to time the Bioscope lifts its eyes from the screen, looks wistfully out of the window, and turns its mind to poetry. And when it does so it adds another poem to the select list of those works which touch upon the subject of silent film.

I’m ashamed to say that ‘A War Film’ is a poem that is new to me, though I now discover that it is a much-anthologised and popular work. It was written by Teresa Hooley (1888-1973), a British poet from Derbyshire who in private life went under the name of Mrs Frank Butler. The fascination behind ‘A War Film’ is her reaction to seeing a film of the First World War, and then trying to determine which film it was:

I saw,
With a catch of the breath and the heart’s uplifting,
Sorrow and pride, the “week’s great draw” –
The Mons Retreat;
The “Old Contemptibles” who fought, and died,
The horror and the anguish and the glory.
As in a dream,
Still hearing machine-guns rattle and shells scream,
I came out into the street.

When the day was done,
My little son
Wondered at bath-time why I kissed him so,
Naked upon my knee.
How could he know
The sudden terror that assaulted me? …
The body I had borne
Nine moons beneath my heart,
A part of me …
If, someday,
It should be taken away
To war. Tortured. Torn.
Rotting in No Man’s Land, out in the rain –
My little son …
Yet all those men had mothers, every one.

How should he know
Why I kissed and kissed and kissed him, crooning his name?
He thought that I was daft.
He thought it was a game,
And laughed, and laughed.

The event to which she refers, the British retreat from Mons in Belgium, took place in August-September 1914. However, there was no film made about the retreat at the time, as officially-sanctioned films of the war were not being produced at this date, and in any case no film at this date or later in the war would have included the word ‘retreat’ in its title. So commentators have speculated that the film could be The Battle of the Somme, made in 1916, or one of the other British official war films. However it would seem unlikely that the poet would confused Mons with the Somme, and a more likely candidate is the 1926 film Mons, made by British Instructional Films. BIF produced a series of dramatised documentaries in the 1920s which recreated key conflicts from the First World War. The films (all feature-length bar the first) were The Battle of Jutland (1921), Armageddon (1923), Zeebrugge (1924), Ypres (1925), Mons (1926) and The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927). They were all produced by H. (Harry) Bruce Woolfe, generally with Army or Admirality assistance, and combined official actuality films of the war with recreations, models and animated maps. The films gained the remarkable triple of popular, critical and official acclaim, and while they were characterised by a certain amount of dogged literalism, the best sequences merit comparison with the Soviet documentaries of the twenties. Many a dramatised scene from them has ended up being used in television documentaries which take the scenes to show actual warfare. Mons itself was directed by Walter Summers and was given the re-issue title of The Retreat from Mons, which adds further credence to the theory that it was the film that triggered the poem.

It is unclear when Hooley wrote ‘A War Film’, though it was first published in 1927 in her volume Songs of all Seasons, which again suggests the 1926 film is the right one. That would make her reaction to the film one of the fear of another war that would engulf her child rather than a war that was then raging. Its tone is in any case a retrospective one – few on the home front thought of corpses rotting in No Man’s Land in 1914. Such grim visions came to haunt the public only as the war dragged on and as the enormity of the sacrifice made shook society in the years immediately after the war.

It would take cinema a while before it felt able to depict the war in terms of futility. Ironically, Mons the film was a sober minded drama-documentary with more of a mind to demonstrate military procedure and heroic achievement than to make its audience think of the horror and anguish. Hooley’s poem was perhaps inspired not so much by the film she saw as by the memories it triggered. It was a silent film, after all – no machine-guns rattled and no shells screamed. Hooley saw the film in her mind, while a plainer account unspooled itself on the screen.

Mons is held by the BFI National Archive and in incomplete form by the Imperial War Museum. You can get an idea of the BIF style, however, by seeing Ypres, which is available to view from the British Pathe website (the link is to reel one of seven on the site).

A call to war

Film historian Stephen Bottomore has got in touch to ask if The Bioscope can publish a call for papers for an upcoming special issue of Film History which Stephen is editing, on the subject of film and the First World War. More than happy to do so:

Call for papers: World War I and cinema

Film History is planning a special issue about film and the First World War, and we are in the early stages of soliciting material on this theme. We are looking for articles, preferably with good illustrations, on any aspect of the relationship between World War I and cinema during wartime: from production (both non-fiction and fiction) to exhibition and distribution, and any combination thereof. Themes might include film propaganda, war cameramen, the international film trade, the effect of the war on the world’s film industries, etc etc. We might also be interested in articles which explore issues outside the 1914-1918 time-frame, including about film and other conflicts in the silent era, or about the representation of World War I in later (or earlier?) films. Other, related themes might also be considered.

We will mainly be interested in articles from more established scholars, but will also consider pieces from less experienced writers if sufficiently interesting in content, and well-written.

The editor of this issue will be Stephen Bottomore, and the commissioning process will go through four stages:

1) Author e-mails SB a summary of, or rough idea for, the article by end of January 2010.
2) If we agree to go ahead, author sends SB a first draft by Summer 2010.
3) After SB’s comments and further discussion, author sends in final draft (with citations correctly formatted) along with other materials including illustrations – by October 2010, about the time of the Pordenone festival.
4) All the materials will then be forwarded to the editor in chief, Richard Koszarski, who might have his own queries or amendments.

Please feel free to pass on this call for papers to anyone qualified to contribute to this special issue.

Stephen Bottomore
December 2009
warnjai2 [at]

We’ve not had calls for papers for publications on The Bioscope before now, but if they broadly relate to the subject of silent cinema I’d be glad to include them here.

Charlie Chaplin in Zepped


All frames from Zepped in this post come from

Last week there was much publicity about the discovery of an apparently lost Charlie Chaplin film. Morace Park, of Henham in Essex, purchased a nitrate film from eBay for the princely sum of £3.20 ($5), though he was more interested in the can. When he opened the can he found a reel of nitrate film bearing the title Charlie Chaplin in Zepped. Park could find no record of the film in any Chaplin filmography or biography. The film was a mixture of live action film of Chaplin and animation. Park’s neighbour just happened to be John Dyer, a former member of the British Board of Film Classification, and together they began investigating the history of the film.

They have been thorough in their studies so far, and have determined that the film features unused footage from the Chaplin films The Tramp, His New Profession and A Jitney Elopement. The Independent newspaper, which carries the fullest account of the discovery (including several frame illustrations), describes the film thus:

The unearthed film, called Charlie Chaplin in Zepped, features footage of Zeppelins flying over England during the First World War, as well as some very early stop-motion animation, and unknown outtakes of Chaplin films from three Essanay pictures including The Tramp. These have all been cut together into a six-minute movie that Mr Park describes as “in support of the British First World War effort”. It begins with a logo from Keystone studios, which first signed Chaplin, and there follows a certification from the Egyptian censors dating the projection as being in December 1916. There are outtakes, longer shots and new angles from the films The Tramp, His New Profession and A Jitney Elopement.

The main, animated sequence of the film starts with Chaplin wishing that he could return to England from America and fight with the boys. He is taken on a flight through clouds before landing on a spire in England. The sequence also features a German sausage, from which pops the Kaiser. During the First World War there was some consternation that the actor did not join the war effort.

At first it seemed to those who thought they knew their Chaplin history, and the habits of film collectors, that this was some cobbled-together item by someone who had edited together Chaplin clips with a separate animation film of the 1914-18 period, Chaplin being a regular subject for animators at this time. But then evidence turned up that there had indeed been a film called Zepped, exhibited in Britain in 1916. In 2006 British film historian Mike Hammond had uncovered a reference to the film in a Manchester journal (probably Film Renter), as an article in a Russian online journal reveals (scroll down to note 43 and get an English translation through Babelfish).


So what is this peculiar hybrid? The six-minute film is a mixture of Keystone and Essanay titles, plus the animation. Chaplin left Keystone in 1914 to join Essanay, leaving the latter to join Mutual in 1916. Essanay is known to have tried to make the best out of its loss by issuing Triple Trouble (1918), a mish-mash of Chaplin outtakes, but Zepped contains Keystone and Essanay titles, suggesting a still more irregular arrangement. The existence of an Egyptian censors’ certificate only adds to the peculiarity of the whole affair. There seems to be a connection with the accusations made at the time that Chaplin was avoiding his military duty by residing in the United States, though clearly this was an unofficial film and Chaplin had nothing to do with its production.

Chaplin biographer Simon Louvish speculates (in the Independent article) that the film was compiled in Egypt, which was under British occupation at the time. However, no one was making animated films in Egypt in 1916. The access to the outtakes suggests an American source, yet the theme and reference to ‘Blighty’ in the title cards hints at a British source. The frames showing some of the animation (below) look like the crude semi-animated films that British artists such as Lancelot Speed or Dudley Buxton were making at this time. The reference to ‘Made in Germany’ is a British allusion (there were protests at the import of German goods into Britain long before the War), and America was scarcely indulging in anti-German propaganda at this time. I’d point the finger at a British film distributor.


The film has been transferred to DVD, and Park and Dwyer have been showing it to assorted Chaplin experts. They have also started making a documentary film in America about their voyage of discovery, and you can follow their ‘Lost Film Project’ through Twitter and through a project blog. They seem to be making a good job not only of exploiting the discovery but of seeking to understand it. If it’s not quite ‘THE cinematic find of the last 100 years’ that the blog claims, it’s a real coup – not least for how it has left the experts baffled. We now await anxiously for the results of their researches.

Update (20 November 2009):
The people behind the Zepped discovery have kindly sent me two advertisements for the film plus a press notice, all from the journal Film Renter. Now we learn that the film was made by Screen Plays Co. of Manchester, that it was 1,000 feet long, and that there was some sensitivity over its relationship with Chaplin because the first version of the advert pointedly neglects to mention his name. He is mentioned in the second, however:

Original advertisment from Film Renter, 23 December 1916

Revised advertisement from Film Renter 30 December 1916

Press notice from Film Renter (date not given)

You can see the documents on the website for the company producing the documentary about Zepped, Clear Champion Ltd.

Another update (11 July 2011):
The latest extraordinary twist in the Zepped saga is that another print of the film has turned up, this time in a second-hand shop in South Shields, UK. This second Zepped is slightly incomplete (opening shots of a Zeppelin are missing, apparently) but otherwise looks to be the same film. It was discovered by one Brian Hann. More information (though with a muddled idea of the film’s history and value) is given in The Shields Gazette and in the comments below.

Brian Hann with the second Zepped, discovered in a South Shields second-hand shop

The Battle of the Ancre


The Battle of the Ancre, from

You will recall, I’m sure, that last year the Imperial War Museum in London undertook a digital restoration of the 1916 documentary The Battle of the Somme, the DVD release of which we reviewed here in detail. The Battle of the Somme was the first of three high profile feature-length documentaries that the British War Office propagandists produced during the First World War, before they changed strategy and turned much of their filmmaking energies towards producing a newsreel. The two films were The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks (1917) and The German Defeat and the Battle of Arras (1917), and while neither could match the seismic social impact of the first film, they remain eloquent testimonies of the conflict.

There is a chance to see The Battle of the Ancre this weekend at the Imperial War Museum, as they start to give it much the same treatment as they did to the Somme film. The DVD release of The Battle of the Somme was distinguished by its twin scores, one of which recreated the original score from contemporary musical suggestions for the film’s exhibition. The same musician, Stephen Horne, is doing the same with The Battle of the Ancre. The ‘new’ score is the result of months of research by Horne and Dr Toby Haggith of the IWM, the reconstituted score is to be played by Stephen this Saturday (7 October) for the first time since the war, which makes the screening a truly special one. The film carries on the story from the first film, as it were, covering the Somme campaign as it dragged on into the winter of 1916. Its major selling point was the tank, the first time audiences had had sight of this startling new weapon. The film also memorably documents the ordeal faced by troops in the sea of mud that was the Western Front that autumn and winter.

The screening takes place 14:00 at the IWM London Cinema – all the details are on the IWM site.

While were on the subject, you might like to take a peek at IWM Film and Video Sales, an online footage sales service from the IWM, still in test mode. The site offers you the chance to view for free some 150 hours of content (a lot of it from the First World War), to download such content for private viewing or commercial scene selection (a charged service), or to look up the details of over 35,000 films. The Bioscope will be producing a review of this major new service very soon.

World War One posters


Poster for Under Four Flags (1917) from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

My thanks to Bioscope regular David Pierce for bringing to my attention a section from the Library of Congress’ Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, which includes a section on World War One posters, which in turn has a number of striking posters on official American films (and French, Italian and German) from the First World War. The above dynamic poster advertises Under Four Flags, the third of the documentary features produced by the Committee on Public Information. the four flags refer to the USA, France, Britain, and Italy. To find this and others like it, just search under ‘film’, ‘cinema’ or ‘motion pictures’.

To find out more about the Committee on Public Information and its head, George Creel, see this Bioscope post on his famous book How We Advertised America.

And to investigate what generally there is on the LoC’s Prints & Photographs Catalog, you can find the main page here, or take a short cut and click on motion pictures here (not all of it silents, or course).

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.

Keaton and the war


The 17th Annual Buster Keaton Celebration takes place 25-26 September, at Iola, Kansas. Each festival takes an aspect of Keaton’s life or career and explores its contexts, through talks, screenings and special presentations. This year the theme is the First World War, and this is the programme:

Buster Keaton and Company

WWI, Dark Comedy, and Film
The 17th Annual Buster Keaton Celebration

Sept 25-26, 2009, Iola, KS

All activities are held at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center in Iola, Kansas. Free. (donations are very much appreciated– especially this year)

Program subject to change.

Friday, Sept 25, 2009

9:30 am Registration

9:50 am Welcome and Remarks by Susan Raines, Executive Director, Bowlus Fine Arts Center

Emcee Frank Scheide, Prof of Communication, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

10:00 am — The National WWI Museum, a video segment from the series Sunflower Journeys, produced by KTWU Ch 11, Topeka

10:10 am — Dave Murray
World War I: Causes and Effects

11:00 am — Break

11:10 am — Doran Cart, Curator WWI Museum, Kansas City, MO
Lights, Camera, and Real Action: The U.S. Army Signal Corps Motion Picture and Still Photographers’ Work, 1917-1919

12:00 am — Lunch Break

1:30 pm — John Tibbetts, Ph.D., Professor of Film, University of Kansas
The Worm’s Eye View: A Presentation Concerning the 1919 Film, Yankee Doodle in Berlin

2:20 pm — Lisa K. Stein, Ph.D., Ohio University-Zanesville
Tommy’s New Tune: Warner Brothers’ The Better ‘Ole (1926) and Redefining American Patriotism

3:10 pm — Break

3:25 pm — Screening of The Moving Picture Boys in the Great War (1975), produced by David Shepard
War Story (2001)
Introduced by David Shepard

5:30 pm — Dinner Break

7:30 pm — Evening program
It Happened to You
Shoulder Arms (1918) starring Charlie Chaplin
The Bond (1918) starring Charlie Chaplin
All Night Long (1924) starring Harry Langdon
The Bellboy (1918) starring Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton
Back Stage (1919) starring Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton
with live musical accompaniment by Marvin Faulwell

Saturday, Sept 26, 2009

8:30 am — Registration

9:00 am — Welcome and Remarks by Susan Raines, Executive director, Bowlus Fine Arts Center

Emcee Bill Shaffer, KTWU Ch 11, Topeka

9:20 am — Jim Barkley, Educational Coordinator, WW I Museum, Kansas City, MO
Educational Opportunities at the National WWI Museum

9:40 am — Screening of My Career at the Rear, a documentary by Matha Jett on Buster Keaton’s WWI career

10:00 am — David Macleod, Keaton historian and founder of Blinking Buzzards Society (UK)
Buster and War

10:50 am — Break

11:00 am — Robert Arkus, Film Historian and Archivist
The Liberty Loan Drive, Newsreels and Slapstick
Comics Go to War: Screening of seldom seen footage
plus rare Keaton on video

12:00 — Lunch Break

1:00 pm — Welcome and Introductions

1:10 pm — Leslie Midkiff Debauche, Ph,D., University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point
Buster Keaton Fights the Great War

2:00 pm — Frank Scheide, Ph.D., University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Charles and Penny Chilton’s Oh What a Lovely War

2:50 pm — Break

3:00 pm — Screening of Yankee Doodle in Berlin (1919), Mack Sennett, with live musical accompaniment by Marvin Faulwell
Introduced by David Shepard

4:00 pm — Break

4:10 pm — Screening of Doughboys (1933) — Buster Keaton Sound Feature

5:35 pm — Dinner Break

7:30 pm — An Evening of Screenings
General Nuisance (1941), Buster Keaton Columbia sound short.
plus short clips and tributes.
Special Presentation, The Last American Surviving WWI Veteran, a 2008 interview with Mr. Frank Buckles by Martha Jett, Documentary Filmmaker and Keaton Biographer.
The Better ‘Ole (1926), starring Syd Chaplin, with live musical accompaniment by Marvin Fauwell

And for those who want to learn more about what Keaton called ‘My Career in the Rear’, Martha R. Jett has written about his personal war experience in ‘Buster Keaton in World War I‘ for