Sounds and Silents

Sounds and Silents is an off-shoot of the annual Bird’s Eye View festival of women filmmakers. The strand brings together classic silent films starring iconic actresses and innovative musical accompaniment by female artists.

Its latest manifestation is Sounds and Silents at King’s Place, bringing silents to one of London’s latest art venues. Four films are to be screened 27-29 May, and here are the programme details:

The Temptress with original live score from Natalie Clein
Dir. Fred Niblo, USA 1926
Hall One, Thur May 27, 7.30pm

Narcissistic Elena (Greta Garbo) drives every man she meets to despair. One of her victims, Manuel Robledo tries to escape, but this time Elena is in love and she follows him from Paris to his native Argentina.

Natalie Clein

‘Clein plays everything with passion’ – The Times

Natalie Clein’s exceptional musicality has earned her a number of prestigious prizes including the Classical Brit Award for Young British Performer of 2005, the Ingrid zu Solms Cultur Preis at the 2003 Kronberg Academie, and the BBC Young Musician of the Year aged just 16.

My Best Girl with original live score from Elysian Quartet
Dir. Sam Taylor, USA 1927
Hall One, Fri May 28, 7.30pm

Maggie (Mary Pickford) falls in love with Joe, her new colleague in the stock room, unaware that he is the son of the department store owner working undercover to prove his business skills.

Elysian Quartet

‘Feisty boundary pushers, four supremely talented classical musicians’ – Metro

The Elysian Quartet is one of the UK’s most innovative young ensembles. They have worked with artists as diverse as virtuoso beat-boxer Killa Kela, jazz pianist Keith Tippett, and experimental electronic composer Simon Fisher-Turner.

I Don’t Want to be a Man! with original live score from Zoe Rahman / The Danger Girl with original live score from Juice
Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, Germany 1919 / Dir. Clarence G Badger, USA, 1916
Hall One, Sat May 29, 7.30pm

– Ossi’s father hires a guardian to educate his rebellious daughter. Escaping from house arrest dressed as a man, Ossi begins to investigate whether life is more liberated this way.

– When vampish Helene (Gloria Swanson) uses her charms on Bobbie, Gloria breaks up the pair by disguising herself as a man to seduce Helene.

Zoe Rahman / Juice

‘One of the finest young pianists in Europe’ – The Observer

– Zoe Rahman has firmly established herself as one of the brightest stars on the contemporary jazz scene. Zoe has recorded four critially acclaimed albums, her second ‘Melting Pot’, wasnominated for the 2006 Mercury Music Award and was voted ‘Jazz Album of the Year’ at the 2006 Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

– Juice is an experimental vocal trio specialising in vibrant, theatrical performances commissioned countless new works. They draw on world music, jazz, folk and pop and have been featured on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM and Resonance FM.

King’s Place (“a creative hub, a dining venue, a conference and events centre, and office complex”) is at 90 YorK Way London N1, close by King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. More details, including tickets, from the Bird’s Eye View site.

Doing women’s film history

Here’s news of an international conference taking place in April 2011 organised by the AHRC-funded Women’s Film History Network – UK/Ireland which is certain to attract some papers covering the silent film era, where there has been so much research activity of late.

Doing Women’s Film History: Reframing Cinema History

13-15 April 2011

Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies
University of Sunderland

This international conference will bring together researchers in women’s film history, archivists, collections managers and contemporary women practitioners. It will explore current developments in researching women’s participation in film production, distribution, exhibition, criticism and film-going in different parts of the world and in all periods. It will ask what the discovery and documentation of women’s past activity in and around cinema implies for the writing of film history in general and will consider how the history of post-1970s women’s filmmaking is to be resourced and developed. The conference will seek to address issues such as:

  • women’s film historiography: filling gaps in existing film history or changing film history?
  • impact of gender-oriented research methods & sources for the histories of male and female workers
  • gender in the archives, catalogues and collections
  • impact of women on cinema as audiences, campaigners, fans
  • relationship between feminism, women’s and gender histories
  • crossing the silent/sound history divide
  • women’s film history after second wave feminism
  • national/international/transnational connections and interactions
  • creation of canons, exhibition & programming practices, curricula and teaching
  • relation of women’s film history then and women’s film practice now

The Conference will also report on and seek feedback on three Workshops that will have preceded it in order to involve wider participation in developing the future of the Network.

A call for papers will follow more detailed planning in early June. In the meantime, for more information about the Network please visit the Network wiki and the Conference Development pages where you can post any suggestions and comments via linked page headings.

Alice’s wonderlands

Alice Guy’s celebrated La Fée aux choux (1900), from

There’s a fine long article on Alice Guy and women filmmakers in the early cinema period in The Nation, written by Jana Prikryl. Entitled ‘Alice’s Wonderlands: On Alice Guy Blaché‘, the article investigates the film career and its social significance of Alice Guy, the French filmmaker whose prodigious output, independence of spirit and creative invention attract ever more interest. It places Guy within the early cinema period overall, a time when opportunities for women as filmmakers and contributors to the filmmaking process were comparatively greater than they would be for decades afterwards. Alice Guy was at the start of this mini-phenomenon – and she was there, working in America, when she witnessed it all fade.

Here’s the opening two paragraphs, to whet your appetite:

“Records show that about three-fourths of matinee audiences are woman,” wrote the Hollywood mogul Irving Thalberg in 1924, his use of an abstract noun underscoring his philosophy. “That is why I say that pictures should be made primarily for the feminine mind.” Barely 25, Thalberg had recently come to MGM from Universal, where in the space of five years he had managed a revolution–including streamlining production and yoking each director to a producer elevated to oversee every aspect of the creative process–that had spread in Hollywood after World War I. In this matter of the feminine mind, the wisdom he offered was not original: it had long been a truism that women went to the movies in large numbers and that a sagacious businessman would indulge their tastes. What many people had forgotten by 1924, or would forget soon after–and would never know to forget today–is that the “audiences are woman” hypothesis had been taken to mean something very different just a few years earlier. It had been one of many overlapping, contradictory explanations, often rehashed in the press, for the surprising power of women in filmmaking. If female viewers decided the fate of movies, who better to make movies than females?

At one point in the 1910s, Universal had as many as nine women under contract as directors. (After Thalberg became manager in 1919, only one woman was hired to direct.) It wasn’t just that an astonishing number of women occupied key creative positions–half of silent-era screenwriters were women, for example. Even women still working their way up could appreciate the egalitarian climate of the industry. Not yet standardized, it was struggling to meet a booming demand for fresh product. For a brief period its male entrepreneurs and innovators required all talent on deck; gender norms were a luxury they preferred to forgo. Social currents also fostered this openness: at the turn of the century women were finding their voices in public life, working outside the home in growing numbers and organizing and agitating for temperance, suffrage and birth control. “Never before in civilization,” wrote Jane Addams in 1909, “have such numbers of young girls been suddenly released from the protection of the home and permitted to walk unattended upon city streets and to work under alien roofs; for the first time they are being prized more for their labor power than for their innocence, their tender beauty, their ephemeral gaiety.” As movies grew in popularity alongside these public revisions of feminine virtue, the notion of women making movies became less of a leap. The cultural moment lasted just under twenty years, collapsing under the combined weight of censorship and redoubled sexism around the time, ironically, that American women got the vote. Their power in Hollywood never recovered. In 1920 Houghton Mifflin, unwittingly heralding the end of an era, published a guide called Careers for Women, where among entries on architecture, business and medicine was a chapter on film directing. When the guide was reissued in 1934, the section on directing was simply dropped.

The article goes to to cover Guy’s career and films, particularly “the first decade of filmmaking, roughly 1896-1907” which she states “belonged to one female director alone” (not strictly true, but close enough). This was the period in which she became head of production at Gaumont, making short films in every genres and specialising in synchronised sound films, or Phonoscènes. She moved to America, where she made films for her own company, Solax, with studios in New Jersey. Interesting as some of these later films are, it is her French work that stands out and which Prikryl covers in most detail.

Just recently we have had a retrospective of her films at the Whitney Museum, the Gaumont DVD boxed set Le cinema premier, vol. 1 – Alice Guy, the Kino DVD boxed set Gaumont Treasures: 1897-1913 (with discs on the films of Guy, Louis Feuillade and Léonce Perret), the Kino DVD release of one of her three surviving features, The Ocean Waif (1916), and a biography by the leading Guy scholar Alison MacMahan, Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema.

It still seems extraordinary that a woman should have been given the opportunity to set up and to head Gaumont’s fiction film production. What is also notable about Guy’s career was its longevity. Very few of the pioneering filmmakers of the 1890s managed to sustain careers in creative filmmaking beyond the 1900s. Georges Méliès, Edwin S. Porter, Robert Paul, G.A. Smith, the Lumière brothers – they all faded away soon into the new century. But Alice Guy made a successful transition to feature films and made her last film as late as 1920. Only Cecil Hepworth and J. Stuart Blackton among her pioneering contemporaries achieved the same, that I can think of. It shows a remarkable degree of imagination and adaptability to change in an emerging, uncertain business. She more than merits the increased critical attention that she is receiving, an attention that looks beyond the simplistic (and evidentially dubious) arguments made on her behalf in the past as being the ‘first’ this, that or the other, to a deeper understanding of a key creative filmmaker at a time of revolutionary social and industrial change.

Catwalks and pavements

Paris fashions displayed through stencil colouring, from the Discovering Cinema DVD,

A subject I’ve long meant to cover on the Bioscope is fashion in silent film. It’s a subject of great importance, because of the strong relationship between what was worn on the screen and what the audience in the cinema then dreamt of wearing. That relationship was exploited commercially, by fashion firms whose products featured in films and by those stars who were used to promote fashions (on and off-screen). Moreover, there is an equally important, if less recognised connection between fashion and film, which is the record that film can provide of what ordinary people in the street were wearing. Fashion is found not just on the catwalk or the movie screen, but on the pavement as well.

However, I am no expert in fashion (as anyone who has seen how I dress would be quick to affirm). But I can produce a guide to some sources, particularly online video sources, to help those who might like to explore this area further for themselves.

Let’s start with films of the fashion houses. Short films showcasing the latest fashions from the Paris houses were a staple of film programmes of the 1910s and 20s. Films showing mannequins parading gowns, hats and shoes beyond the hopes of most in the cinema audience were seen in individual films and occasional special film series, but more commonly as part of newsreels and cinemagazines. Beyond the hopes of most they may have been, but not all. There was commercial sense in it because coturier fashions were starting to move from appealing to the exclusively rich and were starting to appear in department stores, just at the time when cinema was doing it best to attract a more middle class and monied audience. Fashion films were part of the general aspirational trend of the cinema, and they were there in particular to attract women to the cinema.

French film companies became the natural specialists in the field, not least because Pathé and Gamuont had factories dedicated to producing artificially coloured films employing a stencilling process (and many women workers painting the individual frames using those stencils). Fashion films in which the models moved slowly displaying gorgeously coloured gowns were ideal subjects for a colour process that struggled to capture objects moving at speed. Colour was naturally attractive for the fashion film, and fashions were a fine means of showing off colour processes. One of the earliest of all magazine film series was Kinemacolor Fashion Gazette (1913), edited by British fashion journalist Abby Meehan, which showcased the pioneering natual colour process and combined its exhibition with a live fashion revue organised by the Evening News newspaper at the West End Cinema in London.

An exquisite example of a stencil colour fashion film can be found on the Flicker Alley site, in its Screening Room – a 1926 Unie Film Revue from the Netherlands showing fashions from Maison Redfern, Maison Blanche Lebouvier and Maison Tolmann (click on the Discovering Cinema option – the clip comes from their Discovering Cinema 2-DVD set, or you can find the same film on Europa Film Treasures). There’s a frame grab at the head of this post. And below is a c.1927 colour tinted film from Australian Screen, here showing off a Le Mennier headpiece:

Scene from Camp-Berlei Foundation Garments: Physiological Support (c.1927), from Australian Screen,

Colour fashion films from the silent era are hard to find online, but there are monochrome examples a-plenty. The British branch of Pathé featured many fashion items, particularly in its women’s magazine series Eve’s Film Review, and numerous examples (including Fashions à la Parisienne, illustrated below) can be found at (type in ‘fashions’, ‘maison’ or ‘paris fashions’ for the best results.

A black and blue hat with ribbon cockade and flowers from Maison Mimoso, from Fashions à la Parisienne, Eve’s Film Review (c.1921),

The sheer extent of fashion films in British newsreels can best be judge by applying the same search terms to the BUFVC’s News on Screen database of all British newsreels, though there are no clips (there are links across to the Pathé site, however). Or search under such fashion houses as Lucile’s (i.e. Lady Duff-Gordon, sister of Elinor Glyn), Maison Lewis, Marco’s, Joseph Paquin, Maison Worth and Paul Poiret. British Gaumont films (which as with Pathé include many international films which happened to be released through the British reels) can be seen on the ITN Source site – go to Advanced Search, click Deselect All under Partners then click on New Classics, select 1920s as a decade, then put in your search term. There are numerous fashion clips there, such as this interesting example of Chinese fashions (actually from the American International News):

New Fashions for Chinese Flappers, International News (1926),

Gaumont’s early 1920s Around the Town cinemagazine had many fashion-related items, though only a few examples of the series exist today, and none online (many of the lost films can nevertheless be found described on News on Screen). Examples from French Gaumont and Pathé can be found on, though that requires registration and it’s not easy to obtain permission unless you are a production company.

But as said, there was more to fashion than Paris. One of the overlooked virtues of archive films is what they are able to show us of what we wore. There is nothing quite like film for showing what was worn by people day-to-day, how those clothes fitted in motion, and how popular fashions changed. Again the newsreels provide an excellent source, but a still more useful one has just emerged from Brighton. It was Brighton professor Lou Taylor whose 1980s television series Through the Looking Glass first alerted me to the value of using archive actuality film to study what ordinary people were wearing, and it is the University of Brighton’s Screen Archive South East which is the source of Screen Search Fashion, a thematic guide to fashion and dress in films of the 1920s and 30s held in the Archive’s collection.

Group of people standing outside the Heath cinema in Haywards Heath, c.1928, from the Screen Archive South East collection

This wonderful resource employs selected themes (1920s fashion, 1930s fashion, work, sport, leisure, travel etc) to guide users through the collections, using stills and clips from the Archive. There are overviews of types of fashion and periods, descriptions of the clothing to be seen in the clips, and even modern photographs of particular clothes for comparison (or else links to external collections). As an example of the descriptive text, here is part of what’s written about the Heath cinema film above:

A group of young people stand outside a cinema in Burgess Hill. The men wear three-piece suits. One man wears the fashionable ‘plus fours’ style popularised by the Prince of Wales rather than full-length trousers. The women follow the fashionable androgynous silhouette of the period with knee-length hemlines. They wear interchangeable separates including sweaters, skirts, dresses and coats. One woman sports a necktie reinforcing the boyish look. Their clothing is probably ready-to-wear rather than made by a dressmaker. All the women have bobbed hair and none wear hats.

This is just what film archives should be doing – making us look at films anew. Amateur films, home movies, newsreels and magazine films are filled with sociological detail, but it needs someone with an intelligent understanding of the films’ milieu and contents to open our eyes to hat these films contain. This Screen Search Fashion does so well, illuminating men’s and women’s clothing, and for both adults and children. It is such a sensible and well-executed idea to have had, and I warmly recommend it.

Turning to the feature film, there was a close connection between the couture houses and some film producers from the mid-1910s onwards. The already-mentioned Lucile, or Lady Duff-Gordon (shown left, from, was the great pioneer, dressing a number of films from the mid-teens onwards (Lillian Gish tell us that Lucile supplied the models for the ball scene in Way Down East) as well as ensuring that her fashions appeared regularly in magazine films.

Elizabeth Leese, author of the essential Costume Design in the Movies (1991), writes:

Couture houses have always supplied dresses for feature films, particularly from New York, as quite a lot of filming was done in the East Coast studios. The couture houses did not, as a general rule, get any kind of screen credit, although news items often appeared in trade and fan magazines telling film-goers that a star would be getting her dresses from a particular fashion house. Many actresses who were rather short on acting talent relied on the lavishness of the wardrobes, because the ability to wear clothes well was just about all they had to offer. Roberta Hickman (who was working around 1915) wore clothes from Lucille [sic] and Poiret, Irene Castle used Lucille Ltd. Alice Joyce and Corinne Griffith were faithful to Madame Frances. Many actresses used Hattie Carnegie, but she was smart enough to get a screen credit for the films she did with Constance Bennett.

Then were were people from the couture houses who went to work in films – but that takes us into the world of the costume designer as a profession in the silent era, and that will have to be the subject of another post, at another time.

For some further reading (aside from Elizabeth Leese), Jenny Hammerton’s For Ladies Only? Eve’s Film Review: Pathe Cinemagazine 1921-33 is very informative on the fashion films in this key series, while Emily Crosby’s essay ‘The Colour Supplement of the Cinema: The British Cinemagazine, 1918-1938’, in Projecting Britain: The Guide to British Cinemagazines illuminatingly links the cinemagazines’ use of fashion to the place of fashion in 1920s culture as a whole. The book also contains some interesting examples of letters written by Pathé’s editor to some fashion houses.

Women and the Silent Screen VI

The sixth International Women and Film History Conference is to take place in Bologna, Italy 24-26 June 2010, immediately preceding the Il Cinema Ritrovato Film Festival. A call for papers has been issued, and here are the details, culled from the festival site:

The VI International Women and Film History Conference (Bologna, 24-26 June 2010) will pay tribute to the women’s involvement in the silent film industry and culture across the globe. The event will provide an insight into women’s contribution to the silent screen through a series of scholarly panels, keynote addresses and archival screenings. In the dynamic spirit that caracterized each of the previous Conferences held in Utrecht (1999), Santa Cruz (2001), Montréal (2004), Guadalajara (2006), and Stockholm (2008), presentations will consider a wide range of themes related to the spheres of the motion picture economy, history, criticism, narrative forms, transnational film culture, the social contexts of film production and much more, all seen through the lens of feminist theory and historiography. It will be an opportunity for scholars and young researchers to expose and discuss the new issues and ideas that are spreading at the cutting edge of Film and Women’s Studies, exploring the future directions to be possibly pursued.

Proposals are welcomed concerning not only the female directors, screenwriters, producers and actors of the era, but also the larger role of women in modern mass culture. If you are proposing a paper please fill in the on-line submission form. We will only accept proposals in English that use this form, and the deadline for submission is January 10, 2010, but earlier submission are welcomed. This form will allow you to view and change your proposal and to keep in touch with the peer-review editors up to one month before the deadline. Ideally you will be given an answer by the middle of February.

Please notice that the Conference will occur in Bologna in the week immediately preceding Il Cinema Ritrovato Film Festival (running June 26 through July 3, 2010), sponsored by Alma Mater Università di Bologna (Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo – La Soffitta), Women and Film History International, Regione Emilia-Romagna, Cineteca di Bologna, and the Biblioteca Italiana delle Donne. We are particularly happy to announce that the festival will host a special section on women in silent cinema, curated by Mariann Lewinsky in cooperation with WSS VI. All the participants in WSS VI will directly be registered at no fees at the festival, and will be eligible to reserve rooms at special price at hotels located in the city centre, within walking distance to the conference site.

We invite papers and panels not only on the directors, screenwriters, producers, and actors of the era, but also on the role of women in modern mass culture, broadly considered. Continuing the dynamic spirit that characterized previous conferences in Utrecht (1999), Santa Cruz (2001), Montréal (2004), Guadalajara (2006), and Stockholm (2008) the conference will provide an open and friendly atmosphere for the exchange of research and insight into women’s involvement in the first four decades of film history.

Papers and panels might consider:

* Words, wordlessness, and bodily expression
* Divas and antidivas
* Audiences, moviegoers, and fans
* Theorists, critics, and writers
* Body genres
* Serial screen narratives
* Motion picture economies and gendered divisions of labor
* Global and local exhibition practices
* The social realities of World War I
* Feminist historiography and the transnational
* The modern as period and problematic
* Synchronized sound: transition, continuity, and the question of change
* The archives: theory, practice, politics
* Feminist theory and the silent screen

Submission Deadline: January 10, 2010

Further details are available on the festival site, including details of the submission process for papers.

Alice Guy-Blaché: cinema pioneer

Madame a des envies (1906), directed by Alice Guy

I’m a little late in taking note of an exhibition with associated screenings and events which is running at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Alice Guy Blaché: Cinema Pioneer runs 6 November 2009-24 January 2010, and is dedicated to one of the most interesting of cinema pioneers. Usually described as the first women film director (hmm, maybe), Alice Guy (later Alice Guy-Blaché) (1873–1968) played a significant role in both French and American cinema, writing, directing and producing early silent and sound-on-disc films, running her own studio (Solax) and establishing an individual vision as a filmmaker which makes her of that much more interest that just an historical ‘first’, however enterprising.

The blurb on the exhibition site describes things thus:

This is the first comprehensive retrospective of the films of Alice Guy Blaché (1873–1968), a key but unsung figure of the early years of cinema, the first woman director, and the first woman to establish and preside over her own film studio. Between 1896 and 1920, first in France and then in the United States, she wrote, directed, supervised, and/or produced more than 1,000 films. These ranged from short films of less than a minute’s duration to full-length multi-reel features and include some hand-tinted in color, and more than one hundred films with synchronized sound made between 1902 and 1906, some twenty years before sound revolutionized motion pictures as we now know them.

A screenwriter as well as director, she worked in a remarkable variety of genres including comedies, westerns, dramas, detective stories, and a biblical epic, as well as making films based on literary classics and theatrical productions. Alice Guy (as she was known at Gaumont Film Company), made her first story film at a time when the earliest motion pictures were used in the service of science and selling cameras—a time when the notion of motion pictures as a form of popular entertainment was not yet on the horizon. Radically shifting the parameters of cinematic imagination, production, and distribution, Blaché participated in every aspect of the evolving motion picture business, and her careers in the two countries where cinema was born testify to her extraordinary accomplishments.

The exhibition is organized by Whitney curator-at-large Joan Simon. It is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, published by Yale University Press in association with the Whitney, with contributions by noted film scholars Jane Gaines, Alison McMahan, Charles Musser, Alan Williams, film historian and preservationist Kim Tomadjoglou, and the show’s organizer, Joan Simon.

As well as the exhibition, there was a symposium (now past) and a series of screenings, which began yesterday and continues until December 4. For the record (since this is the most comprehensive Guy retrospective mounted, and because usefully the print sources are given), these are films being shown:

PROGRAM 1: Myth & Magic
Chirurgie fin de siècle [Turn-of-the-century Surgery], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
La Petite magicienne [The Little Magician], 1900 (Gaumont).
Lobster Films, Paris
Intervention malencontreuse [Untimely Intervention], 1902 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chiens savants [Performing Dogs], 1902 (Gaumont). Featuring Miss Dundee and her trained dogs. Lobster Films, Paris
Faust et Méphistophélès [Faust and Mephistopheles], 1903 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Une Histoire roulante [A Rolling Story], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Ballon dirigeable—Lebaudy N3 [The Dirigible—Lebaudy No. 3], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Greater Love Hath No Man 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Algie the Miner 1912 (Solax). Directed by Edward Warren and Harry Shenck. Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Alice Guy tourne une phonoscène [Alice Guy directs a phonoscène], 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
L’Anatomie du conscrip [Anatomy of a Recruit], 1905 (Gaumont, 1905; phonoscène) Performed by Polin. Gaumont. Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound
Questions indiscrètes [Indiscreet Questions], 1905 (Gaumont; phonoscène) Performed by Félix Mayol. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound

PROGRAM 2: Scoring Guy Blaché: Selections from the Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project

Roads Lead Home, 1913 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Tamar Muskal and performed for the recording by Erin Keefe (violin), Pedja Muzijevic (piano), and Wilhelmina Smith (cello), 2009
Falling Leaves 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Tamar Muskal and performed for the recording by Erin Keefe (violin), Pedja Muzijevic (piano), and Wilhelmina Smith (cello), 2009

PROGRAM 3: Saving Guy Blaché: Newly Restored Films

Mixed Pets 1911 (Solax) Library of Congress, Washington, DC
A House Divided 1913 (Solax) Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: musical score by Barbara Harbach

PROGRAM 4: Detective Story

Burstop Holmes’ Murder Case 1913 (Solax) Em Gee Film Library, Reseda, CA

PROGRAM 5: Sound Meets Silents: Featuring 35mm Films and Live Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin

Baignade dans le torrent [Swimming in the Stream], 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Le Pêcheur dans le torrent [The Fisherman in the Stream], 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Ballet libella 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Danse du papillon [Butterfly Dance], 1897 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Danse serpentine [Serpentine Dance], 1897 (Gaumont). Performances by Mme Bob Walter. Lobster Films, Paris
Les Malabares [The Malabares], 1902 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chapellerie et charcuterie mécaniques [Mechanical Hat-and-sausage-maker], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chirurgie fin de siècle [Turn-of-the-century Surgery], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
La Petite magicienne [The Little Magician], 1900 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Intervention malencontreuse [Untimely Intervention], 1902 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Faust et Méphistophélès [Faust and Mephistopheles], 1903 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Chiens savants [Performing Dogs], 1902 (Gaumont). Featuring Miss Dundee and her trained dogs. Lobster Films, Paris
Une Histoire roulante [A Rolling Story], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
Ballon dirigeable—Lebaudy N3 [The Dirigible—Lebaudy No. 3], 1906 (Gaumont). Lobster Films, Paris
The Ocean Waif 1916 (Golden Eagle Features/International Film Service) Library of Congress, Washington, DC

PROGRAM 6: Players & the Played/Alice Guy in Spain

Au cabaret [At the Club], 1899 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
Avenue de l’Opéra 1900 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
La Bonne absinthe [The Good Absinthe], 1899 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
L’Aveugle fin de siècle [The Turn-of-the-century Blind Man], 1898 (Gaumont). Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm
A Fool and His Money 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Missy Mazzoli and performed for the recording by the ensemble Victoire: Olivia De Prato (violin), Lorna Krier (keyboards), Eileen Mack (clarinet), Missy Mazzoli (keyboards), and Eleonore Oppenheim (double bass), 2009
Roads Lead Home 1913 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Tamar Muskal and performed for the recording by Erin Keefe (violin), Pedja Muzijevic (piano), and Wilhelmina Smith (cello), 2009
Alice Guy in Spain 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
Tango 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
Le Bolero [The Bolero], 1905 (Gaumont). Performed by Miss Saharet. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris

PROGRAM 7: Scoring Guy Blaché: Selections from the Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project

A Fool and His Money 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Missy Mazzoli and performed for the recording by the ensemble Victoire: Olivia De Prato (violin), Lorna Krier (keyboards), Eileen Mack (clarinet), Missy Mazzoli (keyboards), and Eleonore Oppenheim (double bass), 2009
When Marian Was Little 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Sound: Alice Guy Blaché Film Score Project: A Whitney Live Commission. Musical score composed by Missy Mazzoli and performed for the recording by the ensemble Victoire: Olivia De Prato (violin), Lorna Krier (keyboards), Eileen Mack (clarinet), Missy Mazzoli (keyboards), and Eleonore Oppenheim (double bass), 2009

PROGRAM 8: Saving Guy Blaché: Newly Restored Films

The Sewer 1912 (Solax). Directed by Edward Warren; set design and script by Henri Menessier. Library of Congress, Washington, DC

PROGRAM 9: Seeing Sound

Canned Harmony 1912 (Solax). Em Gee Film Library, Reseda, CA

PROGRAM 10: Sound Meets Silents: Featuring 35mm Films and Live Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin

Alice Guy tourne une phonoscène [Alice Guy films a phonoscène], 1905 (Gaumont). Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
Lilas-Blanc [White Lilacs], 1905 (Gaumont; phonoscène). Performed by Félix Mayol. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound
Five O’Clock Tea 1905 (Gaumont; phonoscène). Performances by Dranem. Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris. Sound
Les Maçons [The Builders], 1905 (Gaumont). Performed by the O’Mers. La Cinémathèque royale de Belgique, Brussels
La Course à la saucisse [The Race after the Sausage], 1906 (Gaumont). La Cinémathèque royale de Belgique, Brussels
Le Matelas alcoolique or Le Matelas épileptique [The Alcoholic Mattress or The Epileptic Mattress], 1906 (Gaumont). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
La Glu [The Glue], 1906 (Gaumont). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Une Course d’obstacles [An Obstacle-course Race], 1906 (Gaumont). Restored by Archives Françaises du Film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy, France
Two Little Rangers 1912 (Solax). Filmmuseum, Amsterdam
Algie the Miner 1912 (Solax). Directed by Edward Warren and Harry Shenck. Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Greater Love Hath No Man 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC

PUBLIC PROGRAM: Film Evening Honoring the Women’s Film Preservation Fund of New York Women in Film and Television with live musical accompaniment by Ben Model

Mixed Pets 1911 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC
A Fool and His Money 1912 (Solax). Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

The Ocean Waif (1916)

The Whitney website also includes an image gallery, with striking images such as this gem from her 1916 production, The Ocean Waif. And there is now a whole YouTube channel devoted to Alice Guy, courtesy of the Whitney Museum, with 16 titles so far (though I’d challenge the claim that Little Tich and his Big Boots is a Gaumont phonoscène – it was made by Clément-Maurice for the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre at the Paris Exposition of 1900).

Finally, some Alice Guy links for you:

Searching for Mary Murillo


Recently I was invited to speak at an event taking place Saturday 7 November at the BFI Southbank in London, on women and British silent cinema. There is increasing interest in the role of women in the early years of filmmaking (as demonstrated by Duke University’s Women Film Pioneers project), and as part of this trend the industrious Women and Silent British Cinema project has been investigating all traceable women filmmakers active in Britain in the silent era – including some rather obscure names, for whom little information survives. For my talk I offered to take on a scriptwriter about whom little was known, Mary Murillo, to demonstrate the research process and some of the online sources available. This blog post serves as part of my response.

Mary Murillo does not turn up in any standard motion picture encyclopedia or reference book. Her name is absent from all of the histories of the silent film era that I have consulted (bar a film credit or two), yet she was a significant screenwriter in American film for ten years, then worked in British films for six or more years where her name brought prestige to three different film companies, before she moved to work in French films at the start of the talkies. The fact that she has almost disappeared from film history says a lot about the way in which women filmmakers have been allowed to slip out of early film history, and about the low status of scriptwriters generally. So, how do we go about recovering that history?

Type her name into Google
Type “mary murillo” into Google and you get 15,500 hits. Initially this seems the very opposite of obscurity, but one quickly discovers that the same film credit data has been lifted from one or two sources to be reproduced on numerous filmographic and DVD sales sites, and what is useful information about her is very thin on the ground (one also finds many sites which refer to paintings of the Virgin Mary by the Spanish artist Murillo).

So there’s Wikipedia, which does have a short entry for her – a one-paragraph biography, a filmography and a couple of links. The biography tells us that she was born in Britain, wrote for the Fox, Metro and Stoll studios (the latter in Britain), that most notably she wrote for Theda Bara and Norman Talmadge, and that she was Irish by nationality, though some sources have her as being Latina. This is useful – and correct, because unfortunately the major piece on Mary Murillo available online, ‘Mary Murillo, Early Anglo Latina Scenarist‘ by Antonio Ríos-Bustamante, makes the fatal assumption that her surname meant that she was of Latin American extraction, despite evidence that she was born in Bradford. The writer has uncovered some useful information, but having made a wrong turning at the start, goes off in totally the wrong direction. There are other errors, notably in the filmography, and one is better off with her credits on the Internet Movie Database – over fifty titles – yet one should never accept the IMDb as being accurate or complete, especially for the silent film era, when credits can be difficult to determine (particularly for scriptwriters). Certainly she made more films that are listed there.

Family history sources
For a proper grounding in biographical film research, it is essential to use family history sources. This is where some small investment is necessary, because apart from the volunteer-produced FreeBMD (births, marriages and deaths in the UK, roughly to 1900), the major sources – Ancestry, etc. – require payment. Ancestry, however, is essential, offering not just births, marriages and deaths, but census records, shipping registers, military records, and much more. The Bioscope has produced a guide to using family history sources in film research, here. Mary Murillo is a problem, however, because it was an assumed name. Her real name was Mary O’Connor. She was of Irish parentage, which is a problem because there are few Irish family history resources online and most pre-1901 census records were destroyed in 1922 during the Civil War. However, Murillo / O’Connor was born in Bradford (explained below) in 1888, yet I can find no official birth record – the first indication of what seems to have been an unconventional childhood.


Mary De Murillo, bottom line of this insert from the ship’s register for the S.S. New York, sailing from Southampton 2 August 1909, from

Shipping records
These are essential. One of the great boons for biographical research recently has been the publication of shipping records, particularly between Britain and the USA before 1960, which give access to passenger registers, or manifests, which contain much biographical information, as well as certain dates. Ancestry has some, Findmypast provides Ancestors on Board using records from The National Archives, but best of all is Ellis Island, a free database with digitised documents of New York passenger records 1892-1924. From Ancestry’s shipping records we discover that Mary first went to American in 1908, under the name Mary de Murillo, where we learn her age (19), that she was Irish but living in England, that she was born in Bradford, that she was an actress, and that she was travelling with her step-sister, Isabel Daintry.


This seems a wonderful clue, though it has proven to be a bit of a dead-end. I’ve not been able to trace a family history for Daintry, who was an actress herself, appearing in a few films in the early 1910s, before fading from history, leaving just a photo (left) from the Billy Rose Theatre Collection in New York Library. One also discovers from the shipping record that Murillo does not give a family member as contact back in England, instead naming a Mrs Henderson of Eton Avenue, London as her friend. One her assumes that her parents were dead. We also learn that she was 5′ 4″ tall, with fair complexion, fair hair and brown eyes, and that she was in good health.

Why was she travelling to America? Well, she was calling herself an actress, and she was looking for work. Among the several handy databases that one can employ to find biographical information for those in the performing arts, a particularly useful one is the Internet Broadway Database, a free database of production credits for all stage performance’s on New York’s Broadway. And sure enough, there early in 1909 is Mary Murillo appearing alongside Isabel Daintry in the chorus of a musical, Havana. It was not a notable dramatic career – she has three further credits on the IBDB in 1912 and 1913, from which we may infer that she was on tour in stage productions during this period. As newspaper and theatre records reveal, she was a member of Annie Russell’s Old English Comedy Company, performing way down the cast list in plays such as She Stoops to Conquer and The Rivals. This correlates with shipping records, because we find she sailed again from Britain to New York in October 1912, this time on her own, revealed by the manifest for her departure (on Ancestors on Board) and for her arrival (on Ellis Island), with useful the information that her previous stay in the country had lasted for three-and-a-half years.

Census records
Normally census records are the bedrock of biographical research. You get a person’s age, place of birth, family members, occupation, place of residence, and incidental information that one can glean, such as social status. Unfortunately I have not been able to find Mary Murillo/O’Connor on any British or Irish census, though I have found family members (her sisters, but not her parents). However she does turn up in the 1910 New York census, where she is a lodger in Manhattan, given as born in England, profession stage actress, no other family member with her. Something to be wary of – the electronic versions of such data, in this case Ancestry, are based on transcriptions and often the names have been written down wrong – for the 1910 census, Ancestry has her name as Mary Minter. Later census records have not yet been made publicly available.

At some point in 1913 or 14, Mary Murillo sold a film scenario to the husband-and-wife production team of Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber. Her career as an actress had not taken off, and like many others before her she looked to the movie industry as a way out, though in her case it was through her pen. She clearly had talent, because within two years she was one of the leading film scenarists in the American film business, becoming chief scriptwriter at Fox in 1915. This rise to fame one can trace through the best source for any online research of this kind, the newspaper archives. There are so many of these, though few are free, so either you pay a subscription or you hope your local library subscribes. Major resources include Newspaper (for American papers), the Times Digital Archive and Guardian Archive. Free resources include Australian Newspapers, New Zealand’s Papers Past and a private archive of American papers, Old Fulton NY Post Cards. Film publicity departments sent out supporting bumf worldwide, and you can find Mary Murillo’s name scattered all over the place, becase such was her prominence that her name was frequently mentioned as a leading feature – in ‘reviews’, advertisments and posters. The Bioscope has produced a guide to newspaper archives online, though it’s in need of some updating.


Advertisment for Her Double Life, from the Sandusky Star Journal, 28 September 1916, available from Newspaper

Mary Murillo specialised in exotic melodrama, and wrote five scripts for Theda Bara, Hollywood’s archetypal vamp. The films were Gold and the Woman, The Eternal Sapho, East Lynne, Her Double Life and The Vixen. From an article in the New York Clipper, 1 May 1918 (found at Old Fulton’s NY Post Cards), entitled ‘The Scenario Writer’, we learn this:

Even as late as the year 1914, there were few companies who deemed the writer worthy of mention on the screen and as for proper financial reward, many an excellent five reeler brought the magnificent sum of seventy-five dollars. Slowly but surely, however, the big film producers have come to realize the importance of the scenario writer in the general scheme of things with the result that from being one of the most poorly paid individuals connected with the industry, the men and women who create the successful screen plays today, now receive monetary recompense of substantial proportions. Mary Murillo, for example, a scenario writer, who made over twenty-five thousand dollars last year, sold her first script for twenty-five dollars, four years ago. She is but one of many scenario authors, who unsung and ignored but a few years back, are now reaping similar big rewards in the scenario field.

Quite a leap from stage obscurity to $25K a year in just four years. Newspaper records also tell us that Murillo left Fox at the end of 1917 to go independent, working for Metro amongst others, before joining the staff of Norma Talmadge productions in 1919, where she scripted such titles as Her Only Way, The Forbidden City and The Heart of Wetona, plus others such as Smilin’ Through where her name does not turn upon official credits but where she seems to have been a script doctor – a role she performed many times, making her exact filmography a difficult subject on which to be precise.

She ended her American film career in 1922. Why this was one can only speculate. Perhaps she wanted new challenges, perhaps her penchant for high-flown romanticism was starting to be out of fashion, or perhaps it was related to a revealing report in the New York Times of 18 March 1923, where we learn of the seizure by a deputy sheriff of a five-storey at 338 West Eighty-Fifth Street leased by Miss Mary Murillo, “a scenario writer, now said to be in Hollywood”. She had defaulted on her payments. Among the goods seized were “tapestries alleged to be valuable, a mahogany grand piano, phonograph and a quantity of records, a lot of silver and a leopard skin”. Mary had been living the movie life, and how.

Contemporary movie guides
It’s worth remembering that there were reference guides produced from the early 1910s onwards that provide biographical information on those before and behind the camera in the film business. Often the personal information provided needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, but it’s always a handy starting point. Some of these are available on the Internet Archive: for example, Charles Donald Fox and Milton Silver’s Who’s Who on the Screen (1920), and the 1921 edition of William Allen Johnston’s Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual. The latter has an entry on Mary Murillo, which seems to be wholly accurate, as follows:


Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual 1921

Trade papers
There is plenty one can find about Mary Murillo from American newspaper sources, even if mostly of a superficial kind. Once she moved to Britain, the online sources dry up, because she gets little mention in the digitised British newspapers. She started writing for Stoll Film Productions, the major British studio of the early 1920s, resulting in five films: The White Slippers (1924), The Sins Ye Do (1924) and A Woman Redeemed (1927), plus two (possibly three) titles for other studios. Information on these is best found in film trade papers, such as the Bioscope and the Kinematograph Weekly, which do not exist online and need to be located at the BFI National Library, British Library Newspapers (which has produced a useful list of British and Irish cinema and film periodicals that it holds), or on microfilm sets at film research centres. There are no indexes to such resources – you just have to scroll through them and hope to strike lucky, though the BFI’s onsite database provides many references (these are missing from the online version of the database). One trade journal that does have a handy index is the American Moving Picture World, and it is from Annette M. D’Agostino’s invaluable Filmmakers in the Moving Picture World: An Index of Articles, 1907-27 that I found an article on Murillo from 16 March 1918 – though only after looking twice, because her name was indexed as Murrillo (remember never to trust indexes implicitly – always look laterally, and be prepared for mispellings etc). From that I got the photograph at the top of this post and some tantalising biographical information, including her schooling at a convent in Roehampton, near London. (By the way, the American journal Variety does publish indexes, for film titles and an obituaries index, only in printed form).

Ask people
Of course, asking people is a hugely important part of research. It’s always best to do a bit of research yourself rather than expect others to do all your work for you, but armed with some information you’ve been able to gather, turn to the experts. Having taken my research so far, I posted a query on the classic film forum Nitrateville, which is jam-packed full of knowledgeable people only too willing to help. It so happened that none knew anything about Mary Murillo directly, but one or two respondees came up with excellent leads. One used Google Books, which enables you to search through snippets of texts from books old and current and found a mention of her in a Belgian memoir – more of that below. Another looked in the Irish Times Digital Archive, a subscription site, and found that there seemed to be an article on her in 1980. I have access to the site at work (see here for a list of all full-text, word-searchable newspapers and journals available electronically at the British Library), and discovered that the article was a piece by Irish film historian Liam O’Leary on the director Herbert Brenon, with whom Murillo worked. O’Leary, as an aside, revealed the precious information that her real name was Mary O’Connor, and that she came from Tipperary.

Tipperary and Bradford? Something odd there, but the Liam O’Leary papers are held in the National Library of Ireland, where former cameraman and known walking encyclopedia of Irish film history, Robert Monks, has care of the papers. Bob looked up Liam’s card index for me and found reference to an article on her in the October 1917 issue of Irish Limelight, a short-lived film trade journal. Happily, the British Library has Irish Limelight. From this I learned that her family came from Ballybroughie – though there’s a problem there, as there is no such place as Ballybroughie, at least as far as I can find. Her early years were spent near Tipperary, though as she and her sisters (more of them in a minute) were born in Bradford the family clearly moved around a bit. She mentions her father (no name) but not her mother, boasts of her great muscial gifts when young, says that she chose the name Murillo because she was compared when young to a Murillo madonna painting, and describes how tough she found it finding work as an actress.

She also mentions the convents she went to – St Monica’s in Skipton, Yorkshire, and Convent of the Sacred Heart School in Roehampton. This is now Woldingham School and the archivist there told me that Mary O’Connor (born 22 January 1888) and her sisters Philomena and Margaret were at Roehampton for a year (1903-04) before deciding that its tough regime was not for them. The parents’ (parent?) address is given as Thomas Cook c/o Ludgate. He, or they, were overseas (the travel agents Thomas Cook’s main offices were in Ludgate Circus, London). In the 1901 census Philomena, Margaret and another sister Winifred (but not Mary) are given as boarding at St Monica’s, aged respectively 4, 3 and 7. What were the first two doing in a boarding school at that age? Were the absent parents touring performers, or involved in international (Empire?) business, or just plain neglectful?

Mary Murillo turns up in a couple of British newspapers in the late 1920s when her name was used by two film companies issuing prospectuses in the hope of investment. In The Times, 29 November 1927, the British Lion Corporation (with backing from the author Edgar Wallace) announced that its grand plans included “a contract with Miss Mary Murillo, whereby she is to write two complete Film scenarios for the Company during the year 1928”. It also makes the surprise claim that she wrote the script for The Magician by Rex Ingram (Irish himself, of course), something not otherwise recorded in any source. She also turns up in the prospectus the Blattner Picture Corporation (found in The Daily Mirror 21 May 1928, available from pay site ukpressonline) where it declares that “the company will from its inception will have expert technical assistance, and in particular Miss Mary Murillo (formerly Scenarist for the Metro-Goldwyn Corporation, Messrs Famous-Players Lasky, Mr D.W. Griffith, Miss Norma Talmadge &c.) will write Scenarios for this Company’s first year’s programme”.

This is useful, though only a couple of films seem to have come out of her association with British Lion, and none with Blattner. She made some films in France, apparently working on English versions of French releases, though she is credited for the script of the 1930 classic Accusée, levez-vous!. Her last film credit is as a co-writer of the British film, My Old Dutch, in 1934. Then what? Well, the Belgian source I mentioned was Les Méconnus de Londres (2006), the memoirs of Tinou Dutry-Soinne, widow of the Secretary to the Belgian Parliamentary Office in London, which cared for Belgian exiles during World War II. She met Mary Murillo in London at that time, and provides a sketch of a lively, interesting character with a fascinating history in film behind her who was keen to help Belgian exiles. An email to the obliging people at the Belgian embassy in London got me Mme Dutry’s address, and she wrote me a most friendly and detailed letter with all the information she could find on her social contacts with Mary Murillo up 10 October 1941, the last time she saw her. Murillo wanted to do what she could to help the Belgian cause (she seems to have spent some time in Belgium before the war), but suddenly disappeared from the scene.

And then what? I don’t know. She just vanishes. She appears not to have married nor to have had children. I have found no death record, though admittedly Mary O’Connor is not an easy name to research. But for the film researcher the biographical information, though a necessary backbone, is not the main business. She was a scriptwriter, and we want to find film her surviving scripts, and surviving films. Firstly we need reliable film credits. I’ve said that IMDb is a good start, but always double-check with at least two other sources. The filmography at the end of this post comes from a combination of the IMDb, references in newspapers, the Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries: Motion Pictures 1912-1939 (available in PDF form from the Internet Archive), the American Film Institute Catalog (for which the records for silent films are accessible to all), Denis Gifford’s British Film Catalogue 1895-1985 and the BFI database. There are some uncertain titles in the filmography – as said, she seems to have tidied up others’ scripts at times, or to have developed scripts which were then completed by other hands, so determining what is her work outright is not easy.


There is no register of all extant film scripts, and one has to search in multiple places. I found two Murillo shooting scripts in the indexes of the BFI National Library in London (The Sins Ye Do, A Woman Redeemed). The Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a Motion Picture Scripts Database, from which I found nine scripts, held by UCLA and AMPAS itself: Ambition, The Bitter Truth, The Little Gypsy, Love’s Law, The New York Peacock, A Parisian Romance, Sister against Sister, Two Little Imps and The Vixen (the poster, right, for her 1917 film Tangled Lives, comes from the Margaret Herrick Library site). Some of these scripts are also held in the Twentieth Century-Fox archives, as Antonio Ríos-Bustamante discovered. WorldCat, the union catalogue of world libraries, lists two scripts available on the microfilm set What women wrote: scenarios, 1912-1929. All in all, a remarkable fourteen Murillo scripts survive, a gratifyingly high number.

Finding what films exist in archives (as opposed to the DVD store – I think only two of Murillo’s films are available this way – The Forbidden City, from Grapevine and Accusée levez vous! from Pathé – but Silent Films on DVD is the place to check) is not easy. Again, no central register exists, and not all film archives publish catalogues of their holdings, let alone online catalogues. A list of world film archives is provided by the Federation of International Film Archives. A useful first source for checking whether a film survives and where (chiefly American titles, though) is the Silent Era website, which continues on its way to becoming the single-stop essential source for information on silent films. Otherwise, you just to check a lot of catalogues and ask in a lot of places (once again specialist fora such as Nitrateville or the Association of Motion Picture Archivists (AMIA) discussion list are home to many experts, archivists and collectors). The filmography at the end of this post lists the dozen Murillo films known to survive.

Round-up, and a few tips
This post documents some of the avenues down which I’ve travelled trying to uncover information on one obscure film scriptwriter from the silent era. It’s not a typical research enquiry, but then what such enquiry ever is? It should show that you start out with some basic sources and some key questions to ask, but then will find yourself led down all sorts of unexpected avenues, because people are unexpected.

And why research someone so obscure? You have to ask? Is there any nobler activity out there than to recover a life? Certainly it is always excellent when anyone recovers a corner of history that has been lost or ignored, however small it may seem. It’s a contribution to knowledge, and telling us something that we didn’t know before is a whole lot better way to spend your time as a researcher than re-telling that which we already know. So go out and do likewise – and then tell the world about it. Meanwhile, I’ve much more to try and find out somehow about Mary Murillo. What was her connection with D.W. Griffith? What films did she write for Nazimova? Who were her parents? Do any other photographs of her exist? When did she die? The quest goes on.

A few tips. Never trust any source on its own – always verify the information in two or three other places. Remember that people tell lies about themselves. Official documents such as birth certiifcates, census forms and shipping registers tell us much, but they can also mislead (sometimes deliberately – people lie about ages etc.) and the electronic databases suffer from mistranscriptions. Always think laterally. Remember when searching for female subjects that names change on marriage, and of course with Mary Murillo we have someone who lived under an assumed name. Don’t expect to find everything online, and don’t expect to find everything immediately, and be prepared to spend a little money for valuable resources that have taken a lot of money and effort to compile. Use the Bioscope Library for standard reference sources of the period, its FAQs page for tips on searching, and the categorised links on the right-hand column as a guide to the online world of silent film.

And have fun.

This post is long enough as it is, so the Mary Murillo filmography can be downloaded here as a PDF of an Excel file. It includes script and print sources.

Cinema she wrote


There has been, in recent years, a growing interest in women filmmakers in the silent period. Early cinema offered greater opportunities for women (in some countries, that is) to make a mark in the film business than would be the case for decades thereafter, and if the number of women directors was few (Alice Guy, Nell Shipman, Lois Weber, Esfir Shub and Germaine Dulac are among the most notable names), once you look more widely to production, scriptwriting, editing, lab work, criticism, continuinty, cinema management, projection, and acting of course, the numbers begin to grow.

It is with an enthusiastic spirit of investigation and a determination to reblanace early film history that international and national projects have been launched. Internationally, there is Duke University’s Women Film Pioneers project, led by Professor Jane Gaines. And here in Blighty there is Women in Silent British Cinema. This is a lively project which has a team of researchers pursuing a fascinatingly varied group of names, from the reasonably well known (Alma Reville, Blanche McIntosh, Mary Field) to the tantalisingly obscure. Anyone interested to help join in should get in touch through the website – there are many names left demanding assiduous detective work to rescue them from obscurity.

Next up for the project is a study day taking place at the BFI Southbank in London on 7 November, entitled Women and Silent Britain 2: Writers. The day will consider all aspects of writing for the screen by women involved in the British cinema industry of the silent era, whether as screenwriters, critics, columnists, publicists, or authors of source novels and plays. The day will feature the results of new research on critic Nerina Shute, novelist and director Elinor Glyn, and the prolific screenwrier Lydia Hayward.

The day will consist of screenings from the BFI National Archive, talks and workshops, followed by Adrian Brunel’s rarely screened silent classic The Constant Nymph (1928), based on the play of a novel by Margaret Kennedy and Basil Dean and adapted for the screen by Alma Reville (pictured above, with husband Alfred Hitchcock).

The study day will include contributions from Christine Gledhill, Jane Gaines (Duke University), Drake Stuseman (editor Framework), Alexis Wheedon (University of Bedfordshore), Laurence Napper (Kings College, University of London), Claire Watson (UEA), Matthew Sweet (journalist and broadcaster), Amy Sargeant (Warwick University) and Nathalie Morris and Bryony Dixon of the BFI.

Tickets are £15 (concs £10) including the evening screening. The day takes place in NFT3, 10.00-17.00. For further details email nathalie.morris [at]

The legendary intransigence of Mrs Helen Hubbard


Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, from

In 1921, after three trials, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, popular film comedian, was acquitted of the manslaughter of Virginia Rappe at an archetypal wild Hollywood party. The Arbuckle case, because of its lurid features, continues to attract prurient interest, while solid information on what actually happened in what was undoubtedly a key moment in Hollywood history becomes ever harder to find, such is our thirst for conspiracy and lowering tales of human fallibility.

A one-woman mission to unpick fact from fiction is being conducted by Joan Myers (aka Frederica Merrivale), whose investigations into the Arbuckle case and the background of the little-known Rappe, have been highlighted here before. Now she has published a lengthy piece on the New Research in Feminist Media Art/Theory/History blog. Entitled The Case of the Vanishing Juror, it traces the the story behind the first Arbuckle trial (there were three – the first two ended in hung juries, at the third he was acquitted) and the legend that grew up that there was a hung jury at the first trial owing to the intransigence of one stubborn female juror, Mrs Helen Hubbard.

I won’t recount the details here – you should read Joan’s article instead – but essentially she re-examines in depth the newspaper record to recover Mrs Hubbard’s reputation (see this account for an example of how she has been described in the past, supposedly with fingers in her ears during the defence’s case) and to go in pursuit of the ‘missing’ juror (Thomas Kilkenny), because the first trial was hung by a vote of ten to two. Kilkenny was similarly convinced of Arbuckle’s guilt, but he was not subjected to the insinuations about his motives as was Mrs Hubbard. It’s an exemplary piece of work, well grounded in in an understanding of legal procedure (women had only begun serving on juries in California in 1911, and their presence was still controversial for some). Its primary achievement is to make us reject the muddle of myth and innuendo that surrounds the case and makes us yearn for a historiographically rigorous account of the trial (Myers is scathing in her assessment of David Yallop’s The Day the Laughter Stopped, which is considered the standard work on the Arbuckle story). The method has been convincingly displayed – now let’s have the history.

Vamps and Vixens


The Bird’s Eye View festival, celebrating women filmmakers and performers, returns to the BFI Southbank and the ICA in London 5-13 March. As with last year, there is a silent film strand, which comes as part of an archive retrospective given the title Screen Seductresses: Vamps, Vixens & Femmes Fatales. The are six silents featured, under Vamps, and I can do no better than give the festival’s own hyper-enthusiastic words about the delights on offer:

Sexy, iconic and controversial: classic cinema, contemporary live music and gorgeous, godless women, in partnership with BFI Southbank.

From Eve to Cleopatra, Salome to Sharon Stone, women have always been able to win men over with their sexual powers. Obviously this is naughty, and a thinly disguised evil plot to render quivering (and probably kill) all otherwise fine upstanding gentlemen.

But BEV is feeling a little rebellious this year. We’re celebrating transgressive women in film, strong and complex seductresses, with razor-sharp wit and unrestrained sexuality. Some say it’s all a product of post-war male anxiety about the changing roles of women, but let’s not forget the crucial role women played in producing and writing these films. And, of course, the stunning talent a host of actresses brought to cinema – so radical for their time and still startlingly good.

We begin with THE VAMP, a fabulous and alluring figure of silent cinema. Louise Brooks, Theda Bara, Greta Garbo and Alla Nazimova shine like the stars they are in six stunning and rarely-screened films, with specially commissioned live music from cutting edge female artists including Bishi, Natalie Clein and The Broken Hearts.

And then to a month-long season of FEMMES FATALES – the (anti-) heroine of Hollywood’s film noir from the 1940s to the present day, including Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Kim Novak in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and Chinatown from Roman Polanksi, with Faye Dunaway. This is the largest ever collection of this kind screened at the BFI Southbank – so enjoy devouring its delights!

Salome with music from Bishi

7 March 2009

Marvel at mesmeric lesbian Hollywood icon Alla Nazimova, whilst listening to the vamped up sound of award-winning singer, multi-instrumentalist and DJ: Bishi.

A Fool There Was + The Vampire with Broken Hearts DJs and Jane Gardner

9 March 2009

Theda Bara and Alice Hollister fight over the title of cinema’s first sex symbol in this double-bill of bewitching vampires. With new music from Broken Hearts DJs and pianist Jane Gardner.

The Temptress with music from Natalie Clein

10 March 2009

Greta Garbo stars as a melancholy vamp in an emotional rollercoaster with live musical accompaniment from Classical Brit Award Winning cellist Natalie Clein.

Pandora’s Box with music from The Monroe Transfer

11 March 2009

Iconic and capricious Louise Brooks leads this silent classic, accompanied for the first time by 7 piece band The Monroe Transfer.

Alraune with music from Alison Blunt, with Hanna Marshal and Javier Carmon

12 March 2009

Star of Metropolis Bridgitte Helm stars as a lab-manufactured wonder seeking revenge against her creator. With original music from improvisation-based violinist and vocalist, Alison Blunt.

More details from the festival website.