War Brides


USA 1916

Director/producer: Herbert Brenon
Production Company: Herbert Brenon Film Corporation
Cinematographer: J. Roy Hunt
Art director: George Fitch
Film editor: James McKay
Script: Herbert Brenon, Marion Craig Wentworth
Based on the one-act play by Marion Craig Wentworth

Cast: Nazimova (Joan), Charles Hutchinson (George), Charles Bryant (Franz), William Bailey (Eric), Richard S. Barthelmess (Arno), Nila Mac (Amelia), Gertrude Berkeley (The Mother), Alex K. Shannon (The King), Robert Whitworth (Lieutenant Hoffman), Ned Burton (Captain Bragg), Theodora Warfield (Mina), Charles Chailles (A financier)

Distributed by Lewis J. Selznick Enterprises
Eight reels


Nazimova, in War Brides

Welcome one, welcome all, to the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films! Over the next five days we will be bringing to you five feature films (with accompanying shorts), selected from around the world, each a silent film now considered lost, untraceable in any of the world’s film archives or private collections.

We are opening with War Brides, Herbert Brenon’s pacifist masterpiece. Our venue is the Theatre de Luxe, in London’s The Strand. This select venue, star of the Electric Theatre circuit, lies adjacent to the Tivoli theatre (itself now no more) and seats 170 in the finest comfort. You will have noticed the luxuries of the foyer, and the special feature of a writing room, with complimentary notepaper, postcards and envelopes at the disposal of patrons. In such a modestly-sized venue, we must have musical accompaniment to match, so we are delighted to welcome as pianist Mr W. Tyacke George, author of that estimable and essential work for the aspiring silent film accompanist, Playing to Pictures (1914), who should certainly know what he is doing.

We are living in a time of war. We are always living in a time of war. The conflict in this case is the Great War, and while at the time of this film’s release Britain has been part of the fighting for two years, the United States has followed President Woodrow Wilson’s policy of neutrality. The British and the Germans have each plied the arts of propaganda to gain American sympathies, and the British have hopes that America will eventually side with it militarily. Some in America are thinking this way, and their call is for ‘preparedness’ should the need to fight arise. Others are appalled by the European folly, and speak out against war in all it forms. Already in 1916 American producers have given us Intolerance and Civilization, and now at the end of the year comes the most acclaimed film the year, and the strongest plea against war that we have yet seen on the screen, War Brides.

It has its basis in a one-act play, of the same title, written by Marion Craig Wentworth, which was such a success in the American theatres in 1915. Its star was that extraordinary Russian actress Alla Nazimova, who has been performing in America since 1905, excelling in Chekhov and Ibsen. Such was the sensation created by War Brides on the stage that producer Lewis J. Selznick persuaded Nazimova (she prefers to be known), for the handsome fee of $1,000 a day, to make her screen debut based on the stage success.


The 1915 stage production, with Nazimova (as Hedwig, the original name for her character) second from the right

As is the case with many anti-war tales, the setting is an unidentified country which could be anywhere. Four brothers are called up to join a war. They leave behind their mother, sister and the wife of one of them (Joan, the Nazimova character). All four are killed. Joan tries to kills herself, but it persuaded not to do so because of her unborn child. Then the government decrees that all unmarried women must be compelled to marry returning soldiers to ensure a new generation of manpower for the war. Joan leads a protest movement of women against the decree, escaping from imprisonment to confront the king. On being told by him that war never ends, she kills herself and her unborn child.

This is an undeniably powerful theme. Nazimova proves herself as a great a tragic actress on the screen as she is known to be on the stage, managing both to be a symbol and a person at the same time. Gertrude Berkeley, as the mother, joins her from the stage production, as does Charles Bryant, playing one of the sons, who happens to be Nazimova’s husband. Among the actors playing the other sons, we are advised to look out for one Richard Barthelmess, whose first picture this is. A great future is predicted for him.


Herbert Brenon and Nazimova on the set of War Brides

The director is that talented Irishman Herbert Brenon. We have all admired his previous works, among them Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Ivanhoe, Neptune’s Daughter and Sin, but Mr Brenon calls this his greatest work. Interestingly, we hear rumours that there are those within the British political establishment that agree with him. Can it be true that this producer of an anti-war masterpiece could be persuaded by the British War Office to produce a propagandist epic in favour of the British war effort? We shall await any such developments with the greatest interest.

Critics have been almost unanimous in their praise of War Brides. Few pictures in recent years have received such general acclaim. Yet there have been some adverse comments. The New York Times, while full of praise for Nazimova, who it says, ‘is a good subject for motion photography … she knows how to express herself in terms of the film’, was less enamoured of the film’s attempts to expand itself beyond the stage original.

The first half … in some respects is very bad indeed. It is palpably padded to make a holiday movie, some of the padding consisting of typical movie comedy, and is unnecessarily jerky and artificial. With such pictures as those of the battle of the Somme on view there should be a law against photoplay directors photographing sham martial scenes, or else to force them to make them depict scenes approximating reality. A bogus battle scene is included in “War Brides,” in which the defensive army occupies a system of trenches which rise from the foreground up and up into the background. All that an attacking army would have to do creep up to the edge of the top trenches and roll bombs down upon the helpless enemy, while if those in the trenches wishes to assume the offensive they would have to scale heights as high as the Palisades.

It is as curious to see a newspaper dramatic critic advise us on military strategy as it is to see a Hollywood studio attempt to depict it. As it is, the critic should perhaps read something of the futile Italian military campaign of the war, attempting to attack Austrian troops by scaling mountains while their enemy is securely positioned above them, before dismissing War Brides’ own illustration of military madness. However, it is telling that the critic compares its attempt to portray reality with the actual scenes of conflict in the remarkable films taken by British official cameramen of the battle of the Somme. It is difficult for the dramatic film to compare with the sober reality of conflict as depicted so honestly in The Battle of the Somme, and War Brides is strongest where it shows war’s consequences.

War Brides naturally speaks to the distaff side of the audience. It understands the suffering that war causes. Unlike some other films of pacifist intent, it successfully blends an idealised situation in a mythical land with the realities of home life and individual lives caught up in war’s inhuman machinery. It has touched a chord with audiences who may have found the melodrama or religiosity of Intolerance and Civilization unconvincing. Some states in America have banned the film because of its apparent pacifism, but we hear rumours that were America to join the war then the producers would find it is easy enough, with a judicious explanatory title or two, to make the film seem to promote the Allied point of view, a film not against war but against one side of the war. Thus do we see how powerful, and then how weak, the cinema can be.

To accompany our main film, we are showing Kiddies in the Ruins (UK 1918), George Pearson’s poignant portrait of the plight of French children in war-time. Pearson is an old friend of the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films, his work having appeared in last year’s festival. Here, inspired by a music hall sketch based on cartoons by that eminent French cartoonist Francisque Poulbot, he has shown us the lives and dreams of urchins in a bomb-shattered French city (enterprisingly filmed at Courneuve, near Paris). This touching three-reeler, starring Hugh E. Wright, may lack a little in narrative, but in sensibility alone it is a fine accompaniment to our main feature. We have seen the wretchedness of war, and yet the hopes that may arise even out of the ruins it has created.

Do join us again tomorrow night, when we will moving to the Soho district, and seeing a film of true mystery and daring, not only its in subject matter but in the extraordinary circumstances surrounding its production.

Pordenone diary 2008 – day four

For those who may not know, the recumbent figure who supplies the Pordenone silent film festival logo is Donald O’Connor. That’s Donald O’Connor playing Buster Keaton in The Buster Keaton Story (1957). A curious choice, all things considered, but, hey, it works.

Were I a writer of any skill, I would look upon the films that we saw on Tuesday 7 October, and I would draw out unexpected themes and make thoughtful overviews. But diversity was the only theme on offer. For anyone with only general ideas of what silent films comprise, this was the day to have your eyes opened.

Ironically, if there’s one thing that the average person is able to associate with silent film, it’s slapstick, and that’s what we started with (or rather, what I started with, as I missed the Austrian film Kleider Machen Leute that began the day). Under the ‘Rediscoveries’ strand we were offered a barrage of Keystone Film Company comedies, most of them recent discoveries or restorations. For the festival, this marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Keystone-themed festival it ran in 1983.

Mack Sennett, Keystone’s presiding genius, ran his studio as an assembly line, pumping out comedies by the yard, with an accomplished, hard-wearing troupe of performers able to fit themselves perfectly into the rigours of whatever routine Sennett had dreamt up for them this week. Three things were particularly noticeable about the films: the unquenchable vitality of the performers, the opportunistic taste for sketches to be devised out of some local event or eye-catching piece of scenery, and the phenomenal speed. One knows all about the knockabout thrills of American slapstick, but looking at a film like Love, Speed and Thrills (1915), the sheer number of shots, angles and different set-ups was prodigious, and seemed to run counter to the demand for getting out the films cheaply and quickly. They made such work for themselves, simply by the pursuit of comic excellence. Not that one could call all of the films strictly funny as such – not funny now, that is – and that the grotesquely gesticulating Ford Sterling (left) was ever revered as a comedian has left posterity baffled. Sterling pulled every face known to man (and a few that man has now happily forgotten) in his efforts to draw laughter out of the curious Stolen Glory (1912), where he and Fred Mace play warring Civil War veterans, filmed interrupting a genuine war veterans’ parade, apparently without any protest from the participants.

Other Keystones that caughter the eye included A Deaf Burglar (1913), which drew some easy laughs from a situation readily inferred from the title, and A Little Hero (1913), which starred a cat (named Pepper), a dog and Mabel Normand, the dog saving a caged bird from the cat’s predations in a scenario that looked for all the world as though it were borrowed from that deathless British classic, Rescued by Rover. Love, Speed and Thrills more than lived up to its title. One could only look on with astonishment at the violent indignities to which Minta Durfee was put in this frenetic chase comedy. These comedies were the inheritors of the comedy series made by European companies, but in their difference to the works of Max Linder, Cretinetti et al one sees how it was that American cinema, and the idea of America, conquered the world. Their new world dynamism is overpowering. Love, speed and thrills sold America.

And then for something completely different. There is growing interest in European women filmmakers in the silent era, and among their select number is the intriguing figure of Elvira Giallanella, director of Umanità (1919). Not much is known about Giallanella, except that she established a film company, Vera, in 1913, which made a Futurist-inspired production, Mondo baldoria (1913), then formed Liana Film, with great ambitions for extensive production, but with just the one title seeing the light of day – Umanità. This thirty-five minute work is unique. It is an anti-war allegory based on a children’s poem by Vittorio Bravetta. The child protagonists are named Tranquillino and Serenetta, which gives you a fair idea of the filmmaker’s intentions. The children wake up in the night – Tranquillino smokes a cigarette (eye-popping stuff) and has a nightmare, in which the world has been destroyed by war and he and his sister are given the task of rebuilding it. Given the nil budget, we have to rely on our imaginations quite a bit. The futility of war is revealed, for instance, by a neat line of empty boots. Peculiarly, the children are guided by a gnome (the embodiment of one of their toys), across deserted, rocky landscapes. The action wasn’t all that easy to follow, chiefly because the Italian intertitles had been bravely translated by the festival into English verse, at the expense of some logic. Intriguingly, Tranquillino, discovers the seeds of violence in him as he wishes to throw bombs, but the two children resort to prayer and are comforted by a bearded God and Jesus (one of a number of appearances during the Giornate). A film of muddled meaning and technique – who saw it at the time, and what on earth did they make of it? – but out on its own among silent film. The film it reminded me of was Richard Lester’s post-apocalyptic comedy The Bed Sitting Room, the survivors wandering about a shattered, empty world, trying to recover meaning.

Shown in the ‘Film and History’ strand, Umanità was paired with the surviving reel of the five-reeler American film If My Country Should Call (1916). This was not anti-war as such, as its avowed theme was ‘preparedness’ for an America which would shortly join the conflict, but its central, sympathetic character was a mother (played by Dorothy Phillips) whose sentiments were anti-war. It was something of a shock to read a closing intertitle which denounced her attitude as selfish. Otherwise it was a tale of enfeebled manhood (and by extension the nation), redeemed by the promise of fighting. Lon Chaney appeared as a doctor, and scenarist was Ida May Park.

Right up my street was Paul Spehr’s special presentation on the films of William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson. As Spehr’s new book says it, Dickson was The Man Who Made Movies. The Edison employee who was assigned in the early 1890s to solving the problem of creating a photographic motion picture device, Dickson not only – more than anyone else – created motion pictures (the system he devised, with 35mm perforated film, is with us still) but he was a maker of movies in the artistic sense. His films, from the earliest experiments with Edison through to his bold adventures with the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company in the late 1890s, are hauntingly beautiful. I won’t got into every film here, but just to say that Spehr presented them as part of a combined film and computer slide show, and did so with wise aplomb. It is quite something for someone who has just written a 706-page book on his subject to express its essence so simply and clearly. Of the many films he showed, I’ll note just one – Dickson’s very first, Monkeyshines no. 1, miniscule images photographed and laid around a cylinder, before they realised that copying Edison’s earlier invention, the Phonograph, wasn’t quite the way to go. From a microphoto on a cylinder to the big screen of the Verdi – and it’s on YouTube too, the human figure in motion evolving out of incoherence, the ghost in the machine:

Monkeyshines no. 1 (1889), the first American movie

My prize for the most disappointing film of the week went to A Modern Musketeer (1917). This really ought to have been a gem. A complete copy was only recently discovered, and it represents a key point in the development of Douglas Fairbanks’ persona, from his young-man-about-town persona to the swaggering figures of his 1920s historical romps. It seemed to have a cast-iron premise. Fairbanks plays a young man whose mother was addicted to the works of Alexandre Dumas just before he was born, and he is imbued with the spirit of The Three Musketeers, which he then tries to take into modern American life as a twentieth-century D’Artagnan. Fabulous concept – what could possibly go wrong? Well, after overplaying the idea wildly in an energetic opening five minutes, the film then abandons it almost entirely for a muddled, uncertainly-paced comedy-thriller set in the Grand Canyon, with an unpleasantly racist undertone in its depicition of the native American villain. Pianist Ian Mistrorigo (a Pordenone masterclass alumnus) tore along at a terrific pace, trying to make the film what it ought to have been, but the film stubbornly refused to live up to his expectations. It’s great that the film has been found and restored, but it’s unfunny, unthrilling, and frankly clueless. Oh dear.

Ed’s Co-ed, from University of Oregon

At this point I was planning to see two Sessue Hayakawa films, His Birthright (1918) and The Courageous Coward (1919), but the word had got round that Ed’s Co-ed (1929), which had been shown the day before to a minimal audience in the Ridotto, was getting a second screening because people really had to see it. Dutifully I went, and I’m very glad I did. There was a fascinating story behind it. In 1928 a University of Oregon student, Carvel Nelson, got to work on the set of F.W. Murnau’s The City Girl. Bitten with the film bug, he decided to make his own film, working with fellow students and an English professor, and raising finance locally. The Nelson and his eventual co-director James Raley made so bold as to approach Cecil B. DeMille for advice. DeMille put them in touch with his cinematographer, James McBride, who amazingly joined the production as technical director and got paid for it as well. With a 35mm Bell & Howell camera rented from Hollywood, and a cast recruited from across the university, Ed’s Co-ed went into production in February 1929 and had its premiere locally in November of that year.

Ed’s Co-ed is a strikingly accomplished film. McBride’s presence clearly aided the fluid, expressive cinematography, including a number of vivid sequences (a punt drifting on the waters through trees, a close shot of women students looking through a window enraptured by some violin playing), but he could not have claimed responsibility for the immaculately engineered script with central and sub-plots artfully interwoven, nor the highly capable performances from the entire cast. There is not a trace of amateurism about Ed’s Co-ed. The story is that of every college movie you ever saw – country boy Ed comes to college, is picked on by other students, he falls for the girl but is rejected by all after he admits to a crime to cover up for someone else who actually committed it, his talents are recognised (he plays the violin, he’s top in all his grades), he wins through at last. It’s so like ever college film made that you could be fooled by its ordinariness, but this is a college film that actually came from a college, and it is a treasure trove of period attitudes, codes, fashions and language.

The 35mm original of Ed’s Co-ed was destroyed in the 1960s when a 16mm dupe was made. We were told that the university hadn’t shown sufficient interest in the film to want to fund a restoration, which is a shame if true because though it might be a hard sell, a DVD edition could reach both silent film fans and those with an interest in American social history. However, there must be some interest from the university, because you can find the whole of Ed’s Co-ed online (87mins). It’s available in streamed and downloadable forms from the University of Oregon’s Scholar’s Bank website – no music track, but otherwise it’s a good quality encoding, and I warmly recommend it. Praise, by the way, for the accompaniment at Pordenone from Neil Brand (piano) and Günter Buchwald (violin, to match Ed’s playing), overlapping beautifully.

Helen Jerome Eddy and Sessue Hayakawa in The Man Beneath, from http://www.filmmuseum.nl

I missed most of the evening screenings, owing to a genial supper with a gaggle of pianists, but I returned for the last film of the day, The Man Beneath (1919). This is one of the films recently discovered and restored by the Nederlands Filmmuseum of Sessue Hayakawa, the Japanese-American star who has attracted such critical and archival interest of late. Hayakawa is fascinating not just for his star presence and position as an Asian performer in the heart of Hollywood, but for his thinking about his role and the degree to which he tried to combine positive images of himself as a representative Japanese figure with the demands of the box office, through his position as an independent producer.

The Man Beneath was made by Hayakawa’s own Haworth Pictures Corporation, and it came at a time when he felt it was right to expand his range somewhat. Hence the peculiar set-up, where we get a Japanese actor, playing a Hindu doctor, in an American film, set in Scotland. Hayakawa plays Dr Chindi Ashuter, who is in love with the Scottish Kate Erskine, and she in love with him, though she is held back by the fear of the social consequences of a mixed marriage. Her sister is married to an associate (white) of Ashuter’s, whose entrapment by a secret society and rescue by Ashuter forms the main action of the film. But it is Ashuter and Kate’s thwarted love that is the real theme. He returns to Scotland, but she sorrowfully rejects him, and he leaves sadder and wiser. Of course, a mixed marriage was never going to be shown upon the screen in 1919, so the plot had nowhere else to go, but what lingers in the mind is the intensity of the feelings, particularly as expressed in a luminous performance by Helen Jerome Eddy as Kate. Hayakawa is less of a presence, curiously enough, but one shot where he stares in anguish at his reflection in the mirror and tears at his face, drawing blood, says everything.

And so we saw farewell to Day Four, and look forward to the morrow, bringing us smouldering South American passions, Austrian troops scaling mountains, a near-lynching presented as comedy, a Mozart-free Figaro, a gold digger triumphant, and bare knuckle boxing accompanied by the harp.

Pordenone diary 2008 – day one
Pordenone diary 2008 – day two
Pordenone diary 2008 – day three
Pordenone diary 2008 – day five
Pordenone diary 2008 – day six
Pordenone diary 2008 – day seven

Flicking through the magazines

A new publication, Emily Crosby and Linda Kaye’s Projecting Britain: The Guide to British Cinemagzines, opens up a hidden corner of film history, a corner in which the silent cinema played its part. The book’s subject is the cinemagazines, or screen magazines, or just plain magazine films, those unconsidered programme fillers that were a mainstay of cinema shows for decades and out of which sprang the television magazine format. Overlooked by practically all film histories, the cinemagazine has a rich tale to tell, not simply for its form and content, but for the diverse audiences that it reached and the various bodies – entertainment, governmental, industrial – that used the magazine film format to hook audiences to their purposes.

The richest history of the cinemagazine, as indicated by that title Projecting Britain, comes from the sound era, when the British government in particular latched onto the form in the post-World War II era as means to further its strategic aim of ‘national projection’ (i.e. we may have lost an empire and it may be a post-war world, but we still have our part to play in it). But the cinemagazine was an invention of the silent cinema, and it was not the sole preserve of Britain.

The first person to come up with a magazine film series (as opposed to the newsreel – a related form, but tied much more to topicality) was Charles Urban (have I mentioned him before?). Late in 1913 Urban devised the Kinemacolor Fashion Gazette, directed by Abby Meehan, a magazine series highlighting women’s fashions, filmed naturally in colour using the Kinemacolor process. It probably did not extend far beyond Kinemacolor’s London theatre, the Scala, and only lasted a couple of months, but a new film form was born. The next pioneer was the naturalist and filmmaker Cherry Kearton, who devised The Whirlpool of War, a behind-the-scenes war magazine presenting footage from Belgium and France in the first few months of the First World War.

Title design from Around the Town no. 105, 1921 (BUFVC)

But the cinemagazine as a regular entertainment in the cinemas really began in 1918 with Pathe Pictorial. This offshoot of the Pathe newseel in Britain amazingly ran uninterruptedly until 1969, bringing together light stories of fashion, personalities, travel, customs, sport, hobbies, innovations, animals, quirky events – anything that didn’t quite define itself as news. The idea swiftly caught on. In Britain, though the 1920s, there was Around the Town (1919-1923), created by Aron Hambuger, distributed by Gaumont, concentrating on London goings-on, especially theatrical; Eve’s Film Review (1921-1933), Pathe’s iconic magazine series for women; Vanity Fair (1922), produced by Walturdaw; Gaumont Mirror (1927-1932), sister series to the newsreel Gaumont Graphic; and British Screen Tatler (1928-1931), sister series to the newsreel British Screen News. Ideal Cinemagazine (1926-1932), produced for Ideal by Andrew Buchanan, gave the form its name, and introduced a (limited) educational element that was to characterise later developments of the cinemagazine.

Also throughout the 1920s the cinemagazine was becoming a staple of American screens, with Charles Urban once again the pioneer. When Urban established an American film business after government service during the First World War, he based much of his hopes on two cinemagazine series, Movie Chats (1919-1923) and Kineto Review (1921-1923). A typical Movie Chats issue (no. 4) contained the stories ‘View of the River Thames at Henley on Regatta Day’, ‘Experiments in Static Electricity’, ‘Visting the Sacred Monkey Temple at Benares India’, ‘Camel Fight in Desert of Turkey’, and ‘Three Views of the River Seine with Cloud Effects’. Ever the one to make good use of library material, much of Urban’s cinemagazine content came from films his companies shot in Britain before the First World War (and in turn Movie Chats footage was sold to Britain and used by Andrew Buchanan in his Ideal Cinemagazine).

Other American cinemagazines of the 1920s were Screen Snapshots (1920-1958), which focussed on Hollywood stars; Grantland Rice’s Sportlights (from 1924 at least), a mainstay of American cinemas for decades; and several series from James A. Fitzpatrick, an Urban protégé, whose Fitzpatrick Traveltalks (begin 1931) were an equally enduring feature of American screens (with the legendary closing lines “… and so we say farewell to …”). Undoubtedly the form spread to other countries, though information on these seemingly inconsequential components of the cinema programme is particularly difficult to find.

Light the cinemagazine may have been, but inconsequential it was not. An enduringly popular form, it spoke to audiences in an engaging, comforting manner, sometimes quaintly, sometimes with a degree of sly subversiveness. The use of the cinemagazine form in the 1920s to attract women audiences, through a mixture of knowingness and unknowingness, is covered by Emily Crosby in Projecting Britain and by Jenny Hammerton in one of the few other publication to consider the genre, For Ladies Only? Eve’s Film Review: Pathe Cinemagazine 1921-33. There’s also a German thesis available commercially, Nicola Gölzhäuser-Newman’s Eve’s Film Review: Genre und Gender im britischen screen magazine der 1920er Jahre. Some information on the American cinemagazine at this time (though the term is not used) can be found in Leonard Maltin’s The Great Movie Shorts. The use of the cinemagazine in the 1920s to tackle educational subjects remains under-researched, and I know of no publication that I can point you to (though I have some unpublished writing myself…).

You can find plenty of examples of Pathe Pictorial and Eve’s Film Review on the British Pathe site (same content also available through ITN Source). Examples from issues of Around the Town are available on the British Universities Film & Video Council’s Video Showcase (look out in particular for H. Grindell Matthews demonstrating his sound-on-film invention in 1921). It was the BUFVC which hosted the ‘Cinemagazines and the Projection of Britain‘ project which resulted in this book, a project in which I played a small part (mostly obstructive). The BUFVC’s newsreel database now included records of some 19,000 British cinemagazines.

There’s still so much to be discovered in film history, particularly early film history, if we will only start looking in the right places. Projecting Britain (a collection of essays, original documents and reference guide) opens another door.

The Silent Film Bookshelf

The Silent Film Bookshelf was started by David Pierce in October 1996 with the noble intention of providing a monthly curated selection of original documents on the silent era (predominantly American cinema), each on a particular theme. It ended in June 1999, much to the regret to all who had come to treasure its monthly offerings of knowledgeably selected and intelligently presented transcripts. The effort was clearly a Herculean one, and could not be sustained forever, but happily Pierce chose to keep the site active, and there it still stands nine years later, undeniably a web design relic but an exceptional reference resource. Its dedication to reproducing key documents helped inspire the Library section of this site, and it is a lesson to us all in supporting and respecting the Web as an information resource.

Below is a guide to the monthly releases (as I guess you’d call them), with short descriptions.

October 1996 – Orchestral Accompaniment in the 1920s
Informative pieces from Hugo Riesenfeld, musical director of the Rialto, Rivoli and Critierion Theaters in Manhattan, and Erno Rapee, conductor at the Capitol Theater, Manhattan.

November 1996 – Salaries of Silent Film Actors
Articles with plenty of multi-nought figures from 1915, 1916 and 1923.

December 1996 – An Atypical 1920s Theatre
The operations of the Eastman Theatre in Rochester, N.Y.

January 1997 – “Blazing the Trail” – The Autobiography of Gene Gauntier
The eight-part autobiography (still awaiting part eight) of the Kalem actress, serialised over 1928/1929 in the Women’s Home Companion.

February 1997 – On the set in 1915
Photoplay magazine proiles of D.W. Griffith, Mack Sennett and Siegmund Lubin.

March 1997 – Music in Motion Picture Theaters
Three articles on the progress of musical accompaniment to motion pictures, 1917-1929.

April 1997 – The Top Grossing Silent Films
Fascinating articles in Photoplay and Variety on production finance and the biggest money-makers of the silent era.

May 1997 – Geraldine Farrar
The opera singer who became one of the least likely of silent film stars, including an extract from her autobiography.

June 1997 – Federal Trade Commission Suit Against Famous Players-Lasky
Abuses of monopoly power among the Hollywood studios.

July 1997 – Cecil B. DeMille Filmmaker
Three articles from the 1920s and two more analytical articles from the 1990s.

August 1997 – Unusual Locations and Production Experiences
Selection of pieces on filmmaking in distant locations, from Robert Flaherty, Tom Terriss, Frederick Burlingham, James Cruze, Bert Van Tuyle, Fred Leroy Granville, H.A. Snow and Henry MacRae.

September 1997 – D.W. Griffith – Father of Film
Rich selection of texts from across Griffith’s career on the experience of working with the great director, from Gene Gauntier, his life Linda Arvidson, Mae Marsh, Lillian Gish and others.

October 1997 – Roxy – Showman of the Silent Era
S.L. Rothapfel, premiere theatre manager of the 1920s.

November 1997 – Wall Street Discovers the Movies
The Wall Street Journal looks with starry eyes at the movie business in 1924.

December 1997 – Sunrise: Artistic Success, Commercial Flop?
Several articles documenting the marketing of a prestige picture, in this case F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise.

January 1998 – What the Picture Did For Me
Trade publication advice to exhibitors on what films of the 1928-1929 season were likely to go down best with audiences.

February 1998 – Nickelodeons in New York City
The emergence of the poor man’s theatre, 1907-1911.

March 1998 – Projection Speeds in the Silent Film Era
An amazing range of articles on the vexed issue of film speeds in the silent era. There are trade paper accouncts from 1908 onwards, technical papers from the Transactions of Society of Moving Picture Engineers, a comparative piece on the situation in Britain, and overview articles from archivist James Card and, most importantly, Kevin Brownlow’s key 1980 article for Sight and Sound, ‘Silent Films: What was the right speed?’

April 1998 – Camera Speeds in the Silent Film Era
The protests of cameramen against projectionsts.

May 1998 – “Lost” Films
Robert E. Sherwood’s reviews of Hollywood, Driven and The Eternal Flame, all now lost films (the latter, says Pierce, exists but is ‘incomplete and unavailable’).

June 1998 – J.S. Zamecnik & Moving Picture Music
Sheet music for general film accompaniment in 1913, plus MIDI files.

July 1998 – Classics Revised Based on Audience Previews
Sharp-eyed reviews of preview screenings by Wilfred Beaton, editor of The Film Spectator, including accounts of the preview of Erich Von Stroheim’s The Wedding March and King Vidor’s The Crowd, each quite different to the release films we know now.

August 1998 – Robert Flaherty and Nanook of the North
Articles on the creator of the staged documentary film genre.

September 1998 – “Fade Out and Fade In” – Victor Milner, Cameraman
The memoirs of cinematographer Victor Milner.

October 1998 – no publication

November 1998 – Baring the Heart of Hollywood
Somewhat controversially, a series of articles from Henry Ford Snr.’s anti-Semitic The Dearborn Independent, looking at the Jewish presence in Hollywood. Pierce writes: ‘I have reprinted this series with some apprehension. That many of the founders of the film industry were Jews is a historical fact, and “Baring the Heart of Hollywood” is mild compared to “The International Jew.” [Another Ford series] Nonetheless, sections are offensive. As a result, I have marked excisions of several paragraphs and a few words from this account.’

December 1998 – Universal Show-at-Home Libraries
Universal Show-At-Home Movie Library, Inc. offered complete features in 16mm for rental through camera stores and non-theatrical film libraries.

January 1999 – The Making of The Covered Wagon
Various articles on the making of James Cruze’s classic 1923 Western.

February 1999 – From Pigs to Pictures: The Story of David Horsley
The career of independent producer David Horsley, who started the first motion picture studio in Hollywood, by his brother William.

March 1999 – Confessions of a Motion Picture Press Agent
An anonymous memoir from 1915, looking in particular at the success of The Birth of a Nation.

April 1999 – Road Shows
Several articles on the practive of touring the most popular silent epics as ‘Road Shows,’ booked into legitimate theatres in large cities for extended runs with special music scores performed by large orchestras. With two Harvard Business School analyses from the practice in 1928/29.

May 1999 – Investing in the Movies
A series of articles 1915/16 in Photoplay Magazine examining the risks (and occasional rewards) of investing in the movies.

June 1999 – The Fabulous Tom Mix
A 1957 memoir in twelve chapters by his wife of the leading screen cowboy of the 1920s.

And there it ended. An astonishing bit of work all round, with the texts transcribed (they are not facsimiles) and meticulously edited. Use it as a reference source, and as an inspiration for your own investigations.

Forgotten faces


One of the sad, or at least frustrating aspects of archival work on early films is trying to identify reels where there is no convenient main title to identify the film for you, and you can’t tell who the performers are. For every Pickford or Chaplin, there were hundreds of second and third tier players, probably not much known about at the time, and recognised by only a dedicated few now. And below they came those whose names were probably never known, who hoped for a little fame and never found it. If you can’t recognise them, or you can’t name the film in which they appear, film and performers remain in limbo, orphaned, acting for no one. Who are you, you ask, peering ever more closely at the screen in the hope of some subliminal clue. You take frame stills and show them to colleagues, leaf through the reference books, scroll through endless lists of film titles looking for some hopeful match between the action on the film fragment you have seen, trying to imagine these things with the mind of a 1910s film producer. Find the right title, or find a name, and you’re restoring someone back to some sort of a life. It’s a precious responsibility.

So it is that the Nederlands Filmmuseum, which has made something of a speciality of curating unidentified films, has put together a PowerPoint slide show of actresses from the silent era that either they are unable to identify, or of whom they know frustratingly little. They’ve done this to coincide with the upcoming Women and the Silent Screen Conference, being held in Stockholm 11-13 June, and they are inviting anyone who can to help identify the names. So, visit the conference site to download the PowerPoint, or take a look at the faces here. From the faces above, who is it on the left who appears in a British Lupino Lane film of the 1910s? Who is the actress (centre) who was found in a fragment of a mid 1920s comedy for Fox or Universal with Fred Spencer and Billy Bletcher? And can anyone name the actress (right) in a 1910s film which features Austrian and British officers going on a hunting party, who end up shooting a lion?


Or what of these? The actress on the left played the character of Cunegonde in a popular series of comedies 1911-1913 for the French company Lux, but no one knows her name. In the centre, this unidentified player appears in a Universal Century comedy fragment, dating around 1922, with Jimmy Adams and Jack Earle. And who on the right plays the title character in a Powers Company film of 1910 entitled The Lady Doctor?

If you have any idea, the Filmmuseum would love to hear from you. And, from the grave, the women would doubtless thank you too.

Women and the Silent Screen conference

Tsuru Aoki and her husband Sessue Hayakawa in Courageous Coward (1919)

The Fifth International Women and the Silent Screen Conference is being held at Stockholm University, Sweden, 11–13 June 2008, and a full programme with screenings has now been published. The aim of the conference is to “celebrate the diversity of women’s engagement with silent cinemas across the globe”, and it’s very interesting to see the current issues being covered by the papers and some of the unfamiliar films which are being put back on the screens in response to such new debates. This is why we have research; so we can see more.

Here’s the outline conference programme:

Wednesday, June 11

Keynote address
Jane Gaines – Women and the Cinematification of the World

Parallel Sessions 1.1
National and Transnational
Rosanna Maule – Feminist Film History and the (Un)problematic Treatment of Trans-nationalism in Early Cinema
Christine Gledhill – Mary Pickford: Emerging Stardom and Transnational Circulation
Sanjoy Saksena – Image of Women in Colonial and Post-Colonial Indian Cinema
Phil Powrie – Josephine Baker and Pierre Batcheff in La Sirène des tropiques (1927)

Sharpened Pencils
Domenico Spinosa – The didactic-instructive task of cinema (1907-1918) in the Italian women writings
Luca Mazzei – Going to movies wearing a skirt and handling a pen. Women writing about cinema 1898-1916
Luigia Annunziata – Matilde Serao and the cinema
Louis Pelletier – Ray Lewis and the Birth of Canadian Film Culture

Germaine Dulac
April Miller – Pure Cinema, Pure Violence: Murder as Avant-Garde Aesthetic in Germaine Dulac’s La Coquille et le Clergyman and La Souriante Madame Beudet
Tami M. Williams – An Invitation to a Voyage: Cross medial spatial metaphors, modes of transport and sexual liberation in the cinema of Germaine Dulac
Catherine Siberschmidt – The concept of spectatorship in Germaine Dulac’s film theory
Sarah Keller – “Optical Harmonies”: Sight and Sound in Germaine Dulac’s Integral Cinema

Parallel Sessions 1.2
Conceptualizing “Female Pioneers”
Shelley Stamp – Lois Weber’s ”Feminine Hand” at Rex
Karen Ward Mahar – Working Girls: The Masculinization of American Business in Film and Advice Literature in the 1920s
Isabel Arredondo – Forgetting Women Film Pioneers: Juliet Rublee and the Myth of the Avant-Garde
Mark Lynn Anderson – The Real Dorothy: Mrs. Wallace Reid, the Newspaper, and Feminist Film Historiography
Monica Dall’Asta – What Means to Be a Woman: Theorizing Feminist Film History Beyond the Essentialism / Constructionism Divide

Case Studies in Stardom
Tijana Mamula – Ideal Situation: Projecting Knowledge in Prix de Beauté
Miya Tokumitsu – f(Swoon): The Function of the Female Swoon in Silent Film
Nicole Beth Wallenbrock – The Hollywood Flapper dies an Expressionist Death (Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box)
Galen Wilson – Performance of Anxiety: Les Vampires and the Crisis of Gender in the Fin-de-Siecle
Hélène Fleckinger -“The wicked woman” On the character of Irma Vep in Les Vampires of Louis Feuillade

Authorship and Screenwriting
Vincent L. Barnett – The Novelist as Hollywood Star: Author Royalties and Studio Income in the 1920s
Alexis Weedon – Elinor Glyn the Author On Page and Screen
Stephan Michael Schröder – The conditions of freelance script writing – example Harriet Bloch
Claus Tieber – Between Sentimentalism and Modernity: The narrative structure of Frances Marion’s screenplays
Anke Brouwers – The Name Behind the Titles: Women, Authorship and Silent Screenwriting

Thursday, June 12

Parallel Sessions 2.1
Cross-Gender Casting and Lesbian Characters
Astrid Söderbergh Widding – Flickan i frack – A Case of Cross-Dressing
Laura Horak – Edna/Billy Foster, the Biograph “Boy”
Fiona Philip – Veiled Disclosures and ‘Speaking Back’: Borderline (1930) and the Presences of Censorship
Susan Potter – Opening up Pandora’s Box

American Stardom
Mary Desjardins – A Method to this Madness? The Myth of the Mad Silent Film Star
Charlie Keil – ’Studio Girls’: Female Stars and the Logic of Brand Names
Jeannette Delamoir – Mary Pickford and Louise Lovely: The silent motion-picture star in the age of reproduction
Tricia Welsch – From Pratfalls to Glamour: Gloria Swanson at Triangle

(Re)discovering Female Filmmakers 1
Nathalie Morris – “Alma isn’t Talking”: The Early Career of Alma Reville aka Mrs Alfred Hitchcock
Claudia Preschl and Elisabeth Streit – Making Noice (Proud to be loud). Women in the Silent-Period of Austrian Film History
Anne Bachmann – Parallel stories? Ebba Lindkvist’s brief career and the film version of a
theatrical play
Annemone Ligensa – “A Cinematography of Feminine Thought”: The Novel The Dangerous Age (1910) by Karin Michaelis and Its Filmic Adaptations

Parallel Sessions 2.2
(Re)considering Genres and “Feminine Tastes”
Lea Jacobs – On Hating Valentino: The Rejection of the Romantic Drama in the American Cinema of the 1920s
Annette Förster – Humorous reflections on acting, filmmaking and genre in comic film productions by Adriënne Solser, Musidora, and Nell Shipman
Kristen Anderson Wagner – “Ever on the Move”: Silent Comediennes and the New Woman

Fashion and Fandom
Mila Ganeva – Women between Screenwriting and Fashion Journalism: The Case of Ruth Goetz
Therése Andersson – Beauty Box – Film Stars and Beauty Culture in Early 20th Century Sweden
Andrea Haller – “Flimmeritis” and Fashion – Early intermedial practices of female movie fandom in Imperial Germany
Lisa Stead – “It costs nothing to wish!” Female Fan Writing and Self-Representation in the British Silent Cinema

(Re)discovering Female Filmmakers 2
Marcela de Souza Amaral – Alice Guy and the narrative cinema
Mike C. Vienneau – The discursive Art of Alice Guy: The cinema and the feminine silent word
Jindiška Bláhová – “The lady crazy about film” – demystifying Thea 􀀀ervenková, the mystery woman of the early Czechoslovak cinema
Micaela Veronesi – A woman wants to create the world. Umanità by Elvira Giallanella

Parallel Sessions 2.3
Stardom and Intermediality
Anne Morey – Geraldine Farrar: A Film Star from Another Medium
Victoria Duckett – A new anachronism: Sarah Bernhardt and the modern theatrical film
Elena Mosconi – The Star as an Artist: Italian Divas between Symbolism and Liberty
Maria Elena D’Amelio – Damned Queens. Two case studies on the dark ladies in Cabiria and Maciste all’inferno films

(Re)discovering Female Filmmakers 3
Begoña Soto Vázquez – How to research the exception: the power of the unknown
María Cami-Vela – Women, bullfighters and identity in Spanish Silent Cinema: Musidora
Bárbara Barroso – Virgína de Castro e Almeida: writing, producing and envisioning film
Nadi Tofighian – Isabel and José – the pioneer tandem filmmakers of the Philippines

More than Filmmakers
Anne Marit Myrstad – Film censorship, morality and female identity: Fernanda Nissen, a case study
Joshua Yumibe – The Gendering of Color and Coloring of Films: Female Film Colorists of the Silent Era
Christopher Natzén – Greta Håkansson – a female conductor in a time of change during the transition to sound film in Sweden 1928-1932
Tony Fletcher – Laura Eugenia Smith and the Biokam Films

Parallel Sessions 2.4
Film Festivals and Screening Networks
Kay Armatage – Women’s Cinema, Film Festivals and Their Contribution to Women’s Film History
Ingrid Stigsdotter and Kelly Robinson – ‘Clowning Glories’: A Case Study of a Festival Programme and its Audiences
Rebeca Ibanez-Martin and Andrea Gautier Sansalvador – Women as Archivers of Films Made by Women: the Project of Envideas

Russian Pioneers
Dunja Dogo – Re-editing History in the Works of Esfir’ I. Šub (1927-30)
Ilana Sharp – Esfir Shub’s Costructivist Non-Fiction Film and Soviet Silent Cinema
Lauri Piispa – Vera Kholodnaia: Queen of Screen, Slave of Love
Michele Torre – A woman of all trades: Zoia Barantsevich, a pioneer in early Russian cinema

Asta Nielsen
Ansje van Beusekom – Asta Nielsen in the Netherlands in 1920
Annette Brauerhoch – Between Pleasure and Pain: Asta Nielsens Acting Acts
Heide Schlüpmann – Playing History – Asta Nielsen in Early Cinema
Karola Gramann – Screening and discussion

Friday, June 13

Parallel Sessions 3.1
Three Histories, One Archive
Jennifer Horne – Premediations: Previewing for Better Motion Pictures, 1916-1930
Mark Garrett Cooper – The Universal Women: An Institutional Explanation
Richard Abel – Unexplored Margaret Herrick Library Resources, 1910-1916

Chinese Stardom
Yiman Wang – Between “Yellowface” and “Yellow Yellowface” – Anna May Wong and Her Chinese Audience during the Interwar Era
Erin Kelley – Dance, Stardom, and the Trans-National Celebrity Status of Anna May Wong
Qin Xiqing – Pearl White and the New Female Image in Chinese Silent Cinema
Yuan Chen – Wang Hanlun, a ‘successful’ Runaway Nora in Early Chinese Film Industry
Ruixue Jia – Silence can kill: rethinking Rua Ling-yu’s tradgedy

Images of Women
Constance Balides – Moralizing Typologies to Sociological Personalities: Delinquent Women in Early Social Problem Films
William Van Watson – Enrico Guazzoni’s Marcantonio and Cleopatra: The Feline-Feminine Construct and the Colonial Dangers of Heavy Petting
Selin Tüzün Gül – From stage to the screen: Actresses as one of the symbols of Turkish modernization project
Tommy Gustafsson – The Significance of the New Woman in Swedish Silent Film

Parallel Sessions 3.2
Politics of Ethnicity
Denise McKenna – What Happened to Myrtle? Latina Stars in Early Hollywood
Ora Gelley – Race and Gender in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915): Patterns of Narration and Vision
Nina Cartier – I Get Lifted?: Delineating Uplift’s Restrictions Upon Black Female Desire in Silent Era Race Films
Kyna B. Morgan – The First African American Woman Film Producer: Maria P. Williams and The Flames of Wrath

European Stars and Audiences
Dominique Nasta and Muriel Andrin – Engaging National Emotions on Screen: European Silent Women in “strikingly effective” Melodramas
Anna Cabak Rédei – Garbo as ’Greta’ in Pabst’s The Joyless Street (1925)
Irina Novikova – Female Stars of Cinematic Peripheries – Lilita Berzinja (Latvia)
Silvia Horváth – Feminine (self-)staging in the Hungarian Silent Film of the 1910th

Strike a Pose: Female Models and Magicians
Cynthia Chris – Censoring Purity
Pierre Chemartin and Nicolas Dulac – The pose as performance: Early cinema acting and the female stereotype
Matthew Solomon – Women and the Trick Film

An extraordinary line-up indeed. And here are the films scheduled for evening screenings, with the conference organisers’ notes and comments. Note in particular the premiere of the restoration of the recently rediscovered Mary Pickford title, The Dawn of Tomorrow:

35mm b/w print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
180 meters, 5 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Pathé Frères / SCAGL
Director: Georges Monca
Script: unknown
Cast: Mistinguett, Andree Pascal, Charles Lorrain

This comedy offers us the music-hall star and future ‘queen’ of the revue, Mistinguett, in the role of a maid that is mistaken for her American mistress while visiting Paris. Mistinguett makes a parody of the
attractiveness of American women and lampoons Parisian men’s idolatry with them. The film’s inclusion in the program serves three purposes: first, because the print is incomplete, it may be taken as an example of a fragment, one of the core topics of this conference; second, bringing the existence of this rare print of a Pathé-SCAGL comedy with Mistinguett to the attention of feminist film historians; and third, calling attention to Mistinguett’s significance to the relations between French music-hall and cinema in the early 1910s, which deserves more research.

35mm (Desmet method) colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
540meters (ca)., 26mins (18fps)
German intertitles
Prod: Treumann-Larsen Film GmbH
Director: Dr. R. Portegg aka Rosa Porten and Franz Eckstein
Script: Rosa Porten
Cast: Rosa Porten (Isa), Franz Verdier (Caspar Freiherr), Max Wogritsch (Jürgen von Oesterlingk)

Isa’s father, a wealthy gentleman of the countryside, wants her to marry Jürgen. However, Jürgen is rather prejudiced towards country women. Furthermore, he is attracted to a rich girl from the city. Upon hearing this, Isa, who doesn’t want to get married anyway, swears to teach Jürgen a lesson. For this purpose, she leaves her house and applies for a job (disguised as a boy) at Jürgen’s household. This fast-paced comedy, written and directed by Rosa Porten herself, appears in almost no written sources. It is therefore no surprise that this film was lost for many years, until this incomplete print appeared in the Nederlands Filmmuseum collection, carrying the original German titles. Die Landpomeranze has been preserved in 2008 in order to be presented for the very first time at this conference. Given the impossibility to complete the missing ending, due to complete lack of written sources, the preserved print has an open end, in hope that the missing reel(s) get discovered somewhere in the future.

Trailer DIE GESUNKENEN / THE SUNKEN (Germany, 1925)
35mm b/w print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
65 meters, 3 mins (18fps)
German inter-titles
Prod: Aafa Film
Director: Rudolf Walther-Fein
Script: Ruth Goetz and Leo Heller, based on the novel by Luise Westkirch
Cast: Asta Nielsen, Olga Tschechova, Hans Albers, Wilhlem Dieterle, Otto Gebühr

Dutch trailer from the presumed lost Asta Nielsen film Die Gesunkenen (1925), a drama based on a scenario by Ruth Goetz after the novel Diebe (Thieves) by Luise Westkirch. The Dutch censorship board noted about the film (2340 meters, + 117 minutes): ‘rough milieu’, ‘cocaine abuse’, ‘prostitution’, ‘ladies and gents of suspect repute’. In addition to Nielsen, the film featured the actors William Dieterle, Otto Gebühr, Olga Tschechowa and Hans Albers.

35 mm colour print restored by Associazione Orlando (Bologna), Cineteca Nazionale (Rome) and George
Eastman House (Rochester, USA), with the endowment of the Italian Ministry of Culture.
1250 meters, 61 mins (18 fps)
Italian inter-titles
Prod: Films Dora (Neaples), “Serie grandi lavori popolari.”
Director: Elvira Notari
Script: Elvira Notari, based on the song ‘A Santanotte by Eduardo Scala (words), Francesco Buongiovanni
Photography: Nicola Notari.
Principal cast: Rosè Angione (Nanninella), Alberto Danza (Tore Spina), Eduardo Notari (Gennariello), Elisa
Cava (madre di Tore), Carluccio, a student of Notari’s school of acting.
Original length: mt. 1285.

Based on a popular Neapolitan song by Eduardo Scala and Francesco Buongiovanni, ‘A santanotte was one of the greatest hits of Elvira and Nicola Notari’s Dora Films. It tells the tragic story of Nanninella, a waitress who supports her alcoholic and abusive father Giuseppone. She is in love with Tore, but her father prefers the deceptive Carluccio. When Giuseppone accidentally dies, Carluccio accuses Tore of murder. Nanninella is forced to accept Carluccio’s marriage proposal hoping that this will convince him to withdraw his accusations against Tore. As she tries to escape with Tore on the day of her wedding, the film ends in death and misery. The story has several points in common with that of Assunta Spina, a popular theatrical drama by Salvatore Di Giacomo that Francesca Bertini had adapted into a film in 1915. Yet Notari’s film surpasses its predecessor in its crude representation of patriarchal oppression, offering a powerful melodramatic interpretation of the everyday experience of so many Italian working class women at the beginning of the century.

35mm colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
1090 meters, 52 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Neutral Film
Dir: Edmund Edel
Script: Edmund Edel
Cast: Asta Nielsen, Aruth Wartan, Willy Kaiser-Heyl

Asta Nielsen plays the proprietor of a copper mine on the verge of ruin. After the plant manager has traced a new copper vein, she buys the almost worthless shares and therewith secures the finances of the mine and herself. Gratefully, she makes the manager, with whom she is also in love, a share-holder. But when he deceives her with another woman, she takes revenge with great sovereignty. The film is particularly interesting for its setting – the male-dominated milieus of an industrial plant and of the stock-exchange – and for Nielsen’s superior role in it, which she plays with both style and gusto.

Trailer VADERTJE LANGBEEN / DADDY LONGLEGS (The Netherlands, 1919)
35mm b/w print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
32 meters, 1 min (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Mary Pickford Co.
Director: Marshall Neilan
Script: Agnes Johnson, based on the novel by Jean Webster
Cast: Mary Pickford (Jerusha Abbott), Milla Davenport (Mrs. Lippett)

Among the few silent trailers of the Filmmuseum collection, this stylish trailer is remarkable for the drawings it contains. Discovered and preserved in 2004 during the international Mary Pickford research project by Christel Schmidt, this film has only been shown in Amsterdam during the Pickford program. Although the trailer shows nothing of the film itself, it constitutes an important evidence to prove the
popularity of Mary Pickford with Dutch audiences.

35mm colour print from the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute
1283 meters, 66 mins (17 fps)
Swedish inter-titles
Prod: Famous Players Film Co.
Director: James Kirkwood
Script: Eve Unsell, based on the novel and the play The Dawn of a Tomorrow by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Principal cast: Mary Pickford (Glad), David Powell (Dandy), Forrest Robinson (Sir Oliver Holt), Robert
Cain (his nephew)

This conference screening will be the premiere of the restored Mary Pickford film The Dawn of a Tomorrow, a film that was considered lost until a tinted nitrate print with Swedish inter-titles surfaced in 2005. The film is set in London and Pickford plays Glad, ”the poorest and happiest of all orphans”. During the course of the film, this angel in a Dickensian world gives shelter to an evicted mother and child, prevents a suicide, intervenes to inhibit domestic violence, and convinces her sweetheart to reform. The beauty of the close-ups displays an extraordinary preciseness of expression that makes this long lost Pickford film a revelation to watch.

35mm colour print from the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute
2506 meters, 115 mins (19 fps)
Swedish inter-titles
Prod: AB Biografernas Filmdepôt
Director: Karin Swanström
Script: Hjalmar Bergman, Ivar Johansson, based on the novel Flickan i frack by Hjalmar Bergman
Principal cast: Einar Axelsson (Ludwig von Battwhyl), Magda Holm (Katja Kock), Nils Arehn (her father),
Georg Blomstedt (Starck, the headmaster), Karin Swanström (Hyltenius, the vicar’s wife), Erik
Zetterström (Curry, Katja’s brother)

An early example of cross-dressing in Swedish film, a restored version of the comedy Flickan i frack will be screened at the conference for the first time ever. Magda Holm plays Katja, a bright, small-town daughter of an inventor who cares more for the upbringing of his son than his daughter. When Katja’s request for money to buy a new dress for the examination ball is turned down by her father, she decides to attend the ball dressed in tails, creating a further scandal by drinking and smoking cigars. Flickan i frack was Karin Swanström’s fourth and last film as a director, and she also plays one of the leading parts in the film. The film was remade in 1956.

35mm b/w print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum, courtesy of the AFI.
290 meters, 14 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Biograph
Director: D.W. Griffith
Script: George Hennessy
Cast: Edna Foster (Billy), Wilfred Lucas, Claire McDowell, Inez Seabury, Robert Harron, William Butler

Billy and his sister are home with their grandfather, while their parents are out working. Their house gets attacked by the Indians, who get past the grandfather. However, Billy has a plan; he finds a way to get out of the house and blows up the house with the Indians in it. This Griffith film, starring Edna Foster as Billy, was repatriated from the Nederlands Filmmuseum archive to the USA, through the AFI, back in 1974. The film was then restored by the AFI, and a projection print, still carrying Dutch titles was kindly donated to the Filmmuseum Collection.

35mm (Desmet method) colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
283 meters, 14 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Haworth Pictures
Director: William Worthington
Script: Frances Guihan, based on a story by Tom Geraghty
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa (Suki Iota), Tsuru Aoki (Rei Oaki)

Suki Iota, a young Japanese-American lawyer, is investigating a murder case and is secretly in love with his custodian’s niece, Rei. When Suki realizes that Rei’s boyfriend Tom is involved in the murder case, he drops it, despite being called a coward for his actions. The only surviving fragment of this long lost film is its last reel. Despite the fact that most of the action is lost, Nederlands Filmmuseum decided to make a presentation print of this fragment, since it is still worthwhile to watch Tsuru Aoki and her real-life husband Sessue Hayakawa in the few romantic scenes that have survived. Another point of interest is the way in which Aoki’s character gets criticized in the film as a young woman of Japanese origins who in her eagerness to become Americanized neglects her own roots.

35 mm colour print restored by Associazione Orlando (Bologna) and Cineteca Nazionale (Rome), with
the endowment of the Italian Ministry of Culture.
720 meters, 35 mins (18 fps)
Italian inter-titles
Prod: Liana Film (Rome)
Director: Elvira Giallanella
Script: Based on Vittorio Emanuele Bravetta’s poem Tranquillino dopo la guerra vuol ricreare il mondo
Principal cast: a little boy (Tranquillino), a little girl (Serenetta)

Presented in an introductory title as a “humoristic-satirical-educational” work, the film is centered on two young siblings, Tranquillino and Serenetta, who get up during the night to steal from the jam jar and play with Daddy’s cigarettes. The smoke gives Tranquillino a terrifying dream: the world has been destroyed by a terrible war and his attempts to recreate the world only makes him retrace and redo the mistakes of humankind during the course of history, from dictatorship to war. The backward trip throughout the pastmakes the kids realise that history has been built on arms and war. Desperate and frightened, they seek help in prayer and are finally saved by a bearded God, who appears in the sky and takes them in his arms. Based on a poem for children by Vittorio Emanuele Bravetta, Umanità is the only title in Elvira Giallanella’s filmography as a director. A quite mysterious figure, Giallanella was involved in film production since 1913, when she participated in the founding of the Vera Film company, which produced one of the first Futurist films, Mondo baldoria (1913). It is uncertain whether Umanità was ever screened, as it’s not listed in the censorship archives and never mentioned in period film magazines.

35mm colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
260 meters, 13 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Nordisk Films Kompagni
Director: Leo Tscherning
Script: Harriet Bloch
Cast: Else Frölich, Oscar Stribolt

Kaerlighed og penge is a comedy after a scenario by Harriet Bloch in which men’s intentions with women are getting spoofed. Both the situation and the plot are rather surprising. The main character, Karen, is a well-to-do single mother with a son. She has three admirers courting her: a lieutenant, a poet and a wealthy man. This amuses rather than impresses her, and she candidly questions if they are after her love or her money. One day, her friend from America, Ebba, visits Karin, who seizes the opportunity to throw a party. Together they concoct a test to find out about each man’s true intentions… and they are having a ball while evaluating the outcome.

PAS DE FEMMES! / NO WOMEN! (France, 1920)
35mm (Desmet method) colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
506 meters, 27 mins (18fps)
Dutch inter-titles
Prod: Film Denizot, Marseilles
Director: Vincenzo Denizot
Script: unknown
Cast: unknown

This comedy is exceptional in two respects: first, it seems to be an unknown French production by the Italian director Vicenzo Denizot, known from Maciste-films; and most importantly in the context of this
conference, it seems a rare counterpart to the many anti-suffragette films of the time: it ridicules antifeminism. A luxury hotel by the sea is occupied by a bunch of spoiled girls eager for excitement beyond their daily routines of gourmet dining and playing tennis. The chief rascal among them is Suzy, who preferably drives her governess to despair with her unruliness. One day, a notorious anti-feminist arrives together with his nephew, to recover from the stress of campaigning against furious women. He demands to be served only by men and chases the chamber maid from his room. The girls agree that this is an affront to women’s dignity and Suzy is appointed by lot to scheme and lead their vengeance…

35mm colour print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum
920 meters, 45 mins (18fps)
French inter-titles
Prod: Treumann-Larsen Film GmbH
Director: Dr. R. Portegg aka Rosa Porten and Franz Eckstein
Script: Wanda Treumann
Cast: Wanda Treumann, Heinrich Schroth, Marie Grimm-Einödshofer

This is a film produced by and starring German comedienne Wanda Treumann, and co-written and co-directed by Rosa Porten. Rosa Porten made films in the 1910s together with her husband Franz Eckstein, using the pseudonym Dr. R. Portegg. According to contemporary press, they were known for their proficient direction. The film mixes comedy with romance and social drama. It focuses on the interrelations of gender and class and on a factory girl’s independent spirit, business competence, and sense of humour. The plot has a serious undertone, but both its comic twists and Treumann’s guileless acting lend it a striking breeziness and a pro-lib edge.

A remarkable selection, with a palpable sense of exciting discovery. All details of the conference and screenings, including registration, accommodation, location and so forth, can be found on the conference website.

Alice, Cleo, Dorothy, Lois and Ruth


More DVD releases, though in this case it is the DVD release (22 April) of titles previously only available on videotape. Kino is issuing three DVDs of silent films made by American women directors, available singly or bundled as ‘First Ladies‘. Kino claims that “the mid-1910s was a virtual golden age for women directors, with over a dozen women working behind the camera.” ‘Golden Age’ might seem to suggest an era of unfettered opportunity and creative expression, which was hardly the case. No woman was able to get behind the camera without a tough struggle, but nevertheless there were proportionately more women directors at this period than for many decades thereafter, and enough survives for us to value a distinctive and often clearly feminist body or work.

First up is the double-feature The Ocean Waif (1916), directed by Alice Guy-Blaché and 49-17 (1917), written and directed by Ruth Ann Baldwin. Alice Guy (right) or Alice Guy-Blaché (she married cameraman/ producer Herbert Blaché) is arguably the most notable of early women filmmakers; certainly one whose career has been championed in some quarters to the point of myth. She was taken on as Léon Gaumont’s secretary in 1897, and swiftly became head of film production at Gaumont, producing hundreds of short films (including proto-sound films). She moved to America in 1907 when her husband was made head of Gaumont’s office in New York. She returned to filmmaking in 1910 for her own company, Solax, before becoming an independent filmmaker, and it was during this period that she made The Ocean Waif for William Randolph Hearst’s International Film Service. Kino describes it as “a romantic story, plenty of pathos but no brutality, a likeable hero and an innocent young woman, and a suspenseful plot with a dramatic and happy ending”. It is one of the few films of hers from this period that survives. She carried on directing with moderate success throughout the teens, but her career petered out after her divorce in 1922, after which she returned to obscurity, only to be rediscovered in old age and awarded the Legion d’Honneur by a grateful French government.

The American Ruth Ann Baldwin was a journalist turned screenwriter, film editor and director. 49-17 is a parody Western, starring Jean Hersholt. It was her only feature (she directed several two-reelers), though apparently it was a hit, and the remainder of her film credits are for scriptwriting.

Lois Weber

Baldwin worked for Universal studios, which seems to have been more encouraging of women directors than its rivals. It was home to Cleo Madison, actress turned director of the short film Eleanor’s Catch (1916), which is paired on the second DVD with Lois Weber’s feature The Hypocrites (1915). Weber (left) is the most notable of American women director of the silent era, a filmmaker as bold in technique as she was in ideas. She too started with the Gaumont company, as an actress, where for a time she worked alongside Alice Guy, and married a Gaumont manager Phillips Smalley. She turned to directing films in 1911, directing many shorts, including (with Smalley) the classic stylistic thriller Suspense (1913), before making her name with a succession of controversial and issue-led films, such as Where Are My Children? (1916) on abortion, The People vs John Doe (1916) on capital punishment as The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1917) on birth control. The Hypocrites (1915), on religion and hypocrisy, itself caused contoversy for its use of nude woman (representing naked truth). She too worked for a time at Universal, enjoyed further success as a director into the early 1920, only to see her career crumble following the break-up of her marriage and a nervous breakdown.

The third DVD, The Red Kimona (1925) was directed by Dorothy Davenport Reid, better known as Mrs Wallace Reid (right), the wife of the wretched Wallace Reid. He was the actor whose death through drug addiction so shocked Hollywood and the nation, leading his wife to appear in the impassioned anti-drug film Human Wreckage (1923), which featured in the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films. After the success of that film she formed her own production company, and made this concerned drama (based on a true story) of a young woman lured into a life of prostitution, starring Priscilla Bonner. Its notable female credits continue, with a story by future director Dorothy Arzner and screenplay by Adela Rogers St. John. She continued to have some success as a director into the 1930s and thereafter as a screenwriter.

As said, it would be misleading to look upon 1910s America as some sort of golden period for women filmmakers, except by the modest proportion of women able to make films compared to later decades. It was still a cinema dominated by men in every field of production, and probably only Lois Weber rose to real prominence and power. Alice Guy worked regularly as a director in America throughout the 1910s, but generally for minor film companies set up by her husband. Her public profile was nothing like Webers. Dorothy Davenport made some courageous films, but she was never a leading figure, and by the mid-1920s women filmmakers were virtually unknown in America. The others were actresses or scenarists who were allowed a brief turn behind the camera.

However, if it was not Utopia, it nevertheless was a time of opportunities to be taken to create films from the woman’s point of view, and this Guy, Weber and Davenport undoubtedly did. They did not simply ape common themes and styles but purposefully chose subjects of particular interest to them as women, or simply revealed a different eye in how they placed and treate female protagonists within the narratives that they told. These films are no mere curiosities, but evidence of a different way of making films and seeing films. It’s good to see them made available again in this way.

When the Far East mingles with the West

The Curse of Quon Gwon, from http://festival.asianamericanmedia.org

In 2004, American filmmaker Arthur Dong was working on a documentary, Hollywood Chinese. He came across two reels of a lost and barely-known silent film from 1916-17. Amazingly, it was made by and for the Chinese-American community. The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West was all the more remarkable for having been written and directed by a woman, Marion Wong. It was instantly recognised for its national importance, and in 2006 it was added to the National Film Registry of American treasures marked out for permanent preservation.

The film was found in a basement in Oakland, California, Marion Wong’s home town and location for the film. The film’s exhibition this week at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland has generated a far bit of publicity, and a local news report on ABC7 News which is worth checking out because it has some clips from the film, plus an interview with Dong. The same clips are also available on the site of Deep Focus Productions, which made the documentary Hollywood Chinese, and which has background information on Wong’s film. It’s a graceful, professional-looking production, offering a tantalisingly narrow window on a community and on a little-known strand of American filmmaking.

Little seems known about the film itself. Marion Wong made it for Mandarin Film Productions, and employed mostly family members for its production. Wong herself acts in the film, as do her sister-in-law Violet Wong (whose daughters had held on to film until Arthur Dong discovered it) and her mother Chin See, while other family members worked on costumes, sets and finance. Overall there was a Chinese cast of thirty. The surviving film is incomplete, reels four and seven of what may have been an eight reel feature. A 16mm print duplicates this footage while adding an additional ten minutes. The film is now preserved by the Academy Film Archive.

What other Chinese-American filmmaking existed in the silent era? The Curse of Quon Gwon is thought to be the first Chinese-American film, but what led Marion Wong to produce it, and what followed it? Was it actually shown in public? There doesn’t seem to be any actual evidence that it was screened, just that it lost the family a lot of money. The Deep Focus website tells us that Motion Picture World of 17 July 1917 noted the film, saying that its plot:

… deals with the curse of a Chinese god that follows his people because of the influence of western civilization. The first part is taken in California, showing the intrigues of the Chinese who are living in this country in behalf of the Chinese monarchical government, and those who are working for the revolutionists in favor of a Chinese republic. A love story begins here and is carried through the rest of the production.

Another press notice from May 1916 has Wong’s thoughts on her film:

“I had never seen any Chinese movies,” Miss Wong said today, “so I decided to introduce them to the world. I first wrote the love story. Then I decided that people who are interested in my people and my country would like to see some of the customs and manners of China. So I added to the love drama many scenes depicting these things. I do hope it will be a success.”

There’s a helpful family history for Marion Wong on the CineMedua site, but I’ve found nothing else of Chinese-American filmmaking in the silent era (plenty of Chinese-American characters of course, usually of the tedious ‘yellow peril’ villainous type, alas), certainly not in the American Film Institute catalog. So maybe it’s a remarkable one-off, not a fragment of a lost history but a fleeting vision of a history that might have been. [See comments]

Women and British silent cinema

Woman and Silent British Cinema

Women and Silent British Cinema

Congratulations and welcome to the latest silent cinema blog on the block, WSBC – Women and British Silent Cinema. Not so much a blog, though, more a focal point for the growing research interest in women and silent cinema generally. It has information on conferences past and future, and links to external resources, including a promised WSBC Wiki site. Of most interest probably is the long list of British women involved in film in various ways from the silent era (just a handful so far with biographies attached), which covers relatively well known (in this narrow field) figures as Betty Balfour, Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), Elsa Lanchester, Caroline Lejeune, Blanche McIntosh, Joan Morgan, Alma Reville, Marie Stopes and Virginia Woolf, while also providing many names of which few as yet know anything. I look forward to finding out in due course just who were Mrs K. Beck, Elise Codd, Nellie Tom Gallon, Jean de Kirharski, Edith Nepean and Jane Tarlo.

Some you will have already met through the pages of the Bioscope: Jessica Borthwick, Gladys, Marchioness of Townshend, Jakidawdra Melford. More, I can promise, will follow.

Clowning glories

Clara Bow

Clara Bow in The Wild Party, from http://www.birds-eye-view.co.uk

The Birds Eye View Film Festival returns 6–14 March 2008. This is the UK’s festival of women filmmakers, and as was the case last year it includes a silent film strand.

This year the festival features ‘Clowning Glories’, a retrospective of women in film comedy before 1930, to be held at the BFI South Bank. The titles being shown are:

  • 7 MarMy Best Girl (USA 1927 d. Sam Taylor). With Mary Pickford
  • 8 Mar Ich möchte kein Mann sein (I Don’t Want to be a Man) (Germany 1918 d. Ernst Lubitsch). With Ossi Oswalda + The Danger Girl (USA 1916 d. Clarence G. Badger). With Gloria Swanson
  • 10 Mar – The Vagabond Queen (UK 1929 d. Geza von Bolváry). With Betty Balfour
  • 11 MarShow People (USA 1928 d. King Vidor). With Marion Davies + Mabel’s Dramatic Career (USA 1913 d. Mack Sennett). With Mabel Normand
  • 12 MarThe Love Expert (USA 1920 d. David Kirkland). With Constance Talmadge, Natalie Talmadge + Blue Bottles (UK 1928 d. Ivor Montagu). With Elsa Lanchester
  • 13 MarThe Wild Party (USA 1929 d. Dorothy Arzner). With Clara Bow + A House Divided (USA 1913 d. Alice Guy)

There’s a complementary season of screwball comediennes of the 1930s, the UK premiere of Cannes hit Expired starring Samantha Morton, LFF critics’ choice Unrelated, and documentaries from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Nepal. Plus mobile phone filmmaking, women in video games, music vids, fashion films, and “a one off Whitechapel Gallery Late Night event starring a high profile all girl line up of live artists, VJ’s and DJ’s”. More details from the festival website.