Bioscope Newsreel no. 30

Mural of Lillian Gish on the wall of a pump station at Massillon, Ohio, from http://www.indeonline.com

Hi folks, and welcome to the latest issue of the Bioscope’s erratically published but lovingly composed newsreel, mopping up for you some of the more diverting news stories of the week on silent film.

More on Brides of Sulu
A few weeks we published a post on Brides of Sulu, a supposedly American film from the mid-1930s which probably took footage from an Philippine silent fiction film (possibly two) and added an American commentary. All Philippine silent film production was believed to be lost, so this is an exciting discovery, and it was naturally a highlight at Manila’s recent International Silent Film Festival. If you read comments to the original Bioscope post you can find extra information from the grandson of the film’s lead actor, ‘Eduardo de Castro’ (real name Marvin Gardner). Or there’s an informative piece in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the research involved – though I think the director was not the Philippine José Nepomuceno but rather American silent film veteran Jack Nelson. But the journalist has read the Bioscope, which is grand. Read more.

The day the laughter stopped
A feature film adaptation of David Yallop’s account of the Fatty Arbuckle case, The Day the Laughter Stopped, is in development. The film is scheduled to star Eric Stonestreet and will be a telefilm made for HBO. Will silent cinema’s pre-eminent tragic tale make a successful transference to the screen? With Barry Levinson as director, we must hope at least for a thoughtful interpretation. Read more.

Lillian at the pump station
Massillon, Ohio artist Scot Phillips has created a mural featuring Lillian Gish at the junction between Lillian Gish Boulevard and Route 21, unromantically painted on a west-facing wall of a pump station next to the Tuscarawas River. The silent film star grew up in Massillon, hence the mural and the road. It took him all summer. Read more.

Telluride coup
What are the two most discussed silent films of 2011? They must be Michel Hazanavicius’ modern silent The Artist, and the colour restoration of George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon. So hats off to the Telluride Film Festival for bringing the two together in one of the more imaginative programming coups of the year. And they are playing at the Abel Gance Open Air Cinema … Read more.

The story of film
Mark Cousins’ book The Story of Film (2006) is a pretty good and impressively wide-ranging generally history of the medium. It’s now been turned into a 15-part television series showing in the UK on Channel 4’s offshoot channel More4 from tomorrow. Expect to see silent films given their fair due (says the press release of episode one, “Filmed in the buildings where the first movies were made, it shows that ideas and passion have always driven film, more than money and marketing”). What you don’t expect to see is a UK television channel go so far as to show a silent film itself, but – incredible to relate – Film4 is showing Orphans of the Storm on 6 September to accompany the Cousins series. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 29

Part of DVD cover for Metropolis, from Ain’t it Cool News

We’re publishing a little infrequently at present, both the regular posts and the newsreel, but the main thing is that we’re still publishing. Here’s a round-up of some of the recent silent news and events coming up.

Morodor’s Metropolis
The silent film version that many love to hate, while for others it is the version that was a welcome introduction to silents, is to come out on Blu-Ray. Electro-disco composer Giorgio Moroder’s score for Metropolis came out in 1984, and was controversial both for presenting a cut-down version (80mins) and for throwing pop songs on top of it (Freddy Mercury sings “Love Kills”, Pat Benatar sings “Here’s my Heart” – yep, it’s the 1980s). It’s become something of a cult favourite and now Kino are bringing it out theatrically in October and on Blu-Ray late 2011 or early 2012. Read more.

One-minute wonders
The Toronto Urban Film Festival (known as TUFF) brings new one-minute silent films, entered in competition, to be seen by 1.3 million daily commuters on the ONESTOP TTC subway platform screens. This year the guest judge for the festival is Atom Egoyan. It runs 9-18 September, and there are examples of some of the truly ingenious and creative videos submitted on the festival site. Read more.

Silents in New Zealand
A silent film festival offering more traditional fare is New Zealnd’s annual Opitiki Silent Film Festival, which this year takes place 2-4 September. The emphasis is on comedy and rugby, and there haven’t been too many silent rugby film programmes, to my recollection. The festival features Lloyf, Langdon, Keaton, Pollard and more, plus a one-hour silent film compilation All Blacks which features “footage of the 1905 Originals NZ touring team plus the 1924/1925 Invincibles”. Read more.

Où est Max?
Once again the Cine-Tourist website beats all competition in the cine-blogosphere with an engrossing (if very long) post, handsomely illustrated, on Max Linder, the films he shot in the streets of Vincennes, and what the locality says about him. None of these films can ever be called accidental in their choice of geography, because everything that we see makes the film that plays before us. Read more.

More journals online
More and more silent film journals are appearing on the Internet Archive, courtesy of Bruce Long of the Taylorology site and David Pierce of the Media History Digital Library. Long has added nine issues of Picture-Play for 1922-23 and one of Screenland for 1923; Pierce has added extra volumes of Moving Picture World for 1913, all of 1914, most of 1915, and three months each of 1916 and 1918. Copious thanks to both. Another Pierce upload is going to be the subject of a special post. Read more (Pierce) and more (Long)

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 28

Bébé victime d’une erreur? The supposed Gaumont film filmed outside the Pathé studios at 30 rue Louis Besquel, Vincennes, Paris (location today inset)

Just time to rush out a hastily-cobbled together edition of the Bioscope Newsreel for you, picking up on a few of the things happening in the silent world that have caught our eye over the past couple of weeks.

A life in the movies
The Guardian has published a profile of Kevin Brownlow, asking why a man who has won an Oscar for a lifetime dedicated to preserving the art of silent film isn’t better known in his own country. Read more.

Locating the General
On July 20 John Bengston, author of Silent Echoes and other books on the locations behind classic silent comedies, gave a presentation before the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences on the locations used by Buster Keaton for The General. The Academy has published his compelling and superbly researched PowerPoint slides, with Bengston’s commentary, on its site. Read more.

Gaumont mystery
On that truly engrossing and mysterious site The Cine-Tourist, Roland-François Lack has posed an intriguing question. He has examined closely the film credited as Bébé victime d’une erreur judiciaire, an extract from which appears on the recent Gaumont boxed DVD set Le Cinéma premier, 1897-1913. But this supposed Gaumont film was sot outside the Pathé studios, as his meticulous visual evidence makes clear. What is going on? Can you solve the mystery? You may certainly enjoy the detective work. Read more.

Bonner Sommerkino
Germany’s silent film festival takes place 11-21 August and the programme has been published (in German). Among the highlights are Frank Borzage’s The Circle (US 1924), Mosjoukine in Les ombres qui passent (France 1924), the astonishing unreleased (except in Japan) experimental German film Von Morgens bis Mitternachts (Germany 1920), Shingun (1930) – Japan’s answer to Wings, and Bolivia’s sole surviving silent feature film Wara Wara (1930). Read more.

One in the eye for Murdoch
Yes, we can bring in the News International scandal which has so engrossed the British media, because there is a tangential silent film angle. When someone rejoicing in the name of Johnnie Marbles interrupted the Culture Media ans Sport select committee’s investigation into the phone hacking scandal by placing a foam pie in Rupert Murdoch’s face, he was acting in a tradition that goes back to the custard pies beloved of silent cinema and beyond. The BBC News site investigates the history. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 27

Frame grab from the trailer for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo

Some weeks we’re not sure what to put in the Bioscope newsreel, and some weeks we’re just overwhelmed with how alive our dead medium continues to be. And that’s when we’ve set aside the news, already reported, of the first appearance on American screens of the full restored Napoléon with Carl Davis score, next year. So, after a gap of a few weeks while we were away on our travels, here’s some of the news in silent films now.

Hugo trailer
Martin Scorsese, as you may know, is making a film of Brian Selznick’s children’s novel, The Invention of Hugh Cabret, in which Georges Méliès is a central character. During production the film has been known as Hugo Cabret, but clearly that was too much for Disney’s marketing people, and now it’s just known as Hugo. The first trailer is out, and – guess what – it looks like a Disney children’s film. But some enticing recreations of Georges Méliès’ film and stage productions, as the image above shows, should draw us in to see when the time comes. Read more.

Silent film scores galore
An extraordinary treasure trove of silent film scores has been unearthed by Birmingham city council (in the UK) in its music library. There are around 500 scores in a collection which has lain in a basement for decades. Chiefly examples of generic scores for stock scenes (chases, mystery scenes, people in peril etc.), many are scores for small orchestras of between seven and eleven players. They appear to have been collected by touring musical directors, who went from cinema to cinema rather than work for just the one venue. We will have more on this amazing discovery and its importance for silent film history in due course. Read more.

Theodore Roszak RIP
The social critic, academic and novelist Theodore Roszak has died. Best known for coining the phrase ‘counter culture’ in his 1968 work The Making of a Counter Culture, he was also an ardent film fan and wrote one of the best of all film-themed novels, Flicker, a dark and imaginatively far-fetched work which revolves around the mysterious figure of Max Castle, B-movie horror film maker in the 1940s and reveals an extraordinary alternate history of Hollywood from the silent period onwards. Read more.

San Francisco silents
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is running as we type. Highlights include a solo electric guitar acompaniment by Giovanni Spinelli to Sunrise: A Story of Two Humans (there’s an extract from a documentary on the scoring of the film here), He Who Gets Slapped, I Was Born But…, Marlene Dietrich in The Woman Men Yearn For, and the ubiquitous The Great White Silence. Read more.

Paintings of cinemas
One of the blogs the Bioscope likes to read when it feels the need to stir the brain cells a bit is Nick Redfern’s thought-provoking Research into Film. Normally his subject is analytical studies of films, but he has put up a delightful post exhibiting paintings of cinemas and their audiences by contemporary artists. Do take a look. Read more.

‘Til next time!

The Bioscope interviews … Matthew Solomon

Matthew Solomon

We’re going introduce a new feature here at the Bioscope. It’s our first interview, and it’s intended to be the start of series of interviews with people involved in one way or another with silent film and related areas.

Our debut interviewee is Matthew Solomon. Solomon is Associate Professor in the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He is the author of the award-winning Disappearing Tricks: Silent Film, Houdini, and the New Magic of the Twentieth Century (University of Illinois Press, 2010) and the editor of the recent Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination: Georges Méliès’s Trip to the Moon (SUNY Press, 2011), which focusses on that single film from 1903. The interview covers Fantastic Voyages, Le voyage dans la lune/A Trip to the Moon itself, magic in cinema, and man of the moment Georges Méliès.

TB: How did the book Fantastic Voyages come about?

MS: About the time I was finishing the first draft of the manuscript of Disappearing Tricks, I realized there was a lot to say about Méliès that had nothing to do with magic. Editing an anthology seemed like a good way to explore that further while also keeping busy during the long stretches of time when the process of publishing Disappearing Tricks was out of my hands. I also wanted to see if a single early film could be a viable subject for a book-length treatment. I like reading and teaching books that look closely at one specific film, but I had never seen such a book written about a film made before 1914. I knew I’d need a lot of help and luckily a number of people whose work I admire were willing to be part of the book and make it what it is.

TB: Please describe the book for the readers of the Bioscope.

MS: The contributors to Fantastic Voyages closely analyze A Trip to the Moon from a number of different perspectives while exploring its connections to countless other works in many different media. While the book relates the film to Méliès’s oeuvre and firmly anchors it within the historical contexts of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century, it also tries to open it up to other kinds of relationships and contexts that might suggest why A Trip to the Moon has had such a long and varied ‘afterlife’, one that continues right up to the present day. It is a highly international volume, with contributors from some eight different countries. The appendix includes a dossier of primary-source documents, including two previously un-translated essays by Méliès, and the book is published with a critical edition DVD.

TB: How did the DVD extra come about?

MS: Two of the big issues that emerged for me in researching the book were the ways that truncated prints and projection speed have shaped our understanding of A Trip to the Moon. What I found was that the film has been seen throughout much of its history in versions that were missing part or all of the last two scenes. And even though Méliès’s catalogs specify a running time of sixteen minutes, which comes out to about 14 frames per second, all available versions of the film had been transferred at a much higher frame rate, which speeds the action up by close to 100% in some cases and results in a frenetic pace that was likely never intended. I wanted to make a complete version of A Trip to the Moon available at the specified speed and I got that opportunity when the book was being prepared to go to press. Charlie Johnston, a film editor with Lost Planet New York, got interested in the project and made creation of the DVD possible. We began by scanning a reconstructed 35mm print generously loaned from the collections of Film Preservation Associates by David Shepard. Simultaneously, Nico de Klerk discovered a previously unknown color-tinted and German-titled version of A Trip to the Moon in Amsterdam. The Eye Film Institute scanned the print and consented to have it included. Musical accompaniment was by Martin Marks, who recorded a 1903 score he had discovered in London, and Donald Sosin, whose original music for the tinted version ended up being one of the highlights of the disc.

TB: There are many different interpretations of A Trip to the Moon in Fantastic Voyages. Which one surprised you most?

MS: I was surprised by at least one thing in each of the essays — an overlooked detail, a new understanding, a previously unmentioned connection, or a relevant contemporary work. Those surprises were one of the pleasures of working with such a knowledgeable and smart group of collaborators, whose contributions demonstrate that maybe we didn’t know A Trip to the Moon as well as we thought we did.

The iconic moment when the lunar capsule lands in the Moon’s eye, from A Trip to the Moon/Le voyage dans la lune

TB: Why was A Trip to the Moon so popular in 1903?

MS: One defining feature of A Trip to the Moon which made it so popular was the way it drew upon so many things circulating in the culture around 1902-1903 that would have been familiar to audiences: the Jules Verne book, of course, the Offenbach operetta, a ride that was the hit of the 1901 Buffalo World’s Fair, as well as countless other works discussed in the book. It was also a compelling storyline and a virtuoso display of the most current visual effects by the undisputed master of the trick film. Méliès was a gifted synthesizer and this film is evidence of his ability to combine diverse elements into a coherent and engaging spectacle.

TB: Why is A Trip to the Moon so important today? Why has it lasted?

MS: On one hand, A Trip to the Moon is important today because it is part of the canon — a film that gets viewed and taught as a historically important work. This is itself the result of a process that began with its rediscovery at the end of the 1920s, one which I explore in my introduction to the book. On the other hand, A Trip to the Moon continues to be an important film because it resists singular interpretation and instead lends itself to constant reinvention. When it was first rediscovered, it retroactively became a surrealist film, just as it retroactively became an early work of science fiction when that genre proliferated a few decades later. More recently, as Viva Paci points out in the last chapter of the book, Méliès’s aesthetic has been readily appropriated in music videos that give new life to A Trip to the Moon. It is a film that seems to have aged well, becoming fresh and relevant in different ways over the years.

TB: Why was there such a strong relationship between magic and illusion and early cinema?

MS: Magicians were one of the first professional groups to really recognize the potential of the cinematograph and to begin to exploit some of its possibilities. Méliès was among these turn-of-the-century magicians, of course, and he remained committed to the core principles of magic, as I discuss in Disappearing Tricks. Viewers as well as filmmakers understood film as an illusion partly since moving pictures were often screened as part of magic shows. This is just how A Trip to the Moon was first presented to viewers in Paris in September 1902 at Méliès’s magic theatre. A major draw of the film would have been its trick shots—the moon’s approach, the dream sequence, the exploding Selenites, the underwater shots—all of which were cutting-edge visual effects at the time.

TB: Are the films of Georges Méliès still ‘magical’ today?

MS: I contend they are. Méliès’s films still have the capacity to deceive us: we know that what we’re seeing is an illusion, that we’re being tricked, but we may not know just how it was done — which is not all that different from how the films were received in 1902. For many years, one of Méliès’s primary tricks went by the name of the ‘stop-camera effect’, even though Jacques Malthête pointed out thirty years ago that all these tricks involved editing as well as simply stopping and restarting of the camera. Méliès actually cut, or edited, his films to create the appearances, disappearances, and immediate transformations we see. Yet, this crucial part of the operation, the ‘substitution splice’ as it is sometimes called, often seems to have gone undetected. Likewise, by looking closely at A Trip to the Moon, one discovers that several scenes that appear to be simple straightforward long takes are actually made up of separate shots that were very carefully choreographed and seamlessly matched together. The magician of Montreuil can still trick us, more than a hundred years later.

A captive Selenite on earth, from the final scene of A Trip to the Moon

TB: Is A Trip to the Moon really a satire on imperialism, as is argued in the book? Aren’t we a little guilty of imposing our idea of how films work onto a film which audiences would have read very differently in 1903?

MS: A Trip to the Moon is a lot of things, and a satire is one of them. The last two scenes, which are missing from so many prints (including most now circulating on the Internet) really make this clear. The medal ceremony with all of the posturing by the explorers, who have been so inept and violent; the captured Selenite on a leash that is beaten with a stick until it dances for the cheering crowd; and the statue of the conqueror Barbenfouillis with his foot firmly planted on the head of an unhappy vanquished moon: all that points to a highly ironic take on exploration and, with it, imperialism. We have to remember that Méliès was a political cartoonist as well as an illusionist before he started making films. The ‘magician of Montreuil’ was not nearly as innocuous as he has been made out to be in retrospect. I certainly wouldn’t claim that movies are viewed in the same way today as they were in 1902 or 1903, but contemporary audiences may in fact be less attentive to detail than the viewers of Méliès’s time, who were in the habit of reading and interpreting images dense with meaning like political caricatures much more carefully than most of us do today. During the 1890s, for example, commentators on Lumière films drew attention to leaves fluttering in the wind in the background, but this detail passes unnoticed today. If you slow down A Trip to the Moon to 14 frames per second, as we did on the DVD, and really look carefully at what is happening onscreen, you notice there’s a whole lot more to it than a compelling story and a clever series of visual effects.

TB: 2011 is turning out to be a remarkable year for Georges Méliès, with the colour restoration, the Hugo Cabret film to come – and of course your book. And we have had exhibitions and the Flicker Alley DVD releases. Why is there so much interest in Méliès just now?

MS: Yes, Méliès is getting a lot of attention right now — just in time for the 150th anniversary of his birth. The cluster of Méliès events in 2011 may be partly coincidence. I know that restoration of the hand-colored print of A Trip to the Moon discovered in Spain has been in the works for more than a decade and might well have appeared sooner, just as the film adaptation of Brian Selznick’s wonderful book perhaps could have been produced earlier. In addition to Fantastic Voyages, you might also note the Méliès conference taking place later this month in Cerisy-la-Salle. But most importantly, the level of interest in Méliès would not be what it is now if not for the long-awaited entry of his work into the public domain a year-and-a-half ago, which more or less coincided with the release of the Flicker Alley DVDs. The timing has worked in favor of Méliès’s legacy: given his preference for the short form and his skill in staging virtual onscreen environments, Méliès’s work seems more prescient than ever right now.

TB: Fantastic Voyages seems to suggest that film studies is no longer enough if we are to appreciate such a film as A Trip to the Moon? Is film studies changing, or does it need to change?

MS: I hope the book demonstrates the value of treating cinema as a part of a much broader set of cultural practices while remaining attentive to the specifics of individual films. This is something that historians of early cinema have become accustomed to doing because so much contextual and intertextual knowledge is sometimes needed simply to make sense of the films. Film studies has become more inclusive and interdisciplinary, I think, and we can see some of the ways the field has changed by comparing the essays in Fantastic Voyages to accounts of A Trip to the Moon in earlier books, where it was often mentioned only as a forerunner of narrative cinema. Although I certainly wouldn’t deny this, such a narrow view centered on storytelling seems rather impoverished when one considers the true richness of the film and the diverse contexts that helped to generate it.

TB: What is your next project going to be?

MS: I’m working on a study of Méliès that examines his work as it cut across the various media in which he worked during his career, including (but not limited to) caricature, cinema and theater. While Méliès was undoubtedly a multi-media auteur, I’m ultimately less interested in his singular genius and vision than in using archival research and close examinations of his work to explore the ways that images and performances were staged, politicized, manipulated, commodified, circulated and exchanged in particularly modern ways during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

TB: Thank you.

Bioscope Newsreel no. 26

Bali

Busy times, people, busy times. For assorted reasons the Bioscope Newsreel failed to hit the presses last week, but here we are again with a round-up of some of the week’s news in silent film.

Saving Lawrence
We have already written here at some length about Lowell Thomas’ film lecture, With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia (1919), which made T.E. Lawrence world famous. Now the National Film Preservation Fund has included the ‘film’ (much of it is slides) among the 64 to which it has awarded preservation grants. The award goes to Marist College in the USA, which holds Thomas’ personal collection. Read more.

Charlie in Bali
The Guardian reports on the discovery, announced by the Association Chaplin, of a fifty pages of dialogue for a potential talkie the Chaplin considered in 1932, entitled Bali (after the Indonesian island) and intended as a satire on colonialism. It came at a time when Chaplin was worried about the change in his art that had to come with the talkies. Kate Guyonvarch, the association’s director, is quoted as saying: “I had always assumed that when Chaplin had finished City Lights, he just had a long holiday. I now realise that this was a crucial crisis point in his life.” Read more.

Eric Campbell’s roots
The Scotsman reports with sorrow that Eric Campbell, Charlie Chaplin’s regular comic foil, was not a Scotsman from Dunoon as has been generally thought, but in fact English and hailed from Cheshire. Sadly, the commemorative plaque to Campbell that Dunoon put up in the mid-1990s is now to be taken down, and what of the subtitle of Kevin Macdonald’s documentary film, Chaplin’s Goliath: In Search of Scotland’s Forgotten Star? Read more.

100 Silent Films
Latest in a series of books devoted to films and nice round numbers published by the BFI and Palgrave is Bryony Dixon’s 100 Silent Films, published today. It is a strong indication of the growing popularity of silent films, and should be good for a debate or two once we see which films have made it into the golden 100 and which not. Expect a Bioscope review soon. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 25

Paul Merton, a sign, and an orange

Another week has gone by, and silent films continues to make the headlines – almost literally so in the case of our first news story. Read on.

The continuing story of Zepped
Silent films made it through to the popular consciousness this week with the widely-publicised news of the upcoming (June 29th) auction of a curious 1916 film called Zepped (previously reported on by the Bioscope in detail). Amazingly the story made it to the main BBC news, plus a wide number of newspapers. The film, found on eBay, combines routine animation of the period with clips from Chaplin films. The ignorant claims being made in the press for what is a minor of work of passing interest to Chaplin experts and early animation buffs are frankly embarassing, though I dare say its owners will have the last laugh if they really do get the six-figure sum they are hoping for. Only if the figure includes pence, that’s what the Bioscope thinks… Read more.

Merton’s Hollywood
However, another instance of the popularisation of silent films has been surprisingly successful. Paul Merton’s earlier programmes on silent film comedy have been a bit of a mixed bag – enthusiastic but muddled. Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood, however, started off rather well last week, with an opinionated but informative and generally disciplined account of Hollywood’s formative years. We have quite high hopes of this evening’s second episode, which covers the Fatty Arbuckle scandal. Read more.

Napoleon’s maps
We have already enthused about The Cine-Tourist, a website on the mysterious and poetic connection between films and maps. Just up on the site is a page on the use of map imagery in Napoléon vu par Abel Gance (1927). It’s an engrossing and illuminating piece of close visual analysis, warmly recommended. Read more.

The balancing bluebottle
Those in the UK might like to listen out on Radio 4 this Sunday at 13:30 for a repeat of The Balancing Bluebottle, the engaging programme from 2009 on naturalist filmmaker F. Percy Smith, one of the great obscure filmmaker of the silent era. It’s presented by the Science Museum’s Tim Boon and the Bioscope makes a brief appearance, interviewed in a windy corner of Leicester Square. Read more.

The Bray Animation Project
A fine new website has been published by Tom Stathes dedicated to research into the 1913-1927 output of American animation studio Bray, producers of such series as Colonel Heeza Liar, Happy Hooligan and Krazy Kat, and featuring the work of Pat Sullivan, Max Fleischer, Pat Sullivan and John Bray himself. There is a studio history, filmography, ample illustrations and a discussion board. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 24

Jean Dujardin and Uggy share the acting honours in The Artist

Things are still unsettled here at New Bioscope Towers, what with so much stuff still in boxes and electrical matters needing to be sorted out, but your scribe will for a while rest upon a handy packing case and record for you some of the news items from the world of silents this week (and the week before).

Best film dog
As many of you will know now, the modern day silent film The Artist did not win the Palm d’Or at Cannes, though it was a close run thing. Jean Dujardin did pick up the award for best actor, but probably a little closer to the Bioscope’s heart was the announcement of the Palm Dog – an unofficial award for the best performance by a dog in a film shown at Cannes – which went to Uggy, a Jack Russell member of the cast of The Artist. Uggy’s performance has been variously described as “stunning”, “stand out” and “the finest in the 11 year history of the Palm Dog”. Read more.

The world remembers part 1
UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme highlights important documentary heritage artefacts from around the world, and as we have reported before now, a few films have been included so far. Newly inscribed on the register is the important Desmet collection of films, company documents, posters and film stills from the 1910s, submitted by the EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam(formerly the Nederlands Filmmuseum). Also inscribed in 2011, by the Russian Federation, is Tolstoy’s Personal Library and Manuscripts, Photo and Film Collection. I wasn’t aware Tolstoy had a personal film collection – as we have noted before, he was no lover of the medium. We will have to find out more. Read more.

The world remembers part 2
But there are also national registers, and new to the UK Memory of the World register is the extraordinary Mitchell & Kenyon collection of some 800 films from the Edwardian era, mostly actualties depicting lives in English and Irish working towns. Congratulations to the BFI National Archive which cares for the collection and successfully argued for the collection’s inclusion on the UK register (along with the GPO Film Unit collection of the 1930s). Read more.

Tuff times ahead
Toronto’s annual festial of modern, one-minute long silent films is open for entries once more. Describing itself as ‘the world’s only true “underground” film festival’, films submitted and selected get to reach over 1.3 million daily commuters who ride the Toronto subway system. The event takes place 9-18 September 2011 and this year’s guest judge is Atom Egoyan. The deadline for submissions is 15 July. You can see past award winners on TUFF’s Vimeo site – and the standard is high. Read more.

The genius of Buster
A thoughtful and observant article by Jana Prikyl on Buster Keaton has been published in The New York Review of Books to coincide with the screening of twelve feature-length and twelve short films by Buster Keaton, at Film Forum, New York City, 23 May – 8 August 2011. The essay covers Kino’s recent DVD and Blu-Ray releases, the Brownlow/Gill documentary A Hard Act to Follow, Kevin W. Sweeney’s Buster Keaton: Interviews, and James L. Neibaur’s The Fall of Buster Keaton: His Films for M-G-M, Educational Pictures, and Columbia. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 23

Trailer for The Artist

Well, these are busy times, aren’t they? Much interest has been aroused by the news of the colour version of A Trip to the Moon and the release online of Film Daily 1922-1929 (from which the Bioscope has learned that there is nothing quite like having the words ‘film’ and ‘daily’ in a blog post title for attracting spam). But what else has been happening in the silent film world?

Weinstein picks The Artist
There’s been a lot of interest suddenly in the modern-day silent film The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, which as we reported last week was a late entry into competition at Cannes. Clearly some think quite highly of this A Star is Born-like tale of one star on the rise and another on the wane at the time of the crossover from silent to sound films. Now we learn that the sharp-eyed Harvey Weinstein has bought the film and clearly sees an unusual hit in the making. It certainly looks quite something from the trailer and the stills. So will we be seeing a silent film in contention come Oscar time? Read more.

FOCAL restoration awards
Silent film restorations scored twice at this week’s FOCAL International Awards. The awards, which celebrate the best work in the commercial footage business (chiefly in the UK), include awards for archive restorations which have grown in prominence particularly since Martin Scorsese won last year for the restoration of The Red Shoes. This year’s award for best single title went to the BFI’s exceptional work on The Great White Silence (1924), documenting the Scott Antarctic expedition, which beat strong silent competition from the new version of Metropolis. The award for best restoration project went to Lobster Films’ revelatory The Chaplin Keystone Project (a four-disc DVD set), which the French firm undertook with the BFI and Cineteca di Bologna. Read more.

The Great White Silence hits the road
Recently garlanded with a FOCAL restoration award, as noted above, The Great White Silence is being released across the UK by the BFI from next Friday. Featuring a new score (which might possibly divide opinion) from new score by Simon Fisher Turner, the film of the British Antarctic Expedition (1910-1913), filmed by Herbert Ponting, will be on release up to mid-July, while DVD and Blu-Ray will be released in June. Following on from the success of the re-release of Metropolis, this seems evidence of growing public a public taste for silents, which we hope we hope will be encouraged further. Read more.

Ammunition smuggling on the Mexican border
There hasn’t been much of chance before now to draw your attention to Cine Silente Mexicano, a fine blog which happens to be in Spanish. But for its most recent post it has turned to English to tell the genuinely fascinating story of Ammunition Smuggling on the Mexican Border (1914), a three-reel docudrama (now lost, alas) which recreated a clash between Sherrif Buck (who played himself) and gun smuggling revolutionaries. The post was written by Scott Simmon, via the The 7th Orphan Film Symposium. Read more.

Chaplin’s car
Fancy driving away with a piece of film history? You’ve got until May 15th to put in a bid on eBay for Charlie Chaplin’s 1929 Pierce Arrow dual-cowl phaeton convertible, Model 143. The current bid is for $88,100.00, but the reserve has not been met yet. Now’s your chance. Read more.

‘Til next time!

Bioscope Newsreel no. 22

United States Food Administration cinema slide from World War One, from Starts Thursday!

Jackie Cooper
Another child star of the silent era has died. Jackie Cooper, who made his first film in 1925 aged three, did not suffer the fate of many child stars in having a an adulthood of disappointing anonymity. Instead after success in the Our Gang series, he continued as a top performer throughout the 1930s, moved on to acting with success on stage and TV, then turned TV executive, won a couple of Emmys for directing, and returned to the screen as the newspaper editor in the Superman films. He died aged 88. Read more.

In competition
A late addition to the films in competition in Cannes has been announced – and it’s a silent film. The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, is described as a ‘silent black-and-white period piece about the rise of a young actress and simultaneous fall from grace of a silent movie star around the time that “talking pictures” started being made’. It stars Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, James Cromwell and John Goodman. Read more (and see clips with interviews – in French – here).

Class, silents and the public sphere
Acknowledgments to the Illuminations blog for this link to a lengthy and engrossing article by Stephen J. Ross (author of Working-Class Hollywood) on class and politics in silent film, first published in 2003. Ross notes: “Between 1905 and April 1917, when American entry into World War I altered the movie industry and the politics of its films in dramatic ways, producers released at least 274 labor-capital productions. Of the 244 films whose political perspectives could be accurately determined, 112 (46 %) were liberal, 82 (34 %) conservative, 22 (9 %) anti-authoritarian, 17 (7 %) populist, and 11 (4 %) radical”. Read more.

Propaganda between reels
A favourite blog of the Bioscope is Starts Thursday!, in which Rob Byrne covers the glass lantern slides that promoted coming attractions in cinemas from the silent era (and beyond). His latest post is a very informative guest piece by PhD candidate Krystina Benson on the American government’s propaganda campagin during WWI one, including its use of film, all handsomely and illuminatingly illustrated by Byrne’s slides. Read more.

‘Til next time!