Cinema by Citizens

Calling all would-be silent filmmakers of today. The Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF) has announced a competition under the title ‘Cinema by Citizens: Celebrating the City‘. They are calling for filmmakers, video artists, animators, and ‘urbanites with cameras (or video cellphones)’ to produce silent, one-minute films or videos on one or other of these urban themes:

– My Town
– Urban Ennui
– 905 to the 416
– The Imaginary City
– Big Smoke, Big Dreams
– Forgotten Places, Uncommon Spaces

The festival takes place 8-18 September, and the deadline for submissions is 20 August. International submissions are invited. Winning films will be exhibited online.

Segundo de Chomón

I’ve just found about this rare screening of films by the Spanish director Segundo de Chomón, taking place at Tate Modern on Friday 6 July at 19.00pm. Segundo de Chomón is one of the masters of early fantasy film, overshadowed rather by Georges Méliès, but whose trick films are no less intoxicating or ingenious, filled as they are with sorcerers, mystics, devils and exotic dancers. The sixty-minute programme includes all these titles (several of which are coloured prints, heightening the exoticism of the scenes):

Poules aux Oeufs D’Or, 1905
Antre Infernal, 1905
Antre de la Sorcière, 1906
Spectre Rouge, 1907
Armures Mysterieux, 1907
Scarabée D’Or, 1907
Metempsycose, 1907
Excursion Incoherente, 1910
Legende du Fantôme, 1908

Stephen Horne is playing the piano, for what is an excellent programme of films little seen but once seen unlikely to be forgotten. Early cinema was a magical place. Further information from the Tate site. It’s part of the Dali & Film season, and Dali would have loved them.

More from the Marchioness

I’ve found more information on Gwladys, Marchioness of Townshend, who wrote some scenarios for the Clarendon Film Company, and an interview with whom was given in an earlier post.

The new source of information is her autobiography, It Was – and It Wasn’t, written in 1937. This tells us a little more about the agreement she made in 1912 with Clarendon to produce scenarios for them, and gives us more film titles than I had listed.

She seems to had always had an interest in films, which included considering investing in cinema buildings, and she had written articles on aspects of film before she made a deal with Clarendon:

I had been keenly interested in the Cinema Theatre and its possibilities at Maidenhead, and in 1912 I entered into an arrangement with the Clarendon Film Company of Charing Cross Road, to produce a series of picture plays; the first play, A Strong Man’s Love, being well received by the public and the Press. The House of Mystery followed. These were the first cinematograph dramas to give the author’s name, and I was the first peeress to write for the Cinema.

Were these the first films to credit the scenarist (as opposed to a playwright)? I don’t know. It might be Anita Loos, whose first film for D.W. Griffith was The New York Hat (1912), or Harriet Quimby, wrote wrote five scenarios for Griffith in 1911, but was either credited on screen? But I think Gwladys is on solid ground when she says she was the first peeress who wrote for the screen. Fascinatingly, she names two others who wrote scenarios after her – the Countess of Warwick and the Countess of Roden. I know nothing of either.

Next she gives interesting information on how much she was paid:

The late Sir George Alexander and I believed in the artistic future of the Cinema. At that time I considered its moral and ethical possibilities limitless, and it is interesting to compare the views of the Gaumont Company in 1913 as to the prices paid for scenarios, with the money of 1935. In 1913 a representative of the Gaumont Company told an interviewer that, “on the whole, the scale of payment is not high, and the picture dramatist does not expect – at any rate, he does not receive – anything like the renumeration of his brother, the real dramatist. The royalty system exists, but it is not general, the plot usually being bought outright. The average price is that of a short magazine story, but many ideas are disposed of for half a guinea apiece.” At that time I was paid £300 for writing six film plays, but, fortunately for authors, prices have increased considerably since then.

After an aside on the importance of the cinema as a force for education, she describes how she used a model theatre in her garden – together with cardboard cut-out nuns for her film The Convent Gate – to work out how scenes should appear. Then, after comments on the need for appropriate music for silent films, she concludes thus:

After my first film play was produced by the Clarendon Film company, the same company produced another – When East meets West. This completed a series of seven film dramas commissioned by the same company during a period of two years – A Strong Man’s Love, At the Convent Gate, The House of Mystery, Wreck and Ruin, The Love of an Actress and The Family Solicitor. All these sound most melodramatic now, but had their little success in those days.

I hadn’t come across some of these titles, but all were produced, so here’s a complete filmography for her, with slightly mocking descriptions taken from Denis Gifford’s British Film Catalogue:

A STRONG MAN’S LOVE (2,095ft)
Released January 1913
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … Elizabeth
Crime. Vicar’s daughter elopes with actor who kills manager and is acquitted by barrister who loves her.

THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY (2,090ft)
Released April 1913
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … The Girl
Crime. Fake ghost, gas chamber, and raid on den of 50 coiners by 100 policemen.

THE CONVENT GATE (2,175ft)
Released September 1913
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … Marie St Clair
Drama. Jilted bride recovers sanity after being saved from fire.

THE LOVE OF AN ACTRESS (3,000ft)
Released August 1914
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … Actress
Evan Thomas … Peer
Drama. Film actress feigns drunkenness to repel peer but saves him from suicide after he takes to drink.

WRECK AND RUIN (2,755ft)
Released August 1914
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew
Drama. Foreman saves mill owner from flood caused by striking workmen.

THE FAMILY SOLICITOR (2,772ft)
Released September 1914
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … The Girl
Crime. Lawyer forges earl’s will so that his indebted son may inherit.

WHEN EAST MEETS MEET (3,000ft)
Released February 1915
p.c: Clarendon
dir: Wilfred Noy
story: Marchioness of Townshend
cast: Dorothy Bellew … The Girl
Crime. Indian fakir hypnotises officer’s daughter and explodes gas bulbs from afar with electric rays.

None of these films is known to survive today.

Silent film festivals

I’ve just come across this excellent directory of silent film festivals worldwide, entitled Stummfilmfestivals. Yes, it’s in German, but it’s basically a set of links to festival sites plus a calendar which marks every day in which a silent film festival is taking place, as well as sorting them month by month. it covers Germany, USA, UK, France, Italy, Austria, Poland, the Netherlands and Finland. And it goes back to 2005, so you can find out about all the ones you missed.

I’ll have more on upcoming festivals in due course, but from Stummfilmfestivals you can find out more about the Regensburger Stummfilmfestival (2-11 August), the Internationale Stummfilmtage in Bonn (9-19 August), the Stummfest in Prague (30 August-1 September), Cinesation in Ohio (27-30 September), and of course Le Giornate del Cinema Muto at Pordenone, Italy (6-13 October).

Moving Pictures in Westminster

The Moving Pictures exhibition on the film and cinema business is London before the First World War will be on show at the City of Westminster Archives Centre 5-30 June. The exhibition, which was previously shown at Hornsey Library and Hampstead Museum, focusses on the highly active film industry and cinema business in London before 1914, with an emphasis on the relationship with local communities. The exhibition is based on The London Project, a research project hosted by Birkbeck College, London, which resulted in The London Project database of film businesses and cinemas in London before the First World War.

There are associated talks taking place at the Centre on 19 and 26 June, at 6.00 pm (admission free). The Archives Centre is located here.

For the weekend of 23-24 June the exhibition will move temporily from the Archives Centre to feature as part of West End Live, in Leicester Square.

Keystone revisited

Keystone live

The Bioscope has been taking a short break while I’ve been holidaying in Ireland, but one of the reasons for going was to see Dave Douglas and his Keystone sextet play at the Bray Jazz festival. As reported in an earlier post, jazz musician and composer Dave Douglas was inspired by the films of Fatty Arbuckle to release a CD (with accompanying DVD) in 2005 entitled Keystone, which is perhaps rather more his response to the happy anarchy of Arbuckle’s films and his sad fate rather than music to accompany the films. As it is, the concert – which was utterly superb, exuberant modern jazz of the highest order – didn’t feature Arbuckle’s films at all, as had been trailed, so whether it all works in a live setting I cannot say (the DVD that goes with the CD suggests not). Some of the set was inspired by Arbuckle and Keaton’s The Rough House (1917), though the bit with just trumpet and turntables intercutting between an Iraqi woman singing and George Bush uttering the word ‘terrorist’ suggests that Douglas takes his interpretation of Arbuckle’s work quite broadly.

Anyway, the set will eventually be recorded for a follow-up Keystone CD, but in the meanwhile there’s a live CD now available of his previous Keystone set, recorded in Sweden in 2005. Here’s the blurb from the CD site:

In a brilliant stroke of tour routing, this gig at the Umea Jazz Festival in northern Sweden was immediately preceded by the San Francisco jazz festival in California and followed by one in Cormons, Italy. Nonetheless everyone came ready to play. The Keystone sound really came together here: sloppy and wild, but also focused, lyrical, delicate, and at times simply bizarre. Also, like the films it was written to, it was a lot of fun. The concert began with a showing of Fatty and Mabel Adrift, Roscoe Arbuckle’s 1915 three-reeler, probably the first (and finest?) surreal comico-psychological thriller drama. Next, we played the three main themes from my score for Mabel and Fatty’s Wash Day (in which the perennial slapstick potential of the laundry line is used to address some semi-serious marital issues) without accompanying the film. Finally, as an encore, we played Luke the Dog, written to the heroic canine suspense vehicle, Fatty’s Plucky Pup. Though we edited the chit chat and whatnot, this is the way the gig was played.

The man certainly knows and loves his Arbuckle. See you back in Blighty very soon.

Ah, the Nuts and Bolts

One of the long neglected areas of film scholarship has been the technology developements over time. From the earliest days of the industry, cameramen, etc, had to come up with methods to handle film, shoot at different speeds, film from the air, and on and on. When archives first broached the idea of film preservation, for the most part film itself was the object of our affection. It wasn’t until much later that we realized the importance of this cinemachinery in the industry. From early cameras, lighting, and printers, the developments came fast and furious. Some were monsters in size and shape, like the original Mutoscope Camera of A, M & B. Carl Gregory developed a practical optical printer in 1927-28.

These and devlopments like them were one of the things responsible for the technical improvements in film production that made it to the screen. I have always found this period to be a treasure trove of technological development, and look forward to seeing much more research into this area of the early film industry.

Brownlow and the Kelly Gang

There’s a fine article by Kevin Brownlow in today’s edition of The Times, on silent films. It’s called ‘Silents Please‘ and it’s a distillation of Brownlow’s thoughts and feelings about the pre-eminent entertainment medium that is silent film. It focuses more on the technical innovations than the stars, and it is a great piece for waving in front of sceptics to show they why silent films matter. It should certainly make a convert or two.

The piece has been written to coincide with the Silent Film and Live Music series running at the Barbican in London, which today is screening the surviving footage (some 20 minutes) of the world’s first fiction feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), made in Australia, with live piano accompaniment by John Sweeney. Also showing is The Life of John Lee: The Man They Could Not Hang (Australia 1921).

Ancestors on board

An important new resource has been released by the UK’s National Archives and findmypast.com. Ancestors on Board is a record of everyone who sailed out of a British port (including all Ireland to 1921) on long-distance voyages from 1890 to 1960, taken from the records of the Board of Trade. The first tranche of data released covers 1890-1899, and there is obviously material there of interest to those interested in the movement of the first filmmakers. For example, it is possible to trace the trans-Atlantic travels of film businessmen, and cameramen setting out to film the Anglo-Boer War in 1899. The name search is free, but there is a charge for viewing images of the ships’ lists or transcripts (it can be a bit pricey unless the person you are searching for had a distinctive surname).

The growing number of online family history resources offer great opportunities for the film historian seeking out data on individuals. Other importance sources include FreeBMD (UK births, marriages and deaths, largely complete for 1837-1900, all freely available) , Ancestry.com (the world’s leading geneaology source, a paid for service but with free trial periods available), FamilyHistory.com (another form of Ancestry.com, with emphasis on American states), FamilySearch.com (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ vast geneaological database, to be used with caution), and Ellis Island Records (a free service with records of all those arriving at New York’s Ellis Island 1892-1924).