As you were with British Pathe

What is going on with the British Pathe website? Having written one post on the early fiction films to be found there and another on the newsreels, I had to write a third pointing out that the free low resolution downloads were no longer available (but could be found on the ITN site), and that high resolution copies for which you had to pay were all that were available. But now the free download films – all 3,500 hours of them – are back on the British Pathe site. I think the only advice must be to download while you can.

Media and imperialism

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The Iamhist (International Association for Media and History) conference takes place 18-21 July, at the University of Amsterdam. The theme of the conference is Media and Imperialism: Press, Photography, Film, Radio and Television in the Era of Modern Imperialism. There are several speakers covering early cinema themes: Yvonne Zimmermann, ‘Views and Perspectives of Economic Imperialism in Swiss Corporate Films 1910-1960’; Garth Jowett, ‘The “Ungawa” Effect: Images of Tarzan in the Colonial and Post-Colonial World, 1915-2007; Martin Loiperdinger, ‘The Lantern, the Empire, Army and Navy’; Teresa Castro, ‘Imperialism and Early Cinema’s Mapping Impulse’; Simon Popple, ‘Cinema and the Boer War: Imperial Narratives for the Screen’; Guido Convents, ‘The Rich Visual Heritage of Belgian Imperialism’; James Burns, ‘Black History in the Early Cinema: the Reception of Jack Johnson and D.W. Griffith in the African Diaspora’; and yours truly speaking on the compelling topic of ‘Classifying Empire’.

Further programme details, registration and acommodation details from the conference website.

Nineteen (Obscure) Frames that Changed the World

In October 1888 the French-born inventor Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince recorded what is thought to be the first ‘film’ in the history of cinema. His subject was Leeds Bridge – the ebb and flow of humanity – people going about their daily business unaware that their motions were being inscribed into history. The surviving frames of this footage are owned by the National Media Museum in Bradford where Curator of Cinematography, Michael Harvey, has been working with New York video artist Ken Jacobs for 18 months to provide footage for the unique exhibition Nineteen (Obscure) Frames That Changed the World. As the blurb puts it, “Ken Jacobs probes the magnitude and infinity of the existing frames, using a unique 3D projection system (with 3d glasses) to reveal hidden beauty and unlock great waves of motion. Ken Jacobs’ films, performances and installations inspire a sense of awe and mystery that audiences must have felt when confronted by moving images at the very start of cinema.” The exhibition opens on Thursday 24 May and runs from 25 May–1 June, 11.30am–6.30pm with free entry. Further information here.

British Pathe – part two

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Some while ago I posted an item on the British Pathe website, concentrating on the silent fiction films that unexpectedly can be found there. Now here comes the follow-up post, on the newsreels and other non-fiction films to be found there.

In 2002 British Pathe, owners of the Pathé newsreel library, put up the whole of its collection, thanks to a grant from the New Opportunities Fund‘s NOF-Digitise programme. It was a controversial decision, because a commercial company was being given public money to do what some felt the company might have done for itself, but others welcomed a new kind of public-private initiative. The result for the public was 3,500 hours of newsreel footage from 1896 to 1970, available for free as low resolution downloads. Later 12,000,000 still images were added, key frames generated as part of the digitisation process. It was, and remains, one of the most remarkable resources on the net, and a major source for those interested in silent film.

Charles Pathé established the Société Pathé Frères, for the manufacture of phonographs and cinematographs, in 1896. A British agency was formed in 1902, and its first newsreel (which was the first in Britain), Pathé’s Animated Gazette, was launched in June 1910. This soon became Pathé Gazette, a name it retained until 1946, when it was renamed Pathé News, which continued until 1970. These newsreels were issued twice a week, every week, in British cinemas, and were a standard feature of the cinema programme in silent and sound eras.

Pathé also issued other films. It created the cinemagazine Pathé Pictorial in 1918, which ran until 1969. Eve’s Film Review, a cinemagazine for women, was established in 1921 and ran to 1933, while Pathétone Weekly ran 1930-1941. There were other film series and one-off documentaries.

All of this and more is on the site. Pathé were distributors of others’ films, some of which turn up unexpectedly on the site. For example, there are some of the delightful Secrets of Nature natural history films made by Percy Smith in the 1920s. There are also actuality films from before 1910 which Pathé seems to have picked up along the way, though not all of them are Pathé productions by any means – for example, assorted films from the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.

Page from British Pathe site

For the silent period, researchers should note that the collection is not complete. For the First World War and before (what British Pathe calls Old Negatives) the surviving archive is patchy, and the cataloguing records less certain with dates. For the 1920s, the record is substantially complete – indeed, there is unissued and unused material as well as the standard newsreels. These of course show events great and small throughout the decade, with an emphasis on sport, celebrity, spectacle and human interest. Look out in particular for the women’s magazine Eve’s Film Review, a delightful series with an emphasis on “fashion, fun and fancy”. For silent film fans, there are newsreels of Chaplin, Valentino, Pickford, Fairbanks etc. There are all sorts of surprise film history discoveries to be made, such as a Pathé Pictorial on feature film production in Japan in the 1920s.

You can find the British Pathe collection (the company doesn’t use the accent on the e) at other places online. British Pathe is now managed by ITN Source, one of the world’s major footage libraries, and all of its films can be downloaded from that site in the same manner. You can also find many of them on the British Universities Newsreel Database, which is a database of all British newsreels and has substantial information about each of the Pathé newsreels, the people who worked for them, and histories of newsreels and cinemagazines in Britain in the silent and sound eras.

There are also versions of the Pathe delivery for schools – Beyond Pathe, Teaching & Learning with the British Pathe Archive, and Shapes of Time.

It’s a hugely important resource, and it’s all still free, though it’s now beyond the date British Pathe agreed with the New Opportunities Fund to keep the collection freely available to all. Long may it continue to be so.

U.S. Government Enters Film Industry

The U.S. Government began its entrance into the motion picture industry as early (if not earlier) as 1908. Early on, Government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Army Signal Corps, the Bureau of Reclamation and others began their foray into this arena. In the beginning, Government offices relied on outside commercial studios for their productions, but early on they realized in order to control costs, maintain creative control and eventually set up their own distribution systems, it was in their best interests to set up their own production units.

The Department of Agriculture began producing films officially as a motion picture unit late in 1913. They had even purchased processing equipment and cameras and had the first Government motion picture lab initially hidden away in an 8 x 12 room as it had yet to be funded. In 1917 the U.S. Signal Corps began training soldiers in cinematography at Columbia University in New York. The U.S. Reclamation Service (Department of the Interior) began filming in 1908-09 using the medium to document their efforts in irrigation in the Midwest. The list goes on and on: the Bureau of War Risk Insurance , the National Forest Service, Bureau of Mines, etc. all utilized this medium in an effort to educate and inform the masses. It is a long neglected segment of film history which is well worth a new look.

How I Filmed the War

Geoffrey Malins

The latest addition to the Bioscope Library is Geoffrey Malins’ How I Filmed the War: a record of the extraordinary experiences of the man who filmed the great Somme battles etc. (1920). Malins was one of two British Official cameramen who filmed the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916 (the other was J.B. McDowell). The film that they shot was considered so outstanding that it was compiled into a feature length documentary (earlier Official war films had been much shorter), entitled The Battle of The Somme. It was first shown in London in October 1916 and was unquestionably a sensation. It is estimated that half the British population saw its unprecedented scenes of life for British troops on the Western front, with scenes of battle, troops going over the top, and the wounded. Malins’ book is vainglorious but rich in detail, a unique document of the making of what Nicholas Hiley has called the most socially significant British film of the twentieth century.

It’s available for free download from the Internet Archive, in PDF (24MB), DjVu (6MB) or TXT (532KB) formats. The film itself has been recently digitally restored by the Imperial War Museum, with remarkable effect, and a DVD release with new score is promised.

The first edited motion picture?

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Hot news from the Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema site. The researches of Eadweard Muybridge scholar Stephen Herbert have come up with evidence for Muybridge to have been the first person to present an edited motion picture, in 1881. This is long before ‘film’ as we know it, but Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope machine projected silhouette images taken from his sequence photographs, painted around the edge of a glass disk. Anyway, here’s the news report:

It now seems confirmed that there was a screening of some newly-produced Zoopraxiscope glass plates in San Francisco in the Spring of 1881, one of which features sequential actions: perhaps the first ‘edited’ motion picture informed by the camera – meticulously painted images based closely on photographic sequences to create a succession of different ‘shots’; and for dramatic effect. A May 1881 report in the San Francisco Post described this as: “a deerhunt, where a deer, followed successfully [successively?] by dogs and horsemen, traverses over the illuminated screen”. The report says these new subjects “can now be illustrated”. Stephen Herbert thinks it is reasonable to suppose they were all shown at this time, though it is just possible that the report is taken from a written submission by Muybridge. But even if it was, it is quite likely that he started using them in his shows. Most of the subjects described in the report survive, including the little-known ‘three-shot’ motion picture Deerhunt. More details can be found on the Eadweard Muybridge Chronology (1881, May 16 entry).

So maybe the first ‘movie’ was an animated scene of a deer hunt made in 1881, when the Lumiere brothers were still in short trousers (practically). Or perhaps we need to be very careful about our terminology and not describe such a phenomenon with the language of a later medium. ‘Pre-cinema’ (unfortunate term) was not about anticipating cinema, as such, but existed of itself. Nevertheless, it is fun to make the comparison…

Il Cinema Ritrovato

Il Cinema Ritrovato is held every June/July at the Cinemateca Bologna, Italy, and is one of the world’s major festivals of film restoration. It always has a major silent film component. Details of this year’s festival, which takes place Saturday 30 June-Saturday 7 July, have just been published. Those to be featured include Charlie Chaplin (subject of a major Bologna retrospective and exhibition); Asta Nielsen; films from 1907; the American silents and early sound films of Michael Curtiz; and some major silent restorations from Lubitsch (Als Ich Tot War, 1916), Von Stroheim (Austria’s restoration of Blind Husbands, 1919), De Mille (Dynamite, 1929), Stiller (Madame de Thèbes, 1915); and from Germany, Schatten der Weltstadt (Willi Wolff, 1925); a Polish find, A Strong Man (Henryk Szaro, 1929); and what the festival is calling its most amazing discovery of all, a Swedish film called The Spring of Life (Paul Garbagni, 1912), with Sjöström, Stiller, and af Klercker as actors. From Italy they will have L’Odissea (Bertolini-Padovan, 1911), Maciste imperatore (Guido Brignone, 1924), and the beginning of the Ghione Project.

The festival will also cover CinemaScope, melodrama of the 1940s/50s, Raffaello Matarazzo, and Sacha Guitry. More details from the Ritrovato site.

Eadweard Muybridge chronology

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Stephen Herbert has published an online chronology of the life and work of Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), whose sequence photography in the 1870s and 1880s led the way to motion pictures as we understand them. The chronology covers events in his life, and his whereabouts; Muybridge’s published photographs, books, articles, and letters; Muybridge’s unpublished correspondence; correspondence (by others) that mentions Muybridge, where this is useful; books, articles, newspaper reports, advertisements, published during Muybridge’s lifetime, that refer to his life or work. The chronology is still being developed, corrected and expanded. Muybridge’s full achievement is still being avidly researched, and new discoveries are still being made. This is an important new resource from one of the leading Muybridge authorities, who is also promising a Muybridge ‘blog’ in the near future.

Further information: