San Francisco, 1906

A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire
P: Miles Brothers. USA 1905/06

“The earthquake scenes, while spectacular, are essentially reportorial. But the early movies photographed with no knowledge of the approaching calamity, in addition to being rare, have a special significance and poignancy. On one level they document how the buildings, streets, and people looked. The detailed notes provided include this information (along with some fascinating speculation) and reveal just how much can be discerned by a meticulous and knowledgeable viewer. On another level these hazy, grainy images bring to life a time and place even further removed from us than the ninety or so years would suggest, a time and place buried under a layer of ash, soot, and crumbled brick.
Just looking at the subjects of the films can be revealing, though most are typical of the actuality genre. Filmed in 1905 and obviously re-titled after the disaster, A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire showcases downtown San Francisco along the great boulevard. To emphasize this (and no doubt to add to the visual excitement of the scene) the producers had the same few automobiles circle the cable car-mounted camera as it proceeded toward the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street.”
Library of Congress

San Francisco earthquake and fire, April 18, 1906
P:  Lubin Film Company.  USA 1906

“This film shows the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906, and the devastation resulting from the subsequent three-day fire. The 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck at 5:12am and was centered along the San Andreas Fault, which slices through coastal California. Most of the cities of central California were badly damaged. San Francisco, with thousands of unreinforced brick buildings – and thousands more closely-spaced wooden Victorian dwellings – was poorly prepared for a major fire. Collapsed buildings, broken chimneys, and a shortage of water due to broken mains led to several large fires that soon coalesced into a city-wide holocaust. The fire swept over nearly a quarter of the city, including the entire downtown area. Dynamite was used with varying success to prevent the fire from spreading westward. Over 3,000 people are now estimated to have died as a result of the disaster. For the surviving refugees, the first few weeks were hard; as aid poured in from around the country, thousands slept in tents in city parks, and all citizens were asked to do their cooking in the street. A severe shortage of public transportation made a taxicab out of anything on wheels. Numerous businesses relocated teporarily in Oakland and many refugees found lodgings outside the city. Reconstruction of the city proceeded at a furious pace and by 1908, San Francisco was well on the way to recovery. The scenes in the film are preceded by titles, many of which are sensationalized. One entire scene showing a family eating in the street was almost certainly staged for the camera. The film was probably made in early May, as one scene can be precisely dated to May 9, and another to sometime after May 1.”
Library of Congress

San Francisco after the earthquake and fire of 1906
Producer unknown. USA 1906

“This film is made up of five panoramas, four wide and one close-up, of the ruins of downtown San Francisco shortly after the 1906 disaster, plus a panorama and scene in a nearby refugee camp. Original intertitles precede each change of scene, but the locations provided are incorrect for three of the five views. The state of the ruins and camp suggest a date in late April, 1906. The absence of streetcar tracks in the ‘Grand Avenue’ panorama dates that segment to before May 1, 1906.”
Library of Congress

Ruins of Chinatown
K: Robert K. Bonine. P: Edison Co. USA 1906

Vertical Panorama City Hall and Surroundings
K: Robert K. Bonine. P: Edison Co. USA 1906

Robert K. Bonine, the Edison company’s actuality cameraman, took thirteen panoramas of the devastation of the April, 1906 earthquake which were offered for sale later that year. The 1906 Edison catalog lists all the films with additional short descriptions and information on specific location, etc.

Further reading: The Brothers Who Filmed the Earthquake

>>> San Francisco: Aftermath of Earthquake: Disasters



A Portuguese Re-enactment

Chaves, incursões monárquicas
Portugal 1912
Print: Cinemateca Portuguesa-Museu do Cinema

Re-Enactment: The attack on the city of Chaves, July 8 1912, during the royalist uprisings against the republican government in Portugal 1911-1912.

Historical background:

An early documentary film from Portugal:


Click here to view the film

Concurso Hípico no Campo do Bessa
R: Alfredo Nunes de Matos (Produtor executivo). P: Invicta Film. Portugal 1913
Print: Cinemateca Portuguesa-Museu do Cinema

Unedited footage. Successive shots of the event’s public.

Landscape Documentary

Le bellezze d’Italia. Trittico di visioni pittoresche
P: Tiziano Film, Torino / Pasquali Film, Torino. It 1911/1915
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino

“The film is made up of three episodes: In the gulf of La Spezia, The Val D’Aosta and In the Picturesque Lagoon. It is probably a new edition distributed by Tiziano Film in which older films produced by the Pasquali company have been assembled. The film is a good example of the’landscape documentary’ genre, very fashionable in the early Twentieth century. In this type of film artistic and natural beauties were enhanced by exalting the ‘typical’ and the “picturesque”. In The Gulf of La Spezia, the cameraman makes use of the opportunity of a reiterated panoramic take, starting from different viewpoints, to highlight the suggestive vista of villages seen from the sea. In the episode dedicated to Val D’Aosta, static shots and composite framing are preferred, often surrounded and enhanced by a letterbox frame. The widespread use of letterbox framings strengthens links with picture postcard aesthetics and, more indirectly, with landscape painting. In the Picturesque Lagoon is especially characterised by its breathtaking beginning: the camera approaches the lagoon from the sea, rocking slowly, immersed in a fiery red sunset; after insinuating itself inside Venice through its canals, it will return to the open sea to follow night fishing vessels together with the spectators. The video is a copy from the film print held by the National Cinema Museum: 35mm, positive, acetate, 305 metres, colour (Desmetcolor), Italian intertitles, silent.”
Europeana 1914-1918


The Battle of London

London – Sidney Street Siege
P: British Pathé. UK 1911

“The Sidney Street Siege was the result of a bungled burglary by a group of Latvian anarchists. The Latvians were discovered in the course of a robbery in Houndsditch by the police, four people were killed and a huge manhunt ensued. Two Latvians (not connected with the burglary and subsequent shootings) were tracked down to 100 Sidney Street, Stepney, East London and the street surrounded by the police, at 11pm on 2nd January 1911. The police waited for daylight and reinforcements, however shots were heard at 7.30am the next morning and the siege began. Military support arrived around 10.15am and the Home Secretary Winston Churchill arrived at noon. Soon after 1pm, a fire began which took hold, killing the two men trapped inside. The fire brigade and police finally entered the building around 3pm.
Unusually, the siege was filmed. Early cinema companies were often unable to attend such developing stories, thanks to problems of travel, logistics and cumbersome cameras. However, the length of the siege gave the companies plenty of time to get to the scene and set up their cameras. Pathe, Gaumont, Warwick and Cooperative were among the companies to capture the events, releasing their completed films the next day under sensational titles such as The Battle of London and The Great East End Anarchist Battle.”
Simon Baker
Screen online

Dickens on Screen

Nicholas Nickleby
R: George Nichols. B: Charles Dickens (novel). K: Carl Gregory. D: Harry Benham, Mignon Anderson, Frances Gibson, Inda Palmer. P: Thanhouser Film Corporation, USA 1912

“The background settings are not simply painted sets as was typical of the time, but are naturally built environments. The characters, too, are clear, defined, and personable without too much help or interruption from captions. Even more, the short length is unlike other depictions of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ and allows the film to be comprehensible and digestible in a short 20 minutes. Other stage performances of the novel have been said to last upwards of eight hours, with multiple meals served as respites. While all shots are taken from a static camera, it’s important to evaluate the film in its historical context with the technological limitations of the times.”
Jack Linshi
Yale Daily News

The Pickwick Papers (Pt 1: “The Adventure of the Honourable Event”)
R: Larry Trimble. B: Eugene Mullin nach Charles Dickens. D: John Bunny, Arthur Ricketts. P: British Vitagraph and Vitagraph Company of America. UK / USA 1913
Print: BFI

“The three-reel The Pickwick Papers, a joint production by the British and American Vitagraph companies, starred popular American comedian John Bunny and was filmed mainly on location in England (this apparently stemmed from Bunny’s desire to play Pickwick in the authentic locations). Perhaps more than many of Dickens’ other novels, The Pickwick Papers leant itself easily to adaptation, thanks to the episodic nature of the novel and the self-contained stories which feature within it (examples of the latter being Gabriel Grub, 1904, and A Knight for a Night, 1909). Only the first and third reel from the 1913 Vitagraph version – ‘The Honourable Event’ (featured here) and ‘The Westgate Seminary’ – still survive in the BFI National Archive.”
Caroline Millar
Screen online

Stage, Screen, and Death

Duel to the Death
R: William K.L. Dickson. D: Edith Blanche, Beatrice Homer. P: British Mutoscope and Biograph Company. UK 1898
Print: BFI

“Ladies fighting with their tops off featured in sticky postcards, stereoscopic views, and nickelodeons. Here are some ladies stabbing it out to the death in a filmed scene from the 1898 Drury Lane stage play ‘Women and Wine’.”
Livius Drusus
Mental Floss

“The Biograph catalog summarized this film as follows: ‘This is the celebrated duel scene from the melodrama ‘Women and Wine,’ enacted by the original characters of the Drury Lane cast. The women fight with butcher knives, and their struggle is intensely interesting and realistic.’
Filmed at Mutoscope’s London studio. The actresses are thought to be Beatrice Homer and Edith Blanche.
The American Mutoscope Company was co-founded in Dec 1895 by former Edison Manufacturing Company inventor William K. L. Dickson (who left Edison in Apr of that year), fellow inventors Herman Casler and Harry Marvin, and businessman Elias Koopman. Their Mutoscope, which originally made flip-card peep show movies, soon rivaled Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope (see Edison Kinetoscopic Records for 1893). In the summer of 1896, when Edison introduced the Vitascope 35mm projector, American Mutoscope immediately came out with its own 68mm projector that offered a superior image. In 1899, the company changed its name to the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company (…). By that time, Dickson had joined British Mutoscope in London, England.”
AFI Catalog of Feature Films

La ribalta (Frgm.)
R: Mario Caserini. B: Based on the drama «La Rampe» (1909) di Henri de Rothschild /  adapt.: Arrigo Frusta. K: Giovanni Vitrotti. D: Febo Mari, Maria Gasparini, Oreste Grandi, Mario Voller-Buzzi, Ercole Vaser. P:  Società Anonima Ambrosio, Torino (serie d’oro). It 1912
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema (Desmetcolor)

“The fragment here shown belongs to the ending part of the film.
The lady of Saint-Vanor, tired of being oppressed by her dissolute husband, leaves him for Claudio Bourgueil, the leading actor, and she becomes his student. But soon the student overcomes the master and jealousy kills the man’s love. Eventually abandoned, Maddalena of Saint-Vanor calls the one she has sacrificed her heart and riches for, so that he privately watches the rehearsal of a tragic death scene. At the end of the recital, Claudio bends over her and he realizes that the poor woman was not acting and that she had actually committed suicide.” (Vimeo)

>>> Mario Caserini