Colonial Sujets

Panorama of Calcutta
K: John Benett-Stanford. P: Warwick Trading Company. UK 1899
The title is wrong: the film has been shot in Varanasi, India
Print: BFI

“Moving pictures were able to bring the Empire closer to home for British audiences than ever before. India was a popular subject for travelogues through its status as ‘the jewel in the crown’, but also because of its exoticism. The ‘otherness’ of the activities of the people of the riverbank and the architecture would have been of huge appeal to contemporary western audiences.
This is essentially a ‘phantom ride’, and its dynamism was an important attraction to audiences, with the bustle of people on the riverbank paired with the rocking, forward motion of the camera.”
Jez Stewart
Screen online

“Warwick, under the stewardship of Charles Urban, were famed for their foreign travelogues, bringing these distant places to British audiences. Yet while Panorama of Calcutta positions the viewer as a tourist in India, it also maintains a sense of distance between the viewer and the subjects depicted on screen. The images – ‘the many temples, oriental architecture, fishing dhows, and other native craft’ – are shown, as the Warwick catalogue noted, in ‘rapid succession’, and are filmed from a constantly moving position on the water (Warwick Film Catalogue, 1901, 5260a). Furthermore, the catalogue noted the novelty of these films and especially their distance from British life, in offering ‘pictures in this far distant country’, and ‘a striking contrast to views of English station scenes’.”
Tom Rice
Colonial Film

Nankin Road, Shanghai
K: Joe Rosenthal. P: Warwick Trading Company. UK 1901
Print: BFI

“This is an extraordinary window on to the heart of cosmopolitan Shanghai, over a hundred years ago, featuring a Nanjing Road bustling with crowds of Chinese, Sikhs and Europeans. It is the only known surviving example of the film reportage shot by British war correspondent Joe Rosenthal during his coverage of the Boxer Rebellion in China between 1900 and 1901.”
BFI Player

A Trip Through North Borneo
K: Harold Mease Lomas. P: Charles Urban Trading Company. UK 1907
Sponsored by the British North Borneo Company

A Trip through British North Borneo serves both as an example of the early film travelogue – featuring familiar types of shots, such as the ‘phantom rides’ shot from a train – and also of the sponsored, industrial documentary. In representational terms, the film is a rare and valuable record of the development, industries, and customs of the local communities, showing local sites (such as the Padas River and the Darvel Bay tobacco estates) and in particular, the relationship between the local – as workers, convicts and at leisure – and the colonial administrators. As a film sponsored by the British North Borneo Company, it promotes the company’s administration and seeks to encourage further investment. This is achieved first through the film’s emphasis on travel – following the expedition by train, and across the river – which affirms an ideology of colonial exploration, adventure and discovery and encourages the viewer to identify with those developing the country.

Secondly, the film shows the social work of the company – reports noted its role in bringing peace and order and it is shown, for example, providing food to convicts – and thirdly, it emphasises the commercial possibilities and ongoing development within the area. The varied industries of the region are shown, including rubber, tobacco and manganese, and this chimes with both the company’s own emphasis on increasing the export trade, and with the broader imperial rhetoric of increased productivity within the colonies.
The British North Borneo Company evidently recognised the pedagogical and commercial value of film in promoting the company’s development plans and in generating further investment. Indeed the company’s engagement with film is an early example of a colonial administration using film, not only as a tool for imperial governance, but effectively as advertising, as a means of encouraging direct investment from the viewer.”
Tom Rice
Colonial Film

>>> Colonial Travelogue: Jamaica

The First Movie Showing Kendo – 1897

Escrime au sabre japonais
K: Gabriel Veyre. P: Auguste & Louis Lumière. Fr 1897
Probably the first motion picture about kendo.

In 1897, the Lumière brothers sent their representative, Gabriel Veyre, to Japan, who made several short films about 3 minutes long: Geisha in a Jinriksha , Kendo Combat, Rain Dance of Spring.

Georges Méliès: Jeanne d’Arc

Jeanne d’Arc
R: Georges Méliès. B: Georges Méliès. D: Bleuette Bernon, Georges Méliès, Jeanne d’Alcy. P: Star-Film. Fr 1900

“Despite being made as early as 1900, Georges Méliès’ Joan of Arc was in fact the second adaptation of the legend: Georges Hatot’s The Execution of Joan of Arc (Execution de Jeanne d’Arc) was made in 1897.
As with Méliès’ other longer-form films, there are a reasonable number of extras, though the primary justification for an otherwise interminable march-past through Orléans seems to be so that Méliès can convince us that he really had a cast of thousands at his disposal. In actual fact, his performers would exit the shot at the right of the screen, and would quickly dash behind the backdrop to reappear again on the left.”

“A historical epic in tableaux. Méliès is at the beginning of the lavish tradition of Jeanne d’Arc films, in contrast to the Dreyer-Bresson approach. Domrémy, the vision, denouncing the captain, the court of the King, Renault de Chartres, the coronation at Reims, the battle at Compègne, the siege of the fortress, Jeanne captured, the vision of the village, the interrogation, the burning at the stake. The signature bright red highlight of the hand-coloured films of Georges Méliès appears at the burning. The apotheosis: the ascent into heaven.”
Antti Alanen

Early Surrealism

The Thieving Hand
R: J. Stuart Blackton. D: Paul Panzer. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1908
Print: George Eastman House

The Thieving Hand amalgamates some of the most interesting ideas that we have encountered in the films of the first decade of the twentieth century; one can find the visual trickery of Méliès, the comic timing of Max Linder, the narrative sequencing of Porter and the playfulness of Blackton’s own animation work. The film shares certain surrealist elements with Porter’s Dream of a Rarebit Fiend; however, the surrealist aspects of The Thieving Hand are less explicit but more comic.
The film involves a one-armed street cobbler helping an upper class man (whose hat and cigar bear an uncanny resemblance to Max Linder in Le Premier Cigare d’un Collegien), who repays the favour by purchasing him an arm from a limb shop. The otherworldliness of the limb shop juxtaposes with the previous scene on the street in an unerring manner that Méliès’ shorter films do not quite manage. The use of a false limb functions in a more subtle and effective manner than one of Méliès’ demons; the limb also manages to function as the proverbial devil on the shoulder of the protagonist (or perhaps even, the protagonist’s subconscious) and land him in trouble.
The film successfully synergises the aforementioned influences and styles and delivers a simple and thoroughly enjoyable film. In fact, I would suggest that it is an excellent ‘entry point’ for films from this decade. It is thoroughly engaging for a first time viewer, while also alluding to much of the best work of this decade.”
Film: Ab Initio

Le premier cigare d’un collegien
R: Louis J. Gasnier. D: Max Linder. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1908

>>>Dream of a Rarebit Fiend on this site: Borderline Cinema

A New Sport: Skating 1912

A New Sport
P: British Pathé. UK/Fr 1912
Print: British Pathé Archive

“Paris. The new sport of “Cycle-skating”. Five men sit beside a car and fasten small wheels to their boots. They look very serious.
The wheels are like small individual unicycles and they fasten at the knee. C/U of boot which has special grips which holds the wheels on to the feet. Man moves to show the camera how they work. He wheels his feet backwards and forwards – good C/U. A smooth surface is not essential for this sport, thus we see the men moving towards us through a forest on their wheels. They hold sticks and use them rather like ski poles to help them balance and propel themselves forward. L/S of the men ‘skiing’ along a wide avenue in the forest, they move quite quickly. L/S of one of the men doing figure skating on the wheels.”
British Pathé

Phantom Ride: Barcelona 1908

Barcelona en travia
R: Ricardo (de) Baños. Sp 1908
Kopie: Filmoteca Española

“Ricardo de Baños dreht 1904 seinen ersten Film. Er ist ebenfalls Autor von zahlreichen Spielfilmen, unter anderem Sangre y Arena (Das Blut und die Arena). Mit ihnen pflegt er die größten nationalen Spielfilmgenres: die Operette (Zarzuela), Stierkampf- und Folklorefilme.
Dieser außergewöhnliche Kameramann fängt die Modernisierung Barcelonas mit der originellen Idee ein, die Kamera als subjektiven Betrachter einzusetzen. Für die Weltausstellung von 1888 versieht sich Barcelona mit wichtigen Infrastrukturen, die ihr ganzer Stolz sind, unter anderem die Erdgas- und Stromversorgung der Stadt, jedoch vor allem die Straßenbahn.
Die Ausstellung von 1888 löst eine erste Welle des Modernisme aus, ein fester Begriff, der den katalanischen Jugendstil definiert. Barcelona steigt zur Kunsthauptstadt Spaniens auf. Die Straßenbahn fährt den Paseo de Gracia wieder hoch, der schon die Handschrift von Antoni Gaudi i Cornet (1852 – 1926) trägt. Die berühmte Casa Milà befindet sich zu dem Zeitpunkt seit zwei Jahren in Bau. Anschließend fährt die Straßenbahn hinaus auf die Anhöhen der Neustadt.”

>>>Ricardo de Baños’ Film Don Juan Tenorio auf dieser Website: Early Spanish Cinema

A Touch of Hitchcock

Crossed Wires (A Telephone Tragedy)
R: Frederick R. Sullivan. B: Philip Lonergan. D: Inda Palmer, Morris Foster, Florence LaBadie, Boyd Marshall, Ina Hammer. P: Thanhouser Film Corporation. USA 1915
Print: British Film Institute National Film and Television Archive

“In the spirit of the enormously popular mystery and crime pulps of the day, Crossed Wires is a suspense picture with a flair for good storytelling and stylistic innovation, strikingly similar to the later filmmaking style of Hitchcock. An innocent man is accused and convicted of murder, and when the facts finally surface, the innocent man’s sister sets about trapping the guilty party. The courtroom scene, though not unusual, includes a dramatic pan between two close-ups for purely psychological effect. Other advances in cinematography are a close-up reaction shot and two insert shots of objects. The surprise psychological climax is also novel. Stylistically, lighting effects for the dark house scenes are very effective, and in one scene a flashlight, the only illumination on the set, is actually shined into the camera. This treatment is decades ahead of its time.”