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

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

>>> Colonial Sujets / Foreign Countries

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.”

>>> “Japonaiseries”

>>> Japan – Labour and Leisure

>>> Japan – a Travelogue

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 MélièsJoan 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 [i.e. close-up] 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 [i.e. long shot] 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 1

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.”

>>> Griffith-11: Telephone Stories

1900: Color and Sound

Cyrano de Bergerac
R: Clément Maurice. B: Edmond Rostand (play). D: Benoit Constant Coquelin. P: Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre. Fr 1900
Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre sound-on-cylinder sound system. / Soundtrack was presented on Lioretographe sound cylinders. The film was distributed in France after 1907 by Urban Eclipse.
Silent Era

Exhibited as part of a program of synchronized sound films at the Paris Exhibition of 1900. Despite the novelty of sound (and stencil color in some of the films), the program was not financially successful.

“The 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris was movie mad and there were two dueling sound technologies on display. (…) Phonorama used primitive microphone technology and the audience could hear the films thanks to two telephone earpieces in the back of each seat. The rival Phono-Cinema-Theatre stole the Phonorama’s thunder with celebrities, including Coquelin aîné, Sarah Bernhardt (whose film was actually silent) and other luminaries of the French stage. It used the more established phonograph technology. Sound was recorded on wax cylinders which were then played in sync with the film (a similar concept was eventually used by Warner Bros.’s successful Vitaphone technology). The great challenge of sound films in those early days was the recording mechanism. In order to be close enough to capture the voices of the performers, the phonograph would have to be visible in the film itself. Since this would hardly be suitable in Cyrano de Bergerac, the Phono-Cinema-Theatre crew opted instead to pre-record the performers’ voices on wax cylinders through the phonograph horn and then have them lip-sync for the camera.”
Fritzi Kramer
Movies silently

Arthème macabre

Arthème avale sa clarinette
R: Ernest Servaès. K: Émile Pierre. D: Ernest Servaès. P: Société Générale des Cinématographes Éclipse. Fr 1912

“This film was produced by the short-lived Eclipse Company. Few Eclipse films survive and, when this delightful comedy was found, the print was decomposed along the edges and the end had melted away. Ten years later, another print miraculously surfaced, free of rot but very choppy. This edition is digitally reconstructed from both, almost frame by frame. Starring (and allegedly directed by) Ernest Servaès, the title of the film more-or-less tells you all you need to know.”

“This is not much in terms of plot, but what really matters is the excellent special effect used in this 1912 film. The illusion is perfect: the viewer is persuaded the clarinet truly protrudes from Arthème’s skull. And seeing this man going on playing the lower half of his clarinet while the other end sticks out of his head gives this modest slapstick comedy a fascinating surrealistic tone, all the more as it is set against a strictly realistic context. For it is equally fascinating to wander with Arthème through the parks, the streets, the seafront of pre-First World War Marseilles, to wait for the streetcar with him and to see the real people of that time at work or idly walking. Neo-realism was not born in post-war Italy, it was an integral part of the very first films, often filmed in the streets, thus constituting an unintended but precious historical testimony.”
Guy Bellinger

Le pique-nique d’Arthème
R: Ernest Servaès. K: Émile Pierre. D: Ernest Servaès. P: Société Générale des Cinématographes Éclipse. Fr 1912

>>> more Arthème films: Arthème Dupin


Slapsticks by Alice Guy

La femme collante
R: Alice Guy. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1906

“Laughter at gendered bodily upheaval in early accident films is often a hair’s breadth away from the terror of sexual violence and domestic assault. (…) For example, in What Happened in the Tunnel, when the gag goes off, a white woman and a black woman have traded places to thwart a white male harasser. In ‘A Stick Woman’ (i.e. La femme collante), a man physically assaults a house maid in the post office, a horrific scene that gets defused through the sight gag of their faces sticking together from all the postage glue on their lips and tongue. (…) Here, the woman’s unwieldy physically provides comedic compensation for the sexual unavailability of her body.”
Maggie Hennefeld: Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes. Columbia University Press 2018.

La glu
R: Alice Guy. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1907

Le lit à roulettes
R: Alice Guy. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1907

Le frotteur
R: Alice Guy. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1907

Le bonnet à poil
R: Alice Guy. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1907

“(…) Guy was undoubtedly the first woman to direct a film and Gaumont appointed her head of production in 1897, a post she held for nine years. She switched from outdoor shooting to purpose-built sets with Les Mésaventures d’une Tête de Veau (1898) and her films rapidly grew in length from 20-metre vignettes like Les Apaches pas Veinards (1903) to such 250-metre stories as Les Petits Coupeurs de Bois Vert (1904), which was one of the many films she made in this period about children. Guy diversified as much as Méliès and produced religious dramas, fantasies, saucy comedies and animated art tableaux, while also making bold use of superimposition, stop-motion and reverse footage to create her often eye-catching effects.
Guy also nurtured emerging talents, with Ferdinand Zecca, Victorin Jasset and Louis Feuillade all working for her around the turn of the century, as she produced ever-more ambitious pictures like The Life of Christ (1906), which required 25 wooden sets and 300 extras. She also continued to make simple slapstick shorts like La Glu (1907)(…). Very much in the prank tradition of the Lumières‘s L’Arroseur arrosée (1895), the action focuses on a small boy with a glue pot, who causes a couple to become trapped on the steps of their house, a pair of respectable ladies to become stuck to a bench and a man to become attached to his bicycle.
Moreover, between 1902-06, Guy also used the Chronophone to make over 100 Phonoscènes, which included musical showcases, literary recitations and even bullfights. Her cameraman on some of these assignments was Herbert Blaché-Bolton, an Englishman of French descent who was nine years her junior when he became both her husband and her boss when the pair relocated to New York to promote Chronophone in 1906.”