Animated Intertitles

How Jones Lost His Roll
R: Edwin S. Porter. P: Edison Manufacturing Company. USA 1905

Coney Island at Night
R: Edwin S. Porter. P: Edison Manufacturing Company. USA 1905

Porter made one technical breakthrough that elevated several of his comedies from this period to the status of ‘novelties’: it was a special form of object animation. As Porter applied the technique, a hodgepodge of letters moved against their black backgrounds until they formed the intertitles for the succeeding scene. This was done for  How Jones Lost His Roll (March 1905), The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog (May 1905), Coney Island at Night (June 1905), and Everybody Works but Father (November 1905). (…) The story, about Jones who is systematically cheated of his money by a so-called friend, is told twice, in words and pictures, with the ‘jumble announcements’ making the intertitles more important than the pictures they illuminate, inverting the normal relationship between image and title.”
Charles Musser: Before the Nickelodeon. Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company. University of California Press 1991, p. 317-18

>>> Porter’s Pan-American Exposition by Night

DeMille: The Golden Chance

The Golden Chance
R: Cecil B. DeMille. B: Jeanie Macpherson, Cecil B. DeMille. K: Alvin Wyckoff. D: Cleo Ridgely, Wallace Reid, Horace B. Carpenter, Ernest Joy, Edythe Chapman, Raymond Hatton, Mrs. Lewis McCord. P: Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. USA 1915
Span. subtitles

“A melodrama of a woman unhappily married to an alcoholic takes a position as a seamstress of a wealthy family where she meets a handsome young millionaire. Made during DeMille’s early prolific period, The Golden Chance  was the 19th film he directed in less than two years. DeMille shot this film simultaneously with The Cheat (1915), directing The Cheat by day and The Golden Chance at night. Alvin Wyckoff, who was DeMille’s chief cinematographer in the teens, photographed both of these films.  The Golden Chance stars Cleo Ridgely as the unhappy seamstress and in one of his first starring roles, Wallace Reid, as the young millionaire. Reid would become one of the biggest stars of the late teens / early twenties before his tragic, untimely death in 1923 from morphine addiction. (…) Starting in the late 1990’s George Eastman Museum started to revisit DeMille’s films and with new laboratory methods the color tinting was restored to new 35mm prints of many of these films, including The Golden Chance. Full restoration was completed on The Golden Chance in 2001 and so we now can see the film the way audiences experienced 100 years ago.”
Anthony L’Abbate
Eastman Museum

“1915 was busy for Cecil B. DeMille. The Golden Chance was one of fourteen motion pictures that he directed in the year. Of those fourteen, Carmen and The Cheat have become popular among silent film aficionados while The Golden Chance has been largely forgotten. And yet, it is the film that gets mentioned again and again when historians discuss the title that turned them into DeMille fans.  (…) The Golden Chance is a good melodrama and it touches on such diverse and controversial topics as adultery, spousal abuse, abuse of power and poverty. Unfortunately, it does have its moments of heavy-handedness. Steve Denby is such a wicked character, I am at a loss as to why an intelligent and beautiful girl like Mary would ever fall for him. Horace B. Carpenter plays Steve as a villain of the Snidely Whiplash school. No roguish charm, no motivation, just evil for evil’s sake. Just the sort of day laboror who would marry a judge’s daughter. This is likely because Mary’s extramarital flirtation would not be tolerated by audiences of the day unless she had a very good excuse. DeMille would further refine his technique of evading censors and decency leagues later in his career. (…) In spite of its flaws, The Golden Chance is worth viewing. DeMille’s use of light and shadow, courtesy of cinematographer Alvin Wyckoff, is on display. The burglary scene in particular has some stunningly beautiful moments with light, dark and smoke. In general, this is a tight little melodrama that is well worth the view.”
Fritzi Kramer
Movies Silently

“(…) director Cecil B. DeMille delivers a well-paced film focused on intimate human drama and personal relationships. The direction emphasizes natural facial and body movements, and the movements and gestures of the actors are subdued and restrained (an interesting comparison to the generally more exaggerated acting in D.W. Griffith‘s films of this same time period.) (…) Scenes showing Mary dressing for the dinner party present an interesting showing of the fashions of 1915. They also show the beginnings of DeMille’s emphasis on the fashions and costumes of his leading ladies, important elements of his films with Gloria Swanson in the 1920s.”
Obscure Hollywood

Another Carmen, 1914

Suzy Prim

R: Giovanni Doria, Augusto Turqui. B: Giovanni Doria, Ludovic Halévy (play), Prosper Mérimée (novel). K: Augusto Turqui. D: Andrea Habay, Suzy Prim, Juan Rovira, Margarita Silva, Cecyl Tryan. P: Condal Films / Società Italiana Cines. Sp / It 1914
French titles
Span. subtitles

Print temporarily unavailable

Suzy Prim (1895-1991) was an acclaimed French actress, both on stage and on screen.  (…) At a young age Prim was discovered by pioneer film director Louis Feuillade who directed her in the silent short Petits poèmes antiques/Little Antic Poems (Louis Feuillade, 1910). She became the ‘girl-actress’ in many of his films for Gaumont. Under the name of ‘La petite Arduini’, she was paired with that other child actor René Dary in such films as Le petit poucet/Tom Thumb (Louis Feuillade, 1912).
In 1914 she played in the Italian-Spanish coproduction Carmen (Giovanni Doria, Augusto Turqui, 1914), produced by Cines. This resulted in performances in various Italian films in 1914 and 1915: Madame Coralie & Cie/Coralie & (1914) starring Lea Giunchi, La beffa atroce (Carmine Gallone, 1915) with Soava Gallone, and Papà (Nino Oxilia, 1915) with Pina Menichelli.”
Paul van Yperen

“André Habay (…) was born in Paris, France in 1883, although nothing more is known about his French whereabouts. What we do know is that he had a rich career in the Italian silent cinema, which started just before the First World War and continued until the mid-1920’s. Probably his first part was in the Spanish-Italian film Carmen, directed by Giovanni Doria and Augusto Turqui, and released in Spain in 1914 (…) Strangely enough, the film lacks in the otherwise excellent reference books of Il cinema muto italiano by Bernardini & Martinelli. French actress Suzy Prim played Carmen, while Habay was Don José. For both it meant the start of a career in Italian silent film, though Habay’s Italian career was more intense and longer lasting than Prim’s. From 1914 on, Habay worked on a regular basis for Cines or rather its affiliated company Celio. He began as leading man of diva Francesca Bertini. Their first film together was the tragic melodrama Onestà che uccide/Honesty That Kills (1914, Maurizio Rava). It was well received, but their next film, the spy story La principessa misteriosa/The Mysterious Princess (1914, Maurizio Rava), repeated the plot of Bertini’s previous L’amazzone mascherata/The masked rider (1913, Baldassarre Negroni) and did not stir much.”
Filmstar Postcards

>>> Carmen 1915 (DeMille, Chaplin)

Early Spanish Cinema 3

Carmen o la hija del bandido
R: Ricardo de Baños, Alberto Marro. B: Alberto Marro, Prosper Mérimée (novel). K: Ramón de Baños. D: Concha Lorente. P: Hispano Films. Sp 1911

“In  Ramón (sic!) de Baños’ 1911 version of ‘Carmen’, Carmen o la hija del bandido (Carmen, or the Daughter of the Bandit), Carmen’s band of thieves captures the painter, Salvador, who falls in love with her. When royal officials attack the gang, an extended chase scene ensues in which Carmen wounds one of the guards. The painter is saved by the soldiers and is invited to stay in the castle, but remains in love with Carmen, whom he has captured in painting. At carnival festivities Carmen sheds her male bandit attire in order to attend the celebration and to seduce the painter; her partner is spotted by the officials and arrested on spot for the death of the guard, while Carmen is apparently pardoned by the king, due to the painter’s good relationship with the court.”
Eva Woods Peiró: White Gypsies: Race and Stardom in Spanish Musical Films. University of Minnesota Press 2012, p. 38

Locura de amor (Frgm.)
R: Ricardo de Baños, Alberto Marro. B: Ricardo de Baños, Alberto Marro. K: Ramón de Baños D: José Argelagués, Joaquín Carrasco, José Durany, Elvira Fremont, Amelia de la Mata. P: Hispano Films. Sp 1913

“A historical drama with a romantic touch in which Manuel Tamayo y Baus deals with the jealousy of the queen Joanna the Mad for her husband, Philip the Fair (…), premiered on 12 January 1855. A work of the neo-romantic movement, influenced somewhat by the German dramatist Friedrich Schiller, this theatrical piece focuses on jealousy, to which the story of these Castilian monarchs adapts perfectly. Tamayo humanises the figure of Joanna, and interprets her madness as ‘madness of love’ not corresponded by her freedom-loving husband. The work has been adapted many times for the screen, the first by Albert Marro and Ricard de Baños in 1909 (…).”

Alberto Marro and Hispano Films
“Pioneer producer, cinematographer, and writer-director Albert Marro was born in Barcelona to a wealthy family. By 1897, he owned a rudimentary theater where he showed short films (among the earliest to reach Spain) interspersed with musical and comic numbers. It was in this context that he met Segundo de Chomón, who had just returned from his first trip to France. Chomón’s technical acumen and Marro’s entrepreneurial skills made them a good team to record images, which they distributed and showed successfully. Together, in 1901, they set up, with the help of Luis Macaya, Macaya and Marro, one of the first Spanish production companies.
This effort characteristically floundered in a few years, and in 1907 Marro founded Hispano Films with the Baños brothers, but without Chomón (who had returned to Paris). Soon they decided to concentrate on fiction films. One of the most ambitious films of the company was Don Juan Tenorio (1910), followed the next year by Carmen o la hija del bandido (Carmen, or the Daughter of a Bandit, 1911). Innovatively, they went beyond recording a static stage performance by introducing camera movements and choreographing movement within a shot. The company was a success, and they continued producing narrative films with a strong ‘costumbrismo’* flavor until 1918, when a fire put an end to Marro’s film enterprises.”
Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

*A perspective based on “costumbrismo” shapes some key manifestations of Spanish culture, including literature, theater, painting, and film.

>>> Early Spanish Cinema 1, Early Spanish Cinema 2


Early Spanish Cinema 2

Don Pedro el Cruel (First Part)
R: Ricardo de Baños, Alberto Marro. P: Hispano Films. Sp 1911

“In the living room of his castle, King Pedro the Cruel receives a message that his three bastard brothers (as the film’s script refers to them) are pre-paring to overthrow him. After an initial moment of sadness, he decides to come up with a plan to take revenge on his brothers. He sends a spy and soldiers to the forest near the castle to try to uncover his brothers’ plan. The spy overhears a conversation that the three brothers have in theirtent, and then races to the castle to inform the king. The king reacts by summoning Don Fadrique, one of his brothers, and imprisoning him. Their mother is left alone in the living room of the castle, crying due to the feud between her children and from the pain of betrayal.”
Tatjana Pavlović e.a.: 100 Years of Spanish Cinema. John Wiley & Sons 2009, p. 12-13

About Ángel García Cardona’s El ciego de aldea (1906), Fructuós Gelabert’s Amor que mata (1909), and Ricardo Baños and Albert Marro’s Don Pedro el Cruel (1911):

“These films are part of the creation of ‘the preliminary industrial and expressive frame-work for Spain’s budding cinema’ (Pérez Perucha, ‘Narración de un aciago destino (1896 –1930),’ p. 35). These filmmakers’ trajectories reflect a collective cinematic drive, illustrating most of the traits that marked filming, production, and distribution in early ‘silent’ Spain. El ciego de aldea, directed by Ángel García Cardona, is representative of Films Cuesta and its thriving production activities in Valencia; Amor que mata was filmed by Fructuós Gelabert, the director of the first fiction film in Spain; and Don Pedro el Cruel is representative of the successful and profitable Hispano Films run by Ricardo Baños and Albert Marro. These films were also characteristic of the larger aesthetic, formal, economic, and political trends of early cinema. In addition to displaying noteworthy technical traits and tendencies of ‘primitive’ cinematic expression, these three films also point to the exploration and rethinking of national themes and Spanish cultural identity. (…) Don Pedro el Cruel is a historical drama of monarchic betrayal and succession, a mise-en-scène of the nation’s history and its moments of tension and conflict. The film is contemporary with lavishly produced Italian historical costume films such as Giovanni Pastrone’s Giulio Cesare (1909) and La caduta di Troya (1910), or Enrico Guazzoni’s Bruto (1910). While Don Pedro el Cruel does not share the extravagance and grandeur of its Italian counterparts, it still fits the trend of historical cinematic superproductions.”
100 Years of Spanish Cinema, p. 4-5

El ciego de la aldea
R: Antonio Cuesta, Angel García Cardona. B: Antonio Cuesta. P: Films Cuesta, Valencia. Sp 1906

“In Godella, a town in Valencia, a blind beggar and his granddaughter solicit money in the street. First they encounter a group of sinister bandits who refuse to help them, but then have better luck with a generous wealthy couple. In a horse-drawn carriage, the newlyweds pass by a dangerous area, where the same gang that refused to give the beggars money attacks the couple and kidnaps the woman. By chance, the blind man and his grand-daughter watch hidden as the bandits take the woman into a cave. When the gang leaves, the beggars free the woman. The granddaughter goes in search of the husband, whom she finds accompanied by the Civil Guard. Between them they come up with a plan to ambush the bandits, whom they eventually capture. The newlyweds thank the blind man and his grand-daughter for their generous help.”
100 Years of Spanish Cinema, p. 8-9

Antonio Cuesta‘s El ciego de la aldea (1906, ‘The Village Blind Man’) (…) is a good example of the small but active companies busy at the time. To minimise expenses they filmed on location and thus preserved interesting images of contemporal rural Spain. There are fragments missing from El ciego de la aldea, but the present reconstructed reel is 11 minutes long and maintains a coherent narrative. It uses a fixed camera and is filmed mostly in very long takes by today’s standards with four outside locations and one painted set.”
Bernard P. E. Bentley: A Companion to Spanish Cinema. Boydell & Brewer Ltd 2008, p. 11

>>> Early Spanish Cinema 1Early Spanish Cinema 3

A Peculiarly British Obsession

How Percy Won the Beauty Competition
R: Alf Collins. D: Alf Collins. P: Gaumont. UK 1909
Print: BFI

“This early British short is a simple but frantic farce which sees Percy entering a female beauty contest in order to win the prize of £100. He immediately heads for Charles Fox, theatrical wig-maker and costumier (still to be found in London’s Covent Garden). (…) Men in women’s clothing were something of a staple of English music hall and translated very quickly onto film, where the possibilities for mayhem gave delighted audiences a comic frisson.”
Brian Robinson

“The UK branch of the Gaumont Film Company was founded in Camberwell’s Dog Kennel Hill in 1898. Its head, Alfred Bromhead, was soon boasting in Magic Lantern magazine of getting through 80,000 feet of film a week. This was, as local historians are now calling it, Dog Kennel Hillywood. (…) The early Gaumont never even had a building: until better electric lighting was invented, they had to use natural light, so they shot interiors on a couple of roofless walls set up on a stage in a field. For exteriors, they shot guerrilla-style in the surrounding streets. More than 500 shorts were filmed here between 1904 and 1912. Of the 30 that survive in the BFI archives, 14 were exhumed by the Friends of Dog Kennel Hill Wood and given a one-off outdoor screening on Saturday night, in the very place where they were first shot. Most have not been seen on the big screen in over a century. (…)
The director of these films, and star of several, was music-hall veteran Alf Collins – ‘an auteur before his time, and our equivalent of DW Griffiths’, says film historian Tony Fletcher of the Cinema Museum, with a dash of overstatement. Collins pioneered the use of close-up, chase scenes (he would corral drinkers from local pubs as extras with the promise of a free pint), and that peculiarly British obsession with dressing up in drag. His handbaggings could easily have inspired that Monty Python sketch in which the Batley Townswomen’s Guild re-enact the Battle of Pearl Harbour. How Percy Won The Beauty Competition (1909) shows Alf dressed, as so often, in drag, but this time playing a man playing a woman, rather just simply playing a woman. Deep. (…) Pause it at 3.56 minutes, as the thwarted female contestants chase Alf through a field of sheep, and you can see the Gaumont ‘studio’ and crew on the left.”
Dominic Wells

An Anti-War Spy Film

The Bond of Music
R: Charles Kent. B: W.A. Tremayne. D: Charles Kent, Earle Williams, William Shea, Kate Price, Ralph Ince. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1912
Print: EYE (Desmet collection)
Dutch titles

“Oscar, a young lieutenant of the German army, is stopping in a French town getting information. He is passing as a young musician and lodging with Pierre Lenoir. He cultivates a great friendship with Francois Vian, an old ‘cellist, firstly because it helps carry out his disguise and secondly, because he really is fond of music. He learns to like the old man very much. Rumors of a spy being in the town get about and Lenoir’s suspicions are aroused. He confides his suspicions to his sister and shows her an offer of reward for the capture of the spy, which he hopes to gain. Oscar overhears him and flies the house. Lenoir gives the alarm and Oscar is pursued by the gendarmes and people. He takes refuge with Francois and prays to him to save him, confessing who he is. At first Francois is going to give him up, then their bond of musical fellowship is too strong for him. He hides the young German and assists him to escape. A year after the town is taken by the Germans. (…)”
Moving Picture World synopsis

“In 1907 France occupied Mo­rocco; in 1908 Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina; in 1911 Italy joined in, with the invasion of Libya; after Libya, the Ottoman Empire lost more territories in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. These, fronted by Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Greece, were steered from behind the scenes by the European powers. ‘Vain­queurs et vaincus’ brings news, in report­age form, from the theatres of war. Peace conferences and massive anti-armament demonstrations – such as took place in several towns in 1912 (…) – had no effect. In 1914 a nationalistic war policy won out over the international and non-partisan peace movement of the turn of the century, whose major cham­pion had been Berta von Suttner (1843-1914). As in Suttner’s novel ‘Lay Down Your Arms’ (‘Die Waffen nieder!’ 1889), The Rosary (Lois Weber 1912) and The Bond of Music (Vitagraph 1912) are pow­erful evocations of the devastating effects of war on ordinary people’s lives. Berta von Suttner died in June 1914. Jean Jau­rès, the French socialist pacifist, who had espoused the cause of reconciliation with Germany, was murdered on 31 July 1914 by a right-wing nationalist.”

>>> 1914: High Point of the Spy Film on this site

>>> Films by Charles Kent on this site: The Days of Terror,  Twelfth Night

The Tableau System of Presentation

Don Quichotte (Aventures de Don Quichotte)
R: Ferdinand Zecca / Lucien Nonguet. B: Based on the novel of Miguel de Cervantes Saavreda. P: Pathé frères. Fr 1903

“The main interest of this film is to be an example of a trend which started developing already in 1902: the adaptation to the silver screen of major literary works. Here the aim was particularly ambitious taken into account the length and complexity of the novel and the limited means of the cinematographic art at the time. The film is therefore only an illustration of some of the scenes of the novel and a preexisting knowledge of the novel was expected from the viewers, without which the work may appear rather cryptic despite the intertitles introduced each scene. The cinematography is in the style of early films by Méliès (such as Le voyage dans la lune), i.e. a sequence of tableaux vivants filmed by a frontal fixed camera on theatre-like setsand does not include multishot scenes, camera movements and continuity editing which had started appearing in 1903 e.g. in Life of an American Fireman. On the other hand, the film uses split screen to show the thoughts of Don Quixote or a sort of primitive cross-cutting showing actions taking place at another place and/or time. Some copies of the film were hand-coloured, using the Pathécolor stencil-based tinting process.”
A Cinema History

Ali Baba et les quarante voleurs
R: Ferdinand Zecca. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1902

“The governing structural principle in Ali Baba is obviously the autonomous tableau — a narrative element bracketed by intertitles — and its most obvious ‘rhetorical’ device is Pathécolor (which is often striking). Clearly, the tableau system of presentation is not congenial to the principle from which the representational system of cinematic storytelling would gradually emerge — namely, the principle of matching action across adjacent spaces within a linear time frame. In addition, the color in this film is used not to enrich some aspect of this particular story, but rather because it’s an inherent component of its genre: the truly spectacular is, of course, very colorful. Color, in other words, reflects primarily the technical ingenuity of the production company in satisfying the demands of its chosen subject: as a self-conscious display of the cinema’s ability to show what will attract the spectator’s attention, it functions here within a cinema of attractions.”

Aladin ou la lampe merveilleuse
R: Albert Capellani. D: Georges Vinter. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1906

“Like Ali Baba, Aladin is primarily a demonstration of the cinema of attractions. Color is again exploited as a display of Pathé’s technical ingenuity, and the exhibition of deep space in the arrangement of shots — the practice of keeping planes in focus as deeply as possible into the background — serves not to naturalize space, but rather to demonstrate the superiority of the cinematic presentation of space over that of the theatrical. And of course the film’s ‘representational’ system is anchored in a series of autonomous tableaux introduced by intertitles. But the differential between the number of title-announced tableaux (6) and the number of shot-scenes (16) means that most episodes are composed of multiple shots. Ali Baba’s house*, for example (especially in episode 3/shot {6}), is constructed of adjacent spaces, as is the desert site of the underground grotto (episode 3/shot {3}). Although the cuts depicting the characters’ movements among these spaces are not always adequately matched, the filmmakers clearly intend not only to create a coherent fictional space, but to reveal and use it according to the actions of characters in a story.”

* This is an error. Correct: “Aladin’s house…”

Exquisite interiors, magnificent exteriors

Revolutionsbryllup (The Heart of Lady Alaine)
R: August Blom. B: Sophus Michaëlis. K: Johan Ankerstjerne. D: Philip Bech, Johanne Fritz-Petersen, Volmer Hjorth-Clausen, Frederik Jacobsen, Torben Meyer, Betty Nansen, Valdemar Psilander. P: Nordisk Film Kompagni. Dk 1914/15
Print: Danish Film Institute (DFI)
Span. subtitles

“The Danish film company Nordisk avoided costume pictures almost entirely from 1911, when they adopted the feature-length drama as their standard, until 1919. Revolutionsbryllup was one of the few exceptions. It was based on an internationally successful play by the author Sophus Michaëlis, which Nordisk had already adapted as a single-reel film in 1909 (now lost). Michaëlis proposed a feature-length remake, warning that Max Reinhardt was considering a German film version. Nordisk spent lavishly on the film, which had a budget three or four times that of a regular feature. They also put their biggest stars in it: Valdemar Psilander and Betty Nansen. Nansen (1873-1943), then the prima donna of the Danish theater, had played Alaine on stage in 1909, and Nordisk had big hopes for her as a screen star, but although she got a contract with Fox and made several films (all lost) in the United States in 1914-15, her film career was brief and disappointing. The film has some nice sunlit exteriors, but it mostly takes place indoors. The expensive sets are sometimes subtly lit. The film is shot in relatively long, continuous shots with the camera set very far back; when, at the moment Alaine touches Marc-Arron, the film cuts in to a closer shot of the two (which still includes their upper legs), the effect is appropriately electrifying. The characters tend to face the camera, listening to people speaking beside or behind them while revealing their emotions to us. Combined with the formal poses struck by many of the actors, this gives the film a somewhat theatrical feel.”
Casper Tyberg
Il Cinema Ritrovato

“In Great Britain, the ‘London weekly Pictures’ and the ‘Picturegoer’ ran advertisements during 1915 Nordisk Exlclusives, one of which read, ‘Don’t on any account fail to see charming Betty Nansen in the marvellous four part drama A Revolution Marriage. This wonderful picture is a dramatic and photographic masterpiece. It cannot fail to thrill you through and through with sheer delight.’ During 1915 ‘Motion Picture News’ printed ‘Great Northern Brings Out Betty Nansen Subject’, which ran, ‘The vast number of admirers of Betty Nansen are afforded an unusual treat in seeing this star in a masterwork produced by the Great Northern Film Company entitled A Revolutionary Wedding by the famous Danish author Sophus Michaelis, which under the title A Son of the People had a long successful run.

470-Betty Nansen
The Moving Picture World, July 3, 1915


With the superb acting of Betty Nansen as Alaine de l’Etiole…the rich and beautiful settings of the Great Northern Film Company, the production is justly meriting the enthusiasm of all who view.’ Great Northern advertised the film as The Heart of Lady Alaine, ‘The new four part Betty Nansen photoplay has been unanimously proclaimed by critics to be a supreme accomplishment. It is genuinely perfect in every respect. The exquisite interiors, magnificent exteriors, unexcelled acting,   strong and fascinating story challenge comparision.”


Colonialism: India 1906-1914

A Native Street in India
P: Walturdaw. UK 1906
Print: BFI

“The Walturdaw Film Company began trading in 1904, its name deriving from the surnames of its founders, J.D. Walker, E.G. Turner, and G.H. Dawson. Walker and Turner had first formed a partnership in 1896, and they were the first people in Britain to rent out films (McKernan). The Walturdaw company was itself originally formed as a film rental business, but began to produce its own films in 1905. Prior to the First World War it was considered to be one of the leading film companies in Britain.
The early twentieth century was a period in which British and Indian life in the sub-continent was at its most segregated. Judith Brown has commented that, while Britons and Indians had mingled more freely in the earlier years of colonisation, by this period the British had become ‘a separate case in an already segregated society’ (Brown, 1994, 99). She writes of a ‘spatial segregation of British homes from areas where Indians lived, both in town and countryside’ (Brown, 1994, 98).”*
*Brown, Judith M., Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy, 2nd edn (Oxford: OUP, 1994)

“A camera placed in a single, static position records people walking towards it. The street and town are unnamed and unidentified, almost without any obvious distinguishing features. People walking along the street are probably encountering a film camera for the first time. They stare into the lens and right back at us 109 years later. It’s a moving and hypnotic experience, connecting us to people who died many decades ago. It’s more potent than any photograph, like an Indian equivalent of one of Mitchell and Kenyon’s Edwardian films of workers leaving the factory for the day.”
Robin Baker: Exploring India on Film, 1899-1947

Delhi grande ville de l’Inde Supérieure (Delhi, Great Capital of India)
P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1909
Print: BFI

“‘Delhi at the time of a great Muslim religious festival’ is the helpful – to a point – context to this film offered by Pathé’s catalogue of the time. Which festival, we’re not told. Certainly the streets throng with people and floats, while a number of street performers are on hand to entertain (and presumably profit from) the faithful. From there, the camera moves on to the magnificent Jama Masjid mosque, where worshippers wash themselves in the courtyard’s waters before assembling for prayers.
This was one of a great number of films made in exotic locations by the Pathé Frères company to showcase its often breathtakingly beautiful stencil-colour processing. Though the images here are mostly well-preserved, time hasn’t been altogether kind to the colours of the BFI National Archive’s copy, which aren’t as radiant as they would once have been.”

Le Vieux Delhi et ses ruines (Ruins of Delhi)
P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1910
Print: BFI

“This attractive travelogue, by turns picturesque and statuesque, is centred on the imposing ruined structures of the Qutb complex at Mehrauli in south-west Delhi. The filmmakers also film scenes of the community life surrounding the complex – images with a distinctly pastoral flavour.”

Villenour (French India: Territory of Pondicherry)
No credits. Fr 1914
Print: BFI

“The arrival of a well-to-do European family, dutifully attended to by the locals, gives a semblance of narrative to what is largely a purely picturesque escapist experience – transporting Western viewers to an out-of-time ‘exotic’ netherworld. This was a French production but like many of the travel films so popular in early cinema it travelled widely itself – hence this version with English language titles.”

“Though it has English intertitles, it’s a French film: the stencil-coloured images—of palm trees and hand-pushed rickshaws carrying white sahibs—use a process called Cinemacoloris, developed by Segundo de Chomón, a Spanish film innovator who had worked with Pathé Frères in Paris. The last frame is a curious one: a static shot of the white family being fêted and, in front of them and closest to the camera, a “nautch girl” who has just put on a performance. If this placement was intended as a parting salvo of exoticism, it is defeated by a small miracle. The dancer, arms akimbo, her sari tinted red, stares directly at the camera. After a few seconds, she looks away, but seems to sense that the camera is still on her, and looks back again. Her wary, fascinated gaze seems to take in not only the camera and its operator, but to somehow look across space and time—to regard us, more than a century later, regarding her.”
Past made present: ‘India On Film: 1899-1947’

>>>  more films about Colonial India on this site: Panorama of Calcutta, Repas d’Indiens