Mary Pickford’s Early Career

When a Man Loves
R: David W. Griffith. B: George Terwilliger. K: G. W. Bitzer. D: Dell Henderson, Mary Pickford, Charles West, George Nichols, Verner Clages, Grace Henderson, Robert Harron. P: Biograph Company. USA 1911
Print: Mary Pickford Foundation

“Acting soon became a family enterprise as Charlotte, Gladys, and her two younger siblings Jack and Lottie, toured the United States by rail and performed in rag-tag melodramas. After six impoverished years of touring, Gladys and her mother headed for Broadway. She landed a supporting role in a 1907 Broadway play, ‘The Warrens of Virginia’. The play was written by William C. DeMille, whose brother, the then unknown Cecil B. DeMille also appeared in the cast. David Belasco, the producer of the play, insisted that Gladys Smith assume a name with more charisma. Drawing on family names they came upon ‘Pickford.’ With the stage name, ‘Mary Pickford,’ a star was born and a new precedent had been set. On April 19, 1909, the Biograph Company director D. W. Griffith screen-tested Pickford at the company’s New York City studio. The role went to someone else, but Griffith was immediately taken with Pickford, particularly with her intuitive feeling that acting for film was more intimate than the stylized stage acting of the day. Griffith agreed to pay her an astronomical $10 a day (Most Biograph actors earned $5 a day). Like everyone at Biograph, Pickford played both bit parts and leading roles. She displayed emotional range as mothers, ingénues, spurned women, spitfires, and even a prostitute. As Pickford said of her whirlwind success at Biograph: ‘I played scrubwomen and secretaries and women of all nationalities. I took anything that came my way because I decided that if I could get into as many pictures as possible, I’d become known, and there would be a demand for my work.’ In 1909, Pickford appeared in 51 films—almost one a week. Her comic blend of sweetness and feistiness made her not only Biograph’s most important player, but the most popular star of the nickelodeon era when silent movies were referred to as “flickers.”

In January 1910 Pickford traveled with a Biograph crew to Los Angeles where sunnier skies provided for longer shooting days. Pickford’s name was not listed in the credits, as was customary for the times, but she had been noticed by audiences within weeks of her first film appearance. Exhibitors capitalized on her popularity by advertising on sandwich boards outside their nickelodeons that a film featuring The Girl with the Golden Curls, was inside. Cited as ‘America’s Sweetheart’ during the silent film era, she was one of the earliest stars to be billed under her own name. Pickford left Biograph in December 1910, and spent 1911 with the Independent Motion Picture Company (later Universal) and Majestic. Unhappy with their creative standards, she returned to work with Griffith in 1912. Uncertain whether her future lay in film or theater, she made her last Biograph film, The New York Hat. She also starred on Broadway in the David Belasco production of ‘A Good Little Devil’. This experience turned out to be a major turning point in her career, as she then decided to devote her energies exclusively to film. In the same year, Adolph Zukor formed Famous Players in Famous Plays (later Paramount), one of the first American feature film companies. She instantly attracted a devoted following, appearing in such comedy-dramas as In the Bishop’s Carriage (1913) and Hearts Adrift (1914). Her appearance as a tomboyish guttersnipe in 1914’s Tess of the Storm Country, a film shown on four continents, brought her international recognition.”
New World Encyclopedia

A Lodging for the Night
R: David W. Griffith. B: George Hennessy. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Charles West, Mary Pickford, Charles Hill Mailes, Frank Opperman, Frank Evans, Robert Harron. P: Biograph Company. USA 1912
Print: Mary Pickford Foundation

>>> Griffith and Pickford (1)
>>> Griffith and Pickford (2)

Early Animations from Japan

Katsudo Shashin
R / P: Unknown. Japan ca. 1907

“A young boy dressed in sailor attire and a bright red cap is shown to write the Japanese kanji characters translating to the phrase ‘moving picture.’ As he completes writing the phrase, he faces toward the viewer and bows. Katsudou Shashin consists of fifty frames of celluloid strip in its three-second duration, with sixteen frames per second. Discovered in 2004, having been purchased with a private collection in Kyoto, it is suspected to have been created between 1905 and 1911. This would make it one of the oldest pieces of animation from Japan.”

“Unlike in traditional animation, the frames were not produced by photographing the images, but rather were impressed onto film using a stencil. This was done with a device for stencilling magic lantern slides. The images were in red and black on a strip of 35 mm film whose ends were fastened in a loop for continuous viewing. Early printed animation films for optical toys such as the zoetrope predated projected film animation. German toy manufacturer Gebrüder Bing presented a cinematograph at a toy festival in Nuremberg in 1898; soon other toy manufacturers sold similar devices. Live-action films for these devices were expensive to make; possibly as early as 1898 animated films for these devices were on sale, and could be fastened in loops for continuous viewing. Imports of these German devices appeared in Japan at least as early as 1904; films for them likely included animation loops.”

Namakura Gatana (The Dull Sword)
R: Junichi Kôuchi. P: Kobayashi Shokai. Japan 1917

“Namakura Gatana is a short Japanese animated film produced by Jun’ichi Kōuchi in 1917. It was rediscovered by an antique shop employee in Osaka in March 2008. This film is a 4-minute silent short that tells a story about a foolish samurai’s purchase of a dull-edged sword. It was released on June 30, 1917, and is among the very earliest examples of anime. Namakura Gatana is a short comedy about a dim-witted samurai and his worn down sword which turns completely useless as he tries to fight even the weakest opponents. The samurai, trying to figure out why his old sword won’t cut anyone he strikes, tries desperately to attack random townspeople who defend themselves and knock him out.”

“Even more dramatic than the film’s plot is the story of the film itself. Namakura Gatana and another antique animation, Urashima Taro (Seitaro Kitayama, 1918) were discovered and purchased by film historican Natsuki Matsumoto at an antique fair in Osaka in July 2007. The films were in remarkably good condition because they had been stored in paper containers that allowed enough ventilation so that the films did not deteriorate.
To put this remarkable story into perspective, Japan had a flourishing film industry during the silent and pre-war periods. Donald Richie has estimated that more than 90% of Japan’s pre-war films have been lost forever. The reasons for this include fires (especially the one that levelled Tokyo following the great Kanto quake of 1923), war (the fire-bombing of major cities and the American’s torching ‘banned’ films during the Occupation), and neglect by the industry itself. Many early films were made of nitrate, which is highly combustible, and led to many films going up in flames. There was also the problem that film was seen by many as a novelty and studios did not see any profit in preserving these films for future generations.”
Nishikata Film Review

Yoshiro Irie, a researcher at Tokyo’s National Film Center, has announced that two of the oldest Japanese animated films were discovered in an antique shop in Osaka in central Japan. In 1917, anime pioneer Jun’ichi Kouchi released the two-minute Namakura Gatana silent short about a samurai’s foolish purchase of a dull-edged sword. Fellow animator Seitaro Kitayama released Urashima Tarō, an adaptation of a folk tale about a fisherman traveling to an underwater world on a turtle, in 1918. These films came soon after Oten Shimokawa‘s 1917 Imokawa Mukozo the Doorman, which is considered the oldest commercially released anime film. Irie noted that these films relied heavily on gags and the novelty of moving pictures. The one film that predates them all is a 50-frame shot of a sailor boy’s salute that was discovered in 2005. An unknown artist hand-drew each frame directly onto the film stock.”

Hawthorn (Vic.), Australia, 1906

Living Hawthorn
R / P: William Gibson and Millard Johnson. AUS 1906

“The film (…) is an important part of Australia’s early film history. William Gibson (1869-1929), a chemist, bought a projector and films from one of his clients in 1900 and, in partnership with his boss’s son Millard Johnson, began to screen films for the public, attracting huge crowds. One of these films was their own 14-min documentary, ‘Living Hawthorn’ (1906). It showed to appreciative audiences at the Hawthorn Town Hall for years.The makers of Living Hawthorn, (…) in partnership with the Tait brothers, produced Australia’s first feature film in the same year, The Story of the Kelly Gang. Gibson and Johnson were responsible for technical production. The film was shown nationwide and became a huge commercial success, returning £25,000 to its backers. In 1911 Gibson and Johnson teamed up with the Tait family to form Amalgamated Pictures.

The clip is notable for providing a rare glimpse of the life and bustling activity of ordinary people in a suburb of Melbourne at the beginning of the 20th century. This was early in the history of filmmaking in Australia and documentary film usually depicted formal events and notable people. The novelty of the sight of a camera on a suburban street at the time is indicated by the reactions of some of the people filmed. The Edwardian era, which started with Edward VII’s accession in 1901 and coincided with Australia’s Federation, was a time of great optimism and change in Australia, but in the clip the signs of change are not yet apparent. The blacksmith’s shop and horse-drawn vehicles would shortly be superseded. Melbourne’s first electric tram began operating in the year the film was made and motor cars, while still a novelty, had been introduced to Australia in the 1890s.

Australian fashions in the Edwardian era, seen in the clip, were determined in France and England with no acknowledgement of the Australian climate. Women wore tight corsets, long tight sleeves, long skirts, high collars, jackets, gloves and large hats. Children’s clothing imitated that of adults and featured hats, long sleeves and large cape collars, although hems were higher for girls. Several of the children wear clothes in the sailor style popular at the time. The clip shows shoppers, shopkeepers, shops and horse-drawn delivery vans in Hawthorn in 1906, when shopping was very different from today. Customers placed orders rather than carrying their purchases. Supermarkets did not exist and shopkeepers often lived above their premises. A horse-drawn grocery van that passes in front of the camera several times may reflect the personalised home-delivery service that shoppers expected in those days.”
Working conditions in Australia, c1900

>>> Australia

Guido Seeber

Die geheimnisvolle Streichholzdose
R: Guido Seeber. K: Guido Seeber. P: Deutsche Bioscop GmbH. D 1910
Print: Deutsches Filminstitut – DIF

A Match Box Mystery is a charming if rather unremarkable trick film and early, although hardly the first, example of stop-motion animation. I saw it as part of the Edition Filmmuseum’s ‘Screening the Poor’ series, for which I suppose it was included because the film begins with live-action footage of a legless man selling matches in the street. Most of the picture, however, is consumed by the matchsticks dancing about and making figures via stop-motion animation, including beating Frankenstein (1931) to the punch by burning a windmill.
Guido Seeber, who made the film, is an important figure in the history of German cinema. A sort of Billy Bitzer of Deutschland with an emphasis on special visual effects, he was behind the multiple-exposure work of the first Student of Prague (1913) film and went on to pioneer the ‘unchained camera ‘in Sylvester (1923). He was arguably the first great cinematographer in a country that became renowned for genius handling of the camera – the likes of Sepp Allgeier, Karl Freund, Carl Hoffmann, Günther Krampf, Eugen Schüfftan, Theodor Sparkuhl, and Fritz Arno Wagner.”

„Trickfilme gehören einmal zum Programm des guten Kino-Theaters, denn sie umgeben den Kinematographen mit jenem Schleier des Geheimnisvollen, Unerklärlichen, dessen anziehender Wirkung sich so leicht niemand entziehen kann. Voraussetzung ist natürlich, dass die Tricks gut sind und nicht ermüden. Beides trifft in hohem Maße auf den kleinen, aber außerordentlich gefälligen Film Die geheimnisvolle Streichholzdose zu.“
Der Kinematograph, Nr. 167, 9.3.1910

“Guido Seeber (22 June 1879 in Chemnitz – 2 July 1940 in Berlin) was a German cinematographer and pioneer of early cinema.
Seeber’s father, Clemens, was a photographer and therefore Seeber had experience with photography from an early age. In the summer of 1896, he saw the first films of the Lumière Brothers and became fascinated by this new technology. He bought a film camera and devoted himself to the development of cinematography and of sound films.
In 1908 he became technical manager of the film company Deutsche Bioscop and in 1909 directed his first film. His pioneering work as a cinematographer from this time on laid the foundations which other cameramen of German silent film such as Karl Freund (…) were able to build.
In addition to his technical talents with the camera (he developed several special effects techniques), his use of perspective and skillful contrasts between light and dark are noteworthy. His main collaborators were the directors Urban Gad, Lupu Pick, Georg Wilhelm Pabst and Paul Wegener and among his most important accomplishments are (…) the moving camera shots in the films of Lupu Pick, particularly Sylvester (1923), which can be seen as anticipating the so-called “unchained camera” of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau‘s The Last Laugh (1924).
Seeber created several animated works, including an advertisement entitle Kipho or Du musst zur Kipho (You Must Go to Kino-Photo) for a film and photography exhibition in Berlin in 1925.
Seeber continued to work into the sound era, but his work from this period is less significant. He had suffered a stroke in 1932 and after this he largely retired from active camera operation. However, he continued to be involved in the film industry, taking over the management of UFA’s animation department in 1935 and publishing several books for amateur filmmakers.”

TRAUM UND EXZESS, p. 145-149


Photo: Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin