A Forgotten Pioneer

Mât de beaupré
K: Ambroise-François Parnaland. P: Parnaland Frères. Fr 1898

Mât de beaupré = bowsprit mast

Ambroise-François Parnaland – a French cameraman and inventor

“Born at Tournus, Saone-et-Loire in 1854, Ambroise-François Parnaland arrived in Paris in 1890 as a chartered accountant. Like his brother Louis, he was fascinated by things mechanical and they both filed several patents for various mechanisms. On 24 April 1895, Ambroise-François decided to found the firm Parnaland Frères to exploit his patent inventions. (…) The Parnaland camera, the Cinepar, was marketed in 1896. The following year, Parnaland made his first films, constructed and sold his cameras, and opened a shop at 5 rue Saint-Denis. In 1898, he filmed the surgical operations of Dr Eugène-Louis Doyen, with the cameraman Clément-Maurice. But Parnaland marketed the films, without Doyen’s permission, and Doyen took him to court. Meanwhile the Parnaland camera was used by Clément-Maurice to make the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre sound films. (…) Charles Jourjon, a lawyer, decided to provide financial backing. On 22 April 1907, the limited company ‘films l’Eclair, anciens établissements Parnaland’, was created by Jourjon and Parnaland, and a catalogue listing all the Parnaland films made between 1897 and 1907 was published. But the beginnings of the Eclair company were difficult and costly (a chateau at Epinay was bought to serve as studio and office). Parnaland, a somewhat naive partner, was soon removed from management. (…) He died on 23 May 1913 while the Eclair company, the third French firm after Pathé and Gaumont, triumphed on the screens with the adventures of Zigomar.”
Laurent Mannoni
Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema

Celebrations at Aberdeen University

Aberdeen University Quarter Centenary Celebrations
R: Robert W. Paul. P: Paul’s Animatograph Works. UK 1906

A record of the opening of the new buildings of Marischal College, Aberdeen by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra on September 27th 1906. (BFI)

“A veritable epic in comparison with everything else in R.W. Paul‘s catalogue (certainly everything that survives), this official record of Aberdeen University’s quarter-centenary celebrations, as attended by King Edward VII  and Queen Alexandra, appears to have been a collaboration between Paul’s Animatograph Works and Messrs Walker and Company, based in Bridge Street, Aberdeen. Four cameras were used to record the events (which took place on 27 September 1906), and a contemporary account suggests that the film was returned to London overnight by train, processed on the morning of the 28th, and returned to Aberdeen for screening on the 29th, to a gathering that apparently included members of the Royal Family. (…)

Thought to run some fifty minutes in the full version, the surviving copy exceeds half an hour, almost all of it devoted to recording the various processions and celebrations from a discreet distance, with no attempt made at contextualising the material either by associative editing or explanatory intertitles (though a very early shot features a floral display proclaiming what is effectively the film’s title). But to an audience in 1906, this material would have been unusually fascinating in itself, particularly for its detailed footage of the monarch. Though far from camera-shy (unlike his reclusive mother Queen Victoria, he was renowned for his sociability), there is relatively little moving-image material of him. Regular newsreels, bringing equally regular coverage of matters royal, were still a few years away.”
Michael Brooke
BFI Screenonline



The Date was 21 June 1898

Launch of HMS Albion at Blackwall
K: E.P. Prestwich. P: Prestwich Manufacturing Company. UK 1898

“The battleship ‘HMS Albion’ was launched on 21 June 1898 on the River Thames at Blackwall. The event attracted an estimated 30,000 people. The Duchess of York christened the ship, but when Albion entered the water her bulk, combined with the narrowness of the river, caused a wave that swept away a jetty holding spectators, and an estimated 39 people were drowned.  E.P. Prestwich captured this outstanding view of the launch from a distance; the whole battleship can be seen gliding into the remarkably narrow stretch of water in a seemingly serene and gentle scene. Prestwich’s contemporary R.W. Paul filmed the event from a motorboat; his Launch of HMS Albion (1898) contains only a glimpse of the battleship itself, with a shot of rescuers in boats at the scene which caused considerable controversy when it was shown. A third filmmaker, Birt Acres, had two cameras covering the event, but claimed in the London daily newspapers, in a public dig at his rival Paul, that he couldn’t continue to film, as he was too busy helping with the rescue effort; his footage doesn’t survive.”
Shona Barrett
BFI Screenonline

The Launch of HMS Albion
K: Robert W. Paul. P: Robert W. Paul. UK 1898

“This early film captures the launch of the ‘H.M.S. Albion’, which was marred by the collapse of a gangway which resulted in many spectators drowning. Film pioneer Robert Paul was filming the launch at water level – and he continued filming after the collapse of a gangway, while his launch picked up many survivors. His decision to continue filming, and then to exhibit the film, aroused much controversy. (…) The Prestwich film of the launch, Launch of H.M.S. Albion at Blackwall, (…) is taken from the opposite side of the river and shows the ship going down the slipway and turning. It also does not show the gangway collapse.”
BFI Player

“It should have been an occasion of pride and wonder. ‘HMS Albion’ was the largest warship ever launched on the Thames. Unfortunately, its royal christening was followed by one of the worst disasters ever to happen on the Thames. The date was 21 June 1898. Thousands of Londoners had gathered at Blackwall, to the north-east of the Isle of Dogs, to watch the launch of a new battleship from the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company. (…) The mass of spectators had crammed into every available space to watch the launch. An eyewitness later recounted that some 200 people had crowded onto a flimsy bridge structure, which was clearly marked ‘dangerous’. As the ship hit the water, it sent a colossal backwash crashing over this structure. Over 100 people were swept into the ‘filthy, greasy’ water. Small boats raced to the scene and pulled many out of the Thames. Even so, at least 35 people lost their lives in the incident, most of them women and children. (…) ‘HMS Albion’ went on to see distinguished service during the first world war, before being scrapped in 1919. The tragedy of her launch still ranks as the third worst incident on the Thames, after the ‘Princess Alice’ disaster of 1878 and the sinking of the ‘Marchioness’ in 1989.”

The Albion Battleship Calamity
Find here a poem and more about the “HMS Albion” disaster.


>>> Fiction and Newsreel: on the “Titanic” complex

Griffith’s ‘Gibson Goddess’

The Gibson Goddess
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Marion Leonard, James Kirkwood, William A. Quirk (Billy Quirk), J. Waltham, Arthur Johnson, Anthony O’Sullivan, Mack Sennett, Frank Evans, Mary Pickford. P: Biograph Company. USA 1909

D.W. Griffith is certainly not a name associated with comedy, but he did direct a few of them early in his career {including his debut, Those Awful Hats (1909)}, before briefly returning to the genre with The Battle of the Sexes (1928). This comedy short from 1909 – The Gibson Goddess – might also be considered a ‘battle of the sexes.’ (…) The Gibson Goddess is more of a ‘sophisticated’ comedy, if you will, concerned primarily with human behaviour and social stereotypes. Leonard‘s ‘Gibson Goddess’ is a perfectly respectable and innocent woman, but also resourceful when required to be. Her male admirers are shamelessly superficial, abandoning one woman to bestow their affection upon a prettier other, and they bicker pettily among themselves as to who shall have claim over each lady. If the film wasn’t so lighthearted, the men’s ‘stalker’ antics might have seemed rather disturbing, though the actors dilute any worries by behaving, for the most part, as flamboyantly as possible.”
Short Cuts

A “Gibson Goddess” is a woman of ideal beauty as illustrated for Griffith’s era by the American illustrator and cartoonist Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944), who “was best known for his creation of the Gibson Girl, an iconic representation of the beautiful and independent Euro-American woman at the turn of the 20th century.” (Wikipedia)

646-Gibson Girl
Charles Dana Gibson: Gibson Girl, 1898 (source: Wikipedia)

“Gibson’s curvaceous image of desire is evoked by Griffith only as a split-reel joke, and his casting of Marion Leonard also hints that Gibson’s ideal wasn’t his. The ‘Gibson Girl’ may have been on her way out of fashion by 1909 but that’s partly Griffith’s own doing, to the extent that his films were becoming the most popular mass images of their day, replacing Gibson’s sexualized but static images of desire with Griffith’s virginal but dynamic charmers.”
Scott Simmon: The Films of D. W. Griffith. CUP Archive 1993, p. 73

>>> Griffith 1909

Life of an American Policeman

Life of an American Policeman
R: Wallace McCutcheon / Edwin S. Porter. D: Jennie Bartlett, Bert Conneally. P: Edison Manufacturing Company. USA 1905

“This famous follow-up to Life of an American Fireman by Edwin S. Porter is a longer movie, but oddly less satisfying than its predecessor. Where that movie was an innovation in bringing sequential narrative to film, this one seems to lose its thread and becomes more a series of unconnected vignettes. (…) It is worth noting that none of the incidents portrayed show a police officer in the process of preventing a crime or attempting to catch a criminal. These policemen are helpers, rescuers, even protectors, but not enforcers. This may have to do with discomfort at depicting crime in American films at the time, something that would remain controversial right through the Hays Code, although of course movies like The Burglar on the Roof (1898) would happily break that convention for comedic purposes. Charles Musser, on the ‘Invention the Movies’ DVD argues also that Porter’s ‘progressive’ viewpoint comes through here: the city is a dangerous and uncaring place, but institutions like police can be a force for good in that context, by caring about the people they serve and working to help them improve their lot.”
Century Film Project

The Burglar on the Roof
R: J. Stuart Blackton. K: Albert E. Smith. D: J. Stuart Blackton. P: Edison Manufacturing Company, Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1898

This short was filmed on the roof of a building where Vitagraph had rented an office. The wife of the building’s janitor, not realizing a movie was being shot, spotted J. Stuart Blackton dressed as a burglar and began attacking him with a broom, thinking he was an actual burglar.

>>> Griffith and the New York Police Dept. on this website

Kathleen Mavourneen (1906)

Kathleen Mavourneen
R: Edwin S. Porter. B: Inspired by the play ‘Kathleen Mavourneen, or Saint Patrick’s Eve’ by William Travers. K: Edwin S. Porter. D: Kitty O’Neil, Walter Griswoll, H L Bascomb, W R Floyd, E M Leslie, N B Clarke, J McDovall, Jeannie Clifford, C F Seabert, D R Alien, D J McGinnis, W F Borroughs. P: Thomas A Edison. USA 1906

“At ruins in Ireland Kathleen meets Captain Clearfield, her family’s landlord, who attempts to seduce her. She is rescued by Terence O’Moore, her boyfriend. Clearfield is determined to have Kathleen and arranges to deprive Kathleen’s father of the money he plans to use to pay back a mortgage. Clearfield then tries to blackmail Kathleen into marrying him, but she refuses. Soldiers arrive to take possession of Kathleen’s family cottage, but they are driven off, and then chased by a mob, who force one of them to jump into a river. Meanwhile, Clearfield and his accomplice Dugan go to Kathleen’s home in order to kidnap her. Her father returns to the parlour just as the pair are about to chloroform Kathleen. Clearfield pounces on the old man, knocks him out, and takes off with Kathleen.

Dugan then sets fire to the room where Kathleen’s father is lying unconscious and flees. Terence sees the fire, enters the house, and saves the old man. Disguised as an old woman, Terence discovers the cave where Kathleen is being held. Infiltrating the cave, offers the captors drink. He discards his disguise, and after a fight, overcomes the kidnappers and rescues Kathleen. Terence also fights Clearfield and Dugan who arrive just as the couple are escaping. Celebrations in front of a thatched cottage with Ireland dancers are held for Kathleen’s freedom and to announce the couple’s engagement. After the couple get married they are seen leaving a church while children throw flowers at the couple.”
Trinity College Dublin

“Kathleen Mavourneen” is a song, written in 1837, composed by Frederick Crouch with lyrics by Marion Crawford,  It was popular during the American Civil War. “Mavourneen” is a term of endearment derived from the Irish Gaelic mo mhuirnín, meaning ‘my beloved.’ The Irish soprano Catherine Hayes (1818-1861), the Hibernian prima donna, was the first Irish woman to sing at La Scala in Milan. She learned ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’ while training in Dublin. It became her signature tune during concerts and in fact, Catherine Hayes sang it for Queen Victoria and over 500 royal guests during a concert performed at Buckingham Palace in June 1849. During several very successful years in Italy, Catherine Hayes became the foremost ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ in the 1840’s. She toured around the world between 1851 and 1856. (…) The song ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’ gained popularity with American audiences as a direct result of the extensive touring of Catherine Hayes. The song plays a prominent role in Michael Shaara’s Civil War historical novel The Killer Angels and its film adaptation Gettysburg [1993]. (…)

Several silent films were titled ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’ with the first such drama being produced in 1906 starring Kitty O’Neil, Walter Griswoll and H.L. Bascomb. Other such silent film titles were produced in 1911, 1913, and 1919. This last one starred Theda Bara. Two other films with this title, but using sound, were produced in 1930 and 1937. Of the 1919 film, Irish and Catholic groups protested not only the depiction of Ireland, but of a Jewish actress in the leading role. Fox Film Corporation pulled the film after several movie-theater riots and bomb threats.”
Civil War Wiki

>>> Old Ireland on this site

>>> Civil War I on this site

Camille de Morlhon

Le fils du pêcheur
R: Camille de Morlhon. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1910

“Given the late date of this movie, it’s interesting to see the basic shots of early actualities edited and reshaped into a narrative.”
IMDb (boblipton)

La petite rosse
R: Camille de Morlhon. B: Camille de Morlhon. D: Max Linder, Arlette d’Umès. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1909

“Early in 1909 (…) Linder found himself the beneficiary of two propititious events. At the end of 1908, a new Italian company, Itala Film, had lured Deed away from Pathé, thus depriving the studio of its premier comic series. Shortly thereafter, Gasnier returned from Italy with plans to star Linder in a series of his own. Having lost both Gréhan and Deed, Pathé was understandably receptive to the idea. In the films that followed, Linder, though still playing different characters from film to film, found a pattern for comic business in which, as Robinson has observed, the humor sprang from the clash between his character’s affected self-confidence and his social and romantic ineptitude. In La Petite rosse, for example, Max’s foppish young man is courting an athletic woman who sets him a test before she will agree to marry him: he must learn to juggle three balls. After eight days of clumsy practice, he resorts to cheating by hiring a professional juggler to perform the feat for him. He arranges to demonstrate his newly acquired skill from behind a screen, but both audience and girl quickly figure out that the juggler’s arms extending from the side of the screen don’t belong to Max.”

Une excursion incohérente
R: Segundo de Chomón / Camille de Morlhon. B: Camille de Morlhon. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1909

“This late version of MeliesThe Haunted Inn was the product of Segundo de Chomon and Camille de Morlhon – with, I suspect, the stop-motion animation of Emile Cohl.”
IMDb (boblipton)

“An aristocratic couple go on a trip. They stop to eat, but insects and other animals emerge from their picnic. It starts to rain and they take shelter in a house that turns out to be haunted and where all kinds of monsters lurk to terrorise the pair. A film made during Chomón’s time at Pathé (1905-1910) with sequences that demonstrate his use and mastery of the stop-motion or frame-by-frame filming technique in the animation of the objects, which is employed to work in parallel to the narrative.”
European Film Gateway

“At the time the model for upsetting such a bourgeois picnic was Manet’s ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe’, a painting that shocked contemporaries. I think this is the tradition director Segundo de Chomón is working in, inspired by the revolution in painting that led up to surrealism, which was in turn a movement that had a natural affinity for film. (…) While the surrealists understood that the sleep of reason could bring forth monsters, we don’t often think of surrealism as horror. A razor blade cutting through an eyeball is shocking gore, even by today’s standards, but Un Chien Andalou isn’t a movie that fits into any subsequent horror conventions.
Panicky Picnic (or, more midly, Une Excursion Incohérente) presents itself as a lark, but we can clearly see the outlines of where horror movies would be going. The picnic brings to mind all kinds of rotten feasts. The inn might be our cabin in the woods. The spirits raised in the kitchen recall the labs of various shady wizards, going all the way back to the original film Frankenstein rising from an alchemist’s vat. The shadow play in the bedroom might lead us to think of Suspiria, to take just one later example.”
Alex Good
Alex on Film

Edouard Manet: Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863

>>> Biography Camille de Morlhon (1869-1952) (French)

Asta Nielsen: Zapatas Bande

Zapatas Bande
R: Urban Gad. B: Urban Gad. K: Axel Graatkjaer, Guido Seeber, Karl Freund. D: Asta Nielsen, Fred Immler, Senta Eichstaedt, Adele Reuter-Eichberg, Mary Scheller, Hans Lanser-Rudolf, Carl Dibbern, Max Agerty, Ernst Körner, Erich Harden. P: Projektions Aktiengesellschaft Union-Film (PAGU). D 1914
Print: F.W. Murnau Stiftung
German titles, Engl. subtitles

Nielsen was recruited to work in the German film industry, where she soon became one of the most successful and aggressively marketed film stars of the period. (…) In an era when actors and actresses were rarely credited on-screen for their roles, Nielsen’s global fame and the commercial success of her films gave her the necessary leverage to demand an active role in the production of her own films. In the summer of 1911, Austrian film distributor Christoph Mülleneisen orchestrated an agreement among several German film production companies, including Paul Davidson’s Projektions-AG Union (PAGU) and Carl Schleussner’s Deutsche Bioscop, to establish a new monopoly distribution company, Internationale Film-Vertriebs-GmbH, based in Vienna and headed by Davidson, which would distribute thirty-two Asta-Nielsen films over the next four years. Historian Andreas Hansert documents that Nielsen agreed, in exchange for an annual salary of 80,000 German marks, 33.3% of the revenues generated by her films, full artistic freedom in choosing her screenplays, costumes, and supporting actors, and, perhaps most importantly, the right to be directed exclusively by her soon-to-be husband Gad. As a result of these favourable contractual terms, Nielsen was able to be intimately involved in the creation of both her films and her public persona, unlike many Hollywood stars whose image was dictated by the studios.”
Julie Allen
Women Film Pioneers Project

Asta Nielsen on this site:

>>> Afgrunden,  Den sorte Drøm,  Balletdanserinden,  Die FilmprimadonnaDie VerräterinDas Mädchen ohne Vaterland

The Country Doctor

The Country Doctor
R: David Wark Griffith (uncredited). K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Frank Powell, Florence Lawrence, Rose King, Kate Bruce, Gladys Egan, Mary Pickford. P: Biograph. USA 1909

The Country Doctor begins with its most beautiful moment, as Billy Bitzer‘s camera, under D.W. Griffith‘s direction, slowly pans over a rolling bucolic plain, eventually pausing in front of the home of Dr. Harcourt (Frank Powell), sauntering outside with his wife (Biograph star Florence Lawrence) and their child Edith (Gladys Egan). The play of natural light in this scene is gorgeous, even if the shots seem more protracted than necessary, and their beauty doesn’t necessarily evoke a deeper idiom or a set of relationships like the rustic opening of Corner in Wheat does.”
Nick Davis

“Billy Bitzer’s camera drinks in the Connecticut scenery and you can practically smell the warm summer air.”
Movies Silently

“In Griffith’s The Country Doctor, a long pan shot starts and ends the film. The first pan over Stillwater ends on a family leaving their home. The final pan begins on the same house and ends on a view of the river. In the closing pan shot, no human characters are seen, making it difficult for the viewer’s grief to have an anchor in the form of a character that registers the missing child. [The critic C. Scott] Combs greatly admires the director’s style, stating, ‘Griffith suggests death changes the diegetic world.'”
Senses of Cinema

Terror in Russia

Terreur en Russie
Dir. and actors unknown. P: Pathé frères. Fr 1907
Engl. subtitles
Scène d’actualité reconstituée en 6 tableaux (Pathé)

“Premier tableau: L’Union des Terroristes Dans une salle en sous-sol, un groupe d’hommes et de femmes discute. L’un d’eux se présente en volontaire et s’en va armé d’un coutelas sous le salut de tous. Deuxième tableau: L’Attentat manqué Dans le salon du gouverneur de province, quelques hommes discutent. Entre un policier qui remet un pli au gouverneur. Le policier fait entrer un conspirateur qui est qui est arrêté alors qu’il sortait son couteau. Dans la cave des conspirateurs un homme annonce le “résultat négatif”. Un autre, après avoir embrassé ses deux enfants se présente en volontaire. Troisième tableau: Attentat contre le gouverneur Le gouverneur et son épouse partent en carrosse. A un pont, les terroristes organisent le guet-apens. Le gouverneur est tué, sa femme enlevée. Quatrième tableau: Le Peuple se venge Elle est emmenée dans une masure. Cinquième tableau: La Police s’active La police fait irruption dans la cave des conspirateurs et les fait sortir. A leur sortie, ils sont abattus par un peloton d’exécution. La femme du gouverneur est délivrée. Sixième tableau: La Dernière bombe Le chef de la police est à son bureau. Un conspirateur armé d’une bombe passe par un soupirail, place la bombe auprès d’un pilier. La bombe axplose.”

“The revolution of 1905, an unprecedented empire-wide social and political upheaval, was set in motion by the violent suppression on January 9 (Bloody Sunday) in St. Petersburg of a mass procession of workers, led by the radical priest Georgiy Gapon, with a petition for the tsar. Bloody Sunday was followed, nationwide, by workers’ and students’ strikes, street demonstrations, spates of vandalism and other periodic violence, assassinations of government officials, naval mutinies, nationalist movements in the imperial borderlands, and anti-Jewish pogroms and other reactionary protest and violence. In a number of cities, workers formed Soviets, or councils. At the end of the year, armed uprisings occurred in Moscow, the Urals, Latvia, and parts of Poland. Activists from the zemstva and the broad professional Union of Unions formed the Constitutional Democratic Party, whose initials lent the party its informal name, the Kadets. Some upper-class and propertied activists called for compromise with opposition groups to avoid further disorders.

The outcome of the revolution was contradictory. In late 1905, Nicholas agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to issue the so-called October Manifesto, which promised Russia a reformed political order and basic civil liberties for most citizens. (…) Those who accepted the new arrangements formed a center-right political party, the Octobrists. Meanwhile, the Kadets held out for a truly responsible ministerial government and equal, universal suffrage. Because of their political principles and continued armed uprisings, Russia’s leftist parties were undecided whether to participate in the Duma elections, which had been called for early 1906. At the same time, rightist factions actively opposed the reforms. Several new monarchist and protofascist groups also arose to subvert the new order. Nevertheless, the regime continued to function through the chaotic year of 1905, eventually restoring order in the cities, the countryside, and the army. In the process, terrorists murdered hundreds of officials, and the government executed much greater number of terrorists.”

>>> Louis Feuillade’s La Terroriste, 1907