Early & Silent Film

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Kennington Bioscope online

Posted by keith1942 on June 8, 2020


Wed November 25th:

The team brings you a programme of ‘Comedy and Colour’, with nine short films shown by kind courtesy of the Jean Desmet Collection and EYE Collections held by the Netherlands’ EYE Filmmuseum.

Robinet Pescatore (Robinet the Fisherman) (IT 1914)

Coloured Views – Pontalier and Niort (FR 1924-5)

Les Glaces Marveilleuses (Magic Mirrors) (FR 1908)

Le Dirigeable Fantastique (FR 1906)

Le Voyage sur Jupiter (FR 1909)

The Paper Bee (? 1920)

Amour de Page (FR 1911)

La Legende des Ondines (Legend of the Sirens) (FR 1911)

Madamigella Robinet (‘Miss’ Robinet) (IT 1913)

Join us for a fun-packed show with live and pre-recorded piano accompaniment (including piano-cam!), plus live film introductions.; also available later on You Tube.


The Kennington Bioscope is based at London’s Cinema Museum. There are regular screenings of early and silent films, frequently on 35mm prints and with live piano accompaniment. The regular programme was on a Wednesday evenings so not accessible easily from Yorkshire. However, there were also day and weekend programmes; several of which I attended and enjoyed.

The Cinema Museum is sited in Lambeth and took a little finding first time. It is housed in an old fire station and for the last couple of years the Museum has been campaigning to retain the premises. This is a vast and unique collection so it continuance is important. It is rather like an Aladdin’s Cave with all sorts of early cinema items and memorabilia. You can just wander round for an age taking in the variety of the collections.

The Bioscope screenings are relatively popular and presented in a professional manner. The screenings also enjoy musical accompaniment by a team of experienced and talented musicians, well versed in the demands of playing alongside these films with no soundtrack but great images and title cards to enable following the narrative. The Bioscope has also been supported by Kevin Brownlow, the doyen of researchers and writers into early cinema. And many of the other regulars are knowledgeable and well-versed in the arrival and development of film in the late C19th.

As with our traditional cinemas and the series of festivals in Britain and Europe all this has ground to a halt with the lock down,. Now the Bioscope has created an alternative online. Programmes of film and music have been streamed and are accessible on You Tube. There has been some skillful use of electronic and computer technology to make this possible.

The premiere screening offered three early short film courtesy of the Jean Desmet Collection at the Eye Museum in Amsterdam.  There was an introduction by a Bioscope member, Michelle Facey. As well as the introduction the programme opened with images of the Museum and the Bioscope. These gave one a sense of the Museum and of these regular screenings. The prints which had Dutch title cards had English sub-titles provided by Tom Higginson. First we had Love and Science / Liefde en Wetenschap, Eclair 1912. This comic story presented an inventor whose obsession causes problems for his fiancé. As Michelle remarked his invention seemed aptly appropriate for lock down viewing. The second film was Mixed Identities a Vitagraph title from 1913. This was another comedy where two sisters cause confusion when they take up employment as stenographers. The films were accompanied live by another member and regular Cyrus Gabrysch. A nice touch was a small inset image showing the keyboard during the accompaniment.

The premiere screening also included  Heppy’s Daughter (Val Williamson) in conversation with Tony Fletcher;  produced by Film Friends Production (2009). ‘Heppy’ here is Cecil Hepworth, one of the most important and influential of the British film pioneers. Val Williamson reminisces about her father and there are illustrative stills and extracts from Hepworth’s productions, including the seminal canine movie, Rescued by Rover (1905). There are also extracts from sound films and interviews. These have been provided with the help of the Cinema Museum, the British Film Institute and the Hepworth Trust. This is an interesting archival resource on early British cinema.

The next Bioscope programme offered more early titles, again courtesy of the Eye Museum. The programme opened with a Gaumont travelogue from 1910, A Pretty Dutch Town. The views enjoyed stencil colouring which adds to the imagery and there was a pre-recorded piano accompaniment from John Sweeney. The two following short film were both appropriately about ‘social distancing’ Gontran and the Unknown Neighbour / Gontran et la voisine inconnue was from the Eclair Co. (1913). This had an ingenious plot involving romance between two musical neighbours. The Dutch title cards had English sub-titles provided and Cyrus Gabrysch provided the piano accompaniment. Edison’s  Over the Back Fence (1913) was another comic treatment of romance. Here two neighbours overcome parental opposition with a wily breakdown of distance. There was a bonus title to the prepared programme with  Artheme Dupin Escapes Again / Arthème Dupin échappe encore. Dupin was a popular comic character for Eclipse between 1911 and 1916. The comedy, often slapstick, was heightened by the use of camera tricks. This episode from 1912 shows Dupin outwitting the police.

Programme three had four titles including a transfer of a two reel film. And, as usual, there was an introduction by Michelle Facey, piano accompaniments and [as needed] sub-titling by Tom Higginson.

Patouillard and the Bottle / Las Bouteille de Patouillard is a 1911 title from the French Lux Co. This is a one-reel slapstick comedy. Patouillard was a popular character in this period. He escapades always involved physical humour and cinematographic tricks. In this movie he has to carry a bottle of champagne home constantly warding off disaster. His actions erupt on the Paris streets just like the fizzy contents of his bottle. The piano accompaniment was provided by another Bioscope regular Colin Sell.

The two reel melodrama was from the |hand of D. W. Griffith at the Bioscope Studio. Fate (1913) survived among the paper prints lodged at the Library of Congress and the screening relied on a transfer from a 35mm copy held by a Bioscope member. As was usual with Griffith the plot and morals were starkly drawn. A villainous family threaten neighbours. The most dramatic sequence seemed to threaten the daughter’s cute puppy; fortunately the plot goes awry and the villains scapegrace son suffers the ‘fate’. Mae Marsh played the daughter, and in a more restrained fashion than for he later roles. The father was played by Lionel Barrymore who was as melodramatic as usual. This screening enjoyed  a pre-recorded accompaniment by John Sweeney.

The thirds title was another one-reel comedy from the Edison Company, Revenge is Sweet, (1912). The office junior is a prankster, mainly inflicted on the female staff. However, finally, he is caught by his own trick, just deserts. Colin Sell  provided music at the piano.

Finally, we had a melodrama from the noted silent director Lois Weber. This was a 1911 title from the Rex Film Company, operated by Weber and her husband., Philip Smalley. This was a one-reel drama tracing the lives of twin sisters, separated when their mother died. This is classic material; think of Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (1921). The mains drama occurs when the sisters reach adulthood, at which point Lois Weber played both characters. The plot emphasises the different life styles of the pair; one in affluence, one in poverty. Weber was drawn to social issues as well as dramatising the situation of women. The copy used had tinting which added to the contrast. And there was musical accompaniment by Cyrus Gabrysch.

The series had added an earlier presentation at the Bioscope from 2011, ‘Chaplin’s London in Hollywood’.  This looks at the London in which Charlie Chaplin lived before he crossed the Atlantic to the USA and Hollywood. It also presents, with illustrated clips, how this fed into his films made in the early years. There is footage of areas of London where Chaplin lived and worked, with maps and stills to illustrate. The clips from films, including The Kid (1921) and the earlier short films are accompanied at the piano by Lillian Henley. There is also an extract from Limelight (1952) where Chaplin recreated the Music hall acts in which he worked. And there are extracts from Chaplin’s Autobiography read by Martin Humphries. The whole presentation was made by David Trigg and now Tod Higginson has added hard-of-hearing sub-titles. The presentation is preceded by a short [incomplete] travelogue in Eclair colour from 1914, Lake Maggiore/ Le Lac Majeure.

The fifth program at the on line Bioscope presented more films from the Jean Desmet collection and a feature length drama from a title preserved in the Library of Congress.

The first short film was a French comedy from 1911, L’abito bianco di Robinet / Het Witte Costuum van Nauke / Robinet’s White Suit. Robinet was one of the characters played by the silent comic Marcel Perez. He made over 200 silent comedies and worked across Europe and in the USA but started in France, still a centre of world cinema in the early period. Michelle Facey provides a lot of information about his career. This Italian title [with Dutch title cards and English sub-titles] charted the travails of the character as his pristine white suit is variously and increasingly blackened in a series of slapstick encounters. A regular pianist Cyrus Gabrysch provided a suitably lively accompaniment.

Then Il Pescara from the Ambrose Film Studio in Turin in 1912. This is a short travelogue that follows the river Aeterno-Pescara from its source to the harbour where it pours into the Adriatic sea. Accompanied by Costas Fotopoulos.

The main feature was from the Library of Congress of a film surviving in a 16mm print and that was restored for video by a crowd-funding organised by Movie Silents This was an adaptation in five parts of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. The film was made by the East Coast Conquest Films [part of the Edison Co.] and directed by Alan Crossland on a small budget. But the film enjoyed actual locations including shooting the shipboard sequence on an actual brig. In four reels the full narrative is not possible and the film concentrates on David Balfour and Alan Breck. The action  is well done and the locations add to the sense of drama. This version retains the tinting of the original. In her introduction Fritzi Kramer pointed out that some of the tinting, for example blue in an night scene , is important indicating the time of day of the sequence. The accompaniment was by John Sweeney.

Programme six presented titles on film-making and film-going. The short Los Angelos / Une promenade dans Los Angelos was a tinted film from 1912. Shots across the city included people in the centre and animals in zoos and parks, including engaging crocodiles and ostriches. John Sweeney provided the accompaniment.

Arthéme Opérateur / Artheme as Projectionist was an Eclipse production from 1910. This comic re-appeared, this time wreaking havoc in a cinema projection booth. There was some clever trick cinematography, chaos with film and equipment and on-screen examples of the early technology. Colin Sell accompanied the title on the piano.

A US set in tinsel town was Photo play Magazine Screen Supplement, circa 1920. The title offered insights into studios and a bevy of then popular screen performers, though the only one still familiar today would be Douglas Fairbanks. John Sweeney was back at the piano.

All three titles were courtesy of the Eye Museum and had Dutch title cards with English sub-titles provided.

The Pictured Idol focused on a young female fan of movies and of a major film star. The story chartered her disillusionment as she encountered the reality rather different from the on-screen fantasies. This was a Vitagraph title from 1912 accompanied by Colin Sell.

‘Four Square Steve’

The final drama was an example of films that survive on the 9.5mm format. This was a format for amateur collectors and there was a huge range of productions presented this way; (see the ‘Vintage Film 9.5mm Encyclopaedia’, Matador 2020]. This was a western produced by Mustang Films in 19126, Four Square Steve. The film featured an early role for the later star Fay Wray. She is the daughter of father whose land is targeted by a family of villains. The young hero saves both daughter and land. There is some excellent location work including a final climax on a disused mine and travelator

Programme seven had a single feature-length drama kindly provided from the British National Film Archive. This is the earliest film version of a stage classic, Hobson’s Choice. The play was written by Harold Brighouse, a member of the Manchester

School of Dramatists. Like the earlier drama ‘Hindle Wakes’, also adapted to film, this story has an affectionate and informed view of Lancashire and a strong central woman character. Percy Nash directed this six-reel film. There are two later sound film adaptations, from 1931 and 1954.

The plot involves a successful owner of a shoe/boot shop with three eligible daughters. Part of the story is about the three women finding husbands but it is also a drama of a family patriarch bested by the women of the house. This version opened up the staging but was predominately studio made and retained a theatrical air. The cast made great play with both the humour and the family conflicts.

Programme eight offered a ‘Bioscope Vacation’, a series of short film travelogues and one drama involving a vacation. Most of the titles were from Amsterdam’s Eye Museum and its Jean Desmet collection. In these cases the original title cards had been replaced by Dutch title cards, here with English sub-titles. Unfortunately this was the first streaming with a noticeable hiccup; one of the audio lines to a musician was lost temporarily. And poor Michelle in her comments found herself without a working microphone. However, at least for me, this was only at the end of a title and ‘normal service’ was resumed.

La perle de la Méditerrannée: Barcelone / Barcelona: Pearl of the Mediterranean was from the French Eclipse Company in 1913. This travel title also had tinting. Cyrus Chrysalis provided the accompaniment.

Constantine / Constantinople was a Éclair title with tinting; though here the print had suffered from the ravages of time and the tints were erratic. Cyrus provided the accompaniment.

Lillian Henley provided the music for Egypt circa 1910. The title covered a range of places rather than the capital Cairo. The colours, tints and tones, were even more erratic on another aged and worn print.

John Sweeney accompanied Turkey / Turkije, a 1915 title from a German company, Radios frankrijk. Here the tinting was more uniform.

Costas Fotopoulos provided accompaniment for two titles;

Beelden uit Piraeus / Pictures from Piraeus And then The Lonely Princess / De Eenzame prinses. This was a Vitagraph set in Venice and with an unlikely romance between a visiting Yank and an European aristocrat. As was often the case with the city of Venice the locale offered scenic vistas and the settings eclipsed the young g lovers.

Programme 9 offered a short film and then a six reel feature.

The Wife and I went Cycling / Une Partie de Tandem was an Eclipse title accompanied by Colin Fell. The cycle ride threw up a series of calamities presented with visual wit.

The feature was In Search of Castaways / The Children of Captain Grant? Les enfants du capitaine Grant, a 1914 adaptation of a picaresque novel by Jules Verne. The original novel from the 1860s ran to 900 pages. The search covered several continents, indicated by the separate sections, South America, Australia and New Zealand. The ‘search’ is rather implausible but leads a little band of would-be rescuers over a vast itinerary. The strength of the adaptation is the use of actual locations; there is an impressive sequence in the Alps. The weakness is the plotting, a factor complained about in contemporary reviews. There are quite a few long title cards, but even so it is not always clear why the characters act as they do. I had figures out the main lines by the end. And the title looks good and the music was fine as well. There is some nice tinting on the title cards.

Programme 10 offered another eclectic selection of short silent films, screened by kind permission of collections held by the Netherlands’ EYE Filmmuseum.

Our Film Stars – Photoplay Magazine Screen Supplement #6 (USA 1919). This was another espsiode in the series presenting notable film people to fans. James Cruze, who had an extensive career as an actor then moved to direction, most famously with The Covered Wagon (1923). He was, though, outshone by ‘Faithful Teddy’ a canine hero at Mack Sennett’s studio.

Flux The Cat (NL 1929). This was an advertisment for a Dutch tyre firm. The cat was clealry modelled on the famous US character Felix. Both titles were accompanied by John Sweeney.

Colin Sell accompanied Le Dytique (The Water Beetle) FR 1912. A tinted study from Eclair.

L’orgie Romaine (Lions of the Tyrant) (FR 1911). This was a hand-tinted title directed by the key filmmaker Louis Feuillade. One of those mad Roman tyrants looses his savage beasts on his own courtiers. John Sweeney returned to accompany this title.

Le Chien Insaisissable (The Elusive Dog) (FR 1912). This was a canine comedy full of trick cinematography as this elusive pooch appeared and disappeared. Lillian Henley accompanied at the piano.

Old Isaacson’s Diamonds (USA 1915) was an epsiode from one of the popular series of the period; Kalen’s The Girl Detective. The heroine worked by observation, showing up official detection. Costas Fotopoulos accompanied the title.

The screenings had English sub-titles where there were Dutch title cards. And Michaell Facey provided introrudction to the movies.

Kennington Bioscope partnered with the BFI London Film Festival 2020 for their online screening of newly restored Australian silent film, The Cheaters (1929). The feature was accompanied by Cyrus Gabrysch.

Many of the short films whose transfers feature in the Bioscope programmes are from the Jena Desmet Collection at Amsterdam’s Eye Museum. This is one of the Archives listed on the pages of the International Federation of Film Archives as providing free streaming for visitors during the lock down. This is a great resource and there are an amazing variety of early films provided in this way.

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