Louis Le Prince – moving image pioneer – 1841 to 1890

I suspect that most of the Friends are familiar with this C19th inventor who, in 1888, produced what is the earliest surviving example of a strip of moving image; scenes shot on a single lens camera of people in a Roundhay garden and then of people and traffic on Leeds Bridge. The second Leeds International Film Festival was, in his centenary year, a celebration of Le Prince’s achievement. And Blue Plaques commemorate his pioneer work on Leeds Bridge and the site of his workshop on Woodhouse Lane. Now a new study has appeared, ‘The Man Who Invented Motion Pictures’ by Paul Fischer, published by Simon & Schuster this month, in 2022, [ ‘The Genius, Secrecy and Disappearance of Louis Le Prince’]. Helpfully, a condensed version of the publication was premiered by BBC’s Radio 4’s ‘Book of the Week’; five episodes of 15 minutes each and available on BBC Sounds.

The book adds to the available studies of this important pioneer of what became cinema. There is Christopher Rawlence’s ‘The Missing Reel’ [Collins 1990): there is Rawlence’s documentary dramatisation of the book, made for Channel 4 in 1990, but not apparently available: David Wilkinson’s 2015 The First Film, more an argument for Le Prince’s recognition that a documentary [available on MUBI]: a detailed Wikipedia page links and detailed references: archive material at Leeds Industrial Museum and at Bradford’s National Media Museum Insight collection: interesting discussion of Prince’s achievement on a blog devoted to William Friese-Greene: and the Louis Prince Leeds Trail. YouTube has transfers of Le Prince’s moving images and a number of short video pieces on him; some have debatable claims.

The title is slightly over the top. The 1880s was a time when a number of pioneers were experimenting with developing photographic technology into a format for moving images. The author does detail the way that Le Prince worked at developing camera and projector for moving images. His descriptions in the BBC extracts are clear and understandable. However, all that survives are examples of what Le Prince filmed and one of his model cameras. As Fischer points out these are the earliest surviving examples of projectable moving images. However, there is no clear evidence that Le Prince successfully projected these. And after his death, when his family attempted to prove his prior claim to the patents of Thomas Edison, they failed; partly because what Le Prince patented did not offer enough detail.

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A Festive Treat On Line

Kennington Bioscope Presents [on YouTube].

The Kennington Bioscope is a film club at London’s Cinema Museum.  It used to run on Wednesday evenings and usually offered screenings in 35mm [or sometimes 16mm] enhanced by live musical accompaniments. The prints were always from early cinema and from a ranger of territories. The musicians were really able performers; several have played for silent titles at International Film Festivals. With the arrival of the pandemic The Bioscope has gone on line; earli8er programmes are still available on You Tube and now a Festive special is panned for the coming week.

A Christmas Special courtesy of the BFI and the EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Featuring a whole array of shorts of Winter and Christmas by the enormous generosity of EYE Filmmuseum and the British Film Institute (BFI).

 Holland in Ijs (NL 1917) – Scenes from the Netherlands in what was an extremely cold winter for them – Daan van den Hurk

Expedition to the North Pole (USA 1916) – Animated adventure by airship to the frozen North – Cyrus Gabrysch

 Il Natale di Cretinetti (IT 1909) – Early film comedian André Deed wreaks havoc with an outsize Christmas tree – José María Serralde Ruiz

Ida’s Christmas (USA 1912) – Dolores Costello and John Bunny star in this heart-warming tale from the Vitagraph studios – Colin Sell

Snowstorm in New York (NL 1926?) – A blizzard paralyzes Manhattan – Ben Model

Scrooge; or Marley’s Ghost (UK 1901) – R.W. Paul’s early and ingenious depiction of Dickens’ seasonal story – Meg Morley

Snowballs (UK 1901) – Schoolboy scamps besiege passers-by with handfuls of the cold white stuff – Lillian Henley

 Santa Claus (UK 1898) – The wonder of Christmas. British filmmaker G.A. Smith’s film features his children and wife Laura Bayley – Stephen Horne

The Little Match Girl (UK 1914) – Percy Nash directs this, the second British adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s heartrending story – Donald Sosin

The Mistletoe Bough (UK 1904) – An unlucky bride is locked in a trunk in this early film – Costas Fotopoulos

Broncho Billy’s Christmas Dinner (USA 1911) – Villainous Broncho Billy finds himself accidentally invited to the Sheriff’s home for the festive repast – Philip Carli

 Santa Claus and the Fairy (UK 1898) – Have you been naughty or nice? Stockings at the ready! – John Sweeney

This will offer a pleasure for fans of early cinema.  The titles [facsimiles versions] are provided by the support of our own National Film Archive and the fine archival collection at the Eye Museum in Amsterdam. During the pandemic, The Eye, like a number of archives is offering access on line to parts of their collections; though these screenings are usually silent. The Bioscope music is a real cachet and, in a nice touch, the pianist’s hands and instrument can be seen in a small  additional frame. The Bioscope organisers also ensure sub-titles for films with foreign language title cards. You also get introductions to the titles by film historian Michelle Facey and a chance to see the Cinema Museum.

If  interested you can read more about the Bioscope af Early and Silent Cinema.

The Man Who Filmed the Somme BBC 2016

The Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt mine

The Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt mine

This is a short programme about a key First World War documentary film shot mainly during the battle whose centenary occurs this year. The programme was shown on the BBC News Channel and is currently available on the BBC I-Player, [till the end of July]. Apart from the relevance of the topic itself there are some interesting shots of the Hyde Park Picture House. The cinema was the venue for a screening of the original film to an invited audience.

The Battle of the Somme was a filmed and released in 1916. It was five reels in length and ran for around 70 minutes. The film footage was shot by Geoffrey H. Malins and J. B. McDowell. Both were employed by the Cinematograph Trade Topical Committee, a number of production companies involved in early newsreels, who negotiated with the military authorities for cameramen to film on the front line. The military were initially against letting filmmakers into combat areas, but the needs of wartime propaganda [at which the Germans were especially effective] overrode this. [Effectively these cameramen were official cinematographers and ’embedded’ as the phrase goes].

Malins was to become the most famous wartime cameraman, partly through the success of the Somme film and partly through his book How I Filmed the War (1920). He was already involved in Newsreel filmmaking, having started out in still photography. J. B. McDowell had worked in the film industry in production prior to the war and joined Malins on the Western front. When the film footage was returned to Britain it was edited under the supervision of Charles Urban [an important pioneer producer and filmmaker] with Malins. It seems that it was Urban who proposed that the footage be turned into a feature length film, an unusual event at the time. This feature was released in August 1916, whilst the Battle of the Somme continued. Continue reading

Hyde Park Picture House, 101 years old.


This Monday, 2nd November, exactly one hundred years ago, the Picture House opened for its second year of business. Already in the first twelve months of film entertainment it had successfully established itself. The log books, donated to the West Yorkshire Archive Service in 2015, record the box office takings. Weekly attendances were now regularly over 2,000. At a Bank Holiday they could exceed 3,000. And the same happened when there was a really popular film. So the log books record key titles, and show that Charlie Chaplin had already registered with his amazingly fast rise to fame and stardom.

On the Thursday of that week another popular title opened at the cinema: The Exploits of Elaine (Pathé USA, 1915). The Exploits of Elaine was a serial, with fourteens separate episodes. The Hyde Park appears to have screened the separate episodes weekly, as part of the Thursday programme, as the box office increased towards the weekend.

Elaine poster

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Make More Noise! Suffragettes in Silent Film, BFI 2015.

Sunday November 1st at 1.30 p.m.


This is a compilation of early films about the early C20th British Suffragette Movement. The selected titles are relatively short and are predominately newsreel footage or equivalent. There is the famous action by Emily Davison at the 1913 Derby. There is also coverage of her funeral. This latter film was used behind the closing credits of the feature Suffragettes: though unfortunately in the increasing contemporary habit of re-sizing it into a widescreen frame. Film of an action in Trafalgar Square features Sylvia Pankhurst, inexplicably missing from Suffragette.

The selection carries on into World War I when the Pankhurst’s and the movement split over whether to support the imperialist war or not. Sylvia Pankhurst was among those socialists who opposed the conflict.

There are also some short fictional films, mainly in the comic mode. There are shorts that send up the movement and ridicule it. But there are also several films by Cecil Hepworth which take a less hostile view. Two of these feature a popular female character of the period, Tilly, a tomboy who was constantly getting involved in and surviving scrapes.

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The First Film, UK 2015

Screening on Wednesday July 1st at 8 p.m.


The title may suggest Thomas Edison in New York: the Lumière Brothers in Paris: even the Skladanowsky Brothers in Berlin. In fact the events in the film took place in Leeds in West Yorkshire. Here in 1888 Louis le Prince shot several short film sequences onto a paper-backed cellulose strip using a camera that he designed and constructed. Recent research has shown that Le Prince was also working on the use of celluloid for the film rolls and was developing a projection system.

The signs of this key pioneer filmmaker can seen around Leeds. The display at the Oakwood Clock shows the site of a Roundhay Garden where he filmed two sequences. There is a Blue Plaque on Leeds Bridge where he filmed another sequence. There is a second Blue Plaque alongside the old BBC Building by the University to mark the site of his workshop. And there is an unmarked house in Chapeltown where he resided for a time.

People who attended the 1988 Leeds International Film Festival will remember how this celebrated the centenary of Le Prince’s pioneering films, including a restaging of the filming on Leeds Bridge. The Metropolitan University Film School used to have copies of the individual frames mounted on the stairwell and you could examine these as you ascended.

Both the Armley Industrial Museum and the National Media Museum have displays and artefacts about Le Prince. And the Museum has a series of online pages on his career,  his cameras and his films.

However you are less likely to come across Le Prince outside of the city and he is even not always credited in  academic histories of early cinema. This is because the life of Le Prince involves not just a first but also a mystery. This new film, a labour of love over many years by filmmaker David Nicholas Wilkinson’s  explores the life of the Pioneer, his film work and the unexplained events that meant that he failed to gain the recognition he deserved.

The screening at the Picture House is a Charity Premiere. There will be introductions, examples of Le Prince’s technology and in the film itself the audience will be able to see these creations from over a century ago.

‘The Cosiest Picture House in Leeds’.

YEP Advert

This illustration is from the printed history of the Hyde Park Picture House published by the Friends in 1997: [copies still available at the cinema].

Recently a relative of Harry Childs, who was involved in the opening and running of the Hyde Park Picture House, donated a set of ‘Log Books’ that start with the opening of the cinema and carry on until the 1950s. The books record the daily performances, ticket sales in different price categories and the daily and weekly income. You can imagine that there are lots of figures to be analyzed. The performances and prices are shown in the above advertisement from the Yorkshire Evening News.

It is not clear how seats and customers were demarcated, perhaps the 1s. seats were in the balcony. The bulk of the customers fell into the 3d and 6d price range.

Firstly, the capacity of a standard rectangular theatre was increased by using a balcony .. [which] … allowed an astounding 587 people to be crammed in. [Since the 1980s the seating has been reduced to 350].

The records in 1914 offer no information about the films screened. However from early in 1915 the title of the feature is usually recorded in the margin. The norm appears to be two prrogrammes a week, one from Monday to Wednesday and one from Thursday to Saturday. This is done briefly, so it is not always possible to identify the film: and about two thirds of titles from this period have been lost. However there are also other sources.

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