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.

Screen-Shot-2014-10-31-at-13-06-51

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

Continue reading

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

Sunday November 1st at 1.30 p.m.

1442414331-d0bdd242ecd22cbea030a917aa71f1c8-600x449

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.

Continue reading

The First Film, UK 2015

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

slide

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.

Continue reading