Early Irish Cinema: Dublin Wreckage Films, Martial Law and Daylight Saving Time in May 1916

Denis Condon’s blog Early Irish Cinema looks back at the early development of cinema in Ireland on the anniversaries of those developments and offers information on what cinemagoers could have seen in Irish cinemas a century ago. Here Denis explores the effect of the Rising on cinemas.

Dublin's smoking ruins. Image from Come Here to Me.

Dublin’s smoking ruins in May 1916. Image from the blog Come Here to Me

Smoke still rose from the ruins in Dublin city centre at the start of May 1916, including from those of the Grand Cinema, but the weather was about to quench the remaining embers. “The remark of the elderly Dublin citizen who, gazing out of the window on Saturday morning, exclaimed: ‘There has been insurrection, famine, and fire; now we’re going to have a flood,’ were more or less justified by the state of the weather,” observed the Ulster Herald of the period of 6-8 May. “From the early hours of Friday morning until Sunday, Dublin has been under a never-ceasing deluge of rain, and even the most curiosity stricken of those who are themselves within its borders are deterred from wandering forth on visits of inspection amongst the ruins” (“Rising in Dublin”).

A photograph of the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street taken during the week of 8-13 May. Image from RTÉ Archives on Twitter bit.ly/1bFWG0U

A photograph of the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street taken during the week of 8-13 May. Image from RTÉ Archives on Twitter

Despite the fact that the city seemed to be under attack from the four horsemen of the apocalypse, some normality was returning by Monday, 8 May. “Two cinema houses have re-opened in O’Connell street up to 6.30 each evening,” the same source reported, “and one of them displays a large poster announcing ‘All Easter Week: ‘The Christian.’”One of the earliest surviving photographs of a Dublin picture house shows that this was the Picture House at 51 Lower Sackville/O’Connell Street, which was remarkably unscathed given that it faced the totally destroyed Grand. Most of the people in the photograph are not interested in The Christian, however, but are – in theUlster Herald’s terms – stricken by curiosity to see the ruins.

A photograph of Sackville/O’Connell Street in flames. Image from Letters of 1916.

A photograph of Sackville/O’Connell Street in flames. Image from Letters of 1916

The Rising itself struck some observers as inherently cinematic. “For spectacular purposes nothing I have seen compares with the bombardment late yesterday afternoon of the Irish Republican flag on the cupola of the building nearly a mile from the hotel,” a Lloyd’s News Service journalist reported from his/her hotel room. “Fully fifty shells burst around the cupola before the flag fluttered to the ground. A cinema picture of this side-show would have been worth thousands” (“Dublin Rebellion”).

No cinematographer seems to have captured scenes of the Rising itself that might have satisfied the curiosity of those who could not get to Dublin’s city centre. This is disappointing but hardly surprising given the dangers from fire, bombardment and snipers. Nevertheless, several newsreel films were made of the aftermath of the Rising showing the city in ruins by Pathé News, Gaumont Graphic and Topical Budget. The Irish Independent’s London correspondent noted that “Dublin wreckage films” were being shown in London theatres and picture houses offering a “picture of gaping ruins far more appalling than the London public has been prepared for” and a heartbreaking sight for Dubliners in exile (“Our London Letter”).

The programme at Dublin's Carlton for the week of the 8-13 May included Topical Budget's Dublin in Ruins. Dublin Evening Mail 9 May 1916: 2.

The programme at Dublin’s Carlton for the week of the 8-13 May included Topical Budget’s Dublin in Ruins. Dublin Evening Mail 9 May 1916: 2

These films were also shown in Dublin itself once the picture houses reopened, which happened mostly in the week of 8-13 May. At this point, martial law restrictions allowed them to open only to 8pm. “The fabric of that historic building, the Rotunda, has happily escaped almost unscathed from the recent ordeal of fire,” the reviewer in the Irish Times noted on 9 May, “and an excellent programme of living pictures was yesterday presented to a succession of large audiences” (“Rotunda Pictures”).  Further down Sackville/O’Connell Street and closer to the centre of the fighting during the Rising, the Carlton also opened on 8 May with “a superb programme, the Topical Budget included ‘Dublin Ruins,’ depicting the desolation of the Irish metropolis consequent upon the insurrection” (“Carlton Cinema”). “Though the Pillar Picture House was well within the fire zone during the recent disturbances,” the Irish Times also noted, “the building has escaped with very minor injuries, and, despite the difficulties of transport, the management were able to re-open yesterday at noon with a very attractive programme” (“Pillar Picture House”). Although business at the Mary Street Picture House was “somewhat hampered by the dislocation of cross-Channel communication,” it offered a programme that included Chaplin’s A Film Johnnie (US: Keystone, 1914) and the Gaumont Graphic with all the latest topical features, and recent events in Dublin” (“Mary Street”).

Boh Dublin Rising DEM 12 May 1916

The Bohemian advertised The Dublin Rising and Ruins of the City with musical accompaniment by Clyde Twelvetrees. Dublin Evening Mail 12 May 1916: 2

In the second half of that week (11-13 May), the Bohemian exhibited what appears to have been a longer film of the city’s ruins, Dublin Rising and Ruins of the City. Its prominence in advertising suggests that this was not just another newsreel item but something more substantial. The only surviving newsreel film of more than a few minutes is the Imperial War Museum’s (IWM’s) 14-minute Easter Rising, Dublin 1916. The IWM has little information on the origins of the film, and its intertitles are missing.

Ad for the exhibition at Belfast’s Panopticon of Dublin Revolt, a long film of the aftermath of the Rising; the similarly titled film at the Imperial is actually the Topical Budget. Belfast News-Letter 8 May 1916: 4.

Ad for the exhibition at Belfast’s Panopticon of Dublin Revolt, a long film of the aftermath of the Rising; the similarly titled film at the Imperial is actually the Topical Budget. Belfast News-Letter 8 May 1916: 4

However, under the title Dublin Revolt, the IWM film was shown at Belfast’s Panopticon for the week of 8-13 May, and in other Belfast cinemas for the latter half of that week. The film had intertitles, including “[‘T]he Sinn Feiners marching into Dublin,’ ‘The Parade of the National Volunteers and Sinn Feiners,’ ‘Liberty Hall,’ ‘British Picket at the Custom House,’ ‘Wounded Sinn Feiners in Hospital,’ ‘British Armoured Car’” (“Panopticon,” 9 May).  The Panopticon’s ad in the Belfast News-Letter claimed that the film was “Taken by Our Own Operator,” but it may have been shot by Norman Whitten of General Film Supply, Ireland’s most prominent maker of film topicals. Paddy, Irish correspondent the trade journal Bioscope, reported that Whitten “was out very early with his camera, and secured practically 2,000 feet of exceptionally interesting views.” Given the chaos of the picture-house business in Dublin after the Rising and the international interest in events, he sold these to “Messrs. Jury’s Imperial Pictures, Limited, and Mr. Whitten crossed over to England with the negatives so as to make sure that they reached their destination” (Paddy, 18 May). The Bohemian may have secured a 1,000-foot cut of the GFS film (Condon).

Framegrab from Easter Rising, Dublin 1916 (IWM 194) showing newsboys selling the Irish Times of 3 May 1916 against the ruins of Eden Quay.

Framegrab from Easter Rising, Dublin 1916 (IWM 194) showing newsboys selling the Irish Times of 3 May 1916 against the backdrop of the ruins on Eden Quay

In Dublin, these films appear to have been designed to attract into the picture houses the people who were wandering the destroyed city centre fascinated by the ruins. Paddy reported that “people are not too keen on pictures just at the moment,” but were instead watching as “[o]dd walls of ruined buildings are being pulled down in Sackville Street […T]he streets are packed with people in dense masses, quite oblivious to the fact that some portion of the bricks and mortar may fall on them” (Paddy, 18 May).

Dublin Evening Mail 10 May 1916: 2.

Dublin Evening Mail 10 May 1916: 2

Films in other venues were fulfilling different purposes. For four days beginning on 10 May, Dublin’s Theatre Royal – a legitimate theatre that only occasionally showed films – chose films that emphasized the loyalty of Dublin citizens. The Royal showed the War Office films, The Battlefield of Neuve Chapelle, which had previously been exhibited in the city, and the new With the Irish at the Front. “The pictures will be of special interest to all citizens,” observed the Irish Times, “but particularly to those whose relatives figure in the scenes from which the photographs have been taken” (“Theatre Royal”). This demonstration of loyalty appears to have been successful because the “pictures were warmly applauded by the audience, among which were many soldiers.”

Belfast News-Letter 6 May 1916: 8.

Belfast News-Letter 6 May 1916: 8

The disruption to communications and transport caused by the Rising had effects on cinema around the country. “Splendid programmes have been submitted at the ‘National’” in Mullingar

where, despite the dislocation of all business resulting from the troubles in Dublin at Easter, the management were enabled to keep up a capital supply of films. In the case of the ‘Exploits of Elaine,’ however, the films could not be procured by any cinema, during the period of traffic dislocation, and it was only this week that the welcome announcement could be made that the great serial would be resumed. (“National Picture Palace.”)

Although the second week in May brought Dublin Revolt to Belfast’s Panopticon, the lack of a train service between Dublin and Belfast until 3 May meant that manager-proprietor Fred Stewart could not show the films he had advertised for the first week (“Panopticon,” 2 May). As well as this, the cancellation of the planned visit by the D’Oly Carte Opera Company during the week of 15-20 May caused Belfast’s Opera to retain the film Britain Prepared for a second week (“Grand Opera House”).

Given the disruption and excitement generated by the Rising, other developments seem to have been taken in stride. These included the introduction of the Entertainment Tax and of Daylight Saving Time, and a government focus on cinema as the cause of juvenile crime. Irish newspapers widely reported Home Secretary Herbert Samuel’s statement in Westminster that one of the causes of the considerable rise in juvenile crime in provincial towns was “the character of some of the films shown at cinematograph theatres” (“Crime and the Cinema”). The Leitrim Observer took up the issue in its editorial at the end of May. “There can be no doubt that the cinema has abundantly established its claim as a cheap, popular, and harmless form of amusement and recreation, so far as the adults are concerned,” it argued. “Whether the ordinary cinematograph entertainment is good for young children is another matter” (“Children and Cinemas”). Although acknowledging that parents without childcare had to bring their children to the picture houses with them, the writer thought this a poor excuse if harm was actually being done to the young people.

Article explaining rates of Entertainment Tax; Evening Telegraph 15 May 1916: 1.

Article explaining rates of Entertainment Tax;Evening Telegraph 15 May 1916: 1

The much heralded Entertainment Tax came into force on 15 May 1916. A reporter for the Cork Examiner gave the matter considerable attention, interviewing theatre managers and analyzing who was paying most. The writer found picture-house managers relatively untroubled by the measure, arguing that if there was any effect at all, it would likely only be for the first week or so.  The writer also pointed out that if there were any decreased attendance, it might in any case be attributed to good summer weather.

Dublin's Bohemian advertises new tax; Evening Telegraph 15 May 1916: 2.

Dublin’s Bohemian advertises new tax; Evening Telegraph 15 May 1916: 2

However, s/he also noted that the percentage increase “reverses the rule of imposing the highest percentage of tax on the well to do” (“Entertainment Tax,” 16 May). The tax increased the price of the cheapest penny tickets by a ½p  or 50% while those paying for expensive seats between 2s 6d and 5s paid only 3d or between 10% and 5%. “As the actual increases in prices are comparatively small,” s/he nevertheless concluded, “the public will in all probability adapt themselves to the new conditions without any serious demur.” The writer of the Southern Star’s “Bandon Notes” column took a similar view. “The young lads of the town who constantly patronise the pictures in large numbers will be, one would be inclined to think, seriously hit by the tax,” s/he initially contended. “However, where a young lad would be able to make out 3d for the pictures, he would also be able to find 4d. Therefore, from their point of view, we think things will go on as usual.”

Examining the amount raised during the tax’s first week, the Belfast News-Letter found that the bulk of the receipts came from picture houses rather than theatres. Using figures from Liverpool, it estimated that £900 of the £1,600 tax collected in the city came from cinemas (“Entertainment Tax,” 24 May).

The introduction of Daylight Saving Time on 21 May proved even less controversial in the Irish cinema trade. Among the Dublin theatre and picture house managers/proprietors interviewed by an Irish Independent reporter, manager Richard Bell of the Sackville Picture House and John J. Farrell, who owned several Dublin picture houses, expressed the view that the measure would not affect them in any way and that they saw no reason to change their hours of opening. Only Barney Armstrong of the Empire Theatre thought the regulation “would likely have the effect of slightly reducing the attendances during the summer months, especially at the first ‘house’” (“Daylight Saving Act”). For picture houses that opened from the early afternoon, this was less of an issue.

By the end of May, life in the Dublin appeared to be returning to normal, albeit among the ruins of the city centre. Paddy noted that “[m]arital law in Dublin has been considerably modified, people now being allowed out until 12 o’clock. This means that one can visit a theatre or music hall in comfort and still be able to catch the last tram home.” Even if many picture houses were slower in settling down after the Rising, this was due to good weather, which “proved equally as strong an attraction as the spectacle of falling buildings” (Paddy, 25 May).

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“Bandon Notes.” Southern Star 20 May 1916: 5.

“The Carlton Cinema.” Irish Times 9 May 1916: 3.

“Children and Cinemas.” Leitrim Observer 27 May 1916: 3.

Condon, Denis. “‘Pictures in Abeyance’: Irish Cinema and the Aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising.” Moving Worlds April 2016.

“Crime and the Cinema.” Leitrim Observer 20 May 1916: 7.

“Daylight Saving Act: Favourable Irish Recption.” Irish Independent 19 May 1916: 4.

“The Dublin Rebellion.” Southern Star 6 May 1916: 2.

“Entertainment Tax Comes into Operation.” Cork Examiner 16 May 1916: 6.

“The Entertainment Tax: £1,600 the First Week’s Yield in Liverpool.” Belfast News-Letter24 May 1916: 4.

“Grand Opera House: ‘Britain Prepared.’” Belfast News-Letter 16 May 1916: 2.

“Mary Street Picture House.” Irish Times 9 May 1916: 3.

“National Picture Palace.” Westmeath Examiner 20 May 1916: 4.

“Our London Letter: Dublin Wreckage Films.” Irish Independent 15 May 1916: 2.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope  18 May 1916: 845; 25 May 1916: 911.

“The Panopticon.” Belfast News-Letter 2 May 1916: 2; 9 May 1916: 2.

“The Pillar Picture House.” Irish Times 9 May 1916: 3.

“The Rising in Dublin: Scenes in the Ruins.” Ulster Herald 13 May 1916: 3.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Irish Times 9 May 1916: 3.

“Theatre Royal.” Irish Times 9 May 1916, p. 3.

 

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Early Irish Cinema: The Constant Watchfulness of Irish Cinema in March 1916

Denis Condon’s blog Early Irish Cinema looks back at the early development of cinema in Ireland on the anniversaries of those developments and offers information on what cinemagoers could have seen in Irish cinemas a century ago. Here Denis tracks a vigilant eye being kept on the cinema industry.

Irish-American James Mark Sullivan, who co-founded the Film Company of Ireland in March 1916. https://www.loc.gov/item/2002706157/

Irish-American James Mark Sullivan, who co-founded the Film Company of Ireland in March 1916. Image from theLibrary of Congress.

Although Ireland is celebrating the centenary of the 1916 Rising in March 2016, Easter was celebrated in 1916 in late April. Nevertheless, March 1916 saw such momentous cinematic events as the founding of the first major indigenous film production company. And even if Easter itself was still some way off, Irish cinema hit the beginning of the Easter season. In what was clearly a coordinated move by the Irish Catholic hierarchy, several bishops mentioned cinema in their Lenten pastorals, the letters from them read out on 5 March 1916 in churches in their dioceses to mark the start of the 40-day fasting period leading up to Easter. “Immodest representations in Theatres should be reprobated by every good man, and every effort should be made to discountenance them,” ordered the Bishop of Cork, but he had a particular warning about cinema:

We desire to direct your attention particularly to cinematograph and picture shows. The films come from outside, and from places where what concerns Christian modesty is made little of, and there is always a danger that what is unfit to be seen may be exhibited unless constant watchfulness is exercised to exclude what is objectionable and offensive in a Catholic country.(“Lenten Pastorals.”)

This call for “constant watchfulness” was an intensification of the hierarchy’s involvement in the church’s efforts to control cinema. If the church could not prevent people going to picture houses altogether, it was determined that it would shape what, where and when people would watch. The initially mainly lay Vigilance Committees had in late 1915been put under centralized clerical control as the Irish Vigilance Association, which held a mass meeting at Dublin’s Mansion House that sent a renewed demand  for institution of an Irish film censorship (“Mansion House Meeting”). The many local campaigns against the opening of picture house on Sunday were also led from the altar. “At different Masses on Sunday last in the four parish churches, as well as in the Black Abbey and Capuchin Friary,” reported the Kilkenny People, “a strong appeal was made to the people to abstain from attending the local Picture House on Sundays, particularly during Lent” (“Sunday Cinemas in Kilkenny”).

Ad for Stafford's Longford Cinema in St Patrick's week included an episode of The Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1914), the serial that featured the master criminal the Clutching Hand. Longford Leader 11 Mar. 1916: 3.

Ad for Stafford’s Longford Cinema in St Patrick’s week included an episode of The Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1914), the serial that featured the master criminal the Clutching Hand. Longford Leader 11 Mar. 1916: 3.

In making their calls for vigilance, the bishops could indicate the harmfulness of cinema by citing the ongoing trial of a gang of boys in Mullingar who had committed robberies inspired by onscreen criminals. The papers reported many similar cases including the prosecution of 20-year-old ex-sailor James J. Sloan who told the Belfast Assizes that his house-breaking equipment was “the materials Charlie Chaplin works with” (“Items of Interest”). The prominence of such stories led James Stafford of the Longford Cinema to refute publicly the claim made by a boy charged with larceny at the local petty session that he had committed the robbery to get money to go to the pictures. “I have made it a point not to admit to the Longford Cinema Theatre boys of this class,” Stafford contended,  “and this boy in particular is one of several of his class whom I frequently refused admission” (“Unfounded Allegation”). As the Mullingar case suggests, the class he referred to was the poorest of the working-class.

The cinema industry long feared the imposition of crippling taxes, going so far in this cartoon as to identify the British government with the zeppelin raids then terrorizing southeast England. Bioscope 7 Oct. 1915: 16c.

The cinema industry long feared the imposition of crippling taxes, going so far in this cartoon as to identify the British government with the zeppelin raids then terrorizing southeast England. Bioscope7 Oct. 1915: 16c.

The British government also had a vigilant eye on the cinema industry in Britain and Ireland as a way of raising needed war funds. Months before the imposition of an amusement tax in the May 1916 budget, there was much discussion of its likely effects on the industry and how it was to be collected. “The view which at present commends itself to the authorities,” reported the Irish Independent, “is that the Government should print the tickets for the cinema shows, and these should be purchased from the Government by the trade at a price which would cover the tax” (“Proposed Cinema Tax”). As well as further binding the cinema industry to the British war effort, the tax would alter the working-class nature of cinema. “Upon the injustices of a penny per seat tax there can be not two opinions,” argued Frank W. Ogden Smith in the trade journalBioscope,

and if such a tax be allowed to pass unchallenged this point must be borne in mind – when we revert to peace times it will mean the cinema as a poor man’s amusement and recreation will have ceased to exist, for the Government having tasted the fruit and found it refreshing in actuality not theory, will not be likely to relinquish the tax. (“Passing of the Penny Cinema.”)

Longford and Mullingar were just two of the Irish places where this process could be most clearly seen in March 1916.

Metro ad featuring Ruffells’ parrot, Dublin Evening Mail 6 Mar. 1916: 2.

Metro ad featuring Ruffells’ parrot, Dublin Evening Mail 6 Mar. 1916: 2.

The industry as a whole – including the Bioscope – had long courted an audience far beyond the penny cinemagoer, and it did so in a climate in which many doubted that cinema represented a quality contribution to culture. At a meeting of the Cork County Council, the chairman complained that the large amount of money spent on technical education was wasted because “the people for whom it was intended showed no disposition to profit by it.” Instead, the popularity of Charlie Chaplin and picture houses were proof, he believed, of the failure of the art classes provided to raise the public taste (“Cork County Council”). Publicity strategies to counter such views and promote films and picture houses as quality entertainment were important, and one ad campaign stood out in Ireland in March 1916. Metro’s British agent Ruffells’ Exclusives was pioneering in marketing film brands to the Irish public. Ads for Metro had been appearing in newspapers for some time when the Bioscope reported that Ruffells in Dublin abandoned their trademark parrot for another animal in order to stage a spectacular publicity stunt: “This consisted of six donkey carts, all passing the leading station and advertising on large boards the display of Metro pictures. The houses showing the films were the Bohemian, the Carlton, the Grafton Street and Grand” (“Trade Topics”).

Evening Telegraph 16 Mar. 1916: 4.

Dublin’s Carlton showing Metro drama Cora. Evening Telegraph 16 Mar. 1916: 1.

These named picture houses were among Dublin’s most prominent cinemas, and each watched what the others were doing. What they were doing to ensure success was to provide lavishly comfortable buildings, feature such highly publicized films as Metro’s and offer novel musical accompaniment. Located in Phibsboro outside the city centre, the Bohemian had attracted patrons since its opening in 1914 by advertising the best musical attractions in the city. The Bohemian’s orchestra consisted of 16 musicians under musical director Percy Carver. With the increasing competition for cinema patrons in the city centre, the Carlton as the latest-opened picture house sought to secure its audience by adding to its musical attractions. Beginning on Patrick’s Day, 17 March, the Carlton challenged the Bohemian’s musical pre-eminence by engaging the concert violinist Erwin Goldwater. The Irish Times called this “[a] new departure in connection with cinema entertainments [that] takes the form of a violin recital by Mr. E. Goldwater, a pupil of Sevcik, and formerly first violin at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. Mr. Goldwater will conduct the orchestra at the Carlton” (“Platform and Stage”).

Clontarf reopens 17 Mar 1916 ET

Ad for reopening of the Clontarf Cinema; Evening Telegraph 17 Mar. 1916: 1.

Goldwater’s engagement was not the only significant event that picture-house proprietors planned for the holiday of the Irish patron saint. A new company reopened the Clontarf Cinema in the former Clontarf Town Hall. “It has been re-decorated and reconstructed throughout in the most luxurious manner,” the Evening Telegraphannounced, “and will be found to be equal in every respect to the very best picture houses in the city” (“The Cinema, Clontarf”). Several picture houses offered special programmes of Irish films and/or music. Perhaps the most surprising of these was at Belfast’s CPA (Central Presbyterian Association) Assembly Hall. “Five reels of well-selected cinema were screened, and the premier place amongst these was taken by “Brennan of the Moor,” a three-part filmisation of the Irish story,” revealed the Northern Whig. “Mr. F. J. Moffett presided at the organ, and also acted as accompanist. Mr. W. R. Gordon sang several Irish folk-songs in a most pleasing manner” (“C.P.A. Entertainments”).

"Mr. Erwin Goldwater." Irish Limelight May 1917: 17.

“Mr. Erwin Goldwater.” Irish LimelightMay 1917: 17.

Although Brennan of the Moor (US: Solax, 1913) was revived on occasion, the most popular films to constitute an Irish programme were still those made by Sidney Olcott and Gene Gauntier for Kalem and other companies in Ireland between 1910 and 1914. Nenagh’s Ormond Kinema Company provided films – including an unnamed Chaplin and The Colleen Bawn (US: Kalem, 1911) – free of charge to the Toomevara and Nenagh Hurling Club after their fund-raising concert in Nenagh’s Town Hall on 17 March (“St. Patrick’s Night’s Concert”). “some unique films of the famous Tubberadora, Toomevara, and Thurles Teams” were also shown (“The Coming St Patrick’s Night Concert”). The Colleen Bawn was the most popular of Dublin-born Dion Boucicault’s stage melodramas, but productions of his more political Arrah-na-Pogue and The Shaughraun were particularly evident in March 1916. In early March 1916, The Shaughraun (US: Kalem, 1912) – which featured an escaped Fenian – was revived at both Dublin’s Rotunda and Bohemian; during the same period, a stage version was produced at Dublin’s Father Mathew Hall by the Barry Sullivan Society, while at the Hibernian Hall, Parnell Square, the Hibernian Players staged Arrah-na-Pogue. The Olcott and Gauntier’s Arrah-na-Pogue (US: Kalem, 1911) was shown at the newly refurbished Omagh Picture House on St Patrick’s night (“Omagh Picture House”). The Rotunda’s programme for St Patrick’s day and the two days following included two other of Kalem’s Irish-shot films: the 1798 drama Rory O’More (US: Kalem, 1911) and The Fishermaid of Ballydavid (US: Kalem, 1911).

Small ad from the Film Company of Ireland seeking Irish scenarios; Freeman's Jorunal 9 Mar. 1916: 2.

Small ad from the Film Company of Ireland seeking Irish scenarios; Freeman’s Jorunal 9 Mar. 1916: 2.

The Kalem films were so regularly revived in part because no fiction films had been shot in Ireland since Olcott had stopped coming to Ireland following the outbreak of the war. In March 1916 this situation was about to change with the founding of the most important indigenous Irish film production company of the silent period. On 2 March, Irish American lawyer and diplomat James Mark Sullivan and Henry Fitzgibbon registered the Film Company of Ireland (FCOI) at Dublin’s Companies Registration Office. The FCOI had little early press coverage. “The objects are to establish, organise and work in Ireland the manufacture and construction of cinema films of every description,” reported the Freeman’s Journal, seemingly reproducing the information on the company registration form, “and to engage in the making of scenic and dramatic moving pictures, and in the sale and exchange of cinema pictures, and to engage in the employment of skilled and unskilled labour, and of all such artistes, authors, and performers as the development of the business may require.” (An Irish Film Company.)

Ads that appeared in the papers on 9 March specifically sought authors of “photo play scenarios, preferably with Irish atmosphere and background.” These ads gave the address of the FCOI’s offices as 16 Henry Street, uncomfortably close to the GPO, soon to be the major site of the Easter Rising.

J. M. Kerrigan with Sara Allgood in a 1911 Abbey touring production of The Playboy of the Western World. Image from Wikipedia.

J. M. Kerrigan with Sara Allgood in a 1911 Abbey touring production of The Playboy of the Western World. Image from Wikipedia.

The FCOI also sought actors, and here Joseph Holloway’s diary offers an intriguing early insight. When actor Felix Hughes answered an FCOI ad for actors, he “was astonished on entering the manager’s room to see Joe Kerrigan quite at home there with his back to the fire – the manager was seated at a table & spoke with the twang of a Yankee.” Kerrigan was one of the Abbey Theatre’s leading actors, and Hughes was surprised to encounter him seemingly embedded with Sullivan in the FCOI. However,

Kerrigan spoke up for him & said to the manager, he’s the very one we want,” (evidently K is to be the star actor in new Co. & has some monetary interest in it as well.) He has played at the Abbey & travelled with Co to London.” So the manager said, “We must have Felix,” & entered his name & address & said, “he would hear from him in the course of four or five weeks time when all arrangements were fixed up to begin operations.  (Holloway, 21 Mar. 1916).

As its operations began, the FCOI gave the hope that cinema would not just be something that the authorities constantly surveilled but would produce challenging films for burgeoning Irish audiences at a historical moment.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“The Cinema, Clontarf.” Evening Telegraph 16 Mar. 1916: 2.

“The Coming St Patrick’s Night Concert.” Nenagh News 11 Mar. 1916: 4.

“Cork County Council: Annual Estimate.” Cork Examiner 1 Mar. 1916: 3.

“C.P.A. Entertainments.” Northern Whig 20 Mar. 1916: 7.

“Items of Interest: A Youthful Burglar” Irish Independent 17 Mar. 1916: 4.

“An Irish Film Company.” Freeman’s Journal 4 Mar 1916: 2.

“Lenten Pastorals: Diocese of Cork.” Cork Examiner 6 Mar. 1916: 7.

“Mansion House Meeting: Message from the Pope.” Freeman’s Journal 14 March 1916: 3.

Ogden Smith, Frank W. “The Passing of the Penny Cinema.” Bioscope 9 Mar. 1916: 1008.

“Omagh Picture House: Extensive Alterations.” Ulster Herald 18 March 1916: 5.

“Platform and Stage.” Irish Times 18 Mar. 1916: 7.

“Proposed Cinema Tax.” Irish Independent 23 Mar. 1916: 4.

“St. Patrick’s Night’s Concert.” Nenagh News 18 Mar. 1916: 3.

“Sunday Cinemas in Kilkenny.” Kilkenny People 18 Mar. 1916: 5.

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 30 Mar. 1916: 1377.

“An Unfounded Allegation Contradicted.” Longford Leader 25 Mar. 1916: 2.

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Early Irish Cinema: Irish Cinema Catches the Public Eye in February 1916

Denis Condon’s blog Early Irish Cinema looks back at the early development of cinema in Ireland on the anniversaries of those developments and offers information on what cinemagoers could have seen in Irish cinemas a century ago. Here Denis tells the tale of the “clutching hand”.

Audience P&Pg 19 Feb 1916p475

Voices filling the dark; Pictures and the Picturegoer 19 Feb. 1916: 475.

 

At the end of January 1916, cinema-trade-journal Bioscope’s Irish correspondent Paddy congratulated George Hay, manager of Waterford’s Broad Street Cinema, on his catchy new programmes. “‘The Picture and Picturegoer’ is on sale in the theatre,” he observed, “and Mr. Hay has had his entire programme printed on the front page. This catches the public eye, and moreover, when the paper is left lying about at home it catches the eye of other members of the family.” Getting and remaining in the public eye was important to the cinema business, but much of the publicity it garnered in Ireland in February 1916 was negative.

Elaine Hand Sep 2 1915 Bio

Eye-catching ad for The Exploits of Elaine incorporating the cluchching hand motif; Bioscope2 Sep. 1915: 1127.

Cinema’s “Clutching Hand” certainly caught the public’s eye in February 1916. The Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1914) serial had been showing in many Irish picture houses, including Dublin’s Rotunda, which had shown the first episode, “The Clutching Hand,” on 18 October 1915. The plucky Elaine’s (Pearl White’s) repeated imperilling by master criminal the Clutching Hand (Sheldon Lewis) and rescuing by scientific detective Craig Kennedy (Arnold Daly) proved a lucrative formula. Showing one episode a week, the Rotunda reached the 14th and final episode, “The Reckoning,” on 20 January 1916. “Those who have followed the various episodes in this serial picture must not omit to visit the Rotunda,” a newspaper article warned, “and witness the first dénouement of the Clutching Hand, in which the culprit is revealed through his inadvertence in referring to the hidden treasure” (“The ‘Clutching Hand’ Revealed”). “Thus far,” the Irish Independent observed, “‘Exploits’ may claim to have established a record in general interest, and increased attendances are like to be experienced as the story reaches its climax” (“Dublin and District”).

Exploits_of_Elaine_-_The_Devil_Worshippers_(1914)

Poster for the episode of The Exploits of Elaine in which the Clutching Hand’s identity is revealed. Source: Wikipedia.

Other picture houses were not far behind the Rotunda. On 10-12 February, Cork’s Coliseum showing the 13th episode, “The Devil Worshippers,” in which the identity of the master criminal the Clutching Hand is revealed. Smaller towns started the serial later, with the first episode being offered to audiences in Ballina in June 1916 and in Longford town in July 1916. Seeing its success, producers Wharton Studios had quickly followed it with The New Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1915), and the Rotunda and others would begin showing this as soon as the original concluded. As a result, the phrase “Clutching Hand” was in circulation in Ireland as a synonym for criminality throughout 1916. Calling for an enquiry into the military killing of civilians during the Easter Rising, for example, Dublin alderman Laurence O’Neill described himself as having “the clutching hand of the military authority upon him” (“Action of Corporation”).

Pictures and the Picturegoer 26 Feb. 1916.

Pictures and the Picturegoer 26 Feb. 1916.

We have seen here that White’s Elaine offered young women an adventurous role model, but court cases reveal that the Clutching Hand proved equally inspirational for the criminal careers of Irish child gangs. A writer in the Southern Star noted that “the Exploits of Elaine, or the Clutching Hand, is drawing crowded houses at the local Kinema” in Kinsale, Co. Cork. As a result, “[a]ll our youth are now budding Sherlock Holmes.” But the influence of the serial was not so clear cut:

This habit of observation properly cultivated is a very useful thing and fits the youngster for life’s battle, but, judging by the cases before the local court on Saturday last the Clutching Hand is also in evidence. A month was the reward in this case. (“Kinsale Notes and Notions.”)

Cinema could be educational by providing “useful lessons by ocular demonstration” but the “Clutching Hand remains.”

The Southern Star writer did not provide details of the case in Kinsale, but more evidence exists for those the Clutching Hand inspired in Newry and Mullingar. On 9 February 1916, seven boys and one girl were each sentenced to five years in various reformatories and industrial schools for stealing from shops in Newry. As each child was sentenced and put in a room beside the court, they sang the popular World War I song “Are We Downhearted? No!” – a song that begins by mentioning Pat Malone of the Irish Fusiliers – and cheered.“[A]s each fresh defendant came from the magistrates’ hands he was received with the sign of the ‘Clutching Hand,’ and solemnly responded” (“Boys and the ‘Clutching Hand’”). Sentenced to five years at Philipstown Reformatory for stealing 16s 7d and some handkerchiefs on 14 January, Bernard Hughes described how

they planned the robberies, and with the proceeds went to a picture palace, in the café of which they had tea, bread and butter, lemonade, chocolate, wine, and cigarettes. After sleeping in “Duck” Marron’s common lodginghouse all night at 4d. each, they visited Warrenpoint next day, where they were arrested.

The rich food and lodgings they experienced on their spree contrasted markedly to the conditions in which at least some of them lived. Head Constable Mara gave evidence of having been invited by accused James O’Hare’s father, a sailor home on leave, to see how his children were living:

They were covered with vermin, and their mother was drunk. The house was filthy, and nothing in it but a dirty sack for five children to sleep on. [Another accused John] Hanratty, it was stated, lived in the worst house in Newry, with his mother and his sister.

Such testimony does not appear to have influenced the magistrates towards any more leniency than extended incarceration. Nevertheless, the solidarity between the children in court seems remarkable. By mentioned just these signs of defiance in court without the details of their desperate living conditions, most papers presented the case as a commentary on the antisocial nature of cinema.

The Exploits of Elaine showing in Mullingar. Westmeath Examiner 26 Feb. 1916: 8.

The Exploits of Elaine showing in Mullingar. Westmeath Examiner 26 Feb. 1916: 8.

Reports of the Newry case, or similar cases elsewhere, may have inspired the behaviour of the 12-year-old John Connor, Thomas Keena and Michael Creevy who on 26 February 1916 were arrested for stealing in Mullingar. Sergeant Campbell informed the petty sessions that having been told by J. F. Gallagher that £1 10s had been robbed from his shop, he went to Healy’s Picture House and found the boys in possession of the remainder of the money. Although the chairman of the petty sessions seemed inclined to grant Creevy’s mother’s request for bail for her son, the boy himself asked not to be sent home but to go to a detention home with the other boys. While in the cells at the police barracks, the boys reportedly sang “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and shouted “Hurrah for the Clutching Hand” (“Robbery in Patrick Street”). The magistrates hearing the boys’ case sent a resolution to the Mullingar Town Commissioners urging them not to renew picture house licences until the proprietors undertook not to show any film that depicted burglary to children under 16 (“Youths Charged with Robbery”). The Commissioners simplified this by barring boys under 16 from evening performances (“Mullingar Town Commissioners”).

These cases lent fuel to the campaigns to regulate – or eliminate – cinema. “What is really a little alarming,” argued a writer in the Irish Times citing the Newry case,

is the prospect of a gradual Americanisation – and a very cheap sort of Americanisation at that – of all our English and Irish ideals and of the whole British outlook on things in general. To-day the picture-house does little or nothing for patriotism; it is not helping us to victory in the field. (“American Films.”)

This writer supported H. G. Richards’ suggestion in the London Times that the importation of all foreign – mainly American – films be banned, including raw film stock. Richards argued this move would save £2 million, free up space on cargo ships, encourage the British film industry to expand, and make films more educational. Considering some of the economic and moral arguments for and against a ban, the Sunday Independent seemed to come down against it. “Naturally for the defence,” an editorial item observed, “we have the sound standing arguments of the public need of diversion in war as well as peace-time, and the benefit to temperance of the competition of the Cinema theatres with the public houses.” The writer seemed to consider something of a clincher the fact “that on each of the British battle cruisers which await the appearance of the German fleet is installed a picture show for the amusement of the fighting men” (“The Passing Show”).

Few in the industry shared Richards’ views. Fan magazine Pictures and the Picturegoerpointed out that while British audiences were staunch supporters of British films, domestic companies could not supply the market. “[U]nfortunately, the [British] films that are worth much would not go far to feed the four thousand odd theatres,” s/he observed. “Indeed, if all the British film companies suddenly decided to work day and night in order to turn out films with the rapidity of a munitions factory, the output would provide but a mere drop in the ocean” (“Don’t Close Our Picture Theatres”). As the article pointed, the dearth of people and materials in wartime made it unlikely that the British industry could expand to any great degree.

While these kind of arguments were unlikely to convince those intent on reshaping a mainly entertainment medium into a mainly educational one, other government priorities militated against a film-import ban. The Irish papers prepared their readers for the imposition of an amusement tax in the upcoming budget as a much-needed revenue-raising measure. Cinemagoers would feel the clutching hand of the war economy in May.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“Action of Corporation: Petition to House of Commons.” Freeman’s Journal 3 Aug. 1916: 7.

“American Films.” Irish Times 14 Feb. 1916: 4.

“Boys and the ‘Clutching Hand’: Remarkable Case at Newry.’” Irish Times 10 Feb. 1916: 6.

“The ‘Clutching Hand’ Revealed.” Irish Times 20 Jan. 1916: 9.

“Don’t Close Our Picture Theatres: ‘Movies’ the War-Time Medicine of the Masses.”Pictures and the Picturegoer 26 Feb. 1916: 494.

“Dublin and District: Rotunda Pictures.” Irish Independent 20 Jan. 1916: 5.

“Kinsale Notes and Notions.” Southern Star 5 Feb. 1916: 7.

“Mullingar Town Commissioners: Cinemas and the Youth.” Westmeath Examiner 18 Mar. 1916: 6.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 27 Jan. 1916: 344.

“The Passing Show.” Sunday Independent 13 Feb. 1916: 4.

“Robbery in Patrick Street: Extraordinary Performance of Boys.” Westmeath Examiner 4 Mar. 1916: 8.

“Youths Charged with Robbery: Cheering for the ‘Clutching Hand.’” Westmeath Examiner 18 Mar. 1916: 6.

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Early Irish Cinema: “The Nation’s Historian” or a “Violent Stimulant to the Eyes”?: Irish Cinema at the Beginning of 1916

Denis Condon’s blog Early Irish Cinema looks back at the early development of cinema in Ireland on the anniversaries of those developments and offers information on what cinemagoers could have seen in Irish cinemas a century ago. Here Denis looks at how cinema was becoming the nation’s entertainer.

Balfour Bio 6 Jan 1916

Arthur Balfour, “Cabinet Minister as Cinema-Lecturer,” touts the importance of war films;Bioscope 6 Jan. 1916: 16.

On 29 December 1915, Arthur Balfour, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, attended a screening of the war film Britain Prepared (Britain: Urban, 1915) at London’s Empire Theatre, Leister Square. “[T]these pictures constitute something more than an afternoon’s amusement,” he asserted. “They contain a lesson of the deepest import to us and the world” (“Britain’s Might Revealed”). The trade journal Bioscope was delighted with Balfour’s comments before the screening, drawing attention to them in a prominent article in its first 1916 issue. “This is, we believe, the first time in the history of the cinematograph that a Cabinet Minister has made a formal speech of introduction at an exhibition of moving pictures,” it claimed, “and as such it is an event of no small significance.” The Bioscope of 20 January clarified the magnitude of its significance, when it declared that cinema was now – finally – “The Nation’s Historian”:

The Trade has just cause for pride and gratification in the complete unanimity with which Press and public, Cabinet Minister and man-in-the-street alike, have welcomed the official cinematograph pictures of the war and the life and training of our soldiers and sailors. It has, we admit, taken a very long time to convince the Government and the Fourth Estate of the value of the cinematograph as the national historian, but now that their approval is forthcoming and the work pronounced to be good, we can well afford to regard the time as well spent. (“Nation’s Historian.”).

Doubtless Balfour’s endorsement of Britain Prepared was a valuable governmental recognition of the British film industry, and as such it is an important historical document. It is more doubtful that a film clearly conceived as propaganda – showing how Britain had prepared and was prepared to fight its enemies – can be considered a work of history. Nor was the Bioscope really interested in making a case for the film as history; it was enough of an achievement that Balfour’s presence and words showed how useful cinema had become to the war effort.

Metro ad DEM 3 Jan 1916

David Lloyd George and Henry Asquith feature in this ad for Metro Pictures; Dublin Evening Mail 3 Jan. 1916: 5.

While Balfour argued that Britain Prepared was not mere entertainment but a film that British politicians should take seriously, one distribution company suggested that two other Cabinet ministers were watching its films for relaxation. In January 1916, theDublin Evening Mail carried a series of ads placed by Ruffell’s, British agents for US production and distribution company Metro Pictures. The ads featured the Ruffell’s mascot, a parrot in a top hat, and in the first of these ads – which is in comic-strip form – the parrot convinces Minister for Munitions David Lloyd George and Prime Minister Henry Asquith to watch a Metro film as a needed break from their war duties. The incongruity of the images of these senior politicians visiting a cinema with the behatted and cigar-chewing parrot might distract from the no-less significant if admittedly less spectacular incongruity of this and other ads appearing in an Irish daily newspaper. Distribution was a wholesaling business; it acted as the intermediary between the manufacturers – film production companies such as Metro – and the retailers – the cinema-owners who actually showed the films. In the ordinary course of business, a distribution company such as Ruffell’s would advertise in such cinema trade journals as the Bioscope but not in the dailies. Ruffell’s did advertise in the trade press, but this series of ads sought to create recognition among cinema-goers of the relatively new Metro brand name and of the Ruffell’s parrot.

British Army DEM 20 Jan 1916

Official war film British Army in France at the Provincial Cinematograph Company’s Dublin picture houses. In the fist half of this week, the Grafton had shown With the Indian Troops in France. Dublin Evening Mail, 20 Jan. 1916: 5.

And the parrot was right: cinema was more likely the nation’s – or the world’s – entertainer than its historian. Amusement was the primary reason that Irish patrons visited a picture house, even if they did also come for other reasons, including to see how the war that they mostly read about in newspapers actually looked, and to cheer or to boo at a film that sought to use such images to engender patriotic feelings towards a nation that was invariably Britain. Nonetheless, the notion of the cinema as national historian had particular resonances for Ireland in 1916, as it has in 2016 as the country commemorates 1916. The experience of the more than 200,000 thousand Irishmen in the British armed forces were, of course, represented to some extent by Britain Prepared and other propaganda films that were appearing in increasing numbers. The Picture Houses in Grafton Street and in Sackville/O’Connell Street, which were owned by the British chain Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, made a particular feature of these films, promoting them with prominent illustrated ads, such as the one for British Army in France on 20 January. The Bioscope quoted Balfour as regretting that Britain did not “have a permanent record of the grand deeds of our armies in France and Flanders” (“Britain’s Might Revealed”). A number of such films did exist, but filmmakers would answer this call for a permanent record most spectacularly later in the year in the form of the film The Battle of the Somme (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1916).

As one of the main purposes of such films was to show the unity of kingdom, they could not represent the motives of Irish nationalists, who had to look elsewhere for elements of an Irish historical experience on film. This was clearly so in the case of the separatist nationalists who sought Irish independence from Britain and opposed recruitment, but it also included the many more moderate Irish nationalists, even soldiers who had joined the war in answer to John Redmond’s call to fight for Home Rule. Nationalist MPs at Westminster ensured Ireland was treated as a special case even in relation to military recruitment, a fact emphasized in January 1916 when the Military Service Act excluded the country from the compulsory conscription. Given the paucity of film production in Ireland, there was little prospect of cinema providing a detailed film record of the struggle for Irish national self-determination. The nearest thing to such a film was Ireland a Nation (US: Macnamara, 1914), shot in Ireland in 1914 but not shown in the country until 1917. Newsreel films of armed National and Irish Volunteers parading do exist, albeit that the Ulster Volunteers were better at media management, including arranging for cinematograph operators to record significant demonstrations. Fiction films representing Ireland’s rebellions in 1798 and 1803 had been made by US companies such as Domino and Kalem, Sidney Olcott shooting many Irish-shot films for the latter. The special Sunday shows at Dublin’s Phibsboro Picture House on 23 January featured For the Wearing of the Green (US: Domino, 1914), in which “Paddy Dwyer, the Irish blacksmith, and his helper, Dennis Grady, who is also his daughter Norah’s sweetheart, are the prime leaders in the conspiracy against the Crown” (“Domino”). The Hibernian Electric Theatre’s Sunday feature a week later was Olcott’sThe Mayor from Ireland (US: Kalem, 1911), in which two Irish immigrants follow each other in the office of New York mayor. Neither of these films was a new release, but their revival suggests their importance for Irish audiences in offering fictional self-representations that included revolutionary romances.

Hibernian ad ET 29 Jan 1916p1

Ad for Hibernian, Evening Telegraph 29 Jan. 1916: 1.

Indeed, the Hibernian Electric Theatre may provide one of the most direct links between Irish cinema and the revolution that was being planned for 1916. This picture house at 113 Capel Street, Dublin, had previously been called the Irish Cinema and had been owned and run by Richard Graham. Financial difficulties including rent default forced Graham to sell in late 1915 (“Capel Street Picture House”). No account of the reopening as the Hibernian appears to exist, but it was advertising in the Evening Telegraph by the start of January. The ads and short notices that month give an indication of some of the people involved, including manger Thomas Fullam and musical director Miss M. Grundy (“Hibernian Electric Theatre”). It is possible that it was owned or part owned by Michael Mallin, as later recalled by his son (Hughes 76-78.). Dublin silk weaver, British Army bugler, union organizer and leader of the Irish Citizen Army, Mallin would be executed in May 1916 for his role in the Easter Rising. How his picture-house experience may have had a bearing on his revolutionary activity or vice versa is difficult to say. Nevertheless, the Hibernian was located beside the Trades Hall – a fact noted in ads – and it is likely that its programming aimed to attract union members, as well as the many working class people who lived in the slum districts that would have been the catchment area for the cinema’s audience. In 1913 and 1914, the Irish Cinema had been the only picture house and one of the few entertainments of any kind that advertised in the radical labour journal The Irish Worker. However, apart from The Mayor from Ireland, its offerings seem little different from those of other Dublin picture houses.

Larkin Prison II 4 Jan 1916p4

Irish Independent 4 Jan. 1916: 4.

If Irish picture-house owners – even radical ones – had only moulded cinema in limited ways to produce a national moving image, religious groups were working more deliberately to ensure that cinema reflected the churches’ worldview. This was particularly the case with Catholic groups, such as the Dublin Vigilance Committee, which in December 1915 had coalesced with other vigilance groups around the country to become the Irish Vigilance Association (IVA). Following his arrest on 31 December 1915, serial cinema protester and militant IVA member William Larkin was released from Dublin’s Mountjoy Jail on 4 January 1916. He had been imprisoned for non-payment of the fine imposed on him in October and November for his protest at the Bohemian Picture Theatre in September (“Picture Theatre Protest”). The IVA arranged a parade of welcome from Larkin’s house in Sherrard Avenue in the north city to Foster Place, a favoured place to hold speeches beside the city-centre building that had until 1800 had been the Irish parliament. Larkin’s short prison term had done nothing to lessen his activism on the introduction of film censorship; indeed, it allowed him to claim a certain martyrdom. “I was treated as a low criminal in Mountjoy Jail for protesting against a film,” he claimed in an exchange of correspondence published by the Evening Telegraph. “I had to don a convict’s garb, eat skilly, lie on a board, and refuse hard bread. I had to parade with degenerates in a prison yard; and all, that our youth might be spared gazing on suggestion” (“Proposed Cinema Censorship”).

This concern with young people also prompted calls for censorship from reformers seemingly unaligned with the IVA. In a letter to the Telegraph, E. Gordon urged regulation of picture houses to prevent children from attending late evening shows. “I have seen toddlers and youngsters, aye, and smoking cigarettes (another Dublin byelaw more honoured in the breach than the observance) in picture houses at 10.30 p.m,” he observed:

Where did they get the money, and where were their homes? Where were their parents? Why are those children allowed to spend their lives thus? Perhaps the housing question would account for a lot of it. Now, those youngsters go in to a picture house (“It’s only tuppence, Billy”). They do not go in to look at a moral lesson faithfully learned, or for education – only for a laugh, and “it’s comfey.” (“Children at the Cinema.”)

Gordon wished for an educational cinema, recognizing it as “a great, wonderful and fascinating optical achievement (if directed in the proper channel) that was never dreamt of twenty years ago.” As such, it was an “accomplishment which makes old lanternists blush, and yet their blush can be condoned, for the old scientific lantern will still hold its own, at least in the class-room and lecture hall.”

In the Dublin township of Rathmines, the ongoing controversy on the opening of picture houses on Sunday continued into early 1916. At a meeting on 5 January, the council eventually split 8-8, and the chairman cast the deciding vote in favour of closing cinemas on Sundays; they had had limited opening hours before this. Councillor Thomas Kennedy spoke in favour of keeping them open, reading a supporting letter from the Ratepayers’ Protection Association that argued that soldiers’ relatives particularly liked seeing war reports and that closing cinemas on the only day when many people could visit them would drive these people to the pubs for recreation. Rejecting such arguments, Chairman Sibthorpe explained that he had cast his vote in favour of Sunday closing because oculists had “stated that their work had been more than doubled since these cinemas had been applying a violent stimulant to the eyes of the young people, and they were absolutely ruining the sight of the rising generation” (“Cinema Shows”).

Young people who got into trouble with the law – and their legal representatives – were well aware of these discourses on cinema’s pernicious effects on the young and of how to use them to their advantage. When “two young fellows” named Richard Barnes and Thomas Farrell appeared before Mr. Swifte at Dublin’s Southern Police Court on 27 January 1916, their solicitor argued that they had entered a banana store illegally because of watching burglaries at the picture houses and playing slot machines (“Cinema and Slot Machines”). These new forms of popular culture “were the means of leading many a young fellow astray,” he argued.

Charlie at the Bank

Chaplin foils a robbery in Charlie at the Bank (US: Essanay, 1915).

The person responsible for a good amount of this violent visual stimulation in Ireland in 1916 was Charlie Chaplin, but in January 1916, he was foiling robberies rather than committing them. The writer of the Evening Telegraph’s “Gleaned from All Sources” column, however, had picked up the news that Chaplin’s career was on the wane, “which is the obvious and inevitable result of overdoing the Chaplin ‘boom.’ When it came to imitations in music-hall revues and Charlie Chaplin calendars and pin-cushions,” s/he observed, “a reaction was inevitable.” Despite merchandizing and overexposure, that reaction was not apparent in Dublin picture houses, according to the review writer in the same issue of the Telegraph. Charlie at the Bank had recently been released, and the reviewer was assessing the show at the Pillar Picture House. “There is more riotous fun packed into this two-reel comedy than any other photo-play of a like length. The world’s great comedian, Charlie Chaplin, has outdone himself in this new production. While all his other comedies are funny, this one is a scream. It abounds in real humour and comic situations, with Chaplin at his best in his inimitable antics” (“Pillar Picture House,” 18 Jan.). Charlie at the Bank was shown at more picture houses than any other film that month, suggesting that cinema-owners did not believe that Chaplin’s career was experiencing a dip. Audiences seemed to agree: on account of the “hundreds who could not gain admission” during the three day run, the film was held over for a further three days (“Pillar Picture House,” 20 Jan.).

As 1916 began, Irish audiences enjoyed a thriving cinema culture that more often offered them a violent stimulant of the Chaplin kind than national history.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“Britain’s Might Revealed by Film: A Cabinet Minister as Cinema-Lecturer.” Bioscope 6 Jan. 1916: 16A.

“Children at the Cinema.” Evening Telegraph 8 Jan. 1916.

“Cinema and Slot Machines.” Dublin Evening Mail 27 Jan. 1916: 5.

“Cinema Shows: Sunday Performances in Rathmines: Action of Urban Council.”Evening Telegraph 5 Jan. 1916: 5.

“Domino: The Wearing of the Green.” Moving Picture World 3 Mar. 1914: 1302.

“Dublin and District: Picture Theatre Protest.” Irish Independent 1 Jan. 1916: 6.

“Gleaned from All Sources: The Late Charlie Chaplin.” Evening Telegraph 18 Jan. 1916: 1.

“Hibernian Electric Theatre.” Evening Telegraph 29 Jan. 1916: .

Hughes, Brian. Micheal Mallin. Dublin: O’Brien Press, 2012.

“The Nation’s Historian: Triumphant Vindication of the Cinematograph.” Bioscope 20 Jan. 1916: 229.

“Pillar Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 18 Jan 1916: 5; 20 Jan 1916: 5.

“Proposed Cinema Censorship.” Evening Telegraph 11 Jan. 1916: 3.

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Early Irish Cinema: Succeeding Like Success: Irish Cinema at Christmas 1915

Carlton Cinema, c. 1920. Source: Art Deco in Dublin.

Carlton Cinema, c. 1920. Source: Art Deco in Dublin.

Denis Condon’s blog Early Irish Cinema looks back at the early development of cinema in Ireland on the anniversaries of those developments and offers information on what cinemagoers could have seen in Irish cinemas a century ago. Here Denis writes about the expansion of cinema in Ireland at the end of 1915.

Christmas 1915 was worth celebrating for those involved in the cinema in Ireland. Despite the war and attempts by religious groups to limit its expansion, cinema had continued to grow in 1915, and several new picture houses opened in time for end-of-year holiday season. In many ways, then, a short item in the trade journal Bioscope in December 1915 on the recent opening of an Irish cinema well characterizes the state of the industry as a whole at the end of 1915. “They say,” it began, “nothing succeeds like success” (“Trade Topics”).However, the success of cinema in 1915 needs to be qualified as well as acknowledged. For a start the short Bioscope item appears to be a promotional piece with little substance. It continues: “but what Mr. Andy Wright said a few nights ago when, in opening the doors for the first time of his new theatre at Waterford, he was knocked down in the rush of an eager populace anxious to secure their seats, is not recorded.” Not recorder either – by this item or other contemporary sources – is what the name of this new theatre was. Not that Wright was unused to the openings of Irish picture houses. Best known as the managing director of the Liverpool-based distribution company Films, Limited and of Wright’s Enterprises, he was also heavily involved in a number of exhibition companies in Ireland. He was a director of Irish Empire Palaces, of the company that built and ran Dublin’s Phoenix Picture Palace, and of Southern Coliseums (“World of Finance”; Paddy, 7 Nov.). Following successes in Wexford and Kinsale during summer 1915, he had opened the Cinema in Carlow in September (Paddy, 9 Sep.). However, this item – if it has any basis in reality – must refer to the opening two months earlier of Waterford’s Coliseum, following its conversion from the Waterford Rink (Paddy, 28 Oct.).

Opening of Enniscorthy's Cinema Theatre, Echo Enniscorthy 4 Dec. 1915: 6, and 11 Dec. 1915: 6.

Ads for the opening weeks of Enniscorthy’s Cinema Theatre, Echo Enniscorthy 4 Dec. 1915: 6, and 11 Dec. 1915: 6.

Among the actual openings for the 1915 Christmas season were picture houses in Enniscorthy, Belfast and Dublin. Enniscorthy’s new Cinema Theatre opened on Wednesday, 8 December, at the Ancient Order of Hibernian’s hall on New Street, which on the occasion, “was crowded, and many people were turned away. The hall was cosily fitted up. The screen proved to be large and the pictures to be clear and bright” (“New Cinema”). All the machinery, fittings and films for the new Cinema Theatre had been provided by Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply, which was also fitting out the picture house in Waterville, Co. Kerry, (Paddy, 9 Dec.). With a population of just 5,500, Enniscorthy could sustain this new picture house alongside the existing Abbey Picture House. Nevertheless, the Abbey put on a rival programme of comedies for 8 December designed to maximize its own audience. Competing with the Cinema Theatre’s naval drama On Secret Service (US: American, 1915) and Chaplin two-reel comedy Laughing Gas (US: Keystone, 1914), the Abbey topped its bill with the Chaplin six-reel feature comedy Tillie’s Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914).

Dublin picture houses advertising the first showings of Chaplin's latest film Charlie at Work. Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 1.

Dublin picture houses advertising the first showings of Chaplin’s latest film Charlie at Work.Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 1.

Enniscorthy did not have a monopoly on Chaplin. He was still everywhere, with the films he made with Keystone in 1914 still in circulation while his newer Essanay films received special advertising. When the Pillar Picture House, the Mary Street Picture House and Talbot Street’s Electric Theatre premiered the new Charlie at Work on 6 December,Getting Acquainted (US: Keystone, 1914) maintained the audience of the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street “in continuous roars of laughter,” while at the Masterpiece Theatre, one of the Keystones in which Chaplin played alongside Ford Sterling “kept the house in an uproarious mood” (“Picture House,” “Masterpiece”). Of the many other stars, perhaps Mary Pickford was the only one to approach Chaplin. On 2 December, Cork’s Coliseum showed Mistress Nell, which featured Pickford, “who has become such a prime favourite in many Irish picture theatres” (Paddy, 2 Dec.).

Willowfield PH Belfast

Willowfield Picture House and Unionist Club. Cinema Treasures.

Neither Chaplin nor Pickford topped the bill when Belfast’s newest cinema the Willowfield Picture House opened on 20 December. There was nothing at all unusual about the military mien of the featured drama The Commanding Officer (US: Famous Players, 1915), even when it was complemented by a local topical film of The Inspection of the Ulster Division (1915). The latter film was unusually appropriate for a venue that was also the social club for the Ulster Unionist Party.

Evening Telegraph, 24-25 Dec. 1915: 4.

Evening Telegraph, 24-25 Dec. 1915: 4

Dublin’s newest cinema was less out of the ordinary. When the Carlton Cinema Theatre opened its doors on 26 December, it was the last new Irish picture houses of 1915. Located at 52 Upper Sackville/O’Connell Street, it had been designed by architect Thomas F. McNamara for Frank W. Chambers, who also ran a tobacconist and billiard hall on the same street. “There is a magnificent entrance and lounge – the latter also being a tea room,” the Bioscope’s Paddy noted, “which lend an imposing appearance to the whole theatre” (6 Jan.). Inside, “[t]he hall is very spacious and well proportioned; the slope in the floor is a distinct improvement, whilst the scheme of decoration and lighting is very effective (“New Carlton Cinema Theatre”). The main opening film was His Wife’s Story (US: Biograph, 1915), which was accompanied, Paddy revealed, by an “orchestra, which consisted of two violins, a piano and a ‘cello.” He predicted that “with the improvement which is bound to come in the course of time, [it] should prove one of the best orchestras in Dublin.” All reviewers commented on the lack of expense spared by Chambers in fitting out the cinema, including in the generator and projectors chosen. “There is, indeed,” theIrish Times declared confidently, “little likelihood of spectators having to suffer the delay of a breakdown, in the Carlton” (“New Picture House”).This was just tempting fate because the same paper reported on 20 January 1916, that a breakdown in the generator had been repaired and that “the light on the picture screen is now perfect” – suggesting previous imperfections – for upcoming screenings of the adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (“Carlton Picture Theatre”).Despite such initial technical difficulties, the Carlton would become one of the city’s most popular cinemas. Partly this was because of its favourable location opposite the Gresham Hotel, but it was also because of the musical attractions it would soon offer. In doing so, it would have to compete with two well-established rivals, the nearby Rotunda and the suburban Bohemian. At the Rotunda, “[t]he music, which is now an important feature of a Picture Entertainment, is supplied by the first-class Orchestra, under the baton of Miss Murphy, R.I.A.M.” (“Rotunda Pictures”). The state of the art in film accompaniment in Dublin was to be heard at the Bohemian, and in December 1915, it was about to popularize the cinema solo. “The success attendant on the violin solos given by Miss M. Burke, a member of the Bohemian orchestra, during the performances of last week,” anEvening Telegraph reviewer revealed, “doubtless influenced the management to engage for the present week the services of Mr. Patrick Delaney, the celebrated violinist, who rendered at the 7 and 9 performances some delightful selections, which were warmly applauded by large audiences” (“Bohemian”). Although the Bohemian management decided to engage a male soloist, this development was started by one of the city’s skilledwomen musicians. This Miss M. Burke is likely Mary Burke, who in the 1911 Census is listed as a Galway-born music teacher living in the nearby suburb of Drumcondra.

Victoria Boh Orch 25 Dec 1915p4

Dublin’s Bohemian Orchestra helped reopen Galway’s Victoria Cinema.Connacht Tribune 25 Dec. 1915: 4.

The Bohemian and Galway would have other connections at Christmas 1915. Galway saw the reopening of two of its picture houses Cinema Theatre and the Victoria Cinema on St. Stephen’s Day, 26 December. The main Christmas pictures at the other cinema – the Court Theatre and the Town Hall Pictures – were serials, the firth episode of The Black Box (US: Universal, 1915) in the case of the Court and the eighth episode The Exploits of ElaineThe Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1914) at the Town Hall. This sense of business as usual was not adopted by the reopening venues, which offered special musical features. The Cinema Theatre under new manager George Gutherie, engaged two singers, “Australian Prima Donna” Marie Elster, who sang “Ave Maria,” and juvenile Irish vocalist Ruth Conway. Among its main alterations, the Victoria Cinema had erected a veranda to protect queuing patrons from the rain, replaced its screen and installed a new projector “to prevent delays between the parts of one picture.” These infrastructural enhancements were launched by a three-day visit from Percy Carver’s Bohemian Orchestra, “acknowledged by press and public as the finest in Ireland” (“Notes & News”). Whether or not Mary Burke was among the visiting musicians is not recorded.Christmas was celebrated in picture houses around the country with such traditional fare as pantomime films but also with more recent innovations. The Cork Examiner’s review of Robinson Crusoe at Cork’s Coliseum asserted the superiority of the cinema version over the theatrical. “There must be more than ‘Crusoe’s’ own adventures in the modern [theatrical] pantomime. Topical songs are introduced, and this distracts the attention from the mariner’s adventures. It is here the cinema producer scores, for he can keep the main story before the mind all the time” (“Coliseum”). Christmas provided the opportunity for showmen and -women to mount extra film entertainments and for travelling picture shows to visit smaller towns that did not have a regular cinema. James Barrett was granted a licence for a film show in Castlebar’s Town Hall (“Castlebar Urban Council”). With a population of just over 1,500, Granard, Co. Longford, hosted a “highly attractive cinema and gramophone entertainment” at the Town Hall on 29-30 December, “organised for the comforts’ fund of the various battalions of the Leinster Regiments” (“Granard Notes”).

Cinema’s role not only as entertainment but also as a recruiting tool was an important way in which its social usefulness was measured in Christmas 1915. Those men who had not yet enlisted were encouraged to do so by recruitment meetings that included films in Macroom, Charleville and other Co. Cork towns (“Macroom Notes,” “Recruiting Rally”). By contrast, the Freeman’s Journal indicated that some popular films and plays were attempting to prevent recruiting. Praising recruiting efforts around the country, an editorial item observed that the “Irish capital has certainly done magnificently, and perhaps the greatest incentive to recruiting in our midst has been the idiotic pin pricks of the pro-German humbugs, passing as melodramatic Emmets and cinematograph Wolfe Tones” ([Editorial item]). Although it is unlikely that the writer had yet seen it, Sidney Olcott’s Irish-shot Bold Emmett, Ireland’s Martyr (US: Sid Olcott Feature Players, 1915) – steeped in the Irish melodramas of Dion Boucicault – could have been so described.

Picture house advertising helped fund some of the radical nationalist press; Nationality, 4 Dec. 1915: 3. Available online from the National Archives of Ireland.

Cinema was not expanding everywhere, in part due to the war but also because it had opponents, some of whom were even more active and influential than the Freeman’s editorial writer. Kells Picture House closed for one of its regular hiatuses when its tenancy terminated on 7 December, but it would reopen again in January ([Small ad]). The Ormonde Cinema Company informed Nenagh Town that

[i]n reference to the opinions of well-known advocates of economy during the continuance of the war, and to encourage their propaganda so far as amusements are concerned, [we] have decided to hold exhibitions of pictures only twice weekly in future, viz., on Sunday and Wednesday nights instead of four nights, as was their practice hitherto. (“Nenagh Town Council.”)

Other kinds of cultural nationalist propaganda also rejected cinema. Minnie McAllister of Magherafelt, Co. Derry, the recipient of the third prize in the Columban League of Irish Youth essay competition, included going to the pictures among the foreign manners and customs that Irish boys and girls should avoid. “There is nothing in these performances that appeals to the real Irish imagination,” she wrote, “and frequently enough they are of a description that should not be tolerated in any self respecting country” (“Columban League of Irish Youth”).

Edward O’Dwyer, bishop of Limerick, was of a similar opinion. Just in time for the New Year, he wrote a letter on the exhibition of an immoral film in Limerick city to Fr J. A. O’Connor, administrator of St Michael’s parish that was published nationally in the Cork Examiner and Freeman’s Journal (“Indecent Picture Exhibitions,” “Immoral Pictures”). “On last Wednesday,” he revealed, “a picture was shown in one of these houses, and from the descriptions which has been give to me of it, I feel bound to take the strongest steps within my power as a Catholic Bishop, to prevent the continuance of such an agency of corruption” (ibid.). The description of which film so incensed the bishop is not clear, but he seemed disinclined to confirm its offensiveness by actually viewing the film before urging that swift steps be taken against the picture house in question. On the last day of the year, Limerick’s Vigilance Committee informed the Borough Council through the pages of theLimerick Leader that it could within days expect the Committee’s draft restrictions to be included in subsequent cinematograph licences (“Limerick Vigilance Association”). At a meeting earlier in the month in which the Dublin Vigilance Committee revealed that it had been granted representation at the Recorder annual hearings to grant – or deny – music licences to picture houses, the Committee had acknowledged the increasing national reach of the vigilance movement by changing its name to the Irish Vigilance Association (Dublin Committee) (“Dublin Vigilance Committee”).

As 1915 ended, cinema was certainly a more important cultural force in Ireland than it had ever been, seen as variously profitable, pleasurable and useful. However, it had formidable local opponents ranged against it that were more organized and determined to curb its influence or to destroy it.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

 

References

“The Bohemian.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“The Carlton Picture Theatre.” Irish Times 20 Jan. 1916: 8.

“Castlebar Urban Council.” Western People 18 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Coliseum: ‘Robinson Crusoe.’” Cork Examiner 28 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Columban League of Irish Youth: Occasional Chats with the Members.” Donegal News18 Dec. 1915, p. 7; Ulster Herald 18 Dec. 1915: p. 3.

“Dublin Vigilance Committee.” Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 3.

[Editorial Item.] Freeman’s Journal 18 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Granard Notes.” Longford Leader 25 Dec. 1915: 1.

“Immoral Pictures: Letter from Most Rev. Dr. O’Dwyer.” Freeman’s Journal 30 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Indecent Picture Exhibitions: Letter from Most Rev. Dr. O’Dwyer.” Cork Examiner 30 Dec. 1915: 4.

“Limerick Vigilance Association: And Local Picture Houses: Important Restrictions Proposed.” Limerick Leader 31 Dec. 1915, p. 10.

“Macroom Notes.” Southern Star 18 Dec. 1915: 5.

“The Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Nenagh Town Council and Retrenchment.” Nenagh News 25 Dec 1915: 2.

“The New Cinema.” Echo Enniscorthy 11 Dec. 1915: 7.

“A New Picture House.” Irish Times 30 Dec. 1915: 3.

“Notes & News.” Connacht Tribune 25 Dec. 1915: 4.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 7 Nov. 1912: 417; 9 Sep. 1915: 1176; 28 Oct. 1915: 468; 9 Dec. 1915: 1109; 30 Dec. 1915: 1472; 6 Jan. 1916: 53.

“The Picture House, O’Connell St.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Recruiting Rally in North Cork.” Cork Examiner 29 Dec. 1915: 8.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 24 Dec. 1915: 6.

[Small ad.] Meath Chronicle 4 Dec. 1915: 5.

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 23 Dec. 1915: 1307.

“World of Finance.” Bioscope 7 Mar. 1912: 689; 13 Jun. 1912: 807.

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Early Irish Cinema: Irish Cinema’s Alluring Enticement to Evil in November 1915

Punishment cartoon 6 Nov 1915p154

This cartoon from the fan magazine Pictures and the Picturegoer (6 Nov. 1915: 154) suggests that children were particularly interested in cinema. Although published in London, the magazine received frequent letters and competition entries from Irish readers, including to its “Young Picturegoer” column. Source: Media History Digital Library.

 

Denis Condon’s blog Early Irish Cinema looks back at the early development of cinema in Ireland on the anniversaries of those developments and offers information on what cinemagoers could have seen in Irish cinemas a century ago. Here Denis looks at the moral campaign to purify the picture houses.

 

“Though in our towns we have no theatres or music halls,” noted Cardinal Logue, head of the Irish Catholic church, in a letter published in the Freeman’s Journal on 1 November 1915, “we have the pictures everywhere, and these require close watching” (“Clean Amusements”). November 1915 saw the culmination of some strands of the struggle to regulate Irish cinema, which occurred first between Dublin’s picture-house owners, church groups and city councillors. In a way, of course, this showed that cinema was now too ubiquitous a part of Irish culture to be ignored, as it largely had been by the Catholic church until 1915. The purpose of Logue’s letter was to praise the changed focus of the Dublin Vigilance Committee’s (DVC’s) campaign from “combating unclean and demoralising literature” to “purify[ing] the theatres, music halls and picture houses” (ibid.). Such efforts were especially needed in the case of picture houses because a “great body of those attending them are mere youths and children, and it is to be feared that suggestive and exciting scenes are often presented to them which have a most injurious effect on character and morals” (ibid.).

The timing of the publication of Logue’s letter was no accident but part of a strategy to build a consensus that a distinct layer of Irish film censorship was required. On 2 November, a DVC deputation was permitted to address Dublin Corporation’s Public Health Committee (PHC), the body that issued picture-house licences under the Cinematograph Act (1909) (“Cinematograph Licences in Dublin”). The delegation noted that they had “exercised supervision over the cinema theatres for some time past, and they had to say, with the exception of one particular house, they had no serious complaint to make” (ibid). They discussed their suggested amendments in relation to music, Sunday opening, auditorium lighting, closing on important religious festivals and censorship. PHC chairman James J. Kelly assured them that “he, and the Committee, were in entire sympathy with the views of the Vigilance Committee” and that the PHC “would as far as they could legally go, assist the Vigilance Committee in attaining the objects they had in view” (ibid). The first substantial steps towards a church-sanctioned film censorship had been taken.

Dublin’s Protestant churches were also determined to assert their authority over cinema. A deputation protesting against Sunday opening appeared before the urban council of the Dublin township of Rathmines on 3 November. Although it also included the Catholic parish priest Archdeacon Fricker, it was mainly constituted of Church of Ireland clerics – Ernest H. Lewis Crosby, James Sandys Bird and James Hawthonthwaite – as well as the Methodist minister William B. Lumley (“Rathmines Urban Council”). Three cinemas fell within Rathmines Courcil’s remit: the Princess Cinema and the Town Hall in Rathmines and the Sandford Cinema in Ranelagh. The Rathmines councillors were just as deferential to this deputation as Dublin Corporation had been to the DVC. Chairman John Russell expressed the council’s “very sympathetic feeling with the deputation in the matter” and promised that “[w]hen the time came for the renewal of those licences the Council would try to merit by their action the approval of the deputation” (Paddy, 11 Nov.).

The churches attention extended even to the ways the cinema industry communicated with its audience through advertising. In October, Dublin’s Catholic archbishop, William Walsh had written to the Freeman’s Journal complaining that the advertising hoardings around the city remained “widely open for the display of alluring enticement to evil” (“Objectionable Performances in Dublin Theatres”). “There is surely very little to be gained by the efforts of parents who conscientiously seek to guard their children from the evil influences of lascivious displays in the theatre,” he reasoned, “if some of the most seductive of the sights to be witnessed there are openly displayed along the highways, and even the by ways, of our city” (ibid.). The newspapers – who derived a substantial part of their income from advertising entertainments – had been quick in following up this story about a rival. On the day following the Archbishop’s letter, the Freeman’s Journalhad “made inquiries regarding the powers of the Corporation and the police, and the attitude of the principal firm of billposters in the metropolis, in connection with the display of indecent or suggestive pictorial publications” (“Picture Posters”). It found that a poster censorship committee already existed – or had quickly been formed in answer to the controversy – consisting of theatre and picture-house proprietors and the main billposting company, David Allen and Son. If this suggests a close collaboration between these parties, other developments suggest that complete harmony did not exist. On 8 November 1915, the Irish Court of Appeal affirmed a judgement that William King of Madras Place, Phibsboro, Dublin, was in breach of contract with the firm of David Allen and Son Bill Posting, Ltd. King was ordered to pay £80 to Messrs Allen because they had not been able to put an advertising hoarding on the side wall of the Phibsboro Picture House as agreed (“Phibsborough Picture House”).

However, the churches did not have it all their own way. On 19 November, the Recorder of Dublin – the city’s chief magistrate – struck down an appeal by William Larkin of the DVC against his conviction and fining in October on a charge of offensive and riotous behaviour. This was something of a personal victory for Frederick Sparling, proprietor of the Bohemian Picture in Phibsboro. When Larkin had been arrested on 14 September for his protest at the Bohemian against A Modern Magdalen (US: Life Photo Film, 1915), the case had been summarily dismissed by the magistrate as Larkin had publicly predicted it would be. Having been the victim of Larkin’s protests on previous occasions, however, Sparling was determined to teach him a lesson, so he prosecuted him again. This second prosecution was unprecedented and gave rise to some consequences Larkin had not foreseen. At this second trial, Larkin argued that his protest against A Modern Magdalenwas legitimate because in the film’s so-called mad-cap scene, protagonist Katinka danced topless, a detail the prosecution and most of the witnesses disputed. The case was adjourned for a week while the magistrate viewed the film, and he concluded that it was not indecent or objectionable, imposing a fine and costs on Larkin. The Recorder confirmed this judgement.

More interestingly, in order to prove the charge that Larkin had caused a panic, Sparling called cinema staff and audience members to testify, and Larkin’s lawyers called the DVC members who had been present as defence witnesses. As a result, this is one of the few instances in which the views – or even the names – of ordinary members of an Irish audience were recorded. The court provided a forum for these ordinary audience members to confront the coercive behaviour of the DVC.

Map showing from where members of the audiences travelled from to get to the Bohemian Picture Theatre on 14 Sep. 1915. Purple stars represent people who supported William Larkin’s account of his protest; green stars represent people who challenged Larkin’s account. Yellow squares represent picture houses in north Dublin.

Map showing from where members of the Dublin audience travelled from to get to the Bohemian Picture Theatre in Phibsboro on 14 Sep. 1915. Purple stars represent people who supported William Larkin’s account of his protest; green stars represent people who challenged Larkin’s account. Yellow squares represent picture houses in north Dublin.

Like Larkin himself, however, these people have left very few archival traces beyond their names, addresses and professions. In all, fifteen people testified in court, including Larkin, Sparling and Mathewson. The DVC members, for the defence, were Richard Jones, chairman of the Richmond Asylum; Mrs. A Murphy of Capel Street; P.J. Walsh, a Phibsboro accountant; Philip Lavery, a justice of the peace from Armagh; and Peter Tierney, a china and glass merchant of Bolton Street. The cinema staff who testified were the operators William Jones and Scallan; advertising agent Robert Moss; and cashier Rachel Smith. Three “unaffiliated” witnesses also spoke for the prosecution: Mrs. Evans of Grangegorman, civil servant Charles Millen and Daisy Sandes. They said similar things, perhaps best put by the youngest of them, Daisy Sandes, who worked at a retouching studio in Henry Street and lived with her working-class family in an artisan dwelling about ten minutes walk from the Bohemian. “I was amazed,” she commented, when asked about Larkin’s behaviour. “I did not see why anyone should object” (“Scene in Dublin Picture Theatre”). Sandes’ utter rejection of Larkin’s arguments refuted the DVC’s claim to speak for ordinary people too timid and accepting to speak for themselves. It seems also to mark a point at which she and other young working-class men and women were increasingly going to the cinema for their entertainment.

Although Sparling seems to have had little support from other exhibitors, other individual picture-house proprietors and the industry as a whole also responded to these attacks by presenting cinema as a public good. The directors of the Grand Cinema in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, gave their premises on Saturday, 30 October to a local committee who had organized a matinee entertainment that raised over £10 for the Red Cross and St. John’s Ambulance (Paddy, 4 Nov.). Such charitable gestures had long been an important way in which picture-house proprietors had asserted the direct utility of their business to local communities. By November 1915, bringing someone to the cinema was considered socially acceptable not only for children or dating couples. As part of her efforts to support recruiting, Florence Blacker-Douglass invited 90 wives of soldiers in the Irish Guards to meet her for a film shows at Dublin’s Sackville Picture House followed by tea at the nearby D.B.C. restaurant (“Entertainment to Wives of Soldiers”).

Princess Ambulance Fund FJ 23 Nov 1915p4

Ad for a command performance at the Princess Cinema, Rathmines to mark Cinematograph Trade Ambulance Day, for which patrons were encouraged to attend their favourite cinema.Freeman’s Journal 23 Nov. 1915: 4.

A much more ambitious cooperation of the industry as a whole also occurred in November. Following a very successful event in England on 9 November, Irish representatives of the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association set 23 November as Ireland’s Cinematograph Trade Ambulance Day. On that day, participating picture-house owners agreed to donate a portion – in most cases, all – of their takings to fund ambulances for the war effort. Addressing a meeting of exhibitors from southern counties at Cork’s Metropole Hotel on 19 November, exhibitor David Frame argued that “the trade should associate itself with a scheme ambitious in scope, useful in purpose, and which will be more closely identified with the kinematograph industry, as an industry, rather than with its individual members” (“Kinematograph Trade and the War”) The generous press coverage suggests that Cinema Ambulance Day was a successful public relations event for the industry as a whole. “The public-spirited action of the Cinema proprietors is deserving of the most cordial support,” observed the Irish Times, “and there is no doubt that they will get it in the fullest measure” (Cinema Ambulance Day”). The cinema industry as a whole had aimed “to provide the sum of £30,000 to equip and present a fleet of fifty motor ambulances for Red Cross work at the front, so that every picture-goer should make a special effort to attend his or her favourite picture house to-day” (“Cinema Ambulance Day in Dublin”).

Elaine Sackville 28 Oct 1915

Illustrated ad for The Exploits of Elaine at the Sackville; Evening Telegraph 28 Oct. 1915: 4.

Although such good causes drew crowds on 23 November, the acknowledged ubiquity of cinema in 1915 was based largely on the attractiveness of the films provided. On 18 October, the first episode of The Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1914)), one of the most popular serials of the period, was released. The trade press had long heralded it arrival with a wide variety of advertisements from distributors Pathé. An article in the Bioscopenoted that the

stories of the film will be published in the News of the World each Sunday, commencing October 17th, and in conjunction with this paper, Messrs. Pathé have arranged to give away to each of the first thousand applicants an “Elaine” hat, which is an exact facsimile of that worn by Miss Pearl White. (“Publicity for ‘The Exploits of Elaine.’”)

Elaine Rotunda II 18 Oct 1915p4

Ad for the opening episode of The Exploits of Elaine at Dublin’s Rotunda; Irish Independent 18 Oct. 1915: 4.

This was just the beginning of the publicity stunts arrange for the launch of the serial in Britain. The opening in Dublin was less spectacular. James T. Jameson of the Rotunda had secured first run, and he set his patrons a literary competition, offering in the newspaper ads “£25 for the cleverest epitomised version, or the new literary negative reading of what this extraordinary serial of animated episodes might suggest in the opposite sense of that of original story, and in which could be introduced criticisms of the realisms, or otherwise, of the respective tableaux.”

Paddy, the Irish correspondent at the trade journal Bioscope, had little to say about the Irish launch of The Exploits of Elaine, saving his praise for The Million Dollar Mystery (US: Thanhouser, 1914), another serial that opened at the Rotunda on 22 November. “I had the pleasure of seeing this last Monday, and it held me more enthralled than the first part of any serial ever has,” he revealed. Offering the public two mysteries, it was “the right kind of serial that forces you to come again. It was loudly applauded as only the patrons of the Rotunda know how to applaud” (Paddy, 25 Nov.).

It was such compelling films that helped to make cinema ubiquitous by 1915.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“Cinema Ambulance Day.” Irish Times 20 Nov. 1915: 9.

“Cinema Ambulance Day in Dublin.” Irish Times 23 Nov. 1915: 3.

“Cinematograph Licences in Dublin.” Irish Times 4 Nov. 1915: 9.

“Clean Amusements: Letter from Cardinal Logue.” Freeman’s Journal 1 Nov. 1915: 6.

“Entertainment to Wives of Soldiers.” Irish Times 6 Nov. 1915: 8.

“Kinematograph Trade and the War: Ambulance Day in Cork.” Cork Examiner 23 Nov. 1915: 6.

“Objectionable Performances in Dublin Theatres: Letter from Archbishop.” Freeman’s Journal 11 Oct. 1915: 4.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 4 Nov. 1915: 596; 11 Nov. 1915: 667; 25 Nov. 1915: 960.

“Phibsborough Picture House: Bill Posting Litigation.” Irish Times 9 Nov. 1915: 3.

“Picture Posters for City Theatres and Picture Houses: The Archbishop’s Letter.”Freeman’s Journal 12 Oct. 1915: 8.

“Publicity for ‘The Exploits of Elaine.’” Bioscope 26 Aug. 1915: 969.

“Rathmines Urban Council.” Irish Times 4 Nov. 1915: 2.

“Scene in Dublin Picture Theatre: Question as to the Morality of the Film.” Evening Herald11 Oct. 1915: 5.

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Early Irish Cinema: Kinemac, Pulsocon, Skibbereen: A New Lexicon for Irish Cinematic Sensation

Denis Condon’s blog Early Irish Cinema looks back at the early development of cinema in Ireland on the anniversaries of those developments and offers information on what cinemagoers could have seen in Irish cinemas a century ago. Here Denis tells the story of the Kinemac, a local entertainment hall in Skibbereen, and its national and international aspects that were unique in early Irish cinema.

“Some people when they want to be amused go to a theatre, a circus, or the Kinemac,” explained a writer in the Southern Star in October 1915. This newspaper primarily addressed a readership in the environs of Skibbereen, Co. Cork, for whom the Kinemac, the local entertainment hall, was the place where “[a]s a rule they get the full value of their money in laughter, hearty or otherwise” (“Skibbereen and Carbery Notes”). Indeed, in Skibbereen, the Kinemac appeared for a time to be synonymous with popular entertainment and particularly moving pictures. For instance, when in March 1915, Jeremiah McCarthy – leading stoker of HMS Devonshire – related his war experiences in the battles of Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank, the seriousness of these contrasted with his demeanour while in Skibbereen, where he was described as being “as cheery and light-hearted as a small boy going for the first time to the Kinemac” (“Skibbereen Man in North Sea Battles”). Similarly, when The O’Donovan – chief of an Irish sept and colonel in the Munster Fusiliers – addressed a recruiting meeting in the west Cork town of Ballydehob in May 1915, he told his hearers that it was necessary to give a graphic account of German brutality in Belgium, which he said had been particularly expressed in the rape of Belgian women:

The man who lives out in the country, though he may see the films occasionally at the Kinemac, does not realise these things, nor appreciate the horrors that would happen his own country, his wife and daughters, and his sisters if the Germans ever invade Ireland, as they may, if not driven back in Flanders and France. (“Ballydehob Meeting.”)

So, although the word “Kinemac” does not echo down cinema history, these references give an indication of the degree to which this picture house had become embedded in the entertainment culture of west Cork in 1915. That might seem of limited local interest, but the story of the Kinemac has national and international aspects unique in early Irish cinema. It was built by a local man with money he had made selling his mechanical vibrators to the world; it was founded in order to provide funding for the paramilitary Irish Volunteers; and it was a financial failure.

Financial failure was some way off when on 14 December 1914, the Kinemac was opened with much ceremony by Henry O’Shea, mayor of Cork city, for the proprietor, Gerald J. Macaura (“The ‘Kinemac’”). O’Shea’s attendance was an acknowledgement of Macaura’s support for the Skibbereen Volunteers and the Irish Parliamentary Party. When the Skibbereen Volunteers were founded earlier in 1914, Macaura had donated £50 in cash, and he had – seemingly on an impulse of his own– bought a set of silver-plated instruments for the establishment of a Volunteer band in the town. He built the Kinemac in order to provide a continuing source of funds for the training of local boys by J. G. Chipchase, a bandmaster he had brought from England. Even before the Kinemac opening, Macaura’s munificence had been rewarded with the title of honorary colonel of the Volunteers.

Part of the patent document for Macaura's Part of the patent document for Macaura’s “movement cure apparatus,” dated 23 Dec. 1902.

Such munificence was possible because “Colonel” Macaura was more internationally famous – and eventually notorious – as “Dr” Macaura. Dr Macaura was the inventor and popularizer of the Pulsocon, a handheld vibrator. Born Gerald McCarthy in Skibbereen, the son of a master cooper and Fenian activist, Macaura emigrated to the United States where he had relatives in construction (“Death of Dr. Gerald J. Macaura”). His obituary repeated the claim that he had worked with Edison, but this seems to be as spurious as his medical education. Both a professional connection with the most prominent inventor of the age and the letters “Dr” or “Prof” before one’s name were part of a formula for a lucrative career in quackery. In 1898, “Professor” Macaura demonstrated to the people of Skibbereen and of Cork city that he also possessed the indispensable quality of showmanship, when he treated them to a demonstration of his prowess in hypnosis (“Hypnotic Seance”). Returning again in 1901, having “pursued his course of studies in the Sheerin Psychological College, Columbia, Ohio, [and having had] conferred on him the degree of Doctor,” he held a fundraising entertainment with Edison’s latest phonograph in aid of the Skibbereen Temperance Hall (“Entertainment in Skibbereen”). And in December 1902, Macaura patented a device in the United States that would provide the basis of his fortune. Beginning life as the somewhat prosaically titled “movement cure apparatus,” this would later become popular as the more colourful “Oscilectron,” “Pulsocaura,” and – most famously – “Pulsocon.”

Ad for Macaura's demonstration of the Pulsocon in Dublin, 13 April 1911.Ad for Macaura’s demonstration of the Pulsocon in Dublin, 13 April 1911.

Macaura’s career with the Pulsocon was an international one, but aspects of it can be seen in the way he operated in Ireland. In 1911, he held lavishly advertised demonstrations of the device in Dublin and Cork presenting himself as “Dr. G. J. Macaura, F.R.S.A., of the National Medical University, Chicago.” The Dublin demonstration was held at the Theatre Royal, the city’s largest theatre, on 13 April, an event whose lack of an entry fee ensured a very full house. Following this public launch, he offered to consult with sufferers from ailments ranging from rheumatism to deafness at his Institute at 16 D’Olier Street in the city centre. The Institute remained in operation with frequently ads until 17 June, when Macaura moved his show to Cork, where he used the same publicity techniques and public meeting – in this case, at the Assembly Rooms on 15 August – before establishing an Institute there until 20 September. The Pulsocon show did not come to so small a town as Skibbereen, but the money Macaura earned from these lucrative shows funded his exploits there.

Interest in the Pulsocon continues; these images are from here, here and here.

Interest in the Pulsocon continues, particularly as part of a hidden sexual history of the early 20th century; these images are from here, here and here.

When he hit on the idea of the Kinemac in late 1914, therefore, Macaura was a self-made man, used to success and overcoming such occupational hazards as his prosecution for fraud and the illegal practice of medicine in France between 1912 and 1914 (“Dr Macaura Arrested,” “American ‘Medicine Man’”). As a mark of that success, the returned cooper’s son bought Lough Ine House near Skibbereen and began disbursing funds as an entry into Irish nationalist politics. As Macaura’s largess grew, the local papers were careful to assert his lack of political ambition. “Although not a politician,” the Cork County Eagle observed when the Kinemac was first announced in October 1914,

Dr. Macaura is very keen on the Volunteer movement. He speaks highly of Mr. John Redmond’s services to Ireland, and it is under his leadership that Dr. Macaura has bestowed these gifts on the movement. When the Hall, which will be a costly structure, is completed. Dr. Macaura’s contributions to the local Volunteer fund will amount to close on £1,000.” (“Skibbereen National Volunteers.”)

Nevertheless, despite the fact that his business was based in London, Macaura returned to Skibbereen at strategic intervals.

He was not, however, intending to manage the Kinemac himself and seems to have expected that his Skibbereen ventures would become self-running and self-funding. The Kinemac was to be operated by a committee associated with the Volunteers, and Macaura expected it to provide a profit that would cover the band’s expenses. As somebody involved in a branch of show business in the United States and Europe, Macaura had undoubtedly seen the money that could be made from picture houses. But he does not seem to have considered whether or not a town with as small a population as Skibbereen could sustain a full-time picture house. Something has already been said here about a population in the region of 5,000 being needed to make a picture house financially viable in the mid-1910s. Skibbereen’s  population of just 3,021 in the 1911 census made it likely that a full-time picture house would struggle to earn a profit. And it did.

Ads for the Kinemac, 2 Jan., 30 Jan. and 6 Mar. 1915.Ads for the Kinemac, 2 Jan., 30 Jan. and 6 Mar. 1915.

Initially, the Kinemac resembled many picture houses across Ireland. It offered a nightly show beginning at 8pm, changed the programme on Mondays and Thursdays and charged 3d., 6d. and 1s. admission. It could accommodate 209 patrons on 119 tip-up seats in brown leather cloth, 68 tip-ups in green plush, and 22 leather-covered seats (“Kinemac, Skibbereen”). It offered a programme of dramatic, humorous and travel pictures, including special war films, with such attractions as The Sign of the Cross (US: Famous Players, 1914) receiving special publicity in early March 1915.Despite such spectacles, the Kinemac was already failing to meet its running costs six months after it opened when it ran into political controversy because of its links to the Volunteers and their band. Following the recruiting drive by The O’Donovan and others, 22 Skibbereen men left the town to join the 9th Battalion of the Munster Fusiliers on 10 June 1915 “amidst a scene of great enthusiasm” (“Volunteers’ Departure”). However, the recruits were played onto the train not by Macaura’s Volunteer Silver Band but by the band of the Baltimore Fishery School because the Volunteer Band committee, led by Councillor Timothy Sheehy, refused permission for them to play. The reasons for this are not clear, but it could be that Sheehy and other members of the committee had not agreed with John Redmond’s policy on the National Volunteers entering the British Army. This is suggested by a mock-heroic ballad in the Cork County Eagle commemorating these events, which observed of Sheehy that “There never was a public thing / That he had not on hand, sir, / Except recruiting against the Huns, / For which he refused the Band, sir” (Simple).

At the end of June 1915, Macaura returned to Skibbereen and had a handbill distributed calling the townspeople to a meeting in the square so that he could explain his disagreement with this decision on the use of the band and the financial difficulties faced by the Kinemac (“Clearing the Air,” “Skibbereen Band Crux”). This was an extraordinary move to undermine his local opponents, and the public meeting was a forum in which he excelled. As the ballad said of Macaura’s actions,

He built this Hall for Picture Shows,

And called it the ‘Kinemac,’ sir,

Gave its control to a Committee,

To which now he has give the sack, sir;

That Kinemac has changed its name

And is known as the ‘Picturedrome,’ sir;

And Michael John is Agent now,

And Manager – one Macowan, sir.” (Simple.)

Suggesting that the committee was biased against the town’s Protestants, who had in turn boycotted the Kinemac, Macaura removed the committee and replaced them with his agent Michael J. Hayes. He closed the Kinemac for the summer months and arranged that it would be run in the autumn by Alex McEwan, the well-known proprietor of Cork city’s Assembly Rooms Picturedrome. And on 10 July, the Macaura Silver Band gave a send-off to five Skibbereen recruits (“Send-Off to Skibbereen Recruits”).

Ad for an auction of the Kinemac's furnishings and building materials. Cork County Eagle 4 Aug. 1917: 4. Ad for the auction of the Kinemac’s furnishings and building materials. Cork County Eagle 4 Aug. 1917: 4.

However, the Kinemac did not prosper, even under a professional picture-house manager. In part, this may be attributed to a lasting and perhaps not unearned ill will towards Macaura. When he attempted to get his cinematograph licence changed into McEwan’s name by Skibbereen Urban Council, Sheehy complained that Macaura had taken back a gift he had given to the Volunteers in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Cork. McEwan did, nevertheless, run the Kinemac in late 1915, but did not return for a second season. In his stead, Southern Coliseums – which ran the Coliseum and Tivoli in Cork city and which among its other venues, opened a Coliseum in Waterford in October 1915 – reopened the Kinemac as the Coliseum, Skibbereen, on 25 April 1916, the same day on which the Easter Rising began in Dublin. Again, the picture house failed to attract enough patronage, with a local columnist commenting in September 1916 that “it is a pity that the Coliseum was not patronised better since its re-opening [following a summer hiatus] a fortnight ago, but the meagerness of the attendance each night may be attributed to the exceptionally fine weather” (“Local and Other Newsy Items”). Whatever the reasons for poor attendance, Macaura eventually cut his losses on the Kinemac and sold it all – from furnishings to structural timbers – for scrap in August 1917.The story of the Kinemac is more than just a curious case of a failed picture house at a time when cinema was on the ascendant. It throws unusual light on the motivations of those who built these venues. While this is probably the only case in which a vibrator salesman built a picture house to fund a nationalist band, it exposes the importance of considering a broad constellation local circumstances when assessing the reasons why a picture house succeeded or failed.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“American ‘Medicine Man’ Sentenced as Swindler.” Freeman’s Journal 15 May 1914: 9.

“Ballydehob Meeting.” Skibbereen Eagle 29 May 1915: 10.

“Clearing the Air: Colonel Macaura Puts a Plain Issue Before Skibbereen People.” Cork County Eagle 26 Jun. 1915: 11.

“Death of Dr. Gerald J. Macaura: Skibbereen Loses Distinguished Son: Worked with Edison.” Southern Star 10 May 1941: 3.

“Dr Macaura Arrested.” Freeman’s Journal 25 May 1912: 4.

“Entertainment in Skibbereen by Professor Gerald J. Macaura.” Southern Star 5 Oct. 1901: 5.

“A Hypnotic Seance.” Cork Examiner 27 and 29 Aug. 1898: 1; Southern Star 30 Jul. 1898: 1.

“The ‘Kinemac’: Opening Ceremony at Skibbereen.” Southern Star19 Dec. 1914; 1.

“The Kinemac, Skibbbereen: Important to Builders and Others.” Ad. Cork County Eagle 4 Aug. 1917: 4.

“Local and Other Newsy Items.” Cork County Eagle 23 Sep. 1916: 7.

“Macaura Volunteer Silver Band: Concert at the Kinemac.” Cork County Eagle 20 Mar. 1915: 9.

“Send-Off to Skibbereen Recruits.” Cork County Eagle 10 Jul. 1915: 12.

Simple, William. “Skibbereen.” Cork County Eagle 14 Aug. 1915: 9.

“Skibbereen and Carbery Notes.” Southern Star 9 Oct. 1915: 9.

“Skibbereen Band Crux: Dr. Macaura Comes from London.” Southern Star 26 Jun. 1915: 5.

“A Skibbereen Man in North Sea Battles.” Cork County Eagle 6 Mar. 1915: 9.

“Skibbereen National Volunteers: Dr. Macaura’s Munificence.” Cork County Eagle 3 Oct. 1914: 4.

“Volunteers’ Departure.” Southern Star 12 Jun. 1915: 5.

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Early Irish Cinema: Monopolizing the Limelight: Irish Cinema and Politics in Autumn 1915

 
 

“Valentine Grant in All for Old Ireland, the first of a series of Lubin comedy dramas made in Ireland.” Pictures and the Picturegoer 11 Sep. 1915: 461. Courtesy of the Media History Digital Library.

 

In late August 1915, a Dublin Evening Mail columnist urged readers to pay more attention to such politicians as Winston Churchill than to celebrities. “It would undoubtedly be very bad for the nation,” s/he argued,

if its greatest heroes were, say, Mr. Harry Lauder […] or Charlie Chaplin, who is said to be making a colossal fortune by comic performances for the cinematograph films. These people deserve our respect, no doubt; they scarcely ever fail to get our applause; but we must not give them the monopoly of the limelight. (“Town Topics.”)

Given that limelight was the late 19th century’s favoured theatrical lighting, this was precisely what one should expect such star performers as Harry Lauder and Charlie Chaplin to be monopolizing, had not “limelight” already become synonymous by 1915 with public attention. Churchill, Chaplin and limelight: even as the Mail reporter denies it, the juxtaposition is suggestive of an early celebrity culture that made little distinction between a personality’s reasons for occupying the public’s gaze, be his or her forte politics or pratfalls. In Irish picture houses in mid-autumn 1915, politics – if not Churchill – were important, but Chaplin was everywhere.

Evening Telegraph 13 Sep. 1915: 2.Lord Kitchener, all but pointing his finger at us in this illustrated ad from the Evening Telegraph 13 Sep. 1915: 2.

Churchill did not appear on Irish cinema screens at this time – or at least, he was not noted to have done – but politics both international and national was visible in films and in the picture-house auditorium. Irish-born Horatio Herbert Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War, was a more visible and commanding presence in pictures houses than Churchill in September 1915. His image appeared on illustrated ads for the film Lord Kitchener in the Firing Line (Britain: Gaumont, 1915). “At one point Lord Kitchener is seen observing the German positions,” noted the Freeman’s Journal, “at another he is reviewing the French troops. Taken altogether, the film is of great historic interest” (“Grafton Picture House”). Film’s usefulness as a recruiting tool was also being recognized in Ireland, where the Dublin Recruiting Committee awarded Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply a contract to produce an Irish recruiting film (Paddy, 9 Sep.).

Bioscope 23 Sep. 1915: 1380.Full-page from the Bioscope 23 Sep. 1915: 1380.

It was not only in such newsreel specials that the war was represented but also in fictional propaganda films (see more here, here and here). In late September, Eclair publicized “Give Up your Gold, It’s for Britain!!” (France, 1915), which aimed to increase public subscription to war funds. Although the War Office had begun to make and commission films itself, this film was produced by a commercial company that expected the film to be popular by catching widespread support for the war. “Although we have had many ‘war films,’” the Bioscope observed, “[i]n too few cases has the wonderful power of the cinema drama in propaganda work been realised and made use of” (“Give Up Your Gold”). As was the Bioscope’s practice, such significant if modest progress in British – or in this case, Franco-British – propaganda was said to be more than matched by developments in Germany. The paper reprinted a report from the Daily Chronicle outlining the expansion and increased coordination of the film department of the “‘Central For Foreign Service,’ whose mission is the circulation of ‘true information’ about Germany in neutral countries” (“German Film Campaign”). The article emphasized that this was a well-connected and competent committee that included “Baron von Mumm, late German Ambassador at Peking, and the notorious Herr Dernburg,” a film producer. The worrying damage its films could do in neutral European countries might be bad enough, but “an American has had duplicates of all the new films supplied to him and […] he is pledged to exhibit them in the United States” (ibid.).

Irish loyalty and commitment to the war effort was by no means unanimous, but it was widespread given the number of Irishmen serving in the British armed forces. In the initial months of the war, the Bioscope had kept a tally of cinema personnel, including those from Ireland, who had volunteered, but as the war wore on, the journal had discontinued the practice. However, in August 1915, Paddy – the Irish correspondent – had reported on a ceremony at the Princess Cinema in Rathmines, Dublin, honouring James Ball, Thomas Butler and James Burke, members of staff who had recently joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers. “Each of the boys was presented with a suitable gift” from managing director Izidore Bradlaw, Paddy observed, “and they were informed that their places would remain open for them on their return” (Paddy, 12 Aug.).

Catherine Countiss and Lionel Barrymore in A Modern Magdalen. Moving Picture World 13 Mar. 1915: 1614Catherine Countiss and Lionel Barrymore in A Modern Magdalen. Moving Picture World 13 Mar. 1915: 1614. Courtesy of Media History Digital Library.

Such events suggest that a consensus existed in picture houses, but descriptions of certain happenings in the auditorium make one wonder how anything on the screen could have monopolized picture-goers’ attention. The Catholic Dublin Vigilance Committees’ campaign to ensure that cinema would be suitable for their vision of Irish society had gained momentum in 1915, thanks particularly to William and Francis Larkin’s series of protests in picture houses (see here, here, here and here). William Larkin was busy again on the evening of 14 September, when during a screening of A Modern Magdalen (US: Life Photo Film, 1915) at the Bohemian in Phibsboro, Dublin, he shouted that Ireland needed film censorship. His shouting caused people to leave in a hurry, and on the steps outside the building, he continued to harangue the departing patrons. By now familiar with Larkin’s antics, proprietor Frederick Sparling had him arrested on a charge of offensive and riotous behaviour. This was, of course, exactly what Larkin wanted: the guaranteed extra publicity that would come with a court appearance (“A Scene in Picture Theatre”). And as in previous cases, the judge demonstrated at least tacit approval for Larkin’s actions by dismissing the case on the basis that it was not possible to behave offensively and riotously – as least not as the law defined it – in a theatre or picture house (“Scene in a City Cinema”). This was the end of the matter for a while, but Sparling would pursue it further later in the year (Condon).

The Catholic nationalist press supported the Vigilance movement. This photo was captioned “The Freeman’s Journal and ‘Evening Telegraph’ Section of the Procession, including motor vans.” Evening Telegraph 6 Sep. 1915: 6. The Catholic nationalist press supported the Vigilance movement. This photo of the Vigilance demonstration in Dublin on 5 September was captioned: “The Freeman’s Journal and ‘Evening Telegraph’ Section of the Procession, including motor vans.” Evening Telegraph 6 Sep. 1915: 6.

Larkin was not acting alone in his policing of the morals of popular entertainment but was part of a mass movement. On 5 September, he had addressed an overflow meeting of people who congregated outside Dublin’s Mansion House for the now-annual demonstration of Ireland’s Vigilance Committees. Larkin had not been invited to speak at the main meeting in the Mansion House, but his audience numbered about 20,000, who heard him relate his experiences of protesting with impunity in Dublin’s theatres and picture houses (“Fighting a Plague”). Perhaps inspired by Larkin’s words, two days later, on 7 September, a group of men associated with the Catholic Arch-Confraternity of the Holy Family chased the artistes performing the variety revue Everything in the Gardens from the stage of Limerick’s Rink Palace (“Limerick to the Rescue”). The Rink Palace was part of the circuit operated by Ireland’s best known film exhibitor, James T. Jameson, who ran occasional weeks of pure variety revue but mostly offered programmes of pictures accompanied by one variety act. With over ten-years’ experience of Irish show business, Jameson should have known his audience well enough to avoid such a confrontation, but it appears that he fell afoul of a vigilance revival (“Vigilance Revived”).

“Limerick to the Rescue.” Leader 25 Sep. 1915: 153. The verse below the image explains that it “[r]epresents the raided revue with the performer flying, the audience clearing out, and the rotten Press man tearing up his puff. Wee Lorcan [Sherlock, theatre owner and Dublin’s former mayor] is seen gazing in consternation form a box.”

The pro-vigilance press was delighted with this action, perhaps none more so than D.P. Moran’s Leader. In July, Moran had published a Tom Lalor cartoon with accompanying verse by A.M.W. (John Swift) that characterized the Dublin popular audience as degenerate. Now just over two months later, the Leader published the reverse angle of this image, portraying and praising not a typical degenerate audience but the actual members of the audience of Limerick’s Rink Palace, who vowed – among other things – that “No Cockney dirt shall e’er disgrace / The fame of this historic place” (“Limerick to the Rescue”). While these popular actions continued, some of the members of the Vigilance Committees who had been inside the Mansion House were meeting with members of Dublin Corporation (“The Corporation”). Newspaper reports put particular emphasis on the discussion of objectionable film posters and of suggestive music-hall revues. Alderman J.J. Farrell, who as proprietor of the Phibsboro Picture House had experienced protests by Larkin, was adamant that none of the picture houses he controlled showed objectionable material and challenged the delegation to name the offending premises. However, Lord Mayor James Gallagher assured the delegation that “any machinery in the hands of the Corporation would be set in motion at once” (ibid. and Rockett 44-51).

Freeman's Journal 16 Sep. 1915: 8.Classified ad for Chaplin imitators, Freeman’s Journal 16 Sep. 1915: 8.

That the Vigilance Committees did not fully understand cinema is seen in their lack of attention to Charlie Chaplin. The pattern of Larkin’s protests, the Leader’s articles and the terms on which they approached the Corporation indicate that they saw cinema as a kind of theatre. For them, it was a recorded version of the scandalous plays that Larkin also disrupted or the suggestive revues that the Arch-Confraternity men scattered. Although cinema certainly included these kinds of entertainments, Chaplin worked the other way around. His tramp character had been created on film and was assumed into a diverse range of cultural contexts. All picture houses showed his films as soon as they got them, but some created special Chaplin-themed events. The Electric Theatre in Dublin’s Talbot Street did not often advertise, but it did so during the period of 27 September-2 October, which it dubbed Chaplin Week. The management was confident that this would repay the cost of publicity because they had run a very successful Chaplin Week at the end of August. During the same week, ads for Dublin’s Coliseum Theatre promoted the live revue Charlie Chaplin Mad, featuring “A Stage Full of Charlie Chaplins” and “The Only Charlie Chaplin Girl Extant.” The last claims seems unlikely if a Bioscope item on a women’s fashion trend was to be taken seriously. “Mr. Charles Chaplin, whose ears at present must be in a chronic state of tingling,” the item began, “[h]as further added to his unique reputation by inspiring a well-known firm of ladies’ costumiers to the designing of a Charlie Chaplin costume” (“Trade Topics”).

Ads featurng Chaplin, autumn 1915. Left, Evening Telegraph 12 Aug. 1915: 2; right, Dublin Evening Mail 11 Sep. 1915: 5. Ads featuring Chaplin, autumn 1915. Left, Evening Telegraph 12 Aug. 1915: 2; right, Dublin Evening Mail 11 Sep. 1915: 5.

Chaplin attracted an audience but also inspired an expressive fandom. The editor of the Sunday Herald claimed to have received thousands of replies when s/he offered readers £10 for the funniest story in response to the title “Why Charlie Chaplin makes me laugh.” The Masterpiece Theatre, also in Dublin’s Talbot Street, held what it called a Chaplin Revue in the week of 13-18 September, but this was a “real Chaplin week” – a jibe at the Electric for the relatively few Chaplin films they had shown in August – offering six Chaplin films for the first three days of the week and seven for the second three days (“Chaplin Revue”). During the week, the management encouraged audience interaction when it invited local Chaplin imitators to compete against one another by being filmed and having the public judge the best impersonation. “A very large entry has been secured,” the Evening Telegraph reported, “and the pick of these when filmed should make a picture of more than ordinary interest” (“Masterpiece”).

In this context at least, Chaplin certainly was monopolizing the limelight.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“Chaplin Revue at the Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 13 Sep. 1915: 6.

Condon, Denis. “‘Offensive and Riotous Behaviour’? Performing the Role of an Audience in Irish Cinema of the mid-1910s.” Performing New Media, 1890-1915. Eds. Kaveh Askari et al. New Barnet, Herts: John Libbey, 2014. 193-202.

“Fighting a Plague: Vigilance Committee’s Crusade: Annual Procession and Meeting.” Irish Catholic 11 Sep. 1915: 2.

“German Film Campaign: Herr Dernburg – Film Producer.” Bioscope 23 Sep 1915: 1360.

“‘Give Up Your Gold, It’s for Britain!!”” Bioscope 30 Sep. 1915: 1473.

“The Grafton Picture House.” Freeman’s Journal 14 Sep. 1915: 7.

“Limerick to the Rescue.” Leader 25 Sep. 1915: 153.

“The Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 21 Sep. 1915: 2.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 12 Aug. 1915: 679; 9 Sep. 1915: 1176.

Rockett, Kevin. Irish Film Censorship: A Cultural Journey from Silent Cinema to Internet Pornography. Dublin: Four Courts, 2004.

“A Scene in Picture Theatre in Dublin: Young Man Charged with Causing Disturbance: ‘Modern Magdalen’: Production of a Film and the Sequel.” Evening Herald 15 Sep. 1915: 5.

“Scene in a City Cinema: ‘Irish Censor Board Wanted’: Charge of Creating a Disturbance: The Case Dismissed.” Dublin Evening Mail 22 Sep. 1915: 5.

“Town Topics.” Dublin Evening Mail 23 Aug. 1915: 2.

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 23 Sep. 1915: 1319.

“Vigilance Revived: Rink Palace Stormed.” Limerick Leader 8 September 1915: 3.

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