Early Irish Cinema: “Experiments Against the Public Taste” in Irish Picture Houses, August 1915

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 refashioned Irish public taste.

Evening Telegraph, 23 Aug. 1915: 1. Evening Telegraph, 23 Aug. 1915: 1.

In its reviews of entertainments on Tuesday, 24 August 1915, Dublin’s Freeman’s Journal departed from the usual blandly favourable tone of newspaper notices to criticize the choice of film at the Bohemian Picture Theatre. Although the reviewer praised the “discrimination exercised by the management in the selection of films” since the picture house had opened the previous year, s/he regretted that the “inclusion of ‘Sapho’ this week introduces an unedifying subject” (“Bohemian”). Although the reviewer conceded that the film actually contained “very little to which exception might be taken,” s/he argued that “these experiments against the public taste are very dangerous, as might have been gathered from the attitude of the audience” (ibid).

The reviewer neglected to say, however, what had been the audience actual reaction to Sapho. Others were a little more forthcoming. Attending the Bohemian’s 7pm show on Monday evening, Joseph Holloway thought that the “unpleasant love story of Jean & Sapho was well enacted – a crowded audience witnessed it & many were waiting outside to see the 9 o’clock show as I came out” (Holloway, 23 Aug. 1915). Holloway did not mention any manifestations of dangerous attitudes among this apparently enthusiastic audience, but a report in the trade journal Bioscope some weeks later perhaps accounts for the Freeman’s hints about agitation among the audience. “During the screening of ‘Sapho,’ at the Bohemian Theatre,” Paddy, the Bioscope’s Irish correspondent, claimed that “the Vigilance Committee – or what purported to be the same – held a massed meeting at the corner of the street, and also secured a brass band which did a few triumphal processions past the theatre” (Paddy).

The Bohemian had been and would continue to be a target of Dublin Vigilance Committee (DVC) activity, but the use of a brass band was not repeated there. This may be because this tactic failed to attract the same level of publicity as the disturbance in the auditorium, arrest and court appearance favoured by such DVC activists as William and Francis Larkin.

A poster for Olga Nethersole’s theatrical version of Sapho, written by Clyde Fitch. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In any case, few audience members – and certainly not the journalists, Holloway or members of the Vigilance Committee – can have been unaware that Sapho was about a woman’s extramarital affairs. Alphonse Daudet had adapted his own popular 1884 novel for the stage, and it had been lent further notoriety when in 1900, Olga Nethersole produced and starred in a US stage version written by Clyde Fitch that told the story from Sapho’s point of view. Both the French and US versions had played in Dublin in the 1900s. So well known was the novel and play that when Nethersole returned to the Gaiety in 1906, the Irish Times commented that it

is unnecessary at this period of time to discuss the morals of the play, or argue the question whether its enactment is calculated to promote a wholesome spirit or not. The subject is one on which people have made up their minds one way or another, and judging by the constitution of last night’s audience the vast bulk, if not the entire of those present, understood perfectly the class of production which they had gone to witness.” (“Gaiety Theatre.”)

Any experiments against the public taste had long yielded their results, it seems, at least as far as the audience at the Gaiety was concerned. However, cinema had altered Ireland’s mediascape by bringing entertainment out of the city centres to the suburbs, small towns and rural areas, and because it was cheaper than theatre, it was more accessible to the working class. With these shifts in entertainment, the definition of “public taste” and “audience” was up for grabs.

In any case, not all journalists were as accepting of the taste experiments represented by plays such as Sapho as the jaded Irish Times reporter appears to have been. In July 1915, D.P. Moran, editor of the Leader, reminded readers of his 15-year-long “campaign against music hall and theatrical filth” (“‘Dirty Dublin’ Again”). He claimed this campaign was necessary because of the complicity of the newspapers with theatre owners:

The names of such plays as “Zaza” “Sapho,” and “Kitty Grey” will recall that campaign to the recollection of our older readers. But the daily Press was then as it is now rotten. We took a big start out of the dailies of that time, and they were cautious of their puffs of imported dirt, but they stuck like wax to the advertisements of the entertainments and plays however dirty. (Ibid.)

Sapho had been one of the key works in Moran’s long-running crusade against the laxity of the mainstream press. And he was right to indicate that theatre and picture-house owners paid to advertise and expected that reviews would at least pay sympathetic attention to their entertainments, if not outright reproduce promotional materials masquerading as criticism. This also makes reviews of limited use for historical purposes. In contrast to this commercial motivation, Moran was – as a self-styled Irish-Irelander interested in Gaelic culture rather than Nationalist politics – hostile to popular entertainments for their Anglicizing influence, which included promoting forms of sexual expression at odds with Irish Catholicism.

“A Review of the Audience.” Leader 17 Jul. 1915: 541.

Moran’s campaign was not limited to the content of theatrical shows or press complicity but also aimed to refashion the Irish audience. This aspect of his crusade took visual form in July 1915, when he published Tom Lalor’s cartoon entitled “A Review of the Audience.” The accompanying verses by A.M.W. (John Swift) directed readers to contemplate the “dirty degenerates ever so keen / To welcome the smut of a music hall scene.” Among these were the “Johnnie, or nut,” “the College effeminate brat, / Ne’er keen on a lesson that’s wholesome or nice, / But apt in the study of music hall vice,” as well as “the old reprobate well to the fore / In years far advanced but in vices much more.” The press was also excoriated:“Our Press lends its aid to the stuff it should drown, / The ‘Freeman’ and ‘Mail’ that should give it hard knocks / Encourage the same from a seat in a box.”

Although the picture houses were not yet on Moran’s agenda in July 1915, they soon would be when he supported the DVC coming campaign for film censorship, and the appearance of a well-publicized film adaptation of Sapho would no doubt have put him on the alert. The version of the film shown at the Bohemian in August 1915 was one of two film versions released into the British film market in 1913. When the French company Éclair released its version, starring Nethersole, in Britain in March 1913, it became a cause celebre within the industry. The film was banned in Leeds and other places, and when an exhibitor was prosecuted for showing it in Darlington, the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association took up his defence (“The ‘Sapho’Case”).

But it was the US version, released in Britain in November 1913, that would eventually make its way to Ireland. It was made by the Majestic Motion Picture Company and starred Florence Roberts. Whatever its other faults, the adaption to the screen met with approval: “Daudet’s work loses nothing in its production on the cinema, and the large audiences followed the picture through its six parts with interest” (“The Bohemian Picture House”). However, if Irish exhibitors hoped to avoid controversy by waiting nearly two years before booking the film, they miscalculated not so much the public taste as the growing power of the Catholic guardians of morality.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

 

References

“The Bohemian.” Freeman’s Journal 24 Aug. 1915: 2.

“The Bohemian Picture House.” Dublin Evening Mail 24 Aug. 1915: 6.

“‘Dirty Dublin’ Again.” Leader 10 July 1915: 519-20.

“Gaiety Theatre.” Irish Times 20 Sep. 1906: 6.

Holloway, Joseph. Holloway Diaries. National Library of Ireland.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 9 Sep. 1915: 1176.

“The ‘Sapho’Case.” Bioscope 31 Jul. 1913: 349.

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Early Irish Cinema: Processions, Protest and the Perfect Woman in Irish Picture Houses, Late Summer 1915

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 Neptune’s Daughter caused a stir.

Summer was usually a bad time for indoor entertainments such as cinema. But the Irish weather during July 1915 – like that of July 2015 – did not favour outdoor activities. “It has been a sad time for July holiday-makers,” observed the Irish Times in early August, “and as yet there is no hint of a better hope for August, except that which may be taken from the thought that what has persisted so long must soon change” (“Wet Weather”). While some temporary picture houses opened at seaside resorts, some established venues followed the practice of the theatres and closed for several weeks in July and/or August. Although Dublin’s Rotunda usually stayed open throughout the summer, it took advantage of this practice in 1915 by closing on 7 June for extensive renovations and reopening on 26 July.

 

Swimmer Annette Kellerman was considered the “|Perfect Woman” because here measurements corresponded to the classical dimension of the Venus de Milo. Australian poster from the collections of the National Library of Australia, available here.

Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman’s bodily measurements promoted on a poster for the film Neptune’s Daughter. Collection of the National Library of Australia.

The weather didn’t stop Dublin architect Joseph Holloway from travelling across town on the evening of Friday, 9 July, from his home in Northumberland Road south of the city to the Bohemian Picture Theatre in the northern suburb of Phibsborough. He was clearly quite taken with the “great film drama of a legendary story in five parts, called Neptune’s Daughter featuring Annette Kellerman (the Perfect Woman)” because he described it in more detail than any other film he had seen that year (Holloway, 9 Jul. 1915). The film was one of the several mermaid fantasies the Australian swimmer made during her film career in the 1910s and early 1920s. Dublin audiences had seen Kellerman three years previously in a similar live stage show, when she had appeared at the Theatre Royal with a company of 40 artistes in Undine, a 14th-century set “idyll of forest and stream” (“Theatre Royal”). Although a skilled athlete, Kellerman’s celebrity was partly based on her controversial promotion of a form-fitting one-piece swimsuit for women. This attire allowed women swimmers the ease of movement needed for athletic achievement, which was not permitted by form-hiding two-piece Victorian bathing costumes. Her championing of women’s athletics fitted well with such contemporary campaigns for women’s equality as the suffrage movement, and at a special matinee during her week in Dublin in 1912, Kellerman gave a lecture on women’s physical culture. At the same time, the publicity for her theatrical appearances fully exploited the spectacle of her body, which was declared perfect because it corresponded so exactly to the measurements of the Venus de Milo.

 

“Summer at Last!” Irish LIfe 19 Jul. 1912: 669.

“Summer at Last!” Irish LIfe 19 Jul. 1912: 669. Courtesy of National Library of Ireland.

Photographs published by the glossy illustrated weekly Irish Life in July and August 1912 – just after Kellerman’s visit – throw some light on the degree of controversy her appearance is likely to have caused in the early 1910s. Irish Life published many photographs of Ireland’s leisure class at golf, tennis, horse riding, motoring and other activities. Under the title “Summer at Last!” the issue of 19 July 1912 published photos of six women bathers, and the one-piece swimsuit is much in evidence: only one of the women has a swimsuit that covers her upper legs, arms and shoulders. Although four of the women are on or beside bathing machines that suggest the persistence of Victorian seaside practices, they appear unconcerned by the gaze of the camera or are even welcoming of it. The photo story suggests a fairly permissive view of the display of the female body in such public spaces as beaches and of the reproduction of such photographs in a widely circulating magazine of the “respectable” classes.

 

“On the Rocks” and “Disillusioned,” Irish Life 9 Aug. 1912: 791 and 16 Aug. 1912: 840.

“On the Rocks” and “Disillusioned,” Irish Life 9 Aug. 1912: 791 and 16 Aug. 1912: 840. Courtesy of National Library of Ireland.

However, this sense of the freedom of bodily display is somewhat challenged by the letter of complaint that the editor received the following month in response to Irish Life’s publication on 9 August 1912 of a postcard with a bather – in this case, probably a model – no more undressed or welcoming of the camera’s gaze than the previous women. The complaint was not a trivial one: it came from the Catholic Church based Dublin Vigilance Committee (DVC). Founded in early November 1911, the DVC had grown rapidly and held the first of what was to become an annual show of strength in the form of a procession through the streets of Dublin and a mass meeting at the Mansion House in July 1912. This was an astonishingly successful event, drawing letters of support not only from the Irish Catholic hierarchy but also the pope. The fact that it took place at the Mansion House meant that the movement already had the imprimatur of Dublin’s Lord Mayor, who attended, but the meeting was also addressed by Ireland’s highest government official, the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Aberdeen, who had also been the president of the National Vigilance Association of England for the previous 15 years. This was a movement with serious political clout. Nevertheless, when Irish Life responded to the complaint on 16 August, it was with an article that was more resentful than contrite and that was illustrated by children playing on a beach who were “Quite Happy! / Provided There Are no Vigilance Committees to Object.”

Three years later, at the Bohemian on the evening of 9 July 1915, Holloway was also quite happy with Neptune’s Daughter (US: Universal, 1914). However, the filmmakers – including Dublin-born director Herbert Brenon – pushed the degree of bodily display in Kellerman’s performance to full nudity, causing Holloway some qualms. “The story was splendidly enacted,” he thought, “but Annette Kellerman’s lack of costume was very daring at times.” Nevertheless, Holloway

thought it a very beautiful film, with nothing suggestive in it, – perhaps the incident of the diving from the rocks, again and again, clad only in nature, might have been omitted, with no hurt to the story, but, then Annette Kellerman wanted to show what an expert diver she is, & gave the display.

 

For a full week in early July 1915, Dublin’ s Bohemian Picture Theatre showed Neptune’s Daughter with Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman; Evening Telegraph 5 Jul. 1915: 1 and 8 Jul. 1915: 1.

Dublin’ s Bohemian Picture Theatre retained Neptune’s Daughter for a full week in early July 1915; Evening Telegraph 5 Jul. 1915: 1 and 8 Jul. 1915: 1.

Holloway’s defensiveness here is understandable because the DVC had not gone away in the interim and was in 1915 shifting its focus from what it termed “evil literature” to “the filthy picture screen” (“Fighting a Plague”). Neptune’s Daughter had been due to finish its three-day run at the Bohemian on Wednesday, 7 July – two nights before Holloway saw it – but because of its popularity, Bohemian manager Frederick Sparling extended its run into the second half of the week. On the Thursday night, the packed Bohemian was visited by William and Francis Larkin, the members of the DVC most likely to make a protest. The newspapers reported that at 9 o’clock, the Larkins “began to hiss, and they persisted in this form of protest for forty minutes, to the end of the film” (“‘Neptune’s Daughter’”). “It was evident that the audience found nothing of a suggestive or offensive nature in the production,” opined the Freeman’s Journal, “and they showed their approval by applauding warmly (“Annette Kellerman at the Bohemian”). The Larkins and the DVC had by no means finished with cinema, and Neptune’s Daughter encountered some further difficulties. The film was condemned from the altar by a local priest when it opened on 22 July for a three-day run at Sparling’s other picture house, the Sandford in the south-city suburb of Ranelagh. “I have reason to believe,” the Bioscope’s Paddy contended, “that the Reverend Father in question had not seen the film but was going on the strength of the publicity matter – which, it will be admitted is rather striking” (Paddy).

 

Evening Telegraph 31 Jul. 1915: 3.

Evening Telegraph 31 Jul. 1915: 3.

Part of the reason the Bohemian was the site of these events was that it had become one of the most popular picture houses in Dublin. It was a venue that could induce Holloway and presumably others to travel across the city, albeit that Holloway travelled to see Annette Kellerman in Neptune’s Daughter. Regular newspaper ads helped to build and maintain this popularity. At the end of July on a page headed “City Theatres and Picture Palaces to Visit During the Holidays,” the Bohemian published an unusually large ad with a photograph illustrating its claim to be “the best appointed and most luxurious picture theatre in Dublin.” If this ad was addressing potential audience members with reasons to choose the Bohemian from among the other picture houses, those reasons had to do with the luxury experience to be had there. Taken from the back of the balcony, the photo emphasized the decorative plasterwork, light fittings, comfortable seating and large screen. The ad’s largest text apart from the Bohemian’s name referred not to the film offerings but to the “Finest Orchestra in Ireland,” made up of 16 performers. You went to the Bohemian for its beautiful physical and aural environment.

 

August bank holiday offerings by Dublin's picture houses; Evening Telegraph 31 Jul. 1915: 3.

August bank holiday offerings by Dublin’s picture houses; Evening Telegraph 31 Jul. 1915: 3.

Whereas the Bohemian’s ad pushed film titles to a peripheral position, the ads for the Bohemian’s five rival Dublin picture houses prominently displayed film titles they had chosen for the August holiday weekend. Charlie Chaplin featured in four of the six picture house ads, with the Electric Theatre in Talbot Street emphasizing that it had the “Real Charlie Chaplin in Some Comedy (Not an Imitation).” This may have been a general reference to Chaplin’s multitude of screen and stage imitators or a more specific one to the music hall comedian Jack Edge, who was shown in the Coliseum Theatre’s advertisement on the same page dressed as Chaplin.

The most prominent title advertised by the newly renovated Rotunda was a film of the funeral of the Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, an outdoor activity largely undisrupted by the weather. Organized by the Fenians’ revolutionary successors, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), the funeral was a massive demonstration of the ability of the IRB to mobilize the more militant factions of Irish nationalism. The IRB arranged for O’Donovan Rossa’s body to be repatriated from New York to Dublin, where it lay in state for three days at City Hall and was subsequently accompanied on Sunday, 1 August, by a procession of about 5,000 mourners – watched by at least ten times that number – to Glasnevin Cemetery, where Patrick Pearse delivered his renowned graveside oration. Pearse was not audible in the film by Whitten’s GFS, which recorded highlights of this three-day commemoration, but the volley of shots over the grave by armed Volunteers and the extent of public support were no doubt eloquent enough for the many people who watched the film in picture houses around the country in the coming days and months. Those eager to see the film first did not have to wait for the screenings at the Rotunda, which did not have a licence to open on Sundays, but could attend the Bohemian, where it was on view a few hours after the end of the funeral and at a picture house on the route of the funeral procession. There they could shelter from the vagaries of the Irish summer in some comfort.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“Annette Kellerman at the Bohemian.” Freeman’s Journal 10 Jul. 1915: 7.

“Fighting a Plague: Vigilance Committee’s Crusade.” Irish Catholic 11 Sep. 1915: 1

Holloway, Joseph. Holloway Diaries. National Library of Ireland.

“‘Neptune’s Daughter’: Protest in Dublin Picture House.” Irish Times 9 Jul. 1915: 6.

“Theatre Royal.” Sunday Independent 30 Jun. 1912: 6.

“Wet Weather.” Irish Times 4 Aug. 1915: 4.

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Early Irish Cinema: Urchins, Ragamuffins and Film Communism in Irish Cinemas, Summer 1915

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 democratised access to culture.

Poster for Gaby Deslys in Her Triumph (US: Famous Players, 1915)Poster for Gaby Deslys in Her Triumph (US: Famous Players, 1915). Source: http://allstarpics.famousfix.com/0595982/013521322/gaby-deslys-pic.html

In June 1915, the trade journal Bioscope celebrated the levelling that the cinema had performed on the geography of culture. “There is no provincialism about the picture theatre entertainment,” it asserted, claiming that films had removed the benefits formerly experienced by inhabitants of the metropolitan centres of culture.

The inhabitants of any townlet, however small, provided it possesses a cinema, may follow the latest developments of the new drama with every bit as much intelligence and intimacy as the metropolitan picture-lover. Thanks to the cinematograph, the American stage, with all its fine originality and vitality, is as accessible to the Londoner, as is the London stage to the American. (“The Communism of the Film.”)

Although the writer returns after just a brief sojourn in the de-provincialized townlets to London and the cities of America, it is undoubtedly true that local picture houses could offer the inhabitants of small towns and even villages unprecedented access to globalized popular culture. S/he concludes that cinema “has internationalised art and has completed the wonderful work of intellectual communism which was commenced by the printing press” (ibid.).

A century on, the word “communism” looks odd in this context. The nearest Irish cinema came to communism in the early to mid-1910s was during the Dublin Lockout of 1913-14, discussed here and here. Clearly “intellectual” significantly qualified the expected socio-economic meaning of communism, and the comment is really only made in passing, the writer being interested in communism merely to the degree that it allowed the wide availability of the performance of the scandalous French dancer and international celebrity Gaby Deslys in her film debut Her Triumph (US: Famous Players, 1915).

The Bioscope was not, of course, suggesting that the workers of the film trade would or should seize control of the means of cinematic production. But the idea that the cinema did democratize access to culture was current in Ireland and is worth exploring. Timothy Cronin, a young Tralee, Co. Kerry, publican and nationalist politician had strongly supported the coming of the cinema – “[f]rom the purely educational standpoint, it is possibly the most remarkable invention since Caxton brought the printing press into being” – to his home town in 1913 (“The Pictures”). “We sorely need nourishment for the intellect in our remote country town,” he had argued, and although it was on the Great Southern & Western rail line, Tralee was almost as geographically remote as it was possible to be in Ireland from Dublin and Belfast, or the greater metropolis of London. “In the pictures at the Theatre Royal, inspired as they are by the soft strains of Miss Queenie D’Arcy’s Orchestra, we have a present such nourishment. And more of it will do us no harm” (“The Animated Pictures”).

The revival by Dublin's Masterpiece of Quo Vadis? in June 1915 shows the film's continuing importance. Evening Telegraph 19 Jun. 1915: 1.

The revival by Dublin’s Masterpiece of Quo Vadis? in June 1915 shows the film’s continuing importance. Evening Telegraph 19 Jun. 1915: 1.

And although Cronin also wrote that “[i]t would be invidious to make a comparison between one or other of the films shown,” he later marvelled at the effect of the Quo Vadis? (Italy: Cines, 1912), on whose opening night he “witnessed the remarkable spectacle of a vast audience, representative of every section of the people, keenly appreciating what one might well have thought not one but the most highly cultured would be able to appreciate” (“The Pictures”). “After the performance,” he reveals, “I heard what I never expected to hear in my native town – groups of urchins excitedly discussing a classic drama! In my opinion, the Pictures are directly responsible for this remarkable raising of the popular standard” (ibid.).Cinema nourished the intellect, but the orientation towards classical Western culture – albeit that Quo Vadis? was based on an 1895 novel by Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz – and the celebrity culture of the 1910s does not seem especially revolutionary. The real source of cinema’s emancipatory potential may have come from its creation of new social spaces in which different social classes could mix in ways different from other entertainment venues. But the stratification of picture houses – depending on one’s ability to buy a ticket, the cost of one’s ticket and the location of the building – was well advanced in June 1915, when the Bioscope’s Irish correspondent Paddy was quite dismissive of a cheap working-class picture house. Located in Newry, Cos. Down and Armagh, and run by Mrs. M. Green, this cinema was a “‘picture palace’ – with an emphasis on the ‘palace’ – in a slum. Admission could be had by presenting an empty bottle or some rags. To see the show patrons also gave jampots” (Paddy, 24 Jun.).

Ad for the Frontier Palace, Newry; Frontier Sentinel 19 Jun. 1915: 4. Ad for the Frontier Palace, Newry; Frontier Sentinel 19 Jun. 1915: 4.

Showing little comradely feeling for Newry’s slum dwellers, Paddy found this to be “a rather amusing case,” finishing his item with the local Sergeant Little’s evidence of how he had once found the premises “full of ragamuffins” (ibid.). Paddy and the Bioscope had never mentioned this picture house in their previous reports on Newry, where they had focused on the Picture Palace, the Frontier, the Imperial and the occasion screenings at the Orange Hall. Mrs Green’s picture palace did not meet the image of a respectable and well-regulated business that a trade journal such as the Bioscope sought to present. It may, indeed, be wrong to read too much in to such an item, whose source is unclear; it does not seem to have been appeared in the local or national press. It may also be a mistake to place too much importance on such a venue, in which a form of barter may have been a way of extracting the little value slum children could afford by a local property owner. The 1911 Census lists two likely Mrs M. Greens in Newry: 70-year-old Mary Ann Green, who lists her occupation as “House Property,” and her 32-year-old daughter Margaret Green, a nurse.Few of the surviving historical sources allow us to linger long on the audiences of a century ago. Nevertheless, it is tempting to speculate on the educative value the urchins of Tralee or the ragamuffins of Newry would have derived not from literary adaptations but from the anarchic antics of Chaplin’s tramp in his little triumphs over bosses, property owners and police sergeants.

The vulnerability of the cinema trade as a whole to stories like this was revealed at the end of June 1915 when an appellant at the Dublin City Sessions claimed that the opening of a picture house nearby was grounds for a lower valuation on his/her premises (“Recorder of Dublin and Picture Houses”). Well known for his opposition to Sunday shows at certain Dublin picture houses, the Recorder (chief magistrate) expressed his displeasure at the unconditional granting of additional cinema licences by the Corporation in the city and the council in the adjacent township of Rathmines. It was, he said, “a most discreditable state of affairs” (ibid.). At the same time, in an indicative incidence of targeted selling an anonymous vendor was offering cinema companies the opportunity to acquire at a moderate price on a long lease with low rent a building in an unnamed southern town said to be suitable for use as a picture house (“To Picture Palace Companies”).

Handbill for Dorset Picture Hall, 4-19 Jun. 1915. Courtesy of National Library of Ireland. This surviving handbill for the Dorset Picture Hall, 21-26 Jun. 1915 offers a wealth of information on how this cinema operated that is not available elsewhere, such as in the corresponding ad that appeared in the Evening Telegraph 21 Jun. 1915: 4. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Dorset 22 Jun 1915

 

Discussion of the Irish churches and cinema often revolved – and continues to revolve – around such issues as restrictive Sunday opening or the censorship of certain kinds of films. However, in mid-June 1915, Paddy reported on the Presbyterian General Assembly’s quite different views in their debate in Belfast on “The Utilisation of the Cinema in Church Missions” (Paddy, 17 Jun.). The Presbyterian churches’ screenings of films alongside preaching has already been noted here, but among the interesting extra details that emerged from this debate was the reported attendance of 60,000 people at the previous season’s Saturday night screenings at the Shankill Road Mission, with 6,000 attending every week during the winter months.

Despite film’s apparently successful missionary role, not all of the Assembly’s participants were in favour of picture shows. Although he assured the meeting that he never attended himself, Reverend S. Sims objected to the queues of boys and girls he observed waiting to get in on Saturday nights because they “paid 1d. or 2d. for admission that ought to be spent on clothing or food” (ibid.). Sims’s views were not endorsed by the meeting, which seems to have been more in accord with Dr Montgomery, who contended that it “was absurd for anybody to appear before that house and argue that a meeting opening with hymn and prayer, in which there was a gospel address, must be wrong because a cinematograph exhibition was given” (ibid.).

The approximately £750 a year that Sims alleged came from the pennies of Belfast’s poor young people suggests that even for religious uses of film, capitalism may have been the more applicable economic model than communism.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

 

References

“The Communism of the Film: Gaby Deslys as a Picture Actress.” Bioscope 10 Jun. 1915: 1096.

Cronin, Timothy B. “The Pictures.” Killarney Echo 10 Jan. 1914: 8.

—. “The Animated Pictures.” Kerry Evening Star 13 Mar. 1913: 3.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 17 Jun. 1915: 1165; 24 Jun. 1915: 1326.

“Recorder of Dublin and Picture Houses.” Irish Times 1 Jul. 1915: 3.

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Early Irish Cinema: The Lure of the Picture House: Disaster and Comedy in Irish Cinemas, May 1915

 

 
 
By May 1915, cinema had become so compulsive for some Irish people that it landed them in trouble with the law. Dublin newspapers reported on “the lure of the picture house” that had led two children, Annie Hughes and Rose Kavanagh, from Newtown Park Avenue in Stillorgan, to beg door-to-door to get money to go to the cinema (“Lure of the Picture House”). At the Police Court in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire), Kavanagh’s father said that his daughter acted without his knowledge and that “it was the attractions of the picture houses that cause them to beg” (ibid.). Hearing from the police that the girls were constantly begging, Justice Michael Macinerney put them on probation for 12 months.

Illustrated ad for Rupert of Henzau (Britain: London, 1915) at Dublin's Picture House, Grafton Street; Evening Telegraph 31 May 1915: 2.Illustrated ad for Rupert of Henzau (Britain: London, 1915) at Dublin’s Picture House, Grafton Street; Evening Telegraph 31 May 1915: 2.

Whatever about its compulsion to drive people to illegal activity – a point made both by some reform groups and by some wrongdoers seeking to lay the blame for their actions with the new medium – other commentators were making the point that cinema had become a habit for many people. Writing in Irish Life, playwright and novelist Edward McNulty assessed the progress of the cinematograph against the many claims made for it:

[A]ll the things predicted of the cinematograph are undoubtedly realisable, but, unfortunately, most of the brightest anticipations have not been achieved. The cinema was, above all, to be educational. All the drudgery of teaching was to vanish. Schools and colleges were to be transformed into theatres of instruction; the daily paper was to be supplanted by the Cinema News Bureau, and the French irregular verbs were to be assimilated in the guise of light comedy. (Paddy, 20 May).

Nevertheless, “ in spite of its defects and disappointments, we must gladly acknowledge that the marvel of cinema is the vehicle of diurnal delight all over the civilised globe” (ibid). Although Irish cinema of the period was certainly a vehicle for diurnal delight, May 1915 was striking for the motivations other than delight that lured patrons to the picture houses. If diurnal delight was epitomized by Charlie Chaplin’s comedies, their power of attraction was at least matched by war films. The Cinema News Bureau had not – and would never – replace the newspaper, but the sinking of the RMS Lusitania showed how the media worked together to serve wider ideological war needs. The Cunard Line’s transatlantic steamer was torpedoed by a German submarine off Kinsale, Co. Cork, at about 2pm on 7 May, and initial reports appeared in the evening newspapers (“Lusitania”), with fuller accounts dominating the news on 8 May. The story had several aspects of interest to Irish papers, some of which had particularly local resonance and other of which linked to war-related issues. Rescue efforts were coordinated from the Cork port of Queenstown (now Cobh), where survivors and victims were initially brought and the inquest held. The large loss of civilian lives – almost 1,200 of the nearly 2,000 people on board died – world have made this a particularly important story in any case, and one that justified propagandistic condemnation of German disregard for civilian life and the rule of war. As well as this, the fact that more than 100 Americans were among the victims provided an impetus for discussion of the hoped-for US entry into the war on the British side. Newspaper reports were joined on Monday, 10 May by the first newsreel images. The big newsreel companies Gaumont and Pathé sent film units to Queenstown. “Immediately the news was received,” revealed the trade journal Biosocpe,

Gaumont’s dispatched four photographers to the south of Ireland – one from London, Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast – and their joint film contributions were promptly sent to London, where they were supplemented by a few views of the arrival oat Euston of survivors. The subject is introduced by a general view of the Lusitania, Messrs. Pathé Frères had men at Queenstown, and a staff of three photographers at Lime Street Station, Liverpool, to meet the train conveying survivors. (Filming ‘Lusitania’ Incident.”)

On Monday, Gaumont released a 350-foot “special topical,” while Pathé initially included just a 50-foot (approx. 1 minute) item in their regular Pathé Gazette, with the intention of supplementing this with a further 150-foot item for the weekend. “The enterprise of these two firms is only surpassed by their restraint,” commented the Bioscope, “when it is remembered that about ten cameras were employed, and the output of film ran into four figures” (ibid.).

Entertainment ads showing impact of Lusitania sinking; Evening Telegraph 10 May 1915: 1.Entertainment ads showing impact of Lusitania sinking; Evening Telegraph 10 May 1915: 1.

Irish audiences also had the opportunity to see these films. Patron of Dublin’s Rotunda were offered “a series of pictures depicting incidents connected with the arrival of the Lusitania victims and survivors at Queenstown” (“Rotunda Pictures,” 11 May). The depth of emotion expressed by the journalist who visited the Picture House in Sackville/O’Connell Street suggests that s/he saw the longer Gaumont film. “A picture showing scenes and incidents after the sinking of the Lusitania was shown at this House yesterday;” s/he reported.

[I]t was both interesting and pathetic, and one left with feelings of deepest emotion at the havoc and misery caused to countless human beings by the unmediated act of murder on the part of the German submarine, which, with a total disregard for the lives of women and children sent the mighty ship to the bottom. (“O’Connell Street Picture House.”)

The clear anti-German feeling here was congruent with the reporting on the sinking in general and particularly with the verdict of the inquest, which was given in an editorial item on the same page as the review of the Sackville/O’Connell. “This appalling crime was contrary to international law and the convention of all civilized nations,” it began, “and we, therefore, charge the owners of the submarine, the German Emperor, and the Government of Germany, under whose orders they acted, with the crime of wilful and wholesale murder” (“The Kinsale Verdict.”) What seems incongruous – but may only seem so – is that the writer so affected by the Lusitania film should find immediate relief in the comedies that accompanied it on the same programme. “After viewing those harrowing incidents,” s/he observed, “the excellent comedies came as a most welcome change; they included ‘Love and Dough,’ featuring the well-known screen comedian Ford Sterling” (“O’Connell Street Picture House”). Images of war and physical comedy complemented each other on the picture-house screen, and as will be seen below, Chaplin had become the comedian in highest demand. Although for audiences in the early 21st century such changes of tone may seem strange or even inappropriate, for audiences in the 1910s, used to entertainments that included variety and contrast, this appears to have been perfectly acceptable. In any case, films of various kinds provided the imaginative means for coming to terms with the tragedy of war, as well as the spectacle of such new technologies as the zeppelin, the torpedo and the submarine. Bearing echoes of the Lusitania sinking, for example, Dublin’s Masterpiece placed a special ad in the Evening Telegraph at the end of May advising the public that it would give its final exhibition of The Italian Navy “in which is shown a torpedo at its deadly work of sinking a passing vessel” (“The Masterpiece,” 29 May). The Lusitania sinking also had consequences for Irish cinema that only became clear much later. Although Walter MacNamara had shot the Irish historical drama Ireland a Nation for his New York-based production company partly in Ireland in 1914, a copy of the film did not reach the country until 1917 because “the first copy dispatched by them was lost with the ill-fated Lusitania; a duplicate copy was substituted, but […] this also failed to successfully run the submarine ‘blockade’” (“Between the Spools”). The Lusitania films were joined by other propagandistic war films in mid-May. On 13-15 May, a “very important” War Office film of Lord Kitchener’s visit to British army headquarters in France was shown at Dublin’s Picture Houses in Grafton and Sackville/O’Connell Streets (‘“Lord Kitchener in France”’). Over the same period, the Grafton was also showing a film of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle,

“illustrated by Kineto War Map No. 5. By means of this exceedingly clever animated map the Battle of Neuve Chapelle is shown in a manner most thrilling to watch. The representation of the whole battle is wonderful, and everyone who sees it will be more than interested, as it forcibly portrays the difficult struggle of the British to hold this position against the heavy fire of the enemy’s’ batteries. (Ibid.)

Ad for Dublin’s Masterpiece showing The Secret of Adrianople (1913); Evening Telegraph 15 May 1915: 1. Ad for Dublin’s Masterpiece showing The Secret of Adrianople (Denmark: Kinografen, 1913) and Bohemian ad drawing attention to the big Whit Monday attraction, Tillie’s Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914); Evening Telegraph 15 May 1915: 1.

For the week of 16-22 May, the Masterpiece advertised The Secret of Adrianpole. The preview in the Evening Telegraph described it as “a magnificent four-part war drama, the scene of which is laid in the now famous Dardanelles, and shows the defences of the much-talked-of Turkish forts” (“The Masterpiece,” 11 May). However, the film was not set during World War I, having been released under the title Adrianopels hemmelighed by the Danish company Kinographen in 1913. Interest in the Dardanelles raised by the Gallipoli land campaign that began on 25 April 1915 lent it renewed topicality:

Now, when all eyes are focused on the Dardanelles, and every scrap of information about the present bombardment eagerly devoured, this great picture comes most opportunely, reproducing in interesting fashion the places daily mentioned in the Press, and showing particularly the actual defences of Fort No. 13, one of the fortifications of so much interest at the moment. (Ibid.)

Although these war films clearly attracted audiences, by early summer 1915 Charlie Chaplin was Irish cinema’s most consistent draw. As already mentioned, the Rotunda showed the Lusitania newsreel beginning on Monday, 10 May; however, the “principal attraction for the great majority of the audience who will frequent the Rotunda this week will, undoubtedly, be the Keystone comedy film entitled ‘The Knockout’” (“Rotunda Pictures,” 11 May). The Knockout (US: Keystone, 1914) actually starred Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Minta Durfee, with Chaplin in a minor role, but the review of the Rotunda shows mentioned only that it featured “the well-known comedian, Charles Chaplin, as referee in a boxing match of a decidedly novel description” (ibid.). This favouring of Chaplin was consistent with a recent comment that no cinema “programme now is complete without the well-known comedian, Charles Chaplin” (“Rotunda Pictures,” 8 May).

Charlie Chaplin, caught between Mabel Normand and Marie Dressler in Tillie's Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914)Charlie Chaplin, caught between Mabel Normand and Marie Dressler in Tillie’s Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914).

For the week beginning with the Whit Monday holiday, 24 May 1915, the Rotunda again featured a Chaplin film, Charlie’s New Job (US: Keystone, 1914), but the Bohemian upstaged them by securing exclusive rights to Tillie’s Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914). The first feature-length comedy, the six-reel Tillie’s Punctured Romance starred Chaplin alongside stage actress Marie Dressler and Keystone favourite Mabel Normand. Reporting on a press showing of the film on 9 May, a writer in the Evening Telegraph observed that the “farcical element throughout the whole performance has full sway, and the spirit of fun dominates the various scenes. […] The film has been secured by the ‘Bohemian’ at the cost of £100, and the enterprise of the management should meet with a huge measure of public appreciation” (“Bohemian Picture House”). Their enterprise apparently was rewarded because the reviewer of the Whit Monday show commented that “Chaplin is certainly at his best in this production, and all those desirous of seeing him should go early, as the demand for seats last evening was very great” (“The Bohemian”). Such diurnal delights would continue to lure audiences for many years to come.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References “Between the Spools.” Irish Limelight 1:2 (Feb. 1917), p. 19. The Bohemian.” Evening Telegraph 25 May 1915: 2. “Bohemian Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 10 May 1915: 2. “The Kinsale Verdict.” Evening Telegraph 11 May 1915: 2. “Filming ‘Lusitania’ Incident.” Bioscope 13 May 1915: 623. ‘“Lord Kitchener in France.”’ Evening Telegraph 12 May 1915: 4. “The Lure of the Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 3 May 1915: 6. “Lusitania: Sinking Off Cork Coast: Help from Queenstown: 1,400 Passengers on Board.” Evening Telegraph 7 May 1915: 3. “The Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 15 May 1915: 8; 29 May 1915: 8. The O’Connell Street Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 11 May 1915: 2. Paddy. “Picture in Ireland.” Bioscope 20 May 1915: 773. “Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 8 May 1915: 8; 11 May 1915: 2.

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Early Irish Cinema: From the Stomach to the Front: Projecting the World on Irish Screens in April 1915

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 new images seen by Irish cinemagoers one hundred years ago.

The growth of picture houses in the 1910s provided Irish people with unprecedented visual access to the world. The increasing number of cinemagoers could view otherwise difficult or impossible to see geographical spaces, the geopolitical spaces of Europe’s battlefields and even the intimate spaces within the human body.

Stomach film DEM 24 Mar 1915

Dublin Evening Mail 24 March 1915: 5.

“You can take a series of X-Ray pictures at intervals of a few minutes each, while the stomach is busy digesting food,” observed an article in the Dublin Evening Mail in late March 1915.

[P]ut these pictures together on a film, thrown them on a screen, and –

You virtually have a MOVING PICTURE of the stomach in action while digesting your food. (“Moving Pictures of the Stomach.”)

Designed to look like a news item, this article was actually an advertisement for Bisturated Magnesia, a treatment for excess stomach acid. It used the term “moving pictures” – capitalized like no other word in the body of the article – to attract the roving eye of newspaper readers (and film historians), dyspeptic or not. Some advertisers clearly saw moving pictures as a desirable technology with which to associate their product in this way, as the promoters of White’s Fruit Jelly Crystals had done in the same newspaper in August 1913 (“Really Moving Picture”).

In their use of stomach X-rays, the advertisers of Bisturated Magnesia were, however, undoubtedly making a specific reference to Dr John MacIntyre’s experiments in what is now called medical imaging and specifically to Dr John MacIntyre’s X-Ray Film (1896, 1909), which includes early cineradiography of the stomach. Despite being a medical doctor and pioneer of radiography, MacIntyre could also see that X-rays were a spectacular visual technology, of interest far beyond the medical community (Cartwright 22). As such, he had something in common with the showmen who in the late 1890s exploited the entertainment possibilities of X-rays in theatres and fairgrounds, including in Ireland (Condon). This occurred at precisely the same time as the first projected moving pictures were being exhibited. Unlike moving pictures, however, the entertainment career of X-rays was short. For a start, the danger of radiation burns from prolonged exposure to the rays soon became obvious. As well as this, once audiences had seen the bones of their hands or the contents of a locked wooden box, the novelty value of X-rays was exhausted, but they retained a strong imaginative fascination. By contrast, moving pictures were inexhaustible in the potential subjects they could show, from X-ray images of such interior spaces to the exterior spaces of the historical world and the imagined spaces of fiction.

Moving pictures has also prompted the creation of the new social spaces of the picture houses, which were becoming increasingly ubiquitous on the Irish streetscape in April 1915. Although the Grand in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, had opened in autumn 1914, it garnered attention beyond local audiences when it was reviewed in glowing terms by the Bioscope’s “Jottings from Ulster” columnist on 1 April 1915. “Situate on the main street and approached through a spacious and ornate foyer,” the Grand held about 1,000 patrons who were stratified by their ability to pay 3d., 6d. or 1s. This was not, then, a utopian space of horizontal social relations. Although a stepped floor ensured that all patrons had a good view of the screen, “the patrons of the highest priced seats are comfortably and exclusively catered for in a handsome balcony abreast of the operating chamber, nest-o’spring seats and deep framed backs being provided in this section” (“Jottings,” 1 Apr.). Jottings favoured a programme that combined films with live acts, expressing strong approval of the fact that H. G. Austin, who managed the Grand for proprietor Sam Hewitt, had introduced varieties acts into the programme. As a result of this combination of entertainments, Jottings concluded: “I would not be surprised to find the magnificent tapestry with which the walls are decorated, being removed to make room for the appreciative crowds.” However, like other Irish towns with a similar population (12,553), Lurgan had more than one picture house. At the longer-established Picture House in Carnegie Street, manager Clarke embodied Jotting’s favoured combination of variety and cinema, having been part of the variety duo Clarke and Clare (“Jotings,” 22 Apr.).

Evening Telegraph 3 Apr. 1915: 1.

Evening Telegraph 3 Apr. 1915: 1.

If the Lurgan Grand was in many ways typical of the picture houses opening in mid-sized Irish towns at this time, Dublin’s Coliseum Theatre, which opened on Easter Monday, 5 April 1915, was exceptional. With a seating capacity of 3,000, it was Ireland biggest entertainment venue, and its stage was “one of the largest in the kingdom, being not less than 80 ft. wide and 40 ft. deep, capable of staging the largest spectacular scenes” ([Editorial Item]). In its initial stage of development, the Coliseum had been planned as a large picture house called the Premier Picture Palace, but its promoters had decided that another Dublin variety theatre would be more lucrative than a cinema. Nevertheless, given that film projection had become a stable part of variety programmes, a projection booth had been incorporated into the plans for the building and not as an unsightly supplementary structure within the auditorium, as was the case in older theatres. Praising the features of the Coliseum in advance of its opening, the Evening Herald noted that the “biograph chamber is so designed that it will beautify not mar the general scheme” (“Dublin’s New Theatre”).

Despite a general acknowledgment of the quality of the construction and the beauty of the finished theatre, controversy dogged both the building and the opening of the Coliseum. As noted in an earlier post, although other Dublin theatre owners had objected at an August 1914 hearing to the granting of a patent to this new venue, architect, diarist and theatregoer Joseph Holloway had spoken in favour of the new theatre because it offered the prospect of more drama in the city. The most immediate drama came offstage, from such craftspeople as local fibrous-plaster companies and furniture makers who were denied contracts for work in favour of cheaper British firms. In Dublin, the support of local industries was not only a way of creating good will among potential theatregoers but also of mollifying nationalist Anglophobia. With an ill-tempered public correspondence between the theatre and contractors conducted through the newspapers, the negative publicity for the theatre continued over months, causing Holloway to change his mind about its promise and “wish the new theatre a speedy failure under the circumstances. There is no hope ahead for us poor playgoers in Dublin!” (Holloway, 17 Mar. 1915).

Zona Vevey and Max Erand. Source: http://footlightnotes.tumblr.com/post/39830711458/husband-and-wife-max-erard-and-zona-vevey

Zona Vevey and Max Erand. Source: http://footlightnotes.tumblr.com/post/39830711458/husband-and-wife-max-erard-and-zona-vevey

Holloway attended the Coliseum’s opening night, and unlike the newspapers’ positive reviews, his diary entries suggest that the management misjudged the Dublin audience. This is noteworthy given that Lorcan Sherlock, the city’s former Lord Mayor, was one of the theatre’s directors. The theatre’s opening bill was headed by the singer Zona Vevey accompanied on organ by Max Erand. Although their act had been going very well and they had been called back for several encores,

the turn that was doing so well was completely spoiled by her singing of a recruiting Jingo song, “Your Country Wants You.” “It does, and we intend to stop it” said a man behind me as she sang. “Give us something Irish” shouted another, and then I knew trouble was brewing for her, and sure enough when she had finished, a stream of hissing and booing broke out and the two artists, retired amid a tornado of ugly sounds. (Holloway, 5 Apr. 1915.)

http://comeheretome.com/2014/05/09/is-it-over-yet-hiding-out-in-the-coliseum-theatre-1916/

Opened in Easter 1915, the Coliseum was destroyed in the fighting of Easter 1916. “The possibility of fire is put almost outside the pale of consideration” (“Dublin’s New Theatre”). Source: http://comeheretome.com/2014/05/09/is-it-over-yet-hiding-out-in-the-coliseum-theatre-1916/

The bioscope pictures – “introducing the Topical Budget of up-to-date current events” – with which the programme concluded appears to have been entirely unremarkable because they received no coverage, but Holloway claims that the opening night ended ignominiously:

A bar of England’s anthem brought the first show to an inglorious end, amid hissing, which cut short the music, as the imported conductor dropped his baton when he saw the way the land lay. This anthem has always been translated, when played in Ireland, into ‘To Hell With The Catholics’, and will always, I fear until we are allowed to govern ourselves. Therefore, it is better omitted from programmes of a general nature. (Ibid.)

Despite Holloway’s misgivings, the Coliseum’s opening was widely reported a success, and its advent tipped the balance of entertainment seats in Dublin city centre firmly back from picture house to theatre. The Evening Herald’s Man About Town was disappointed by the hackneyed nature of some of the opening acts, but he also saw a packed house that included “a few eminent K.C.’s, a land commissioner, several leading medicos, an Abbey Theatre author of distinction, and a trustee of the same concern.” For the Evening Telegraph, among the reasons that the Coliseum “opened its career auspiciously” was that it enjoyed an “advantageously central position […] adjoining the General Post Office and at the tram terminus for all parts of the city and suburbs” (“Coliseum Theatre”).

Those same trams might bring pleasure seekers away from the city centre and to the increasing number of picture houses in the suburbs. The arrival of the picture house had reconfigured entertainment space in the city. Some of the suburban picture houses courted more middle-class patrons in search of higher standard of entertainment in the guise of exclusive films, comfortable surroundings and musical offerings. The Bohemian Picture Theatre in Phibsboro – an area on the northern edge of the city well served by two tramlines – was building its reputation as a venue that provided enhanced musical accompaniment. The Bioscope’s Paddy observed that “one of the finest orchestras to be found in any picture outside London – or in London for the matter of that – is that now installed in the Bohemian.” The Bohemian had twelve musicians “and every instrument seems to have been pressed into use, thus affording a musical feast absolutely unapproached by any other house in Ireland” (Paddy, 25 Mar.).

Cinemas also competed for audience by offering more luxurious furnishings. Dublin’s Pillar Picture House had “an immense mirror […] beautifully set in a gilded frame[…] Thick luxurious carpets are on the stairs leading to the balcony, and the general appearance of the entrance leads one to imagine that a fairy palace of some sort was about to be entered” (Paddy, 4 Mar.). Some picture houses offered early evening patrons free tea. “A big feature is now being made of glow-lamp teas at Kinema House, Belfast,” noted Jottings. “Dainty tables with shaded lights are arranged in full view of the screen, and considerable advantage is being taken of the innovation by those who sacrifice themselves to the pictures in the afternoons” (Jottings, 1 Apr.). This kind of offering seemed to have been designed to appeal largely to middle-class women who had the leisure to visit the picture houses while shopping in cities and towns in the afternoons.

Some religious groups and magistrates saw cinemagoing as an activity to be restricted rather than encouraged among the middle class. One of the main ways in which they sought to do this was through restrictions or a ban on Sunday opening. The ongoing controversy on Sunday opening came to something of a head at the end of March, when the Recorder of Dublin heard applications for music-and-dancing licences for picture houses. The Recorder reiterated his view that Sunday opening should be restricted to working-class areas of the city, where people had little opportunity to attend entertainments during the week. He therefore granted just a six-day music licence to Jacob Elliman’s Blackrock Picture House because it was located in “a residential place, with a very small number of working people” (“Picture Theatres”). And he again refused a Sunday licence to the Dame Street Picture House, which, he argued, was not frequented by working-class people because it was located on a city-centre shopping street similar to Grafton Street and Sackville/O’Connell Street.

Some religious groups and magistrates saw cinemagoing as an activity to be restricted rather than encouraged among the middle class. One of the main ways in which they sought to do this was through restrictions or a ban on Sunday opening. The ongoing controversy on Sunday opening came to something of a head at the end of March, when the Recorder of Dublin heard applications for music-and-dancing licences for picture houses. The Recorder reiterated his view that Sunday opening should be restricted to working-class areas of the city, where people had little opportunity to attend entertainments during the week. He therefore granted just a six-day music licence to Jacob Elliman’s Blackrock Picture House because it was located in “a residential place, with a very small number of working people” (“Picture Theatres”). And he again refused a Sunday licence to the Dame Street Picture House, which, he argued, was not frequented by working-class people because it was located on a city-centre shopping street similar to Grafton Street and Sackville/O’Connell Street.

These cases reveal a curious class, sectarian and even acoustic geography of the city that emerged in relation to its picture houses.

 

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

 

References

Cartwright, Lisa. Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine’s Visual Culture. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1995.

“Coliseum Theatre: The Opening on Monday.” Evening Telegraph 3 Apr. 1915: 4.

Condon, Denis. “‘Spleen of a Cabinet Minister at Work’: Exhibiting X-Rays and the Cinematograph in Ireland, 1896.” Film History and National Cinema: Studies in Irish Film 2. Ed. John Hill and Kevin Rockett. Four Courts Press: Dublin, 2005.

“Dublin’s New Theatre: The Opening of the Coliseum on Monday.” Evening Herald 2 Apr. 1915: 5.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 1 Apr. 1915: 33; 15 Apr. 1915: 260.

The Man About Town. “Things Seen and Heard.” Evening Herald 6 Apr. 1915: 4.

“Moving Pictures of the Stomach During Digestion.” Dublin Evening Mail 24 Mar. 1915: 5.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 4 Mar. 1915: 824; 18 Mar. 1915: 1051; 25 Mar. 1915: 1111.

“Picture Theatres: Recorder and Sunday Opening: Many Applications.” Evening Herald 29 Mar. 1915: 5.

“A Really Moving Picture.” Dublin Evening Mail 12 Jul. 1913: 3.

“Sunday Opening in Dublin: Important Cases.” Bioscope 8 Apr. 1915: 155.

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Early Irish Cinema: In the Grip of Spies – Irish Cinemas and War Propaganda, March 1915

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 casts an eye over the use of cinema propaganda in World War I.

On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day 1915, several Dublin newspapers reported on an exciting chase of a suspected spy through the city. “For the past couple of day,” the Evening Telegraph revealed,

the military authorities have regarded with suspicion the movements of an individual in the city. To-day the man was seen in the vicinity of O’Connell Bridge, where he again attracted the attention of the military, and when they proceeded to approach him the man immediately made off. (“City Sensation.”)

The pursuing soldiers commandeered a car when they were unable to catch the man on foot, but he was eventually caught by a passing cyclist who responded to the soldiers’ calls to stop the spy. However, although the man was arrested, he was released without charge when he turned out to be a respected Kildare cattle dealer named Murphy. It is unclear why Murphy expected that expressing his view to British soldiers “that the Kaiser might smash the British army and dominate the world in the end” would be uncontroversial, even though such views were common among militant nationalists and radical labour activists (“‘Stop Spy’ in Dublin Streets”).

Evening Telegraph 15 Mar. 1915: 2.Evening Telegraph 15 Mar. 1915: 2.

What is interesting, though, is that the expression by an Irishman of such anti-British sentiments led him to be labelled a spy. Indeed, this story fitted into a discourse on spies and spying spread by newspapers and other popular media including the cinema that dovetailed with the British government’s war policies (see also, for example, in same issue of Evening Telegraph “Imaginary Spy” and “Danger of Spies”). For three days in mid-March, Dublin’s Dorset Picture Hall showed In the Grip of Spies (Britain: Big Ben, 1914), and this title offers an apt description of the state of fear of “the enemy among us” that this discourse aimed to spread. “From end to end of the British Isles they are talking of the German Spy menace,” a press ad claimed. “This Film deals with the theft of a naval Code Book, which is equivalent to saying that it is of absorbing interest at the present time” (ibid). But spying was also a suitable subject for comedy, with patrons at the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street enjoying Wiffles Catches a Spy (France: Pathé, 1915).

In general, however, the discourse on spies and the cinema was not comic. Spies brought the war even closer to Ireland and Britain than the German naval blockade blockade to which this ad linked it. Suspicion could be cast on anyone who used a film camera, which purposely or inadvertently could provide intelligence for German attacks. Echoing an incident in Dublin in September 1914 when Norman Whitten was threatened with being shot for filming troops embarking at Dublin port, an article in the Evening Telegraph in early March 1915 reported from the Gateshead Police Court on the arrests, fining and confiscation of the footage of Stanley Dorman and Edwin Joseph Jennings who had filmed a Tyneside naval installation without permission (“Film of a Warship”).

We Serve Neither King nor Kaiser banner and its removal from Liberty Hall in Evening Herald 21 Dec. 1914: 1. We Serve Neither King nor Kaiser banner and its removal from Liberty Hall in Evening Herald 21 Dec. 1914: 1.

More importantly, the discourse on spies served the useful ideological purpose of suggesting that the divisions of prewar society had been overcome in the face of a common enemy and that any organization or individual not engaged in the war effort was – wittingly or unwittingly – an agent of the Kaiser. Draconian legislation was put in place to deal with such individuals and organizations. Passed just after the outbreak of the war, the Defence of the Realm Act (Dora) introduced strict censorship and gave the police and military widespread powers of arrest. In Ireland, unionists and the mainstream nationalist who followed John Redmond supported the war, but militant nationalists and radical trade unionists condemned it, and some openly supported a German invasion. “When it is said that we ought to unite to protect our shores against the ‘foreign enemy,’” wrote labour leader James Connolly,

I confess to be unable to follow that line of reasoning, as I know of no foreign enemy of this country except the British Government, and know that it is not the British Government that is meant. […] Should a German army land in Ireland to-morrow we should be perfectly justified in joining it if by so doing we could rid this country once and for all from its connection with the Brigand Empire that drags us unwillingly into this war. (“Our Duty in this Crisis.”)

At the start of the war, a banner proclaiming “We Serve Neither King nor Kaiser, But Ireland” was erected on the facade of Liberty Hall, headquarters of the labour movement, and it was only removed by soldiers and police in December 1914 (“‘Liberty’ Hall”). Earlier that month, such radical papers as the Irish Worker, Sinn Fein, Irish Freedom and Eire/Ireland were suppessed (“Irish Papers,” “Another Dublin Paper”).

By contrast, the British trade press continued to urge the wider use of cinema in support of the war effort. In the face of opposition by reformers unsympathetic to popular culture and by the churches to Sunday opening, the industry aimed to win wider social acceptability by aligning itself with state policy. For the Bioscope, cinema certainly played a crucial role as rational recreation at a time of great collective stress. An editorial in March 1915 rejected the snobbish “reproach on those who seek relaxation in theatres and music halls” and argued that “the cinemas are playing no mean part in providing the great mass of people with innocent and healthful entertainment” (“Amusements in War Time”). However, it could also play a much more active role in shaping public opinion in support of the war, a point that the trade papers had argued from an early point in the war. In September 1914, for example, the Bioscope had praised the views of Liberal politician Sir Henry Norman, who in a letter to the London Times had emphasized the role of that battlefield reporting could play in support of recruiting and arousing enthusiasm for the war at home. Norman proposed sending to the front with the correspondents “at least one official cinematographer, whose films of the glories of war – we shall have plenty of other means of learning of its sorrows – should be shown in every town and village in the land” (“The Cinematograph at the Front”).

“Atrocities on the Cinema.” Dublin Evening Mail 27 Mar. 1915: 5. Dublin Evening Mail 27 Mar. 1915: 5.

With little indication that the British government was exploring the propaganda possibilities of the cinema, the press continued to offer stories showing that Germany was winning the propaganda war among the German population, as well as exploiting such advanced technological application as the use of the cinematograph in reconnaissance. The Dublin Evening Mail, the Dublin evening paper with a distinctly unionist editorial line, was particularly fond of these stories, but it also showed that the cinema had the potential to reveal uncomfortable truths about the war. An article in late March, for example, reported that

a cinema theatre in Trieste has been showing pictures of the campaign in Serbia which are intended to be patriotic, but which unconsciously reveal revolting atrocities committed by Austrian soldiers.

After scenes of an Archduchess visiting the wounded, of camp life and other ordinary incidents of the war, some films were projected showing the martyrdom of a Serbian suspected of espionage, the burning alive of a Serbian family in their home by Imperial troops because they were reported to have fired on soldiers from their house, also Austrian soldiers killing off wounded on the battlefield. (“Atrocities on the Cinema.”)

Once the authorities realized what the films depicted, they destroyed them.

Cartoon showing the shooting and exhibition of a German propaganda film; Dublin Evening Mail, 19 Jan. 1915: 3. Cartoon showing the shooting and exhibition of a German propaganda film; Dublin Evening Mail, 19 Jan. 1915: 3.

The dominant story that the mainstream and cinema trade press in Ireland and Britain told about enemy propaganda concerned its untruthfulness. This was well illustrated in mid-January 1915 when the Dublin Evening Mail published a cartoon depicting how adept the German film industry was in keeping from the German public the realities of their army’s depredations in Belgium. Its two panels showed how a German filmmaker conspired with the German army to produce a faked film of soldiers helping vulnerable Belgian citizens, and how this film influenced public opinion in support of the war when exhibited in cinemas. The title of the cartoon – “German ‘Kultur’ Illustrated” – seemed to carry a criticism of cinema in general in suggesting that German culture should be associated with such a low form as cinema.

Alleged eyewitness accounts of the efficacy of German film propaganda were a part of this discourse, and in March an Irishwoman offered the Bioscope a particularly lengthy personal account. If she is anything more than an invention of propaganda, Norah Mahone seems to have been a remarkable woman. She was described as

a young Irish lady and a member of the theatrical profession, who, after being held a prisoner for several months, has recently succeeded in escaping from the enemy’s land, where she was staying at the outbreak of war.

A talented woman in more ways than one, Miss Mahone visited Dresden last July with the object of completing some business in connection with certain inventions she had patented, and also, incidentally, to take a “cure” in that city. (“German Allegorical Film Play.”)

Following descriptions of her mistreatment by the German authorities and a deluded public, Mahone offered details of such films as the departure of the Saxon army, “an almost barbaric scene in its uncontrolled emotionalism and riotous display.” Because films were so popular in Germany,

the Government are using the cinematograph shows and cafés for propaganda work. Practically all the films shown deal directly with the war, and nearly all of them are of a most filthy and scurrilous nature calculated to arouse in spectators, the worst emotions and most biased hatred against the Allies, and especially against England. These films are all manufactured, I believe, under the indirect supervision of the Government, many of them being allegorical plays, and the rest more or less faked “topical” pictures. (Ibid.)

The efforts of the industry and its supporters would soon convince the British government about the power of the cinema propaganda. Despite the prominence of such Irish people as Norah Mahone, however, these kind of films would always prove to be controversial in Ireland.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

 

References

“Amusements in War Time.” Bioscope 11 Mar. 1915: 875.

“Another Dublin Paper: Suppressed this Morning.” Evening Telegraph 5 Dec. 1914: 3.

“Atrocities on the Cinema: Austrian Films that Told Too Much: Destroyed by Authorities.” Dublin Evening Mail 27 Mar. 1915: 5.

“The Cinematograph at the Front.” Bioscope 3 Sep. 1914: 859.

“City Sensation: Arrest by Military: Man Pursued: By Motor and Cycle.” Evening Telegraph 16 Mar. 1915: 3.

“Danger of Spies: Stringent Regulation: Of Traffic with Holland.” Evening Telegraph 16 Mar. 1915: 4.

“Film of a Warship: Drastic Action by the Authorities.” Evening Telegraph 4 Mar. 1915: 1.

“A German Allegorical Film Play: An Irish Actress’s Remarkable Experience in Germany.” Bioscope 18 Mar. 1915: 1021, 23.

“Imaginary Spy: Exciting Chase in London: Dublin Fusilier Sent to Jail.” Evening Telegraph 16 Mar. 1915: 3.

“Irish Papers Suppressed by the Government: Defence of Realm Act: Instruction by Military: Copies Seized and Printers Warned.” Evening Telegraph 3 Dec. 1914: 3.

“‘Liberty’ Hall: Troops and Police Remove a Motto.” Evening Herald 21 Dec. 1914: 1.

“Our Duty in this Crisis.” Irish Worker 8 Aug. 1914: 2.

“‘Stop Spy’ in Dublin Streets.” Irish Independent 17 Mar. 1915: 5.

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Early Irish Cinema: Relieving the Monotony of All Pictures: Variety Acts in Irish Cinemas, February 1915

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 how picture houses offered a variety of attractions in their programme.

 

Unlike the experience in an Irish picture house in 2015, the cinema audience a century ago expected to share the auditorium not only with other spectators but also the musicians and – often – variety artistes who were responsible for producing a considerable part of the entertainment live. On 4 February 1915, the Ulster correspondent of the cinema trade journal Bioscope began his/her regular “Jottings from Ulster” column in fairly typical fashion by praising the attractions available at Provincial Cinematograph Theatres’ Picture House, Royal Avenue, Belfast. The attractions included the pictures Marguerite of Navarre (France: Pathé, 1914), Nick Winter in the Wild West (US: Eclectic, 1914) and The Bond of Love (US: Selig, 1914), which were accompanied by an “orchestra [that] has been considerably augmented.” The music produced by the musicians in the cinema was not the only part of the show produced live because “the monotony of all pictures is delightfully relieved by Mr. Norman Williams, who sings every afternoon and evening.” While the orchestra was expected to accompany the pictures and increase their attractiveness by augmenting them, Williams’ singing was a separate feature of the programme and was used – according to Jottings, at least – to ensure that audiences would not be bored by a programme that just consisted of films.

Part of the programme at Dublin's Star Theatre of Varieties at which the first films in Ireland were shown in April 1896.Part of the programme at Dublin’s Star Theatre of Varieties at which the first films in Ireland were shown in April 1896.

The claim here is worth lingering on because it implies that variety was a necessary part of the programme, and in this case, the necessary variety was based on the differences between live and recorded performance. Variation in the length and genre of films has already been discussed in other posts, but here variety refers to the kinds of live performance – singing, dancing, comedy, juggling, acrobatics and animal acts –with which audiences a century ago would have been intimately familiar from the variety theatre. The variety theatre or music hall had been one of the first places at which moving pictures were exhibited, and the notion that popular entertainment should offer a variety of attractions persisted long after dedicated picture houses first appeared, which in Ireland was the late 1900s. In the 1890s and 1900s, variety theatre had added film as another of its acts or “turns,” and in the 1910s and for a long time thereafter, some picture houses included not only a variety of film attractions with musical accompaniment but also live variety acts. In fact, given the existence of the mix of film and variety entertainment at such large venues as Dublin’s 4,000-seat Theatre Royal until the 1960s that cine-variety should be considered one of the country’s most persistent forms of entertainment.

The film sound technologies on exhibition in Ireland in early 1915 suggested that lecturer and orchestra could be dispensed with. In late January, the Edison company’s Kinetophone talking pictures, which had had their first Irish appeared in Belfast the previous March, opened for a two-week run at Dublin’s Bohemian Picture Theatre. “The success of this latest addition to the attractions of the popular Phibsboro’ House,” observed the reviewer in the Evening Telegraph, “was from the start most marked, and the display, which last night included a musical sketch entitled ‘After College Days’ and Edison’s Minstrels, immediately appealed to the hearty enthusiasm of the very large audience” (“The Bohemian”). However, the Kinetophone items did not even nearly fill the programme but had to be supplemented by three reels of The Barefoot Boy (US: Kalem, 1914), the Pathé Gazette newsreel and comedy The Great Toe Mystery (US: Keystone, 1914). And the Kinetophone was not even new. When the earliest dedicated picture houses opened in Ireland in the late 1900s, the Filmophone Talking and Singing Pictures was just one of the dialogue-and-music systems that these early venues periodically exhibited. However, in 1915, a full programme of talking-and-singing pictures was still some way off.

Nevertheless, Jottings pointed out that “[v]arieties are very steadily creeping into the motion houses throughout Ulster to-day” (“Jottings,” 28 Jan.). At the end of January, Norman Williams at the Picture House, Royal Avenue was joined by “Miss Ruth Vollmer, Scotch comedienne, dancer and clever exponent on the Scotch pipes, [who] was the star attraction at Lisburn Palace” (ibid.). However, once Charles Bronson took over management of the Palace, Omagh, he relied on exclusive films to draw the audience rather than the variety turns favoured by former manager Alex Cockle (ibid.). At the end of February, Jeanne Bal and Eugenie Van Camp – “two Belgian refugees” – appeared at the Picture House, Regent Street, Newtownards, where the “rendition by Mdlle. Van Camp of ‘Tipperary’ is very pleasing” (“Jottings,” 4 Mar.). The other Newtownards cinema, the Picture Palace, had four variety acts, so that “one would not know whether to refer to it as a cinema with varieties, or as a music-hall with pictures” (ibid.).

Kinemacolor exhibition at The Theatre RoyalIrish Times 9 Feb. 1915: 4Kinemacolor exhibition at Dublin’s Theatre Royal; Irish Times 9 Feb. 1915: 4

While the inclusion of variety acts in a picture house programme appeared to put more emphasis on the live aspects of cinema and the associated possibilities for local variation, the appearance in Ireland in early 1915 of technological developments in film sound and colour suggested that a complete cinematic experience could be supplied by the recorded artefact alone. Colour film technology was to be seen from 8-13 February at the matinees of Dublin’s Theatre Royal, which hosted a return of the Kinemacolor war films The Fighting Forces of Europe, which had been first seen in Ireland the previous November. The return visit came with the added publicity of royal command performances in London, and the first show in Dublin was attended by the Lord Lieutenant and Lady Aberdeen. The Aberdeens would themselves leave Ireland in late February, and their departure was filmed by Pathé and by local exhibitor I. I. Bradlaw and local topical specialist Norman Whitten (Paddy, 25 Feb.). In any case, the Kinemacolor war films were one kind of technological development of cinema but they were not self-explanatory and so needed to be “fully described by an interesting lecture given by Mr. John Doran, and a special orchestra under the direction of Mr. Allan Blackwood, the well-known conductor” (“War Pictures”).

Edison's Kinetophone 1914-15. Irish News 23 Mar. 1914: 8 and Evening Telegraph 25 Jan. 1915: 3.Edison’s Kinetophone 1914-15. Irish News 23 Mar. 1914: 8 and Evening Telegraph 25 Jan. 1915: 3.

The film sound technologies on exhibition in Ireland in early 1915 offered the possibility that lecturer and orchestra could be dispensed with. In late January, the Edison company’s Kinetophone talking pictures, which had had their first Irish appeared in Belfast the previous March, opened for at two week run at Dublin’s Bohemian Picture Theatre. “The success of this the latest addition to the attractions of the popular Phibsboro’ House,” observed the reviewer in the Evening Telegraph, “was from the start most marked, and the display, which last night included a musical sketch entitled ‘After College Days’ and Edison’s Minstrels, immediately appealed to the hearty enthusiasm of the very large audience” (“The Bohemian”). However, the Kinetophone items did not even nearly fill the programme but had to be supplemented by three reels of The Barefoot Boy (US: Kalem, 1914), the Pathé Gazette newsreel and comedy The Great Toe Mystery (US: Keystone, 1914). A full programme of talking-and-singing pictures was still some way off.

Evening Telegraph 19 Oct. 1914: 4Evening Telegraph 19 Oct. 1914: 4

Licensing was one reason that picture house owners might have wished to have fewer live elements to deal with. Live music, and particularly the live singing of a variety artist, required entertainment venues to have a music-and-dancing licence. The reasons for this were made clear in late February 1915, when the latest proceedings were heard against a Dublin picture house, in this case, the Dame Street Picture House, that the city authorities claimed needed not just a cinematograph licence – which was mainly designed to ensure fire safety – but also a music-and-dancing licence. A related case against the Electric Theatre, Talbot Street had concluded in December 1914 with the prosecution of that cinema for not having a music-and-dancing licence (“City Cinemas”). The case against the Electric Theatre was apparently more straightforward because at the Electric’s evening performances, the pictures were accompanied not only by the piano that was used earlier in the day but also by a violin and cello. As a result, Justice Mahony had decided that the Electric’s claim that music was subsidiary to the entertainment was not sustainable. Although the case against the Dame was also due for decision, it had been adjourned because at the Dame only a piano was used to accompany the films.

These cases offer some fascinating details about the nature of live musical accompaniment at these relatively small picture houses at this period. Neither of them employed variety acts, and the musical accompaniment was the main kind of live supplement to the recorded images. While such larger picture houses as the Rotunda and Bohemian made a feature of the live music they offered, naming the musical director in advertising and at least on occasion, mounting special musical entertainments, these smaller venues downplayed the role of music to their entertainment. At least they did so in the context of this court case, which was part of a legal strategy to avoid having to pay for a music licence and/or pay a fine. The Electric’s argument that music was subsidiary was judged unbelievable because the judge concluded that the music was not just used to cover incidental noises in the cinema. Although the newspaper accounts do not state this explicitly, this was clearly true because the Electric augmented the music at the evening entertainment by the inclusion not just of louder music to cover the increased noises of a larger audience but of two instruments that enhanced the musical range of the performance.

By providing consistent piano accompaniment day and evening, the Dame had a stronger case that the music was subsidiary. As a result, when on 27 January 1915, the magistrate also fined them for not having a music licence, they appealed to the King’s Bench, which heard the case on 25 February. “It was proved,” a report in the Dublin Evening Mail revealed, “that at the exhibitions of pictures music in the form of piano playing was performed, which was more or less appropriate to the picture at the time on the screen Such music was performed only while the pictures were on the screen.” As a result, the Dame argued that a

certain amount of noise was occasioned during the exhibition of the pictures by the coming and going of attendants and persons entering and leaving the premises, and by the working of the [projection] apparatus. […M]usic was necessary, and was intended mainly for the purpose of deadening or drowning the noise which was likely to distract attention from the pictures, and that under these circumstances a licence for music was not necessary (“Music in a Cinema”)

This offers a vivid image of the kind of challenges picture-house musicians faced. It did not, however, convince the justices on the King’s Bench, who voted a 2-1 majority to affirm the magistrate’s decision that the music at the Dame represented a separate attraction that required a licence. Even if part of the function of music in the picture house was to “drown the noise” of early cinema’s supplementary live soundtracks, it also provided an aesthetic experience in itself, if not a layer of acoustic interpretation of the pictures on screen.

Evening Herald 3 Feb 1915:3. Evening Herald 3 Feb 1915:3.

War-themed subjects remained among the most popular of the pictures on screen. How films provided an alternative forum in which to think about current events was shown when the Evening Herald printed a map of the war at sea around the coasts of Britain and Ireland, emphasizing the proximity of the war. Although much of this action was located in the North Sea, German submarines attempted to cut the transatlantic supply lines to Britain. The Lusitania – sunk off Cork in May 1915 – was the most famous casualty of the German blockade. With the appearance of The Huns of the North Sea in Ireland at the end of January, Sidney Morgan and John Payne’s P&M’s Films offered Irish audiences a way of imagining the new forms of warfare at sea involving minefields and submarines. The ‘’short two-reeler, dealing with the mine-laying […] should prove exceptionally attractive to halls situated in the North of Ireland, where the mine-field was lately found (Paddy, 21 Jan.).

Whether through live music or engaging and relevant images, the cinema a century ago continued to draw the attention of the public.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“The All-Picture Programme: Where “Variety” Is Not Wanted.” Bioscope 21 Sep. 1911: 591.

“The Bohemian.” Evening Telegraph 26 Jan. 1915: 2.

“City Cinemas: Question of Music Licence: Prosecution: In the Dublin Police Courts; Mr. Mahony’s Decision.” Evening Herald 30 Dec. 1914: 3.

“Dancing and Singing: City Picture House’s Application: Described as ‘Novel.’” Evening Herald 23 Oct. 1914: 4.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 28 Jan. 1915: 339; 4 Feb. 1915: 437; 4 Mar. 1915: 837.

“Music in a Cinema: Interesting Dublin Case: ‘To Drown the Noise.’”Dublin Evening Mail 26 Feb. 1915: 5.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 21 Jan. 1915: 263; 25 Feb. 1915: 741.

“Theatre Royal Hippodrome.” Evening Herald 6 Feb. 1915: 6.

“Variety Artistes in Picture Theatres.” Bioscope 19 Nov. 1914: 707.

“Variety Turns in Picture Theatres.” Bioscope 17 Dec. 1914: 1288.

“War Pictures in Kinemacolor.” Dublin Evening Mail 4 Feb. 1915: 6.

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Early Irish Cinema: Creating Great Trouble in a Most Laughable Manner: Chaplin 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 takes a look at how Irish audiences took a while to warm to the delights of Charlie Chaplin.

Small ad calling for Chaplin imitators. Freeman's Journal 16 Sep. 1915: 8.Small ad calling for Chaplin imitators. Freeman’s Journal 16 Sep. 1915: 8.

By October 1915, a Charlie Chaplin craze was in full swing in Dublin. Paddy, the Irish correspondent of the British cinema trade journal Bioscope, showed this when he reported on several simultaneous tributes to Chaplin less than two years after he made his first film. On 7 October, Paddy revealed that Captain Ahearne of the Dame Street Picture House had shown all-Chaplin programmes the previous week, while a live Chaplin revue at the Coliseum Theatre had distinguished itself from the Chaplin impersonation competition taking place at the Rotunda by featuring what Paddy claimed was “the only Chaplin girl extant” (Paddy, 7 Oct.). That such competitions were not wholly new was shown by the fact that Cathal MacGarvey manager of the Masterpiece Theatre, Talbot Street was exhibiting his film of a Chaplin impersonation competition that had taken place at his picture house in September (Paddy, 14 Oct.). Chaplin seemed to be everywhere you looked by the autumn of 1915. But this adulation had taken some time to grow.

The Bohemian Picture Theatre showed Mabel's Married Life in the first three days of the week beginning 30 Nov. 1914 and Her Friend the Bandit for the last three days of that week. Evening Telegraph 30 Nov. and 3 Dec. 1914.

The Bohemian Picture Theatre showed Mabel’s Married Life in the first three days of the week beginning 30 Nov. 1914 and Her Friend the Bandit for the last three days of that week. Evening Telegraph 30 Nov. and 3 Dec. 1914.

Irish audiences’ decades-long love affair with Charlie Chaplin, the biggest film star of the first half of the 20th century, began modestly a century ago. Cinema audiences in Ireland, like those around the world, knew the slapstick comedies for which Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company was already famous when Chaplin joined in December 1913. When he began shooting his first films in January 1914, Chaplin played supporting roles to such better-established comics as Mabel Normand, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Ford Sterling. However, he rapidly became the star player in films that he directed himself. Nevertheless, he did not renew his Keystone contract in December 1914, choosing instead to join George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson’s Essanay Film Manufacturing Company.

As the best remembered of the stars who emerged in the 1910s, Chaplin has already been discussed briefly here and here. Now that the centenaries of his year at Keystone have passed, it may be worth looking in more detail at the Irish reception of this initial stage of his career. Almost all the Keystone films he appeared in have survived, and thanks to the Chaplin Keystone Project, these have been restored to as watchable a condition as possible and are available in the DVD collection Chaplin at Keystone, accompanied by an informative booklet. Despite the films’ flashes of brilliance, however, it is hard not to agree with David Robinson that “[w]e can only look back at the first few Keystone films and see a crude, unfinished form, and the earliest tentative search for a screen character” (130). But as Robinson goes on to argue this is our problem in retrospect: “To the audiences of the time they were new and astonishing. From the very start, Chaplin had created a new relationship with the audience, provoking a response that no one had elicited before in film or in any other medium” (ibid).

Irish audiences’ first sight of Chaplin on screen was not as a tramp but as a “sharper” in Making a Living (US: Keystone, 1914).

Surviving accounts from Irish audience members are rare, but newspapers do offer some clues about how that relationship began in Ireland. These clues have to sifted out of ads and articles that are largely the product of the marketing needs of film production companies, distributors, picture houses and the newspapers that carried the material. Most of the cinema display ads, preview and reviews in Dublin newsaper were for the few picture houses that paid for advertising. The most regular picture-house advertising was from the Rotunda Pictures in Dublin’s O’Connell/Sackville Street, which had long used extensive advertising to construct its reputation as the city’s premier picture house. In roughly descending order of regularity of advertising, the Rotunda was followed in late 1914 and early 1915 by the Bohemian Picture Theatre in Phibsboro; the Masterpiece Theatre in Talbot Street; the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres pictures houses in Grafton and O’Connell/Sackville Streets; the Phoenix on Ellis Quay; the Dorset Picture Hall; the Volta in Mary Street; the Electric Theatre in Talbot Street; Dame Street Picture House; and the Pillar Picture House in O’Connell/Sackville Street. This represents just two-fifths of Dublin city’s cinemas, and many of those named often did not mention the titles of the short comedies that supported the main dramatic feature. Nevertheless, the display ads, previews notices and reviews of these picture houses allow us to track the release dates and something of the reception of Chaplin during his year at Keystone.

This review of the programme at the Rotunda Pictures gives a good indication of where comedies featured in the priorities of newspaper reviewers. Evening Telegraph 23 Jun. 1914: 2.

This review of the programme at the Rotunda Pictures gives a good indication of where comedies featured in the priorities of newspaper reviewers. Evening Telegraph 23 Jun. 1914: 2.

It was at the Rotunda that Chaplin first appeared on a screen in Dublin in the comedy Making a Living (US: Keystone 1914), which had a three-day run beginning on Monday, 21 June 1914. The Evening Telegraph’s review suggests that contemporary observers did not share the importance we would likely attribute to the beginning of Chaplin’s career. The highlight of the bill on which Making a Living appeared was for at least the nationalist members of the audience – as it was for the reviewer in the nationalist Evening Telegraph – “a splendid film showing the pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave, at Bodenstown, on Sunday” (“Rotunda Pictures,” 23 Jun.). This local topical (news film) “was received with possibly the greatest of applause yet extended to any film previously shown at this house,” and its exhibition was enhanced by the Irish Ladies’ String Orchestra playing “The Volunteers’ March”: “The opening bars of the martial music were drowned by the tumultuous cheering of the crowded audience” (ibid.). By contrast, Making a Living was merely mentioned in passing along with two other comedies that were also part of the programme.

Western Import Co. ad for Chaplin's early Keystone film hails him as the hit of the season and reminds readers of his stage career. Bioscope 9 Jul. 1914: xx.

Western Import Co. ad for Chaplin’s early Keystone films hails him as the hit of the season and reminds readers of his stage career. Bioscope 9 Jul. 1914: xx.

Making a Living was almost five months old by the time it reached Irish screens. It had been shot on 5-9 January 1914 and first released is the United States on 2 February 1914 (Chaplin at Keystone). From 21 June on, however, Chaplin’s films were released in Ireland in quick succession but not always in the same order as they had appeared in the US. This release pattern and much of the publicity material available to picture house managers came from the Western Import Company, the British and Irish distributor of all Keystone films. All the films released by Western Import up to the end of January 1915 were shown in Dublin. Western Import was based in London, and its ads in the trade papers reflected the fact that Chaplin’s films had been a particular hit in the US and were likely to be at least as popular in Britain where he had recently been a music-hall comedian.

In Mabel's Strange Predicament, Dublin audiences saw Chaplin's tramp costume for the first time in a film whose comedy comes largely after Mabel locks herself out of her hotel room in her pajamas.

In Mabel’s Strange Predicament, Dublin audiences saw Chaplin in his tramp costume for the first time, harassing Mabel Normand in her pyjamas.

Despite the information available from the distributor, the names of Mabel Normand or Ford Sterling were more likely to have caught the attention of comedy audiences that week. When Mabel Strange Predicament – the film in which Chaplin first appeared as the tramp – began its three-day run at the Rotunda on 2 July, the Dublin Evening Mail did not mention Chaplin but commented of Normand that “this little lady is now the leading comedienne in filmland” (“Rotunda Pictures,” 27 Jun.). And when Chaplin’s next film, Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal., was appreciatively reviewed during its Rotunda run (6-8 July), the reviewer misidentified Chaplin as Keystone’s more established Fatty Arbuckle, observing that the “famous ‘Fatty’ of the Keystone company, will be seen in a screamingly funny picture, ‘Kid Auto Races’” (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 7 Jul.). This pattern was not confined to the first few of Chaplin’s films screened in Dublin but continued up to November, when Mabel’s Busy Day was described as “one of the funniest adventures of Mabel Normand, Keystone Company” (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 21 Nov.). Although “[a]mongst the humorous contributions” to the bill at the Masterpiece on 22 December “Chaplin, of the Keystone Co., in ‘A Busy Day,’ was very amusing,” this did not distinguish him from Ford Sterling who had left Keystone for a time and was starring “in a highly diverting Sterling Comedy, ‘Three O’clock’” (“Masterpiece”).

As this suggests, Keystone was itself a brand that newspaper advertisers and reviewers expected readers to recognize. This was emphasized on 10 October, when a preview of the Rotunda’s programme recommended When Reuben Fooled the Bandits – featuring the lesser known Keystone player Charles Murray – on the sole basis that it was a Keystone, “which means the last word in comedy” (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 10 Oct.). The company brand and the star brand were also frequently combined. On 17 October, the preview of the Masterpiece Theatre did not specify the title of the comedy films that would be on show in the following week, but one of them “is a highly diverting Keystone, featuring the inimitable [C]haplin” (“Masterpiece Theatre”).

All the Keystone films featuring Chaplin released onto the British market between late June 1914 and the end of January 1915 were shown in Dublin, and many of them had their first Dublin exhibition on or close to the day Western Import released the film. Some films, however, appear to have been screened weeks or months after the release date, but it is possible that they were screened earlier and in the period before the attractiveness of Chaplin’s name was fully realized, their titles were not mentioned in the press. In any case, Making a Living’s appearance at the Rotunda on 22 June was four days after its London release. Mabel’s Strange Predicament appeared at the Rotunda on 2 July, a week and a half after its 22 June release (“Rotunda Pictures,” DEM 27 Jun.). Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. was release on 2 July and shown at the Rotunda on 6 July (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 7 Jul.). Released on 6 July, A Thief Catcher – staring Ford Sterling but featuring Chaplin – ran at the Picture House, Grafton Street (9-11 July; ad, ET 9 Jul.), before the Rotunda (13-15 July; “Rotund Pictures,” ET 11 Jul., II 13 Jul.), and this seems also to have been the case with Between Showers, which was released on 9 July and exhibited first at the Grafton on 13-15 July (“Grafton Street Pictures”). A Film Johnnie was released on 13 July and shown at the Rotunda beginning on 20 July (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 21 Jul), and His Favourite Pastime seems to have screen first at the Picture House, O’Connell/Sackville Street a week after its 20 July release (ad, ET 25 Jul.).

Chaplin's character in A Film Johnnie begins in a picture house and travels to the Keystone studios in pursuit of the Keystone Girl.

Chaplin’s character in A Film Johnnie begins in a picture house and travels to the Keystone studios in pursuit of the Keystone Girl.

No Chaplin film appears to have been released in August 1914, but September was busy. Tango Tangles – featuring Chaplin, Arbuckle and Sterling – was released on 10 September and shown at the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street from 14 September (“O’Connell Street Pictures”). Cruel, Cruel Love’s 17 September release was followed by a 21 September Dublin opening at the Rotunda (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 19 Sep.). Caught in the Rain was released on 21 September but does not seem to have had a Dublin screening until it was exhibited at the Volta’s well-advertised Sunday shows on 13 December (“Volta,”). Similarly, “Keystone screamer” Twenty Minutes of Love awaited a 17 January 1915 showing at the Volta despite a 28 September 1914 release (“Volta,” 16 Jan.).

Ad for the Masterpiece programme for the week, including The Fatal Mallet; Evening Telegraph 12 Dec. 1914: 1.

Ad for the Masterpiece programme for the week, including The Fatal Mallet; Evening Telegraph 12 Dec. 1914: 1.

Although October 1914 also saw no Chaplins released, November and December made up for it. The 9 November release of Caught in a Cabaret coincided with the same-day opening at the Rotunda (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 7 Nov.). A Busy Day waited more than a month after its 12 November release until its Dublin premiere at the Masterpiece on 21 December (“Masterpiece”); the previous week (17-19 Dec.), the Masterpiece had shown The Fatal Mallet, which had been released on 19 November (ad, ET 12 Dec.). Mabel’s Busy Day had a release-day opening at the Rotunda on 23 November (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 21 Nov.), and Mabel’s Married Life also opened in Dublin the day it was released at both the Rotunda and Bohemian on 30 November (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 1 Dec.; “Bohemian”). On 3 December, the Bohemian gave Her Friend the Bandit an opening-day release (ad, ET 3 Dec.). And finally, Laughing Gas opened at the Picture House, O’Connell/Sackville Street on 7 January 1915, three days after its 4 January release (ad, ET 7 Jan.).

Chaplin prepares to deal with a difficult customer in Caught in a Cabaret.

Chaplin prepares to deal with a difficult customer in Caught in a Cabaret.

Very few of these 18 films were given more than a cursory mention. At the Rotunda in November, Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret was given unusual prominence for a comedy by being named as the first “of the principal films of the week” and as “a real live Keystone, one of the funniest yet” (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 7 Nov.). “‘Caught in a Cabaret’ is the title of one of the best comedy pieces in cinematography yet shown in Dublin, and which is to be seen at the Rotunda Picture House. In all its details it proved a most laughable piece and drew forth loud applause” (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET 11 Nov.). Caught in a Cabaret was also popular at the Kelvin Palace in Bangor at Christmas:

Five performances were held on Christmas Day, and a like number of St Stephen’s [26 Dec.], at each show a complete change of pictures being screened – ten programmes in the two days. To be strictly accurate I should mention tha tone picture was retained in each programme. It was the screamingly-funny two-reel Keystone, “Caught in a Cabaret.” (“Jottings.”)

The most notice any Dublin newspaper reviewer gave to Chaplin in this initial period came at the end of July. “A splendidly long and most amusing comedy is ‘A Film Johnnie,” observed the Evening Telegraph’s columnist, noting the film’s reflexivity. “This picture features Charles Chaplin going to a cinema, where owing to an infatuation for a girl in the screen he creates great trouble in a most laughable manner” (“Rotunda Pictures” ET 21 Jul.). The Irish Times reviewer did not name Chaplin – referring merely to the “young man” in this “real good comedy series” – but commented that the “operations of the fire brigade in regard to that individual are the cause of much laughter” (“Rotunda Pictures,” IT 21 Jul).

Looked at week-to-week, Chaplin’s rise to fame looks more incremental than meteoric, but it would only be a few months before many members of the Dublin audience wanted to be Charlie.

Denis Condon lectures in film at NUI Maynooth.

Contact: denis.j.condon@nuim.ie

References

“Bohemian Picture Theatre.” Evening Telegraph 1 Dec. 1914: 4.

Chaplin at Keystone. DVD Collection. London: BFI, 2010.

“Grafton Street Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 14 Jul. 1914: 2.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 14 Jan. 1915: 146.

“Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 22 Dec. 1914: 6.

“Masterpiece Theatre.” Evening Telegraph 17 Oct. 1914: 6.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 7 Oct. 1915: 57; 14 Oct. 1915: 217.

Robinson, David. Chaplin: His Life and Art. London: Penguin, 2013.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Dublin Evening Mail 27 Jun. 1914: 3.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 23 Jun. 1914: 2; 7 Jul. 1914: 2; 14 Jul. 1914: 2; 21 Jul. 1914: 2; 19 Sep. 1914: 6. 7 Nov. 1914: 6; 11 Nov. 1914: 4; 21 Nov. 1914: 5; 1 Dec. 1914: 4.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Irish Independent 13 Jul. 1914: 5.

“Rotunda Pictures,” Irish Times 21 Jul. 1914: 7.

“The ‘Volta’ Sunday Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 13 Dec. 1914: 6; 16 Jan. 1915: 2.

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