“An Objectionable Class from the City”

“One aspect of the strike which has probably not been brought home to the public,” begins a tantalizing article in the Evening Herald on 18 October 1913, “is the effect which it has had upon the amusements of Dublin, such as theatres, music halls, and cinematograph shows” (“Dublin Theatres and the Strike”). Despite offering the views of prominent – albeit unnamed and paraphrased – theatre, music hall and cinema managers, the almost 700-words that follow are, if intriguing, also finally frustratingly unspecific. This is not because as a newspaper owned by employers’ leader William Martin Murphy, the Herald missed few opportunities to point out the folly of Dublin’s striking workers, who had been, it often argued, criminally led astray by union leader Jim Larkin. There are traces of that editorial line here, but the real disappointment is that the writer appears misleadingly to conceive each of these entertainments as being entirely identified with a single class. This, then, looks gratifyingly like a suitable case for analysis and supplement.

The article starts soundly enough by observing that the Lockout affected the city’s entertainments in general in two ways:

firstly, that inasmuch as the earning capacity of some thousands of men has been stopped, therefore their spending capacity has likewise been curtailed.

Secondly, that where the earnings have not been interfered with, among those who are not directly concerned with the strike, yet who live some considerable way from the city, they have been unable to patronise the various entertainments provided for their amusement owing to the difficulties of travel consequent upon the curtailment of the tramway programme (ibid).

A large number of workers with severely reduced income and restrictions on public transport were undoubtedly key factors affecting audience numbers, but the article is less convincing in the argument it makes about the identification of entertainments with particular classes.

It implies that theatre provided entertainment for the social elite, music halls catered for the middle class, and cinema was for the working class. This is done by showing that not all types of entertainment were equally affected by the Lockout. The theatres “have done comparatively well, and the manager of one important theatre stated that had it not been for the strike he would have eclipsed all records” (ibid). Music halls, by contrast,

had suffered considerably, the seats of these houses, whilst altogether more expensive than those of cinematograph shows were cheaper than those of the theatres, so that whereas the man who would pay three or four shillings for a seat at the theatre would and could afford the cost of a conveyance to and from his residence[, t]he man who came from the outlying parts could not, and it is too far to walk a couple of miles each way (ibid).

The difference in ticket prices here seems to create a rigidly stratified system. Stratification based on price, class and type of entertainment certainly existed but not in the way implied here. It is too much of a simplification to state that theatregoers were substantially of a class that could in the absence of trams due to the strike, afford private transport or a cab, while music hall patrons were from a class that lived in the suburbs (to a degree that severely impacted on the business of music halls) but could not afford to pay both for admission and transport home. But the argument become particularly problematic in relation to cinema.

Although the article seems to suggest that the cinematograph shows were competing with music halls for audience, it only discusses picture houses as working-class venues:

In the poorer parts of the city where the cheaper cinematograph shows abound, these have been directly affected by the loss of custom consequent upon those who patronise them being strikers, and therefore, not earning any money. Some of these have suffered severely, and their owners and managers will be very pleased when the strike is settled (ibid).

Certainly the business of picture houses located in working-class areas was affected by the Lockout, but which ones the writer had visited or was thinking of is unclear.

Map Oct 1913

Map of Dublin in 1913 with pins indicating locations of picture houses, music halls and theatres.

The controversy over the Sunday opening of picture houses suggested that going to the pictures was not just a working class entertainment. On 24 October 1913, the Recorder of Dublin – the city’s chief magistrate – considered an application for a Sunday music licence for the Dame Street Picture House, without which it could not open. From their previous applications in April and July 1913, the proprietors of the Dame Street Picture House knew the authorities’ views that the Grafton and O’Connell Street picture houses “were frequented by persons of the better class, and there was no necessity that they should be opened on Sundays for their benefit” (CSORP/1915/2211). As a result, the proprietors argued that the “people who frequented the Grafton street house were generally people who went shopping. The Dame street house was frequently largely by the working classes, and the object of the application was to give facilities to the working classes to attend performances on Sundays” (ibid). They classed themselves among the picture houses that were allowed to open on Sunday: the Phoenix Picture Palace, the Irish Cinema in Capel Street, the Dorset Picture Hall, the Camden Picture House, the Theatre de Luxe in Camden Street, the Picturedrome in Harcourt Road, the Brunswick Street Cinema, the Princess Cinema in Rathmines, the Mary Street Picture House, the Volta in Mary Street, the World’s Fair Varieties in Henry Street and the Electric Theatre in Talbot Street (ibid).

Dame Phoenix Sunday 1913

Ads for Sunday shows at Phoenix and, despite the Recorder’s ban, the Dame; Evening Telegraph 25 Oct. 1913: 4.

The Recorder did not accept this, contending that Dame Street was one of the city’s principal streets – “near the residence of the King’s representative” in Dublin Castle – and not located in a working-class district (“Picture Houses”). He therefore treated the picture house there as he did the ones in Grafton Street and O’Connell Street by refusing them a Sunday licence. “He would give every facility to Sunday entertainments for the working classes, but he would not, so far as he could prevent it, give up the principal streets to these syndicates on Sundays” (“Sunday Cinemas”).

The Recorder’s licensing session also considered local objections to Sunday shows at Clontarf Town Hall, one of the city’s latest picture houses to open – and so not listed above. When Clontarf was incorporated into an expanded Dublin at the turn of the century, the administrative powers of its local council were assumed by Dublin Corporation, and its town hall had no function. Beginning on 18 July 1913, the hall’s leasee George Humphreys ran it as a picture house, with the proviso that he give it up when the Corporation needed it. “Mr. Robertson, (who represented the police) said that he went to the petty Sessions at Clontarf the other day, and they were held in this picture show (laughter)” (“Clontarf Cinema”). Reverend John L. Morrow, chairman of the Clontarf Citizens’ Association objected to the renewal of the picture house’s licence on the basis that local people had not been consulted on its use for this purpose. He complained in particular that its Sunday shows “brought out an objectionable class from the city” (ibid). Humphreys dismissed this claim, observing that “the hall was patronised by people like Ald. Maguire, of Clontarf; Mr. Brady (solicitor), and many other representative and legal gentlemen” (ibid). By 1913, the picture house no longer provided entertainment only for the working class.

References

“Clontarf Cinema: Citizens’ Association: Raise an Objection.” Evening Telegraph 24 Oct. 1913: 3.

CSORP/1915/2211, National Archives of Ireland.

“Dublin Theatres and the Strike.” Evening Herald 18 Oct. 1913: 4.

“Picture Houses: And Licence for Sunday Shows.” Evening Herald 24 Oct. 1913: 2.

“Sunday Cinemas: In Leading Streets.” Evening Telegraph 24 Oct. 1913: 6.

“Soul Stirring Views of the Cripples”: The (First) Irish National Pilgrimage to Lourdes

Pilgrimage ad Bio 9 Oct

Bioscope 9 Oct 1913: Supplement xc.

On Friday, 3 October 1913, the Irish Times reported that several Catholic clerics had attended a private viewing at the Rotunda, Dublin, of the film The First Irish National Pilgrimage to Lourdes and that the film would open to the public at the same venue the following Monday (“A Pilgrimage in Picture”). The preparations for and progress of the pilgrimage by over 2,000 Irish Catholics – including the miraculous cures of such pilgrims as Grace Maloney (“Miracle at Lourdes”) – were extensively covered in the press, and newspaper readers may also have been aware that the pilgrimage had been filmed because as many of the pilgrims prepared to depart on 8 September and arrived back on 19 September, some papers had reported that cinematographers were among them (“Lourdes Pilgrims,” “Home Again”).

The film at the Rotunda, therefore, had benefitted from much pre-publicity, and it sought to show cinemagoers the important elements of the pilgrimage in detail. It ran not the 5-10 minutes expected of a newsreel but – according to the Times – for “[n]early an hour,” with the Dublin Evening Mail putting its length in feet – the more popular way of expressing film length at the time – at 2,500 feet (“Rotunda Pictures”), or almost 42 minutes at the most common silent projection speed of 16 frames per second. The film “has many-sided interest for Dublin picture house patrons, most of whom had friends on the pilgrimage” (“Rotunda Living Pictures”), but the Rotunda sought to ensure the attention of its audience by setting them a puzzle: “Unique interest attaches to the film in that it shows an unknown lady, who experienced a cure, looking from a railway carriage window, and the management invite the co-operation of the public in identifying her” (A Pilgrimage in Picture”).

Such strategies to engage the Dublin and Irish audience would not have worked elsewhere, and other techniques would have been needed. Ads in the British trade journal Bioscope using such phrases as “Life-like Pictures of the miraculously Cured” and “Soul stirring views of the Cripples en route” show that the distributors suggested that exhibitors stress the miraculous and make disability into spectacle. Even emphasizing such attractions and given that Jameson had already secured the Irish rights, this film must have been difficult to sell in Britain except in areas with large concentrations of Irish lived. In Ireland, much of the press coverage of the pilgrimage itself suggests that the spectacle of disability was less of interest than the miraculous cures. The Irish Catholic, for example – which never mentioned the film – devoted its lead stories on 4 and 11 October to medical confirmations of the cures.

Like the vast majority of early films made in Ireland – or anywhere else, for that matter – this film is believed to be lost. Nevertheless, the newspapers provide an account of its contents. A reporter for the Evening Herald, who had been at the press screening on 3 October, offered the most detailed description of the film. The scenes consisted of the following: “Pilgrims breaking journey at London and entering train at Victoria station; going on the special boats and scenes on board from Folkestone to Boulogne; Mass at the Madeline, Paris, outside the Madeline, brake loads of pilgrims; special trains leaving Bordeaux. Nearing Lourdes and panorama as seen from train; arrival at Lourdes and scenes of town and neighbourhood; tram ride up to Basilica; In Lourdes, general group; the first procession; on the way to the Grotto, and scenes at the Grotto and Basilica; portrait of Mdlle. Bernadette, and view of where she lived; the Calvary and monument; procession of the Blessed Sacrament; homeward bound – leaving Lourdes, and scenes at various places on the returning route” (“Lourdes Pictures”). One can only agree with the Herald reporter that the film thoroughly covered the event.

Pilgrimage ads W1 W2

Differences in exhibition strategies at the Rotunda for the Irish National Pilgrimage to Lourdes (left) during its first week and (right) during its second week; Evening Telegraph 7 Oct. 1913: 2, and Dublin Evening Mail 13 Oct. 1913: 4.

Despite its topicality and multiple attractions for an Irish audience, Jameson initially adopted an odd exhibition strategy. Rather than integrating it into the Rotunda’s normally advertised times of 3pm (matinee), 6:45 and 9pm, he decided to show it apparently alone – or possibly with a reduced supporting programme – at two matinees at 2.45 and 4pm, and with the rest of the advertised programme “at the first evening houses, commencing at 6.45 p.m., on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday” (“Pilgrimage in Picture”). The 6:45 show on Monday, Thursday and Saturday and all the lucrative 9pm shows would offer a programme that did not include the pilgrimage film, and this other programme – headed by Mary in Stageland, the third part of the Mary Fuller serial What Happened to Mary – was advertised separately. Whether he had already booked the first programme before he became aware of the availability of the pilgrimage film or whether he believed that the audience for the pilgrimage film would not be interested in the films enjoyed by his regular audience, and vice versa, is not clear.

The film’s popularity appears to have surprised this canny exhibitor, who changed his exhibition strategy in the second week of the film’s run. His decision to run the film for a second week already demonstrated that he identified unusual interest in it, but for the second week, he integrated it into his regular 3pm, 6:45 and 9pm schedule. Predicting that the programme would “undoubtedly prove to be one of the most popular ever set before a Dublin audience,” the Freeman’s Journal reported that the “film has been reproduced at the Rotunda on the overwhelming and pressing requests of patrons, and that the management only justified itself in complying with the enormous demand was thoroughly testified by the approval shown” (“Rotunda Pictures”).

Ch4Two

Frank Leah’s caricature of Norman Whitten. Irish Limelight 1:10 (October 1917), p. 1.

The film was produced by the General Film Agency (later, the General Film Supply), a company run by Norman Whitten that seems to have some relationship with a London-based company of the same name. English-born, Whitten had worked with British film pioneer Cecil Hepworth in the early 1900s but moved to Ireland in the early 1910s. In 1917, he would found Irish Events, the first Irish newsreel, before also shooting such fiction films as the bilingual life of St. Patrick Aimsir Padraig/In the Days of St. Patrick (1920). One of Ireland’s most successful film producers of this period, he showed a remarkable ability to understand Irish cinema audiences. In 1913, he began advertising his services as a producer of advertising films and local topicals (films of local events). Whether he was commissioned to make the pilgrimage film or initiated the project himself is not clear, but he certainly had considerable cooperation from the pilgrimage organizers.

The Dublin papers were almost universally positive in their reviews of the film. Although also positive, the Daily Express’ review is notable for the writer’s attempts to draw a distinction between what we would now see as fiction and documentary (at least of a kind):

Pictures recording actual events which are unembarrassed are usually never so effective as those which are produced after continual experiment This however, does not apply to the same extent as regards the present pictures as it might in the case of other pictures. The climatic conditions at Lourdes are pre-eminently suitable for the cinematograph, and without exception the various events, which the pictures pourtray are shown with marked clearness and distinctness (“Lourdes Pictures at the Rotunda”).

The pilgrimage film was not as bad as the writer had experienced other factual film to be, but s/he clearly preferred fictional films, or at least films that allowed rehearsal of some kind. The discussion of climatic conditions was one often aired when anyone tried to explain why so few films were made in Ireland or why those that were made featured relatively poor cinematography.

The one piece of criticism made in relation to the film concerned the choice of musical accompaniment at the Rotunda. The Dublin Evening Mail‘s “Music and Drama” columnist commented at length on film music, arguing that “semi-neutral music is the most effective,” explaining that by this s/he meant “that the selections should be broadly in sympathy with the general character of the film” (“Music and the Drama.”). Exemplary of this was Sackville Picture House musical director Jack Larchet’s recent “dignified” selection of Mendelssohn’s Trio in D Minor and Shubert’s Unfinished Symphony to accompany Hamlet (Hepworth, 1913), featuring theatre star Johnston Forbes-Robertson. By contrast s/he found the accompaniment of the pilgrimage film at the Rotunda by the elsewhere much praised Irish Ladies’ String Orchestra, under the direction of May Murphy, “not only inappropriate but it was badly played. Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’ was suitable enough if it had been well rehearsed, but Stephen Adam’s ‘Holy City’ and ‘The Star of Bethlehem’ are not sacred songs in the real sense of the word” (ibid). This kind of criticism, however, is indicative that picture houses would increasingly be held to the highest standards of entertainment.

References

“Home Again: Pilgrims Back in Ireland.” Irish Independent 20 Sep. 1913: 5.

“Lourdes Pictures.” Evening Herald 4 Oct. 1913: 6.

“Lourdes Pictures at the Rotunda.” Daily Express 4 Oct. 1913: 10.

“Lourdes Pilgrimage.” Irish Times 8 Oct. 1913: 4.

“Lourdes Pilgrims: 2,300 Irish Folk Will Travel.” Irish Independent 6 Sep. 1913: 6.

“Miracle at Lourdes: Girl from Killaloe Cured.” Evening Herald 13 Sep. 1913: 2.

“Music and the Drama.” Dublin Evening Mail 13 Oct. 1913: 7.

“A Pilgrimage in Picture.” Irish Times 4 Oct. 1913: 5.

“Rotunda Living Pictures.” Irish Times 14 Oct. 1913: 5.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Dublin Evening Mail 11 Oct. 1913: 7.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Freeman’s Journal 14 Oct. 1913: 9.

“The Wonder-Seeking Mind of the Peasant”

By October 1913, picture houses had begun to be a permanent presence not only in such Irish cities as Dublin, Belfast and Cork but also in towns with even as few as 5,000 inhabitants. In such places, the film show would be the first professionally produced mass entertainment available on a long-term basis. However, many towns still relied on travelling companies to bring professional entertainment of any kind, including film shows. Clearly, population was not the only factor, but it was very likely in 1913 that a town with 10,000 people or more would have had at least one permanent picture house, but only some towns of around 5,000 had a dedicated film venue, and most of the latter were likely to be served by travelling picture or picture-and-variety shows. However, market towns of 5,000 might have a dedicated picture house if they also had a good train service and a local person or persons with access to capital who saw the opportunities being exploited successfully elsewhere.

In early October 1913, Paddy, the Irish correspondent for the British trade journal Bioscope reported on a film-and-variety show by Clarence Bailey in Ballina, Co. Mayo:

To County Mayo is rather a far cry. Nevertheless, picture shows go there from time to time, and no touring show is thought so much about as the “livin’ pictur’” one. At Ballina recently, we had Clarence Bailey’s show, a mixture of variety and films. Some of the latter included the “Derby of 1913.” Wild West subjects naturally predominate in travelling shows of this nature, the breathless rush over the dusty plains appealing to the wonder-seeking mind of the peasant (Paddy).

This piece’s use of brogue and mention of “the peasant” was typical of Paddy’s humorous condescension in covering small-town and rural Ireland. Peasants are hicks who live in the far-away west, unsophisticated provincials who lap up Westerns and out-of-date news and in so doing, provide a telling contrast to the readers of Paddy’s column as well as demonstrating the increasing reach of the metropolitan film business. Nevertheless, Paddy also provides some unique details of film exhibition in the west of Ireland a century ago. Travelling shows such as Bailey’s are very difficult to track because they often did not advertise in the local newspapers of the towns they visited, and consequently, the newspapers – the source most likely to provide details of local reception – frequently ignored them unless something else newsworthy occurred. The September-October issues of the Western People and Ballina Herald do not mention, let alone give details of the programme. Clearly, Bailey was not in the first rank of Irish travelling exhibitors, which included the town-hall showman James T. Jameson and the fairground exhibitor John Toft. Bailey’s name is known to film scholars (Barton 14), but Paddy allows us to place him in Ballina showing Westerns and the newsreel of the Epson Derby that retained some interest four months after the race not only because of an abiding interest in horseracing among an audience who had not yet seen these moving pictures but also because this was the race at which suffragette Emily Wilding Davison was killed by King George V’s horse (some fascinating discussion of this case here and here).

Ballina had recently experienced its own suffragette controversy, when Irish Women’s Franchise League members Helen Chevenix and Clara Moser visited the town on 14 August to organize a town-hall meeting for 2 September. When the women held an impromptu meeting in the street, the conservative Protestant Balina Herald claimed that “though on the whole the crowd seemed sympathetic, some unruly parties kept interrupting, and on one occasion an egg or an orange – we don’t quite know which – was flung and narrowly missed one of the ladies” (“Lady Suffragettes in Ballina”). At the September meeting, the Western People explained that the women lost the sympathy of the largely nationalist audience by a “very ill-timed reference to the assistance ladies in the North were giving Sir Edward Carson in his swash buckling campaign against Home Rule [which] made many persons think that the lady who unburdened her mind in this manner came there to preach the cause of Unionism, under the guise of a Suffragette” (“A Suffrage Meeting”). The People strongly denied the “statement that the motor car conveying the Suffragettes and their friends was stoned as it left the hall after the meeting,” all that occurred being “confined to derisive booing and shouting” (ibid.). How these local incidents may have affected reception of the film, or how the film may have cast new light on the local events, or even which film of the Derby was shown is difficult to say, but the picture shows by travelling exhibitors such as Bailey provided the opportunity, at least, to re-examine them.

Toftpwp358

John Toft’s fairground cinematograph show at Tramore, Co Waterford, in 1901. From National Library of Ireland’s catalogue.

With a population of 4,662, Ballina did not have a dedicated venue at which such opportunities might arise on a regular basis. However, Ballinasloe, a town with the slightly larger population of 5,608 was in October 1913 awaiting the opening of a long-running, if not permanent, film venue. Although in the western county of Galway, Ballinasloe is located along the Galway-Dublin road and rail line, at the terminus of the Grand Canal. It is on the eastern border of that county, which means that it was and is nearer to the middle of the country than the west coast, and as such has long been an important meeting point between east and west, epitomized in its longstanding October fair, one of the oldest in Ireland. The town transport links and the fair’s large crowds drew travelling entertainers, so that in September 1913 alone, two travelling film companies visited before John Toft arrived to take part in the fair.

Cirque and Tofts Ballinasloe 1913

Circus and fairground shows with film: Morgan’s Cinema Cirque and Toft’s Amusements in Ballinasloe, autumn 1913. Ads for the East Galway Democrat 13 Sep. 1913 and 20 Sep. 1913.

Toft displayed a remarkable ability to manage publicity and consequently increase his audience. The East Galway Democrat praised his “readiness to aid every good work” that included his

“Benefit Night” this week in aid of the Temperance Hall, his generous subscriptions to the Nursing Fund, the Fund for the Poor, and the Gaelic League, as well as his kindness in giving the patients and inmates of our public institutions a little enjoyment. […] It is not to be wondered at that Mr Toft’s Amusements are well patronised, and that he makes friends wherever he goes (“Local Topics: Deservedly Popular Show”).

However, when Toft travelled on from Ballinasloe a few day after the end of the fair, local businessmen John Thomas Greeves-O’Sullivan and Timothy J Dolan opened a winter season of their Greeves-O’Sullivan and Dolan Picture and Variety Company, running at the Town Hall from 24 November and over the Christmas period. “No expense has been spared to provide first-class pictures,” the Democrat revealed, “and the machine to be used for the purpose of showing them is one of the latest on the market. An experienced operator has been engaged, and the Ballinasloe Orchestra will discourse selections during the entertainments” (“Local Topics: Picture and Variety Co. for Ballinasloe”).

Dec 20 1913 EastGalway Democrat

East Galway Democrat 20 Dec. 1913: 4.

The company advertised regularly in the press and were acknowledged with notices, including one on 6 December that appears to bear out their claim that they changed films nightly: “to-night (Friday) a grand feature film, ‘Heartt [sic] of the First Empire or The Days of Napoleon,’ a splendid Military Drama; Sunday 7th Dec., ‘The Kerry Gow,’ a three-reel Irish Drama, Monday, 8th Dec., ‘Woman’s Heart,’ and on Friday, 12th Dec., ‘District Attorney’s Conscience,’ a splendid emotional drama” (“Living Pictures”). Despite the use of “variety” in their name, the company appears primarily to have shown pictures and their variety seems to have been limited to selections from the orchestra between films, with the piano selections of Eddie Kelly being particularly singled out in one notice.

The use of such local resources as the orchestra for commercial gain was the main criticism of the company expressed in the press. In an exchange of letters with Greeves-O’Sullivan, the orchestra’s conductor James Roche refused to participate in the venture, explaining that although he had been working with orchestra for a year without remuneration, he was not prepared to continue unpaid “where the band was being used for a private commercial speculation” (“Correspondence”). Greeves-O’Sullivan replaced Roche with local hairdresser Patrick Burke and seems to have gone on using the orchestra, but the exploitation by local businessmen of such community resources as orchestras and town halls for their own profit did cause conflict elsewhere during this period in the development of cinema.

References

Barton, Ruth. Irish National Cinema. London: Routledge, 2004.

“Correspondence.” East Galway Democrat 13 Dec. 1913: 5.

“Lady Suffragettes in Ballina.” Ballina Herald 21 Aug. 1913: 3.

“Living Pictures.” East Galway Democrat 6 Dec. 1913: 5.

“Local Topics: Deservedly Popular Show.” East Galway Democrat 18 Oct. 1913: 4.

“Local Topics: Picture and Variety Co. For Ballinasloe.” East Galway Democrat 15 Nov. 1913: 5.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 2 Oct. 1913: 31.

Phelan, Martin. “Emigration.” East Galway Democrat 15 Nov. 1913: 7.

“A Suffrage Meeting.” Western People 6 Sep. 1913: 6.