“Leaning towards the Spectacular”: The Suppression of the Sinn Fein Review in April 1919

Drogheda Advertiser 19 Apr. 1919: 3.

On the evening of Wednesday, 16 April 1919, Head Constable John Orr arrived at the Boyne Cinema in Fair Street, Drogheda, accompanied by a squad made up of all the available Royal Irish Constabulary men in the town’s Westgate and South Quay barracks. As Orr recorded in his official report of events, caretaker Thomas Borden told him that manager Joseph Stanley was not present and initially refused to give the policemen the key to the projection box. However, when Orr threatened to break in the door with a heavy hatchet he had instructed be brought from the barracks, Borden relented and opened the door. Seizing two reels of film that made up parts 1 and 2 of the Sinn Fein Review that had been produced and supplied to the cinema by Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply (GFS), Orr brought them back to Westgate barracks to await further instructions (CSORP).

Poster seen on 29 Mar. 1919 by Inspector Herbert of the Dublin Metropolitan in the window of the General Film Supply offices in Dublin. Courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland.

This dramatic raid was the end point of a process that began two-and-a-half weeks earlier, when a poster in the GFS office window at 17 Brunswick had caught the eye of Inspector Herbert of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) as he had been strolling past between 10 and 11am. Making this his business, Herbert had quizzed an unnamed GFS employee about the poster and had been told that the film showed “a number of incidents in connection with the Rebellion of 1916, its leaders, and the Sinn Fein movement generally which have been shown from time to time have been put into one film in review form” (CSORP).

What happened between these two police actions has been well known in Irish film studies since the late 1980s, thanks to Kevin Rockett’s detailed account in Cinema and Ireland, the first systemic book in the field (Rockett, Gibbons and Hill 34-6). Rockett based his account on a file in the National Archives of Ireland (NAI) that covers the banning of both the Sinn Fein Review in April 1919 and Ireland a Nation in January 1917 (see an account of the latter film here). As such, this file offers the richest detail of any official document of the period on the British authorities’ regulation of Irish cinema in the late 1910s, between the Easter Rising and the War of Independence. Rockett charts how the police and military authorities consulted on what to do, and citing the precedent set by the Ireland a Nation case, the police sent two detectives to view the film. Their report led to the conclusion that it should be banned because it was “Sinn Fein propaganda pure and simple.” When the police arrived at the GFS offices to seize the film, they were told that copies had already been despatched to Drogheda, precipitating the raid on the Boyne Cinema.

Ian Macpberson was appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland in January 1919; from Century Ireland.

The details of Irish Events films provided by the detectives and local newspaper accounts of the events in Drogheda deserve more attention than they have had, but it’s worth first saying something about the kind of source this file is. It is part of the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers (CSO/RP), the surviving documents held by NAI that went through the Dublin Castle office of the British cabinet minister with responsibility for the administration of Ireland. In April 1919, the post of chief secretary was held by Ian Macpherson, but as the two-year gap between the Ireland a Nation and Sinn Fein Review cases suggests, cinema-related cases only rarely crossed Macpherson’s desk.

The IVA advertises a 1919 funding drive; Freeman’s Journal 21 Jun. 1919: 4.

The day-to-regulation of cinema was done at a different level of government, by local councils under the powers provided by the 1909 Cinematograph Act. That act originally focused on the very real danger of loss of life from cinema fires caused by the bringing together of highly combustible nitrate film and light sources that produced high heat or even used a naked flame. As a result, regulations initially provided for fire-proof projection booths and auditoria with adequate provision for escape in the event of fire. The employees of the council who were given this responsibility typically belonged to the public health or sanitation department, such as Limerick Corporation’s sub-sanitary officer Solomon Frost, who in February 1919 prosecuted the Athenaeum Hall and Coliseum for overcrowding, or Dublin Corporation theatre inspector Walter Butler who in April 1919, brought similar charges against the Sackville Picture House, Pillar Picture House, Mary Street Picture House and Electric Theatre (“Limerick News,” “City Picture Houses,” “Picture House Crowding”). Butler was not just Dublin Corporation’s theatre inspector. His duties increased considerably in June 1916, when in response to the incessant lobbying of by the Catholic-church-based Irish Vigilance Association (IVA), the Corporation appointed him and Councillor Patrick Lennon film censors.

Frank Leah’s caricature of Eugene McGough; Irish Limelight Jun. 1918: 1.

When it became clear that Butler and Lennon could watch only a fraction of the films exhibited in Dublin, the IVA again successfully lobbied the Corporation for the appointment as additional censors of IVA members Eugene McGough and AJ Murray, “two gentlemen of education and standing in the City who are willing to devote their spare time to carry out the work, without fee or reward, solely in the interests of the citizens” (Dublin Corporation). In May 1919, the IVA claimed that McGough and Murray had watched over 700 films in the previous year, spending “2,100 hours of their time viewing these films before they were presented to the public, which meant that they were engaged for seven hours a day cutting out of these films whatever was objectionable” (“Worthy of Support”).

The definition of what was objectionable differed between the IVA-enhanced Corporation censors and the British officials at the CSO. In January 1918, McGough had clarified his and the IVA’s view that “pictures dealing with sexual matters should be prohibited by law and the house showing them should be heavily penalised” (“Our Cinema Censors”). This is shockingly clear; moving pictures should not treat sex or sexuality in any way. Historical or newsreel films such as Ireland a Nation and the Sinn Fein Review were beyond this kind of reproach, but they attracted the attention of the Castle authorities for political content that had the potentiality to cause disaffection among the majority nationalist audience. Nevertheless, politically contentious films that required the involvement of the CSO were rare, in part because the authorities used banning as a way of warning off distributors and exhibitors who may have seen a commercial opportunity in screening politically controversial material in times when Irish audiences appeared to be especially receptive to advanced nationalist, anti-British opinions.

Frank Leah’s caricature of Frederick Sparling, who was best known as the proprietor of the Bohemian Picture Theatre in Phibsboro, Dublin, but who had hired the larger and more centrally located Rotunda to show Ireland a Nation. Irish Limelight Aug. 1917: 1.

In this sense, distributor Frederick Sparling was doing the government’s work for them by keeping the Ireland a Nation case in the public eye. Not that that was his aim: the banning of the film had cost him a considerable sum in securing the distribution rights and in hiring the Rotunda, Dublin’s largest cinema at the time, in which to show it. Understandably, he sought compensation for the banning of a film that the press censor appointed under the Defence of the Realm Act had initially passed for exhibition. But by seeking redress from the War Losses Commission in January 1918 and when this proved unsatisfactory, prompting Irish Parliamentary MP Jeremiah McVeagh to ask a question about it in the House of Commons in February 1919, Ireland a Nation became exemplary of the difficulties over years that distributors could face if they released politically contentious material (“‘Ireland a Nation,’” “Irish Questions”).

Norman Whitten was well aware of these developments, but he had good reason to think that the Sinn Fein Review would not receive such treatment. For a start, the film was a newsreel compilation consisting almost exclusively of short items concerning Sinn Féin that had already been shown as part of Irish Events, and none of these individual items had been banned. The only non-Irish Events items were a couple of films that predated the start of Irish Events in July 1917 and the first film of Sinn Féin president Éamon de Valera since his daring escape from Lincoln Prison on 3 February 1919. Perhaps the de Valera film so prominently featured in advertising was the problem. If the police couldn’t recapture de Valera, they could capture his image. In any case, as the poster spotted by Inspector Herbert indicates, Whitten clearly made no secret that he was compiling the film and intended to offer it for sale. Fingal, the new writer of trade journal Bioscope’s “Irish Notes,” had mentioned it in his/her column of 10 April. “Mr. Whitten’s biggest scoop recently has been the filming of the Sinn Fein ‘President,’ Mr. de Valera, in his hiding place near Dublin after his escape from Lincoln Gaol,” Fingal observed. “This is being included in a film survey of the Sinn Fein movement since the Dublin rebellion in 1916, and is being released under the title ‘Sinn Fein Review’” (“Irish Notes”).

Fingal gave some attention not only to this first Irish newsreel compilation but also to other ambitious film projects that Whitten had in train. These included the feature-length hagiography In the Days of St Patrick, the first scenes of which Fingal had seen and praised as “strikingly picturesque.” But Fingal began the column with the political events that GFS’s Irish Events newsreel covered more generally. “The Irish people have a decided leaning towards the spectacular,” the column began.

Which is a good thing for the makers of topical films.

“Irish Events” is never short of good topical material, and is very popular with audiences in this country. […] At the present moment the most dramatic and picturesque incidents are being provided by the Sinn Feiners.

Fingal probably did not get a chance to see the full Sinn Fein Review, and it does not survive, but Inspectors George Love and Neil McFeely wrote a detailed description of it in their report of a special screening at the GFS offices on the morning of 12 April 1919. “The Film is in two parts and it takes half an hour to show,” they began, before describing the items in each part. Paraphrasing them slightly, these were:

Part I

  1. The annual Republican pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave at Bodenstown, including a scene at the graveside.
  2. The first Sinn Féin electoral victory in the North Roscommon by-election on 5 February 1917, featuring successful candidate Count George Plunkett.
  3. Scenes at the East Clare by-election after the declaration of the poll on 11 July 1917, showing successful candidate de Valera in uniform alongside Plunkett and Sinn Féin leader Arthur Griffith.
  4. The Sinn Féin Convention at Dublin’s Mansion House on 25 October 1917, showing delegates leaving.
  5. Scenes at the East Cavan by-election of June 1918, showing senior Sinn Féin member Father Michael O’Flanagan and crowds outside the White Horse Hotel.
  6. The funeral procession in Dublin on 17 November 1918 for journalist and author Séumas O’Kelly, who had edited the Sinn Féin newspaper Nationality after Griffith’s arrest
  7. The procession from Dublin’s Westland Row railway station and scenes outside Fleming’s Hotel after the arrival of amnestied Easter Rising prisoners on 18 June 1917, and the reception of Countess Constance Markievicz after her release four days later.

Part II

  1. General election events in Dublin in December 1918, including scenes outside the polling booths, the declaration of the poll at Green Street, and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington congratulating Alderman Thomas Kelly.
  2. The anti-conscription meeting at Ballaghadereen on 5 May 1918, showing Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Dillon and de Valera addressing the audience from the same platform.
  3. Irish Women’s Anti-Conscription Procession in Dublin on 9 June 1918.
  4. Crowds outside the Mansion House on the occasion of the first Meeting of Dáil Eireann on 21 January 1919, with a group portrait of key figures.
  5. First film of de Valera after his escape from Lincoln Prison on 3 February.
  6. Markievicz exhibiting a picture she painted in Holloway Prison, entitled “Easter Week”; also the Countess engaged in gardening and painting a picture.
  7. De Valera’s first appearance in Dublin after his escape, showing his arrival at the Mansion House with Cathal Burgess [Brugha], footage of the Lord Mayor and his two daughters, and de Valera leaving the Mansion House.

Both parts were no doubt close to the standard 1,000-foot reel length, running about 15 minutes. As such, each numbered item ran an average of two minutes, but some were likely the one-minute standard of newsreel items while items taken from newsreel specials were probably over two minutes. Apart from the two final films of de Valera (II 5 and 7) and possible the one of Markievicz (II 6), it is probable that all the other films had been shown previously, as Whitten told the two detectives. Certainly some of them are readily identifiable as films discussed here previously, such as the newsreel special of the first Dáil.

While the structure of the film may seem a bit haphazard, it appears to sacrifice a strict commitment to chronology to a progress towards emotionally charged climaxes. Part I begins with a key annual event in the Republican calendar, the pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave in June, but the likely film used here was not the oldest Sinn Féin film but probably the film shot on 29 June 1918. Following it, the film proceeds chronologically through items I 2-6 of the by-elections, convention and Séumas O’Kelly’s public funeral. The final item of the triumphant return of the 1916 rebels from prisons in Britain is most clearly out of chronological order but is placed at the end of the reel because this event had such a strong emotional charge and showed the popularity of figures such as Markievicz.

The chronology of part II is not as disturbed, but it begins with the December 1918 general election, at which Sinn Féin had been so successful, before including events earlier in 1918 and finishing with de Valera’s reception at the Mansion House. The fact that Irish Events had two films of de Valera during his period after his escape from prison suggests a close connection between GFS and Sinn Féin, a convergence of the filmmakers’ leaning toward the spectacular and the politicians’ need for publicity. It is also interesting to note the prominence of Markievicz and other women activists again in this half of the film. “The Film as it stands,” Love and McFeely’s report concluded, “is a glorification of Sinn Fein and wherever exhibited would, no doubt, be good Sinn Fein Propaganda, and might in that way be objectionable to members of an audience holding different political views” (CSORP).

Handbill for the exhibition of the Sinn Fein Review at the Boyne Cinema. Courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland.

It was unlikely that many of the members of the Boyne Cinema’s audience held different political views, or at least were not aware in advance of the kind of film that the Sinn Fein Review was. Whether the GFS poster was used in Drogheda is not clear, but the cinema did issue a handbill that survives in the NLI file on the seizure of the film. The handbill also stresses de Valera’s name among all the Sinn Féin leaders who are connected to the movement’s history since 1916. The cinema itself had substantial 1916 connections, having been established by Joseph Stanley, the proprietor of the radical Gaelic Press in Dublin’s Liffey Street and printer of such key 1916 Rising documents as the Proclamation and the Irish War News. Stanley had been among the activists imprisoned in Britain, and Constable Orr in his report on the raid on the Boyne described him as a “Sinn Fein suspect, now living in Drogheda,” a phrase that may explain the heavy-handedness of the seizure.

The Boyne Cinema’s opening programme; Drogheda Independent 25 Jan. 1919: 1.

Although the Boyne seems largely typical of the many small cinemas of the period, Stanley’s radical politics marked it out in certain ways. When it opened on 27 January 1919, the Drogheda Independent reported that it would be run under “Irish-Ireland management” (“New Picture House”). This was immediately evident in the presentation of the opening programme, which was topped by the “Irish-made screamingly funny comedy” Rafferty’s Rise (Ireland: FCOI, 1917) and featured among its supplementary attractions the dancing of gold-medal Irish dancer Greta Daly. As a man under surveillance, Stanley’s choice of a film poking fun at the foibles of a rural constable may not have wholly accidental. This level of Irish content was not long maintained, however. During the second half of the opening week, the programme was topped by American comedy The Clodhopper (US: Kay Bee/New York, 1917), but perhaps there was more continuity in Charles Ray’s performance of the country bumpkin than initially seems. “People who foolishly imagine that a ‘Clodhopper’ cannot get on in other spheres of life,” the synopsis in the Drogheda papers warned. “should have their minds disabused by a view of th[is] famous comedy film “(“Only a ‘Clodhopper’”).

Drogheda Independent 19 Apr. 1919: 3.

The appearance of the Sinn Fein Review must have been a gift for Stanley, but audience reaction is a little more difficult to judge. Local newspapers carried no ads for the film, but they all reported differently on how waiting patrons reacted to the police raid on the cinema. “At the time of the seizure there was a large crowd outside waiting to gain admission,” the Drogheda Advertiser observed, “but there was little or no display on their part with the exception of cheering” (“Boyne Cinema Raided”). “The seizure was effected quietly, and without any excitement,” the Drogheda Argus reported. “The management, however, carried on to full houses during the evening with other pictures, as if nothing had happened” (“Sinn Fein Review Film Seized”). This impression that the audience was little disturbed by the seizure is contradicted by the Drogheda Independent, which suggested that the audience were hostile to the police actions: “the crowds in waiting accompanied their [the police’s] movements with shouts and jeers, interjecting as well remarks that seemed suited for the occasion” (“Picture Film Seized in Drogheda”). Even if the “excitement called up by the incident was short-lived,” this account suggests that it at least provided an occasion to express disapproval of the police.

While these different accounts would bear some more examination in relation to the editorial persuasion of Drogheda’s newspapers, they show that the Sinn Fein Review had at least brought Irish audiences’ leaning towards the spectacle onto the streets.

References

“Boyne Cinema Raided.” Drogheda Advertiser 19 Apr. 1919: 3.

“City Picture Houses: Alleged Overcrowding.” Dublin Evening Mail 25 Apr. 1919: 3.

CSORP/1919/11025. National Archives of Ireland.

Dublin Corporation, Reports, 1917: 173.

“‘Ireland a Nation’: Why Military Authorities Banned the Film.” Evening Telegraph 29 Jan. 1918: 3.

“Irish Notes.” Bioscope 10 Apr. 1919: 119.

“Irish Questions.” Cork Examiner 28 Feb. 1919: 4.

“Limerick News.” Cork Examiner 1 Feb. 1919: 5.

“New Picture House.” Drogheda Independent 25 Jan. 1919: 2.

“Only a ‘Clodhopper.’” Drogheda Argus 25 Jan. 1919: 1.

“Our Cinema Censors: The Difficulties They Have to Contend With.” Evening Herald 31 Jan. 1918: 2.

“Picture Film Seized in Drogheda.” Drogheda Independent 19 Apr. 1919: 2.

“Picture House Crowding in Dublin.” Dublin Evening Mail

Rockett, Kevin, Luke Gibbons and John Hill. Cinema and Ireland. Routledge, 1988.

“Sinn Fein Review Film Seized.” Drogheda Argus 19 Apr. 1919: 2.

“Worthy of Support: Activities of the Vigilance Association Outlined.” Weekly Freeman’s Journal 3 May 1919: 1.

Screening the Funeral of Thomas Ashe, September-October 1917

Collins Funeral of Thomas Ashe

Michael Collins gives a pointed graveside oration in The Funeral of Thos. Ashe (Ireland: GFS, 1917)

At 10pm on Sunday, 30 September 1917, Dublin’s Bohemian Picture Theatre exhibited a special newsreel film of the funeral of Thomas Ashe that marked the spectacular public culmination of a protest against British government treatment of Sinn Féin prisoners in Mountjoy prison. The occasion of the protest was the death on 25 September of Thomas Ashe, president of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, as a result of force-feeding while on hunger strike. In a series of demonstrations carefully stage-managed by republican leaders, Ashe’s body became the emblem of a new public solidarity between the various insurgent nationalist groups that were moving towards coalition under the name of Sinn Féin. His body lay in state first at the Mater hospital and following a procession through the city, at City Hall. The protest’s highlight was Ashe’s funeral at Glasnevin cemetery on 30 September, the largest public demonstration since the 1916 Rising was suppressed, at which the Irish Volunteers marched openly under arms and fired three volleys of shots over the coffin, “the only speech which it is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian,” as Michael Collins put it in his laconic graveside oration (“Funeral of Thomas Ashe”).

Boh Ashe Premiere 29 Sep1917 DEM

Ad for Bohemian Picture Theatre offering an exclusive screening of the full Funeral of Thos. Ashe film; Dublin Evening Mail 29Sep. 1917: 2.

The film of the funeral that the Bohemian showed was the work of Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply (GFS). The Evening Herald commended the exhibition on the evening of Ashe’s funeral “of films showing various ranges of the procession and scenes associated with it. The rifling part at the grave was included” (“30,000 Mourners”). The widespread publicity of organized events after Ashe’s death allowed Whitten and his “able lieutenant” J. Gordon Lewis to plan a newsreel special to supplement their regular Irish Events newsreel (“Films Up-to-Date”). In what might be called a prequel, some of the material relating to Ashe’s lying-in-state at City Hall was shown at such picture houses as the Rotunda and the Town Hall, Rathmines on the Saturday night preceding the funeral, with the complete film, including the procession through the city to the cemetery, due for general release on the following Monday. The final film was first exhibited, however, on the night of the funeral at the Bohemian, a picture house located on the route of the funeral procession out of the city, between Mountjoy prison and Glasnevin cemetery.

Rotunda THR Ashe 29 Sep 1917 DEM

Ads for Town Hall, Rathmines and Rotunda on Saturday 29 September featured newsreel of Ashe’s funeral, including scenes of the body lying in state at City Hall but not of the graveside; Dublin Evening Mail 29 Sep. 1917: 2.

Reporting on the filming of the funeral, the cinema journal Irish Limelight observed that people “took part in the procession, went home to have tea, and an hour later saw themselves on the screen. Some hustle on the part of the camera men!” (“Films Up-To-Date”). Reference has already been made here to the speed with which Whitten could prepare his films for exhibition, and this again distinguished the Thomas Ashe film produced for Irish Events from those of its competitors, in this case, from Charles McEvoy, proprietor of the Masterpiece Theatre, who also filmed the funeral but was unable to show his film until the Monday evening (ibid).

Bohemian Interior

Ad showing interior of the Bohemian Picture Theatre, Evening Telegraph 31 Jul. 1915: 3.

But the really interesting thing here is not just the speed with which the film was ready but also that it was shown at a picture house conveniently located for those who had attended the funeral. The Limelight report suggests that, having taken some refreshment, mourners reassembled at the Bohemian to reconstitute the political demonstration that the funeral represented. Here, they viewed the funeral distilled to its ten-minute highlights – twice the usual length of a newsreel – all taken from advantageous viewpoints. In a sense, the exhibition at the Bohemian represented the culmination of the political protest, of the concentration of the energies and emotions that had been built up over several days. That night the spectators were freed from the limited perspective available to people in a crowd; they saw all the key events from a sometimes privileged vantage point. The audience was now able to see itself, and specifically to see itself involved in a significant political protest. As such, the Bohemian screening of this film was a moment when the cinema assumed a key role in Irish political protest.

Thos Ashe funeral queues at City Hall

People queue to file past Ashe’s body in The Funeral of Thos. Ashe.

Although little information is available on what actually happened in the Bohemian that night, what does survive suggests that the film fostered audience interactivity – a participative kind of spectatorship – among the people who chose to attend its screening. While it is unlikely that many individual mourners could have identified themselves among the throngs depicted in long shot by the funeral film, the camera viewed many of the events from among the spectators and could therefore help re-create for its audience their participation in the funeral as a group by reproducing their optical perspective.

Thos Ashe removal from City Hall

Ashe’s Tricolour-draped coffin is removed from City Hall in The Funeral of Thos. Ashe.

Newspaper reports and photographs demonstrate that even such apparently god-like perspectives as the high-angle shots above the crowd reproduced the points of view of numerous mourners. “Over 200,000 spectators and sympathisers thronged the route,” declared one evening newspaper, “roofs, windows, verandas — even lamp-posts, railings, walls, hoardings, trees, statues, and monuments — every possible point of vantage was utilised by eager sightseers” (“30,000 Mourners”).

Ashe Funeral O'Connell Statue FJ 2 Oct 1917p6

Freeman’s Journal 2 Oct. 1917: 6.

The Freeman’s Journal reported that “residents of many houses were charging for seats at their windows, and that the sites were appreciated by those taking advantage of them was testified by the numbers who witnessed the procession from these points” (“Thomas Ashe”). The caption to a photograph in the Freeman reads:

Sunday at the O’Connell Statue: The above picture gives a very good idea of the dimensions of the crowd which surged round and up the base of the O’Connell Statue on Sunday afternoon. For fully two hours before the cortege was due to pass men and boys by the score fought to obtain a good view by climbing amongst the figures which adorn the plinth, until all but the statue itself was obscured.

Iron Strain Boh 30 Sep 1917

Still of Dustin Farnum and Enid Markey in The Iron Strain (US: Kay-Bee/New York, 1915), known in Ireland and Britain as A Modern Taming of the Shrew. Image from IMDb.

That said, other factors in the first exhibition of The Funeral of Thos. Ashe must have worked to dissipate this participative dynamic or to make it fleeting. Advertisements for the Sunday evening show at the Bohemian, for example, describe it as “a special long and interesting programme,” featuring “a five-part exclusive comedy-drama entitled, ‘A Modern Taming of the Shrew.’” This film – known in America as The Iron Strain – was a Western comedy starring Dustin Farnum and Enid Markey. With the evening performance beginning at 8.30 and the funeral film screening at ten o’clock, the audience would have experienced an hour and a half of A Modern Taming of the Shrew and other films before the funeral film. Nothing about this programming suggests that the audience was being kept in a suitably reverent, nationalistic or rebellious state of mind. There is also no report that the cinema’s well-publicized orchestra played dirges or patriotic tunes during the funeral scenes, although it seems very likely that it did during the screening of the funeral film itself because this was the practice on similar occasions.

As well as this, the Limelight article suggests that it was not primarily the continuation of the demonstration that brought mourners to the Bohemian but the narcissistic pleasure of seeing oneself on screen, of picking oneself out of the crowd. This kind of pleasure was certainly a feature of some of the earliest locally made films, which invited people who believed that they may have been filmed by a visiting cinematographer to “come and see yourself” on screen. And although there was a narcissistic potential here, early films also purposely employed the figuration of the crowd as an instance of identification with oneself not as an individual but as part of a collective.

May 1918 IL Irish Events ad CU

The cover of the May 1918 issue of Irish Events featured an ad listing 35 cinemas around Ireland that subscribed to Irish Events.

As such, this film and others like it address not only those who could claim this very direct form of spectatorial identification with the image that came from attending the event, but also those who would have wished to be there. In the weeks following the funeral, apart from cinema-goers who were indifferent or hostile, it is likely that screenings of the film in Dublin and around Ireland, not least in the 35 cinemas that subscribed to Irish Events, would have brought together spectators who had taken part in the demonstrations as well as those who had wished to but been unable to attend. From this perspective, these films are essentially local newsreels targeted at spectators who could decode them. Therefore, it was not only the actual participants who would be able to place themselves in the crowd, but also those who could fill in this “back-story,” those who would have wanted to be in the crowd and who, as a result, became virtual participants. These films worked on the desire to see oneself as a participant, whether or not one actually had been present at the event, and provided a semi-public context in which to experience this mediated participation.

Ch4Four

Irish Limelight Apr. 1918: 14

Such Irish Events specials as The Funeral of Thos. Ashe could be used to imply identification between the spectator and popular protest. In the period between the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence, GFS seems to have ensured its audience by being more obviously favourable to the nationalist cause. An ad on the cover of the April 1918 issue of Irish Limelight listed Irish Events specials: Irish Sinn Fein Convention; Funeral of Thos. Ashe; Release of the Sinn Fein Prisoners; South Armagh Election; Consecration of the Bishop of Limerick; Funeral of the Late John Redmond, M.P.; and Waterford Election. “It has been proved,” boasts the ad, “that topicals such as any of the above will attract a larger audience than a six-reel exclusive.” In the context of wider political events and especially when they took the place of the featured attractions at the top of the cinema programme, as The Funeral of Thos. Ashe did at the Bohemian Picture House on 30 September 1917, the political significance of these films becomes more fully visible.

References

“30,000 Mourners: Incidents in Yesterday’s Mighty Funeral.” Evening Herald 1 Oct. 1917: 3.

“Films Up-to-Date.” Irish Limelight Oct. 1917: 8.

“Funeral of Thomas Ashe: Sinn Fein Demonstration in Dublin.” Irish Times 1 Oct. 1917: 6.

“Sunday at the O’Connell Statue.” Freeman’s Journal 2 Oct. 1917: 6.

“Thomas Ashe: Funeral in Dublin Yesterday: Impressive Scenes: Enormous Crowds Throng the Streets.” Freeman’s Journal 1 Oct. 1917: 3.

“Peeps at Parochial Happenings”: Irish Events Newsreel Begins, June-July 1917

Political developments formed the context for the conception and launch of Ireland’s first newsreel, Irish Events, in the month between 18 June and 17 July 1917.

Jun 18 1917 ET Prisoners 2

The Evening Telegraph placed a very large photograph of the returned Irish prisoners leaving Westland Row station on its front page on 18 June 1917.

“Somewhere about 9 a.m. a man was about to enter his offices in Great Brunswick Street,” cinema trade journal Irish Limelight reported of the exciting events of 18 June 1917 in Dublin. On 15 June, the British government had announced a general amnesty for the remaining Irish people it had jailed for their roles in the 1916 Rising. Many of these prisoners had experienced jeers as they were marched out of Dublin in early May 1916; their homecoming would be very different, indeed a nationalist celebration. Nevertheless, there was tension in the city in the days leading up to their arrival because it was not clear when or by what route they would come. This was also true of the man leaving his office in Great Brunswick (now Pearse) Street. “It is possible that he was not feeling altogether in harmony with the glorious summer morning,” the Limelight observed.

For two days he had been on the alert, waiting and watching for the homecoming of the released Sinn Fein prisoners. He had no concern with their political views or with the views of the Government that set them at liberty. He was a kinematographer and he was out for business – and it looked as if the business was likely to elude him. (“Sinn Fein Prisoners’ Homecoming.”)

IRISHLIMEGHT1JUL_P17 002

Norman Whitten in his offices at 17 Great Brunswick Street; Irish Limelight 1:7 (Jul. 1917): 17. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

The man was Norman Whitten, managing director of General Film Supply, for whom the prisoners’ homecoming was “as good a ‘topical’ as had happened for a long time.” An English filmmaker who had learned the cinema business from pioneer Cecil Hepworth, Whitten had been working in Ireland since the early 1910s, making topical films of local interest and advertising films. He was also an agent for several British equipment manufacturers as well a distributor of certain films. Two days after the events described by the Limelight, he would be in Dublin’s nisi prius court successfully prosecuting James J. Fisher for outstanding monies related to the exhibition of the film Lost in the Eternal City, for which Whitten held the Irish rights (“Hire of a Film”). Whether Whitten ever received the £70 and costs awarded by the court is not clear because the Limelight pointedly reported on the same page as its account of Whitten’s filmmaking that Fisher, “so well known in Ireland in connection with the official war films, left for Salonika on the 25th June” (“Mr. J. J. Fisher”).

In any case, early on 18 June, Whitten was presented with an opportunity. Westland Row station was about five-minutes walk from his office. “His key was just in the lock when a wave of cheering came down the street from the Westland Row end,” the Limelight report continues:

Looking up he saw the Sinn Fein tricolour waving at the head of a procession just turning into Great Brunswick Street. One glance was enough, and in another he was feverishly active inside in the office. Where was that favourite camera? How many feet of film had he? Where was the other box? And the tripod! (“Sinn Fein Prisoners’ Homecoming.”)

Prisoners photo IL Jul 1917

A framegrab or “cinephoto” from Whitten’s film, showing the former prisoners passing the Queen’s Theatre in Brunswick Street, which was beside Whitten’s office. Irish Limelight 1:7 (Jul. 1917): 16. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Having assembled his equipment, “he was out again in the street, the tripod was mounted on a chair, the eye of the kinematograph was pointed directly at the oncoming procession and the first film of the ex-prisoners’ homecoming was being taken.” He followed the procession through the streets to Fleming’s Hotel in Gardiner Street, where some of the former prisoners obliged him by waiting in their carriages until he had set up his camera to film them getting down.

To capitalize on this scoop, however, Whitten had to show the “hustle” for which he was renowned by developing, printing and delivering the film to the Dublin’s cinemas interested in it. In doing this, he needed to be faster than the other filmmakers who were also out shooting these events, including Gaumont’s Mr Russell. Among its extensive production and distribution businesses, Gaumont produced its own newsreel, the Gaumont Graphic, and the company had shot their first topical in Ireland in June 1913 (“Irish Topical”). Its well-appointed offices in Dublin’s Lord Edward Street included facilities for developing and printing film, but for some reason – possibly lack of personnel – Russell had to send his film to England to be processed (“Building News”). Whitten, by contrast, processed his own film, and as a result, the excitement of the shooting in the streets was followed by

hours of swift and delicate work in the ruddy gloom of the developing room and in the arid light of the drying room. Three hundred and fifty feet of film had to be fixed on the developing frames and plunged into the tanks for eight minutes, then rinsed and fixed. In the balance of half-an-hour it was washed. Fifteen minutes later the whirling drums had dried it. (“Sinn Fein Prisoners’ Homecoming.”)

At this period, a film of 350 feet would usual run five to six minutes, but this was not the completed film. Whitten edited the raw footage and added end- and intertitles to produce a finished film that likely ran five minutes, the typical length of a newsreel. This was not a typical newsreel film, however, because a newsreel usually consisted of five one-minute items showing a mixture of news and social events. Instead, this was a special topical. “By 3 p.m.,” the Limelight revealed, “three copies had been printed and fully titled with a photograph of McGuinness added at the end and were rushed off in taxis to the picture houses which had been enterprising enough to book this ‘red-hot topical.’” Joseph McGuinness had been a prisoner in Lewes jail when he was elected MP in the May 1917 Longford South by-election, and he had been at Fleming’s Hotel to greet the returned prisoners.

Boh Release Prisoners 13 Jun 18 1917 DEM

Bohemian Picture Theatre with Whitten’s film of the released prisoners; Dublin Evening Mail 18 Jun. 1917: 2.

The film was ready for afternoon showings in Dublin’s picture houses, but its initial run of just three copies meant that it could only play at three venues: the Bohemian Picture Theatre in Phibsboro, the Town Hall, Rathmines (THR) and the city-centre Rotunda. The managers of these picture houses certainly believed that the film would be a draw, and the Bohemian and THR even managed to have it prominently mentioned in their ads in the evening newspapers. Among those who were attracted were some of the prisoners themselves:

Some of the ex-prisoners and their friends could not resist the temptation to see themselves “in the pictures,” and a contingent marched up to the Rotunda early in the afternoon. They cheerfully acceded to the genial manager’s request that they should leave their flags in the porch, and, when inside, gave every indication of enjoying not only “their own film” but the rest of the programme. (“Sinn Fein Prisoners’ Homecoming.”)

Markievicz IL Jul 1917

Cinephoto from Whitten’s film of the return of Countess Markievicz on 21 June 1917; Irish Limelight Jul. 1917: 16. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

The Limelight’s detailed account of Whitten’s work on this film suggests that he was working alone at this point on shooting, processing and dispatching; it does not mention any employees. Nevertheless, people in the business knew Whitten’s abilities from previous events he had filmed, and on Thursday of that week, he would repeat his achievement when he had a film of the arrival back in Ireland of republican leader Countess Constance Markievicz for showing at 10:30pm, even though she did not reach Westland Row station until 6:45pm. Nevertheless, for the Monday film, he appears to have been overwhelmed by the number of requests for copies and resorted to offering other topicals he had shot of Irish and National Volunteers and the funeral of republican Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. When even these supplies were exhausted, desperate exhibitors were prepared to accept even Irish-themed fiction films. “[W]hen everything that could by any stretch of the imagination have been utilised as a ‘topical’ was used up,” the Limelight commented, “they fell back upon ‘The Shaughraun,’ ‘The Colleen Bawn,’ and other film plays of the earlier ‘Irish’ type.”

The phenomenal success of this film and the one of Markievicz later in the week formed the basis for Whitten’s launch of an Irish newsreel service he called Irish Events just a month later. While he must have been considering an Irish newsreel for some time, the decision to launch it in July 1917 appears to have been a sudden one because he did not mention it to the Limelight reporter who so thoroughly covered his work on the film of the released prisoners. But then he was “a hustler from Hustlerville,” as the Limelight called him (“‘Irish Events’”). The Limelight did publish a long article on the launch of Irish Event in its August issue, urging all Irish exhibitors to subscribe to it, but by the start of August, three issues of Irish Events had already been released. “Irish people always will be glad to glimpse really interesting happenings in Great Britain and abroad,” it observed, “but when it comes to peeps at parochial happenings – well, they would certainly prefer to see pictures of sports at, say, Corke Park, instead of pictures of an English sports meeting” (“‘Irish Events’”).

Ch4One

Members of the crowd smile and gesture happily when the newsreel camera is trained on them in Release of the Sinn Fein Prisoners (Ireland: General Film Supply, 1917). Courtesy of the Irish Film Institute.

Although some Irish Events would be released as specials like the film of the returning prisoners, the regular format of Irish Events mirrored that of the other newsreels such as Gaumont Graphic, Pathé News and Topical Budget. That is to say, it included both political and social events. The first few issues included “aquatic and other sports meetings, Phœnix Park demonstrations, the great funeral which the Sinn Feiners gave Mrs. MacDonagh, widow of their executed leader, the Twelfth of July Celebrations in Belfast and a fete in Lord Iveagh’s grounds” (“‘Irish Events’”). It is unlikely that Whitten could have covered all these events alone and run the other aspects of his business. Indeed, when the Limelight highlighted an Irish Events item on the Clontarf Aquatic Festival, it observed that it had been shot by both Whitten and his camera operator J. Gordon Lewis, who would become Whitten’s close collaborator. Over the Irish Events’ years of existence between 1917 and 1921, Whitten and Lewis would shoot such everyday occurrences and present them alongside some of the most momentous political events of Ireland’s history.

References

“Building News.” Irish Builder and Engineer 12 Apr. 1913: 250.

“Hire of a Film: ‘Lost in the Eternal City’: Action for £70.” Dublin Evening Mail 20 Jun. 1917: 4.

“‘Irish Events’: An Enterprise that Merits the Support of Every Exhibitor in this Country: News Films from the Four Provinces.” Irish Limelight 1:8 (Aug. 1917): 18-19.

“Irish Topical.” Bioscope 19 Jun. 1913: 857.

“Mr. J. J. Fisher.” Irish Limelight 1:7 (Jul. 1917): 17.

“Sinn Fein Prisoners’ Homecoming: Story of the Filming of Recent Remarkable Street Scenes in Dublin. Irish Limelight 1:7 (Jul. 1917): 16-17.

“Town Topics: Being a Casual Causerie.” Dublin Evening Mail 7 May 1917: 2.

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

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 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.

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.

Rolls of Honour: Irish Film Businesses and the War, Autumn 1914

“The British Cinematograph Industry has made a magnificent response to the country’s call for men at this terrible crisis,” observed the trade journal Bioscope shortly after Britain’s entry into the First World War. The magazine requested that “managers of the cinematograph business houses or theatres, any of whose workers have temporarily left them for this noble purpose, kindly communicate the fact to us, mentioning the name of the man and the regiment he is joining” (“Trade Topics”). The following issue’s “Roll of Honour” (20 Aug.), a list of members of the trade who had joined the armed forces, did not mention any men from Irish companies, but Irish correspondent Paddy observed that one of the sons of Irish exhibitor James T. Jameson had “been called to the colours” (Paddy, 20 Aug.).

Roll of Honour 1

The Bioscope’s second “Roll of Honour” for men in film businesses who enlisted featured five Irishmen; 27 Aug. 1914: 784.

Beginning on 27 August, the names of employees in Irish or Ireland-based film companies began to appear on the Bioscope’s “Roll of Honour.” The first of those mentioned was William Vass Morris of Cork, described in the census of 1911 as a photographic agent, who was joining the South Irish Horse. Morris was joined on this list by three members of Gaumont’s Dublin office, another Morris, Ganey and Kinnemont, and by Byrne of Dublin’s Grand Cinema. Two members of Provincial Cinematograph’s Belfast staff – Cummings and Lydall – appeared on the first “Roll of Honour” in September. Provincial had already publicized the special contribution of its personnel to the war effort, and the Dublin Evening Mail had duly passed on this information to its readers (“The Picture House Staff”). Those named by the Evening Mail article had prominent positions in the company’s London head office, including chairman of the board Sir William Bass and general manager Aubrey Meares. It also claimed that

[b]etween 60 and 70 attendants at various theatres owned by this company have been called out on reserve, and the company has decided to allow 10s per week to the wife, and 2s 6d for each child during the man’s absence. All employes will be re-instated at the conclusion of the war. (Ibid.)

By early October, Dublin’s Evening Telegraph was putting the number of Provincial staff who had “joined his Majesty’s forces” at 109 (“Picture House Employes”).

Ad for war films at the Grafton; Dublin Evening Mail, 14 Sep. 1914: 2.

Ad for war films at the Grafton; Dublin Evening Mail, 14 Sep. 1914: 2.

Some Irish film production companies expanded their business during the war, taking advantage of new filmmaking opportunities – although these were not without risks – as well as pursuing some innovative work. Norman Whitten of the General Film Supply featured in a short article in the Bioscope in mid-September. It explained that Whitten had mounted a platform in front of a train to take “the beautiful scenery around Galway Bay. In the light of recent stirring events, the ‘topcials’ secured should be of distinct value to exhibitors” (“New Series of Irish Topicals”). As well as this kind of work that he had been doing for some time, Whitten – assisted by a Mr. Ashton who presumably had taken the place of Whitten’s previous cameraman, Benny Cann – made several war-themed films, but not as many as he planned. In early September, Paddy reported that Whitten had been threatened with being shot if he persisted in trying to film soldiers embarking on transport ships at Dublin’s North Wall. The War Office had revoked the permit to film that Whitten had earlier obtained. As Paddy observed, this was disappointing for Whitten, who had been building up his business in local topicals to a point where his film Funeral of Victims Shooting Affair Sunday, July 26th circulated in eight copies, which “constitutes rather a record” (Paddy, 3 Sep.). This film was of continuing relevance because of the campaign of the relatives of victims to get Dublin Corporation to petition the king (“Bachelor’s Walk Outrage”).

Whitten appears to have had eight regular subscribers for his topicals in Dublin, but such a circulation seems small by comparison with the other kinds of war films his company was making at the time. Paddy described Whitten’s Sons of John Bull as both a topical and a “‘cartoon’ film,” but the element of animation is not clear from his description, which makes the film appears to have been a series of filmed portraits and/or still images connected with dissolves and intertitles:

[I]t is a series of photos, hand-coloured, of famous people connected with the war. Each subject dissolves into the next, which rather enhances the beauty of the film. Another portion of the film is entitled “Friends,” and depicts famous men connected with our Allies, including a splendid photo of the king of Belgium. (Paddy, 3 Sep.)

The film ran 100 feet (or about 1 minute 40 seconds), but it is not clear why Paddy considered it “a great advance over the system of still slides,” which it clearly resembled, albeit without the presence of a lantern lecturer to explain the images.

By early October, Paddy was characterizing this film as “a pronounced success in Dublin and elsewhere,” and revealing Whitten’s plans to release a second film of the same kind on 22 October (Paddy, 1 Oct.). Twice the length of Son of John Bull at 200 feet, Britannia’s Message appears to have included newsreel and to have begun with an animated sequence. It

opens with Britannia drawing aside some curtains and revealing a German spy. Interesting scenes include an outside view of hundreds of young fellows besieging a recruiting office, a view of the Rugby Volunteers drilling at Lansdowne Road, Dublin, and a view of troops leaving for camp. (Ibid.)

The latter was presumably shot after Whitten had been given a new permit. The potential public interest beyond Ireland in these pro-war shorts was indicated by the fact that British distributor Cosmopolitan was handling them.

Within Ireland, business at the cinemas was reported to be good. In mid-September, Paddy made a tour of many of Dublin’s cinemas reporting that “in the great majority of cases [I] found business excellent; in fact, in certain houses exceptionally brisk.” His researches made him conclude that there was a difference between working-class and middle-class picture houses. He argued that

it is chiefly the houses which make an appeal to the 2d. and 3d. people that suffer most from the war. The patrons of these houses were largely drawn from reservists of one kind and another and their families. The bread-winner being away on service, the family naturally are thrown back on slenderer resources, and so cannot attend the “movies” as frequently as they might wish. However, as business gradually resumes more normal aspects, it is to be hoped that this state of things will be somewhat alleviated. (Paddy, 24 Sep.)

The Picturedrome is visible on the right of this photograph of Dublin's Harcourt Road. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/7628356832/

The Picturedrome is visible on the right of this photograph of Dublin’s Harcourt Road in c. 1912. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/7628356832/

One working-class picture house that he visited was the Picturedrome in Harcourt Road. For Paddy, the Picturedrome was “a theatre which I regret to find I have not mentioned in these notes for some time,” but he was not alone in his lack of coverage because the Picturedrome – catering for a local working-class audience – did not advertise in the Dublin newspapers and so was ignored by reviewers. “Business here was fairly brisk,” Paddy observed, “considering the regular patrons of the hall are drawn from men now with the colours.” Manager Will Sommerson was presenting a bill dominated by three Vitagraph films The Auto Bandits of New York, Old Reliable and Her Mother’s Wedding Gown. “[I]t’s astonishing the popularity of Vitagraph films in Ireland” – although The Auto Bandits seems to have been made by the Ruby Feature Film Company. The only other film he mentioned at the Picturedrome was “an exceptionally interesting scenic, ‘The Volcanoes of Java’” (ibid.).

Tivoli Theatre of Varieties, Burgh Quay, Dublin, May 1915. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/12082817723/

Tivoli Theatre of Varieties, Burgh Quay, Dublin, May 1915. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/12082817723/

The most notable thing about the Picturedrome’s programme is that Sommerson appears to have chosen none of the war-themed films that some other exhibitors were making a point of including on their programmes. At the Tivoli Theatre of Varieties, for example, the music-hall bill included the films Cyclists of the Belgian Army and The 23rd French Dragoons, which “had been specially procured by Mr. Charles M. Jones for the benefit of his patrons – a large proportion of soldiers being amongst the audience each night” (ibid.). At the Dorset Hall, manager Frederich Sullivan accompanied the dramas Jim, the Fireman (Britain: Barker, 1914) and In the Wolf’s Fangs (US: Bison, 1914) with “the authentic film of the Germans entering Brussels, and I noted that this film had been passed by the Censor” (ibid.).

The Man About Town's "Things Seen and Heard" column began with items on film on 5 and 10 Oct. 1914: 2.

The Man About Town’s “Things Seen and Heard” column in the Evening Herald began with film items on 5 and 10 Oct. 1914: 2.

Commentators in the Dublin papers were more ambivalent about war films. Also writing on 24 September, the same day as Paddy’s coverage of the Dublin picture houses appeared in the Bioscope, the Evening Herald columnist The Man About Town was pleased to hear from “the proprietor of one of our largest picture houses” that business was quite good, as well as to get a demonstration of the Topical Picture Slide, a new method of displaying topical news. Despite this unnamed proprietor’s focus on matters topical, he told the Man About Town that “[p]eople hear so much about the war that when they go to a cinema they look for something to relieve their minds from the awfulness of it, and I find that with a carefully selected and well-balanced programme business is really good.” A regular cinemagoer, the Man About Town provided an example a week later of a picture house patron who was traumatized by war images on screen. “I was attending a picture theatre the other day with a lady,” he revealed,

and gradually it was borne in upon me that my airy persiflage was falling on deaf or, at least, inattentive ears. The film was telling a thrilling story, and the incidents just being depicted were those of a naval encounter in the course of which the hero – an officer of the Royal Navy – is fatally wounded. My companion seemed a little distraite, and at last observed: “Oh, I wish they wouldn’t show things like this.” Then I remembered that her brother is at present serving in a ship in the North Sea. The cunning of the scene was too much for her. (30 Sep.)

Earlier in the month, he had suggested that certain picture houses were clumsily attempting to elicit patriotic responses from the Dublin audience. “In a picture theatre in — street yesterday a picture of King — was shown,” he observed,

the band played “— Save the King,” the audience uncovered (their heads), and there was some applause. So far so well. Then a raucous voice shouted in an unmistakable brogue, “Hip, hip, hurrah.” Without being able to swear to it, I have no doubt, having regard to the accent, the venue, and the audience, that this enthusiast was a paid rather than a paying spectator. In other words that he was one of the staff. Surely enthusiasm should grow of itself, and not be fomented in this way? As it was the demonstration fell flat. (12 Sep.)

The role of the picture house attendant who cheered was clearly crucial here, but music also played a significant part in this case and generally in shaping the experience of patrons. Paddy commented that the music at the Phibsboro Picture House at the northern edge of the city was “deserving of great praise, and no one takes more interest in her work or gives a more spirited and tasteful exhibition of playing than Miss Eagar”(24 Sep.). The Man About Town included an item entitled “‘Glorious’ War,” in which he demonstrated the way that talented musicians could influence the audience’s reception of war films. “While I was at a picture-house the other night,” he began, “scenes were shown of Belgian wounded being removed in ambulances. The pictures were rather harrowing, and as they were being displayed the band discoursed Elgar’s famous march, ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ It set one thinking” (14 Sep.).

Therefore, although Irish film businesses generally embraced the pro-war patriotism that dominated the British industry, local exhibitors and audiences were more ambivalent about what they were seeing on the screen.

References

“Bachelor’s Walk Outrage: Relatives of the Victims: Corporation Resolution: To Petition King.” Evening Telegraph 5 Oct. 1914: 4.

The Man About Town. “Things Seen and Heard: ‘Glorious’ War.” Evening Herald 12 Sep. 1914: 2; 14 Sep. 1914: 2; 24 Sep. 1914: 2; 30 Sep. 1914: 2.

“New Series of Irish Topicals.” Bioscope 17 Sep. 1914: 1079.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 20 Aug. 1914: 752; 3 Sep. 1914: 913; 24 Sep. 1914: 1129; 1 Oct. 1914: 31.

“Picture House Employes.” Evening Telegraph 10 Oct. 1914: 3.

“The Picture House Staff: Many Men Off to the Front.” Dublin Evening Mail 21 Aug. 1914: 4.

“Roll of Honour.” Bioscope 20 Aug. 1914: 784; 27 Aug. 1914: 3 Sep 1914: 869.

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 13 Aug. 1914: 617.

The Long and Short of the Irish Cinema Programme in Early 1914

The May 2014 announcements by US television networks of the shows that would make up the autumn schedules was just the latest instance of a process that had been going on for a century, albeit in a slightly different form. At the end of May 1914, the British trade journal Bioscope carried an article on “the Selig company’s immense production, ‘The Adventures of Kathlyn,’ which will be released in thirteen parts on alternate Mondays, commencing on Monday, July 27th, the first part being about 2,950 ft. in length, and each subsequent part 2,000 ft” (“The Selig Serial Film”). The article noted that the two-week (rather than one-week) gap between episodes was uncommon, but “it is unlikely that this somewhat unusually prolonged interval will prevent the public from following the story from beginning to end with the most lively and unwavering interest.” This article did not mention that the series had been released in America at Christmas 1913.

Kathlyn II ad Bio

Ad for the second episode of Selig’s The Adventures of Kathlyn appeared in the Bioscope in early June, offering cinema owners the opportunity to plan their autumn schedule. This episode puts Kathlyn among wild animals, but then “[n]o important Selig film would be really complete without it wild animal performers” (“The Selig Serial Film”).

With their feisty heroines, the serial-queen dramas were an extraordinary phenomenon of the 1910s that has already been discussed here. However, what is interesting in the Bioscope article is the degree to which the serial-queen phenomenon was underplayed and instead its similarities to other serials was stressed: “‘The Adventures of Kathlyn’ is to be a connected record of various amazing episodes in the strange career of an adventurous American girl, a feature in which it is identical, curiously enough with most of the other serial pictures already produced” (ibid). Although the gender of the main protagonist is, of course, mentioned, the writer of this article is more interested in reflecting on the way that filmmakers had expanded the dramatic form. “The producer of picture plays has not only created an entirely new form of art,” s/he argued,

he has also invented several original forms in which to present that art to the public First of all he gave us tabloid drama, offering us tragedies and comedies of every character more closely compressed than any we had seen before. This did not exhaust his versatile imagination, however, and, having experimented freely with plays of all shapes and lengths, he ends by giving us serial drama, thus completing his chain of novelties, which includes both the longest and the shortest plays on record. (Ibid.)

Cinema, for this writer, could encompass works of varying lengths. However given that debate in the trade in May 1914 was again cohering around the “long film,” it’s questionable how harmonious the evolution of the film programme had actually been. The debate on the composition of the programme had been going on with some heat since 1911, when films of more than one, 1000-foot reel or 15 minutes began to appear in noticeable numbers. In September 1911, the Bioscope’s editorial writer had pointed out that “[i]t may be that occasionally a lengthy film deserves its number of feet and proves a big attraction, but this very fact serves to emphasise our assertion – that variety is the key-note of the success attained by the cinematograph show” (“The Length of the Film”). At that point, a long film was any film of three reels or more, running over forty minutes. A programme consisted – and continued to consist for some time – of a variety of shorter subjects.

Bioscope ad for Keystone that includes for the first time an image of Chaplin, “the famous English pantomimist”; 14 May 1914: xxx.

Bioscope ad for Keystone that includes for the first time an image (here very indistinct) of Chaplin, “the famous English pantomimist”; 14 May 1914: xxx.

In May 1914, the Bioscope’s editorial writer seemed again to be leaning towards variety and against the long film:

For a considerable time the question of the long film has been a problem responsible for much perturbation amongst the members of the British cinematograph industry. At its first coming we were all – or most of us – enthusiastically in favour of it; now, by the usual swing of the pendulum, a large proportion of us seems to be against it. The truth is that we have scarcely had time to adopt towards it any final and settled attitude at all. (“The Long Film.”)

In fact, by 1914, it was clear that “[t]he long film is good, and, in the end, the public (especially the most intelligent and best paying sections of it) wants what is good” (ibid). It was possible in Dublin in late 1913 and early 1914 for a film to fill the two hours that a picture-house programme was expected to last, as The Messiah (France: Pathé, 1913) had recently done over Easter at Dublin’s Rotunda. It was even possible for an exceptionally long film to rearrange the screening times at a picture house, as The Three Musketeers (Les Trois Mousquetaires; France: Film d’Art, 1912) had done at Dublin’s Phoenix Picture Palace in November 1913, when the over-three-hour film necessitated cutting the usual three shows a day to two. The long film was good, but the short film was still ubiquitous and popular. For the week running from 29 June to 4 July 1914, the Phoenix’s “programme for the first half of the week contains seven films that will take two hours to unspool, the star film being a Lubin two-reel society drama entitled ‘Out of the Depths’” (“Phoenix Picture Palace”). The Rotunda’s programme for the second half of that week consisted of five films: The Flaming Diagram (US: IMP, 1914), A Deal with the Devil (Denmark: Nordisk, 1914), Broncho Billy’s True Love (US: Essanay, 1914), Mabel’s Strange Predicament (US: Keystone, 1914) and the Pathé Gazette (“Rotunda Pictures,” DEM). Although Mabel’s Strange Predicament also featured Charlie Chaplin, for Dublin newspapers Mabel Normand was the biggest star: “this little lady is the leading comedienne of filmland” (ibid).

Valentine Grant and Sidney Olcott posing for a publicity still during the shooting of their 1914 Irish films. http://irishamerica.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/19_Grant_Olcott.jpg

Valentine Grant and Sidney Olcott posing for a publicity still during the shooting of their 1914 Irish films. http://irishamerica.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/19_Grant_Olcott.jpg

Variety was an issue for Ireland’s few film producers, as well as for exhibitors anxious to underline the local elements of moving-picture entertainments. Long films were being made in Ireland in 1914. Sidney Olcott would visit for the last time that summer for the fifth year in a row and would again base himself near Killarney in Co. Kerry. At the same time, Walter Macnamara, the Waterford-born filmmaker best known as the writer-producer of George Loane Tucker’s white-slave drama Traffic in Souls (US: IMP, 1913), was in Ireland shooting the location scenes of his Irish historical epic Ireland, a Nation (US: Macnamara, 1914).

Using labour leader Jim Larkin's name as an attention grabber, Butler & Sons offered to act as Irish agents for British film companies; Bioscope 28 May 1914: 976.

Using labour leader Jim Larkin’s name as an attention grabber, George Butler & Sons offered to act as Irish agents for British film companies; Bioscope 28 May 1914: 976.

It was in actuality and newsreel subjects that Irish-based filmmakers (as distinct from the US-based Olcott and Macnamara) were active and, it seemed, thriving. Among the most prominent of these was Norman Whitten of the General Film Supply (GFS) who, the Bioscope reported in late May, was forced to move to new and larger premises at 17 Great Brunswick (now Pearse) Street, Dublin, because of increasing business, including in local topicals. The premises “are at present being fitted up, and will include laboratories with the latest machinery for film development, also a very fine showroom” (“Items of Interest”). Earlier in the month, Paddy, the Bioscope’s Ireland correspondent, had praised GFS’s topical of the Curragh races, which was the work of Benny Cann, a cameraman whom Whitten had recently employed. Cann had been through three wars, most recently the Balkans war (Paddy, 7 May). At the start of August, Paddy was reporting that Cann was again leaving Ireland for Serbia (Paddy, 6 Aug.).

Review of the Rotunda programme that mentioned the rapturous reception of the political film The Annual Pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone's Grave; Evening Telegraph 23 Jun. 1914: 2.

Review of the Rotunda programme that mentioned the rapturous reception of the political film The Annual Pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s Grave; Evening Telegraph 23 Jun. 1914: 2.

In moving to Great Brunswick Street, Whitten was helping to make that street the centre of the film and theatre businesses in Dublin. Among the other prominent film companies there was Rotunda proprietor James T. Jameson’s Irish Animated Picture Company at #185. Jameson showed GFS topicals, and it is likely that GFS filmed the topical of the demonstration by insurgent nationalists on 21 June at the grave of 1798 Rebellion leader Wolfe Tone. When shown at the Rotunda on a bill that included Chaplin’s Making a Living, The Annual Pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s Grave “was received with possibly the greatest of applause yet extended to any film previously shown at this house, and especially the portion containing the march of the Irish Volunteers to the Graveside” (“Rotunda Pictures,” ET). Such topics were not just the preserve of insurgent nationalists, as has already been seen here. On the 28 May, Paddy reported that the Unionist Ulster Volunteers’ “‘Procession at Ardoyne’ was filmed on the 10th inst., and shown at the West Belfast Picture Theatre during the week (Paddy, 28 May).

Not all film businesses were thriving by mid-1914, even in the film-mad city of Belfast. “Jotting from Ulster” on 7 May reported rumours of a new picture house on High Street, Belfast, a few doors from the Panopticon, and like it, a conversion of a furniture warehouse. However, the new cinema was “for the purpose of catering for the large body of patrons who showered their money so extensively upon the now defunct St. George’s Hall” (“Jotting,” 7 May). In losing the St. George’s Hall, Belfast had lost one of its first picture houses. Jottings had reported in November 1913 that the company “Entertainment Halls, Limited, have abandoned the pioneer palace of Belfast – St. George’s – the directorate having been unable to satisfy the requirements of the corporation” (“Jottings,” 13 Nov).

Neverthlesss, as the second half of 1914 began, both Belfast and Dublin were experiencing diversity in their range of picture houses and the nature of the programmes they provided.

References

“‘The Adventures of Kathlyn’: Selig Inaugurates New Series.” Motography vol. X, no. 13 (Christmas 1913): 459-60.

“Items of Interest.” Bioscope 28 May 1914: 900.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 13 Nov. 1913: 589; 7 May 1914: 633.

“The Length of the Film: A Question of Policy.” Bioscope 7 Sep. 1911: 471.

“The Long Film.” Bioscope 7 May 1914: 569.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 7 May 1914: 629; 28 May 1914: 959; 6 Aug. 1914: 543.

“Phoenix Picture Palace.” Dublin Evening Mail 27 Jun. 1914: 3.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 23 Jun. 1914: 2.

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

“The Selig Serial Film: ‘The Adventures of Kathlyn.’ Part 1.: ‘The Unwelcome Throne.’ Bioscope 21 May 1914: 837.

“Growing in Favour to an Enormous Extent”: New Media, Ireland 1914

A little after 7pm on Friday, 6 February 1914, architect and inveterate theatregoer Joseph Holloway and his niece Eileen O’Malley arrived at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre to find that the parterre was already full and there was standing room only in the upper circle. They decided not to stand for that evening’s final performance of the pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk, which was a benefit for comedian Jay Laurier, the actor who played Miffins. Instead they walked to the Nassau Street corner of Grafton Street to take a tram to the Dorset Picture Hall where they spent the evening watching a series of “interesting” but unnamed pictures (Holloway). It’s not clear why they passed the other picture houses along the tram route across the city to favour the Dorset, but Holloway seems to have taken a liking to the Dorset, having seen Kissing Cup (Britain: Hepworth, 1913) there with Eileen on 2 January and The Child from the Sea alone on 28 January. He had also recently seen Germinal (France: Pathé, 1913) at the Princess Cinema in Rathmines and the show of Kinemacolor films at the Queen’s Theatre.

Handbill for films at the Dorset during the week of 15-21 June 1914 with three changes of programme.

Handbill for films at the Dorset during the week of 15-21 June 1914 with three changes of programme. National Library of Ireland.

Holloway’s diary entries on his visits to Dublin’s picture houses are both unique and frustrating, providing the only sustained first-hand account by an Irish cinemagoer of this period but also offering merely tantalizing details of his visits. This contrasts markedly with his often lengthy comments on the city’s theatrical shows, many of which he saw on their opening night. Although he was committed to the theatre, he had also become since 1910 – almost without realizing it himself, it seems – a regular picture-house patron. Although more detail on goings-on in cinemas from an audience member’s point of view would certainly be welcome, the way in which going to the picture house had become such a mundane activity is fascinating. In his diary, Holloway notes significant films alongside theatre shows at the start of a week and often integrates a film show into his schedule, sometimes choosing a film but often choosing to see whatever was on at a favoured picture house.

Holloway and other cinemagoers would have increasing choice as 1914 progressed. “Dublin has not by a long way stopped in its career of opening picture houses,” reveals Paddy in the trade journal Bioscope in early February 1914. He mentions plans to open 18 more cinemas in the city, with plans for eight already approved.

There is no doubt that some of these new fry will pay, because they are to be built in districts badly provided for in the matter of theatres, but when I hear that it is proposed to open three new houses in Grafton Street, and two more in Sackville Street, I wonder what will happen. (Paddy, 5 Feb).

Comments on the growing popularity of Dublin picture houses were not limited to the trade papers. “There can be no gainsaying the popularity of picture theatres in the Irish metropolis,” comments Irish Times columnist the Clubman. “They seem to be always crowded and their proprietors must be making plenty of money out of them. Of course, the ‘man in the street’ will tell you that ‘the pictures’ are only a ‘craze,’ but they are a craze which will, I think, live for some time in Dublin, at any rate (“Dublin Topics”).

It was not just in Dublin, and it would not be a passing craze. In mid-January 1914, the Bioscope’s “Jottings from Ulster” columnist noted that the

Belfast Corporation cinematograph inspector, Mr. Campbell, reported at the last meeting of the Police Committee, that on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and the 27th ult., 124,087 persons patronised the fourteen picture theatres in the city. These figures show an increase of about 15,000 as compared with Christmas, 1912, It is of considerable interest to note that 124,000 is roughly one-third of the entire population of Belfast; it may, therefore, be taken that the cinema is growing in favour to an enormous extent. (“Jottings,” 15 Jan.)

These are very interesting figures, adding some statistical support to the impression conveyed by Holloway’s diary and newspaper and trade-press articles. It remains more difficult to discern a hundred years later the degree to which individual films that appear to do so actually address such important issues as women’s suffrage, the labour movement and Home Rule. These questions might without too much distortion be phrased in the language of 2014 as concerning the way in which new media engage with questions of the changing nature of work, gender inequality and national sovereignty.

Asta Nielsen as suffrage activist Nelly Panburne being force fed in The Suffragette (1913).

Asta Nielsen as suffrage activist Nelly Panburne being force fed in The Suffragette (1913).

Women’s suffrage was one of the most prominent political questions of the 1910s, kept in the headlines by suffragette activism, including that by the Irish Women’s Franchise League. Suffragettes in Ireland – but not Irish suffragettes – had most directly used the new cinema technologies as a form of protest on the evening of 18 July 1912, when as part of a wider protest, English suffragettes Mary Leigh, Gladys Evans and Lizzie Baker had attempted to set fire to Dublin’s Theatre Royal by igniting the highly combustible nitrate film in the theatre’s cinematograph box between evening shows. “Had the lighted matches come in contact with the films, the substances of which are, of course, highly inflammable, a terrible disaster might have to be chronicled” (“Serious Suffragette Outrage”). For this and for a hatchet attack on British prime minster HH Asquith’s carriage, in which Irish nationalist MP John Redmond was injured, Leigh, Evans and Baker were sentenced to prison terms in Mountjoy Jail, where they joined eight Irish suffragettes and began a hunger strike.

Belfast's Panopticon advertises Asta Nielsen in The Suffragette (1913).

Belfast’s Panopticon advertises Asta Nielsen in The Suffragette (1913); Belfast Newsletter 3 Jan. 1914: 1.

Events such as these were fictionalized in the German film The Suffragette (Projektions AG, 1913), which offered Irish audiences the rare opportunity of seeing suffragettes on screen treated as something other than just comedy. Featuring the Danish star Asta Nielsen as Nelly Panburne – modelled on Christabel Pankhurst – the film shows how Nelly protests by breaking shop windows; is force-fed when she goes on hunger strike in prison; and carries a bomb intended to kill Lord Ascue, a British minister modelled on Asquith opposed to women’s rights. The film attempts to contain its radical energies with a romantic subplot that sees Nelly save Ascue  from the bomb and marry him. Despite the closeness of the film to actual events, the Belfast Newsletter commented that when it was exhibited in January 1914 at the Panopticon Picture Theatre, it “creates great merriment. Asta Neilson, described as the greatest of all picture artists, is seen at her best” (“Panopticon”).

Carson v Redmond
The confrontation between Irish unionists and nationalists had become such a part of popular discourse in Britain in early 1914 that this ad for films that had nothing to do with Ireland could expect to draw attention by using the names of Edward Carson and John Redmond as if they were prize fighters. Bioscope 12 Mar. 1914, p. 1186.

Perhaps the importance of the political events of a different kind in Belfast was among the factors that inclined the Newsletter towards downplaying a fictional representation of the suffrage movement. To keep up pressure on Asquith’s government, Edward Carson again visited Belfast In mid-January 1914 to rally unionist opponents of Irish home rule and review the massed ranks of the Ulster Volunteer Force prepared violently to resist the imposition of home rule. Such nationalist newspapers as Dublin’s Evening Telegraph and Belfast’s Irish News presented unionist demonstrations as a farce and drew attention instead to the counter-demonstration in Belfast led by nationalist MP Joseph Devlin (“Carson Comedy Co.,” “U.V.F. Comedy,” “Mr. Devlin, M.P., in West Belfast”). The unionists, however, again proved themselves more competent with the new cinematic medium. A newsreel camera was again in Belfast to record and relay images not of Devlin but of Carson, and this time, it was operated by Dublin-based Norman Whitten, who filmed the demonstration for Weisker Brothers, a firm to which he had recently affiliated (Paddy, 29 Jan.). Paddy commended Whitten for having the film of Carson ready to screen at Belfast’s Picture House, Royal Avenue on the evening of the rally (ibid).

Of more immediate concern to Dublin’s media from mid-January to early February was the end of the Lockout with the defeat of the striking workers. For the first three days of the week beginning Monday 19 January, the Evening Telegraph’s notice for the Phoenix Picture Palace recommended A Leader of Men, “dealing in a thrilling and sensation manner with an organised strike in a big shipbuilding industry. It is decidedly a picture that will appeal strongly to all at the present time” (“Phoenix Picture Palace”). On the same day, the Telegraph was reporting the “Collapse of Strike: No Food and No Money: Mr. Larkin Advise Men: To Go Back to Work: But to Sign No Agreement” (“Collapse of Strike”). If that drama was too close for comfort to current events, audiences could also enjoy more diverting material on the same bill in the dramas Fortune’s Turn and The Dumb Messenger and the comedies The Honeymooners, When Love Is Young and Cartoons, Mr PiffleAs well as this, to whom and in what way the film would appeal is not clear given that it is unlikely many of the workers impoverished by months of strike could have afforded to attend.

Nevertheless, as cinema continued to develop and picture houses occupied more spaces on the Irish streetscape, films would attract audiences not only by providing escape but also by confronting – both directly and obliquely – important political issues.

References

“Carson Comedy Co.: Performing in Belfast To-Day.” Evening Telegraph 17 Jan. 1914: 6.

“Collapse of Strike.” Evening Telegraph 20 Jan. 1914: 3.

“Dublin Topics by the Clubman.” Irish Times 31 Jan. 1914: 4.

Holloway, Joseph. Holloway Diaries. National Library of Ireland. 6 Feb. 1914: 295.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 15 Jan. 1914: 263.

“Mr. Devlin, M.P., in West Belfast: Great Rallies of the Progressive Forces Hear Inspiriting Addresses.” Irish News 19 Jan. 1914: 5-6.

“Phoenix Picture Palace.” Evening Telegraph 20 Jan. 1913: 2.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 29 Jan. 1914: 454.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 5 Feb. 1914: 547.

“The Panopticon.” Belfast Telegraph 6 Jan. 1914: 9.

“Serious Suffragette Outrage: Two Attempts to Set Fire: To the Theatre Royal: An Explosive Used: A Panic Avoided.” Freeman’s Journal 19 Jul. 1912: 6.

“U.V.F. Comedy: Parade of the East Belfast Regiment: Inspection by Sir E. Carson.” Irish News 19 Jan. 1914: 7.