“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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, “ in spite of its defects and disappointments, we must gladly acknowledge that the marvel of cinema is the vehicle of diurnal delight all over the civilised globe” (ibid).

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

Newspaper reports were joined on Monday, 10 May by the first newsreel images. The big newsreel companies Gaumont and Pathé sent film units to Queenstown. “Immediately the news was received,” revealed the trade journal Biosocpe,

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

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

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

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

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

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

The clear anti-German feeling here was congruent with the reporting on the sinking in general and particularly with the verdict of the inquest, which was given in an editorial item on the same page as the review of the Sackville/O’Connell. “This appalling crime was contrary to international law and the convention of all civilized nations,” it began, “and we, therefore, charge the owners of the submarine, the German Emperor, and the Government of Germany, under whose orders they acted, with the crime of wilful and wholesale murder” (“The Kinsale Verdict.”)

What seems incongruous – but may only seem so – is that the writer so affected by the Lusitania film should find immediate relief in the comedies that accompanied it on the same programme. “After viewing those harrowing incidents,” s/he observed, “the excellent comedies came as a most welcome change; they included ‘Love and Dough,’ featuring the well-known screen comedian Ford Sterling” (“O’Connell Street Picture House”). Images of war and physical comedy complemented each other on the picture-house screen, and as will be seen below, Chaplin had become the comedian in highest demand. Although for audiences in the early 21st century such changes of tone may seem strange or even inappropriate, for audiences in the 1910s, used to entertainments that included variety and contrast, this appears to have been perfectly acceptable.

In any case, films of various kinds provided the imaginative means for coming to terms with the tragedy of war, as well as the spectacle of such new technologies as the zeppelin, the torpedo and the submarine. Bearing echoes of the Lusitania sinking, for example, Dublin’s Masterpiece placed a special ad in the Evening Telegraph at the end of May advising the public that it would give its final exhibition of The Italian Navy “in which is shown a torpedo at its deadly work of sinking a passing vessel” (“The Masterpiece,” 29 May). The Lusitania sinking also had consequences for Irish cinema that only became clear much later. Although Walter Macnamara had shot the Irish historical drama Ireland a Nation for his New York-based production company partly in Ireland in 1914, a copy of the film did not reach the country until 1917 because “the first copy dispatched by them was lost with the ill-fated Lusitania; a duplicate copy was substituted, but […] this also failed to successfully run the submarine ‘blockade’” (“Between the Spools”).

The Lusitania films were joined by other propagandistic war films in mid-May. On 13-15 May, a “very important” War Office film of Lord Kitchener’s visit to British army headquarters in France was shown at Dublin’s Picture Houses in Grafton and Sackville/O’Connell Streets (‘“Lord Kitchener in France”’). Over the same period, the Grafton was also showing a film of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle,

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

Ad for Dublin’s Masterpiece showing The Secret of Adrianople (1913); Evening Telegraph 15 May 1915: 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such diurnal delights would continue to lure audiences for many years to come.

References

“Between the Spools.” Irish Limelight 1:2 (Feb. 1917): 19.

The Bohemian.” Evening Telegraph 25 May 1915: 2.

“Bohemian Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 10 May 1915: 2.

“The Kinsale Verdict.” Evening Telegraph 11 May 1915: 2.

“Filming ‘Lusitania’ Incident.” Bioscope 13 May 1915: 623.

‘“Lord Kitchener in France.”’ Evening Telegraph 12 May 1915: 4.

“The Lure of the Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 3 May 1915: 6.

“Lusitania: Sinking Off Cork Coast: Help from Queenstown: 1,400 Passengers on Board.” Evening Telegraph 7 May 1915: 3.

“The Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 15 May 1915: 8; 29 May 1915: 8.

The O’Connell Street Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 11 May 1915: 2.

Paddy. “Picture in Ireland.” Bioscope 20 May 1915: 773.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 8 May 1915: 8; 11 May 1915: 2.

“An Injustice to Good Productions”: Irish Film Distribution, Programme Changes and New Picture Houses in November 1914

The Sign of the Cross.

An exclusive film exhibited in Ireland in November 1914: The Sign of the Cross (US: Famous Players, 1914). Image: The Silent Film Still Archive.

The published information on film distribution in Ireland in the 1910s is useful in general, but it lacks the detail to say something about how Irish cinemas acquired films in, say, November 1914 (Condon, Early Irish Cinema, 215-17; Rockett 38-41). However, the trade press, particularly the London-based Bioscope, and the local papers that month give some more specific details. By this time, exhibitors no longer bought films outright, as the – much smaller number of – exhibitors in the 1900s had. Films were rented from distributors or renters, and the distribution business in Ireland and Britain was based in London. The sea crossing was an issue for distributors into Ireland, particularly as military operations changed the priorities on the transport of goods in 1914. However, such issues were more easily negotiated by the film distributors who had offices in Ireland or worked through Irish agents.

Bioscope 6 Aug. 1914: xix.

Ad for Gaumont’s Chrono projector; Bioscope 6 Aug. 1914: xix. This ad appeared just as war was breaking out; even a few weeks later, it would not have been acceptable in the context of discussions of severing links with enemy companies as part of the war effort.

“I dropped up the other day to see Mr. Young of the Gaumont Company, Lord Edward Street, Dublin,” revealed Irish correspondent Paddy in the Bioscope in early November 1914 (Paddy, 5 Nov.). Since opening early in 1913, the luxuriously appointed Dublin branch office of Gaumont in London sold the company’s popular Chrono projector, held trade viewings in a dedicated screenings room of the films it distributed, and shot many local topical films since its first ones in June 1913, such as The Launch of the Britannic and a film of a hurling match between Kilkenny and Cork (13 Nov.). Paddy noted that “Mr. Young seemed pleased with how matters were progressing, and he expressed the opinion that the falling off on account of the war was practically negligible” (5 Nov.). A year earlier, Paddy had found Young’s predecessor also pleased with business, including the fact that “[a] great many more Irish theatres have thrown in their lot with the Gaumont Film Service” (13 Nov.), including the Grand in Dublin’s O’Connell Street (Paddy, 24 Jul.), Limerick’s Gaiety Bijou (7 Aug.), and Belfast’s Princess Picture Palace (“Jottings,” 12 Nov.).

Gaumont did not have Irish distribution to itself. In November 1914, the Ideal Film Renting Company set up their Dublin office at 40 Dawson Street, Dublin. “There is little doubt that by opening in Dublin,” opined Paddy, “The Ideal Company have stimulated competition and made it possible for exhibitors to make a better selection on the spot” (5 Nov.). Among the exclusive films that Ideal handled were Danish production company Nordisk’s For the Sake of a Man (1913) and Her Hour of Temptation (1914), as well as Joan of Arc (Italy: Savoia, 1913), for which “[s]pecial posters are available” (ibid.).

1The Palace, Frances Street, Newtownards whowing Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923). http://www.newtownards.info/frances-st.htm

The Palace, Frances Street, Newtownards showing Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923). http://www.newtownards.info/frances-st.htm

Other London-based distributors relied on travelling salespeople or on the Irish-based companies that acted as their agents. In the week of 5 November, Paddy also “ran into Mr. Hagan, the Scottish and Irish representative for Messrs. Ruffells’ exclusives,” who “had secured bookings running to over £350” (ibid.). Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply (GFS) appears initially to have been a branch of the London-based General Film Agency, and although Whitten was better known as a maker and distributor of his own local topicals, GFS also distributed the films of other companies. Some larger Irish cinema chains, such as James T. Jameson’s Irish Animated Picture Company, had their own buyers in London (Condon, “Limelight,” 253). An “Item of Interest” in the Bioscope on 19 November informed trade readers that the Palace in Newtownards, Co. Down, had appointed Lillah Dawson as its film reviewer: “Miss Dawson has recommended the features booked at this hall during the past few weeks, and as a result the seating accommodation and the cork lino have come in for some severe wear, strong evidence that this lady weighs up a subject in a capable and experienced manner” (“Film Reviewer Appointed”).

Depending on the nature of the programme at the picture house or houses concerned, a representative such as Dawson might have had a more or less arduous job. Something has already been said here about the content of the film programme, particularly in regards to the number and length of the films and the length of the programme itself. The dominant practice in cities and towns was for picture houses to change their programmes twice a week, on Monday and Thursday, with a third change for those picture houses that held a Sunday licence. As a result, most films had a three-day run, with the possibility of holding over an especially attractive film – most likely, an “exclusive” – for the second half of the week, in which case the other items on the programme were usually changed. A run of longer than six days for any film was really exceptional. Shorter runs were possible. In early November 1914, Dublin’s Rotunda advertised the fact that beginning on 9 November, it would have three changes in the week, which for this venue with no Sunday licence meant two-day programmes, with changes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. “Large audiences,” a preview in the Evening Telegraph predicted, “are sure to appreciate this move on the part of the management, who certainly spare no expense in catering for the entertainment of their patrons” (“Rotunda Pictures”).

“Programmes Changed Daily: An Injustice to Good Productions.” Bioscope 19 Nov 1914: 789.

An extract from a Bioscope article discussing daily programme changes at the Omagh Picture Palace; 19 Nov 1914: 789.

The generosity – if it can be called that – of the Rotunda management was no match for that of the management at the Picture Palace in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, a town with a population of less than 5,000. Just ten days after the Rotunda had instituted its new programming changes,a Bioscope article drew attention to the fact that the Picture Palace changed its programme every day. As the article’s subtitle – “An Injustice to Good Productions” – suggests, the writer of this article – described as “our Ulster representative,” so presumably it was the writer of the “Jottings from Ulster” column – saw this as an unusual and unwelcome development (“Programmes Changed Daily”). Although conceding that “a manager on the spot knows his own business best,” s/he endorsed the arguments of “a very astute Ulster manager, who favours the bi-weekly change” because of the mutually supporting nature of printed and word-of-mouth publicity:

He argues that on a Monday and Tuesday a hall attracts by its publicity matter only those patrons of the movies who are influenced by good pictorials and by well-written and attractively-set letterpress. On the Tuesday and Wednesday, and again on the Friday and Saturday, the advertising ceased to be of any account. Personal recommendation or condemnation takes its place and either does such good as to comfortably fill the hall, whilst the programme runs, or is so hurtful in its effects as to prove the incompetency of the manager in the selecting of such pictures as please the majority of the people of his district. (Ibid.)

1Ads for Omagh Picture Palace showing variations in programming. Tyrone Constitution 30 Oct. 1914: 4 and 6 Nov. 1914: 4.

Ads for Omagh Picture Palace showing variations in programming. Tyrone Constitution 30 Oct. 1914: 4 and 6 Nov. 1914: 4.

The trade anxieties manifest in this advice about the effective rhythms of advertising had little to do with the Picture Palace’s choice of films but more with the number of films required. Driven from Home (1914), Shadows (US: IMP, 1914) and Lost in Mid-Ocean (US: Vitagraph, 1914) “want a lot of beating as star subjects. Why not, therefore give them an opportunity to prove their value?” (ibid.). Indeed, assuming a complete daily change of programme, the Picture Palace would likely have shown between 25 and 50 films a week, depending on their length. This suggests that the management had a very different view than the Bioscope of the nature of the entertainment it provided. The competing interests of film producers and exhibitors were shown in late November 1914, when the Bioscope cited the call by Carl Laemmle, head of the US production company Universal, to “cheaper American theatres to raise their prices of admission [to cover] the growing cost of film production” (“Trade Topics”). The management of the Omagh Picture Palace appears to have paid little attention to the quality of individual films and focused instead on audience choice and creating a constituency of daily cinemagoers.

First ad for Sandford Cinema; Evening Herald 3 Nov. 1914: 4.

First ad for Dublin’s Sandford Cinema; Evening Herald 3 Nov. 1914: 4.

Omagh’s abundance of films seems to parallel a more general return of optimism to the Irish film trade in late 1914, which saw the opening of some new picture houses. “That little thought is here given to the approach of lean days,” “Jottings” observed, “is evident from the fact that a new hall is now in full swing in Lurgan, under the direction of Mr. Hewitt”, as well as from the enlargement of Lisburn’s Electric Palace, and the equipping of new picture houses in Coleraine and Belfast’s Corn Market (5 Nov.). In Dublin, the Sandford Cinema opened on 2 November with little newspaper publicity. The first notice was a brief review in the Evening Herald the following day, alongside reviews of the Kinemacolor pictures at the Theatre Royal, the Phoenix Picture Palace’s screenings of The Sign of the Cross (US: Famous Players, 1914) – the most heavily publicized film in Ireland in late 1914 – and the Masterpiece Picture House. The review did not give the titles of the films that “were so much admired at the opening show,” focusing instead on the decor of the building that “is sumptuously fitted up interiorally, the costly furniture being supplied by Clery and Co., Ltd.” (“New Picture Theatre in Ranelagh”). Paddy later revealed the opening “star films” to have been England’s Menace (Britain: London, 1914) and The Village of Death (19 Nov.). No other newspaper coverage of the Sandford appeared in the first week of November, but in the following week, several papers carried ads for In the Bishop’s Carriage (US: Famous Players, 1913), with Mary Pickford, for the first three days and The Wheels of Destiny (US: Majestic, 1914) for the last three.

Managed by John and P.W. Whittle, the Sandford was “quite a high-class” picture house, “replete with all modern conveniences,” including Gaumont projectors and the “indirect system of lighting” in the auditorium (Paddy, 19 Nov.). Paddy found the building to be “a beautiful structure, with a fine flight of steps leading up to the pay-box. The entrance doors are finished in stained glass,” and inside, there was a “considerable rake to the floor, thus enabling all patrons to have a full view of the screen” (ibid.). Despite this focus on the experience of all cinemagoers, the audience was to be divided based on ticket price both outside and inside the premises. “The building stands on a corner site, thus enabling the 3d. entrance to be distinct from the 6d. and 1s., [and once inside, the] 1s. seats are distinguished from the 6d. by neat squares of crochet work on the backs” (ibid.). The management did not, however, show the same attention to detail in securing the required official documents, and it was prosecuted on 20 November for operating without a cinematograph licence (“Sandford Cinema Theatre”). Nevertheless, Inspector Gray of the Dublin Metropolitan Police testified that the premises were “extremely comfortable and suitable in every way for a picture theatre. The pictures he had seen were excellent” (ibid.).

Elsewhere – and almost everywhere – war films remained popular. When Dublin’s Daily Express reviewed In the Hands of the Kindly Dutch at the Rotunda in early November, it emphasized the personal response many in the audience might have made to topical films about the war. The film “shows the division of the Naval Brigade who were interned in Holland after the surrender of Antwerp , and was so clear that anyone could recognise a relative or friend” (“The Rotunda Pictures”). In the same week, the Kinemacolor matinees at the Theatre Royal were providing colour films of the front. The fact that these films were shown in such a large theatre rather than in one of the smaller picture houses indicates that the management expected considerable interest in them, and it went out of its way to create further publicity. “On the kind invitation of the management,” the Express reported, “a number of wounded soldiers attended the [Kinemacolor war films] yesterday, and received quite an ovation from the large audience. Others who were unable to attend will be present this afternoon” (“Theatre Royal”).

Evening Telegraph 28 Nov. 1914: 6.

Evening Telegraph 28 Nov. 1914: 6.

Although the Express observed that “[t]he audience yesterday was unreservedly enthusiastic concerning the display” of war pictures at the matinee, certain members of the audience at the Theatre Royal were neither enthusiastic nor reserved about patriotic displays at the theatre’s live evening show (“Picture Matinees”). On 2 November, a group of young men wearing republican badges protested by booing, hissing and groaning when, during one musical number, several Union Jack flags were unfurled and the orchestra played “Rule Britannia.” When 18-year-old Thomas Smart refused to stop, he was arrested and fined 40 shillings in court (“Scene in Theatre Royal”).

Ad for two Irish-themed films from the US production company Domino; Bioscope 12 Mar. 1914: xviii.

Ad for two Irish-themed films from the US production company Domino; Bioscope 12 Mar. 1914: xviii.

Smart and his fellow protestors might have been more appreciative of the Irish week run by the Masterpiece at the end of November. The main film was True Irish Hearts (US: Domino, 1914), supported by The Filly (US: Domino, 1913), Rory O’More (US: Kalem, 1911), The O’Neill (US: Kalem, 1912), films of Irish scenic landscapes and a topical of the Castlebellingham Feis and Louth Volunteers. During the previous week, manager Cathal McGarvey “had appeared personally at each performance during the week in his original humorous monologues, and these met with a great reception, there being no better humorous reciter in Dublin than Mr. McGarvey” (Paddy, 19 Nov.). For the Masterpiece’s Irish Week, however, McGarvey allowed popular baritone W.A. Sheehan to enhance the live musical accompaniment by singing Irish songs (“An Irish Week”). These kinds of Irish Weeks were not new, but they were facilitated by the fact that such producers as Domino and Kalem were continuing to make Irish subjects. The Domino titles were new ones, available through Western Import since March and April 1914, but the Kalem ones were older titles that required that a distributor – in this case, the Express Film Service – hold on to them for such events.

References

Condon, Denis. Early Irish Cinema, 1895-1921. Dublin: Irish Academic, 2008.

—. “Limelight on the Colleen Bawn: Resisting Autoexoticism in Provincial Irish Picture Houses in the Early 1910s.” Les cinémas périphériques dans la période des premiers temps. Peripheral Early Cinema: Domitor 2008. Perpignan: PU Perpignan, 2010. 245-255.

“Dublin and District: Ranelagh’s New Picture House.” Irish Independent 10 Nov, 1914: 4.

“Film Reviewer Appointed.” Bioscope 19 Nov. 1914: 706.

“An Irish Week at the Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 28 Nov. 1914: 6.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 13 Nov. 1913: 589; 5 Nov. 1914: 543; 12 Nov. 1914: 647.

“New Picture Theatre in Ranelagh.” Evening Herald 3 Nov. 1914: 4.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 24 Jul. 1913: 267; 7 Aug. 1913: 413; 13 Nov. 1913: 601; 5 Nov. 1914: 525; 19 Nov. 1914: 736.

“Picture Matinees at the Theatre Royal.” Daily Express 3 Nov. 1914: 8.

“Programmes Changed Daily: An Injustice to Good Productions.” Bioscope 19 Nov 1914: 789.

Rockett, Kevin and Emer. Film Exhibition and Distribution in Ireland, 1909-2010. Dublin Four Courts, 2011.

“The Rotunda Pictures.” Daily Express 3 Nov. 1914, 2.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 7 Nov. 1914: 6.

“Scene in Theatre Royal: A Row in the Gallery.” Daily Express 4 Nov. 4 1914: 3.

“Sandford Cinema Theatre.” Evening Telegraph 21 Nov. 1914: 4.

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 26 Nov. 1914: 821.

Kinema Kinks and the Respectability Police

Evening Herald, 28 Feb. 1914: 6.

Evening Herald, 28 Feb. 1914: 6.

On Saturday, 28 February 1914, Dublin’s Evening Herald published a Gordon Brewster cartoon called “Kinema Kinks” and subtitled “The Demand for Exciting Films Is Becoming Greater Every Day.” It seems that the epitome of exciting films as far as Brewster was concerned was the work of the Essanay company’s co-founder (with George K. Spoor, hence the “S and A”), director and actor Gilbert M. Anderson. Anderson was best known for his most popular screen role of Broncho Billy, and the left-hand panel of the cartoon appears to feature him, with its caption: “A School Boy Thriller // Broncho Bill the Tawny Terror of the Sun-Scorched Sierras in Bite-the-Dust Humour.” The image accompanying this text features a cowboy who has clearly come out best in a shootout with six opponents, on the face of one of whom he is standing, while only the boots of the others are visible. Although the triumphant cowboy’s facial features are not like Anderson’s, it is not just the text that suggests that he is Broncho Billy but also the studded wrist cuffs that were often a part of Broncho Billy’s costume.

Poster for Essanay’s The Making of Broncho Billy (1913) and publicity photo for Gilbert M. Anderson, actor, director and co-founder of the Essanay film company (http://silentwesterns.wikia.com/wiki/Broncho_Billy_Anderson?file=Broncho_Billy_Anderson.jpg)

Poster for Essanay’s The Making of Broncho Billy (1913) and publicity photo for Gilbert M. Anderson, actor, director and co-founder of the Essanay film company (http://silentwesterns.wikia.com/wiki/Broncho_Billy_Anderson?file=Broncho_Billy_Anderson.jpg)

That said, the second panel – captioned “Alkali Ike Rescues the Fair Damsel // The Above Suggestion May be of Some Use to Cinema Managers” – also features a cowboy with studded wrist cuffs as he hangs from a rope by his teeth carrying the unconscious damsel and holding off what appears to be a knife-yielding Indian. Alkali Ike was the hero of an Essanay series of comic Westerns produced by Anderson and starring Augustus Carney, who may have been born in Ireland. Of what use to cinema managers the image of Alkali Ike might have been is unclear, but the cartoon attests to the popularity of Westerns – not only those of Broncho Billy and Alkali Ike – in Dublin cinemas. As has already been seen here, commentators noted that “no picture programme nowadays is considered complete if it does not include a cowboy film” (“Rotunda Pictures” 9 Sep. 1913). That was an exaggeration; many film programmes did not include a Western. Nevertheless, it suggests that the cinema audience was entirely familiar with Westerns, and in such a situation, it is not difficult to imagine that there was a demand for cowboy film with increasingly sensational scenes.

Other kinds of excitement were arranged by the audience rather than cinema managers. Protests in the first week of March 1914 in a theatre and a picture house were indicative of the concerted campaigns of protest in cinemas to come. On the evening of 2 March, William Larkin of 27 Sherrard Street shouted from the gallery of the Gaiety Theatre in protest at the immorality of the French farce Who’s the Lady? (“The Scene at the Gaiety”). He created enough of a disturbance that the actors left the stage until Larkin was removed from the theatre and arrested. Larkin appeared in the Southern Police Court the following morning, where the case against him was dismissed by the magistrate, Thomas Drury, who praised Larkin for having “done a public service” (ibid). Emboldened by this support from the judiciary, William Larkin and his twin brother Francis would in the coming months constitute the most publicly visible part of the Catholic Church-based Dublin Vigilance Committee’s campaign for film censorship with a series of protests in cinemas around the city. For this, they could rely on an at-least tacit but often explicit consensus on the regulation of popular theatre and cinema among the Catholic establishment in the city.

The diary of theatregoer Joseph Holloway is revealing on the protests and middle-class Catholics’ attitudes to them. Holloway had not been in the theatre that night, but he followed the controversy in the newspapers. Noting the remarks by the Irish-Ireland journal The Leader that “[a] certain ‘highly respectable’ class of people in Dublin like dirty plays & dirty papers … but in a very literal sense there is a well-dressed ‘Dirty Dublin.,’” Holloway agreed that “[t]his is all very true[;] I have noticed it for years in our theatres that the more questionable the play the better dressed the audience!” (Holloway 504).

Although Larkin’s militant policing of respectability had not quite reached the picture houses in March 1914, other kinds of protest had. Between 8 and 9 o’clock on the evening of Thursday, 5 March, fourteen boys of Na Fianna Éireann – or the National Boy Scouts as most of the newspapers called them – were ejected from the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street for disrupting a screening of the British Army Film (Britain: Keith Prowse, 1914) (“Dublin Picture Palace Scene”). While Larkin was interested in morality, Na Fianna were interested in nationality, expressed as anti-British and pro-Irish: “They took up seats in the front rows, and hissed the scenes that were being shown. The cheered for Germans and Boers, and sang ‘A Nation Once Again’” (ibid). They did not have it all their own way, as other members of the audience cheered the British, and the police and cinema attendants dragged several of them from the auditorium. Nevertheless, as Who’s the Lady? provided the occasion for Larkin’s display of Catholic morality, the British Army Film allowed Na Fianna to project Irish nationalism onto an ostensibly British patriotic text. Joseph Holloway was thus able to point out that the “film also caused a disturbance on last Monday night – The British Army is not to the taste of all people in Dublin” (Holloway 500).

While the DVC and Na Fianna seemed intent on placing strict limits on cinema, “famous Irish painter, author, and visionary poet” A.E. insisted – albeit somewhat reluctantly – on the importance and inevitability of cinema in education (Paddy, 19 Feb.). “[F]or all our qualms, we invite the cinema into education,” the Bioscope’s Irish correspondent Paddy reported him as saying.

Our methods of education in the national schools have not been so superior and thought-quickening that we risk losing much in introducing the living picture, and whether we protested or not the thing is as inevitable as that the aeroplane will carry our children from Ireland to England in another quarter of a century. Ireland, which has been in a backwater, meditating on its wrongs and its past, will have to move in the new ways and adjust itself to the new conditions, to the new forces and the new ideas, and make them operative in its own interests, or else they will operate against its interests.” (ibid)

A.E.’s approach was very different in this regard to Ireland’s most famous visionary poet, W. B. Yeats, who had no time for cinema. By contrast, A.E. was, knowingly or not, contributing to an ongoing debate in the cinema industry worldwide on the new medium’s role not only in entertainment but also in the more sober discourses of education, technology and science. He was not the only or even the best know Irish writer doing this. Comments by George Bernard Shaw would open the Bioscope’s Education Supplement on 18 July 1914.

Ad for the reopening of the Grafton Picture House emphasizes the increased luxury of the premises alongside the latest film offering in the  Sherlock Holmes series. Evening Herrald  26 Feb. 1914: 4.

Ad for the reopening of the Grafton Picture House emphasizes the increased luxury of the premises alongside the latest film offering in the Sherlock Holmes series. Evening Herrald 26 Feb. 1914: 4.

The growing prestige of cinema in Ireland was visible on the Dublin streetscape in the reopening of the Grafton Picture House on 26 February 1914. The Grafton had closed for renovations in June 1913, and its long-delayed reopening marked the first indication that Dublin’s cinema-building boom, which had been halted by the strike and Lockout of the city’s workers, had resumed. Owned by the London-based Provincial Cinematograph Theatres – which was also the proprietor of the Picture House in O’Connell Street, the Volta in Mary Street and Belfast’s Picture House, Royal Avenue – the reopened Grafton emphasized its suitability as a place of entertainment for the city’s wealthiest shoppers. The renovations not only doubled its seating capacity but also added luxurious features and the latest in cinema technology, including walls covered in

rich Old English tapestry representing various scenes. The Eye-Rest system of lighting is employed with considerable effect. On the right of the screen is fixed an electric clock, and on the left a clock showing the number of the orchestra selection. In the three lounge and tea-rooms there is also an indicator telling what picture is being screened. These rooms have been entirely refurnished, and are beautiful n the extreme. (Paddy, 12 Mar.)

Dublin’s middle and elite classes also had increasing opportunities to attend picture houses in the city’s prestigious suburbs, such as the Grand Picture House in Blackrock. It was here that the first screening of the newsreel film The Launch of the Britannic took place at 10.22pm on 26 February 1914.  This screening can be timed exactly because it was covered by journalists from the Dublin newspapers and the Bioscope, whom Gaumont’s Dublin manager H. Bromhead invited to report on the filming of the launch. The Evening Herald‘s reporter travelled with the newsreel team from Dublin to Belfast to Blackrock and back to the Gaumont office, covering it as if it were one of the hairsbreadth escapes of a sensational film:

Ten-fifteen! We drew up at the theatre. People saw us dashing through the entrance. A cry sprang up: “The film; the Britannic has come.”

Ten-twenty-two! The light flickered on the screen. “Launch of the Britannic!” What a cheer rose up, what clapping of excited hands. (“Filming the Britannic”)

It was acceptable in Ireland in 1914 to indulge in an excitement that marvelled at the technologies and skills that allowed a Blackrock audience to witness that evening an event – itself a technological marvel of the age – that had occurred in Belfast just that afternoon. Less acceptable and in need to disciplining to pass the dominant modes of respectability, however, were the kind of excesses of violence and sensation depicted by Brewster’s “Kinema Kinks” cartoon.

References

“Dublin Picture Palace Scene: Fourteen Youths Ejected.” Evening Herald 6 Mar. 1914: 2.

Filming the Britannic: How ‘Topicals’ Are Produced: While Dublin Sleeps.” Evening Herald 27 Feb. 1914: 2.

Holloway, Joseph. Holloway Diaries. National Library of Ireland. 5 Mar. 1914: 500, and 6 Mar 1914: 504.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 19 Feb. 1914: 783, and 12 Mar. 1914: 1133.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Dublin Evening Mail 9 Sep. 1913: 5.

“The Scene in the Gaiety Last Night: ‘Who’s the Lady?’ Objected to by Young Man: Case Dismissed: Magistrate Says It Was a ‘Public Service.” Evening Herald 3 Mar. 1914: 1.