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.

Creating Great Trouble in a Most Laughable Manner: Chaplin in Dublin in 1914

Chaplin Lookalike Winner Film Fun Jan 1916

The winner of a Chaplin lookalike contest run by Dublin’s Masterpiece Theatre; Film Fun Jan 1916: n.p.

By October 1915, a Charlie Chaplin craze was in full swing in Dublin. Paddy, the Irish correspondent of the British cinema trade journal Bioscope, showed this when he reported on several simultaneous tributes to Chaplin less than two years after he made his first film. On 7 October, Paddy revealed that Captain Ahearne of the Dame Street Picture House had shown all-Chaplin programmes the previous week, while a live Chaplin revue at the Coliseum Theatre had distinguished itself from the Chaplin impersonation competition taking place at the Rotunda by featuring what Paddy claimed was “the only Chaplin girl extant” (Paddy, 7 Oct.).

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

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

That such competitions were not wholly new was shown by the fact that Cathal MacGarvey manager of the Masterpiece Theatre, Talbot Street was exhibiting his film of a Chaplin impersonation competition that had taken place at his picture house in September (Paddy, 14 Oct.). Chaplin seemed to be everywhere you looked by the autumn of 1915. But this adulation had taken some time to grow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.