Instructive Images on Irish Cinema Screens in Late Summer 1917

Kingstown Pav DEM 6 Aug 1917

William Quinn – “The McCormack of the West” – was among the vocalists that the Pavilion engaged to attract the wealthy residents of Kingstown. Douglas Fairbanks’ The Good Bad Man (US: Fine Arts, 1916) was of secondary importance. Dublin Evening Mail 6 Aug. 1917: 2.

At the Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) Horticultural Show on 1 August 1917, local landlord Lord Powerscourt won not only the Challenge Cup for roses but also the Kingstown Picture House’s Cup for sweet peas (“Kingstown Horticultural Show”). That an Irish picture house was sponsoring such an event is indicative of cinema’s increasing integration into everyday life, and particularly its penetration of the realms occupied by the genteel gardeners of south County Dublin. Extra urgency had been added to the Kingstown’s courting of this audience by the reopening on 7 July 1917 of the Kingstown Pavilion. The Picture House had had the entertainment pickings of this wealthy town to itself since the Pavilion burned down on 13 November 1915. It would face well-advertised competition from the stylishly rebuilt Pavilion – designed by Coliseum architect Bertie Crewe – which sought to attract the affluent Kingstownites with vocal accompaniments to its films. You can get there [from Dublin] by tram or train,” an unnamed reviewer of the new picture house observed, “and whatever way you travel you will find plenty to please the eye en route” (“Cinema by the Sea”).

Irish Limelight 1:9 (Sep. 1917): 6.

In late summer of 1917, cinema usefulness, its embeddedness in Irish society was evident not just in the importance of propagandistic films featuring soldiers at the front but also in its instructive role in relation to food production and child rearing. Lord Powerscourt may have been happy with decorative roses and sweet pea, but the food shortages caused by the continuing war meant that people unused to agricultural work were being urged to assist in the harvests and to grow their own food. A Women’s Land Army was established in mid-1917 to provide an agricultural workforce. Among the ways in which this force was to be promoted and trained was through “an excellent cinema film […] showing the work of women on the land” (“The Women’s Land Army”). “In these days of war savings and general cheeseparing,” J. B. Holland, the writer of the “Motor News” column in Dublin’s Daily Express, reported at the end of July 1917, “it is something worthy of note to find a brand new word added to our vocabulary, and one that you can use too in polite society. Well that is the word – ‘Agronomist.’” This expansion to the writer’s vocabulary came from a film exhibited “in a cubby-hole cinema in a Sussex village” and depicting “a number of Agronomists in the very act of agronomising (or whatever the verb may be) with the result that all of us, individually and collectively decided at once to ‘go thou and do like likewise’” (Holland).

“You ought to know better than to send in seed potatoes for eating”; framegrab from Everybody’s Business (Britain: London, 1917), viewable here.

Holland did not name this film, but the Kingstown Pavilion had featured Everybody’s Business on its opening programme which may not have been an agronomizing film but was a fictional “food economy film.” It was, according to the trade journal Bioscope “in many respects the most important, and quite the most successful propaganda film that has been issued since the beginning of the war” (“Food Economy Film”). Although the “speeches of politicians, the canvassing by constituted societies, striking posters and press campaigns all have their effect,” the Bioscope argued that

a film which incorporates the essential parts of all these methods, contained in a pleasing and simple story, well told and admirably presented, must have a stupendous effect when circulated by a medium which has grown to be the most widely popular form of entertainment.

The Health Visitor (Dorothea Baird) teaches a new mother how to wash her baby in Motherhood (Britain: Trans-Atlantic, 1917). Image from the Women’s Film Pioneers Project.

Fiction films with such an explicit instructional intent were becoming more common. Just a few days before Pavilion audiences were warned off food wastage, audiences in other Irish cinemas were learning about child rearing from Motherhood (Britain: Trans-Atlantic, 1917). Sponsored by the National Baby Week Council, the film had been written by and featured Dorothea Baird, well-known stage and screen actress and wife of actor H. B. Irving. It was released for Britain and Ireland’s first National Baby Week that ran 1-7 July 1917. Alongside Dublin’s official events centred around an exhibition at the Mansion House, the Carlton Cinema showed Motherhood, which “illustrates how the rearing of children can be made a joyful thing and happy in its results, even in the poorest homes if only kindly interest and help is given to the mothers” (“‘Motherhood’ at the Carlton”). As well as a fictional narrative that demonstrated how a new mother (Lettie Paxton) is introduced to a School for Mothers by a Health Visitor (Baird), the film carried the endorsement of celebrities such as Baird and members of the social and political elite. “Mrs. Lloyd George, the Duchess of Marlborough, Lady Rhondda, Sir Richard Burbidge, Mrs. H. B. Irving, and many other notabilities connected with the National Baby Week Council have been specially filmed,” a Dublin Daily Express article observed, “so that their portraits may accompany the messages which they send to the nation through this epoch-making picture.” Lady Wimborne, wife of Ireland’s Lord Lieutenant, also endorsed the film, albeit belatedly, by attending a screening on 17 July 1917 at the Grafton Street Picture House (“To-Day in Brief”).

In the context of this increasing elite support for cinema, Winston Churchill was going somewhat against the grain when he decided following his appointment as Minister for Munitions not to fulfil his contract with the Ideal Film Renting to write the script for a film about the origins of the war (“Mr. Churchill Not to Write Film Stories”). But then, cinema had not been completely shaped to serve the war economy. It still represented a largely proletarian entertainment form and a space removed from work or fully rationalized leisure. It continued to arouse various kinds of anxieties in those in authority. The fear that picture houses provided sanctuary for shirkers and deserters was well illustrated by a parliamentary question in late July. Henry Dalziel asked Undersecretary of State for War Ian MacPherson what the British government was doing about English men who fled to Ireland to escape conscription. “Is he aware that there are hundreds of these men to be seen at cinemas in Dublin every night,” Dalziel asked MacPherson, addressing him in the third person, “and cannot he net more than a few back?” (“Hundreds at Dublin Cinemas”).

Still from the Clontarf Aquatic Festival, one of the items in Irish Events 3. Irish Limelight I:8 (Aug. 1917): 18.

Apart from the instructive fiction films, draft dodgers and other members of the cinema audience in Ireland were offered instructive local topical films, while the Film Company of Ireland was facing challenges finishing its epic Knocknagow. An increasing number of picture houses subscribed to the recently launched Irish Events newsreel, which had produced seven weekly issues and some specials by the end of August 1917. “The success of the Irish Topical Gazette has exceeded Mr. Whitten’s wildest anticipations,” observed Irish columnist Paddy in the Bioscope. “Many exhibitors have booked a contract for an extended period” (Paddy, 16 Aug.). And it was not just Irish exhibitors who could look forward to booking Irish Events because “Mr Whitten is making all arrangements for its showing in London” (Paddy, 23 Aug.).

A newsreel of Eamon De Valera’s victory in the Clare Election on 11 July 1917 could be seen on the screen at Dublin’s Rotunda on 16 July. Dublin Evening Mail 16 July 1917: 2.

Irish Events 2, the second weekly instalment of this newsreel, was issued on 23 July 1917 and featured five one-minute items that represented a mix of social and political events. As such, it resembled other newsreels, but Whitten appears to have conceived of it as primarily for social events because four of the items were of this type: The Mullingar Races, Trotting in Shelbourrne Park, A Garden Fete at Bushey Park and The Metropolitan Regatta at Island Bridge. The sole political item was De Valera after the East Clare Election (“Irish Topical Films”). The election film depicted an important event, but when viewed in the week of 23-28 July, it was not particularly timely as De Valera had won for Sinn Féin on 11 July. Indeed, a film of the election had been shown at the Rotunda – and undoubtedly other picture houses – beginning on 16 July, the same day as Irish Events 1 appeared but not as part of it.

Rotunda Convention 26 Jul 1917 DEM

An ad for Dublin’s Bohemian featuring a newsreel special on the Irish Convention; Dublin Evening Mail 26 Jul. 1917: 2.

With the emergence of Sinn Féin, political events in Ireland were moving fast, too fast for a weekly newsreel to keep up. It appears that Whitten planned to release the regular issues of Irish Events with items that could be planned in advance of its Monday release but also to release special “stop-press” films of events that could not be included in this way. This was the case when the Irish Convention, a meeting of Irish representatives convened to tackle the “Irish problem,” opened on Wednesday, 25 July. Whitten released a newsreel special of the Convention that was screened in Dublin’s Bohemian on 26 July. “Mr. Whitten is determined,” Paddy reported, “to let nothing stand in his way as regards securing the latest topical events” (16 Aug.).

Irish Events faced competition from the filmmaking activities of the Princess picture house in Rathmines; Dublin Evening Mail 19 Jul. 1917: 2.

By releasing the films of important political events quickly, Whitten maintained the scoop on his competitors. He faced competition on the filming of newsworthy events particularly from Gaumont, which had a substantial presence in Ireland and whose Gaumont Graphic newsreel was very popular. As well as this, Irish Events also faced local competition in its depiction of social events. Throughout July and August 1917, the Princess Cinema in Rathmines filmed such social events as the British Red Cross Garden Fete and the Opening of the Irish Counties’ Hospital by Lady Wimborne and even The Bushey Park Fete, which Whitten had also featured in Irish Events 2. While the Princess advertised that their films were exclusive – taken by them and not to be seen elsewhere – Irish Events was designed to be widely distributed. Whitten and his cameraman J. Gordon Lewis would have a busy autumn as they worked on Irish Events, on advertising films for Court Laundry and Paterson’s matches, and on an animated film with cartoonist Frank Leah.

Joseph Holloway’s sketch of Frank Fay as Beresford Pender in a stage adaptation of Charles J. Kickham’s Knocknagow at the Queen’s Theatre in July 1917. National Library of Ireland.

Although it had some organizational problems, Ireland’s other major indigenous film production company, the Film Company of Ireland (FCOI) also entered the somewhat crowded field of local factual filmmaking. Paddy reported that FCOI “have just finished an enormous scenic film dealing with the beauties of rural Ireland, and also containing many character studies and views of historic places” (23 Aug.). Rather than one long film, this was a series consisted of 20 one-reel films. These may have been among the company’s films that Paddy reported that Glasgow’s Square Film Company had arranged to distribute. FCOI managing director James Sullivan also told Paddy that their “almost completed” Knocknagow would be nine reels long, “the longest production ever made in the United Kingdom.”

Sullivan was eager to keep the much-anticipated adaptation of Knocknagow in the forefront of the media discussion of the company rather than its recent winding up proceedings. On 25 June 1917, his wife Ellen Sullivan, as a company creditor, had applied for its winding up in order that it could be restructured. During the proceedings, it emerged that she had given the company £500 and that it was running at a loss of £1,526 (“Film Company of Ireland”). The restructuring was necessary because James Sullivan’s co-director Henry Fitzgibbon had gone to America to promote the company but had decided not to return to Ireland. The proceedings caused some anxiety in those who were peripherally involved in FCOI. “I recently saw that the Film Co. of Ireland has been before the Court for winding up prior to reconstruction,” playwright Martin J. McHugh wrote to Joseph Holloway. “This may, and I hope will, mean only a delay in the resumption of their work; but somehow it damps one’s confidence in Irish enterprise, which does not seem usually to be blessed with good management” (Holloway, 7 Jul. 1917). McHugh had written two scripts for FCOI, “one long since paid for and photographed, and the other yet to be produced – and I wonder what will become of them.”

While the future of Irish fiction filmmaking looked uncertain at the end of summer 1917, instructive images of various kinds filled the screens.

References

“Cinema by the Sea.” Irish Limelight 1:9 (Sep. 1917): 4.

“Film Company of Ireland.” Daily Express 26 Jun. 1917: 3.

“The Food Economy Film: “Everybody’s Business”: A Stirring Appeal to the People.” Bioscope 14 Jun. 1917: 1050.

Holland, J. B. “Motor Notes.” Daily Express 30 Jul. 1917: 3.

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

“Hundreds at Dublin Cinemas Every Night: Commons Questions.” Evening Herald 24 Jul. 1917: 1.

“Irish Topical Films.” Evening Telegraph 21 Jul. 1917: 4.

“Kingstown Horticultural Show: Decrease in Exhibits.” Daily Express 2 Aug. 1917: 7.

“‘Motherhood’ at the Carlton.” Daily Express 2 Jul. 1917: 7.

“Mr. Churchill Not to Write Film Stories.” Daily Express 21 Jul. 1917: 6.

Paddy. “Irish Notes.” Bioscope 5 Jul. 1917: 83; 16 Aug. 1917: 766; 23 Aug. 1917: 881.

“Seen and Heard: Notes and Notions on men and Matters.”  Evening Herald 22 Aug. 1917: 2.

“To-Day in Brief.” Daily Express 18 Jul. 1917: 4.

“The Women’s Land Army” Daily Express 9 Jul. 1917: 4.

Succeeding Like Success: Irish Cinema at Christmas 1915

Carlton Cinema, c. 1920. Source: Art Deco in Dublin.

Carlton Cinema, c. 1920. Source: Art Deco in Dublin.

Christmas 1915 was worth celebrating for those involved in the cinema in Ireland. Despite the war and attempts by religious groups to limit its expansion, cinema had continued to grow in 1915, and several new picture houses opened in time for end-of-year holiday season. In many ways, then, a short item in the trade journal Bioscope in December 1915 on the recent opening of an Irish cinema well characterizes the state of the industry as a whole at the end of 1915. “They say,” it began, “nothing succeeds like success” (“Trade Topics”).

However, the success of cinema in 1915 needs to be qualified as well as acknowledged. For a start the short Bioscope item appears to be a promotional piece with little substance. It continues: “but what Mr. Andy Wright said a few nights ago when, in opening the doors for the first time of his new theatre at Waterford, he was knocked down in the rush of an eager populace anxious to secure their seats, is not recorded.” Not recorder either – by this item or other contemporary sources – is what the name of this new theatre was. Not that Wright was unused to the openings of Irish picture houses. Best known as the managing director of the Liverpool-based distribution company Films, Limited and of Wright’s Enterprises, he was also heavily involved in a number of exhibition companies in Ireland. He was a director of Irish Empire Palaces, of the company that built and ran Dublin’s Phoenix Picture Palace, and of Southern Coliseums (“World of Finance”; Paddy, 7 Nov.). Following successes in Wexford and Kinsale during summer 1915, he had opened the Cinema in Carlow in September (Paddy, 9 Sep.). However, this item – if it has any basis in reality – must refer to the opening two months earlier of Waterford’s Coliseum, following its conversion from the Waterford Rink (Paddy, 28 Oct.).

Opening of Enniscorthy's Cinema Theatre, Echo Enniscorthy 4 Dec. 1915: 6, and 11 Dec. 1915: 6.

Ads for the opening weeks of Enniscorthy’s Cinema Theatre, Echo Enniscorthy 4 Dec. 1915: 6, and 11 Dec. 1915: 6.

Among the actual openings for the 1915 Christmas season were picture houses in Enniscorthy, Belfast and Dublin. Enniscorthy’s new Cinema Theatre opened on Wednesday, 8 December, at the Ancient Order of Hibernian’s hall on New Street, which on the occasion, “was crowded, and many people were turned away. The hall was cosily fitted up. The screen proved to be large and the pictures to be clear and bright” (“New Cinema”). All the machinery, fittings and films for the new Cinema Theatre had been provided by Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply, which was also fitting out the picture house in Waterville, Co. Kerry, (Paddy, 9 Dec.). With a population of just 5,500, Enniscorthy could sustain this new picture house alongside the existing Abbey Picture House. Nevertheless, the Abbey put on a rival programme of comedies for 8 December designed to maximize its own audience. Competing with the Cinema Theatre’s naval drama On Secret Service (US: American, 1915) and Chaplin two-reel comedy Laughing Gas (US: Keystone, 1914), the Abbey topped its bill with the Chaplin six-reel feature comedy Tillie’s Punctured Romance (US: Keystone, 1914).

Dublin picture houses advertising the first showings of Chaplin's latest film Charlie at Work. Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 1.

Dublin picture houses advertising the first showings of Chaplin’s latest film Charlie at Work. Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 1.

Enniscorthy did not have a monopoly on Chaplin. He was still everywhere, with the films he made with Keystone in 1914 still in circulation while his newer Essanay films received special advertising. When Dublin’s Pillar Picture House, Mary Street Picture House and Electric Theatre, Talbot Street premiered the new Charlie at Work on 6 December, Getting Acquainted (US: Keystone, 1914) maintained the audience of the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street “in continuous roars of laughter,” while at the Masterpiece Theatre, one of the Keystones in which Chaplin played alongside Ford Sterling “kept the house in an uproarious mood” (“Picture House,” “Masterpiece”). Of the many other stars, perhaps Mary Pickford was the only one to approach Chaplin. On 2 December, Cork’s Coliseum showed Mistress Nell, which featured Pickford, “who has become such a prime favourite in many Irish picture theatres” (Paddy, 2 Dec.).

Willowfield PH Belfast

Willowfield Picture House and Unionist Club. Cinema Treasures.

Neither Chaplin nor Pickford topped the bill when Belfast’s newest cinema the Willowfield Picture House opened on 20 December. There was nothing at all unusual about the military mien of the featured drama The Commanding Officer (US: Famous Players, 1915), even when it was complemented by a local topical film of The Inspection of the Ulster Division (1915). The latter film was, however, unusually appropriate for a venue that was also the social club for the Ulster Unionist Party.

Evening Telegraph, 24-25 Dec. 1915: 4.

Evening Telegraph, 24-25 Dec. 1915: 4.

Dublin’s newest cinema was less out of the ordinary. When the Carlton Cinema Theatre opened its doors on 27 December, it was the last new Irish picture house of 1915. Located at 52 Upper Sackville/O’Connell Street, it had been designed by architect Thomas F. McNamara for Frank W. Chambers, who also ran a tobacconist and billiard hall on the same street. “There is a magnificent entrance and lounge – the latter also being a tea room,” the Bioscope’s Paddy noted, “which lend an imposing appearance to the whole theatre” (6 Jan.). Inside, “[t]he hall is very spacious and well proportioned; the slope in the floor is a distinct improvement, whilst the scheme of decoration and lighting is very effective (“New Carlton Cinema Theatre”). The main opening film was His Wife’s Story (US: Biograph, 1915), which was accompanied, Paddy revealed, by an “orchestra, which consisted of two violins, a piano and a ‘cello.” He predicted that “with the improvement which is bound to come in the course of time, [it] should prove one of the best orchestras in Dublin.” All reviewers commented on the lack of expense spared by Chambers in fitting out the cinema, including in the generator and projectors chosen. “There is, indeed,” the Irish Times declared confidently, “little likelihood of spectators having to suffer the delay of a breakdown, in the Carlton” (“New Picture House”).This was just tempting fate because the same paper reported on 20 January 1916, that a breakdown in the generator had been repaired and that “the light on the picture screen is now perfect” – suggesting previous imperfections – for upcoming screenings of the adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (“Carlton Picture Theatre”).

Despite such initial technical difficulties, the Carlton would become one of the city’s most popular cinemas. Partly this was because of its favourable location opposite the Gresham Hotel, but it was also because of the musical attractions it would soon offer. In doing so, it would have to compete with two well-established rivals, the nearby Rotunda and the suburban Bohemian. At the Rotunda, “[t]he music, which is now an important feature of a Picture Entertainment, is supplied by the first-class Orchestra, under the baton of Miss Murphy, R.I.A.M.” (“Rotunda Pictures”). However, the state of the art in film accompaniment in Dublin was to be heard at the Bohemian, and in December 1915, it was about to popularize the cinema solo. “The success attendant on the violin solos given by Miss M. Burke, a member of the Bohemian orchestra, during the performances of last week,” an Evening Telegraph reviewer revealed, “doubtless influenced the management to engage for the present week the services of Mr. Patrick Delaney, the celebrated violinist, who rendered at the 7 and 9 performances some delightful selections, which were warmly applauded by large audiences” (“Bohemian”). Although the Bohemian management decided to engage a male soloist, this development was started by one of the city’s skilled women musicians. This Miss M. Burke is likely Mary Burke, who in the 1911 Census is listed as a Galway-born music teacher living in the nearby suburb of Drumcondra.

Victoria Boh Orch 25 Dec 1915p4

Dublin’s Bohemian Orchestra helped reopen Galway’s Victoria Cinema. Connacht Tribune 25 Dec. 1915: 4.

The Bohemian and Galway would have other connections at Christmas 1915. Galway saw the reopening of two of its picture houses – the Cinema Theatre and the Victoria Cinema – on St. Stephen’s Day, 26 December. The main Christmas pictures at the other cinemas – the Court Theatre and the Town Hall Pictures – were serials, the firth episode of The Black Box (US: Universal, 1915) in the case of the Court and the eighth episode The Exploits of Elaine The Exploits of Elaine (US: Wharton, 1914) at the Town Hall. This sense of business as usual was not adopted by the reopening venues, which offered special musical features. The Cinema Theatre under new manager George Gutherie, engaged two singers, “Australian Prima Donna” Marie Elster, who sang “Ave Maria,” and juvenile Irish vocalist Ruth Conway. Among its main alterations, the Victoria Cinema had erected a veranda to protect queuing patrons from the rain, replaced its screen and installed a new projector “to prevent delays between the parts of one picture.” These infrastructural enhancements were launched by a three-day visit from Percy Carver’s Bohemian Orchestra, “acknowledged by press and public as the finest in Ireland” (“Notes & News”). Whether or not Mary Burke was among the visiting musicians is not recorded.

Christmas was celebrated in picture houses around the country with such traditional fare as pantomime films but also with more recent innovations. The Cork Examiner’s review of Robinson Crusoe at Cork’s Coliseum asserted the superiority of the cinema version over the theatrical. “There must be more than ‘Crusoe’s’ own adventures in the modern [theatrical] pantomime. Topical songs are introduced, and this distracts the attention from the mariner’s adventures. It is here the cinema producer scores, for he can keep the main story before the mind all the time” (“Coliseum”). Christmas provided the opportunity for showmen and -women to mount extra film entertainments and for travelling picture shows to visit smaller towns that did not have a regular cinema. James Barrett was granted a licence for a film show in Castlebar’s Town Hall (“Castlebar Urban Council”). With a population of just over 1,500, Granard, Co. Longford, hosted a “highly attractive cinema and gramophone entertainment” at the Town Hall on 29-30 December, “organised for the comforts’ fund of the various battalions of the Leinster Regiments” (“Granard Notes”).

Cinema’s role not only as entertainment but also as a recruiting tool was an important way in which its social usefulness was measured in Christmas 1915. Those men who had not yet enlisted were encouraged to do so by recruitment meetings that included films in Macroom, Charleville and other Co. Cork towns (“Macroom Notes,” “Recruiting Rally”). By contrast, the Freeman’s Journal indicated that some popular films and plays were attempting to prevent recruiting. Praising recruiting efforts around the country, an editorial item observed that the “Irish capital has certainly done magnificently, and perhaps the greatest incentive to recruiting in our midst has been the idiotic pin pricks of the pro-German humbugs, passing as melodramatic Emmets and cinematograph Wolfe Tones” ([Editorial item]). Although it is unlikely that the writer had yet seen it, Sidney Olcott’s Irish-shot Bold Emmett, Ireland’s Martyr (US: Sid Olcott Feature Players, 1915) – steeped in the Irish melodramas of Dion Boucicault – could have been so described.

Dec 4 1915 Nationality PHs ad

Picture house advertising helped fund some of the radical nationalist press; Nationality, 4 Dec. 1915: 3. Available online from the National Archives of Ireland.

Cinema was not expanding everywhere, in part due to the war but also because it had opponents, some of whom were even more active and influential than the Freeman’s editorial writer. Kells Picture House closed for one of its regular hiatuses when its tenancy terminated on 7 December, but it would reopen again in January ([Small ad]). The Ormonde Cinema Company informed Nenagh Town that

[i]n reference to the opinions of well-known advocates of economy during the continuance of the war, and to encourage their propaganda so far as amusements are concerned, [we] have decided to hold exhibitions of pictures only twice weekly in future, viz., on Sunday and Wednesday nights instead of four nights, as was their practice hitherto. (“Nenagh Town Council.”)

Other kinds of cultural nationalist propaganda also rejected cinema. Minnie McAllister of Magherafelt, Co. Derry, the recipient of the third prize in the Columban League of Irish Youth essay competition, included going to the pictures among the foreign manners and customs that Irish boys and girls should avoid. “There is nothing in these performances that appeals to the real Irish imagination,” she wrote, “and frequently enough they are of a description that should not be tolerated in any self respecting country” (“Columban League of Irish Youth”).

Edward O’Dwyer, bishop of Limerick, was of a similar opinion. Just in time for the New Year, he wrote a letter on the exhibition of an immoral film in Limerick city to Fr J. A. O’Connor, administrator of St Michael’s parish that was published nationally in the Cork Examiner and Freeman’s Journal (“Indecent Picture Exhibitions,” “Immoral Pictures”). “On last Wednesday,” he revealed, “a picture was shown in one of these houses, and from the descriptions which has been give to me of it, I feel bound to take the strongest steps within my power as a Catholic Bishop, to prevent the continuance of such an agency of corruption” (ibid.). The description of which film so incensed the bishop is not clear, but he seemed disinclined to confirm its offensiveness by actually viewing the film before urging that swift steps be taken against the picture house in question. On the last day of the year, Limerick’s Vigilance Committee informed the Borough Council through the pages of the Limerick Leader that it could within days expect the Committee’s draft restrictions to be included in subsequent cinematograph licences (“Limerick Vigilance Association”). At a meeting earlier in the month in which the Dublin Vigilance Committee revealed that it had been granted representation at the Recorder annual hearings to grant – or deny – music licences to picture houses, the Committee had acknowledged the increasing national reach of the vigilance movement by changing its name to the Irish Vigilance Association (Dublin Committee) (“Dublin Vigilance Committee”).

As 1915 ended, cinema was certainly a more important cultural force in Ireland than it had ever been, seen as variously profitable, pleasurable and useful. However, it had formidable local opponents ranged against it that were more organized and determined to curb its influence or to destroy it.

References

“The Bohemian.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“The Carlton Picture Theatre.” Irish Times 20 Jan. 1916: 8.

“Castlebar Urban Council.” Western People 18 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Coliseum: ‘Robinson Crusoe.’” Cork Examiner 28 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Columban League of Irish Youth: Occasional Chats with the Members.” Donegal News 18 Dec. 1915, p. 7; Ulster Herald 18 Dec. 1915: p. 3.

“Dublin Vigilance Committee.” Evening Telegraph 4 Dec. 1915: 3.

[Editorial Item.] Freeman’s Journal 18 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Granard Notes.” Longford Leader 25 Dec. 1915: 1.

“Immoral Pictures: Letter from Most Rev. Dr. O’Dwyer.” Freeman’s Journal 30 Dec. 1915: 6.

“Indecent Picture Exhibitions: Letter from Most Rev. Dr. O’Dwyer.” Cork Examiner 30 Dec. 1915: 4.

“Limerick Vigilance Association: And Local Picture Houses: Important Restrictions Proposed.” Limerick Leader 31 Dec. 1915, p. 10.

“Macroom Notes.” Southern Star 18 Dec. 1915: 5.

“The Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Nenagh Town Council and Retrenchment.” Nenagh News 25 Dec 1915: 2.

“The New Cinema.” Echo Enniscorthy 11 Dec. 1915: 7.

“A New Picture House.” Irish Times 30 Dec. 1915: 3.

“Notes & News.” Connacht Tribune 25 Dec. 1915: 4.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 7 Nov. 1912: 417; 9 Sep. 1915: 1176; 28 Oct. 1915: 468; 9 Dec. 1915: 1109; 30 Dec. 1915: 1472; 6 Jan. 1916: 53.

“The Picture House, O’Connell St.” Evening Telegraph 7 Dec. 1915: 2.

“Recruiting Rally in North Cork.” Cork Examiner 29 Dec. 1915: 8.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 24 Dec. 1915: 6.

[Small ad.] Meath Chronicle 4 Dec. 1915: 5.

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 23 Dec. 1915: 1307.

“World of Finance.” Bioscope 7 Mar. 1912: 689; 13 Jun. 1912: 807.

“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.