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

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

Roll of Honour 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irish Cinemagoers Feel the Heat of Summer 1914

July 1914 began with a heat wave in Ireland, and although temperatures fluctuated thereafter, political developments nationally and internationally grew increasingly heated up to the August bank holiday. “Tuesday’s sunshine was the hottest on record this year,” commented Dublin’s Evening Telegraph on Wednesday, 1 July.

From its rising to its setting the sun blazed in a cloudless sky. Ninety-six degrees were registered in the city, and in many parts of the country the thermometer rose to over 100 degrees in the sun. Monday, too, was intensely hot, registering 76 degrees in the shade. Dublin would seem to have been transferred to the tropics. (“The Heat Wave.”)

For such indoor entertainments as cinema, summer weather that allowed outdoor activities was bad news. “To successfully compete with the open-air attractions,” revealed a review of the Phoenix on Dublin’s Ellis Quay, “a big bid is being made by the Phoenix management (“Phoenix Picture Palace,”11 Jul.). As well as the right films, this picture house boasted about its comfortable environment. “The Phoenix is most comfortable this hot weather, for, besides being a big, airy house, it is supplied with electric fans that change the air constantly, and keep it delightfully cool” (“Phoenix Picture Palace,” 30 Jun). This kind of discussion was by no means exclusive to Dublin. The British trade journal Bioscope’s “Jottings from Ulster” columnist observed that “[a]t this time of year especially, temperature should receive as much attention as the programme” (“Jottings,” 9 Jul).

Ad for a fumigator of cinema audiences; Bioscope May 1913.

Ad for a fumigator of cinema audiences; Bioscope May 1913.

How the auditorium could be made bearable during even ordinary summer weather was a controversial subject. “The advent of the hot weather is always heralded by the revival of that interminable controversy dealing with ventilation,” noted the Bioscope. “Every cinema boasts of having a more or less “perfect” system of ventilation – a term which is so tentative as to mean almost anything” (“Trade Topics” 9 Jul). Although the Phoenix appears to have invested in a relative sophisticated air-conditioning system, it is not clear how the management of Dublin’s Volta kept it “well ventilated and cool” (“The ‘Volta’ Sunday Pictures”). It’s possible the Volta used the more cost-effective but unpopular strategy of having a cinema attendant spray a scent in the air above audience members – many of whom in 1914 had infrequent access to bathing facilities – as they sat watching the screen in the heat of an otherwise unventilated auditorium.

Ad for opening of Masterpiece Theatre, Evening Telegraph 25 Jul. 1914: 1.

Ad for opening of Masterpiece Theatre, Evening Telegraph 25 Jul. 1914: 1.

Despite their sometimes inability to deal with climatic conditions, new picture houses continued to open regularly in the immediate pre-war period. Following the openings of the Phibsboro Picture House and Bohemian Picture Theatre in late May and early June, the next picture house to open in Dublin was the Masterpiece Theatre at 99 Talbot Street. Owned by Charles McEvoy – “a gentleman with a good experience of the producing end of the business in Australia” (Paddy, 6 Aug.) – and designed by architect George L. O’Connor, it had “no gallery, so that the flow of air passes through the theatre uninterrupted” (“Masterpiece Picture Theatre”). The 450 patrons who fitted inside approached the picture house through an entrance that was

quite the finest in Dublin. The pay-box is on the right, and having passed through white doors set with stained glass, one traverses a short space of tiled flooring leading up to three steps. The steps surmounted and rich velvet curtains passed, one finds oneself in a form of lounge, beautifully decorated with framed photos of the leading picture play artistes. On either side of the lounge are long forms richly upholstered in Rose Barri tinted velvet. A sweet and cigarette kiosk stands at the left. (Paddy, 6 Aug.)

On either side of the screen were boxes for “the person who explains a particular picture or sings when pictures adapted to this use are thrown on the screen” (“Masterpiece Picture Theatre”) All seats were 6d., and performances were continuous from 1.30 to 10.30. The opening programme was headed by Joan of Arc (Giovanna d’Arco; Italy: Savoia, 1913), supported by “‘Relaying a Railway,’ ‘A Wise Old Dog’ (comic), Topical Topics (cartoons), and ‘Just Kids’ (Comedy)” (ibid).

The opening of the Masterpiece was accompanied by the founding of other new Irish cinema companies. On Dublin’s Sackville/O’Connell Street, J. J. Farrell was building what would be called the Pillar Picture House on part of the site formerly occupied by a pharmacy, while on the other part of this site “a notice has just been put up to the effect that Irish National Picture Palaces, Limited, have secured the site, and will shortly open a theatre capable of holding 1,200” (Paddy, 16 Jul.). Picture houses were also under construction in Dublin’s Manor Street, in Kilkenny, in Coleraine and in Newry. In Belfast and other parts of the north, the increasingly armed resistance of the Ulster Volunteers to Home Rule was no barrier to the local film business. “Despite the trouble now brewing in Ulster,” Jottings observed, “cinematograph theatres are springing up here, there and everywhere. Permanent buildings, too, for the days of the temporary halls are well on the wane in the Northern province of Ireland to-day” (Jottings).

Detail of Dublin Civic Exhibition’s Concert Hall and Cinema, from Evening Telegraph 14 Jul. 1914: 1.

Detail of Dublin Civic Exhibition’s Concert Hall and Cinema; Evening Telegraph 14 Jul. 1914: 1.

“I really do not know where the building of additional theatres in Dublin is going to stop,” marvelled Paddy, the Bioscope’s Irish correspondent, at the end of July, after a 600-seat temporary concert hall and cinema opened for the Dublin Civic Exhibition, which ran from 15 July to 31 August 1914. “At the Civic Exhibition the cinema theatre is, without the slightest doubt, one of the most popular sideshows” (Paddy, 30 Jul.). Erected on the site of the city’s Linenhall, the Civic Exhibition, aimed

to produce a considered plan, so as to show how Dublin can be made a better commercial and industrial centre, and how, with improved conditions (which will be illustrated by the various section and exhibits) the trade, manufactures, and commerce of the city must increase in a large degree.” (“Dublin Civic Exhibition: The Attraction for All Parts of the Country.”)

As with all such world’s fairs, the latest entertainments were vital not only to amuse audiences but also as a manifestation of the benefits of industrial progress. The appointing of vocalist John C. Browner as manager of the Exhibition’s concert and cinema hall rather than someone with picture-house experience seems to have been a deliberate strategy to promote the educative potential of the medium. In keeping with the theme of the exhibition, the most advertised “cinema” attraction was the Kinemacolor films that were combined with lantern slides of the National Cash Register Company of Dayton, Ohio, in order to illustrate the free daily lecture about this model factory “Industrial Welfare and Commercial Progress.”

Lord Lieutenant patronizes Princess in Rathmines for film of opening of Dublin Civic Exhibition; Evening Telegraph 18 Jul. 1914: 1. Ad for illustrated lecture in the Exhibition's Cinema Hall; Irish Times16 Jul. 1914: 9.

The Lord Lieutenant patronized the Princess in Rathmines to see the film of the opening of Dublin Civic Exhibition; Evening Telegraph 18 Jul. 1914: 1. Ad for illustrated lecture in the Exhibition’s Cinema Hall; Irish Times16 Jul. 1914: 9.

Although the Civic Exhibition did not reproduce the kind of commercial cinema that was thriving in the city beyond its grounds, it was the subject of a film shown in Dublin’s picture houses. “The Lord Lieutenant was present at the Princess Cinema, Rathmines, on Saturday afternoon,” reported the Irish Times,

when a picture of the opening of the Civic Exhibition was exhibited. By arrangement with the Exhibition Committee, the picture was produced by the management of the Princess Cinema. Eight cinematograph operators, under the direction of Mr. James Worth, were stationed at various points on the route of the procession and at the Linen-hall. The result of their work is highly creditable. (“Dublin Civic Exhibition: Lecture on Dublin Housing.”)

Chaplin causes havoc in a picture house and later in a film studio in A Film Johnnie.

Chaplin’s tramp causes havoc in a picture house and later in a film studio in A Film Johnnie.

Despite the commercial cinema’s exclusion from the exhibition itself, such high-profile screenings demonstrated the mutual benefits to the industry and dominant social class of cinema’s increasing absorption into Ireland’s mainstream media. Among the messages of this film was that despite the recent defeat of workers during the Lockout, the elite were engaged in tackling such problems as the appalling housing condition – and indeed homelessness – of the city’s poor. The Irish Times’s Clubman reported that Harvard professor of social ethics James Ford had told a conference convened as part of the exhibition that a city “in which a large section of the population lived in such a monstrous way as the 51,000 families are housed in Dublin was doomed to decay” (“Dublin Topics”). Although such analysis was important, it was also largely contained by the organization and media framing of the exhibition. Arguably more unsettling in the picture houses was the anarchic humour of Charlie Chaplin’s tramp character in such films as The Film Johnnie (US: Keystone, 1914), which was shown at the Rotunda on 21 July. The tramp provided working-class audiences with ways of seeing “their anger and frustrations recognized, transformed, and liberated” (Musser, 62).

The entertainment ads in the Evening Telegraph on Thursday, 30 Jul. Included a film of the funeral of the Bachelors Walk shootings at the Rotunda.

The entertainment ads in the Evening Telegraph on 30 Jul 1914 included a film of the funeral of the Bachelors Walk shootings at the Rotunda.

The cohesive social structure seemingly on show in the Civic Exhibition film was less in evidence after the Howth gunrunning on Sunday, 26 July, and the shooting dead by soldiers later that day of three people on Bachelors Walk. Following the Ulster Volunteer Force’s highly successful gunrunning at Larne in April 1914, the Irish Volunteers finally succeeded in landing and distributing arms at Howth in defiance of the police supported by a military detachment. Soldiers returning to barracks responded with bullets to the taunting of a crowd in the city centre. The Irish Times described the public funeral of those killed as an “impressive spectacle” that had been “made the occasion of a popular demonstration by the various elements of Nationalist forces, and, besides being an indication of sympathy with the relatives of those who were killed, it was chiefly intended as a protest against the action of the military” (“Dublin Shooting Affray”). Among the groups who turned out was a large contingent of the workers’ “Citizen Army, headed by Mr. James Larkin” (ibid). No footage was taken of the landing of the weapons, but the funeral was filmed. Among the film companies that covered the funeral was Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply, which shot part of their Funeral of Victims Shooting Affair Sunday, July 26th from the Bohemian Picture Theatre in Phibsboro (Paddy, Aug. 6).

Although the struggle for and against Home Rule had dominated Irish politics for decades, the outbreak of the Great War would complete change the country and its fledgling ciinema institution. As a harbinger of those changes, the Bioscope’s 6 August issue announced the first of a different kind of local film taken on 2 August that would set the tone for coming events: “The first local picture in connection with the war was taken in Glasgow on Sunday evening, when Messrs. Green’s Film Service secured a fine film of the Naval Reserve entraining en route for Portsmouth” (“Trade Topics,” 6 Aug). Capturing the initial patriotic war euphoria that cinema would help to foster, the article noted that “[t]he picture was shown in many halls in Monday, and was received with great enthusiasm.”

References

“The Champion Fight Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 11 Jul. 1914: 7.

“The Civic Exhibition.” Evening Telegraph 9 Jul. 1914: 7.

“Dublin Civic Exhibition: The Attraction for All Parts of the Country.” Irish Times 4 Jul. 1914: 7.

“Dublin Civic Exhibition: Lecture on Dublin Housing.” Irish Times 20 Jul. 1914: 10.

“Dublin Shooting Affray: The Funeral.” Irish Times 30 Jul. 1914: 7.

“Dublin Topics by the Clubman: City Housing.” Weekly Irish Times 1 Aug. 1914: 4.

“The Heat Wave: Yesterday Hottest Day of Year.” Evening Telegraph 1 Jul. 1914: 3.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 9 Jul. 1914: 138.

“Masterpiece Picture Theatre.” Irish Times 28 Jul. 1914: 3.

Musser, Charles. “Work, Ideology, and Chaplin’s Tramp.” Resisting Images: Essays on Cinema and History. Eds. Robert Sklar and Charles Musser. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1990.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 16 Jul. 1914: 253; 30 Jul. 1914: 494; 6 Aug. 1914: 545.

“Phoenix Picture Palace.” Evening Telegraph 30 Jun. 1914: 3; 18 Jul 1914: 2.

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 9 Jul. 1914: 113; 6 Aug. 1914: 532.

“The ‘Volta’ Sunday Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 11 Jul. 1914: 3.