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.
“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.).
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”).
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.)
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.
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”).
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”).
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.
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.