Exhibiting Tanks to Irish Cinema Fans, February 1917

A tank goes into battle in The Battle Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1917) from the Imperial War Museums.

A tank goes into battle in The Battle Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1917); Imperial War Museums.

Cinema was so popular in Ireland in February 1917 that the press had to search for a name for its adherents, and they found it in American vernacular. “This morning there is a heart-cry from a cinema fan,” the “Gossip of the Day” columnist in the Evening Telegraph noted on 21 February 1917:

He doesn’t know that he is a cinema fan, and that is the crux of the trouble – he is ignorant of the great American language. I gather from his pathetic note that he is a regular patron of the “silent drama,” yet he finds a difficulty in understanding the explanatory inscriptions with which American producers seek to help the intellects of those who sit in the outer darkness.

Although cinema was primarily a visual medium and as such offered the promise of an international language, it still required words to specify the meaning of what might otherwise be ambiguous images. The silent film’s intertitles carried those words, but they were often in a dialect not universally understood. The columnist was surprised at this because s/he believed that “regular patrons of this form of amusement were able to understand any announcement on the screen from the ‘slick’ slang of East Side New York to the weird attempts at English of the Italian, French and Danish producers.”

Most of the films that Irish cinemagoers saw were indeed American, but it was a British film that sought to attract as many Irish cinema fans as possible in February 1917. Monday, 19 February saw the Irish opening of The Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1917), a War Office-sponsored propaganda film more often called simply The Tanks. Despite this foreshortened title, tanks featured only occasionally in the film. “Throughout the five scenes,” the Evening Herald’s Man About Town complained, “the Tanks are seen about four times altogether, each time only for a very brief passing moment.”

Whatever about the coming disappointment, anticipation for the film could build on tantalizing glimpses of this new war machine that had been accumulating for several months. In autumn 1916, Irish people had read about the first battlefield deployment of tanks, and in November 1916, Dubliners had even had the opportunity of seeing a tank film, albeit it the animated Tank Cartoon (Britain: Kineto, 1916). The cinema trade press had also informed its Irish readers about the shooting of the War Office tank film (“About Those Tanks!”).

faugh-a-ballaghs-il-feb-1917

The Dublin Evening Mail appears not to have been exaggerating when it noted that the “coming of the “Tanks’ Film’ to Dublin has been eagerly anticipated.” Publicity for the film could draw on what appears to have been a widespread fascination with this new weapon, in a similar way to which the earlier propaganda films had focused on artillery or aircraft. Previewing the coming shows at Dublin’s Theatre Royal, the city’s largest entertainment venue, the Mail writer observed that the “film portrays the most interesting happenings during the Battle of the Ancre, when the Tanks were first heard of, and promises to prove one of the most successful of the many interesting war films already seen in Dublin. The Battle of the Ancre stands out as one of the most striking phases of ‘The Big Push’” (“‘The Tanks’ at ‘The Royal’”).

Indeed, the Royal starting advertising the film as early as 10 February, when a short item warned patrons to book the film to avoid disappointment: “Your remember the trouble you had getting a seat at the ‘Battle of the Somme’ films, but you say to yourself that there will be no difficulty with ‘The Tank’ films, and you delay booking only to find yourself in the same position as before” (“‘The Tanks’ Film at the Theatre Royal”). The added attraction of The Tanks was that it included footage of Irish soldiers: “There were no Irish regiments shown in the Somme film, but Lieut. Malins, who took the pictures, succeeded in getting some splendid films of our gallant Irish Brigade.” Despite such extensive publicity of the film, the Royal only showed it at matinees (beginning at 2.30pm), except on Wednesday, when the film replaced the Royal’s two evening variety shows (beginning at 6.45pm and 9pm). Nevertheless, the film was presented at the Royal with “special music and effects that […] should help one to realise ‘what it is like.’ The band of the famous Faugh-a-Ballaghs will play at every performance” (“‘The Tanks’ at ‘The Royal’”). Unfortunately no review of the Royal shows appears to exist that specifies what effects – presumably sound effects imitating exploding shells – were used during the shows and how the audiences responded.

tanks-grafton-dem-21-feb-1917

Dublin Evening Mail 19 Feb. 1917: 2.

The Royal was far from the only Dublin venue showing the film that week. Another large theatre, the Empire, showed the film all week alongside a somewhat reduced variety programme. Several of the most prestigious picture houses also screened it, with the Bohemian, Carlton, Masterpiece and Town Hall, Rathmines showing it for the first three days of the week, and the Grafton retaining it into the second half of the week. The Bohemian managed to show the film four times daily at 3, 5, 7 and 9, but this was eclipsed by the six shows that the Grafton managed to squeeze in at 1.45, 3.15, 4.45, 6.15, 7.45 and 9.15, “so that business men and others can all have an opportunity of making acquaintance with these new machines of war, of which Sir Douglas Haig says he cannot speak too highly” (“Grafton Picture House”).

While Dublin’s newspapers reviewed the film positively – even the Herald‘s Man About Town, despite his disappointment about the little screen time devoted to the tanks themselves – the Irish Times printed the longest review, and it was most forthright in clarifying the film’s ideological intent. Its “exhibition creates many thrills, and gives a very vivid conception of the war in all its phases,” the writer argued. S/he admitted that this had been done before, most notably by the very popular Battle of the Somme (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1916), but it had been criticized for showing British soldiers being killed. “[I]n the Tank films one is spared the somewhat gruesome side of the fighting. The tanks are awesome but not gruesome” (“‘Tanks in Action’”). In the face of so much evidence to the contrary, the film therefore helped recruiting by propagating a myth of British military invulnerability. “Should they stimulate our young men to help those Irishmen whom they see manning the trenches,” the Times writer concluded a lengthy review, “‘The Tanks in Action’ will be doing good work in Dublin.”

ultus-sydney-master-dem-24-feb-1917p2

Dublin Evening Mail 24 Feb. 1917: 2.

The Times did not usually offer extensive reviews of films, but other newspapers were taking cinema increasingly seriously. On 19 February, the Evening Telegraph – the evening edition of the Freeman’s Journal – resumed publication after a hiatus caused by the destruction of its premises during the Easter Rising. Among its innovations was a Saturday column entitled “Kinematograph Notes and News.” The first series of notes on 24 February included both international items and some of particular Irish relevance. The latter included a notice that Aurele Sydney, star of Ultus series, would attend the Masterpiece Cinema during the following week’s screenings of Ultus and the Secret of the Night (Britain: Gaumont, 1917). Another note concerned the views of John Bunny, a film star who had visited Ireland five years previously and discussed the possibilities for film production in the country. Given that it made no mention of the Film Company of Ireland’s recent filmmaking efforts, the reason for the inclusion of the note on Bunny is unclear, unless it was to quietly contradict the claim made in the Masterpiece’s ad that Sydney was the first cinema star to visit Ireland.

This column was praised by a writer in the Irish Limelight, the cinema magazine that had begun publication in January 1917. “Readers of the Saturday Evening Telegraph got an agreeable surprise recently when they found that cinema notes were introduced,” “Movie Musings” columnist Senix observed. The surprise that the staff at the Limelight got on seeing the column may not have been all that agreeable, given that a weekly newspaper column might steal much of the thunder of the monthly journal. Nevertheless, Senix took it to be a positive development, commenting that “[t]his recognition of the people’s amusement proves pleasant reading after the many bitter attacks which have been made in the local Press. And the fact that it comes so soon after the appearance of the Irish Limelight sets us thinking.”

Dublin Evening Mail 17 Feb. 1917: 2

Dublin Evening Mail 17 Feb. 1917: 2

Despite Senix’s optimistic reading of the appearance of the Telegraph‘s column, bitter attacks on cinema were still very much evident in February 1917, both in the press and in the auditorium. When the “Gossip of the Day” columnist had attempted to define “cinema fan” for his/her readers, s/he speculated that “‘fan’ must be American for ‘fanatic,’ as it is used to designate people who are peculiarly addicted to any pastime.” However, there may be reasons for distinguishing between cinema fans and cinema fanatics. Certainly serial protestor William Larkin was a fanatic often to be encountered in cinemas but not a cinema fan. Since 1914, Larkin had mounted periodic protests in Dublin’s picture houses against films that he and the Catholic Irish Vigilance Association (IVA) considered to be morally dubious. These protests occurred in the auditorium during the screening of the films and involved Larkin shouting about the need for a Catholic-influenced Irish censorship and/or throwing ink at the screen. Larkin sought arrest to magnify the reach of the protest through the newspaper reports of the disturbance and subsequent trial. He had usually found that the magistrates treated him leniently – even indulgently – but in December 1915, he had been jailed when he refused to pay a fine imposed for a cinema protest.

After a period of apparent inactivity during 1916, Larkin’s latest – and last for some years – cinema protest took place on 21 February 1917 during a screening of The Soul of New York (US: Fox, 1915; released in the US as The Soul of Broadway) at the Pillar Picture House in Dublin city centre (“City Cinema”). It followed a well-established pattern. At about 10.25pm, the picture-house porter heard a commotion in the auditorium, found that Larkin had thrown “a blue liquid” at the screen and went to get manager J. D. Hozier. Larkin made no attempt to escape and admitted to having thrown the liquid, which not only caused damage estimated at £30 to the screen but also “bespattered” the instruments and clothes of musicians Herbert O’Brien, Joseph Schofield and Samuel Golding in the orchestra (“City Cinema Scenes”). After several court appearances, the case seems to have been struck out at the end of March.

Evening Telegraph 22 Feb. 1917: 1.

Evening Telegraph 22 Feb. 1917: 1.

Although this “exciting episode” certainly garnered press coverage, how Larkin’s direct-action methods complemented the Irish Vigilance Association’s ongoing campaign for cinema censorship is not clear. Indeed, despite his previous affiliation with the IVA, Larkin may have been acting on his own in this instance. The IVA’s well organized political lobbying for the introduction and effective exercising of film censorship was well advanced by February 1917. In June 1916, Dublin Corporation had appointed Walter Butler and Patrick Lennon as film censors, and in January 1917, it had engaged two women as “lady inspectors” of picture houses (“Amusement Inspectors,” “Dublin Lady Censors”). The IVA found a ready welcome at Dublin Corporation. On the last day of February, its Public Health Committee (PHC) invited a seven-member IVA deputation to address them on Sunday opening (“Cinema on Sundays”). Answering the deputation’s complaint that many cinemas opened at 8 o’clock on Sunday evenings, thereby intruding on hours set aside for Catholic devotions, PHC chairman and former mayor Lorcan Sherlock assured the deputation that the Corporation would enforce a 8.30pm Sunday opening.

Therefore, Irish cinema was engaging both fans and fanatics in February 1917.

References

“About Those Tanks! Extraordinary Interest of the Latest ‘Big Push’ Films.” Bioscope 12 Oct. 1916: 121.

“Amusement Inspectors: Reports to Be Made on Dublin Performances.” Evening Herald 10 Jan. 1917: 3.

“Cinemas on Sundays: Vigilance Association and the Hours of Opening.” Evening Telegraph 1 Mar. 1917: 2.

City Cinema: Exciting Episode: Blue Liquid Thrown.” Evening Telegraph 22 Feb. 1917: 1.

“City Picture-House Scene.” Dublin Evening Mail 28 Feb. 1917: 2.

“Dublin Lady Censors: Names Submitted.” Freeman’s Journal 15 Jan. 1917: 4.

“Gossip of the Day: Comments on Current Events.” Evening Telegraph 21 Feb. 1917: 2

“Grafton Picture House.” Dublin Evening Mail 17 Feb. 1917: 5.

“Kinematograph Notes and News.” Evening Telegraph 24 Feb. 1917: 5.

The Man About Town. “Thing Seen and Heard.” Evening Herald 19 Feb. 1917: 2.

Senix. “Movie Musings.” Irish Limelight 1:3 (Mar. 1917): 3.

“‘The Tanks’ at ‘The Royal.’” Dublin Evening Mail 17 Feb. 1917: 4.

“‘The Tanks’ Film at the Theatre Royal.” Dublin Evening Mail 10 Feb. 1917: 5.

“‘Tanks in Action’: Cinema Pictures in Dublin.” Irish Times 20 Feb. 1917: 3.

Irish Cinema and Population Control in November 1916

District Attorney Richard Walton (Tyrone Power) stands over the body of his wife (Helen Riaume), whom he has thrown to the ground after learning she has had multiple abortions in Where Are My Children? (US: Universal, 1916). Image from the Women Film Pioneers Project.

District Attorney Richard Walton (Tyrone Power) stands over the body of his wife (Helen Riaume), whom he has thrown to the ground after learning she has had multiple abortions in Where Are My Children? (US: Universal, 1916). Image from the Women Film Pioneers Project.

Cinema representations of birth control and abortion caused anxieties in Ireland a century ago, illustrating some of the class and gender questions the new medium brought to the fore in late 1916. “All thoughtful citizens look forward to the day when the cinematograph will be a great instrument of public education,” began a lead article in the Irish Times of 2 November 1916. “When it claims the right, however, to deal with moral and medical questions of the utmost gravity and delicacy we confess to misgivings” (“Morality Films”).

The occasion of these misgivings was the 8 November exhibition in London of Where Are My Children? (US: Universal, 1916). This film had been co-written and co-directed by Lois Weber, one of the most prominent of early women filmmakers, whose adaptation of the opera The Dumb Girl of Portici (US: Universal, 1916) was on release in Ireland at this time. That Where Are My Children? – or indeed The Dumb Girl of Portici – had been made by a woman writer-director was not the issue or even mentioned by the writer in the Times, who was probably not aware of the fact; even the British trade journal Bioscope misnamed her Louis Weber (“‘Where Are My Children?’”). The Times’ problem was that taboo subject matter was being treated by a popular media form and therefore risked being seen by the wrong sorts of people and in contexts in which it could not be properly controlled by the established authorities in the area, doctors and clerics.

An ad for a powder that relieves a

The cinema was the occasion for another medical intervention in late 1916, when this ad suggested that a cinemagoer take Daisy powder to relieve her “cinema headache.” Sunday Independent 10 Dec. 1916: 5.

However, the first exhibition that the Times referred to was to be to a “distinguished audience” that included “the Duchess of Marlborough, Lady Sydenham, the Bishop of Barking, the Chief Rabbi, the Rev. F. B. Meyer, Sir Home Gordon, Sir John Kirk, Mr. Joynston-Hicks, M.P., Dr Saleeby, Principal Garvie, and many others” (“The Birth-Limitation Picture”). Despite this litany of the thoroughly right people from the aristocracy, government and clergy, the Irish Times was not impressed that the film had been passed by the National Council of Public Morals, which

can furnish no guarantee that the public exhibitions of this film which illustrates “the wrecking of happiness and health,” will always be confined to spectators who are interested in “social uplifting.” There is a danger, it seems to us, that such exhibitions may tend, in the main, to give a stimulus to prurient curiosity.

where-are-my-children-bn-9-mar-1918p5

The first Irish screenings of Where Are My Children? appear to have been at Belfast’s Grand Opera House in early 1918; it seems not to have been shown in Dublin. Belfast News-Letter 9 Mar. 1918: 5.

To prevent such prurience even in its own readers, the Times was a little coy in describing what the film’s problematic subject matter actually was, merely quoting a synopsis that called it “a social photo-drama dealing with some of the causes and effects of the declining birthrate,” Apart from the concern to avoid crudity, this coyness was also no doubt due to the fact that the writer had not seen the film, and indeed probably never saw it because it seems never to have been publicly shown in Dublin. Even though s/he also had also not seen it at the time of writing, a writer at the cinema trade journal Bioscope was more explicit: “The plot, we understand, introduces the subject of illegal operations, and treats boldly of their physical and moral results.”

The Irish Times was not above joining in with the frivolity offered by cinema. The Weekly Irish Times printed episodes from the serial The Red Circle (US: Balboa, 1915) while it was showing at Dublin's Dame Street Picture House and Electric Theatre, Talbot Street. Ad for the Irish Times 4 Nov. 1916: 4.

The Irish Times was not above joining in with the frivolity offered by cinema. The Weekly Irish Times printed episodes from the serial The Red Circle (US: Balboa, 1915) while it was showing at Dublin’s Dame Street Picture House and Electric Theatre, Talbot Street. Ad for the Irish Times 4 Nov. 1916: 4.

Although the Times considered issues of sexual health and mores to be beyond the competence of a cinema whose “uses are still mainly frivolous,” the leader writer indicated several areas in which cinema was making progress as a public educator. The epitome of this role was “[t]he official films from the various battle fronts[, which] illustrate the methods of modern war for the stay-at-home taxpayer.” Certainly, The Battle of the Somme continued its triumphant progress among not only taxpayers in the cities but also those in towns across the country, with well-advertised runs in November at Mullingar’s National Picture Palace (9-11 Nov), Jameson’s Picture Palace in Queenstown (Nov. 27-29), Carlow’s Burrin Street Picture House (Nov 30-Dec 2), Kildare Picture Palace (Nov 30-Dec 2) and Omagh’s Picture House (Dec. 4-6).

Dublin's Theatre Royal showing matinees of the official Italian war film On the Way to Gorizia; Dublin Evening Mail 6 Nov. 1916: 2.

Dublin’s Theatre Royal showing matinees of the official Italian war film On the Way to Gorizia; Dublin Evening Mail 6 Nov. 1916: 2.

Meanwhile, war films continued to premiere at special matinees at Dublin’s Theatre Royal. In November 1916, these including the official Italian war film On the Road to Gorizia (Nov. 6-11), which was exhibited under the patronage of the Lord Lieutenant and the Italian ambassador, and the French war film The Allies on the Eastern Front (Nov. 27-Dec. 2), which was shown with Tank Cartoons, about which the Dublin Evening Mail enthused – quoting the publicity material – the “[t]he man who invented the tanks, whoever he may be, is a genius, but the man who conceived this film is more – he is a genius, a humourist, and an artiste rolled into one” (“War Films at the Theatre Royal”).

For the Times writer, this kind of film – but perhaps not the at-least-somewhat-frivilous cartoons – provided a model for cinema’s wider role as the public educator of the near future. “When peace returns the State should be able, by the same means,” s/he argued, “to instruct the public in matters concerning trade policy, the opening of new markets, and the development of national industries.” As well as this, “the cinematograph may be in general use in the technical schools and universities for the teaching of mechanics and engineering.”

But the cinema had not yet attained this role of general usefulness to the state, and the picture houses remained too likely to be the refuge of shirkers and of idlers rather than of citizens informed about imperial economics and of scholar-technicians. In mid-November 1916, the Weekly Irish Times reprinted a report from the London Times on the halt in Irish recruiting: “[in Dublin,] a man of military age, even if he be a young man of the cap brigade, may loiter at street corners, saunter about the city, or seat himself in a Picture House or Music hall in the full confidence that no recruiting sergeant, official or self-appointed, will come along to trouble him” (“Recruiting in Ireland”). Not enough was, apparently, being done in Dublin to force young working-class men onto the battlefields, but with growing ubiquity of propaganda film, the picture houses were presumably not the refuge they once might have been.

The map shows the location of Asylum Yard (ringed) and the Brunswick Street Picture House (red block) that

This map shows the location of Asylum Yard (ringed) and the Brunswick Street Picture House (red block).

Nevertheless, four Dublin working-class teenage boys – William Byrne, Patrick Carey, Edward McDonnell and Myles Brady – seem to have enjoyed an evening at the end of October at a picture house, likely the one at 30 Great Brunswick (now Pearse) Street, which was the one nearest to where they lived. However, the reason that a record of their outing survives is that the events of their evening landed them in court and the case was reported in the newspapers. Arriving home late to their homes in the area between Townsend Street and Brunswick Street, Byrne, Carey, McDonnell and Brady found themselves locked out. They took shelter in 12 Asylum Yard, burning floorboards and window sashes to keep warm (“After the Pictures”). In a sense, the press accounts provide just one more of the numerous reports of the period that invoke the increasingly inevitable constellation of young working-class boys/men, picture houses and criminality (see here, here and here). Despite potential, cinema was still a juvenile, delinquent medium; it needed to mature and be disciplined.

Report of the Departmental committee appointed by the Local government board for Ireland to inquire into the housing conditions of the working classes in the City of Dublin

From the Report of the Departmental committee appointed by the Local government board for Ireland to inquire into the housing conditions of the working classes in the City of Dublin (Dublin, 1914). Available from Dublin City Libraries’ Derelict Dublin collection.

Some of the details of the case, however, point the finger of criminality in another direction. The name Asylum Yard was among those that became notorious in the aftermath of the 1913 collapse of tenements in Church Street. Asylum Yard housed more than a hundred people in 20 unsanitary dilapidated cottages, 15 of which – the highest number of any street in the city – had been condemned by Dublin Corporation in 1912 as unfit for human habitation and ordered to be demolished if not repaired within a given time (“Tenements Unfit for Habitation”). When on 1 November 1916, the four boys appeared in the city’s Southern Police Court charged with causing malicious harm to 12 Asylum Yard, it was also revealed that this cottage was owned by Arabella Mitchell of Tivoli Terrace, Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire). The contrast in housing standards between Tivoli Terrace and Asylum Yard – and the inequalities of the people who lived in them – would have been difficult to exaggerate.

Cinema features strongly among the small ads in the Irish Independent, 2 Nov 1916: 2.

Cinema featured strongly among the small ads in the Irish Independent, 2 Nov 1916: 2.

If cinema played some part in relieving the misery of the lives of those forced to live Dublin’s slums, it was worth defending.

References

“After the Pictures: City Boys’ Night Out.” Dublin Evening Mail 1 Nov. 1916: 2.

“The Birth-Limitation Picture: Delicate Subject Discussed on the Screen.” Bioscope 9 Nov. 1916: 561.

“Cinema and Youths.” Evening Herald 1 Nov. 1916: 2.

“Morality Films.” Irish Times 2 Nov 1916: 4.

“Recruiting in Ireland.” Weekly Irish Times 18 Nov. 1916: 3.

“Tenements Unfit for Habitation: Corporation Inaction: Instructive Figures on Death-Traps.” Irish Independent 11 Sep. 1913: 5.

“War Films at the Theatre Royal: The Allies on the Eastern Front.” Dublin Evening Mail 17 Nov. 1916: 5.

“‘Where Are My Children?’ Special Review of Remarkable Film Sermon.” Bioscope 16 Nov. 1916: 631.

“The Birth of a Nation” in Ireland, Autumn 1916

Theatrical poster; Wikipedia.

Theatrical poster; Wikipedia.

D. W. Griffith’s racist epic The Birth of a Nation (US: Epoch, 1915) caused a sensation when it finally reached Ireland in the autumn of 1916, more for its epic ambitions than for its racism. It played exclusively at just three venues: first, at Belfast’s Grand Opera House, for the three week from 7 to 26 August; next, at Cork’s Opera House for the week of 28 August-2 September; and finally, at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre for a two-week run from 18 to 30 September. Clever marketing to middle-class tastes, a mastery of filmic spectacle and even its title in a country consumed by a struggle for or against the birth of a more-or-less autonomous nation propelled it into the Irish consciousness like few previous films.

“‘Ireland will never be fit to take its place among nationalities, big or small, until it is recast and remade. It is in the melting-pot now…. What picture of the process of remoulding will the historian of the future give his generation? ” This question from US senator Patrick J. Maguire appeared as “To-Day’s Thought” at the top of the Man About Town’s “Seen and Heard” column in the Evening Herald on 26 September 1916.  In the column’s “Afterthought,” the Man About Town answered: “Why a moving picture, of course – another ‘Birth of a Nation.’” As writers in the Bioscope and Dublin Evening Mail had earlier in the year, the Man About Town thought that the historiography of the near future would be written not on the page but on the screen, with the light of the film camera and projector. Unlike these previous writers who had discussed British propaganda films, the Man About Town was referring to the fictional Birth of a Nation, which was then starting the second of its two-week run at the Gaiety.

Dublin Evening Mail 16 September 1916: 2.

One of a series of large display ads for The Birth of a Nation in the Dublin Evening Mail, this one appeared on 16 September 1916: 2.

“By the way, have you seen it – the ‘Birth of a Nation’ at the Gaiety?” the Man About Town continued, clearly somewhat overwhelmed by this version of the American Civil War and period of Reconstruction that followed it. Focusing on the Northern Stoneman and Southern Cameron families, Griffith depicts the Civil War as a national tragedy, that was followed by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which allowed such radical Republicans as Austin Stoneman (George Siegmann) – a fictional version of Thaddeus Stevens – to unleash on the defeated South a plague of carpetbaggers and state legislatures of freed blacks incapable of governing even their own behaviour never mind a state. Order could only be restored when Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall) founded the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which restores order and rescues white women from the sexual depredations of black men. Awed by the film’s technical achievements, Irish journalists tended to treat it as a factual retelling of events. “If you fail to see it you are missing a part of your education,” the Man About Town warned. “I have sat out some kinema shows in my time, but nothing to come near this. It’s the greatest screened drama that ever came to Dublin.”

Childhood friends but belonging to opposing Union and Confederate armies, the youngest sons of the Cameron and Stoneman families meet on the battlefield and die in each other's arms.

Childhood friends but belonging to opposing Union and Confederate armies, the youngest sons of the Cameron and Stoneman families meet on the battlefield and die in each other’s arms in The Birth of a Nation.

Under the title “Absolutely It,” Jacques’ review at the Evening Herald concluded that it was “the most enthralling thing in film land ever presented to a Dublin audience” and declared the reviewer lost for words. “If you ask me to give a full and detailed account of all the characters, love stories, historical incidents and thrilling incidents that occurred during the two hours that ‘The Birth of a Nation” reel kept spinning at the Gaiety Theatre last night,” he confided, “I’m sorry to say I can’t do it.” He nevertheless usefully provided what he called “but the baldest outline”:

The film shows us with almost overwhelming detail life in America, both North and South, just previous to and during the course of the Civil War. Mixed up with the fighting we follow the fortunes of two families united by ties of friendship but on opposite sides in the struggle. Then, when the war is over, we see the rising of the blacks, who, thanks to the slushy policy of the North, get all the power into their own hands and become bestial tyrants in consequence.

Kindly before our eyes is pictured the inception of the biggest secret society the world has ever seen, for it embraced every white in the South and yet remained secret. Finally we see how this society – the Ku-Klux-Klan – by the employment of mailed glove methods and working on negroid superstition, was enabled to stamp out the black peril and permit the whites in the Southern States to live without the men carrying their lives (and their six-shooters) in their hands.

Jacques was somewhat unusual among Irish reviewers in focusing on the second, more audaciously racist part of the film, which deals with the Reconstruction, and his use of such terms as “bestial tyrants,” “negroid superstition” and “the black peril” leaves little doubt that he accepted the film’s racism.

The very picture of imperilled femininity, Elsie Stoneman (Lillian Gish) awaits her forced marriage to the mixed race Silas Lynch in The Birth of a Nation.

In just one climactic instance of racially imperilled femininity, Elsie Stoneman (Lillian Gish) awaits her forced marriage to the mixed race Silas Lynch in The Birth of a Nation.

The Man About Town largely avoided explicit white-supremacist phrasing but made clear that the film’s affective power – frequently evoked with images of imperilled femininity – was deployed to ensure that the audience identified with Southern whites:

It gives you every emotion in the human gamut. One time you marvel at the beauty of the sunny cottonfields, then you smile at the quaint costumes. You want to kiss and cuddle the sweet young person loved by heroic young men. You feel an all-overness when you see howling mobs surging in flaming towns; you grip yourself at the sight of men amuck smashing and tearing houses above the heads of cellared women; you feel the shock of battle. You laugh and cheer and cry. It’s better than a good play. It’s a marvel.

The reviewer at the Belfast News-Letter contended that the emotional charge was intensified over the film’s three-hour span in order to offer the audience a final release by cheering the KKK. “Historically of the greatest value,” s/he claimed,

“The Birth of a Nation” holds the audience enthralled for over three hours, and the enthusiasm of the spectators waxes stronger and stronger with each succeeding scene, until, towards the close, they seize the opportunity afforded by the thrilling exploits of the Ku Klux Kan [sic] to give vent to their long pent-up emotions in frequent and hearty outbursts of applause. (“Grand Opera House”  BN.)

Only the reviewer at Cork’s Evening Echo in any way questioned the film’s racial politics. “The southern cotton planters were persuaded nature intended the negroes to be bought and sold and to cultivate cotton,” s/he observed, commenting that the “outlook of these planters appears peculiar at the present day,” but undermining what may be a mild criticism by adding that “one can to some extent understand it” (“Opera House”). “Mr. Griffith, it is easy to see, has a strong Southern bias,” the Northern Whig reviewer pointed out, “but this would not matter if it did not lead him to overstate an excellent case.” This overstatement was particularly evident in the depiction of the KKK: “to represent [the KKK] as a new order of chivalry is simply fantastic.” However, the writer’s problem appears to have been historical accuracy – the fact that it “is tinged too deeply with melodrama” – and not racist ideology: “If the Ku-Klux-Klan cannot be adorned with a halo, Mr. Griffith uses it to produce some splendid sensational thrills and the final fight for Piedmont is as good a realistic spectacle as one has ever seen staged” (“Grand Opera House” NW 8 Aug.).

It is possible to track these difference in reception of The Birth of a Nation because it received so much newspaper coverage, and this in turn was because it played exclusively at three of Ireland’s most prestigious theatres rather than at Belfast’s, Cork’s and Dublin’s picture houses. This formed part of a deliberate international exhibition strategy designed to distinguish The Birth of a Nation as a cultural event unlike any previous film screening. Rather than be distributed through existing distribution companies, the film was exhibited in a “road show” format, brought to the cities in which it was to be shown by a travelling company of technical crew and musicians. The company’s arrival was heralded by an elaborate marketing campaign that included large newspaper display ads describing – or rather exaggerating – the film’s unprecedented scale (Stokes 121). The claim repeated most often in Irish newspaper ads related less to the film’s narrative than to the assertion that the extent of the production needed to be measured in the thousands:  18,000 people, 5,000 horses and £10,000 costs.

This ad quoted the overwhelmingly positive reviews in Belfast's papers; Northern Whig 9 Aug. 1916: 7.

This ad quoted the overwhelmingly positive reviews in Belfast’s papers. Notable missing is the nationalist daily Irish News, which did not advertise or review the film. Northern Whig 9 Aug. 1916: 7.

Every ad also carried a note from director D. W. Griffith guaranteeing that “‘The Birth of a Nation’ will never be presented in any but the highest-class theatres and at prices charged for the best theatrical attractions.” Theatrical prestige was financially lucrative. “At both houses yesterday large audiences attended,” the Irish Times’ reviewer noted in the course of a comparatively short review of the Gaiety shows, observing that luxury and expense were sometimes forced on “later comers at the evening performance [who were] unable to obtain admission, except to the dearer parts of the theatre” (“‘Birth of a Nation’” IT). The Irish exhibition of The Birth of a Nation awaited a British road-show company that came – according to the ads – “direct from its sensational success at Drury Lane, London.” As a result, the film had taken a year and half to reach Ireland.

Belfast News-Letter 15 Aug. 1916: 1.

The Panopticon’s “mirth of a nation”; Belfast News-Letter 15 Aug. 1916: 1.

The attempt to suggest that the prestige theatres should be the exhibition spaces for prestige films was, not surprisingly, resisted by picture-house owners. During the Belfast run, the rival Panopticon advertised that if not “the birth of a nation,” it was providing “the mirth of a nation,” albeit that its main feature Burnt Wings (Britain: Broadwest, 1916) – in which a woman adopts her husband’s illegitimate child – does not seem altogether mirthful (“Panopticon”). For distributors of other high-profile films, the choice of picture house or theatre appears to have been more pragmatic. When the most ambitious of the British government’s propaganda films The Battle of the Somme finally opened on 11 September, it was first shown in Dublin at a theatre, the Theatre Royal, but in Belfast, it was shown at the luxurious Picture House, Royal Avenue. “[N]ever have the facts of war been more vividly brought home to people living far away from the scene of action,” the Belfast News-Letter commented. “For this latter feature we are indebted to the pictures which have from time to time been obtained by means of the cinematograph [… F]rom the moment of preparation, all through that deadly, but glorious, First of July, on to the crash of victory, the story is unfolded in all the strength and simplicity which such photography can give ” (“Battle of the Somme”).

Dublin Evening Mail 26 Aug. 1916: 2.

Carmen, a silent-screen opera; Dublin Evening Mail,  26 Aug. 1916: 2.

Undoubtedly, certain picture houses were capable of mounting productions that rivalled the theatres’ biggest spectacles. In the week beginning 28 August, Dublin’s Bohemian capitalized on its acknowledged superiority in musical attractions by exhibiting the opera film Carmen (US: Lasky, 1915), directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Metropolitan Opera diva Geraldine Farrar in her first film role. Farrar did not, of course, appear at the Bohemian to sing her part, but the live musical accompaniment by the Bohemian orchestra was supplemented by both concert instrumentalists Achille Simonetti and Clyde Twelvetrees and vocalists Belgian tenor Carlo Berckmans and Irish basso Irvine Lynch.

Although it did not have such vocal attractions, The Birth of a Nation outdid all of these in other ways. One of these was its exceeding length, running almost three times longer than either Carmen or The Battle of the Somme. Indeed, its running time of over three hours was 50-100% longer than most picture-house programmes, which usually consisted of several films. And however exaggerated the figures that appeared in its ads, local reviewers recognized it as an unusually lavish production. “The Grand Opera House was filled to overflowing last night,” the Belfast News-Letter‘s reviewer observed,

and collectively and individually, without exception, the members of the huge audience that peopled the vast auditorium were thrilled to the very core by the stupendous historical drama that was unfolded before their eyes. “The Birth of a Nation” is unquestionably the finest cinematograph production ever seen in this city, but it represents far more than that; it is one of the mightiest and most moving spectacles ever seen upon any stage, and its creation is an epochal event in the history of the art of cinematography. (“Grand Opera House” BN.)

Joseph Holloway saw several films apart from The Birth of a Nation in September 1916, including a second viewing of the Film Company of Ireland’s O’Neil of the Glen, at which he sketched actor J. M. Carre.

Joseph Holloway saw several films apart from The Birth of a Nation in September 1916, including a second viewing of the Film Company of Ireland’s O’Neil of the Glen, at which he sketched actor J. M. Carre.

However, it seems that audiences in Dublin and those in Belfast interpreted the spectacle in different ways. Writing of Dublin, Nicholas Andrew Miller has pointed out that “[i]f the film produced a local political impact on the Irish audience, then, it is not because it narrated Irish historical experience, but because it created a discursive space in which local Irish references – and memories – could appear in the guise of spectacle” (115). Citing the diary of inveterate theatregoer Joseph Holloway, Miller shows that members of the Gaiety audience used the film to criticize post-Easter Rising Ireland. Holloway had attended the Gaiety on 20 September, when he thought the film “stupendous […] & to say that I was thrilled by visiting it is to state but downright fact. It is a story of the War between North & South & its after effect until the negroes were again put in their proper place.”  Holloway also reports that his neighbour Miss Conroy told him of shouts at one of the screenings concerning British Army commander John Maxwell, who had imposed harsh martial law on Dublin in the aftermath of the Rising and had executed 15 of the leaders. The comments came during a scene in the film in which

Lincoln refuses to deal harshly with the Southern Leaders, & says, “he’ll treat them as if nothing occurred at all!” – on a shout coming from one of the audience “where is Sir John Maxwell to hear that?” followed by great approval & the contrary, till she got quite frightened of there being a row.

(The barber’s assistant, who was present at opening show first night, said one on gallery called out after seeing the above incident – “For our second Cromwell!”). (Holloway.)

For Miller, the memories and local references the film evoked related to nationalist politics, in this case, the Easter Rising.

This film ad openly praised the Ku Klux Klan; Belfast News-Letter 3 Aug. 1916: 7.

This film ad openly praised the Ku Klux Klan; Belfast News-Letter 3 Aug. 1916: 7.

The Belfast context was quite different. As no equivalent of Holloway’s diary exists for Belfast and as the Irish News – the city’s main nationalist newspaper – did not advertise or review the Grand Opera House shows, the surviving responses to The Birth of a Nation come from the city’s unionist newspapers. As well as this, the film opened on 7 August, more than a month earlier than in Dublin, putting it in the high summer, when an exodus from the city to seaside resorts was being reported (“Holiday Scenes in Belfast”). “Even in such hot weather as we have been experiencing recently a visit to the Opera House to see the ‘Birth of a Nation’ will not be regretted, but on the other hand will long be remembered with much pleasure by all who pay it” (“Birth of a Nation” NW). Despite this, the film ran for three weeks, a week longer than in Dublin, and the papers reported that the enthusiasm of Belfast audiences had not waned even by its third week, “which finds the film in higher favour than ever. […] Not only is Mr. Griffith’s spectacle continually drawing new admirers but a great many people are discovering that it well repays a second and even a third visit” (“Grand Opera House”  NW 22 Aug.).

For the reviewers in Belfast, the outstanding feature of local relevance in The Birth of Nation was its depiction of war, which made it particularly timely given that the papers were elsewhere reporting on the battles of the Somme and Verdun and at one point, on the increased use of non-white soldiers in battle (“Coloured Men and the War”). “The battle of Petersburg, in which the Federal troops sustained their greatest and final defeat, caused great interest on account of the close analogy it bears to the fighting on the Western front to-day,” the Belfast News-Letter observed, “it was one of the earliest, if not the first occasions in history, on which the contending armies entrenched in the open with the opposing lines only a few yards apart” (“Grand Opera House” BN).

However, the film’s contemporary relevance came  not just for these battlefield details but also from the depiction of the emotions felt by soldiers’ families.

The departure of the troops for the scene of action, the pathos of parting from their friends and relatives, the tragic letters which tell of their devotion and sacrifices, the sorrow and suffering that are bravely endured by grief-stricken parents who have given their sons to their country – all these things are typical of what is happening at the present time. No one can witness this mighty spectacle without being moved to tears. There are scenes of indescribable pathos, and there are also scenes of surpassing beauty and of infinite sweetness and tenderness. (“‘Birth of a Nation’” BN.)

Although a greater emphasis fell on the war scenes in Belfast – “where picture houses thrive and claim thousands of habitués” – it was also true of Dublin and Cork that “[t]he prophesy that the film would create a sensation wherever it was produced has been fulfilled to the letter” (“Grand Opera House” NW 15 Aug.). Irish filmgoers – but not cinemagoers – thronged to see Griffith’s massive spectacle in the autumn of 1916, were duly impressed by it and few had qualms about its racism.

References

“The Battle of the Somme: Historic Film to be Exhibited in Belfast.” Belfast News-Letter 18 Aug. 1916: 8.

“The Birth of a Nation.” Northern Whig 12 Aug. 1916: 6.

“‘The Birth of a Nation’: Impressive Spectacle at the Grand Opera House.” Belfast News-Letter 12 Aug. 1916: 2.

“‘The Birth of a Nation.’” Irish Times 20 Sep. 1916: 3.

“Cinema’s Popularity: Manifold Potentialities: Shows What Theatre Only Tells.” Belfast Evening Telegraph 29 Sep. 1916: 4.

“Coloured Men and the War.” Belfast News-Letter 4 Aug. 1916: 8.

“Grand Opera House: ‘The Birth of a Nation.’” Belfast News-Letter 8 Aug. 1916: 2.

“Grand Opera House: ‘The Birth of a Nation.’” Northern Whig 8 Aug. 1916: 7; 15 Aug. 1916: 7; 22 Aug. 1916: 7.

Holiday Scenes in Belfast: Big Exodus to the Seaside: The Railway Stations Besieged.” Belfast News-Letter 8 Aug. 1916: 4.

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

Hughes, Tom. How Belfast Saw the Light: A Cinematic History. Belfast: Hughes, 2014. Pp. 237-40.

Jacques. “Absolutely It: Amazing Realism at Gaiety Theatre: ‘Birth of a Nation.’” Evening Herald 19 Sep. 1916: 3.

The Man About Town. “Things Seen and Heard.” Evening Herald 26 Sep. 1916: 2.

Miller, Nicholas Andrew. Modernism, Ireland and the Erotics of Memory. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002).

“Opera House: ‘The Birth of a Nation.’” Evening Echo 29 Aug. 1916: 2.

“Panopticon.” Belfast News-Letter 15 Aug. 1916: 2.

Stokes, Melvyn. D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation: A History of “the Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time.” New York: Oxford UP, 2008.

War as a Cinema Picture in Ireland, July 1916

Monster Guns IWMa

A range finder telegraphs the location of German positions in With Britain’s Monster Guns; Imperial War Museums.

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History Without Tears in Irish Cinemas, June 1916

Framegrab from The Fight at St. Eloi; Imperial War Museums.

Framegrab from The Fight at St. Eloi (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1916); Imperial War Museums.

The London-based trade journal Bioscope opened its first June issue with an editorial entitled “The Moving Picture: The New National Weapon” and subtitled “A Force which Cannot Be Destroyed and Should Therefore Be Utilized.” “The new Defence of the Realm Regulations contain a warning that penalties will be incurred by the exhibition of unpatriotic cinematograph films,” it began, before confidently asserting:

We are happy to believe that the precaution was unnecessary. The power of the pictures has never yet been used in this country for the furtherance of disloyal or anti-British objects. It has, on the other hand, not seldom been employed with the utmost success in patriotic causes.

Nevertheless, the British government did see a reason for tighter legislative control of cinema in pursuit of the ideological goal of promoting patriotism, unanimity and support for recruitment in the context of a lengthy and costly war. The economic need to fund the war through increased tax had most directly affected cinema through the recently introduced Entertainment Tax.

"Trade Topics." Bioscope 1 Jun. 1916: 958

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 1 Jun. 1916: 958

In many ways, cinema in Ireland in June 1916 looked like a mature industry, regulated by these laws, but also highly cognizant of and largely aligned with the London-based trade. Even Ireland’s laggardly film production showed considerable development when the Film Company of Ireland press-showed its first production, O’Neil of the Glen, on 29 June at Dublin’s Carlton Cinema (“Irish Film Production”). The Bioscope was one of the ways in which this alignment was achieved, and although it was certainly read in Ireland, members of the Irish cinema trade might have been less confident of the claims of this editorial. In the same 1 June issue, the journal’s “Trade Topics” column published the assertion of J. Magner of the Clonmel Theatre that the Bioscope was the best of the cinema trade papers. And in 22 June issue, Irish columnist “Paddy” informed readers that the Bioscope was available at Mrs Dunne’s shop in Dublin’s Brunswick Street – close to the Queen’s Theatre, Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply, distributor Weisker Brothers, and other cinema businesses.

In the aftermath of the Easter Rising, however, it was questionable to what the Irish population at large was loyal. Support for the war still dominated the mainstream Irish press, but antiwar and pro-republican sentiments were becoming less marginal. By June, some theatres and picture houses anxious to maintain displays of their loyalty to the Crown – and by extension, that of their patrons – encountered protests. The large Theatre Royal had been one of the first places of amusement to open after the Rising, when it had offered British Army propaganda films. This did not, however, mean that its audience could all be considered loyalists.

On 26 June, for instance, William Charles Joseph Andrew Downes, a church decorator living at 15 Goldsmith Street, Dublin, was arrested for riotous behaviour during a live show at the Theatre Royal. He had shouted abuse related to the Boer War at a uniformed soldier who had responded to a magician’s call for a volunteer from the audience (“Scene in City Theatre”). The Boer War of 1899-1902 had been extremely divisive in Ireland, with popular support for the Boers’ stand against the British Empire extending from fiery speeches by Parnell’s Irish Parliamentary Party in Westminster to attacks on British soldiers in the streets of Dublin, and it was directly linked to the Rising in the person of executed leader and former Boer Irish Brigade major John McBride (Condon). As Downes was being escorted out the door of the Theatre Royal, he drew attention to the Irish republican badge he was wearing – a display of solidarity with the Easter rebels – and suggested that it was the reason he was being expelled.

Downes’ outburst could not be completely dismissed as the actions of a drunk – the arresting constable described him as neither drunk nor sober but “half-and-half” – and it was not isolated. The previous week, seven young people between the ages of 17 and 29 – four men and three women – had been charged in Dublin’s Police Court with offenses under the Defence of the Realm Act and with assaulting the constables who had attempted to seize the green flag at the head of a procession of 400 republican supporters that had been followed through the city centre by a crowd of around 2,000 (“Amazing City Scenes”). The crowd had also shouted republican slogans and booed and groaned passing soldiers. The mass arrests and deportations in May had failed to quell advanced nationalist activism that was now consciously identifying itself as republican.

Town Topics June 1916

Dublin Evening Mail 19 Jun. 1916: 2.

This republican riot on Dublin’s streets provided an immediate if unacknowledged context for press commentary on the educational value of the official war films. “The boys of the future will have many advantages over the boys of the past,” observed the Dublin Evening Mail’s “Town Topics” columnist. “They will learn by picture-houses as well as by paradigms. It has been said that there is no Royal road to learning. There may be a Theatre Royal road, however” (“Town Topics”).

Official war films at the Gaiety; Evening Herald 14 Jun. 1916: 2.

Official war films at the Gaiety; Evening Herald 14 Jun. 1916: 2.

In a telling slippage, he was in fact discussing a new programme of official war films at the Gaiety Theatre rather than at the Royal. Although his point was about the ease or gaiety with which cinema could teach history, it is clear that this history would inculcate loyalty to the crown and war effort. “When I was in statu pupillari,” he continued,

history was taught me not without tears. The boys of the future will learn of the great war at the picture-palaces. I saw some of the official war films last week at the Gaiety Theatre. I saw the Irish regiments marching to Mass. I saw the heavy artillery attacking a German block-house. […] I saw our men in the trenches, preparing to seize the crater of a mine explosion. I saw them lobbing bombs like cricket balls at the enemy. Then I saw them – gallant Canadians at St. Eloi – fix bayonets and out over the parapet to charge across No Man’s Land and leap at the foe. Who would read the dull chronicles of Caesar of Livy after that?

Framegrab from Destruction of a German Blockhouse by 9.2 Howitzer; Impeial War Museum.

Framegrab from Destruction of a German Blockhouse by 9.2 Howitzer (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1916); Imperial War Museums.

In making this argument, the Town Topics writer was aligning himself with the Bioscope early 1916 description of the cinema as the “nation’s historian.” Although certainly exciting, these official films were not mere entertainment but a new kind of visual historiography. And this was not just a boon for schoolboys but also a new historical method that could help historians to overcome the wartime measures introduced by governments to control the flow of information. He argued that while “[a]t the beginning of the war it was thought the historians would be bankrupt, because the censorship hid deeds of our men in the mystery of the night,” in fact, “[t]he cinema will save the historian, and at least help him to pay ten shillings in the pound.”

Other press coverage of the Gaiety shows gives further details of how this new history was presented and received. The choice of a large “legitimate” theatre such as the Gaiety rather than in a picture house associated the films with a site of serious cultural production aimed at a discerning audience. On the other hand, the Gaiety adapted picture-house exhibition practices in showing the films at three shows a day beginning at 3pm. “[T]he Gaiety Theatre opens a practically new chapter in its career,” the Freeman’s Journal commented, “by the fact that the attraction is not the familiar drama, musical or otherwise, but the production of a series of official war pictures which are, beyond all doubt, of transcendent interest” (“Amusements”). “In imagination,” observed the Irish Times, “one may see Irish soldiers at work and play, the Connaught Rangers and Munster Fusiliers amongst them, and Captain Redmond is seen leading his company to the front lines” (“Public Amusements”). Similar to other entertainments at the theatre, “a most excellent musical accompaniment is supplied by the Gaiety orchestra” (“Amusements”). Although music might contribute to the ease with which these images could be perceived, the musical director would presumably have had to be careful to avoid evoking not tears of schoolboy struggle but those of poignant loss among audience members with relatives and friends in France.

More chapters of this history that could – a least theoretically – be assimilated without tears, were on the way. “At the General Headquarters of the British Army in France,” reported the Dublin Evening Mail on 22 June, “there was last night exhibited before a large gathering of distinguished officers and their guests the latest series of the official war films, which in due course will be presented to the public at home and to neutral Powers, amongst which the desire to learn what our troops are really doing is unquestionable very keen” (“Pictures Taken at the Front”). This first run before an expert military audience could not, however, guarantee how resistant audiences in Ireland or elsewhere might react.

The Irish Catholic Church seemed to also believe that the cinema could not easily be destroyed and should therefore be, if not utilized for its own purposes, at least shaped by its ideology. With the appointment in June 1916 by Dublin Corporation’s Public Health Committee of Walter Butler and Patrick Lennon as film censors, a milestone was reached in the church’s campaign to introduce local censorship that would reflect a distinctly Irish Catholic sensibility (Rockett 50). Films shown in Ireland already bore the certificate of the British Board of Film Censorship, which had been established by the film trade as a form of self-regulation to avoid government-imposed censorship. Even as Butler and Lennon were being appointed, the British industry was discussing renewed government determination to introduce official censorship. Among the cases cited that raised this issues in London was the banning of A Tale of the Rebellion, a film about the Easter Rising that showed an Irishman being hanged (“London Correspondence”). Even as they announced the introduction of censorship in Dublin, however, the Irish Vigilance Association (IVA) expressed impatience with the lack of urgency demonstrated by the Corporation in appointing censors (“Film Censors for Dublin”).

Musical attractions at the Pillar; Dublin Evening Mail 1 Jun. 1916: 2.

Musical attractions at the Pillar; Dublin Evening Mail 1 Jun. 1916: 2.

From the IVA’s perspective, censorship was increasingly urgent given cinema’s growing appeal for the middle class, epitomized by improvements to cinematic music in June 1916. Three Dublin picture houses led the musical field: the city-centre Pillar and Carlton and the suburban Bohemian. Reviewing the Pillar at the end of June, the Irish Times revealed that its “orchestra including such favourites as Mr. Joseph Schofield, Mr. Harris Rosenberg, Mr. H. O’Brien, Miss Annie Kane and Mr. S. Golding, continue[s] to delight large audiences” (“Pillar Picture House”). Just a few doors away from the Pillar on Sackville/O’Connell Street, the Carlton boasted in Erwin Goldwater an internationally renowned violinist as its orchestra leader and soloist.

Dublin Evening Mail 10 Jun. 1916: 2.

Dublin Evening Mail 10 Jun. 1916: 2.

The Bohemian, however, outdid both of these when it engaged Achille Simonetti. “Dubliners will keenly appreciate the enterprise of the management of the Bohemian Picture Theatre in permanently engaging the services of one of the most noted violinists of the day in the person of Signor Simonetti,” the Dublin Evening Mail argued. “Henceforth Signor Simonetti will act as leader of the Bohemian orchestra – which has won such a wide repute – and will give solos, as well as Mr. Clyde Twelvetrees, Ireland’s greatest ’celloist” (“Play’s the Thing”). Simonetti debuted alongside Twelvetrees at the Bohemian on Whit Monday, 12 June 1916, when the bill was topped by Infelice (Britain: Samuelson, 1915), based on a novel by Augusta Evans-Wilson and starring Peggy Hyland. And if this was not enough to draw a large audience, the Bohemian announced that it would revise its pricing back to pre-Entertainment Tax rates, adding the line “We Pay Your Tax” to future advertisements.

No ordinary musicians need apply to Bangor’s Picture Palace; Irish Independent 9 Jun. 1916: 6.

No ordinary musicians need apply to Bangor’s Picture Palace; Irish Independent 9 Jun. 1916: 6.

The Bohemian added violist George Hoyle two weeks later. “The management now consider that they have the most perfect arrangement of stringed instruments and performers for a picture theatre,” the Irish Times reported (“Platform and Stage”). In a rare article focused on “Picture House Music,” Dublin Evening Mail columnist H.R.W. agreed that the Bohemian’s orchestra was the best in the city and that Simonetti’s “distinguished abilities attract large numbers of people from the most distant parts of the city.”

Commenting favourably on the tendency for picture-house orchestras to add strings and avoid brass and woodwind, s/he observed that while “the theatre orchestra was allowed to degenerate into mere noisy accompaniments to conversations in the auditorium during the interval,” in the picture house, “conversation is subdued, the music is subdued, the lights are subdued. The whole effect is soothing to the nerves.” Referring to Twelvetree’s impressive rendering of Max Bruch’s arrangement of “Kol Nidre,” s/he speculated that “the exact atmosphere is created by the fact that the solos are played in half light. The attention paid by the audience shows that this new feature is appreciated to the fullest extent.” S/he concluded that “the picture houses are affording us an opportunity of hearing the very best music, and in the hands of such fine artists as I have mentioned we can hear anything from a string quartet to a symphony.”

Although the official war films were not shown at the Bohemian, music of this kind could certainly play a role in assimilating the new tearless history.

References

“Amazing City Scenes.” Dublin Evening Mail 19 Jun. 1916: 3.

“Amusements: The Gaiety Theatre.” Freeman’s Journal 13 Jun. 1916: 6.

“Bohemian Picture Theatre.” Irish Times 13 Jun. 1916: 2; 20 Jun. 1916: 7.

Condon, Denis. “Politics and the Cinematograph in Revolutionary Ireland: The Boer War and the Funeral of Thomas Ashe.” Field Day Review Issue 4 (2008); and “Receiving News from the Seat of War: Dublin Audiences Respond to Boer War Entertainments.” Early Popular Visual Culture Vol. 9, No. 2 (2011).

“Film Censors for Dublin.” Freeman’s Journal 22 Jun. 1916: 6.

H.R.W. “Picture House Music: Its Growth and Development.” Dublin Evening Mail 28 Jun. 1916: 5.

“Irish Film Production.” Irish Times 30 Jun. 1916: 6.

“London Correspondence.” Freeman’s Journal 16 Jun. 1916: 4.

“The Moving Picture: The New National Weapon.” Bioscope 1 Jun. 1916: 955.

“Pictures Taken at the Front: Splendid New Series: Operator Gets Bullet Through His Cap.” Dublin Evening Mail 22 Jun. 1916: 3.

“The Pillar Picture House.” Irish Times 27 Jun. 1916: 6.

“Platform and Stage.” Irish Times 24 Jun 1916: 10.

“The Play’s the Thing.” Dublin Evening Mail 10 Jun. 1916: 6.

“Public Amusements: The Gaiety Theatre.” Irish Times 13 Jun. 1916: 2.

Rockett, Kevin. Irish Film Censorship: A Cultural Journey from Silent Cinema to Internet Pornography. Dublin: Four Courts, 2004.

“Scene in City Theatre: ‘There Is a Brave Man.’” Dublin Evening Mail 26 Jun. 1916: 4.

“Town Topics: Being a Casual Causerie.” Dublin Evening Mail 19 Jun. 1916: 2.

“The Nation’s Historian” or a “Violent Stimulant to the Eyes”?: Irish Cinema at the Beginning of 1916

Balfour Bio 6 Jan 1916

Arthur Balfour, “Cabinet Minister as Cinema-Lecturer,” touts the importance of war films; Bioscope 6 Jan. 1916: 16.

On 29 December 1915, Arthur Balfour, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, attended a screening of the war film Britain Prepared (Britain: Urban, 1915) at London’s Empire Theatre, Leister Square. “[T]these pictures constitute something more than an afternoon’s amusement,” he asserted. “They contain a lesson of the deepest import to us and the world” (“Britain’s Might Revealed”). The trade journal Bioscope was delighted with Balfour’s comments before the screening, drawing attention to them in a prominent article in its first 1916 issue. “This is, we believe, the first time in the history of the cinematograph that a Cabinet Minister has made a formal speech of introduction at an exhibition of moving pictures,” it claimed, “and as such it is an event of no small significance.” The Bioscope of 20 January clarified the magnitude of its significance, when it declared that cinema was now – finally – “The Nation’s Historian”:

The Trade has just cause for pride and gratification in the complete unanimity with which Press and public, Cabinet Minister and man-in-the-street alike, have welcomed the official cinematograph pictures of the war and the life and training of our soldiers and sailors. It has, we admit, taken a very long time to convince the Government and the Fourth Estate of the value of the cinematograph as the national historian, but now that their approval is forthcoming and the work pronounced to be good, we can well afford to regard the time as well spent. (“Nation’s Historian.”).

Doubtless Balfour’s endorsement of Britain Prepared was a valuable governmental recognition of the British film industry, and as such it is an important historical document. It is more doubtful that a film clearly conceived as propaganda – showing how Britain had prepared and was prepared to fight its enemies – can be considered a work of history. Nor was the Bioscope really interested in making a case for the film as history; it was enough of an achievement that Balfour’s presence and words showed how useful cinema had become to the war effort.

Metro ad DEM 3 Jan 1916

David Lloyd George and H H Asquith feature in this ad for Metro Pictures; Dublin Evening Mail 3 Jan. 1916: 5.

While Balfour argued that Britain Prepared was not mere entertainment but a film that British politicians should take seriously, one distribution company suggested that two other Cabinet ministers were watching its films for relaxation. In January 1916, the Dublin Evening Mail carried a series of ads placed by Ruffell’s, British agents for US production and distribution company Metro Pictures. The ads featured the Ruffell’s mascot, a parrot in a top hat, and in the first of these ads – which is in comic-strip form – the parrot convinces Minister for Munitions David Lloyd George and Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith to watch a Metro film as a needed break from their war duties. The incongruity of the images of these senior politicians visiting a cinema with the behatted and cigar-chewing parrot might distract from the no-less significant if admittedly less spectacular incongruity of this and other ads appearing in an Irish daily newspaper. Distribution was a wholesaling business; it acted as the intermediary between the manufacturers – film production companies such as Metro – and the retailers – the cinema-owners who actually showed the films. In the ordinary course of business, a distribution company such as Ruffell’s would advertise in such cinema trade journals as the Bioscope but not in the dailies. Ruffell’s did advertise in the trade press, but this series of ads sought to create recognition among cinema-goers of the relatively new Metro brand name and of the Ruffell’s parrot.

British Army DEM 20 Jan 1916

Official war film British Army in France at the Provincial Cinematograph Company’s Dublin picture houses. In the fist half of this week, the Grafton had shown With the Indian Troops in France. Dublin Evening Mail, 20 Jan. 1916: 5.

And the parrot was right: cinema was more likely the nation’s – or the world’s – entertainer than its historian. Amusement was the primary reason that Irish patrons visited a picture house, even if they did also come for other reasons, including to see how the war that they mostly read about in newspapers actually looked, and to cheer or to boo at a film that sought to use such images to engender patriotic feelings towards a nation that was invariably Britain. Nonetheless, the notion of the cinema as national historian had particular resonances for Ireland in 1916, as it has in 2016 as the country commemorates 1916. The experience of the more than 200,000 thousand Irishmen in the British armed forces were, of course, represented to some extent by Britain Prepared and other propaganda films that were appearing in increasing numbers. The Picture Houses in Grafton Street and in Sackville/O’Connell Street, which were owned by the British chain Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, made a particular feature of these films, promoting them with prominent illustrated ads, such as the one for British Army in France on 20 January. The Bioscope quoted Balfour as regretting that Britain did not “have a permanent record of the grand deeds of our armies in France and Flanders” (“Britain’s Might Revealed”). A number of such films did exist, but filmmakers would answer this call for a permanent record most spectacularly later in the year in the form of the film The Battle of the Somme (Britain: British Topical Committee for War Films, 1916).

As one of the main purposes of such films was to show the unity of the kingdom, they could not represent the motives of Irish nationalists, who had to look elsewhere for elements of an Irish historical experience on film. This was clearly so in the case of the separatist nationalists who sought Irish independence from Britain and opposed recruitment, but it also included the many more moderate Irish nationalists, even soldiers who had joined the war in answer to John Redmond’s call to fight for Home Rule. Nationalist MPs at Westminster ensured Ireland was treated as a special case even in relation to military recruitment, a fact emphasized in January 1916 when the Military Service Act excluded the country from the compulsory conscription. Given the paucity of film production in Ireland, there was little prospect of cinema providing a detailed film record of the struggle for Irish national self-determination. The nearest thing to such a film was Ireland a Nation (US: Macnamara, 1914), shot in Ireland in 1914 but not shown in the country until 1917. Newsreel films of armed National and Irish Volunteers parading do exist, albeit that the Ulster Volunteers were better at media management, including arranging for cinematograph operators to record significant demonstrations. Fiction films representing Ireland’s rebellions in 1798 and 1803 had been made by US companies such as Domino and Kalem, Sidney Olcott shooting many Irish-shot films for the latter. The special Sunday shows at Dublin’s Phibsboro Picture House on 23 January featured For the Wearing of the Green (US: Domino, 1914), in which “Paddy Dwyer, the Irish blacksmith, and his helper, Dennis Grady, who is also his daughter Norah’s sweetheart, are the prime leaders in the conspiracy against the Crown” (“Domino”). The Hibernian Electric Theatre’s Sunday feature a week later was Olcott’s The Mayor from Ireland (US: Kalem, 1911), in which two Irish immigrants follow each other in the office of New York mayor. Neither of these films was a new release, but their revival suggests their importance for Irish audiences in offering fictional self-representations that included revolutionary romances.

Hibernian ad ET 29 Jan 1916p1

Ad for Hibernian, Evening Telegraph 29 Jan. 1916: 1.

Indeed, the Hibernian Electric Theatre may provide one of the most direct links between Irish cinema and the revolution that was being planned for 1916. This picture house at 113 Capel Street, Dublin, had previously been called the Irish Cinema and had been owned and run by Richard Graham. Financial difficulties including rent default forced Graham to sell in late 1915 (“Capel Street Picture House”). No account of the reopening as the Hibernian appears to exist, but it was advertising in the Evening Telegraph by the start of January. The ads and short notices that month give an indication of some of the people involved, including manger Thomas Fullam and musical director Miss M. Grundy (“Hibernian Electric Theatre”). It is possible that it was owned or part owned by Michael Mallin, as later recalled by his son (Hughes 76-78.). Dublin silk weaver, British Army bugler, union organizer and leader of the Irish Citizen Army, Mallin would be executed in May 1916 for his role in the Easter Rising. How his picture-house experience may have had a bearing on his revolutionary activity or vice versa is difficult to say. Nevertheless, the Hibernian was located beside the Trades Hall – a fact noted in ads – and it is likely that its programming aimed to attract union members, as well as the many working class people who lived in the slum districts that would have been the catchment area for the cinema’s audience. In 1913 and 1914, the Irish Cinema had been the only picture house and one of the few entertainments of any kind that advertised in the radical labour journal The Irish Worker. However, apart from The Mayor from Ireland, its offerings seem little different from those of other Dublin picture houses.

Larkin Prison II 4 Jan 1916p4

Irish Independent 4 Jan. 1916: 4.

If Irish picture-house owners – even radical ones – had only moulded cinema in limited ways to produce a national moving image, religious groups were working more deliberately to ensure that cinema reflected the churches’ worldview. This was particularly the case with Catholic groups, such as the Dublin Vigilance Committee, which in December 1915 had coalesced with other vigilance groups around the country to become the Irish Vigilance Association (IVA). Following his arrest on 31 December 1915, serial cinema protester and militant IVA member William Larkin was released from Dublin’s Mountjoy Jail on 4 January 1916. He had been imprisoned for non-payment of the fine imposed on him in October and November for his protest at the Bohemian Picture Theatre in September (“Picture Theatre Protest”). The IVA arranged a parade of welcome from Larkin’s house in Sherrard Avenue in the north city to Foster Place, a favoured place to hold speeches beside the city-centre building that had until 1800 had been the Irish parliament. Larkin’s short prison term had done nothing to lessen his activism on the introduction of film censorship; indeed, it allowed him to claim a certain martyrdom. “I was treated as a low criminal in Mountjoy Jail for protesting against a film,” he claimed in an exchange of correspondence published by the Evening Telegraph. “I had to don a convict’s garb, eat skilly, lie on a board, and refuse hard bread. I had to parade with degenerates in a prison yard; and all, that our youth might be spared gazing on suggestion” (“Proposed Cinema Censorship”).

This concern with young people also prompted calls for censorship from reformers seemingly unaligned with the IVA. In a letter to the Telegraph, E. Gordon urged regulation of picture houses to prevent children from attending late evening shows. “I have seen toddlers and youngsters, aye, and smoking cigarettes (another Dublin byelaw more honoured in the breach than the observance) in picture houses at 10.30 p.m,” he observed:

Where did they get the money, and where were their homes? Where were their parents? Why are those children allowed to spend their lives thus? Perhaps the housing question would account for a lot of it. Now, those youngsters go in to a picture house (“It’s only tuppence, Billy”). They do not go in to look at a moral lesson faithfully learned, or for education – only for a laugh, and “it’s comfey.” (“Children at the Cinema.”)

Gordon wished for an educational cinema, recognizing it as “a great, wonderful and fascinating optical achievement (if directed in the proper channel) that was never dreamt of twenty years ago.” As such, it was an “accomplishment which makes old lanternists blush, and yet their blush can be condoned, for the old scientific lantern will still hold its own, at least in the class-room and lecture hall.”

In the Dublin township of Rathmines, the ongoing controversy on the opening of picture houses on Sunday continued into early 1916. At a meeting on 5 January, the council eventually split 8-8, and the chairman cast the deciding vote in favour of closing cinemas on Sundays; they had had limited opening hours before this. Councillor Thomas Kennedy spoke in favour of keeping them open, reading a supporting letter from the Ratepayers’ Protection Association that argued that soldiers’ relatives particularly liked seeing war reports and that closing cinemas on the only day when many people could visit them would drive these people to the pubs for recreation. Rejecting such arguments, Chairman Sibthorpe explained that he had cast his vote in favour of Sunday closing because oculists had “stated that their work had been more than doubled since these cinemas had been applying a violent stimulant to the eyes of the young people, and they were absolutely ruining the sight of the rising generation” (“Cinema Shows”).

Young people who got into trouble with the law – and their legal representatives – were well aware of these discourses on cinema’s pernicious effects on the young and of how to use them to their advantage. When “two young fellows” named Richard Barnes and Thomas Farrell appeared before Mr. Swifte at Dublin’s Southern Police Court on 27 January 1916, their solicitor argued that they had entered a banana store illegally because of watching burglaries at the picture houses and playing slot machines (“Cinema and Slot Machines”). These new forms of popular culture “were the means of leading many a young fellow astray,” he argued.

Charlie at the Bank

Chaplin foils a robbery in Charlie at the Bank (US: Essanay, 1915).

The person responsible for a good amount of this violent visual stimulation in Ireland in 1916 was Charlie Chaplin, but in January 1916, he was foiling robberies rather than committing them. The writer of the Evening Telegraph’s “Gleaned from All Sources” column, however, had picked up the news that Chaplin’s career was on the wane, “which is the obvious and inevitable result of overdoing the Chaplin ‘boom.’ When it came to imitations in music-hall revues and Charlie Chaplin calendars and pin-cushions,” s/he observed, “a reaction was inevitable.” Despite merchandizing and overexposure, that reaction was not apparent in Dublin picture houses, according to the review writer in the same issue of the Telegraph. Charlie at the Bank had recently been released, and the reviewer was assessing the show at the Pillar Picture House. “There is more riotous fun packed into this two-reel comedy than any other photo-play of a like length. The world’s great comedian, Charlie Chaplin, has outdone himself in this new production. While all his other comedies are funny, this one is a scream. It abounds in real humour and comic situations, with Chaplin at his best in his inimitable antics” (“Pillar Picture House,” 18 Jan.). Charlie at the Bank was shown at more picture houses than any other film that month, suggesting that cinema-owners did not believe that Chaplin’s career was experiencing a dip. Audiences seemed to agree: on account of the “hundreds who could not gain admission” during the three day run, the film was held over for a further three days (“Pillar Picture House,” 20 Jan.).

As 1916 began, Irish audiences enjoyed a thriving cinema culture that more often offered them a violent stimulant of the Chaplin kind than national history.

References

“Britain’s Might Revealed by Film: A Cabinet Minister as Cinema-Lecturer.” Bioscope 6 Jan. 1916: 16A.

“Children at the Cinema.” Evening Telegraph 8 Jan. 1916.

“Cinema and Slot Machines.” Dublin Evening Mail 27 Jan. 1916: 5.

“Cinema Shows: Sunday Performances in Rathmines: Action of Urban Council.” Evening Telegraph 5 Jan. 1916: 5.

“Domino: The Wearing of the Green.” Moving Picture World 3 Mar. 1914: 1302.

“Dublin and District: Picture Theatre Protest.” Irish Independent 1 Jan. 1916: 6.

“Gleaned from All Sources: The Late Charlie Chaplin.” Evening Telegraph 18 Jan. 1916: 1.

“Hibernian Electric Theatre.” Evening Telegraph 29 Jan. 1916: .

Hughes, Brian. Micheal Mallin. Dublin: O’Brien Press, 2012.

“The Nation’s Historian: Triumphant Vindication of the Cinematograph.” Bioscope 20 Jan. 1916: 229.

“Pillar Picture House.” Evening Telegraph 18 Jan 1916: 5; 20 Jan 1916: 5.

“Proposed Cinema Censorship.” Evening Telegraph 11 Jan. 1916: 3.

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.