From the Stomach to the Front: Projecting the World on Irish Screens in April 1915

The growth of picture houses in the 1910s provided Irish people with unprecedented visual access to the world. The increasing number of cinemagoers could view otherwise difficult or impossible to see geographical spaces, the geopolitical spaces of Europe’s battlefields and even the intimate spaces within the human body.

Stomach film DEM 24 Mar 1915

Dublin Evening Mail 24 March 1915: 5.

“You can take a series of X-Ray pictures at intervals of a few minutes each, while the stomach is busy digesting food,” observed an article in the Dublin Evening Mail in late March 1915.

[P]ut these pictures together on a film, thrown them on a screen, and –

You virtually have a MOVING PICTURE of the stomach in action while digesting your food. (“Moving Pictures of the Stomach.”)

Designed to look like a news item, this article was actually an advertisement for Bisturated Magnesia, a treatment for excess stomach acid. It used the term “moving pictures” – capitalized like no other word in the body of the article – to attract the roving eye of newspaper readers (and film historians), dyspeptic or not. Some advertisers clearly saw moving pictures as a desirable technology with which to associate their product in this way, as the promoters of White’s Fruit Jelly Crystals had done in the same newspaper in August 1913 (“Really Moving Picture”).

In their use of stomach X-rays, the advertisers of Bisturated Magnesia were, however, undoubtedly making a specific reference to Dr John MacIntyre’s experiments in what is now called medical imaging and specifically to Dr John MacIntyre’s X-Ray Film (1896, 1909), which includes early cineradiography of the stomach. Despite being a medical doctor and pioneer of radiography, MacIntyre could also see that X-rays were a spectacular visual technology, of interest far beyond the medical community (Cartwright 22). As such, he had something in common with the showmen who in the late 1890s exploited the entertainment possibilities of X-rays in theatres and fairgrounds, including in Ireland (Condon). This occurred at precisely the same time as the first projected moving pictures were being exhibited. Unlike moving pictures, however, the entertainment career of X-rays was short. For a start, the danger of radiation burns from prolonged exposure to the rays soon became obvious. As well as this, once audiences had seen the bones of their hands or the contents of a locked wooden box, the novelty value of X-rays was exhausted, but they retained a strong imaginative fascination. By contrast, moving pictures were inexhaustible in the potential subjects they could show, from X-ray images of such interior spaces to the exterior spaces of the historical world and the imagined spaces of fiction.

Moving pictures has also prompted the creation of the new social spaces of the picture houses, which were becoming increasingly ubiquitous on the Irish streetscape in April 1915. Although the Grand in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, had opened in autumn 1914, it garnered attention beyond local audiences when it was reviewed in glowing terms by the Bioscope’s “Jottings from Ulster” columnist on 1 April 1915. “Situate on the main street and approached through a spacious and ornate foyer,” the Grand held about 1,000 patrons who were stratified by their ability to pay 3d., 6d. or 1s. This was not, then, a utopian space of horizontal social relations. Although a stepped floor ensured that all patrons had a good view of the screen, “the patrons of the highest priced seats are comfortably and exclusively catered for in a handsome balcony abreast of the operating chamber, nest-o’spring seats and deep framed backs being provided in this section” (“Jottings,” 1 Apr.). Jottings favoured a programme that combined films with live acts, expressing strong approval of the fact that H. G. Austin, who managed the Grand for proprietor Sam Hewitt, had introduced varieties acts into the programme. As a result of this combination of entertainments, Jottings concluded: “I would not be surprised to find the magnificent tapestry with which the walls are decorated, being removed to make room for the appreciative crowds.” However, like other Irish towns with a similar population (12,553), Lurgan had more than one picture house. At the longer-established Picture House in Carnegie Street, manager Clarke embodied Jotting’s favoured combination of variety and cinema, having been part of the variety duo Clarke and Clare (“Jotings,” 22 Apr.).

Evening Telegraph 3 Apr. 1915: 1.

Evening Telegraph 3 Apr. 1915: 1.

If the Lurgan Grand was in many ways typical of the picture houses opening in mid-sized Irish towns at this time, Dublin’s Coliseum Theatre, which opened on Easter Monday, 5 April 1915, was exceptional. With a seating capacity of 3,000, it was Ireland biggest entertainment venue, and its stage was “one of the largest in the kingdom, being not less than 80 ft. wide and 40 ft. deep, capable of staging the largest spectacular scenes” ([Editorial Item]). In its initial stage of development, the Coliseum had been planned as a large picture house called the Premier Picture Palace, but its promoters had decided that another Dublin variety theatre would be more lucrative than a cinema. Nevertheless, given that film projection had become a stable part of variety programmes, a projection booth had been incorporated into the plans for the building and not as an unsightly supplementary structure within the auditorium, as was the case in older theatres. Praising the features of the Coliseum in advance of its opening, the Evening Herald noted that the “biograph chamber is so designed that it will beautify not mar the general scheme” (“Dublin’s New Theatre”).

Despite a general acknowledgment of the quality of the construction and the beauty of the finished theatre, controversy dogged both the building and the opening of the Coliseum. As noted in an earlier post, although other Dublin theatre owners had objected at an August 1914 hearing to the granting of a patent to this new venue, architect, diarist and theatregoer Joseph Holloway had spoken in favour of the new theatre because it offered the prospect of more drama in the city. The most immediate drama came offstage, from such craftspeople as local fibrous-plaster companies and furniture makers who were denied contracts for work in favour of cheaper British firms. In Dublin, the support of local industries was not only a way of creating good will among potential theatregoers but also of mollifying nationalist Anglophobia. With an ill-tempered public correspondence between the theatre and contractors conducted through the newspapers, the negative publicity for the theatre continued over months, causing Holloway to change his mind about its promise and “wish the new theatre a speedy failure under the circumstances. There is no hope ahead for us poor playgoers in Dublin!” (Holloway, 17 Mar. 1915).

Holloway attended the Coliseum’s opening night, and unlike the newspapers’ positive reviews, his diary entries suggest that the management misjudged the Dublin audience. This is noteworthy given that Lorcan Sherlock, the city’s former Lord Mayor, was one of the theatre’s directors. The theatre’s opening bill was headed by the singer Zona Vevey accompanied on organ by Max Erand. Although their act had been going very well and they had been called back for several encores,

the turn that was doing so well was completely spoiled by her singing of a recruiting Jingo song, “Your Country Wants You.” “It does, and we intend to stop it” said a man behind me as she sang. “Give us something Irish” shouted another, and then I knew trouble was brewing for her, and sure enough when she had finished, a stream of hissing and booing broke out and the two artists, retired amid a tornado of ugly sounds. (Holloway, 5 Apr. 1915.)

http://comeheretome.com/2014/05/09/is-it-over-yet-hiding-out-in-the-coliseum-theatre-1916/

Opened in Easter 1915, the Coliseum was destroyed in the fighting of Easter 1916. “The possibility of fire is put almost outside the pale of consideration” (“Dublin’s New Theatre”). Source: http://comeheretome.com/2014/05/09/is-it-over-yet-hiding-out-in-the-coliseum-theatre-1916/

The bioscope pictures – “introducing the Topical Budget of up-to-date current events” – with which the programme concluded appears to have been entirely unremarkable because they received no coverage, but Holloway claims that the opening night ended ignominiously:

A bar of England’s anthem brought the first show to an inglorious end, amid hissing, which cut short the music, as the imported conductor dropped his baton when he saw the way the land lay. This anthem has always been translated, when played in Ireland, into ‘To Hell With The Catholics’, and will always, I fear until we are allowed to govern ourselves. Therefore, it is better omitted from programmes of a general nature. (Ibid.)

Despite Holloway’s misgivings, the Coliseum’s opening was widely reported a success, and its advent tipped the balance of entertainment seats in Dublin city centre firmly back from picture house to theatre. The Evening Herald’s Man About Town was disappointed by the hackneyed nature of some of the opening acts, but he also saw a packed house that included “a few eminent K.C.’s, a land commissioner, several leading medicos, an Abbey Theatre author of distinction, and a trustee of the same concern.” For the Evening Telegraph, among the reasons that the Coliseum “opened its career auspiciously” was that it enjoyed an “advantageously central position […] adjoining the General Post Office and at the tram terminus for all parts of the city and suburbs” (“Coliseum Theatre”).

Those same trams might bring pleasure seekers away from the city centre and to the increasing number of picture houses in the suburbs. The arrival of the picture house had reconfigured entertainment space in the city. Some of the suburban picture houses courted more middle-class patrons in search of higher standard of entertainment in the guise of exclusive films, comfortable surroundings and musical offerings. The Bohemian Picture Theatre in Phibsboro – an area on the northern edge of the city well served by two tramlines – was building its reputation as a venue that provided enhanced musical accompaniment. The Bioscope’s Paddy observed that “one of the finest orchestras to be found in any picture outside London – or in London for the matter of that – is that now installed in the Bohemian.” The Bohemian had twelve musicians “and every instrument seems to have been pressed into use, thus affording a musical feast absolutely unapproached by any other house in Ireland” (Paddy, 25 Mar.).

Cinemas also competed for audience by offering more luxurious furnishings. Dublin’s Pillar Picture House had “an immense mirror […] beautifully set in a gilded frame[…] Thick luxurious carpets are on the stairs leading to the balcony, and the general appearance of the entrance leads one to imagine that a fairy palace of some sort was about to be entered” (Paddy, 4 Mar.). Some picture houses offered early evening patrons free tea. “A big feature is now being made of glow-lamp teas at Kinema House, Belfast,” noted Jottings. “Dainty tables with shaded lights are arranged in full view of the screen, and considerable advantage is being taken of the innovation by those who sacrifice their siestas to the pictures in the afternoons” (Jottings, 1 Apr.). This kind of offering seemed to have been designed to appeal largely to middle-class women who had the leisure to visit the picture houses while shopping in cities and towns in the afternoons.

Some religious groups and magistrates saw cinemagoing as an activity to be restricted rather than encouraged among the middle class. One of the main ways in which they sought to do this was through restrictions or a ban on Sunday opening. The ongoing controversy on Sunday opening came to something of a head at the end of March, when the Recorder of Dublin heard applications for music-and-dancing licences for picture houses. The Recorder reiterated his view that Sunday opening should be restricted to working-class areas of the city, where people had little opportunity to attend entertainments during the week. He therefore granted just a six-day music licence to Jacob Elliman’s Blackrock Picture House because it was located in “a residential place, with a very small number of working people” (“Picture Theatres”). And he again refused a Sunday licence to the Dame Street Picture House, which, he argued, was not frequented by working-class people because it was located on a city-centre shopping street similar to Grafton Street and Sackville/O’Connell Street.

Some religious groups and magistrates saw cinemagoing as an activity to be restricted rather than encouraged among the middle class. One of the main ways in which they sought to do this was through restrictions or a ban on Sunday opening. The ongoing controversy on Sunday opening came to something of a head at the end of March, when the Recorder of Dublin heard applications for music-and-dancing licences for picture houses. The Recorder reiterated his view that Sunday opening should be restricted to working-class areas of the city, where people had little opportunity to attend entertainments during the week. He therefore granted just a six-day music licence to Jacob Elliman’s Blackrock Picture House because it was located in “a residential place, with a very small number of working people” (“Picture Theatres”). And he again refused a Sunday licence to the Dame Street Picture House, which, he argued, was not frequented by working-class people because it was located on a city-centre shopping street similar to Grafton Street and Sackville/O’Connell Street.

These cases reveal a curious class, sectarian and even acoustic geography of the city that emerged in relation to its picture houses.

References

Cartwright, Lisa. Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine’s Visual Culture. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1995.

“Coliseum Theatre: The Opening on Monday.” Evening Telegraph 3 Apr. 1915: 4.

Condon, Denis. “‘Spleen of a Cabinet Minister at Work’: Exhibiting X-Rays and the Cinematograph in Ireland, 1896.” Film History and National Cinema: Studies in Irish Film 2. Ed. John Hill and Kevin Rockett. Four Courts Press: Dublin, 2005.

“Dublin’s New Theatre: The Opening of the Coliseum on Monday.” Evening Herald 2 Apr. 1915: 5.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 1 Apr. 1915: 33; 15 Apr. 1915: 260.

The Man About Town. “Things Seen and Heard.” Evening Herald 6 Apr. 1915: 4.

“Moving Pictures of the Stomach During Digestion.” Dublin Evening Mail 24 Mar. 1915: 5.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 4 Mar. 1915: 824; 18 Mar. 1915: 1051; 25 Mar. 1915: 1111.

“Picture Theatres: Recorder and Sunday Opening: Many Applications.” Evening Herald 29 Mar. 1915: 5.

“A Really Moving Picture.” Dublin Evening Mail 12 Jul. 1913: 3.

“Sunday Opening in Dublin: Important Cases.” Bioscope 8 Apr. 1915: 155.

Kinema Kinks and the Respectability Police

Evening Herald, 28 Feb. 1914: 6.

Evening Herald, 28 Feb. 1914: 6.

On Saturday, 28 February 1914, Dublin’s Evening Herald published a Gordon Brewster cartoon called “Kinema Kinks” and subtitled “The Demand for Exciting Films Is Becoming Greater Every Day.” It seems that the epitome of exciting films as far as Brewster was concerned was the work of the Essanay company’s co-founder (with George K. Spoor, hence the “S and A”), director and actor Gilbert M. Anderson. Anderson was best known for his most popular screen role of Broncho Billy, and the left-hand panel of the cartoon appears to feature him, with its caption: “A School Boy Thriller // Broncho Bill the Tawny Terror of the Sun-Scorched Sierras in Bite-the-Dust Humour.” The image accompanying this text features a cowboy who has clearly come out best in a shootout with six opponents, on the face of one of whom he is standing, while only the boots of the others are visible. Although the triumphant cowboy’s facial features are not like Anderson’s, it is not just the text that suggests that he is Broncho Billy but also the studded wrist cuffs that were often a part of Broncho Billy’s costume.

Poster for Essanay’s The Making of Broncho Billy (1913) and publicity photo for Gilbert M. Anderson, actor, director and co-founder of the Essanay film company (http://silentwesterns.wikia.com/wiki/Broncho_Billy_Anderson?file=Broncho_Billy_Anderson.jpg)

Poster for Essanay’s The Making of Broncho Billy (1913) and publicity photo for Gilbert M. Anderson, actor, director and co-founder of the Essanay film company (http://silentwesterns.wikia.com/wiki/Broncho_Billy_Anderson?file=Broncho_Billy_Anderson.jpg)

That said, the second panel – captioned “Alkali Ike Rescues the Fair Damsel // The Above Suggestion May be of Some Use to Cinema Managers” – also features a cowboy with studded wrist cuffs as he hangs from a rope by his teeth carrying the unconscious damsel and holding off what appears to be a knife-yielding Indian. Alkali Ike was the hero of an Essanay series of comic Westerns produced by Anderson and starring Augustus Carney, who may have been born in Ireland. Of what use to cinema managers the image of Alkali Ike might have been is unclear, but the cartoon attests to the popularity of Westerns – not only those of Broncho Billy and Alkali Ike – in Dublin cinemas. As has already been seen here, commentators noted that “no picture programme nowadays is considered complete if it does not include a cowboy film” (“Rotunda Pictures” 9 Sep. 1913). That was an exaggeration; many film programmes did not include a Western. Nevertheless, it suggests that the cinema audience was entirely familiar with Westerns, and in such a situation, it is not difficult to imagine that there was a demand for cowboy film with increasingly sensational scenes.

Other kinds of excitement were arranged by the audience rather than cinema managers. Protests in the first week of March 1914 in a theatre and a picture house were indicative of the concerted campaigns of protest in cinemas to come. On the evening of 2 March, William Larkin of 27 Sherrard Street shouted from the gallery of the Gaiety Theatre in protest at the immorality of the French farce Who’s the Lady? (“The Scene at the Gaiety”). He created enough of a disturbance that the actors left the stage until Larkin was removed from the theatre and arrested. Larkin appeared in the Southern Police Court the following morning, where the case against him was dismissed by the magistrate, Thomas Drury, who praised Larkin for having “done a public service” (ibid). Emboldened by this support from the judiciary, William Larkin and his twin brother Francis would in the coming months constitute the most publicly visible part of the Catholic Church-based Dublin Vigilance Committee’s campaign for film censorship with a series of protests in cinemas around the city. For this, they could rely on an at-least tacit but often explicit consensus on the regulation of popular theatre and cinema among the Catholic establishment in the city.

The diary of theatregoer Joseph Holloway is revealing on the protests and middle-class Catholics’ attitudes to them. Holloway had not been in the theatre that night, but he followed the controversy in the newspapers. Noting the remarks by the Irish-Ireland journal The Leader that “[a] certain ‘highly respectable’ class of people in Dublin like dirty plays & dirty papers … but in a very literal sense there is a well-dressed ‘Dirty Dublin.,’” Holloway agreed that “[t]his is all very true[;] I have noticed it for years in our theatres that the more questionable the play the better dressed the audience!” (Holloway 504).

Although Larkin’s militant policing of respectability had not quite reached the picture houses in March 1914, other kinds of protest had. Between 8 and 9 o’clock on the evening of Thursday, 5 March, fourteen boys of Na Fianna Éireann – or the National Boy Scouts as most of the newspapers called them – were ejected from the Picture House, Sackville/O’Connell Street for disrupting a screening of the British Army Film (Britain: Keith Prowse, 1914) (“Dublin Picture Palace Scene”). While Larkin was interested in morality, Na Fianna were interested in nationality, expressed as anti-British and pro-Irish: “They took up seats in the front rows, and hissed the scenes that were being shown. The cheered for Germans and Boers, and sang ‘A Nation Once Again’” (ibid). They did not have it all their own way, as other members of the audience cheered the British, and the police and cinema attendants dragged several of them from the auditorium. Nevertheless, as Who’s the Lady? provided the occasion for Larkin’s display of Catholic morality, the British Army Film allowed Na Fianna to project Irish nationalism onto an ostensibly British patriotic text. Joseph Holloway was thus able to point out that the “film also caused a disturbance on last Monday night – The British Army is not to the taste of all people in Dublin” (Holloway 500).

While the DVC and Na Fianna seemed intent on placing strict limits on cinema, “famous Irish painter, author, and visionary poet” A.E. insisted – albeit somewhat reluctantly – on the importance and inevitability of cinema in education (Paddy, 19 Feb.). “[F]or all our qualms, we invite the cinema into education,” the Bioscope’s Irish correspondent Paddy reported him as saying.

Our methods of education in the national schools have not been so superior and thought-quickening that we risk losing much in introducing the living picture, and whether we protested or not the thing is as inevitable as that the aeroplane will carry our children from Ireland to England in another quarter of a century. Ireland, which has been in a backwater, meditating on its wrongs and its past, will have to move in the new ways and adjust itself to the new conditions, to the new forces and the new ideas, and make them operative in its own interests, or else they will operate against its interests.” (ibid)

A.E.’s approach was very different in this regard to Ireland’s most famous visionary poet, W. B. Yeats, who had no time for cinema. By contrast, A.E. was, knowingly or not, contributing to an ongoing debate in the cinema industry worldwide on the new medium’s role not only in entertainment but also in the more sober discourses of education, technology and science. He was not the only or even the best know Irish writer doing this. Comments by George Bernard Shaw would open the Bioscope’s Education Supplement on 18 July 1914.

Ad for the reopening of the Grafton Picture House emphasizes the increased luxury of the premises alongside the latest film offering in the  Sherlock Holmes series. Evening Herrald  26 Feb. 1914: 4.

Ad for the reopening of the Grafton Picture House emphasizes the increased luxury of the premises alongside the latest film offering in the Sherlock Holmes series. Evening Herrald 26 Feb. 1914: 4.

The growing prestige of cinema in Ireland was visible on the Dublin streetscape in the reopening of the Grafton Picture House on 26 February 1914. The Grafton had closed for renovations in June 1913, and its long-delayed reopening marked the first indication that Dublin’s cinema-building boom, which had been halted by the strike and Lockout of the city’s workers, had resumed. Owned by the London-based Provincial Cinematograph Theatres – which was also the proprietor of the Picture House in O’Connell Street, the Volta in Mary Street and Belfast’s Picture House, Royal Avenue – the reopened Grafton emphasized its suitability as a place of entertainment for the city’s wealthiest shoppers. The renovations not only doubled its seating capacity but also added luxurious features and the latest in cinema technology, including walls covered in

rich Old English tapestry representing various scenes. The Eye-Rest system of lighting is employed with considerable effect. On the right of the screen is fixed an electric clock, and on the left a clock showing the number of the orchestra selection. In the three lounge and tea-rooms there is also an indicator telling what picture is being screened. These rooms have been entirely refurnished, and are beautiful n the extreme. (Paddy, 12 Mar.)

Dublin’s middle and elite classes also had increasing opportunities to attend picture houses in the city’s prestigious suburbs, such as the Grand Picture House in Blackrock. It was here that the first screening of the newsreel film The Launch of the Britannic took place at 10.22pm on 26 February 1914.  This screening can be timed exactly because it was covered by journalists from the Dublin newspapers and the Bioscope, whom Gaumont’s Dublin manager H. Bromhead invited to report on the filming of the launch. The Evening Herald‘s reporter travelled with the newsreel team from Dublin to Belfast to Blackrock and back to the Gaumont office, covering it as if it were one of the hairsbreadth escapes of a sensational film:

Ten-fifteen! We drew up at the theatre. People saw us dashing through the entrance. A cry sprang up: “The film; the Britannic has come.”

Ten-twenty-two! The light flickered on the screen. “Launch of the Britannic!” What a cheer rose up, what clapping of excited hands. (“Filming the Britannic”)

It was acceptable in Ireland in 1914 to indulge in an excitement that marvelled at the technologies and skills that allowed a Blackrock audience to witness that evening an event – itself a technological marvel of the age – that had occurred in Belfast just that afternoon. Less acceptable and in need to disciplining to pass the dominant modes of respectability, however, were the kind of excesses of violence and sensation depicted by Brewster’s “Kinema Kinks” cartoon.

References

“Dublin Picture Palace Scene: Fourteen Youths Ejected.” Evening Herald 6 Mar. 1914: 2.

Filming the Britannic: How ‘Topicals’ Are Produced: While Dublin Sleeps.” Evening Herald 27 Feb. 1914: 2.

Holloway, Joseph. Holloway Diaries. National Library of Ireland. 5 Mar. 1914: 500, and 6 Mar 1914: 504.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 19 Feb. 1914: 783, and 12 Mar. 1914: 1133.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Dublin Evening Mail 9 Sep. 1913: 5.

“The Scene in the Gaiety Last Night: ‘Who’s the Lady?’ Objected to by Young Man: Case Dismissed: Magistrate Says It Was a ‘Public Service.” Evening Herald 3 Mar. 1914: 1.