A New Industry: The Film Company of Ireland’s First Season

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A photograph of Kathleen Murphy advertised the beginning of the Film Company of Ireland’s 1917 production season; Evening Telegraph 7 Apr. 1917: 4.

In April 1917, the Film Company of Ireland (FCOI) began publicizing the fact that they were beginning a second season of production. On 7 April, a photograph of Kathleen Murphy appeared in the Evening Telegraph‘s “Music and the Drama” column, with a caption indicating that she was playing the part of Nora Lahy in a film adaptation of Charles Kickham’s Knocknagow that was already in production. Based on Ireland’s most popular novel of the late-19th century, Knocknagow on film would be an ambitious undertaking, and it would be popular with contemporary Irish audiences. And because it – along with Willy Reilly and His Colleen Bawn (1920), is one of only two FCOI films that survive in a substantially complete form, it is relatively well known, at least by film scholars (see here, for example). However, the film of Knocknagow would not reach Irish audiences until early 1918.

Irish Independent 10 Nov. 1917: 2.

FCOI made two other feature films during the summer production season of 1917: the comedy Rafferty’s Rise and historical romance When Love Came to Gavin Burke. However, despite the fact that the May 1917 issue of Irish Limelight published photographs from Rafferty’s Rise, the release of these films would also take many months. As a result, the FCOI’s 1916 films continued to circulate and represent – indeed, to constitute – the company’s released output for much of 1917. Nevertheless, beyond O’Neil of the Glen and perhaps The Miser’s Gift – both of which have already been written about here – very little is known about the other 1916 films. This is not surprising because surviving information on them is scant. In marked contrast to the barrage of publicity that heralded the release of O’Neil of the Glen and, to a lesser extent, The Miser’s Gift, the later 1916 films seem to have appeared with little fanfare. Nevertheless, bringing together some of surviving information reveals hitherto unknown aspects of these obscure but important early Irish films and the company that made them.

FCOI advertised upcoming releases in the Irish press on 14-15 August 1916. This one appeared in the Irish Times 14 Aug. 1916: 4.

Even the number of films they made in 1917 is not entirely clear. With O’Neil of the Glen newly released and creating a stir in August 1916, the company announced in the Irish dailies that it had a further four films ready for release in September: The Miser’s Gift, Woman’s Wit, Food of Love and An Unfair Love Affair. As well as these presumably complete or almost complete films, it listed nine other titles that it had in production: The Upstart, Blarney, The Irish Girl, a series called Shanachies Tales, Irish Jarvey Tales – possibly another series – Bye Ways of Fate, Treasure Trove, Willie Reilly and The Girl from the Golden Vale. With so little surviving information, ads such as this have often been taken as confirming that these films were actually made. These films appear in the standard Irish and British filmographies – Kevin Rockett’s Irish Filmography and its online version, and Denis Gifford’s The British Film Catalogue, as they do in the books that take these reference works as a source.

Trade journals and local and national newspapers fill in some – but by no means all – of the details of FCOI’s filmmaking and exhibition exploits from the summer of 1916 to the summer of 1917. These sources show that all four films from the first group were subsequently released, albeit not in September 1917. Of the second group, only Willie Reilly is readily recognizable as an FCOI title – Willy Reilly and His Colleen Bawn – but it would not be released until April 1920. Some of the other eight films named in this ad may be working titles for the films that FCOI did release in late 1916 and early 1917. There is substantial evidence that in addition to the five films already named, the company released four others in this period: Puck Fair Romance, A Girl of Glenbeigh, The Eleventh Hour and Widow Malone.

Ad for FCOI films released in 1916 and made in 1917. Irish Limelight Dec. 1917: 16.

None of these corresponds exactly to the in-production titles mentioned in the ad, but some are close, such as the in-production titles The Girl from the Golden Vale and The Irish Girl which bear a similarity to A Girl of Glenbeigh. These were, of course, Irish versions of titles in the format “An X Girl” or “The Girl of X” that had been internationally popular for decades. However, as A Girl of Glenbeigh specifically names a place in Kerry, it is unlikely to have morphed from The Girl from the Golden Vale – with its reference to the rich farmland in the counties to the east of Kerry. But the film may have begun life under the less specific title The Irish Girl. That said, the in-production titles that include Irish place names suggest a different geography from the four that were finally made. Blarney and The Girl from the Golden Vale indicate a company working in Cork, while A Girl of Glenbeigh and Puck Fair Romance are firmly located in west Kerry.

The issue of the films’ geography deserves further discussion, but this blog will work on the basis that FCOI did not make all the films named in the 14-15 August ad. Evidence suggests that the company released not fourteen films but nine in its opening season, which nonetheless represents a substantial output. For clarity, those nine films are: O’Neil of the Glen, The Miser’s Gift, Woman’s Wit, Food of Love, An Unfair Love Affair, Puck Fair Romance, A Girl of Glenbeigh, The Eleventh Hour and Widow Malone. Although this blog will have something to say about the first two, it will mainly focus on the latter seven.

J. M. Kerrigan

J. M. Kerrigan, Irish Limelight January 1917: 3.

All nine of these films appear to have been directed – the contemporary term, confusingly, was “produced” – by Abbey Theatre actor J. M. Kerrigan, who also starred or at least had a prominent acting role in many of them. Kerrigan was one of FCOI co-founder and producer James Mark Sullivan’s earliest recruits to the company; he was already working with FCOI in March 1916 – the same month as Sullivan and his partner Henry Fitzgibbon registered the company – and may even have invested money in it (Holloway, 21 Mar.). Kerrigan was soon joined by other actors from the Abbey and other theatres, most frequently by Fred O’Donovan, Kathleen Murphy and Nora Clancy, and more occasionally by Brian Magowan, J. M. Carre, Irene Murphy, Valentine Roberts and others. Also a star of the Abbey, O’Donovan would take over as FCOI’s actor-director for the 1917 production season when Kerrigan left Ireland for the United States in early 1917 on a career path that would eventually see him become a well-loved Hollywood character actor. His permanent departure seems to have come as a surprise to some in the press. On 12 April, Paddy reported that Kerrigan “has left America on his return voyage, and is expected to arrive almost any day now.” A report a week later suggested that he had little thoughts of returning to Ireland. “He has ‘made good’ out there in a surprisingly short space of time,” J.A.P. (Joseph A. Power) noted in the Evening Telegraph on 20 April, referring to reviews of Kerrigan’s early US stage performances. “It is only a few months since he left Ireland, yet here are the blasé Yankee journalists hurling bouquets at him with all the vigour of the great American language” (“Gossip of the Day”).

Engaging prominent Abbey actors bolstered FCOI’s claim that it was the Film Company of Ireland and was extending into the new cinematic medium the Abbey’s project of representing Ireland differently. “With the assistance of such artists as they had associated with them,” Fitzgibbon was reported as saying at a press luncheon in June 1916 to celebrate the launch of O’Neil of the Glen, “with Irish scenery and Irish literary talent, they were bound to succeed and be proud of the enterprise in which they were engaged” (“New Irish Industry”). If anybody was well placed to revise the representation of Irish people through performance, it was Kerrigan and this group of Irish actors who were intimately familiar not only with the plays and acting styles of the Irish revival developed at the Abbey but also with the modern drama represented by Shaw and Ibsen. But the company was also open to performers from beyond Ireland: “In the next film,” the Irish Times reported, “Mrs. H. M. Fitzgibbon, a vivacious French lady will make her appearance” (“Irish Film Production”). Although FCOI publicity made much of the claim that their films were “all Irish,” Fitzgibbon’s wife Peggy Darval was mentioned among the cast on occasion (“Back from Kerry”). This remark about his marriage to an actress also suggests that Fitzgibbon, about whom little else is known, may have had a personal motivation for getting involved in the film business.

FCOI seeks scriptwriters: Irish Independent 28 Mar. 1916: 1.

But actors alone were not enough for the company’s success. When Fitzgibbon mentioned the “Irish literary talent,” he must have been referring in part to Bernard Duffy, the writer of several one-act rural comedies for the Abbey who had also attended O’Neil of the Glen’s launch. Duffy praised FCOI for its “wholesome desire to reproduce the atmosphere of the country, and the motive was not purely mercenary. A vast field of folk literature was yet to be explored and utilised” (“Irish Film Production”). Nevertheless, sourcing new or adapted stories seems to have been difficult, and few if any Abbey playwrights were involved in the company. FCOI advertised more frequently in the press in 1916 for scenario writers than for other kinds of collaborators.

Following the destruction of its offices in Henry Street during the Rising, FCOI moved to Dame Street. Dublin Evening Mail 12 May 1916: 7.

Discussion of the company often mentions the destruction during the Rising of FCOI’s offices at 16 Henry Street but less frequently reveals the names of the people who worked there or in their new offices at 34 Dame Street. All the 1916 films were shot by John A. Bennett, who had worked for many years as the chief projectionist – or “operator” – and sometimes cameraperson for James T. Jameson’s Irish Animated Film Company based mainly at Dublin’s Rotunda, as well as later acting as the Dublin manager for the distribution company Films, Limited (Paddy, 18 Nov.; 13 Jul.). However, by January 1917, Bennett was seeking other work, presumably because he was not being paid by FCOI (Paddy, 11 Jan.). In any case, FCOI’s camera work in 1917 was first taken up by the company’s secretary Robert Justice – he featured in a June 1917 Irish Limelight article in this role – before Pathé camera operator William Moser became the company’s cinematographer (“With the Film Co. of Ireland”).

Joseph Boland Irish Limelight Jun. 1917: 6.

Among the other identifiable members of the company in 1916 and early 1917 were the sales and marketing operatives Mr. Coen, Joseph Boland and Ben Cowan. These men were vital to FCOI’s success, and although usually ignored by later film historians, they received considerable attention from contemporary trade journals because these were the people that journalists and cinema managers were most likely to meet. Coen was the company’s sales agent in Ireland until September 1916 when he was replaced by Boland, who for some years had been the travelling representative for General Film Supply (GFS), Ireland’s other major film production company of the period (Paddy, 28 Sep.). Boland appears to have had a good reputation in the industry in Ireland; the distributor M.P. Sales tried unsuccessfully and publically to lure him away from GFS in early 1916 (Paddy, 17 Feb., 24 Feb., “Bioscope Parliament”). Cowan – one of a number of Russian Jews working in the early Irish film industry – ran Express Film Agency, the Irish agent for several British distributors, and he acted as publicist for the very successful 7 August launch of O’Neil of the Glen. Following this, he told reporters that “he intends to introduce many novel ideas in the advertising line. Another Trade show will shortly be held, at which it is Mr. Cowan’s intention to screen two more subjects” (Paddy, 27 Jul.). In the event, the second trade show on 17 August 1916 at the Dame Street Picture House would feature just The Miser’s Gift.

FCOI was intensely busy in August 1916. In Dublin, Cowan was publicizing the five complete or nearly complete productions shot earlier in the summer, as well as the other eight titles notionally in production. The Miser’s Gift was trade shown three days later. At some point in early August, Sullivan and Kerrigan brought the cast and crew to Kerry to shoot the four fiction films that would actually make up the second half of their 1916 production season. The date of departure is not clear, but if Puck Fair Romance was actually shot at Killorglin’s Puck Fair in 1916, then the company would have to have been in Kerry before 12 August because the fair took place between 10 and 12 August. They were certainly in Kerry by 20 August. An article in the Kerry News reported on a fundraising concert that FCOI mounted on 3 September to clear the debt from Glenbeigh’s Catholic church. It observed that the company “came to Glenbeigh two weeks ago where they opened a tour of the Kingdom’s beauty spots, and at present they are staying at O’Sullivan’s hotel, Muckross, having the scenes in several new films laid in and around Killarney” (“Film Company of Ireland”). If “two weeks” here is to be taken literally, the company reached Kerry on or about 20 August, but this seems like a flexible temporality. Nevertheless, the concert does seem to have marked the end of FCOI’s visit to Kerry. By 5 September, Dublin’s Evening Herald was reporting the company’s return to Dublin (“Back from Kerry”).

This suggests that the production unit had left Dublin before the publication of 14 August ad mentioning the eight films that were not subsequently made, as well as the Miser’s Gift trade show. Poor communication might explain why on 14 August, the company’s publicist did not have the titles for the scenarios that had begun shooting that week nor the locations at which they were being shot. But if this is true, then the production unit, which included Sullivan and possibly Fitzgibbon – it certainly included his wife – must have been surprized by the announcement of those eight titles in the national press. The tight timeframe also suggests that at least some and possible all of the scenarios were not carefully prepared and honed in advance but were hastily written on location. Only for The Eleventh Hour was a writer subsequently identified: Mark Coakley (“New Irish Film”).

Whatever FCOI’s reason for the eventual choice of Kerry above other parts of the country, accounts in the Kerry papers of FCOI’s filmmaking are very reminiscent of Sidney Olcott and Gene Gauntier’s filmmaking adventures in Ireland between 1910 and 1914. Making films for the Kalem Company and later for themselves, Olcott and Gauntier had repeatedly gravitated back to the Killarney area, often basing themselves in the village of Beaufort and taking advantage of the rugged mountain, lake and seashore landscapes available in west Kerry. Their dramas of rural life, emigration and historical rebellion had been very popular with Irish audiences, making this region the most identifiable early Irish cinematic landscape. The Post, however, chose to compare Olcott and Gauntier’s films unfavourably to the as-yet-unseen filmmaking efforts of FCOI. “We are glad that at length an Irish Company has appeared,” a columnist commented. “The misrepresentation of Ireland and her people were the aims of most of those who took up work such as this in the past. The production created a feeling of resentment and indignation” (“Notes on News”).

The last day of The Food of Love‘s run at the Dame Street Picture House; Dublin Evening Mail 4 Nov. 1916: 2.

Nevertheless, this does not look like FCOI offering radically new representations of Ireland. With at least some of their first five films shot in Wicklow – this certainly seems to have been the case with O’Neil of the Glen and The Food of Love whose publicity made much of “the lovely scenery around Glendalough” – and the final four shot in Kerry, FCOI was once again exploiting Ireland’s most reproduced picturesque locations (“Irish Film Production”).

Kerry location at which FCOI shot in August 1916.

That said, there may be some novelty in the choice of southwest Kerry locations, which can be established readily from the titles and synopses of the films. The Bioscope short synopsis of Puck Fair Romance – which it titled A Romance of Puck Fair – gives little indication that the film was actually shot at Killorglin’s famous festival. “He was addicted to walking tours, she was an artist,” it begins. “They met in the country, on a farm, She thought him ‘a farmer’s boy,’ he thought her a farmer’s daughter. They canoodled and when their separate ways, he regretting having left her, she sorry to have deceived him. When they met in town it was all right” (“Condensed Film Critiques,” 28 Dec.). Little is made here of the fair, with its central feature: the electing of a billygoat as King Puck and parading him on a raised platform. Nevertheless, the critic was complementary, if not completely positive, judging that it was “quite pretty, set in delightful Irish scenes, and there are two other nice people in it, his pal and her model, but they could not be expected to complete their romance in the same reel.”

Derry Journal 10 Jan. 1917: 2.

Killarney is most famous for its lakes, and as such, the lakeshore setting of The Eleventh Hour may be deemed clichéd. On the other hand, Coakley’s scenario – “in which the paternal instinct is the moving force” – was shot around the lesser known Caragh Lake, a scenic spot on the road between Glenbeigh and Killorglin (“New Irish Film”). A Girl of Glenbeigh indicates its setting in its title. Joseph Holloway’s comments on it when he saw it at the Rotunda on 15 Feb 1917 indicate how romance and landscape worked together. He observed in his diary that “[i]t told an interesting & effective love story that did not run smoothly, nicely amid beautiful scenery & surroundings – O’Donovan was the love in the story who had two strings to his bow – a farmer’s daughter & a lady. The latter two were played by the Miss Murphys.” Where Widow Malone – the fourth of the Kerry films – was shot is not clear from surviving sources. The Bioscope described its “simple” plot, in which

[p]retty widow Malone is counted by the political town councillor, the local schoolmaster and the village blacksmith. The two former are after her snug fortune, and are a couple of windbags, but the hearty smith, loyal when her fortune is supposed to be lost, wins Nora without much difficulty.” (“Condensed Film Critiques,” 14 Dec.).

While the period in Kerry was a busy one for the company, the return to Dublin seems to have put an end for some time to the involvement of many of the actors. Certainly, by the 25 September, Kerrigan and O’Donovan were back in Dublin and acting – in a special arrangement with FCOI – in John Bull’s Other Island, the opening play of the Abbey’s autumn season (“What’s on in Dublin”). There are some indications that the break up of the acting company was not altogether amicable. Holloway had a conversation with Abbey director John A. Keogh on 1 November 1916, who told him that “the Film Co. Of Ireland had burst up & the members all seeking engagements at the Abbey – O’Donovan had left it some time ago to join the Abbey Co.” Keogh comments may have to be treated with caution; he had hostility towards FCOI because of the special arrangements he had to make to be allowed to cast Kerrigan. Nevertheless, he did have information from the actors, so it may be true that “[f]unds had become low owing to the films released not catching on as was thought.”

Those involved in production may have been at a loose end by the start of September, but work for other elements of the business was increasing. At the end of August, Dublin Corporation considered an application from FCOI to build a studio on Pigeon House Road; the outcome of the application is not clear, but these studios were not built. Nevertheless, the Bioscope reported in September that FCOI “are fitting up very elaborate developing-rooms, etc., in their premises at 34, Dame Street, Dublin. Mr. W. James, chief operator at the Bohemian Theatre, Dublin, is in charge of the wiring and other electrical fittings” (“All-Irish Films”). This short item also renewed a call for scenario writers to “submit [FCOI] a sample of their work. The Scenario should preferably have Irish atmosphere, but this is not absolutely essential.”

Dublin Evening Mail 24 Oct. 1916: 4.

With this fit-out of post-production facilities underway, it took some time for the release of the remainder of the season’s films. The company’s first priority was the Irish market, and Boland appears to have been busy selling to cinemas all over the country. Despite the Dame Street Picture House claim in late October 1916 that it had secured “the initial presentation of all the films produced by the Film Co.,” the films premiered all over Ireland. Even FCOI’s long-heralded second release, The Miser’s Gift, had its first public viewings at Cork’s Coliseum on 12-14 October and a three-day run at Tralee’s Picturedrome (19-21 Oct.) before it had its Dublin debut at the Dame on 26-28 October. The Food of Love similarly premiered at the Coliseum on 23-25 October before appearing at the Dame for the three-day run of 2-4 November. However, Widow Malone was FCOI’s third release when it appeared at Kilkenny’s Cinema on Sunday, 22 October 1916 for a special benefit screening for the Gaelic League. The film had a more conventional three-day run at Belfast’s Kinema House later that week, beginning on 26 October.

Puck Fair Romance premiered in Belfast’s Kinema House; Belfast News-Letter 9 Nov. 1916: 1

Indeed, Belfast, with the largest cinema-going population in the country, could not be and was not ignored in the awarding of premieres. Audiences at the Kinema House were the first to be offered Puck Fair Romance from 9-11 November. The Dame does seem to have debuted An Unfair Love Affair on 23-25 November. A Girl of Glenbeigh, however, premiered in Kerry, at Tralee’s Picturedrome on 27-28 November. The Dame also had the first viewings of the final two releases of the year. It opened The Eleventh Hour – FCOI’s second three-reel film –on 30 November 1916 for a three-day, end-of-week run. It was nearly a month later when the final release of the season, Woman’s Wit, had its debut at the Dame on 26 December.

Much more remains to be discovered about this initial period of FCOI and the films they made in 1916, not least their November 1916 distribution deal with Davison’s Film Sales Agency and the patterns of exhibition in Britain. Let this attempt to bring together some of the newspaper and trade journal sources mark a start of that more complete account.

References

“All-Irish Films.” Bioscope 28 Sep. 1916: 1285.

“Back from Kerry: New Films Produced by Irish Company.” Evening Herald 5 Sep. 1916: 2.

“Bioscope Parliament.” Bioscope 2 Mar. 1916: 967-68.

“Condensed Film Critiques.” Bioscope 14 Dec. 1916: i; 21 Dec. 1916: iii; 28 Dec. 1916: i.

“Film Company of Ireland: Church Debt Wiped Out.” Kerry News 6 Sep. 1916: 4.

Gifford, Denis. The British Film Catalogue, vol. 1, Fiction Film, 1895-1994. 3rd ed. London and Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.

“Gossip of the Day.” Evening Telegraph 20 Apr. 1917: 2.

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

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

New Irish Film.” Evening Herald 1 Dec. 1916: 3.

“New Irish Industry: The Film Co. of Ireland: A Promising Enterprise.” Freeman’s Journal 30 Jun. 1916: 6.

“Notes on News.” Kerry News 1 Sep. 1916: 2.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 18 Nov. 1915: 841; 17 Feb. 1916: 717; 24 Feb. 1916: 812; 13 Jul. 1916: 173; 27 Jul. 1916: 359; 28 Sep. 1916: 1285; 11 Jan. 1917: 194.

Rockett, Kevin. The Irish Filmography: Fiction Films, 1896-1996. Dublin: Red Mountain, 1996.

“What’s on in Dublin Next Week.” Evening Herald 23 Sep. 1916: 2.

“With the Film Co. of Ireland: A Day with the Producers.” Irish Limelight Jun. 1917: 10-11.

Irish Audiences Watch “O’Neil of the Glen,” August 1916

If cinema in Ireland in July 1916 prompts reflection on film as a weapon of war, developments the following month show significant developments in the emergence of film as an expression of national culture. On 7 August 1916, audiences at Dublin’s Bohemian Picture Theatre were the first to see O’Neil of the Glen (often spelled O’Neill of the Glen), the first Film Company of Ireland (FCOI) production to be publicly released. Formed in March 1916 by James Mark Sullivan and Henry Fitzgibbon, the FCOI would become the most important indigenous fiction film producer of the 1910s. Ò’Neil of the Glen itself, however, is believed to be a lost film, like all FCOI’s other production except Knocknagow (1918), Willy Reilly and His Colleen Bawn (1920) and one reel of the two-reel comedy Paying the Rent (1920). Nevertheless, its success with audiences was vital to securing FCOI’s future.

O'Neil Boh 7 Aug 1916

Ad for the first public exhibition of O’Neil of the Glen, at Dublin’s Bohemian, Dublin Evening Mail 7 Aug. 1916: 2.

That success was won in part by the careful management of publicity, a fact that means that the surviving ads, articles and reviews in the press must be treated with caution. It may be a forgivable exaggeration for the papers to have hailed the premiere of O’Neil of the Glen as the start of a new Irish industry, but it was not true that this was “the first picture-play ever produced in Ireland by an Irish company of Irish players,” a claim repeated almost verbatim in several paper, indicating that the journalists were working from the same FCOI publicity materials (“New Irish Industry,”  “O’Neill of the Glen,” “Irish Film Triumph”). Most recently, Charles McEvoy of Dublin’s Masterpiece Cinema had funded Fun at Finglas Fair – even if it had allegedly been destroyed during the Easter Rising before being publicly shown – and in 1912-13, cinema-owner and mayor John J. Farrell had made a number of films with his company Irish Film Productions (Rockett 95, Condon 237).

IRISHLIMEGHT1_MAY_P6 001

Abbey Theatre and Film Company of Ireland actor – and later director – Fred O’Donovan; Irish Limelight 1:5 (May 1917): 6.

Nevertheless, although O’Neil of the Glen was not the first indigenous Irish fiction film, it was a very significant one by the country’s most important film production company of the 1910s. On 29 June, FCOI announced a “trial exhibition,” or what would now be called a test screening, of their first completed production, O’Neil of the Glen, at Dublin’s Carlton. By this time, and in the context of management difficulties at the Abbey Theatre, FCOI had been able to contract J. M. Kerrigan and Fred O’Donovan, two of the Abbey’s biggest stars, albeit that they were permitted to appear in certain plays (“Abbey Theatre,” “Platform and Stage”). Kerrigan, indeed, directed and played a part in O’Neil of the Glen, a three-reel feature based on a script adapted by W. J. Lysaght from M[argaret] T. Pender’s story of the same title that had been serialized in the Shamrock in 1891. The film told how Don O’Neil (Brian Magowan), the son of a landowner who had been defrauded by the solicitor Tremaine (J. M. Carre), saves the life of Tremaine’s daughter, Nola (Nora Clancy), whose love he wrests from Graves (O’Donovan), a blackmailing suitor (“Bohemian,” Evening Mail).

“The film is of a quality which leads one to anticipate success for the venture,” wrote an Irish Times correspondent at the trial exhibition, noting that it was part of a process of perfecting the film: “the promoters are engaged in a ruthless revision of the film to bring it up to the highest possible standard” (“Irish Film Production”). The Bioscope’s Irish correspondent Paddy’ was less complimentary about this early cut of the film, pointing out that although “[g]reat care was taken with the production and camera work,” it possessed “many of the weak points common to first productions” (“Paddy,” 13 Jul.). Addressing a lunch for the press at the Gresham Hotel after the screening, Fitzgibbon claimed that FCOI “had started an industry which would eventually be a source of great revenue in Ireland.” For his part, Sullivan argued that the film showed that Irish productions – taking advantage of Irish “imagination, ideals, and artistic temperament and beautiful scenery” – could competing with those anywhere (“Irish Film Production”).

Paddy began to revise his lukewarm opinion of O’Neil of the Glen in light of the news that Frederick A. Sparling had booked the film for its first run at his Bohemian for the week of 7-13 August. The Bohemian was one of Dublin’s biggest and most luxurious cinemas, and Sparling’s commitment to a run that was twice the usual three days “speaks well for the film and the undoubted drawing powers such a production will have for Irish audiences” (Paddy, 27 Jul.). In the event, Sparling also included an unplanned Sunday show to take advantage of the phenomenal level of interest.

Although FCOI appears to have taken the bookings itself, prominent local distributor Ben Cowan of Express Film Agency handled this and other FCOI films from 1916 by running trade shows and placing advertisements in the daily and trade press. It was likely one of Cowan’s “novel ideas in the advertising line” for FCOI cameraman John A. Bennett – a former projectionist at Dublin’s Rotunda – to film the audience on the first night and for this local film to be shown subsequently with the feature (Paddy, 27 Jul.; 17 Aug.). “Don’t miss this chance of seeing what you look like on the Screen,” ads warned the opening-night audience. The musical attractions included a special programme of Irish melodies and the cinema’s “world-renowned violinist” Signor Simonetti playing a fantasy on the “Snowy Breasted Pearl” at the evening shows. “It is confidently hoped that large audiences will visit the Bohemian during the coming week,” revealed a preview in the Evening Mail, “and thus mark in a tangible manner their appreciation of what may justly be described as a really first-class picture-play, and one that is sure to bring the work and the players of the Film Company of Ireland right into the forefront of popularity with audiences and trade alike” (“Bohemian”).

The surprising extent of the success of O’Neil of the Glen must be measured in the first instance as a marketing victory rather than an artistic one, by FCOI. The degree to which these early films challenged existing ways of representing the Irish is questionable, but many contemporary commentators seem initially to have been content that films with wholly Irish creative input were finally being made. Nevertheless, the way in which the company were able to capitalize on the interest and goodwill attending the exhibition of this first indigenous Irish fiction film and, crucially, to publicize the large attendances not only in Ireland, where interest was likely to be strong in any case, but also in Britain, appears to have secured a British distribution deal and thereby to have ensured the company survival in this initial period. This success was built on what appears to have been a genuinely surprising level of interest in the picture. “The film, which was expected to prove a good draw, actually surpassed all anticipations,” observed Paddy, warming further to the film, “a record being established for the week, and queues being the rule every evening” (17 Aug.). The Irish Times commented that enthusiastic audiences in a crowded cinema “proves that the Dublin public is always ready to support and encourage Irish enterprise” (“Film Company of Ireland,” 9 Aug.). “That the genuine enthusiasm displayed last night at the conclusion of the film will be the means of bringing before the public a second production by the Irish Film Company in the near future,” observed the Freeman’s Journal, “is a universal wish” (“Bohemian”).

O'Neil Victoria 9 Sep 1916p4

Ad for Galway’s Victoria Cinema Theatre for the week in which O’Neil of the Glen featured. Connacht Tribune 9 Sep 1916: 4.

This wish would be soon fulfilled, and O’Neil of the Glen was exhibited around the country in the following weeks and months. When following substantial runs in Dublin and Belfast it was announced for a three-day run at Galway’s Victoria Cinema Theatre on 11-13 September, a Connacht Tribune reporter distinguished its attractions from that of American films, which were unrivalled “in the matter of cinematographic thoroughness and all-round fullness and finish of technique, but one can get too much of a good thing.” The FCOI’s “national or […] patriotic enterprise” offered something that monotonously perfect and ubiquitous American films could not: “The production is Irish, the subject is Irish, the mise-en-scene is Irish, and the actors and actresses are Irish” (“‘O’Neill of the Glen’”). A writer in the Cork Examiner during the film’s run at Cork’s Coliseum Theatre (14-16 September) concurred, arguing that

[t]hrere certainly should be an opening for cinema representation of Irish drama as played by native Irish actors, whose one object is to show Irish life in its true perspective, without grotesque exaggeration, or what is just as bad, giving an unreal picture of it, even when the intention is friendly to the country and the people. (“Coliseum Theatre.”)

A journalist at the Derry People was particularly interested in the local connections of a film “in which well-known Irish artistes will be screened, and details dealing with Tyrone and neighbouring localities introduced in splendid style” (“Hall”). The film’s second Dublin run was at the Dame Street Picture House (21-3 September) – the cinema closest to FCOI’s offices and where all their subsequent 1916 films would premiere – before it had first and second runs in Belfast, at the Duncairn (28-30 September) and the Clonard (2-4 October). Subsequent screenings included Mullingar’s National (14-15 October), Kilkenny’s Cinema (18-19 October) and Dublin’s Fr Mathew Hall (2 December).

FCOI IT 14 Aug 1916p4

Irish Times 14 Aug. 1916: 4.

While O’Neil of the Glen toured the country, the company quickly followed up this successful debut with the announcements of their next films in the dailies and trades. On the Monday after the last show of O’Neil of the Glen at the Bohemian, the Dublin papers carried an advertisement headed “Films that Draw Crowded Houses Every Night!” that recommended FCOI’s new films on the basis of the audience-drawing power of that first film. Four two-reel comedies were scheduled for release in September – The Miser’s Gift, Woman’s Wit, Food of Love and An Unfair Love Affair – and nine other forthcoming productions were named, only one of which, “Willie Reilly,” is recognizable as a subsequent FCOI release. An Evening Mail reporter who attended The Miser’s Gift trade show at the Dame Street PH later that week commented that “[i]t is not only characteristically Irish, it is characteristically good. The Irish Picture-House manager who does not support an Irish company which can produce work of the class of ‘The Miser’s Gift’ is missing an opportunity of giving his shows a touch of distinction” (“‘Miser’s Gift’”).

The Miser’s Gift is also lost, but its narrative appears to involve a scheme of Eileen Dolan (Nora Clancy) and her lover, Ned McGrath (Fred O’Donovan), to get her miserly father (J. M. Kerrigan) drunk and dream of leprechaun gold so that he will look favourably on their relationship. “It is agreeable to have pictures such as this,’ commented the Irish Times, “preserving a genuinely Irish atmosphere and that inherent charm which is to be found in Irish life. The sight, for instance, of lepracauns and other little people who live in legend disporting themselves in a fairy fort is a feature which surely is pleasing to Irish eyes” (“Film Company of Ireland,” 18 Aug.). The Irish public got its first chance to delight in authentic Irish leprechauns disporting themselves on the cinema screen at the Dame from 26–8 October 1916.

Ch5One

Bioscope 24 Aug. 1916: 754.

As these arrangements were being made for Ireland, FCOI also entered the British film market on the foundation of O’Neil of the Glen’s Irish success. The Bohemian debut was the subject of an article on the company in the Bioscope of 24 August, which also carried a full-page advertisement listing the actual and intended films mentioned in the Irish papers (“First Irish Film”). Both the article and the advertisement included quotes from Sparling on the huge business the film generated, “the absolutely whole-hearted appreciation of every person who has seen it,” and the fact that “the ‘music’ at the pay-box has kept time with the orchestra throughout.” In contrast to Paddy’s original critical assessment of the film, this article described the audiences’ appreciation of “the exceptional excellence of the first film produced in Ireland by an Irish company and by Irish players.” A month later, although mentioning the film’s success everywhere it had been exhibited, Paddy contended that FCOI’s “second picture, ‘The Miser’s Gift,’ is greatly in advance of the first as regards the quality, and if this company stick to their guns they should still be well in the front rank of British producers” (28 Sep.). Despite Paddy’s reservations, the message prevailed that O’Neil of the Glen packed cinemas in Dublin and Belfast and that Irish exhibitors were eager for more, a message that helped FCOI to acquire a British distributor (Paddy, 14 Sep.). The company did this at the end of October, when Davidson’s Film Sales Agency bought the rights for FCOI’s 1916 films (Paddy, 2 Nov.).

Indigenous Irish film production may not have started with O’Neil of the Glen, but it did enter a new phase.

References

“Abbey Theatre.” Irish Times 7 Aug. 1916: 3.

“The Bohemian.” Dublin Evening Mail 5 Aug. 1916: 5.

“The Bohemian.” Freeman’s Journal 8 Aug. 1916: 6.

“Coliseum Theatre: ‘O’Neill of the Glen.’” Cork Examiner 15 Sep. 1916: 2.

Condon, Denis. Early Irish Cinema, 1895-1921. Dublin: Irish Academic, 2008.

“The Film Company of Ireland.” Irish Times 9 Aug. 1916: 6; 18 Aug. 1916: 2.

“First Irish Film: Success of ‘O’Neil of the Glen.’” Bioscope 24 Aug. 1916: 689.

“The Hall.” Derry People 16 Sep. 1916: 5.

“Irish Film Production.” Irish Times 30 Jun. 1916: 7.

“Irish Film Triumph: Several New Plays.” Cork Examiner 16 Aug. 1916: 6.

“‘The Miser’s Gift’: New Irish Comedy.” Dublin Evening Mail 17 Aug. 1916: 2.

“New Irish Films: Four Coming Comedies.” Freeman’s Journal 15 Aug. 1916: 4.

“New Irish Industry: Film Company of Ireland.” Connaught Telegraph 5 Aug. 1916: 8.

“New Irish Industry: The Film Co. of Ireland: A Promising Enterprise.” Freeman’s Journal 30 Jun. 1916: 6.

“‘The O’Neill of the Glen.’” Derry People 12 Aug. 1916: 5.

Paddy. “Ireland: With the Renters and Exhibitors.” Bioscope 13 Jul. 1916: 173; 27 Jul. 1916: 359; 17 Aug. 1916: 655; 14 Sep. 1916: 1060; 28 Sep. 1916: 1285; 2 Nov. 1916: 518.

“Platform and Stage.” Irish Times 7 Oct. 1916: 9.

Rockett, Kevin. The Irish Filmography. Dublin: Red Mountain, 1996.

“Topics of the Week.” Bioscope 10 Aug. 1916: 466.

 

Relieving the Monotony of All Pictures: Variety Acts in Irish Cinemas, February 1915

Unlike the experience in an Irish picture house in 2015, the cinema audience a century ago expected to share the auditorium not only with other spectators but also the musicians and – often – variety artistes who were responsible for producing a considerable part of the entertainment live. On 4 February 1915, the Ulster correspondent of the cinema trade journal Bioscope began his/her regular “Jottings from Ulster” column in fairly typical fashion by praising the attractions available at Provincial Cinematograph Theatres’ Picture House, Royal Avenue, Belfast. The attractions included the pictures Marguerite of Navarre (France: Pathé, 1914), Nick Winter in the Wild West (US: Eclectic, 1914) and The Bond of Love (US: Selig, 1914), which were accompanied by an “orchestra [that] has been considerably augmented.” The music produced by the musicians in the cinema was not the only part of the show produced live because “the monotony of all pictures is delightfully relieved by Mr. Norman Williams, who sings every afternoon and evening.” While the orchestra was expected to accompany the pictures and increase their attractiveness by augmenting them, Williams’ singing was a separate feature of the programme and was used – according to Jottings, at least – to ensure that audiences would not be bored by a programme that just consisted of films.

Part of the programme at Dublin's Star Theatre of Varieties at which the first films in Ireland were shown in April 1896.

Part of the programme at Dublin’s Star Theatre of Varieties at which the first films in Ireland were shown in April 1896.

The claim here is worth lingering on because it implies that variety was a necessary part of the programme, and in this case, the necessary variety was based on the differences between live and recorded performance. Variation in the length and genre of films has already been discussed in other posts, but here variety refers to the kinds of live performance – singing, dancing, comedy, juggling, acrobatics and animal acts –with which audiences a century ago would have been intimately familiar from the variety theatre. The variety theatre or music hall had been one of the first places at which moving pictures were exhibited, and the notion that popular entertainment should offer a variety of attractions persisted long after dedicated picture houses first appeared, which in Ireland was the late 1900s. Before this, in the 1890s and 1900s, variety theatre had added film as another of its acts or “turns,” and in the 1910s and for a long time thereafter, some picture houses included not only a variety of film attractions with musical accompaniment but also live variety acts. In fact, given the existence of the mix of film and variety entertainment at such large venues as Dublin’s 4,000-seat Theatre Royal until the 1960s, cine-variety should be considered one of the country’s most persistent forms of entertainment.

In early 1915, in any case, some – but by no means all – Irish picture house owners and commentators recognized the economic and aesthetic benefits of presenting variety alongside film. The cinema trade was not unanimous on whether or not variety turn in cinemas was a good or necessary thing. The Bioscope had long considered the importance of variety in Britain to be confined to the provinces, commenting in an editorial in 1911 that it was particularly associated with “the Midlands and North of England, where at least in a great many halls, the programme is not considered complete unless two or three variety turns are included” (“The All-Picture Programme”). This still seems to have been the case in 1914-15, when the early months of the war saw a decline in music-hall business (“Variety Turns”). Because of falling audiences, music-hall owners faced with closure made a deal called the “Fifty and Fifty” with the Variety Artistes’ Federation in late 1914, agreeing to split box office receipts evenly between artistes and venues (“Variety Artistes”). The picture houses were not favoured with a deal. A meeting of the Variety Artistes’ Federation passed a resolution that “no scheme for the deduction of salaries be granted to picture theatres engaging variety artistes, and that full salaries be demanded” (ibid.).

Nevertheless, Jottings pointed out that “[v]arieties are very steadily creeping into the motion houses throughout Ulster to-day” (“Jottings,” 28 Jan.). At the end of January, Norman Williams at the Picture House, Royal Avenue was joined by “Miss Ruth Vollmer, Scotch comedienne, dancer and clever exponent on the Scotch pipes, [who] was the star attraction at Lisburn Palace” (ibid.). However, once Charles Bronson took over management of the Palace, Omagh, he relied on films alone to draw the audience rather than the variety turns favoured by former manager Alex Cockle (ibid.). At the end of February, Jeanne Bal and Eugenie Van Camp – “two Belgian refugees” – appeared at the Picture House, Regent Street, Newtownards, where the “rendition by Mdlle. Van Camp of ‘Tipperary’ is very pleasing” (“Jottings,” 4 Mar.). The other Newtownards cinema, the Picture Palace, had four variety acts, so that “one would not know whether to refer to it as a cinema with varieties, or as a music-hall with pictures” (ibid.).

Kinemacolor exhibition at The Theatre RoyalIrish Times 9 Feb. 1915: 4

Kinemacolor exhibition at Dublin’s Theatre Royal; Irish Times 9 Feb. 1915: 4

While the inclusion of variety acts in a picture house programme appeared to put more emphasis on the live aspects of cinema and the associated possibilities for local variation, the appearance in Ireland in early 1915 of technological developments in film sound and colour suggested that a complete cinematic experience could be supplied by the recorded artefact alone. Colour film technology was to be seen from 8-13 February at the matinees of Dublin’s Theatre Royal, which hosted a return of the Kinemacolor war films The Fighting Forces of Europe, which had been first seen in Ireland the previous November. The return visit came with the added publicity of royal command performances in London, and the first show in Dublin was attended by the Lord Lieutenant and Lady Aberdeen. The Aberdeens would themselves leave Ireland in late February, and their departure was filmed by Pathé and by local exhibitor I. I. Bradlaw and local topical specialist Norman Whitten (Paddy, 25 Feb.). In any case, the Kinemacolor war films were one kind of technological development of cinema but they were not self-explanatory and so needed to be “fully described by an interesting lecture given by Mr. John Doran, and a special orchestra under the direction of Mr. Allan Blackwood, the well-known conductor” (“War Pictures”).

Edison's Kinetophone 1914-15. Irish News 23 Mar. 1914: 8 and Evening Telegraph 25 Jan. 1915: 3.

Edison’s Kinetophone 1914-15. Irish News 23 Mar. 1914: 8 and Evening Telegraph 25 Jan. 1915: 3.

The film sound technologies on exhibition in Ireland in early 1915 offered the possibility that lecturer and orchestra could be dispensed with. In late January, the Edison company’s Kinetophone talking pictures, which had had their first Irish appeared in Belfast the previous March, opened for at two week run at Dublin’s Bohemian Picture Theatre. “The success of this the latest addition to the attractions of the popular Phibsboro’ House,” observed the reviewer in the Evening Telegraph, “was from the start most marked, and the display, which last night included a musical sketch entitled ‘After College Days’ and Edison’s Minstrels, immediately appealed to the hearty enthusiasm of the very large audience” (“The Bohemian”). However, the Kinetophone items did not even nearly fill the programme but had to be supplemented by three reels of The Barefoot Boy (US: Kalem, 1914), the Pathé Gazette newsreel and comedy The Great Toe Mystery (US: Keystone, 1914). A full programme of talking-and-singing pictures was still some way off.

Evening Telegraph 19 Oct. 1914: 4

Evening Telegraph 19 Oct. 1914: 4

Licensing was one reason that picture house owners might have wished to have fewer live elements to deal with. Live music, and particularly the live singing of a variety artist, required entertainment venues to have a music-and-dancing licence. The reasons for this were made clear in late February 1915, when the latest proceedings were heard against a Dublin picture house, in this case, the Dame Street Picture House, that the city authorities claimed needed not just a cinematograph licence – which was mainly designed to ensure fire safety – but also a music-and-dancing licence. A related case against the Electric Theatre, Talbot Street had concluded in December 1914 with the prosecution of that cinema for not having a music-and-dancing licence (“City Cinemas”). The case against the Electric Theatre was apparently more straightforward because at the Electric’s evening performances, the pictures were accompanied not only by the piano that was used earlier in the day but also by a violin and cello. As a result, Justice Mahony had decided that the Electric’s claim that music was subsidiary to the entertainment was not sustainable. Although the case against the Dame was also due for decision, it had been adjourned because at the Dame only a piano was used to accompany the films.

These cases offer some fascinating details about the nature of live musical accompaniment at these relatively small picture houses at this period. Neither of them employed variety acts, and the musical accompaniment was the main kind of live supplement to the recorded images. While such larger picture houses as the Rotunda and Bohemian made a feature of the live music they offered, naming the musical director in advertising and at least on occasion, mounting special musical entertainments, these smaller venues downplayed the role of music to their entertainment. At least they did so in the context of this court case, which was part of a legal strategy to avoid having to pay for a music licence and/or pay a fine. The Electric’s argument that music was subsidiary was judged unbelievable because the judge concluded that the music was not just used to cover incidental noises in the cinema. Although the newspaper accounts do not state this explicitly, this was clearly true because the Electric augmented the music at the evening entertainment by the inclusion not just of louder music to cover the increased noises of a larger audience but of two instruments that enhanced the musical range of the performance.

By providing consistent piano accompaniment day and evening, the Dame had a stronger case that the music was subsidiary. As a result, when on 27 January 1915, the magistrate also fined them for not having a music licence, they appealed to the King’s Bench, which heard the case on 25 February. “It was proved,” a report in the Dublin Evening Mail revealed, “that at the exhibitions of pictures music in the form of piano playing was performed, which was more or less appropriate to the picture at the time on the screen Such music was performed only while the pictures were on the screen.” As a result, the Dame argued that a

certain amount of noise was occasioned during the exhibition of the pictures by the coming and going of attendants and persons entering and leaving the premises, and by the working of the [projection] apparatus. […M]usic was necessary, and was intended mainly for the purpose of deadening or drowning the noise which was likely to distract attention from the pictures, and that under these circumstances a licence for music was not necessary. (“Music in a Cinema”)

This offers a vivid image of the kind of challenges picture-house musicians faced. It did not, however, convince the justices on the King’s Bench, who voted a 2-1 majority to affirm the magistrate’s decision that the music at the Dame represented a separate attraction that required a licence. Even if part of the function of music in the picture house was to “drown the noise” of early cinema’s supplementary live soundtracks, it also provided an aesthetic experience in itself, if not a layer of acoustic interpretation of the pictures on screen.

Evening Herald 3 Feb 1915:3.

Evening Herald 3 Feb 1915:3.

War-themed subjects remained among the most popular of the pictures on screen. How films provided an alternative forum in which to think about current events was shown when the Evening Herald printed a map of the war at sea around the coasts of Britain and Ireland, emphasizing the proximity of the war. Although much of this action was located in the North Sea, German submarines attempted to cut the transatlantic supply lines to Britain. The Lusitania – sunk off Cork in May 1915 – was the most famous casualty of the German blockade. With the appearance of The Huns of the North Sea in Ireland at the end of January, Sidney Morgan and John Payne’s P&M’s Films offered Irish audiences a way of imagining the new forms of warfare at sea involving minefields and submarines. The “short two-reeler, dealing with the mine-laying […] should prove exceptionally attractive to halls situated in the North of Ireland, where the mine-field was lately found” (Paddy, 21 Jan.).

Whether through live music or engaging and relevant images, the cinema a century ago continued to draw the attention of the public.

References

“The All-Picture Programme: Where “Variety” Is Not Wanted.” Bioscope 21 Sep. 1911: 591.

“The Bohemian.” Evening Telegraph 26 Jan. 1915: 2.

“City Cinemas: Question of Music Licence: Prosecution: In the Dublin Police Courts; Mr. Mahony’s Decision.” Evening Herald 30 Dec. 1914: 3.

“Dancing and Singing: City Picture House’s Application: Described as ‘Novel.'” Evening Herald 23 Oct. 1914: 4.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 28 Jan. 1915: 339; 4 Feb. 1915: 437; 4 Mar. 1915: 837.

“Music in a Cinema: Interesting Dublin Case: ‘To Drown the Noise.’”Dublin Evening Mail 26 Feb. 1915: 5.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 21 Jan. 1915: 263; 25 Feb. 1915: 741.

“Theatre Royal Hippodrome.” Evening Telegraph 6 Feb. 1915: 6.

“Variety Artistes in Picture Theatres.” Bioscope 19 Nov. 1914: 707.

“Variety Turns in Picture Theatres.” Bioscope 17 Dec. 1914: 1288.

“War Pictures in Kinemacolor.” Dublin Evening Mail 4 Feb. 1915: 6.

“An Objectionable Class from the City”

“One aspect of the strike which has probably not been brought home to the public,” begins a tantalizing article in the Evening Herald on 18 October 1913, “is the effect which it has had upon the amusements of Dublin, such as theatres, music halls, and cinematograph shows” (“Dublin Theatres and the Strike”). Despite offering the views of prominent – albeit unnamed and paraphrased – theatre, music hall and cinema managers, the almost 700-words that follow are, if intriguing, also finally frustratingly unspecific. This is not because as a newspaper owned by employers’ leader William Martin Murphy, the Herald missed few opportunities to point out the folly of Dublin’s striking workers, who had been, it often argued, criminally led astray by union leader Jim Larkin. There are traces of that editorial line here, but the real disappointment is that the writer appears misleadingly to conceive each of these entertainments as being entirely identified with a single class. This, then, looks gratifyingly like a suitable case for analysis and supplement.

The article starts soundly enough by observing that the Lockout affected the city’s entertainments in general in two ways:

firstly, that inasmuch as the earning capacity of some thousands of men has been stopped, therefore their spending capacity has likewise been curtailed.

Secondly, that where the earnings have not been interfered with, among those who are not directly concerned with the strike, yet who live some considerable way from the city, they have been unable to patronise the various entertainments provided for their amusement owing to the difficulties of travel consequent upon the curtailment of the tramway programme (ibid).

A large number of workers with severely reduced income and restrictions on public transport were undoubtedly key factors affecting audience numbers, but the article is less convincing in the argument it makes about the identification of entertainments with particular classes.

It implies that theatre provided entertainment for the social elite, music halls catered for the middle class, and cinema was for the working class. This is done by showing that not all types of entertainment were equally affected by the Lockout. The theatres “have done comparatively well, and the manager of one important theatre stated that had it not been for the strike he would have eclipsed all records” (ibid). Music halls, by contrast,

had suffered considerably, the seats of these houses, whilst altogether more expensive than those of cinematograph shows were cheaper than those of the theatres, so that whereas the man who would pay three or four shillings for a seat at the theatre would and could afford the cost of a conveyance to and from his residence[, t]he man who came from the outlying parts could not, and it is too far to walk a couple of miles each way (ibid).

The difference in ticket prices here seems to create a rigidly stratified system. Stratification based on price, class and type of entertainment certainly existed but not in the way implied here. It is too much of a simplification to state that theatregoers were substantially of a class that could in the absence of trams due to the strike, afford private transport or a cab, while music hall patrons were from a class that lived in the suburbs (to a degree that severely impacted on the business of music halls) but could not afford to pay both for admission and transport home. But the argument become particularly problematic in relation to cinema.

Although the article seems to suggest that the cinematograph shows were competing with music halls for audience, it only discusses picture houses as working-class venues:

In the poorer parts of the city where the cheaper cinematograph shows abound, these have been directly affected by the loss of custom consequent upon those who patronise them being strikers, and therefore, not earning any money. Some of these have suffered severely, and their owners and managers will be very pleased when the strike is settled (ibid).

Certainly the business of picture houses located in working-class areas was affected by the Lockout, but which ones the writer had visited or was thinking of is unclear.

Map Oct 1913

Map of Dublin in 1913 with pins indicating locations of picture houses, music halls and theatres.

The controversy over the Sunday opening of picture houses suggested that going to the pictures was not just a working class entertainment. On 24 October 1913, the Recorder of Dublin – the city’s chief magistrate – considered an application for a Sunday music licence for the Dame Street Picture House, without which it could not open. From their previous applications in April and July 1913, the proprietors of the Dame Street Picture House knew the authorities’ views that the Grafton and O’Connell Street picture houses “were frequented by persons of the better class, and there was no necessity that they should be opened on Sundays for their benefit” (CSORP/1915/2211). As a result, the proprietors argued that the “people who frequented the Grafton street house were generally people who went shopping. The Dame street house was frequently largely by the working classes, and the object of the application was to give facilities to the working classes to attend performances on Sundays” (ibid). They classed themselves among the picture houses that were allowed to open on Sunday: the Phoenix Picture Palace, the Irish Cinema in Capel Street, the Dorset Picture Hall, the Camden Picture House, the Theatre de Luxe in Camden Street, the Picturedrome in Harcourt Road, the Brunswick Street Cinema, the Princess Cinema in Rathmines, the Mary Street Picture House, the Volta in Mary Street, the World’s Fair Varieties in Henry Street and the Electric Theatre in Talbot Street (ibid).

Dame Phoenix Sunday 1913

Ads for Sunday shows at Phoenix and, despite the Recorder’s ban, the Dame; Evening Telegraph 25 Oct. 1913: 4.

The Recorder did not accept this, contending that Dame Street was one of the city’s principal streets – “near the residence of the King’s representative” in Dublin Castle – and not located in a working-class district (“Picture Houses”). He therefore treated the picture house there as he did the ones in Grafton Street and O’Connell Street by refusing them a Sunday licence. “He would give every facility to Sunday entertainments for the working classes, but he would not, so far as he could prevent it, give up the principal streets to these syndicates on Sundays” (“Sunday Cinemas”).

The Recorder’s licensing session also considered local objections to Sunday shows at Clontarf Town Hall, one of the city’s latest picture houses to open – and so not listed above. When Clontarf was incorporated into an expanded Dublin at the turn of the century, the administrative powers of its local council were assumed by Dublin Corporation, and its town hall had no function. Beginning on 18 July 1913, the hall’s leasee George Humphreys ran it as a picture house, with the proviso that he give it up when the Corporation needed it. “Mr. Robertson, (who represented the police) said that he went to the petty Sessions at Clontarf the other day, and they were held in this picture show (laughter)” (“Clontarf Cinema”). Reverend John L. Morrow, chairman of the Clontarf Citizens’ Association objected to the renewal of the picture house’s licence on the basis that local people had not been consulted on its use for this purpose. He complained in particular that its Sunday shows “brought out an objectionable class from the city” (ibid). Humphreys dismissed this claim, observing that “the hall was patronised by people like Ald. Maguire, of Clontarf; Mr. Brady (solicitor), and many other representative and legal gentlemen” (ibid). By 1913, the picture house no longer provided entertainment only for the working class.

References

“Clontarf Cinema: Citizens’ Association: Raise an Objection.” Evening Telegraph 24 Oct. 1913: 3.

CSORP/1915/2211, National Archives of Ireland.

“Dublin Theatres and the Strike.” Evening Herald 18 Oct. 1913: 4.

“Picture Houses: And Licence for Sunday Shows.” Evening Herald 24 Oct. 1913: 2.

“Sunday Cinemas: In Leading Streets.” Evening Telegraph 24 Oct. 1913: 6.

Screening the Lockout (?)

Image

Dublin tramway workers pass the Rotunda, one of the city’s most important picture houses. (“Dublin Tramwaymen’s Strike.” Dublin Evening Mail 27 Aug. 1913: 2.) A different view of this picture house can be found here.

A hundred years ago, on Tuesday, 26 August 1913, the labour dispute known as the Dublin Lockout began when just before 10am, some 200 motormen and conductors of the Dublin United Tramway Company abandoned their trams in the city centre. The tram strike would prompt the Dublin Employers’ Federation – led by the tram company’s chairman and owner of the Irish Independent and Evening Herald newspapers William Martin Murphy – to lock out workers affiliated with Jim Larkin’s Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. Riots, the arrests of union leaders, demonstrations and vicious police baton charges followed. Newspapers played an important part in this dispute – and in how we remember it a century later; see Century Ireland – but what about cinema?

As early as 1907, cinema was being called the art form of the working class (Patterson), an accessible and relatively cheap form of not just entertainment but also information about the world in moving pictures that did not require a high level of literacy. Although Dublin had just a few film venues before 1910, the new medium of cinema very quickly came to have a significant place in Irish society in the early 1910s. By August 1913, Dublin had three times more picture houses than it did theatres, and half of the theatres also showed fiction films and newsreels on a regular basis as part of their variety programmes. Picture houses were not only located in the city’s business core like the theatres but also in residential areas and in the suburbs and townships adjacent to the city. They often therefore relied to a greater extent than the theatres on the patronage of local audiences. However, these picture houses were also businesses, in which a dichotomy between worker and employer also existed.

As such, activity in Dublin’s picture houses during the last week of August into September 1913 demonstrates something of how the new cultural institution of cinema would mediate the momentous Irish events of the 1910s, and how the institution would be shaped by these events in turn. As regards programming, only the Rotunda in O’Connell/Sackville Street (both names were used at the time, with the preference usually based on whether ones politics were nationalist or unionist) appears to have allowed unfolding events to influence its choice of films. For the three days (the usual length of a cinema programme) from 1-3 September, the Rotunda showed the American film The Labour Struggle (1913), made by Kalem, a film production company particularly well known in Ireland because of the many films they had shot in the country. However, The Labour Struggle had nothing to do with Ireland. Although a reviewer of another timely choice of production that week, the play The Labour Leader at the Queen’s Theatre, commented that “visitors will not see much resemblance between the hero of the play and the local product” (“The Queen’s Theatre”), another writer took allegorical meaning from the conclusion of The Labour Struggle:

If its conclusion were to be interpreted in one sense the raging fire against which by mutual help the employer and employes in the end fought successfully may be taken to picture anarchy. When both sides to the struggle came to recognise the peril which threatened them, they ceased to quarrel, and, turning their strength against the common foe, they subdued it, and then taking a juster measure of one another it looked from the last film as if they were likely “to live happily together ever after” (“The Rotunda”).

How Dublin workers and employers might – Metropolis-like – identify a common foe, the writer does not speculate, and a happy ending to the dispute must have seemed remote to anyone walking the city’s streets. In any case, the film’s engagement with radical labour politics would likely have been diluted not just by its conclusion but also by its appearance on a bill with the live telephatic performer La Somna, a screen adaptation of Ivanhoe (IMP, 1913), and two film comedies featuring Vitagraph star John Bunny.

Sep 1 1913 DEM Rotunda Labour Struggle

Advertisement for the Round Room Rotunda showing Kalem’s The [Great] Labour Struggle and a local film of the Neptune Rowing Club. Dublin Evening Mail 1 Sep. 1913: 4.

Apart from fictional representations produced elsewhere, local film producers could have filmed the demonstration themselves to produce a local news film. Norman Whitten had set up a company in May – with an office at 76 Talbot Street (“Irish Enterprise”) – to take such films. James T. Jameson and his sons, including Ernest who managed the Rotunda – but Ernest had got married on Thursday 28 August, so perhaps he deserves congratulations and the benefit of the doubt – had been shooting such films for a decade. Tellingly perhaps, neither Whitten nor Jameson caught on film Jim Larkin’s famous address to the proclaimed demonstration of workers in O’Connell Street on 31 August or the notorious baton charge that followed it, despite the fact that both had business addresses on or just off that street. The bills at Jameson’s picture houses had long been known for their local films. During the week of 25-30 September, both the Rotunda and the Jameson-run Town Hall Rathmines had shown films of each day of the prestigious Dublin Horse Show. And in lieu of a local strike film, The Labour Struggle was accompanied at the Rotunda by a film of a social event at the Neptune Rowing Club, “a local event of direct personal interest to numbers of the citizens” (“The Rotunda”), but those citizens were likely to have been the middle-class audience Jameson had long courted.

Other exhibitors more reliant on a working-class audience do not seem to have modified their bills in response to the strikes even to the extent that Jameson did. The Phoenix Picture Palace on Ellis Quay widely advertised the fact that it was showing Quo Vadis? (Cines, 1912) for the whole of Horse Show Week; in April, the Phoenix had been the first Dublin picture house to show the Italian spectacular. A similar taste for a full week of spectacle to attract well-heeled Horse Show visitors inspired the Dame Street Picture House to book The Life and Works of Richard Wagner (Messter, 1913), which allowed the house orchestra to accompany the silent film with a different Wagner selection at each performance. Other programmes from picture houses that advertised in the newspapers at this time – the Town Hall, Rathmines, the World’s Fair Varieties, the Mary Street Picture House, the Picture House, Sackville Street (called the “O’Connell Picture House” by the nationalist press), the Grand, the Volta, the Theatre de Luxe, the Camden Picture House, the Clontarf Electric Theatre and the Assembly Picture Hall, Serpentine Avenue – show no immediate impact of the Lockout.

Although the picture houses largely failed to represent the early days of the Lockout on screen, the impact of the struggle for workers’ representation that was being fought out in the streets was also felt in the auditorium, projection booth and cash box. Dublin projectionists had organized themselves into the Irish Cinematograph Operators’ Association and initially affiliated themselves with the National Association of Cinematograph Operators (“N.A.C.O. Dublin Branch”). However, in order to represent themselves in solidarity with other picture house workers, the projectionists later affiliated instead with the National Association of Theatrical Employees (NATE). As a result, even the unskilled cinema workers were able to make strong demands for fixed wages to the cinema owners at a special meeting of the Irish Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association in early September: “In the case of the doormen this should be 26s. for the first doorman, 20s. for the second, and 18s. for the third. It was also proposed to give the inside attendants 12s. per week, the cash-box girl getting 15s” (“Pictures in Ireland”). The cinema owners were not altogether happy with these proposals, and by mid-September, NATE members would be picketing the Theatre de Luxe in Camden Street (Rockett 43). But that is a story for another day.

References

“Irish Enterprise.” Bioscope 12 June 1913: 781.

“N.A.C.O. Dublin Branch.” Bioscope 29 May 1913: 623.

Patterson, Joseph Medill. “The Nickelodeons: The Poor Man’s Elementary Course in the Drama.” Saturday Evening Post 23 November 1907: 10+.

“Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 4 September 1913:

“The Queen’s Theatre.” Evening Telegraph 2 Sep. 1913: 2.

Rockett, Kevin and Emer. Film Exhibition and Distribution in Ireland, 1909-2011. Dublin: Four Courts, 2011.

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