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.

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 Injustice to Good Productions”: Irish Film Distribution, Programme Changes and New Picture Houses in November 1914

The Sign of the Cross.

An exclusive film exhibited in Ireland in November 1914: The Sign of the Cross (US: Famous Players, 1914). Image: The Silent Film Still Archive.

The published information on film distribution in Ireland in the 1910s is useful in general, but it lacks the detail to say something about how Irish cinemas acquired films in, say, November 1914 (Condon, Early Irish Cinema, 215-17; Rockett 38-41). However, the trade press, particularly the London-based Bioscope, and the local papers that month give some more specific details. By this time, exhibitors no longer bought films outright, as the – much smaller number of – exhibitors in the 1900s had. Films were rented from distributors or renters, and the distribution business in Ireland and Britain was based in London. The sea crossing was an issue for distributors into Ireland, particularly as military operations changed the priorities on the transport of goods in 1914. However, such issues were more easily negotiated by the film distributors who had offices in Ireland or worked through Irish agents.

Bioscope 6 Aug. 1914: xix.

Ad for Gaumont’s Chrono projector; Bioscope 6 Aug. 1914: xix. This ad appeared just as war was breaking out; even a few weeks later, it would not have been acceptable in the context of discussions of severing links with enemy companies as part of the war effort.

“I dropped up the other day to see Mr. Young of the Gaumont Company, Lord Edward Street, Dublin,” revealed Irish correspondent Paddy in the Bioscope in early November 1914 (Paddy, 5 Nov.). Since opening early in 1913, the luxuriously appointed Dublin branch office of Gaumont in London sold the company’s popular Chrono projector, held trade viewings in a dedicated screenings room of the films it distributed, and shot many local topical films since its first ones in June 1913, such as The Launch of the Britannic and a film of a hurling match between Kilkenny and Cork (13 Nov.). Paddy noted that “Mr. Young seemed pleased with how matters were progressing, and he expressed the opinion that the falling off on account of the war was practically negligible” (5 Nov.). A year earlier, Paddy had found Young’s predecessor also pleased with business, including the fact that “[a] great many more Irish theatres have thrown in their lot with the Gaumont Film Service” (13 Nov.), including the Grand in Dublin’s O’Connell Street (Paddy, 24 Jul.), Limerick’s Gaiety Bijou (7 Aug.), and Belfast’s Princess Picture Palace (“Jottings,” 12 Nov.).

Gaumont did not have Irish distribution to itself. In November 1914, the Ideal Film Renting Company set up their Dublin office at 40 Dawson Street, Dublin. “There is little doubt that by opening in Dublin,” opined Paddy, “The Ideal Company have stimulated competition and made it possible for exhibitors to make a better selection on the spot” (5 Nov.). Among the exclusive films that Ideal handled were Danish production company Nordisk’s For the Sake of a Man (1913) and Her Hour of Temptation (1914), as well as Joan of Arc (Italy: Savoia, 1913), for which “[s]pecial posters are available” (ibid.).

1The Palace, Frances Street, Newtownards whowing Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923). http://www.newtownards.info/frances-st.htm

The Palace, Frances Street, Newtownards showing Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923). http://www.newtownards.info/frances-st.htm

Other London-based distributors relied on travelling salespeople or on the Irish-based companies that acted as their agents. In the week of 5 November, Paddy also “ran into Mr. Hagan, the Scottish and Irish representative for Messrs. Ruffells’ exclusives,” who “had secured bookings running to over £350” (ibid.). Norman Whitten’s General Film Supply (GFS) appears initially to have been a branch of the London-based General Film Agency, and although Whitten was better known as a maker and distributor of his own local topicals, GFS also distributed the films of other companies. Some larger Irish cinema chains, such as James T. Jameson’s Irish Animated Picture Company, had their own buyers in London (Condon, “Limelight,” 253). An “Item of Interest” in the Bioscope on 19 November informed trade readers that the Palace in Newtownards, Co. Down, had appointed Lillah Dawson as its film reviewer: “Miss Dawson has recommended the features booked at this hall during the past few weeks, and as a result the seating accommodation and the cork lino have come in for some severe wear, strong evidence that this lady weighs up a subject in a capable and experienced manner” (“Film Reviewer Appointed”).

Depending on the nature of the programme at the picture house or houses concerned, a representative such as Dawson might have had a more or less arduous job. Something has already been said here about the content of the film programme, particularly in regards to the number and length of the films and the length of the programme itself. The dominant practice in cities and towns was for picture houses to change their programmes twice a week, on Monday and Thursday, with a third change for those picture houses that held a Sunday licence. As a result, most films had a three-day run, with the possibility of holding over an especially attractive film – most likely, an “exclusive” – for the second half of the week, in which case the other items on the programme were usually changed. A run of longer than six days for any film was really exceptional. Shorter runs were possible. In early November 1914, Dublin’s Rotunda advertised the fact that beginning on 9 November, it would have three changes in the week, which for this venue with no Sunday licence meant two-day programmes, with changes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. “Large audiences,” a preview in the Evening Telegraph predicted, “are sure to appreciate this move on the part of the management, who certainly spare no expense in catering for the entertainment of their patrons” (“Rotunda Pictures”).

“Programmes Changed Daily: An Injustice to Good Productions.” Bioscope 19 Nov 1914: 789.

An extract from a Bioscope article discussing daily programme changes at the Omagh Picture Palace; 19 Nov 1914: 789.

The generosity – if it can be called that – of the Rotunda management was no match for that of the management at the Picture Palace in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, a town with a population of less than 5,000. Just ten days after the Rotunda had instituted its new programming changes,a Bioscope article drew attention to the fact that the Picture Palace changed its programme every day. As the article’s subtitle – “An Injustice to Good Productions” – suggests, the writer of this article – described as “our Ulster representative,” so presumably it was the writer of the “Jottings from Ulster” column – saw this as an unusual and unwelcome development (“Programmes Changed Daily”). Although conceding that “a manager on the spot knows his own business best,” s/he endorsed the arguments of “a very astute Ulster manager, who favours the bi-weekly change” because of the mutually supporting nature of printed and word-of-mouth publicity:

He argues that on a Monday and Tuesday a hall attracts by its publicity matter only those patrons of the movies who are influenced by good pictorials and by well-written and attractively-set letterpress. On the Tuesday and Wednesday, and again on the Friday and Saturday, the advertising ceased to be of any account. Personal recommendation or condemnation takes its place and either does such good as to comfortably fill the hall, whilst the programme runs, or is so hurtful in its effects as to prove the incompetency of the manager in the selecting of such pictures as please the majority of the people of his district. (Ibid.)

1Ads for Omagh Picture Palace showing variations in programming. Tyrone Constitution 30 Oct. 1914: 4 and 6 Nov. 1914: 4.

Ads for Omagh Picture Palace showing variations in programming. Tyrone Constitution 30 Oct. 1914: 4 and 6 Nov. 1914: 4.

The trade anxieties manifest in this advice about the effective rhythms of advertising had little to do with the Picture Palace’s choice of films but more with the number of films required. Driven from Home (1914), Shadows (US: IMP, 1914) and Lost in Mid-Ocean (US: Vitagraph, 1914) “want a lot of beating as star subjects. Why not, therefore give them an opportunity to prove their value?” (ibid.). Indeed, assuming a complete daily change of programme, the Picture Palace would likely have shown between 25 and 50 films a week, depending on their length. This suggests that the management had a very different view than the Bioscope of the nature of the entertainment it provided. The competing interests of film producers and exhibitors were shown in late November 1914, when the Bioscope cited the call by Carl Laemmle, head of the US production company Universal, to “cheaper American theatres to raise their prices of admission [to cover] the growing cost of film production” (“Trade Topics”). The management of the Omagh Picture Palace appears to have paid little attention to the quality of individual films and focused instead on audience choice and creating a constituency of daily cinemagoers.

First ad for Sandford Cinema; Evening Herald 3 Nov. 1914: 4.

First ad for Dublin’s Sandford Cinema; Evening Herald 3 Nov. 1914: 4.

Omagh’s abundance of films seems to parallel a more general return of optimism to the Irish film trade in late 1914, which saw the opening of some new picture houses. “That little thought is here given to the approach of lean days,” “Jottings” observed, “is evident from the fact that a new hall is now in full swing in Lurgan, under the direction of Mr. Hewitt”, as well as from the enlargement of Lisburn’s Electric Palace, and the equipping of new picture houses in Coleraine and Belfast’s Corn Market (5 Nov.). In Dublin, the Sandford Cinema opened on 2 November with little newspaper publicity. The first notice was a brief review in the Evening Herald the following day, alongside reviews of the Kinemacolor pictures at the Theatre Royal, the Phoenix Picture Palace’s screenings of The Sign of the Cross (US: Famous Players, 1914) – the most heavily publicized film in Ireland in late 1914 – and the Masterpiece Picture House. The review did not give the titles of the films that “were so much admired at the opening show,” focusing instead on the decor of the building that “is sumptuously fitted up interiorally, the costly furniture being supplied by Clery and Co., Ltd.” (“New Picture Theatre in Ranelagh”). Paddy later revealed the opening “star films” to have been England’s Menace (Britain: London, 1914) and The Village of Death (19 Nov.). No other newspaper coverage of the Sandford appeared in the first week of November, but in the following week, several papers carried ads for In the Bishop’s Carriage (US: Famous Players, 1913), with Mary Pickford, for the first three days and The Wheels of Destiny (US: Majestic, 1914) for the last three.

Managed by John and P.W. Whittle, the Sandford was “quite a high-class” picture house, “replete with all modern conveniences,” including Gaumont projectors and the “indirect system of lighting” in the auditorium (Paddy, 19 Nov.). Paddy found the building to be “a beautiful structure, with a fine flight of steps leading up to the pay-box. The entrance doors are finished in stained glass,” and inside, there was a “considerable rake to the floor, thus enabling all patrons to have a full view of the screen” (ibid.). Despite this focus on the experience of all cinemagoers, the audience was to be divided based on ticket price both outside and inside the premises. “The building stands on a corner site, thus enabling the 3d. entrance to be distinct from the 6d. and 1s., [and once inside, the] 1s. seats are distinguished from the 6d. by neat squares of crochet work on the backs” (ibid.). The management did not, however, show the same attention to detail in securing the required official documents, and it was prosecuted on 20 November for operating without a cinematograph licence (“Sandford Cinema Theatre”). Nevertheless, Inspector Gray of the Dublin Metropolitan Police testified that the premises were “extremely comfortable and suitable in every way for a picture theatre. The pictures he had seen were excellent” (ibid.).

Elsewhere – and almost everywhere – war films remained popular. When Dublin’s Daily Express reviewed In the Hands of the Kindly Dutch at the Rotunda in early November, it emphasized the personal response many in the audience might have made to topical films about the war. The film “shows the division of the Naval Brigade who were interned in Holland after the surrender of Antwerp , and was so clear that anyone could recognise a relative or friend” (“The Rotunda Pictures”). In the same week, the Kinemacolor matinees at the Theatre Royal were providing colour films of the front. The fact that these films were shown in such a large theatre rather than in one of the smaller picture houses indicates that the management expected considerable interest in them, and it went out of its way to create further publicity. “On the kind invitation of the management,” the Express reported, “a number of wounded soldiers attended the [Kinemacolor war films] yesterday, and received quite an ovation from the large audience. Others who were unable to attend will be present this afternoon” (“Theatre Royal”).

Evening Telegraph 28 Nov. 1914: 6.

Evening Telegraph 28 Nov. 1914: 6.

Although the Express observed that “[t]he audience yesterday was unreservedly enthusiastic concerning the display” of war pictures at the matinee, certain members of the audience at the Theatre Royal were neither enthusiastic nor reserved about patriotic displays at the theatre’s live evening show (“Picture Matinees”). On 2 November, a group of young men wearing republican badges protested by booing, hissing and groaning when, during one musical number, several Union Jack flags were unfurled and the orchestra played “Rule Britannia.” When 18-year-old Thomas Smart refused to stop, he was arrested and fined 40 shillings in court (“Scene in Theatre Royal”).

Ad for two Irish-themed films from the US production company Domino; Bioscope 12 Mar. 1914: xviii.

Ad for two Irish-themed films from the US production company Domino; Bioscope 12 Mar. 1914: xviii.

Smart and his fellow protestors might have been more appreciative of the Irish week run by the Masterpiece at the end of November. The main film was True Irish Hearts (US: Domino, 1914), supported by The Filly (US: Domino, 1913), Rory O’More (US: Kalem, 1911), The O’Neill (US: Kalem, 1912), films of Irish scenic landscapes and a topical of the Castlebellingham Feis and Louth Volunteers. During the previous week, manager Cathal McGarvey “had appeared personally at each performance during the week in his original humorous monologues, and these met with a great reception, there being no better humorous reciter in Dublin than Mr. McGarvey” (Paddy, 19 Nov.). For the Masterpiece’s Irish Week, however, McGarvey allowed popular baritone W.A. Sheehan to enhance the live musical accompaniment by singing Irish songs (“An Irish Week”). These kinds of Irish Weeks were not new, but they were facilitated by the fact that such producers as Domino and Kalem were continuing to make Irish subjects. The Domino titles were new ones, available through Western Import since March and April 1914, but the Kalem ones were older titles that required that a distributor – in this case, the Express Film Service – hold on to them for such events.

References

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

—. “Limelight on the Colleen Bawn: Resisting Autoexoticism in Provincial Irish Picture Houses in the Early 1910s.” Les cinémas périphériques dans la période des premiers temps. Peripheral Early Cinema: Domitor 2008. Perpignan: PU Perpignan, 2010. 245-255.

“Dublin and District: Ranelagh’s New Picture House.” Irish Independent 10 Nov, 1914: 4.

“Film Reviewer Appointed.” Bioscope 19 Nov. 1914: 706.

“An Irish Week at the Masterpiece.” Evening Telegraph 28 Nov. 1914: 6.

“Jottings from Ulster.” Bioscope 13 Nov. 1913: 589; 5 Nov. 1914: 543; 12 Nov. 1914: 647.

“New Picture Theatre in Ranelagh.” Evening Herald 3 Nov. 1914: 4.

Paddy. “Pictures in Ireland.” Bioscope 24 Jul. 1913: 267; 7 Aug. 1913: 413; 13 Nov. 1913: 601; 5 Nov. 1914: 525; 19 Nov. 1914: 736.

“Picture Matinees at the Theatre Royal.” Daily Express 3 Nov. 1914: 8.

“Programmes Changed Daily: An Injustice to Good Productions.” Bioscope 19 Nov 1914: 789.

Rockett, Kevin and Emer. Film Exhibition and Distribution in Ireland, 1909-2010. Dublin Four Courts, 2011.

“The Rotunda Pictures.” Daily Express 3 Nov. 1914, 2.

“Rotunda Pictures.” Evening Telegraph 7 Nov. 1914: 6.

“Scene in Theatre Royal: A Row in the Gallery.” Daily Express 4 Nov. 4 1914: 3.

“Sandford Cinema Theatre.” Evening Telegraph 21 Nov. 1914: 4.

“Trade Topics.” Bioscope 26 Nov. 1914: 821.