Film in 1913

By Rory O'Donnell

I recently discovered the archives of early film magazine ‘The Moving Picture World’ covering just April to June 1913.  Fascinating reading, it mainly made me realize how little has changed: distributors cozying up to exhibitors, big US stars coming to the UK to make movies and, of course, lamentations on the state of the British film industry.

I’m hoping to slip a little nugget into each week’s newsletter, and to start here’s a letter received by a Mr Hadley who edited scripts (then called Photoplays) for Carlton motion Pictures:

‘I have sent your firm a few photoplays since last week and have had them returned. Before I sent them to you I was praised by my friends for them liking them, so I do not see why you returned them unless you had some awful reason. I was sure to receive a check for them. Is it possible that any firm would copy a photoplay then return it?
Hoping to hear from you soon explaining me all.’

As the magazine writer goes on to say ‘That’s the trouble about half the time. The friends of the author praise up his puny efforts and the only answer to the rejection is that the plots were stolen and the scripts returned.’  Sound familiar?

Some more advice to 'photoplay' writers from 'Moving Picture World' magazine, 1913:

"The secret of inspiration is work - and then more work. Ruskin has told of how he studied the lives of the world's greatest artists in order to learn, if he might, the fundamental elements of their success. By one thing only was he impressed: the immense

amount of work that each one produced. Among them all there was not one who waited for inspiration to come before he took up his brush. Each one possessed the capacity for hard and unremitting toil; and out of this toil were born the masterpieces upon which their fame rests today."

The Moving Picture World Tackles Censorship

"It is alleged that the stories told by some motion pictures tend to lead to the commission of crimes. Grant, for the sake of argument, that this is true and then apply it to the public press. Take an issue of the New York World of the past week and read how robbers attacked a woman in her home. Note the details of the crime given in the article; how the robbers approached the victim; the materials used to gag, bind and blindfold her, and the manner in which they were applied. It is extremely doubtful that the authorities can point to a motion picture now on the market that is more faithful to the details of a criminal operation than was given in the article referred to."

British Trade Exhibition

Moving Picture Symposium in London — Fourteen Picture Theaters in One.(Specially Reported By Our Own Representative.)

SATURDAY, March 22 will be an important date in the
history of the moving picture industry in Great Britain,
for on that day was opened in London, under most
distinguished auspices, the first industrial exhibition ever
held in this country in connection with development of the
kinema as an educational, scientific and entertaining factor.
A good deal of misapprehension, however, has existed both
in England and America respecting trade representation at
the British International Kinematograph Exhibition and it
is the unanimous opinion of many important men in the
trade that the only deplorable circumstance of the enterprise
is the aloofness of the British Film Manufacturers Associa-
tion, which refuses to recognize officially the exhibition.
(The British film establishment being aloof to new ideas? Surely not!)
Beyond this the organizer, Mr. Ernest Schofield, a gentleman
with extensive experience here in the promotion of industrial
exhibitions, has had every facility in his task from both the
picture theater people and film producers and manufacturers.
The admirable manner in which the larger producing syn-
dicates have fallen in with the idea was most encouraging,
and this fact was favorably commented upon at the opening
ceremony, which was creditably performed by the well known
educationalist Sir Albert K. Rollit. An exhaustive list of
church, social and educational dignitaries appeared as patrons
of the exhibition, and some of them actually participated along
with prominent American and English trade representatives
in its business management.

The Exhibits.

Undoubtedly the first and foremost exhibit in historic impor-
tance was that lent for the occasion by the moving picture
pioneer, Mr. Friese Greene. As is well known in America
it was Mr. Greene who made the first moving picture pro-
jector and showed it at the Chester Photographic Conven-
tion in 1890. Mr. Greene personally explained his apparatus
at a private view and his "first machine in the world" looks
very much like a combination of a magic wheel such as
one finds in penny bazaars and an old lantern.
(Haven't heard of Friese Green? Watch Robert Donat in 'The Magic Box (1952))

(And now, the world's first video game? Flamingo hunt!)
A notable feature of the exhibition was the manner in which the exhibits and stands were displayed in such a fashion as to make the whole show attractive to the man in the street and not necessarily confined in interest to those in the trade. The fourteen theaters were arranged in one long avenue and the stands were in the annexes. Many novelties in the form of kinema adaptations delighted the huge London crowd which visited Olympia on Easter Monday and probably the most popular was the moving picture target. It is really a combination between the moving picture show and the shooting gallery. Pictures are projected on to the screen in the ordinary course and the patrons shoot at the moving objects with rifles. As each shot goes through the screen a small hole of light is reflected from the back and by some ordinary synchronizing device the film in the gate stops dead at the precise second that the bullet pierces the screen.

This shows exactly how and where the kinema-sportsman has hit his mark. I had several shots myself and successfully bagged seven cavalrymen, two aviators, four lions, a tiger, a motor omnibus, and a flamingo in ten minutes. The attendant promised to send along the skins. I have already heard from representatives of large amusement syndicates that the living target is to be the premier attraction on the South Shore at Blackpool (England's Coney Island), this summer.

(1913's Got Talent!)

Another attraction equally diverting to the multitude was the photo-acting competition, suggested no doubt by the recent offer of the Cines Co. of £1,000 for the best scenario. At one end of the hall was erected a stage fitted up like the average picture producing studio. Aspirants to photoplaying were invited to give the crowd below an exhibition of their powers in the fixed role of someone who receives a letter containing a legacy but which afterward turns out fictitious.

The preliminary tests occupied the first four days and several thousands of amateur actors faced the dummy camera, including all persons from maid servants to society ladies, and even the manager of a provincial theater competed. The final will not be "played off" until next week and I hear that some arrangement is being made by British film manufacturers to give the successful players a practical opportunity to show what they can do.

Other competitions included a test for operators both at spool changing and in case of the film firing, and one for pianists who were required to sit down and improvise music to a film they had not seen before. Medals were awarded to the successful competitors in both cases.
(Pay attention, here comes the science bit)
The recently formed "Boroid" company had a most interesting stand on which their new fireproof film base was demonstrated. I asked the manager in charge to "frizzle" a piece of the film, which he did, by holding six or seven inches in the flame of a large spirit lamp. Rightly enough the film frizzled but there was no trace of flame, and this was proved beyond doubt when he placed a piece upon some red-hot tin and still it only frizzled. A few other devices were on show, but were mostly of the nature of fire preventing attachments.

One consisted of a steel jar to be attached to the side of the projector containing a chemical fire-extinguishing solution and which by pressing a lever was squirted into the "gate" of the machine and surrounding parts. I am afraid, however, that this device will never prove popular to operators averse to water as the demonstration resembled something like a miniature shower-bath. There was some talk at one time of submitting these and other appliances to the Royal Commission appointed to investigate celluloid dangers, but so far nothing has been heard of the matter; but the Berlin police, after subjecting Boroid film to most rigorous tests, have decided to grant extra privileges to theaters using it.

Sound Instruments.

It would seem from the many mechanical musical instruments shown at Olympia that, so far as the smaller shows are concerned, the orchestra will soon be swept out of existence. A most ingenious contrivance which attracted endless attention was a violin-playing instrument. The sceptic showman will ask "How can a machine draw a bow across a fiddle with accurate musical expression." That is not the point. The violin plays the bow, the latter remaining stationary throughout. The invention consists of a three-legged frame to which is attached three violins, close together and all in line. Across the three is stretched a huge bow and when the motor is set going and the sound regulator fed with paper music rools the three play together. Pneumatic stops regulate the strings instead of fingers.
(Who needs THX Dolby when you've got 'The Stentorian)

The stentorian was another device which attracted endless notice. It was really an elaboration of the gramaphone except in stentorian notes which could be heard from one end of the building to the other. Combinations of pianos, organs, orchestrions and violins were exhibited by the dozen and all were under electric control, compact, and regulated on the press-the-button principle.

Machines for sound effects were as common as flies on a July morning and the cacophanic catastrophes produced by some were bewildering in the extreme. One small instrument, for instance, no larger than a sewing machine and known as the "Kinesounder," almost produced a panic. The operator pressed seven of its levers down simultaneously; then immediately fire alarms rang, police whistles blew, the fire engine hooter huzzed, horses galloped and vehicles rattled, timber cracked as though burning and passable imitations of falling floors and roofs were interspersed with many other noises of a fire scene. This machine produces about fifty other different stage noises with one of the most realistic resemblances of smashing crockery I have ever heard.
Trade Secrets.

Both in respect to projectors, cameras, and film produc-
ing apparatus columns could be written of new and improved
adaptions on view at Olympia, but a few of the most notable
must suffice. The newest thing in studio cameras resembled
a big naval gun more than anything. It was constructed
of heavy, thick steel and laid in a foundation of steel bed-
plates, while on all sides were myriads of handles and levers.
The new gyroscope hand camera and one worked by compressed
air were also exhibited. The camera used by Mr. H.
Ponting near the South Pole attracted more than passing

The process of artificially coloring films with stencil plates
has hitherto been regarded as secret, but the "Pathecolor"
system was openly demonstrated at the firm's stand. Several
complicated machines were used for the stencil plates which
were cut by means of 'the positive image of the film being
projected on to ground glass, traced over with a pantograph,
and the deflections of the needle transmitted to a second
positive film, which is actually the stencil plate. To follow
this through for the thousands of exposures on a short film
would seem tedious, but the rapidity of the operator was
amazing. When the stencils are cut they are fed in exact
juxtaposition with an uncolored positive through a tinting
machine which colors the films by running them in contact
with bands soaked in aniline dyes. Only one color is applied
at a time so that elaborately colored films must be run
through the machine perhaps eight or ten times.

No advertising novelties of a sensational character were
shown. The Essanay Co. had a huge balloon suspended from
the roof, but most other firms depended upon throwaways or
posters. The "Moving Picture World" along with a dozen
other trade journals was represented and referred to eu-
logistically by the "Kinematograph Daily," a bright little
daily record of the exhibition published by Mr. E. T. Heron
(1913 - Everything changes, everything stays the same)

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About The Author

Rory O'DonnellAfter gaining a Masters degree in Ancient and Medieval History and excavating the most northerly leper colony found in the British Isles Rory took the natural next step of training as an actor. Following a career which including being directed by Stephen Daldry in the West End and shooting aliens on the HMS Belfast he then began making short films and travelling the world until all his money ran out.

Rory first volunteered at the Raindance Film festival in 2000, was print traffic coordinator for the festival in 2008 & 2009. In 2009 he became course director. He also works occasionally as a casting director, with four features and many shorts to his credit.


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