Bryony Dixon (BFI National Archive), Béatrice De Pâstre (CNC) and Mariann Lewinsky
1899: Year 4 of Cinema – International Mutoscope & Biograph: Fin-de-siècle in a leisure mood
Cinéma pur: They made this film five times the standard length, so as to give the audience the full thrill and take it from one end of the bridge to the other. The experience has inspired Stanley Kubrick to create the famous sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Back to the Future: Delegates from all over the world arrive in Haarlem to attend the First Hague Peace Conference. In the 20 th century, war will be abolished and nations will resolve their conflicts by diplomacy. Pas de progrès dans le plaisir: The joy of jumping into the water cannot be improved, it is and has always been perfect. The Great Beauty, I+II: Does the eye of the beholder impart grandeur to these two views or were they made to be monuments of both capitalism and bolshevism, celebrating work and its product? Magical Mystery Tour: More ghost rides please. “Why film pigs?” asked my friend. Because living pictures or animated photographs need the movement of live actors, and six pigs and some hens will do just fine. Fun on a Sandhill: A film about having fun on a sandhill. Today there are two ferries leaving behind Amsterdam station. One takes you right to EYE Filmmuseum, the other slightly to the east, to Tolhuis, a short ten minutes walk to the EYE building. This ferry was there in 1899; the Filmmuseum not.
Across Brooklyn Bridge • Aankomst der vredesconferentie te Haarlem • In a German Bath • Tapping a Blast Furnace • Launch of the ‘Oceania’ • In der Friedrichstrasse • An Irish Peasant Scene – Feeding Pigs • Fun on a Sandhill • Naar ‘t Tolhuis
Recovered and restored: Wide-gauge films from the Mutoscope & Biograph company 1897-1902
The Biograph group of companies was a remarkable venture in the formative years of moving pictures. Its unique selling point was the quality of its sharp and steady images provided by the large 68mm format, motorised camera and high frame rate. Biograph set up a company in London and from there, other European cities so guaranteeing the supply of films to its premiere venues in each of the countries. W.K.L. Dickson, one of the Company’s founders, travelled back to England in 1897 after his long career in the US to establish these links but despite being an engineer focused very much on the supply of content, rather than hardware, for the big screen and for its individual viewer, the Mutoscope. The chosen venue for the American Biograph, as it was always known, was London’s Palace Theatre of Varieties where it had an exclusive residency till 1902 for its premiere product. Dickson’s films were characterised by an international outlook with an interest in celebrity, royalty and entertainers, travel, sporting fixtures and industrial and military demonstrations. A European tour took Dickson to Italy in 1898 to film Pope Leo XIII and in 1899 to South Africa to report directly from the Boer war. A collection of 68mm Biograph films was acquired by the BFI – National Archive in 1969 from the widow of Dr Rolf S. Schultze, formerly curator of the Kodak Museum in Harrow. Another cache of Biographs were discovered in the offices of a newspaper in the Hague in 1948 and is now held at the EYE Filmmuseum.
A first restoration project in the 1990s led by the Dutch archive at Haghefilm lab transferred the 68mm films onto 35mm. In 2018, BFI – National Archive, again in collaboration with Eye Filmmuseum and Haghefilm, undertook the digital restoration of the BFI’s Biograph films and a selection of British made titles held at EYE. The size of the nitrate copies and their lack of transportation perforations, made rostrum shooting the best method of image capture of each individual frame by a digital camera at 8K.
Charge of the Carabineers, Aldershot • Four Warships in Rough Seas • Warships at Sunset • Battleship Odin Firing All Her Guns
1899: Year 4 of cinema – Indochina occupied
Gabriel Veyre, epitome of the far-flung Lumière operator, organised screenings and the filming of vues in New York, Mexico, Guadeloupe, Cuba, Venezuela, Martinique, Colombia, Canada, Japan and China. He spent most of 1899 in French Indochina, returning to Paris in time for the 1900 Exposition where a series of his films was screened (“to create the illusion of life in Indochina”) as a side-dish to a programme of painted dioramas. The venue was a cave-like temple of reinforced concrete underneath the Cambodian pagoda-pavilion designed by Alexandre Marcel.
Today, the catalogue of the colonial section of the 1900 Paris Exhibition reads like a textbook example of fake news, assuring the public that occupation is for the best of the occupied people and explaining how much they enjoy being colonised. “No secret hostility appears on the face of the [Vietnamese] people, used for centuries to such terrible servitude that they cannot help but see in us their liberators. It will be easy to make them love us”, wrote Albert Quantin in L’Exposition du siècle (1900).
The occupation of Indochina started in 1857; by 1893 what is today Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos was under colonial rule. The French imposed forced labour and ever-increasing per capita taxes, which robbed the peasant population of land and crops, transforming them into a landless labour force for the mines, plantations and building sites, where they were suffering unbearable working conditions and malnutrition. As a child I was told that people in Asia lived on one bowl of rice a day, with the implication that they were born this way and did not need any more.
Le Village de Namo: panorama pris d’une chaise à porteurs • Transport des bois par radeaux • Mandarins venant saluer le roi • Danseuses cambodgiennes du roi Norodom, I-II • Courses d’ensemble des régates (rameurs assis) • Promenade du dragon à Cholon, III • Le Gouverneur général se rendant à bord de “La Tamise” pour assister aux courses de régates • Les Tirailleurs • Coolies à Saigon • Les Mines de charbon de Hon Gay • Passage en chaises à porteurs au col des Nuages (Annam) • La Ferme Vaudelet et Faraud. Sortie de l’étable • Déchargement du four à briques • Enfants annamites ramassant des sapèques devant la pagode des dames • La Sortie de l’arsenal
The experimental filmmaker Peter Hutton – all his movies are shot and exhibited on 16mm – recalls his time as a US Merchant Marine in south-east Asia. The film is shot in black and white and screened without sound. The film diary (in his own words, “diaristic without being autobiographical”) portrays a visit to a foreign culture and resembles therefore travelogues from the first years of filmmaking. It is not just the black-and-white film stock, the silence, the mapping of foreign culture and the static long takes that echo early cinema. The way that Hutton is able to transfer his fascination at capturing the world through a camera lens to the audience is infectious. This was the essence of early filmmaking, back in the first years after the movie camera was invented.
Cast and Credits
F., Prod.: Peter Hutton. 16mm. L.: 286 m. D.: 26’. Bn
Across Brooklyn Bridge
Aankomst der vredesconferentie te Haarlem, 4 juni 1899
In a German Bath
Tapping a Blast Furnace – Newcastle
Launch of the ‘Oceania’
In der Friedrichstrasse
An Irish Peasant Scene – Feeding Pigs
Fun on a Sandhill
Naar ‘t Tolhuis
Charge of the Carabineers, Aldershot
Four Warships in Rough Seas
Warships at Sunset
Battleship Odin Firing All Her Guns
Le Village de Namo: panorama pris d’une chaise à porteurs
Transport des bois par radeaux
Mandarins venant saluer le roi
Danseuses cambodgiennes du roi Norodom, I
Danseuses cambodgiennes du roi Norodom, II
Courses d’ensemble des régates (rameurs assis)
Promenade du dragon à Cholon, III
Le Gouverneur général se rendant à bord de “La Tamise” pour assister aux courses de régates
Coolies à Saigon
Les Mines de charbon de Hon Gay
Passage en chaises à porteurs au col des Nuages (Annam)
La Ferme Vaudelet et Faraud. Sortie de l’étable
Déchargement du four à briques
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