Dr Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon

A view of Philip James de Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon (1782), British Museum (via Wikipedia)

Source: Ephraim Hardcastle [W.H. Pyne], extracts from chapter ‘Dr Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon’, in Wine and Walnuts, or, After dinner chit-chat (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1823), pp. 284-290, 295-298, 302-304

Text: The stage on which the Eidophusikon was represented, was little more than six feet wide, and about eight feet in depth; yet such was the painter’s knowledge of effect and scientific arrangement, and the scenes which he described were so completely illusive, that the space appeared to recede for many miles, and his horizon seemed as palpably distant from the eye, as the extreme termination of the view would appear in nature.

The opening subject of the Eidophusikon represented the view from the summit of One-tree Hill, in Greenwich Park, looking up the Thames to the Metropolis; on one side, conspicuous upon its picturesque eminence, stood Flamstead House; and below, on the right, the grand mass of building, Greenwich Hospital, with its imposing cupolas, cut out of pasteboard, and painted with architectural correctness. The large groups of trees formed another division, behind which were the towns of Greenwich and Deptford, with the shore on each side stretching to the metropolis, which was seen in its vast extent, from Chelsea to Poplar. Behind were the hills of Hampstead, Highgate, and Harrow; and the intermediate space was occupied by the flat stage, as the pool or port of London, crowded with shipping, each mass of which being cut out in pasteboard, and receding in size by the perspective of their distance. The heathy appearance of the fore-ground was constructed of cork, broken into the rugged and picturesque forms of a sand-pit, covered with minute mosses and lichens, producing a captivating effect, amounting indeed to reality.

This scene, on the rising of the curtain, was enveloped in that mysterious light which is the precursor of day-break, so true to nature, that the imagination of the spectator sniffed the sweet breath of morn. A faint light appeared along the horizon; the scene assumed a vapourish tint of grey; presently a gleam of saffron, changing to the pure varieties that tinge the fleecy clouds that pass away in morning mist; the picture brightened by degrees; the sun appeared, gilding the tops of the trees and the projections of the lofty buildings, and burnishing the vanes on the cupolas; when the whole scene burst upon the eye in the gorgeous splendour of a beauteous day.

The clouds in every scene had a natural motion, and they were painted in semi-transparent colours, so that they not only received light in front, but, by a greater intensity of the argand lamps, were susceptible of being illuminated from behind. The linen on which they were painted was stretched on frames of twenty times the surface of the stage, which rose diagonally by a winding machine. De Loutherbourg, who excelled in representing the phenomena of clouds, may be said to have designed a series of effects on the same frame; thus, the first gleam of morn led to the succeeding increase of light; and the motion being oblique, the clouds first appeared from beneath the horizon, rose to a meridian, and floated fast or slow, according to their supposed density, or the power of the wind.

To illuminate the interesting scenes for this display of nature, the ingenious projector had constructed his lights to throw their power in front of the scenes; and this plan might be tried with advantage for spectacles, and particular effects at least, on the great stages of our magnificent theatres. The lamps on De Loutherbourg’s stage were above the proscenium, and hidden from the audience, instead of being unnaturally placed as we are accustomed to see them, by which the faces of the performers are illuminated, like Michael Angelo’s Satan, from the regions below; thus throwing on their countenances a preternatural character, in defiance of all their well studied science of facial passion and expression. What painter ever dreamt of inverting the order of nature so entirely as to light the human countenance upwards? And why depart so strangely from truth upon the stage? The expression would be increased tenfold by lighting from above the proscenium. — For how infinitely more impressive is the emotion of the passions, when described with the spacious orbit of the eye in that deep shadow which the grand gusto of the historic style of painting has adopted — the majesty of intellectual intelligence is seen to rest upon the human brow. Nothing can outrage truth, or do so much violence to that delicate expression, which is the soul of acting, when addressed to the philosophical mind, as to view the bold projection of the chin, the subordinate and characteristic prominence of the nose, the upper part of the orbits of the eyes, instead of forming harmonious shadows, glaring in the blaze of stage-lamps, each a separate touch of light. Were the other method adopted for illuminating the stage, the scenes would recede, in their respective distances; the front and most prominent characters would cast a shadow on those in the second ground, and the general effect would assume the superior light and shadow of nature in manifold combinations, such as we behold on the historical groups of the great masters. Why should we continue to tolerate absurdities upon the stage, to the manifest injustice of those fine and masterly traits, as exhibited in the actor’s “anatomy of expression?” which might, but for this, serve as a school for the painter to study the rudiments of rage, anger, terror, guilt, jealousy, and other potent passions operating on the human visage, with that marked expression which the science of certain great actors can personate at will.

Before the line of brilliant lamps, on the stage of the Eidophusikon, were slips of stained glass; yellow, red, green, purple, and blue: by the shifting of which, the painter could throw a tint upon the scenery, compatible with the time of day which he represented, and by a single slip, or their combinations, could produce a magical effect; thus giving a general hue of cheerfulness, sublimity, or awfulness, subservient to the phenomena of his scene. This too might be adopted on the regular stage, were the ingenious machinists of the scene-room to set their wits to work; and at no vast expence, since the improvements of lighting with gas.


Gainsborough was so wrapt in delight with the Eidophusikon, that for a time he thought of nothing else — he talked of nothing else — and passed his evenings at that exhibition in long succession. Gainsborough, himself a great experimentalist, could not fail to admire scenes wrought to such perfection by the aid of so many collateral inventions. Loutherbourg’s genius was as prolific in imitations of nature to astonish the ear, as to charm the sight. He introduced a new art — the picturesque of sound.

I can never forget the awful impression that was excited by his ingenious contrivance to produce the effect of the firing of a signal of distress, in his sea-storm. That appalling sound, which he that had been exposed to the terrors of a raging tempest could not listen to, even in this mimic scene, without being reminded of the heart-sickening answer, which sympathetic danger had reluctantly poured forth from his own loud gun — a hoarse sound to the howling wind, that proclaimed, “I too, holy Heaven! need that succour I fain would lend!”

De Loutherbourg had tried many schemes to effect this; but none were satisfactory to his nice ear, until he caused a large skin to be dressed into parchment, which was fastened by screws to a circular frame, forming a vast tambourine; to this was attached a compact sponge that went upon a whalebone spring; which,s truck with violence, gave the effect of a near explosion; a more gentle blow, that of a far-off gun; and the reverberation of the sponge produced a marvellous imitation of the echo from to cloud, dying away into silence.

The thunder was no less natural, and infinitely grand: a spacious sheet of thin copper was suspended by a chain, which, shaken by one of the lower corners, produced the distant rumbling, seemingly below the horizon; and as the clouds rolled on, approached nearer and nearer, increasing peal by peal, until, following rapidly the lightning’s zig-zag flash, which was admirably vivid and sudden, it burst in a tremendous crash immediately over-head.

Once, being at the Eidophusikon, with a party of intelligent friends, when this scene was performing over Exeter ‘Change, I had the felicity to experience a most interesting treat. I had often wished for an opportunity to compare the effect of the awful phenomenon — a thunder storm, with this imitative thunder of De Loutherbourg’s. A lady exclaimed, “It lightens!” and, in great agitation, pointed to an aperture that admitted air to the upper seats. The consternation caused by this discovery, induced many to retire to the lobby, some of whom, moved by terror or superstition, observed, “that the exhibition was presumptuous.” We moved to the gallery, and opening a door, stood upon the landing place, where we could compare the real with the artificial storm. When the exhibition was over, and were tired to sup with one of our party, the worthy James Christie, in Pall Mall, we naturally went into the merits of this scenic display; when it was sagely determined, that man was an extraordinary creature, who could create a copy of Nature, to be taken for Nature’s self.


But the most impressive scene, which formed the finale of the exhibition, was that representing the region of the fallen angels, with Satan arraying his troops on the banks of the Fiery Lake, and the rising of the Palace of Pandaemonium, as described by the pen of Milton. De Loutherbourg had already displayed his graphic powers in his scenes of fire, upon a great scale, at the public theatre — scenes which had astonished and terified [sic] the audience; but in this he astonished himself, — for he had not conceived the power of light that might be thrown upon a scenic display, until he made the experiment on his own circumscribed stage. Here, in the foreground of a vista, stretching an immeasurable length between mountains, ignited from their bases to their lofty summits, with many-coloured flame, a chaotic mass rose in dark majesty, which gradually assumed form until it stood, the interior of a vast temple of gorgeous architecture, bright as molten brass, seemingly composed of unconsuming and unquenchable fire. In this tremendous scene, the effect of coloured glasses before the lamps was fully displayed; which, being hidden from the audience, threw their whole influence upon the scene, as it rapidly changed, now to a sulphurous blue, then to a lurid red, and then again to a pale vivid light, and ultimately to a mysterious combination of the glasses, such as a bright furnace exhibits, in fusing various metals. The sounds which accompanied the wondrous picture, struck the astonished ear of the spectator as no less preternatural; for, to add a more awful character to peals of thunder, and the accompaniments of all the hollow machinery that hurled balls and stones with indescribable rumbling and noise, an expert assistant swept his thumb over the surface of the tambourine, which produced a variety of groans, that struck the imagination as issuing from infernal spirits.

Such was De Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon; and would that it were in being now, when the love of the fine arts has spread in so vast a degree! — that knowledge which would have appreciated its merits having increased a thousand-fold, since the period when the greatest scene-painter in the world was induced to dispose of his wondrous little stage, because the age could not produce amateurs sufficient, after two seasons, to muster an audience to pay for lighting his theatre!

Comments: William Henry Pyne (1769-1843) was a British writer, painter and illustrator, who wrote under the pseudonym Ephraim Hardcastle. The Eidophusikon was the invention of Franco-British artist and scenery designer Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812). It was a form of mechanical theatre, showing landscape pictures whose visual features changed through a system of pulleys, mirrors, coloured glass, with sound effects, though the exact mechanics are not known. There were three versions. The first was exhibited at De Loutherbourg’s home in Lisle Street, Leicester Square, London February-May 1781. The second, with additional scenes introduced, including the ‘Pandaemonium’ sequence, was exhibited January 1872 to some time in 1873. The third, that witnessed by Pyne, opened at Exeter Change on the Strand, London, in 1786. The venture was not a financial success, partly because De Loutherbourg could not keep up with audience demand for new scenes. The invention and its artworks do not survive.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust


Source: Ricky Tomlinson, Ricky (London: Time Warner Books, 2003), pp. 23-24

Text: My other escape was the cinema where it cost only a couple coppers to go to a Saturday matinee at the Everton Picture Palace. As well as the main feature there were normally a couple of shorts and a Pathé Newsreel about the aftermath of the war. The Germans were booed and the British Tommies were cheered.

As the light from the projector shone on to the screen we threw bits of orange peel into the air, which looked like falling stars as they fell through the light. The usher – a war veteran – would hobble down the aisle, saying, ‘Oh aye, who’s throwing that bloody peel? Yer out on your ear if I catch you.’

Liverpool seemed to be full of fellas like that – a legion of injured heroes who became doormen, ushers and lift attendants, or worked the market stalls.

From the moment the credits rolled and the landscape flashed up showing wide open plains, I groaned, ‘Bloody hell, not another Western.’ I hated cowboy films, but my mates loved them. They came out afterwards ‘shooting’ people with their fingers and smacking their arses as they ‘rode’ home.

Sometimes I’d sneak around the corner and see a romance or a comedy, but I couldn’t tell anyone. As with my writing, the lads wouldn’t have understood.

That’s how I discovered the Old Mother Riley films. Arthur Lucan and his wife Kitty McShane were the biggest box-office stars of their day. Lucan would dress up in a frock and play Old Mother Riley, a gossipy Irish washerwoman, while Kitty played the headstrong daughter. I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks.

Inspired by these films, I convinced a mate of mine, Davey Steee, that we should put on a show for the neighbourhood kids and charge them a penny at the door. I walked the streets banging on a metal drum to publicise the show, while Davey hung a sack for the curtain in the loft over his garage. The audience were literally packed to the rafters as I donned one of Mam’s frocks and did my own version of Old Mother Riley.

This was my first experience of acting – unless you count trying to con my little brothers into doing chores for me. From memory it wasn’t a bravura performance, but none of the kids asked for their money back. Most of them were included in the show, which proved a clever ploy. I’ve been improvising ever since.

At the Lytton cinema on Everton Road you could see a movie for empty jam jars, which had a deposit on them. One of us would get a ticket and go inside, where he opened the back door for the rest of us. We couldn’t all sneak in at once – it would have been too obvious – so each of us had to wait until someone in the cinema went to the toilet. Then we ambled back into the auditorium, without arising suspicion. The ushers must have known, but they never kicked off.

Comments: Ricky Tomlinson (1939 – ) is a British actor and political activist, best known for the television series The Royle Family. His childhood was spent in Liverpool. There were fifteen Old Mother Riley films made between 1937 and 1952.

My London Film Education

Source: Julien Allen, ‘My London Film Education’, Reverse Shot, 12 December 2014, http://reverseshot.org/features/1971/escape_london

Text: Ostensibly studying law in London from 1990 to 1992, I was in fact, despite myself, studying cinema — but strictly as a naïve autodidact. I kept up with Dilys Powell’s last pieces in the Times and followed Derek Malcolm (The Guardian) and Nigel Andrew (FT), yet my textbooks of choice weren’t those of Pauline Kael or Andrew Sarris but a fat Halliwell’s Guide and Time Out listings. Arrogantly — and wrongly — I doubted I could learn from the page something I couldn’t learn better from the screen. I shunned Sight & Sound because I didn’t trust it; it felt to me like uppity English critics “playing cinema.” For my freshman and sophomore years of film education, London was a vital, liberating platform, but I spent the following two years studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, whose infrastructure was, by comparison, simply awe-inspiring. Paris was a city whose Latin Quarter theaters alone (Action Écoles, Grand Action, Action Gitanes, Champo, Épée de Bois, Reflet Medicis, Pantheon, Studio Galande) had repertory programmes which obliterated London’s entirely, replete with massive retrospectives — all Chaplin, all Welles, all Renoir, all Fellini, all Ozu talkies — relentless, heaving listings, subsidized festivals of film cropping up all year round (e.g. Arabic film, children’s film, slapstick, German expressionist, etc.) and even on one Sunday morning, twenty Tex Avery shorts in 16mm. Emboldened by the known pedigree of French film writing, I also started reading criticism properly in Paris: Trafic, Cahiers du cinéma, Positif, Les Inrockuptibles.

Paris was a homecoming of sorts because I had first succumbed to the idea of cinephilia at age sixteen during a school year in France when I had been struck with admiration at how seriously films were being taken, by comparison to England. By the time I got to college in London in 1990, eager to indulge this new obsession, cinema had become for me an antisocial, self-indulgent, and, above all, solitary pursuit. It was a secret I didn’t feel any urge to share. I got into films neither to fit in (no one I knew was interested) nor to make new friends (the idea of being part of a “film community” would have been insufferable to me then, even had there been one) nor to stand out from the crowd (being a film buff isn’t crazy to civilians, just dull). I wasn’t even particularly keen to talk to people about films, I was just interested in consuming them: greedily and without restraint. Going to the pictures whenever I wanted, without having to ask permission, was freedom. It was also an addiction to something that both felt good and — unlike most addictions — healthy. Going two or three times a day instead of going to lectures or getting drunk in the student union bar seemed not at all abnormal.

In this respect, it was my good fortune to arrive in London just in time. The eighties had bitten down hard, and the repertory scene was on a gurney, approaching the operating table. TV channels had started showing films all year round, VHS rental shops had opened in petrol stations, and more than eighty percent of theaters in Britain had shut down or converted to bingo halls during the preceding decade. I arrived in the capital during a hiatus (which was later to be filled by DVD and the multiplex). In the early nineties, London’s remaining rep cinemas were slashing prices and recycling their stock in the hope of staving off the inevitable. The market followed: an impoverished student with a bus pass, like me, could englut himself.

You can get a sense of the strangeness of early 90s filmgoing in London from one particular experience I had after a long Friday-night journey on public transport. I don’t remember (and cannot find) the name of the venue — an unprepossessing shack below a railway bridge in Acton, no trace of which now remains—but I promise you it existed. I vividly recall three things from my only trip there: first, you could buy beer in the foyer and take it into the screening; second, the image on the screen was from an old 80s LCD projector (an angry walkout-inducing observation today, a shoulder-shrugging reality then); third, I was completely alone in the theater for the entire duration of a double bill of Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart. Acton, a West London district straddling the boroughs of Ealing and Hammersmith, had once housed Britain’s largest cinema, the Globe, as well as the equally impressive Dominion — opened by Gracie Fields in 1938. Add to this the Crown in Mill Hill Place, the popular King Street Odeon, and the identity-disorder-suffering Cinematograph in Horn Lane (latterly the Kinema, the Carlton and the Rex), and Acton had been a beacon of London cinephilia right up until the 1960s. In 1990 you could watch a David Lynch double bill alone, on the world’s largest television (the only cinema now in Acton is the nine-screen Vue multiplex).

Further cut-price viewing opportunities were legion. At Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, a modern glass-and-concrete arts center (which also premiered Théâtre de Complicité plays), you could see two films for two pounds (about $3.50 at the time). That’s The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, in comfortable seats, for the price of a slice of pizza. The double bills were always obvious and alluring: Manhattan and Broadway Danny Rose; Claire’s Knee and Pauline at the Beach; Seven Samurai and Rashomon; Raging Bull and The King of Comedy; The Draughtsman’s Contract and A Zed and Two Noughts; Salesman and Gimme Shelter. Occasionally they’d go out on a limb and do two films by different directors, but the main drivers for me were delivery and value, not articulate programming. For two pounds fifty (just over $4), they did us a Nosferatu with a live piano accompaniment from a young local composer. You could see six films in a day if you hadn’t anywhere else to be (I hadn’t). The prints here were almost universally shocking: scratched and faded, all dancing pubes along the bottom and entire lines of dialogue cut, or rudely interrupted. Every time you went, you were reminded how cheap it was and consequently, how lucky you were. (I am certain that this whole experience is what disqualifies me from any deep-seated interest or meaningful contribution to the 35mm vs. DCP debate: the building blocks of my cinephilia were 35mm, but maculate in the extreme, such that the quality of the image became something of an irrelevance, as the power of the great filmmakers’ storytelling burned through. My preference would be to prioritize whatever format people can ultimately most afford to watch.)

The Everyman in Hampstead was more old-school, with a turn-of-the-century room, intermissions, and a posh café. Here was the scene of at least one lost Sunday: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Once Upon a Time in the West, two films with a combined duration (IMDb confirms) just shy of 200 hours. The Phoenix in Finchley (memorable double: Odd Man Out and The Third Man) and the Rio in Dalston Kingsland (Thief and Manhunter) felt like Alamo-style strongholds in a cultural desert (i.e. North London, which to a South London–based student was only designed to house people who had chosen the well-trodden path of slowly dying of boredom). I mention all these venues first for the simple reason that—in one form or another—they survived. They remain, just as they were 20 years ago, vital repositories of revivalist and art-house cinema: affordable, energetic, devoted. As I write, Riverside Studios is about to close its doors for a major redevelopment.

Less fortunate was the notorious countercultural fleapit, the Scala in Kings Cross, a mythically grimy room with an insalubrious past (the seats could have provided a handy training aid for the Environment Agency). They programmed Pasolini, Warhol double bills, occasional erotica, and, fatally, Stanley Kubrick’s banned A Clockwork Orange one too many times. Warner Brothers’ ensuing lawsuit bankrupted the cinema, and the site now stands as a concert hall, doubling as a ballroom for corporate events — thereby catering to a clientele that would never have gone near the place in the dirty days. The Lumière in St Martins Lane (less a rep cinema than a straight art house) was probably my own favorite place to see a film, even if it was costly and, unlike the Riverside, only showed one at a time. It was a vast, antiseptically clean but actually quite gorgeous modern cinema associated with art-house VHS distributor Artificial Eye (its plush seats were even in the teal green of their logo) that programmed principally modern French cinema, and it was, perhaps most importantly, nearly empty whenever I went. As rents went through the roof it became laughably unviable and closed, to be replaced in the late 90s by a swanky, brutalist hotel.

The older, more established, and unthreatened central London bastions of art house were the grand behemoth of the Curzon Mayfair in Curzon Street (one of the first cinemas to show foreign-language films of any description in the UK), its sister in Shaftesbury Avenue (now the Curzon Soho), and the Renoir (now the Curzon Renoir … you can see a pattern emerging) in the old literary quarter of Bloomsbury, north of Russell Square. These guys knew their onions, seemed somehow connected to continental cinephilia, and certainly programmed more Far Eastern cinema than anywhere else (even if that meant strictly Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, no Hou, Yang, or Imamura). The Renoir memorably showed Kieslowski’s Decalogue over five consecutive days. I visited these cinemas infrequently as they were extremely pricey, with Soho charging as much as £8 (around $14) for a ticket for a new release (no student concessions). The Curzon Group — a corporate success story — has now cornered the market in London art-house cinema projection since scooping up the Richmond Roundhouse (where I was once persuaded to see the Depardieu Cyrano de Bergerac with a glass of champagne for the exorbitant price of a fiver, or nine bucks), the Chelsea Cinema, and opening the Curzon Victoria this year. These venues are reverent, knowledgeable, and energetic, but remain very high end, expensive (£17.50 a ticket now — about $27 at today’s rates), and commoditized—like they have caught a new trendy wave of foreign filmgoing amongst wealthy Londoners—and the Curzon brand has all but said goodbye to any repertory ambitions its “assets” once had.

Two cozy, cheapy destinations for new releases were the Ritzy in Brixton, South London, closest to where I was living (and they did flapjacks, carrot cake, and delicious coffee) and what probably remains the most vibrant venue in London today, the Prince Charles, off Leicester Square. The Prince Charles adopted a radical approach to staving off almost certain liquidation in 1991 by hitting on the instant theater-filling idea of showing mainstream hits you might have missed the year before such as — in my day — Robocop or Field of Dreams, before becoming a venue for interactive events such as sing-along The Wizard of Oz and fancy dress Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings. It has since evolved into something of a role model for independent picture houses: cheap, tatty, simple, confident, unpretentious, packed with listings and big on retrospectives. It harbors a continuing fixation on cult cinema and interactive programmes (Tommy Wiseau recently attended a packed “The Room quote-along”), but has also done full Wes Anderson and Coen Brothers retrospectives. A recent Ghibli Studios triple bill was a more than good enough reason for an Allen family trip into town.

By contrast, purely through childish jealousy, I used to loathe the National Film Theatre — now the BFI — because to me it just represented money (which I didn’t have). Films were a pauper’s pursuit and to my mind, people with money and not much else joined and attended the NFT and watched films they had no business watching, after talking relentless, nauseating crap about them in the queues. I went once to see Frenzy with an introduction by Barry Foster, fantasized in line about the scene with Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, and didn’t return for ten years. When I did, my wife and I were “shushed” for laughing too loud at His Girl Friday, so I didn’t go back for another five. The ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) felt more like the real deal back then, but was unfortunately even more elitist, expensive, and inaccessible. Both institutions are alive and kicking today, unquestionably doing great things for film in the UK, but they still retain that aura which would have kept impoverished beginners like me well away. I go to the BFI more now and feel closer to it, but I remain confused as to what it really represents. I’ll still never forgive them for starting Barry Lyndon before they’d let in half the patrons, who’d been patiently queueing outside. A recent screening of L’argent in NFT2 was introduced by a very prominent British critic who didn’t know the film, didn’t appear to care for it very much and — most inexcusably — offered no valuable insight whatsoever. Who did he think his audience was—and was he right to underestimate them? There are only so many experiences of this kind one can have before questioning just how many of them were off-days.

If we judge a religion by its places of worship, temples such as Bell Lighthouse in Toronto, Museum of the Moving Image and BAMCinematek in New York, and the Cinémathèque in Paris feel like confident expressions of — and testaments to — an ingrained culture. It will be a long time before London grows a coherent, identifiable film following that it can relate to as a city. The rents are too high and the public appetite for subsidy too low for its theaters to begin to take up the challenge. But as London — we are told — has become the world’s premier tourist destination, its cultural outlook, which for so long placed film in a corner, is gradually adapting to a more global movement of cinephilia. Social media has transformed the discussion: we see the signs of a genuine film community in Britain now, largely active online and being led by the regions, with notable festivals — Edinburgh, Leeds, Bradford, Cambridge, Sheffield docs, Bristol silents — gaining vital word of mouth from year to year and pop-up screenings such as Secret Cinema, Joanna Hogg’s A Nos Amours, the new ArtHouse in Crouch End, and the devoted Badlands Collective (who recently screened The Long Day Closes with a riotous guest appearance by Terence Davies, and are currently keeping Godard’s Goodbye to Language 3D alive on British screens). The improving stature of the London Film Festival (which though based at BFI, uses screens all over the City to showcase its venues) testifies not to a renewal — there was not much to renew — but to the gestation of a tangible, organically proud, and democratically accessible film culture. The time will soon come to revive the revival houses.

Comments: Julien Allen is an attorney and film writer. The unprepossessing shack below a railway bridge in Acton was the Acton Screen (which I remember well). A Clockwork Orange was not banned as such, but was withdrawn from British screens by the director and Warner Bros from 1972 to 1999. My grateful thanks to the editors of Reverse Shot for permission to reproduce this article.

Links: Available at Reverse Shot

Het verhaal van den provinciaal

Source: Jacobus vann Looy, ‘Het verhaal van den provinciaal’ in De wonderlijke avonturen van Zebedeus, nieuwe bijlagen (Amsterdam: S.L. van Looy, 1925), pp. 149-161, originally published as ‘Nieuwe bijlagen. XXV’, in De Nieuwe Gids (1917) pp. 361-376

Text: In het Phebus-theater,
Waar anders geen geschater
Van luiten heerscht, maar nu een gróot orchest
Spelende was en tevens voor het lest,
Naar ik las in een advertentie,
In een blad uit de residentie,
Provinciale, wel te verstaan,
Ofschoon het mij er heen toch heeft doen gaan,
En alhoewel ik heimelijk bleef hopen
Dat het niet zoo’n vaart zou loopen,
Dat het niet zou zijn als wat
Ik er over gelezen had…
Ik ging om kort te gaan door ‘t drukke avondlicht,
Als of ik ging naar een gewijd gesticht;
En vroeg ter plaatse naar een plaats, een bèste…
‘U komt toch zeker niet om het orchest, è?’
Vroeg mij een gemobiliseerde man;
Het beste is ook het duurste, zult u weten.’
Hij deed een dame glimlachen daar, gezeten
In een soort van tempeltje,
Voor een poortje als een vlieggat met een drempeltje,
Als eene duive, in kraagdons, ja,
Van Venus of van Diana,
Al zat zij er gelijk een fotografiste
In ‘t rooie kamertje en bleek te zijn de caissiste,
En jong genoeg nog om de favouriete
Van een roman te zijn, zelfs nog zonder…
Evenmin als Diana, ‘t woord behelst geen schand’,
Is aan het Fransch ‘têter’ verwant,…
Tout homme a deux pays, le sien et puis la France,
Spreekt ook Englands dichter niet van popkens laten dansen?
Bestaat iets lievers dan wanneer van honger en van dorst,
Zoo’n heel klein menschje nog klokt aan de moederborst?…
Gewis, zij lachte, wis…
‘k Begrijp niet goed wat steeds aan mij te lachen is;
Zooals van ochtend ook de Directeur
Der Hulpbank deed, toen ‘k mij vergist had in de deur,
En heel ‘t lokaal met zijn persoon vervulde,
Een mensch is meer toch dan ‘n bankje van duizend gulden…
Al moog’ geen ridderorde mij de borst bepralen,
En had ik nooit ‘t geluk om mijne graad te halen,
Een ieder heeft zijn weet,
Lachen is wreed.
‘Smaadt de materie niet,’ als laatst de poldergast zei,
Toen hij zijn hand op ‘t zware heiblok lei;
‘Ik wil wel graag een praatje met u maken,
Maar smaadt mij niet de materie, ze kan je zoo leelijk kraken.
In het Phebus-theater,
Als in een grot onder water,
Als in een school of in de kerk
Van een ondergrondsch loopgravenwerk,
In eene pijpenlade
Waar ieder vrij mocht rooken zonder schade,
Zat ik dan
In afwachting van…
Er gloeiden lampen,
Lantarentjes, tegen rampen,
Er was een radertje, ik hoor nog hoe het snort,
En over mij zag ik een blind-wit bord;
Er zaten andren reeds, die hun gezicht toekeerden;
Allen gemobiliseerden,
Allen mij onbekenden,
Gelukkig niet een mij kende;
Er kwamen er nog meer,
Naast mij zeeg een juffrouw op het stoeltje neêr…
Een paartje volgde, een moeder en een zoon;
Van welk geslacht dan ook, ‘t geldt altijd een persoon;
Een heer zei overluid: ‘hij wou bij de kachel zitten,’
Al meer en meerder kwamen samenklitten,
Om zoo te zeggen, in dit hol,
En aldus werd het Phebus-theater zienderoogen vol.
En toen, nog stom,
Triangel kwam, horen schreed aan en trom,
Allen gemobiliseerden,
Een vedel dan een weinig soupireerde,
Want die het hoogste zat, vóor de piano, was
Dezelfde Diana van zoo pas.
Maar de klavierlamp nu ontstak
Haar roode tunica, haar bloese of haar jak.
Eensklaps werd het donker.
De lampjes smeulden als door kolengasgeflonker
En heel de ruimt’ verkeerde tot een klonterig gewemel
Onder den zolderhemel,
En op ‘t bord
Kwam een nattig maanlicht aangestort.
En toen, als eens voor koning Belsasar, verscheen
Schrift en weder verdween
En duister en bevlekt,
Ik zag het bord met schaduwspel bedekt.
Ik kan niet alles ordelijk vertellen,
De tafereelen bleven naar elkaâr toe snellen,
Er schoven landen
Van de een naar de andere rande,
Geheuvelde oorden,
Rivieren glommen tusschen lage boorden,
Ik kon niet immer goed zien wat het was,
Doch altijd wuivelde er wel ergens gras…
Het bord te schrikken leek; het bliksemde er en schudde,
Kolonne-lange kudden
Gemobiliseerden marcheerden door het ruim,
Zonder glorie of pluim
En zonder marketensters,
Zonder te blikken naar vensters,
Ze beenden fel
En groeiden snel…
Ik zag hun hurken gaan en eten gaan uit blikken,
Ik zag de bajonets op de geweren prikken…
Er kwamen telkens woorden op het bord,
In spiegelschrift en dikwijls schoot de laatste zin te kort,
Het leek bijwijlen een gecensureerde brief;
En aldus zag ik al de voorbereidselen van het groote offensief
Aan de Somme…
Al heviger ze roerden de tromme,
De piano, de fluit, de horen,
Het daverde in mijn ooren,
Ze ontwikkelden minder leven nauw
Dan het orchest in het Concert-gebouw;
‘t Geweld ter tonen maakte mij benepen…
‘Maar u hebt nooit van Wagner veel begrepen,
Hij brengt u van de wijs,’
Zooals mevrouw van M… mij zeide te Parijs…
In Parijs, o, toen Wagner daar was en vogue,
En ik bekende dat mijn hart meer naar Beethoven trok,
De negende simfonie…
Eensklaps voelde ik mijn buurvrouws knie,
Zoo beenen zenuwachtig worden voor ze dansen gaan,
Wroetelen tegen de mijne aan,
En weder raasde ‘t leven om mij om
Van de stalen driehoek, ‘t koper en de trom
En van het heet-bestreken snaar-instrument,
Maar toch, die pianiste had beslist talent…
Een heele poos leek alles mij te ontwijken,
Toen zag ik ammunitie als mij aan staan kijken,
Ontzaggelijk en vreemde…
‘De kneuzende oorlogsvracht beploegde Vlaandrens beemden’
Ging mij door het brein, ziende het vervoer,
De logge leger-auto’s horten langs den vloer.
Ik zag de kogels uitgespreid en opgesteld,
Zooals gerooide rapen liggen op het veld;
Ontelbaar, her en der, tot in het ver verschiet,
Als wat in ‘n lang gevoelde behoefte eindelijk voorziet.
Ik zag ze staan en zonder blussen, deuken,
En heb gedacht aan beuken,
Niet aan het werkwoord van dien naam natuurlijk,
In eenen zin figuurlijk,
Die vrouwelijkste boomen in het bosch,
Zoo blank ze waren, elegant en los,
Gebonden en gevlerkt,
Geen damesnagels fijner afgewerkt;
Ik zag ze daar verpakt als flesschen wijn,
In mandjes als om teêre vruchten zijn;
Soms kerkbeeld-hoog en als een spitsboograam,
En vele droegen ‘n naam,
Een naam als bakers voor de kinderen bedenken…
Een Tommie lag er languit bovenop te wenken,
Hij streelde met zijn handen zulk een pracht-granaat;
En nooit zal ik vergeten zijn gelaat,
Het vroolijke, dat mijlen van mij was,
En sneeuwwit was.
Bom! bom!
Kanonnen sjorden aan en stonden stom,
Als steigerende rossen in hun stalen toomen,
Onder het loof van boomen;
Als één stuk zwart metaal;
Machines als nog nooit een industrie gebruikte,
Ze nergens stuikten,
Na goed te zijn gesmeerd.
Het leek wel of zij ‘t hadden uit hun hoofd geleerd…
Ik zag het projectiel erin gedreven,
‘Many happy returns,’ met krijt er op geschreven,
En toen ze schoten zag ik dunne smook,
En schimmen loopen gaan die leken rook,
Voorover, met de vingers in hun ooren…
Hoe vreemd het is daar niet iets van te hooren…
Dan kreeg de dikke loop vanzelf een schok
En gliste weêr terug alsof er een aan trok,
Zoo zoetjes-an,
Si doucement.
En toen verscheen een randje gras met draad behekt,
Een lucht er boven was met wolkjes bedekt,
Het leek een droomerige aquarel,
Van Mauve of Israëls…
Dat al die mooie dingen gaan zoo duur…
Er ijlden door het bord stralen en spetten vuur;
‘t Verbeeldde ‘de overkant’.
En duidelijk was er brand,
Ik kan niet alles melden zoo ik wou,
Het ging zoo gauw.
Ik heb ook mijnen uit elkaâr zien slaan,
Fonteinen modder, als een inkt-vulkaan,
Of bergen sintels werden opgeblazen
Van al de boeken, schriften waar wij over lazen;
En daarna was
Weêr alles grijs als asch.
En hangend aan de gordels van soldaten,
Zag ik de handgranaten,
En in een schans en op een planken vloer,
Aan balen zand geleund, een schim staan op de loer,
Zijn helm blonk bovenuit den rand der terp,
Leek een historisch kunstvoorwerp,
Een omgekeerde kop of een bokaal
Waaruit gedronken werd bij ‘t schimmenmaal,
In het Walhalla,
Der in den krijg gevallen,
Verslagen reuzen,
En dienend om de hersens niet te kneuzen…
Een paard met bollen buik, geloof ik, ik dan zag,
Het was het vierde of het vijfde dat er reed of lag,
En naar twee hondjes heb ik ook gestaard,
Ze tripten naast een fuselier of naast een Gordon-guard.
En in een hut die leek van sneeuw gebouwd,
Werd, meen ik, door Lancasters met ‘n katapult gesjouwd;
Ik zag een bom hen stellen en ze duiken snel,
En weg hij was als de appel van Willem Tell;
Een ‘liebesgabe’ naar het bord vermeldde…
Mortieren zag ik klaar of gaan te velde,
Mitrailleuses, ik weet niet wat het was,
Maar altijd wuivelde er wel ergens gras…
Plots hel het werd;
Ik heb mijn blikken in de zaal toen opgesperd,
Het leek mij of zij waren ingekort,
Of alle menschen zeulden naar het bleeke bord.
Het zien van kleuren schonk wat leniging,
Het was of allen waren in versteeniging,
Een moeder raakte aan den arm haars zoons, bij ongeval,
En dat was al.
De juffrouw zag mij aan… het werd al weder donker,
En boven het geflonker
Der roode jaagster aan de piano,
En boven al de kruinen der gemobiliseerden, o,
Grimde naar het duister van de hal:
‘De aanval.’
En de jacht
Van de gelijke schimmen reed weêr door den nacht,
Ze spookten op het roeren onzer trom,
Bom-bom, bom-bom!
Uit hoeken en gaten,
Met glad-geschoren gelaten,
Door rattengangen, een voor een,
Verdekt ze slopen door de maan die scheen,
Naar de verzamelplaatse, zoo
De varkens in fabrieken gaan te Chicago:
‘k Hoorde in de verte: ‘Tipperary!’
Joelen uit veel bombarie,
En zag ze samen in paradedos,
Ze maakten hier wat vast, ze maakten daar wat los,
Er was er eentje bij
Die groette mij.
Ik zag hen in gelederen en rijen,
Gegroept, gescheien,
En voor een priester op de knie gevallen,
Ik zag de geultjes in hun halzen alle;
De evangeliedienaar had een wit hemd aan,
Zoo blank en zuiver als de volle maan;
En ‘k zag hen uit hun korrelige slooten springen,
En over gruis en stronken voorwaarts dringen,
Er viel er een neêr als een leêge jas,
En verder nog een waar nog woei wat gras…
Ik kon het niet ontwijken…
Ik was gekomen hier toch om te kijken…
Het was voorbij…
Plots spraken er twee heeren achter mij,
De een zei: ‘t was kemedie, dat ‘t hem tegenviel,
Dat ‘t hem tegenviel,
En de andre hooren deed:
‘Och, alle waar is naar zijn geld, je weet.’
Ik keek niet om en heb me stijf gehouden,
Uit vreeze dat zij mij misschien herkennen zouden;
Doch weder was er de aandacht uit mij henen…
Een overwonnen krater was op ‘t bord verschenen,
Eén stond er midden in, hij ging er gansch in schuil,
Gelijk een mierenleeuw, verzonken in zijn kuil.
Ik had door al die tusschenwerpsels wat gemist,
Vast en beslist,
Er woei niet langer gras,
De gronden leken van verbrijzeld glas,
Of rullige akkers vol geschilde rapen;
Er doolden een paar schimmen om van knapen,
Padvinders, zoekende herinneringen op…
En ‘k zag een open hut aan de uitgang van een slop,
Een tunnel, en de vedel was gaan klagen…
Ze droegen zwarte staven aan waarop gestalten lagen;
De ruimte van het bord
Was veel te kort.
De dragers met de kruisen op hun mouw,
Aanbukten reuzengroot en blinkend weg in ‘t nauw,
Lieten de baren blijven.
Ik kan het niet beschrijven,
‘t Was alles afgekeerd en dichtgemaakt…
Een beeld zat in de hut tot aan zijn gordel naakt.
Zijn arm hing naar mij toe, de hand geheel beklad,
Er leek een volle inktpot over uit gespat,
Hoog op zijn bovenarm was ook ‘n donkre smet,
De witte dokter boog er naar en heeft gebet,
Gewindseld dan en met een rappen stoot,
Den mond des mans een sigaret hij bood;
De Tommie keek zijn arm langs, ademhaalde rook…
‘Hoe goed geholpen zij worden’, had ‘k gelezen ook,
Maar achter mij sprak weêr de knorge stem:
Dat ‘t tegenviel hem;
En de andre ontevreeën:
‘Dat je je geld wel beter kon besteeën.’
Wij hebben de uitgeputte krijgers ook terug zien komen,
Een wapenschouw ik zag, hen neêrgevlijd in drommen,
Hun rust genietende,
Plassend, water vergietende;
Ze wreven wapens schoon en keken soms mij aan:
‘’s Wounds, ‘t gaat daar jullie geen van allen aan.’
En op dezelfde wijs ik zag die languit lagen,
Met zware spijkerlaarzen werden aangedragen;
En ‘k heb aan gras gedacht;
Ver in het spikkelig licht ze delfden ‘n gracht;
‘Dat is een lange,’ zei mijn buurmans mond,
Toen alles op het trillend bord verzwond…
Ik wilde henengaan, doch ‘t was niet uit;
Wij kregen nog ‘de buit’.
Al de verwonnen
Allerlei zonderlinge
Geweldige keukendingen,
Ze lagen overhoop
Zoo op de Maandagmarkt de rommel ligt te koop…
En ‘k zag ‘de levende buit’,
Kluit ik zag na kluit,
Als mijnvolk uit hun schachten opgekomen;
De ontwapende, gevangen genomen
Hol-schonkige Duitschers;
Ze hieven handen, als afwerpend kluisters,
Al op en neêr in ‘t gaan,
Of trokken er touwtjes aan;
Klemden ze voor hun oogen;
In de schoeren gebogen,
Van-af de borst bedropen,
De lippen hangend open,
En met den blik aan ‘t loenen
Of wijd naar visioenen.
Ze vonden wel hun weg daar door de bermen,
De duizelende zwermen,
De spookge horden,
Versloofd, verworden,
Zonder vertoon van militair
En zonder eenig air;
Schimmen van schaterlachers, hikkende,
Met schel-witte verbanden
Om het gemillimeterd brein en dikwijls om hun handen;
Er stapte er een op één been,
Omhelzend twee gezwachtelden, hij hinkte heen.
Ik kon het schier niet zien, het struntelen en douwen…
Van die ‘feldgrauen’,
Het deinzen en het dollen,
Ze leken van het witte bord te rollen;
Ik zag er een stooten, bij ongeluk,
Tegen een reine Tommie, met een ruk,
Schokte zijn lijf opzij, hij blikte net
Of hij de punt gevoeld had van een bajonet…
Er schoten telkens schichten
Den warrel door der wiebelende gezichten:
De vuurge scheuten in het bord,
Als met tranen overstort.
Tranen van Tommies en grauwen,
Tranen van mannen en vrouwen,
Tranen van bruiden, moeders,
Tranen van weezen, voeders,
Van hongerige armen,
En tranen van erbarmen…
Ik heb mij goed gehouden,
Geveinsd, dat niemand iets bespeuren zoude…
Er waren witte wolkjes komen zweven,
Als die der ‘plumpuddings’ en andere granaten zooeven.
Ze boden sigaretten, hadden zich verzoend;
En toen was ‘t bord weêr blank, als plotseling afgeboend.
De zaal ontsteeg gerucht…
Ik voelde me opgelucht…
De damp van de sigaren
Verzweefde naar het licht der tooverlantaren,
Een ellenlange pluim
Die kringelblauwend schuin schoof door het ruim.
En ‘k heb gewacht…
En heb gedacht…
Het raadje snorde steeds zijn maniakke wijs,
En schoon het warm was, was ik koud als ijs…
Schimmen van stokken, stronken,
Van kluiten, brokken, bonken,
Ze bleven op het bord als aan een keten gaan,
Gelijk een menschenledig landschap op de maan…

De maan blonk aan de lucht, hoog boven alles uit,
De straat in donker door ‘t gemeenteraad-besluit,
Van lichtbesparing om de groote kolennood,
Deed me weldadig aan, het stemde me, ik genoot
Door die afwezigheid van overdaad en tinkels,
En ‘t aangegaapt te zijn door opgeschoten kinkels.
Het was nog steeds in mij, alsof in mij wat sliep,
Alsof ik binnen in een levend wezen liep,
En zag de donker-gloênde wandlaars gaan en komen,
Zooals in aderen de bloed-lichaampjes stroomen;
Het was nog steeds in mij of ik niet wakker was,
Of wat ‘k gezien het leven, dit een droom slechts was;
De toren in de diepten van den manehemel stak,
En stille, zachte waden dekten huis en dak,
En in de heimelijke schemering der straat,
De lijven bleven gaan met hun befloersd gelaat.
Tot eindelijk weder sprak in mij herinnering,
Het snorren van een raadje uit mij zelf ontging;
En ‘k langs de toeë winkels loopend verder trad,
Al mijmerzieker door de vreemde stilt’ der stad.
Ik voelde rond mij om de warmte weêr als weelde,
En overdacht de waarde dezer oorlogsbeelden,
Wat ‘k had gelezen in verslagen eener krant,
Om waar- en eerlijkheid, verheldering van verstand,
Het algemeen, groot nut van deze levende platen,
Omdat zij niets aan de verbeelding overlaten.
Ik dacht aan België, dat voor de Vrijheid vecht,
Aan nooit te delgen schuld van het geschonden Recht,
En werd al wandeldenkende weêr welgemoed,
Wijl ‘t bij ons Vreê nog is, tot dusver, alles goed.

Doch in den nacht daarop ik droomde droef,
Dat ‘k eigenhandig in een tuin een mensch begroef,
Tusschen het wuivelende gras,
En ik was
Die doode zelf;
Hij lag te staren naar het luchtgewelf
Met rond verwijde oogen:
En door den hooge
Het snorde rusteloos en heeft gewaaid,
Of werd een eindelooze film afgedraaid:
Van Donau’s, Marne’s, Aisne’s en van Yzers,
Van diplomaten, en magnaten en van keizers…
En die begroef mij deed het smart noch pijn…
Ongeloofelijke menschen wij zijn.

Comments: Jacobus van Looy (1855-1930) was a Dutch painter and writer. His 1916 poem ”Het verhaal van den provinciaal’ (‘The tale of the provincial’) tells of a man visiting a city and going to the cinema, whose conflicted views on the war and being in a cinema are revealed through the long poem’s stream of consciousness style. It is only gradually made apparent that it is the British documentary film The Battle of the Somme that he is watching. Geert Bulens (see link below) provides an analysis of poem’s themes. Practical elements referred to include projection, intertitles, and the accompanying music. Van Looy lived in Haarlem, but no cinema named Phebus-Theater is listed on the historical database of Dutch cinema, Cinema Context, in Haarlem or elsewhere. The Netherlands was neutral during the First World War. I can find no full English translation of the poem, but the penultimate stanza was translated (by Klaas de Zwaan) for my silent film blog, The Bioscope, as follows:

I felt the comforting warmth surrounding me again,
And thought over the value of these images of war,
What I’ve read in the reports of some newspapers,
About truth and honesty, clarification of the mind,
The overall, great usefulness of these living pictures,
Because they leave nothing to the imagination.
I thought of Belgium, fighting for Freedom,
An irredeemable infringement of Justice,
And while walking I pleasantly realized
Peace was among us, so far so good.

Links: Dutch text in copy of De wonderlijke avonturen van Zebedeus in DBNL (Digital Library for Dutch Literature)
Geert Buelens, ‘Sound and Realism in British and Dutch Poems Mediating The Battle of the Somme’, Journal of Dutch Literature, vol. 1 no. 1, December 2010 (includes discussion of the poem, in English)

What could be nicer?

Source: Fred Spurgin, ‘What Could Be Nicer?’, postcard c.1917, from the Nicholas Hiley collection



Comments: Frederick Spurgin (1882-1968) was a prolific British postcard illustrator of the First World War period, who produced several cards with a cinema theme, usually with a mild sexual theme. This card was posted in Guildford in 1917.

Our London Letter

Source: ‘Our London Letter’, The Star, St. Peter Port, Guernsey, 19 March 1896, p. 2

Text: The season has begun in good earnest, and promises to be a most interesting one, with its kaleidoscopic developments in dress, new discoveries, and dissipation generally. As we grow older, does life become more interesting? or less interesting? I am one of those who would have nothing in the past undone, and nothing repeated — on the whole. People say, one never wants to return to a house that one has once left: a wise old lady (of women the crossest, ugliest, and least life-enjoying, I thought as a fool, but now I know better, and I agree with her) told me that she wished nothing back, not her youth, not her belles années, not the brightest moments of her life. I hope, and think, that we shall feel the same when we are “on the other side”. That means that the interest of existence grows, and this year, certainly in science, new excitements are constantly unfolding.

What has chiefly electrified me — hardly delighted — it is too gravely suggestive — this month is the little Cinematograph at the old Polytechnic rooms, it is also going on at the Empire. Under this unpronounceable and unrememberable name M. Lumière transfers an elaborate form of the well-known Edison’s Kinetoscope by lantern slides to a sheet on which the picture suddenly springs into life, the men and women start walking, hustling each other, crossing each other, interrupting each other just as it happens — as did happen that moment — in life. The photographs I hear were taken at the rate of eighty to the minute, and, whilst the principle is not new, the representation of life-sized figures close to you, acting as human nature does act, the trivial and the significant all mixed up together, is totally new, and it is startling to see these congealed moments, as I may call them, suddenly become irrified at the turning of some Pygmalionic handle, the trees and bushes moving in the wind, the workpeople rushing out for dinner, mixed up with bicycles, carriages, dogs, and horses, you only miss the prattle and the argot. When the railway train flies at you, you feel quite nervous. One scene came up, “Papa, maman, et bébé.” As this is not everyone’s ideal of life, we expected little from a pair of proud parents at tea. But when with a sort of start the French mother began to pour out tea, and the French father to feed the French baby, and the baby to sputter over his food after the time-honoured fashion of babies not only in France, it was really too funny for anything. Every parent present knew the process, the bits of bread and milk that would not be rammed down by the spoon, the baby’s supreme indifference to the disgraceful mess on his nose, as he laughed up at his laughing parents — one got a glimpse of a scene as old as the hills, ever new, ever interesting to the principals — and the unconsciousness was the charm. Science now and then is quite terrifying with its hints: we have had ere this, theological, not to speak of other intimations, that something of the same sort on a larger scale is always going on, that not an action is forgotten, not an emotion lost, but once generated continues for ever along lines of etheric vibrations! If the dread Recording Angel with his Cinematograph is for ever and ever beside us, about our paths and about our beds, and spying out all our ways. If the secret blow, the small revenge, the shabby return, is to come out before our eyes some day with a horrible faithfulness, and the instant’s betrayal of “Mr. Hyde” is to condemn “Mr. Jekyll” as long as ever the Divine handle is turned, what is to become of us? Where in the world is turning over a new leaf, decent privacy, etiquette, and the rest of it? It is not at all a nice thought. And yet I was glad that the past never dies, and if it condemns us will justify us also, when I looked at the fascinating scenes of human nature that M. Lumière meant simply for our frolic! So the porter shouldered the bag, the youth waved his hat to his beloved, the lady shook out her dress, the irate gardener kicked the saucy boy who put his foot on the hose and stopped the flow, and we saw France as clearly as if we had gone there with a Cook’s ticket.

Comments: The piece comes from a Guernsey newspaper but reports on happenings in London. The Lumière Cinématographe projector premiered at the Polytechnic Institute in Regent Street on 20 February, and began its main engagement at the Empire, Leicester Square on 9 March 1896. Along the films described are Repas de bébé (1895), L’Arroseur arrosé (1895) and one of the L’arrivée d’un train films (1896). Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published in 1886. My thanks to Deac Rossell for bringing this remarkable account to my attention.

The Bioscope

Source: ‘The Bioscope’, postcard, stamped Dover 21 August 1904, identified on reverse side as ‘4271 – London, after dark’, Luke McKernan collection



Comments: This is an unusual example of a cinema-related postcard where the message on the back makes reference to the image on the front. The writer says, “This one is rather amusing I think Don’t you. They are quite the latest style here. Some of them are quite shocking.” The postcard show the audience at the screening of films in a variety theatre. A lecturer points out the image (mistakenly shown as a circle after magic lantern practice) and an orchestra plays while the audience reveal what they are saying to one another in the safety of the dark. The messages include “Kiss me quick, this is the last picture”, “Put your foot on mine, ducky” and “Remember I’m a married man”. The Bioscope was the name of a projector that became a generic name for early film shows. Though the postcard is meant to represent London the writer notes that such film shows are popular in Dover, so this entry has been classified under both places.

Kinomatograph in Paris

Source: Max Brod, extracts from ‘Kinomatograph in Paris’, Der Merker vol. 3 no. 1 (February 1912): pp. 95-98, reproduced in part in Hanns Zischler, Kafka Goes to the Movies (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2003), pp. 47-51, translation by Susan H. Gillespie

Text: On the very evening that we had set aside as a night off, after so many nocturnal exertions, for a modest meal in the four walls of our hotel and early to bed, we chanced upon a doorway on the boulevard, decked out with little electric light bulbs and a not exactly energetic barker, whose cap, however, bore a title that attracted us more magically than all his words could have. Omnia Pathé … So here we are stood at the source of so many of our enjoyments, once more at the center of a business whose rays shone so powerfully over the whole world that one would almost rather not believe in the existence of a center – a feeling, by the way, that was typical for our Parisian mood; for powerful central firms, (like Pneu Michelin, Douçet, Roger Gallet, Clement Bayard, etc.) besiege the heart of the newcomer with surprising force. We again dispensed with the night off (damned city!) and went in.

It is hard for one darkened hall to differentiate itself from other darkened halls. But for us, who are always firmly set on finding in everything Parisian something special and better than anyplace else, we are soon struck by the spaciousness – no, that’s not it yet – then, that people are disappearing through a dark doorway in the background and a cool draft seems to regulate this continuous movement of the audience – no, that’s how it is at home, too, uninterrupted showings, an entrance and an exit door – but now we feel we are on firmer ground. This freedom of people to be able to position themselves anywhere there is room, even in the aisle between the rows of benches, even on the ramp next to the apparatus, is something decidedly republican, any police force other than the Parisian police would not approve of it. Equally republican, we must admit, is the freedom of the many columns in the hall to be allowed to disturb the audience’s view in whatever way they please …

A girl in the uniform of a soldier in an operetta, on the cap, this time, the ambiguous inscription “Omnia,” accompanies us to our seats, sells us an (according to good Parisian custom, inexact) program. And already we are under the spell of the blindingly white, trembling screen in front of us. We nudge each other. “Say, the show is better here than at home.” Naturally, after all, in Paris everything has to be better.

[Brod describes some of the film programme, including travel films]

We saw, indeed we saw a great deal – by analogy to the Comédie, which puts eight acts on stage almost without intermission. We saw the doctor visit the poor sick child and turn around melodramatically several times in the doorway, with a distinctly pitying expression. We saw the mercifulness of some English king or other, hand-colored, sandwiched between some theatrical armor and a ruin (which had been created from a burned-out suburban cottage), enjoying life.


At the end , after the usual revolver shots, chases, fisticuffs, came the news. Naturally she was not absent – the one you now see on all the advertisements, candy boxes, and postcards in Paris: Mona Lisa. The picture opened with the presentation of M. Croumolle (everyone knows that it means “Homolle,” and no one protests against the perfidious way they are going after the gray-haired Delphi scholar). Croumolle is lying in bed, his stocking cap pulled down over his ears, and is startled out of sleep by a telegram: “Mona Lisa Stolen.” Croumolle – the Delphi scholar, if you please, but I am not protesting, I was laughing so hard – dresses himself with clownlike agility, now he puts both feet into one leg of his pants; now one foot into two socks. In the end, he runs into the street with his suspenders trailing, all the bystanders turn around to look at him, even those who are far in the background and evidently not in the pay of Pathé … It is a longing that ever since the emergence of the cinema lives on in me with the force of my early childhood wishes – I would like just once, by chance, to turn a street corner where such a staged cinematographic scene is taking place. What wouldn’t it be possible to improvise there! And in any case, what a sight! But to continue. The story is set in the hall of the Louvre, everything excellently imitated, the paintings and, in the middle, the three nails on which the Mona Lisa is hung. Horror; summoning of a comical detective; a shoe button of Croumolle’s as red herring; the detective as shoeshine boy; chase through the cafés of Paris; passers-by forced to have their shoes shined; arrest of the unfortunate Croumolle, for the button that was found at the scene naturally matches his shoe buttons. And now the final gag – while everyone is running through the hall at the Louvre and acting sensational, the thief sneaks in, the Mona Lisa under his arm, hangs her back where she belongs, and takes Velázquez’s Princess instead. No one notices him. Suddenly someone sees the Mona Lisa; general astonishment, and a note in one corner of the rediscovered painting that says, “Pardon me, I am nearsighted. I actually wanted to have the painting next to it.” … Croumolle, poor man, is released.


Then, in addition, the Journal Pathé. And so that everything quite resembles a newspaper, the title page and “Year III” are solemnly projected beforehand. We see demonstrations against inflation in France, which look like they have been arranged by Pathé; everyone is grinning in the direction of the audience. …

Comments: Max Brod (1884-1968) was a Czech author, best known as the friend and literary executor of Franz Kafka. His essay ‘Kinomatograph in Paris’ describes a visit to the Omnia Pathé cinema in Paris made by Brod and Kafka on 10 September 1911. The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre on 21 August 1911. The Pathé film company rapidly issued Nick Winter et le vol de la Joconde (Nick Winter and the Theft of the Mona Lisa) the following month, as a title in its ‘Nick Winter’ detective series. Théophile Homolle (parodied in the film as Croumolle) was the director of the Louvre. Brod and Kafka had visited the Louvre the day before to witness the scene of the crime. The painting was recovered in 1913. The Omnia Pathé luxury cinema was the first cinema in the Pathé circuit to be in opened in Paris, in 1906.

Links: Copy of full original article (in German) at Hathi Trust