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Early Cinema Today, KINtop 1: The Art of Programming and Live Performance

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Invented in the 1890s and premiered in Paris by the Lumière brothers, the cinematograph along with Louis Le Prince's single-lens camera projector are considered by film historians to be the precursors to modern-day motion picture devices. These early movies were often shown in town halls, on fairgrounds, and in theaters, requiring special showmanship skills to effectively work the equipment and entertain onlookers. Within the last decade, film archives and film festivals have unearthed this lost art and have featured outstanding examples of the culture of early cinema reconfigured for today's audiences.

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Programming and Performing

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Early Cinema Today –

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Outstanding Examples

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Stimulating the Audience:

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Early cinema reached its widest scope with the commencing boom of fixed-site cinemas from 1906 onward. The large majority of films from the period of early cinema shown again today date from 1906 to 1912. Under the leadership of Pathé, the film producers of that time provided the quickly growing market of fixed-site cinemas with numerous short films of different genres every week. Film distributors and cinema owners collected widely varied programmes from this plentiful offer. Film production expanded: The number of films produced increased, as did the number of copies per film title. Thus, from 1906 to 1912, substantially more films have been preserved than from the preceding years. With the rising output of films, the producers also developed a broader diversity accompanied by intensified standardisation within the genres themselves. Both tendencies met the need to assemble short film programmes following a model of lively alternation. This permitted the cinema owners to offer the audience good entertainment with seven or eight or even up to 20 short films. The ‘number’ programme of the fixed-site cinemas lasted at least one hour and up to much over two hours. These programmes were changed once or twice, sometimes even three times a week.

 

Early Cinema’s Short Film Programme Format 1906 to 1912

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Early cinema reached its widest scope with the commencing boom of fixed-site cinemas from 1906 onward. The large majority of films from the period of early cinema shown again today date from 1906 to 1912. Under the leadership of Pathé, the film producers of that time provided the quickly growing market of fixed-site cinemas with numerous short films of different genres every week. Film distributors and cinema owners collected widely varied programmes from this plentiful offer. Film production expanded: The number of films produced increased, as did the number of copies per film title. Thus, from 1906 to 1912, substantially more films have been preserved than from the preceding years. With the rising output of films, the producers also developed a broader diversity accompanied by intensified standardisation within the genres themselves. Both tendencies met the need to assemble short film programmes following a model of lively alternation. This permitted the cinema owners to offer the audience good entertainment with seven or eight or even up to 20 short films. The ‘number’ programme of the fixed-site cinemas lasted at least one hour and up to much over two hours. These programmes were changed once or twice, sometimes even three times a week.

 

Programming and Performing

ePub

 

 

Early Cinema Today –

ePub

 

 

Outstanding Examples

ePub

 

 

The Best Years of Film History:

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for Chiara Caranti

In the summer of 2003 the festival Il Cinema Ritrovato presented a series of five programmes of films from 1903, curated and introduced by Tom Gunning. I do not know how this came about. The section was called, in English, The First Great Year of Cinema: 1903 and, in Italian, Cento anni fa: I film del 1903.

My involvement dates from April 2004, when the director of the Cineteca di Bologna, standing beside me, was wondering to himself whether the Hundred Years Ago series should continue and, if so, who might curate it that year – and muttering that it was, in any case, now too late as the festival starts at the end of June. I muttered back to him that I could do it – a remark which has afforded me the happiest seven years of my career.1

It is mostly thanks to the films. The body of work produced from 1904 to 1910 is the most interesting in the whole of cinema history, for it was then, as it would never be again, that a whole host of aesthetic and narrative possibilities of the medium were explored and tested. It is also the least known and most undervalued work. Moreover, films of this period have to be properly programmed, for screenings to be a success. All this makes the curator’s job both challenging and rewarding. We are talking about films or fragments with running times of between one minute and fifteen (except for the exceptions, of course). Choosing between hundreds of short films, grouping the chosen titles into programmes and putting them into an effective running order, with films being dropped or exchanged the whole time, is a job which can be done well or badly. It is as important to the way the films are received as the staging of a play is to its success. I aim, via my programming, to make the selected films accessible and to provide a context for them by the way they are combined, so that each film’s special qualities are shown to their best advantage and each film’s position in the programme fulfils a dramatic function. A badly-constructed programme reduces or destroys the audience’s ability to see, think and feel. But we have arrived far too quickly at these reflections on programming principles. So let us return to these rarely-seen films of before 1910.

 

A Hundred Years Ago

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for Chiara Caranti

In the summer of 2003 the festival Il Cinema Ritrovato presented a series of five programmes of films from 1903, curated and introduced by Tom Gunning. I do not know how this came about. The section was called, in English, The First Great Year of Cinema: 1903 and, in Italian, Cento anni fa: I film del 1903.

My involvement dates from April 2004, when the director of the Cineteca di Bologna, standing beside me, was wondering to himself whether the Hundred Years Ago series should continue and, if so, who might curate it that year – and muttering that it was, in any case, now too late as the festival starts at the end of June. I muttered back to him that I could do it – a remark which has afforded me the happiest seven years of my career.1

It is mostly thanks to the films. The body of work produced from 1904 to 1910 is the most interesting in the whole of cinema history, for it was then, as it would never be again, that a whole host of aesthetic and narrative possibilities of the medium were explored and tested. It is also the least known and most undervalued work. Moreover, films of this period have to be properly programmed, for screenings to be a success. All this makes the curator’s job both challenging and rewarding. We are talking about films or fragments with running times of between one minute and fifteen (except for the exceptions, of course). Choosing between hundreds of short films, grouping the chosen titles into programmes and putting them into an effective running order, with films being dropped or exchanged the whole time, is a job which can be done well or badly. It is as important to the way the films are received as the staging of a play is to its success. I aim, via my programming, to make the selected films accessible and to provide a context for them by the way they are combined, so that each film’s special qualities are shown to their best advantage and each film’s position in the programme fulfils a dramatic function. A badly-constructed programme reduces or destroys the audience’s ability to see, think and feel. But we have arrived far too quickly at these reflections on programming principles. So let us return to these rarely-seen films of before 1910.

 

‘From the Bottom of the Sea’:

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Man Ray once said: “The worst films I’ve ever seen, the ones that send me to sleep, contain ten or fifteen marvelous minutes. The best films I’ve ever seen only contain ten or fifteen valuable minutes.” A tee shirt for sale at the 56th International Short Film Festival at Oberhausen puts it even more succinctly, if less elegantly: “Fuck Feature Films”. The dominance of the feature length (roughly, an hour plus) form for film has lasted for almost a hundred years and has determined (and been supported by) systems of distribution and funding, and, perhaps even more crucially, has controlled cultural attitudes towards what films do, formally and structurally. Although there are exceptions, the 90 minute to two hour format reinforces film’s role as a narrative medium, and its homology to the novel and the three act drama as the major Western form of long format storytelling.

Although forms like television have found niches for shorter formats, short films remain outriders within the commercial industry, whether as scouts, spies, or saboteurs. Short films cost less, and have the maneuverability of guerrilla outfits compared to the full battalion strength feature film, with its armies of support, and vast supply lines of material. Oberhausen supports the short form against all comers, and remains perhaps most famous as the launching site for the revolt against Papa’s Kino that led to the New German Cinema in the sixties. It still feels different from any other major film festival – younger, less formal, more edgy and its attention to avant-garde and alternative cinemas (both current and retrospective) continues to exist side by side with the potentially more commercial categories of music videos and animation.

 

Early Film at the Oberhausen Festival

ePub

 

Man Ray once said: “The worst films I’ve ever seen, the ones that send me to sleep, contain ten or fifteen marvelous minutes. The best films I’ve ever seen only contain ten or fifteen valuable minutes.” A tee shirt for sale at the 56th International Short Film Festival at Oberhausen puts it even more succinctly, if less elegantly: “Fuck Feature Films”. The dominance of the feature length (roughly, an hour plus) form for film has lasted for almost a hundred years and has determined (and been supported by) systems of distribution and funding, and, perhaps even more crucially, has controlled cultural attitudes towards what films do, formally and structurally. Although there are exceptions, the 90 minute to two hour format reinforces film’s role as a narrative medium, and its homology to the novel and the three act drama as the major Western form of long format storytelling.

Although forms like television have found niches for shorter formats, short films remain outriders within the commercial industry, whether as scouts, spies, or saboteurs. Short films cost less, and have the maneuverability of guerrilla outfits compared to the full battalion strength feature film, with its armies of support, and vast supply lines of material. Oberhausen supports the short form against all comers, and remains perhaps most famous as the launching site for the revolt against Papa’s Kino that led to the New German Cinema in the sixties. It still feels different from any other major film festival – younger, less formal, more edgy and its attention to avant-garde and alternative cinemas (both current and retrospective) continues to exist side by side with the potentially more commercial categories of music videos and animation.

 

From the Past to the Future:

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Feminism is increasingly being declared outdated, a mere museum piece: there is, the argument runs, nothing more to fight for and the agenda of the 1970s is well and truly obsolete.1 It was against this apparently postfeminist backdrop that a film programme entitled Frühe Interventionen: Suffragetten – Extremistinnen der Sichtbarkeit (Early Interventions: Suffragettes – Extremists of Visibility) ran at the Zeughauskino, the cinema of the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, and met with an overwhelming response.2 The project was based on the observation that the women’s suffrage movement became radicalised at almost exactly the same time as cinema, still in the process of self-invention, began to consolidate itself and to shrug off nineteenth-century forms of expression. This historical conjunction is revealed in numerous newsreels and comedies. My choice of title for the series was intended to show very clearly where my primary interest lay: in the portrayal of rebellion, activism and an often high-spirited intervention against the ruling order at a time when cinema was itself experiencing a radical upheaval. I also wanted to show not only that the films made between 1900 and 1914 generally satirise the movement for emancipation, but also that the movement itself strategically deployed public images. My contention was, finally, that the films of this period intervene into the audience’s space in a very special way. How to keep this last aspect in sight was a question that recurred again and again during the planning of the programme.

 

Suffragettes –Extremists of Visibility in Berlin

ePub

 

Feminism is increasingly being declared outdated, a mere museum piece: there is, the argument runs, nothing more to fight for and the agenda of the 1970s is well and truly obsolete.1 It was against this apparently postfeminist backdrop that a film programme entitled Frühe Interventionen: Suffragetten – Extremistinnen der Sichtbarkeit (Early Interventions: Suffragettes – Extremists of Visibility) ran at the Zeughauskino, the cinema of the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, and met with an overwhelming response.2 The project was based on the observation that the women’s suffrage movement became radicalised at almost exactly the same time as cinema, still in the process of self-invention, began to consolidate itself and to shrug off nineteenth-century forms of expression. This historical conjunction is revealed in numerous newsreels and comedies. My choice of title for the series was intended to show very clearly where my primary interest lay: in the portrayal of rebellion, activism and an often high-spirited intervention against the ruling order at a time when cinema was itself experiencing a radical upheaval. I also wanted to show not only that the films made between 1900 and 1914 generally satirise the movement for emancipation, but also that the movement itself strategically deployed public images. My contention was, finally, that the films of this period intervene into the audience’s space in a very special way. How to keep this last aspect in sight was a question that recurred again and again during the planning of the programme.

 

Silent Films in their First Decades – Objects for Research or for Exhibition?

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for Dominique Païni

One can only agree with Michel Marie when he writes: “First of all, a film is a number in a catalogue, then a title, then an object of review in the contemporary press. After that, it becomes a film strip in an anonymous tin. Its historical existence is limited to the discourse dedicated to it.”1 This “historical existence” seems to me, however, to be complete only when the film has found an audience again. Actually it exists only when it is shown before an audience on a screen; through or within a discourse, it has only a virtual existence.

* * *

I

Since the conference of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) in Brighton in 1978, an entire segment of the cinema, like a lost continent, has experienced unprecedented attention and research, both intensive as well as varied. The early era, likewise the years from 1910 to 1920, which I personally call ‘the second period’,2 exists thus ‘in the historical sense’ as and through numerous discourses. Diverse publications, magazines in many countries, festivals and retrospectives repeatedly wrest those films from oblivion. Something to rejoice about!

 

Programming the Local:

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Introduction

The Mitchell & Kenyon Collection is now the third largest film collection in the world relating to the output of a single company from the early 1900s. The Collection was donated to the British Film Institute in 2000 by Peter Worden a local businessman in Blackburn who rescued the films, and was researched by the University of Sheffield. Books, articles and DVDs have been produced on the Collection, and thousands of copies of the DVDs have been sold.1 The films have been shown at international film festivals, resulted in international media coverage and produced numerous articles. Shortly after its discovery and subsequent restoration by the BFI, Mitchell & Kenyon became nationally and internationally renowned and soon became the most important early film material in the national collection of BFI National Archives. Millions of people have seen the films on television and in venues from Pordenone to San Francisco, Leeds to Luxembourg and Blackburn to Boston, over half a million cinema-goers have watched the films. The films have moved from the film festival and the archival presentation format to becoming part of Youtube on the BFI’s own channel, music festivals with bands such as Lemon Jelly and In The Nursery combining modern music to the films and part of contemporary art installations.2

 

Mitchell & Kenyon and the Local Film Show

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Introduction

The Mitchell & Kenyon Collection is now the third largest film collection in the world relating to the output of a single company from the early 1900s. The Collection was donated to the British Film Institute in 2000 by Peter Worden a local businessman in Blackburn who rescued the films, and was researched by the University of Sheffield. Books, articles and DVDs have been produced on the Collection, and thousands of copies of the DVDs have been sold.1 The films have been shown at international film festivals, resulted in international media coverage and produced numerous articles. Shortly after its discovery and subsequent restoration by the BFI, Mitchell & Kenyon became nationally and internationally renowned and soon became the most important early film material in the national collection of BFI National Archives. Millions of people have seen the films on television and in venues from Pordenone to San Francisco, Leeds to Luxembourg and Blackburn to Boston, over half a million cinema-goers have watched the films. The films have moved from the film festival and the archival presentation format to becoming part of Youtube on the BFI’s own channel, music festivals with bands such as Lemon Jelly and In The Nursery combining modern music to the films and part of contemporary art installations.2

 

Crazy Cinématographe

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