Every couple of years, I teach a course on “Minor Cinemas,” which takes the concept of “minor” literature from Deleuze and Guattari and explores whether/how the concept might be useful for thinking about a range of film practices. When I began teaching the course about six years ago, I included a week on “short cinema,” in which I taught a smattering of advertisements, music videos, and trailers.
A fantastic new resource for researchers and teachers of early cinema has just appeared online. The first twelve years of Moving Picture World have been digitized and added to the Media History Digital Library’s “Early Cinema Collection.” From the MHDL:
Moving Picture World was one of the most influential trade papers of the early motion picture industry and the period film historians call cinema’s “transitional era” (lasting roughly from 1908 to 1917). During this era and inside the paper, you can watch the transition from short film programs to feature films and witness the transition from the dominance of Edison’s Trust to the rise of the “Independent” film companies that ultimately became the Hollywood studios.
The first issue includes some “novel uses for cinema,” instructions for making latern slides, a review of The Teddy Bears (Edison, 1907), and a full-page ad from the Miles Brothers (mentioned just last week): “Conversation gets you nothing. Real Johnny-on-the-spot service is what you want!”
The project was funded, in part, by Domitor and its members. For those who are interested in contributing, MHDL is still raising funds to digitize MPW through 1927, its last year of publication.
I am organizing a workshop for SCMS 2013. If you teach early cinema, please consider submitting a proposal: Continue reading
When the Studio Burned (Lawrence Marston, 1913)
A fictional film about a real fire from a studio that actually burned down. Thanhouser studios operated in NYC from 1909 to 1918. It was recently reborn as a non-profit preservation company (directed by the grandchild of the original owner). More films here and here.
Blaise Cendrars on early cinema. A glimpse of the interview:
Q: Who are your main characters?
A: Rivers, the forest.
Smithereens (Ross Whyte, 2011)
Pete Stollery, a Professor in Composition and Electroacoustic Music at the University of Aberdeen, passed this short piece along to me a few days ago. It was composed and created by Ross Whyte, a musician and PhD student at the University of Aberdeen, whose research explores “audio-visual intermedia and multi-sensory perception in music.” You can find Whyte and more of his work here.
The film echoes the woman-on-the-stairs of Leger’s Ballet Mecanique. But it manages much more than nods to history, the pleasures of found footage, or the ghosts of mechanical reproduction. Whyte’s use of sound remakes the image(s), brings texture to these early spaces, and plays with the absurdities and excesses hiding just beyond the chase scene.
Smithereens also invites us to spend time with (several kinds of) orphans. I couldn’t help but wonder: Who is this girl? Where is she going? Did she ever get there?
Tusalava (Len Lye, 1929)
“Its title is a Samoan word, suggesting that ‘in the end everything is just the same.’ Len Lye conceived the film as the first of a trilogy of films about ‘the beginnings of organic life.’ Because of lack of finance, parts two and three were never made. Its central motif is the witchetty grub. ‘To get the spirit of the imagery I…imagined I was myself an Australian witchetty grub who was making this animated ritual dance film.’ The whitchetty grub is the totem of a tribe near Alice Springs which considers grubs to be the ancestors of humans. The cocoon-like shape in Tusalava (which Lye has described as ‘a totem of individuality’) can be seen evolving towards human form. Meanwhile, it is menaced by a sharp tongue creature that is “a cross between an octopus and a spider.”
I wish there were a part two and three.