Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Corrick Collection 3

The Corrick Collection (1901-1914), 3
From the GCM Catalogue: Introduction
“It’s a fact! The burning Question of Next Week will be: Have you heard them? – Who? The Corricks! The Corricks!! Have you seen them? – What? Why, Leonard’s Pictures, of Course! The Musical and Pictorial Event of 1907!”

When the Corrick Family Entertainers – a vaudeville-style music troupe composed of Professor Albert Corrick, his wife Sarah, and their 8 children – began touring their native New Zealand in late 1900, they carried with them a modest collection of items: a tin trunk filled with sheet music and stands, a suitcase of performance clothes, and their instruments. By the time they finished touring 14 years later – after travelling throughout Australia and New Zealand, through Asia, the South Pacific, India, and Europe, playing for audiences that reached into the thousands – the Corricks’ luggage and equipment weighed 7 tons, was valued at more than £4,000, and included a full electrical plant, portable arc and footlights, electric fans, a motion picture camera, projectors, and screen, a slide projector, stage scenery, ornate costumes, dozens of instruments (including their own piano), and a couple of hundred films – certainly sufficient supplies to be the “Musical and Pictorial Event” of almost any year.
Advertisements proclaimed their concerts to be “An Entertainment of SCIENCE and ART”. Thanks to the depth of the Corrick Collection held at Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive (which includes not only their original films, but also photographs, taped interviews, and a detailed scrapbook covering the majority of the family’s touring career), we can gain a sense of how this multi-talented family designed, managed, and presented their concerts, incorporating new ideas and technology into their programs to set themselves apart from other travelling entertainers. These practical details provide further specific examples to add to our general understanding of the methods by which itinerant exhibitors practiced their craft in the early years of cinema, while at the same time painting a more detailed picture of the Corricks’ own unique brand of showmanship.
In January 1901, 2 months after they first went on tour, the Corricks acquired an Edison projector and a small number of films from the Virginia Jubilee Singers, an American company of travelling entertainers led by Orpheus Myron McAdoo, who were touring their way through New Zealand. Advertised simply as “The Biographe”, it made its début with the Corricks a month later as the final act before the intermission, following Professor Corrick’s illustrated slide-performance of “The Lads in Navy Blue”. Like other exhibitors, the Corricks worked to increase the realism of their films by adding sound effects created using “mechanical devices behind the screen, by which not only action, but the appropriate sounds incidental to each are given.” Advertisements mention piano accompaniment by eldest sister Gertie, but reviews suggest that the larger orchestra would also sometimes join in, further integrating the films into the overall concert performance. By 1909, the troupe had addressed the public’s ever-increasing worries regarding nitrate fires, an especially important concern given that they played to packed houses in whatever local hall, church, or public building was available. A 1910 advance notice in Mount Parker, Australia, was careful to note: “The machine is enclosed in a fireproof compartment on the lines of those used in England and which was brought out and has been improved by Mr. Corrick. This company has never had a fire.”
Over the course of their touring career, the family used at least 3 different motion picture projectors, which were a particular hobby for their only son, lead clarinetist and official Kinematograph expert Leonard. One advance article brags, “[Leonard] has so altered the cinematograph used in the Corricks’ entertainment and so improved it that the manufacturers could not make out their handiwork!” While Leonard is solely credited with managing the motion picture portion of the program (known as “Leonard’s Beautiful Pictures”), over the years 2 non-family members were also mentioned in connection with the electrical aspects of the show, and so likely were on hand to share their mechanical expertise with the teenaged lead projectionist.
The addition of a specially-ordered electrical plant in 1906 (nicknamed “Leonard’s Electric Engine and Dynamo”) added a new dimension to the family’s performances, allowing them a further measure of control over the presentation of their concerts and freeing them from the worry of not knowing ahead of time the type and quality of facilities available at each venue. This gave the Corricks the opportunity to play in locations that would otherwise be off-limits (such as the new Town Theatre in Singapore, which hadn’t been completed by the time they arrived to perform) and to fulfill their advertised pledge to bring “exactly similar” programs to every town and venue, no matter how big or small. Ads trumpeted that no expense was spared in importing the 8 horse-power, 5,000 candle-light generating motor and electrical plant from Paris, and it was this dynamo that allowed them to stake a claim to being the first to bring electricity to a number of Australia’s smaller towns. The elaborate equipment was promoted most heavily during and in the months before their 1907-1909 international tour, but even several years later it was apparently still worth mentioning prominently in ads and by reviewers, even meriting its own short newspaper article in 1911 during their visit to Hobart, Tasmania.
The plant was used to power Leonard’s projector (to which the “absence of that flicker which is so trying to the eyesight” was credited), to run the “highly appreciated” electric fans that were strong enough to “shake every plant and feather in the building”, and to light both the interior and exterior of the venue. After first using carbon-arc filament lamps, they soon switched to the new tantalum filament bulbs (reportedly purchased from the first shipment ever to reach Australia), which had a brilliant white light said to be 3 times as bright as the carbon-arcs and were a great improvement over the familiar gaslights. Outside the hall, they hoisted a globe on a 40-foot pole that was said to be visible from miles away in the darkness of the Australian night, while inside, the bulbs ringing the stage “concentrated a blaze of light on the performers”. Usually this highly-involved set-up drew effusive praise, but in Calcutta a reviewer wondered: “The lantern used was an excellent one…though how the Corricks were able to procure the [required] petrol during the present famine is not easy to guess.” A mention of the family found in the next week’s social column perhaps provided an answer to the writer’s question, as it noted that they had kindly lent their portable electric light plant to illuminate the ballroom and reception halls at the annual Ramnuggur ball of the 14th King’s Hussars.
A newspaper account of their December 1907 opening concert in Bangalore gives both contemporary and modern readers a glimpse of the Corrick Family Entertainers famed showmanship, hints as to how they so dazzled their audiences, and more generally casts light onto the at-times shadowy practices of the itinerant exhibitors of early cinema: “The performance commenced punctually to the time advertised. The room was well filled long before the hour and waited impatiently in the semi-gloom of the ill-lit hall till the time gun fired. Then, as if this was the signal, the room was in a flash most brilliantly illuminated. For this sudden transformation the audience have to thank, not the Secretary or Committee of the Bowring Institute, but the Corrick entertainers. The management had put up at short notice (for it must be remembered that they only received their heavy baggage a couple of hours earlier) a complete and effective electric installation. A show of bulbs had been placed where the ordinary footlights ordinarily stand, and the chain was continued up the sides of the stage as high as the curtain pole. In a couple of minutes these lights were switched off, and the screen for the lantern display of living pictures was lowered and the exhibition of pictures commenced.”
The Corricks’ description of their concerts as “An Entertainment of SCIENCE and ART” is also a fitting description for this third installment of Corrick Collection films to be shown at the Giornate. This year’s selection includes examples of creative cinematography (La Poule aux oeufs d’or) and innovative narrative strategies (Le Tour du monde d’un policier), more early animation (Comedy Cartoons and How Jones Lost His Roll), views of natural wonders (Niagara in Winter 1909), images of nation (Reception on, and Inspection of, H.M.S. “Dreadnought”) and visions of modern industry (La Métallurgie au Creusot). We’re also presenting another example of the Corrick family’s own forays into the world of filmmaking, The Day-Postle Match at Boulder Racecourse, Western Australia, and to ease anyone going into withdrawal following the ending of the Griffith Project screenings we have Griffith’s “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them”, preserved from an original release print. Two “mini-themes” within this year’s programs are 4 films demonstrating the handiwork of Spanish special-effects wizard Segundo de Chomón from his time at Pathé, and 4 produced by Great Britain’s American-born film pioneer Charles Urban. – Leslie Anne Lewis

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