Monday, October 03, 2011

The Soldier's Courtship

(Paul’s Animatograph Works, GB 1896) D, DP: Robert W. Paul; supv: Alfred Moul; cast: Fred Storey, Julie Seale, Ellen Daws [later Ellen Paul]; filmed: 4.1896 (on the roof of the Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square, London); orig.: 80 ft; 35 mm, 73 ft, 1'18" (15 fps); from: Cineteca Nazionale – Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, Roma. No intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, grand piano: Philip C. Carli, 3 Oct 2011.

Ian Christie (GCM Catalogue): "Newly discovered in the Cineteca Nazionale of Rome, after long being considered definitively lost, The Soldier’s Courtship restores a vital missing link in the early history of “animated photography”. Hitherto known only from an abbreviated version marketed as a Filoscope flip-book by Henry Short, this was the first fictional subject to be produced for screening (as distinct from showing in the Kinetoscope) in Britain. Robert Paul’s Animatograph had been a successful attraction on the programme of the Alhambra music hall in Leicester Square, London, since 21 March 1896, competing with the Lumière Cinématographe at the nearby Empire. After a month, the Alhambra’s manager, Alfred Moul, “wisely foresaw the need for adding interest to wonder and staged on the [Alhambra] roof a comic scene called The Soldier’s Courtship, the 80 ft film of which caused great merriment”, as Paul later recalled. The choice of subject was no doubt prompted by Moul’s theatrical experience. John Poole’s play A Soldier’s Courtship opened at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1833, and became a popular addition to the “Adelphi screamers”, named after the London theatre which specialized in these vehicles for inventive comic actors to deliver the lively physical action that made them a vital part of the Victorian theatre (an 1834 playbill records The Soldier’s Courtship featured between The Wedding Gown and My Neighbour’s Wife Tit for Tat in Bridgnorth, Shropshire). In another account of how Paul came to make the film, he recalled Moul suggesting “that I should make a short comedy in order to put a few laughs into the programme of scenic and interest films I was showing”."

"The cast of three principals – soldier, fiancée, and intruder – were all drawn from the company currently appearing in the ballet Bluebeard at the Alhambra, which also supplied the woodland setting, park bench, and some extra actors “to appear as people strolling in the park”. Fred Storey, the amorous soldier, had made his name in Augustus Harris’s Drury Lane pantomimes, and was now a leading dancer in the spectacular ballets for which the Alhambra was noted. The object of his affections, Julie Seale, was also a dancer at the Alhambra. But perhaps most intriguing is the presence of another dancer, playing the busybody who intrudes on the courting couple. Ellen Daws, or “Dawn”, as she was known on stage, would become Robert Paul’s wife in August of the following year, and it is tempting to speculate that this may be how they met, especially in the near-total absence of information about Paul’s personal life."

"According to a later account by Leslie Wood (who seems to have known Paul personally), Moul directed the actors on the roof of the Alhambra, while Paul operated the camera. Using a city-centre rooftop as a studio was soon to become common: in New York in the following year the first Vitagraph films were shot on the roof of the Morse building, while Vincent and Paley filmed their counterfeit Oberammergau Passion Play on top of the Grand Central Palace. Such locations ensured that unwanted urban background and interference by passers-by were eliminated, and the rooftop ensured maximum available daylight, without intrusive shadows, which suited the first cameras and their slow film stock. Being on top of a theatre also gave Newly discovered in the Cineteca Nazionale of Rome, after long being considered definitively lost, The Soldier’s Courtship restores a vital missing link in the early history of “animated photography”."

"Hitherto known only from an abbreviated version marketed as a Filoscope flip-book by Henry Short, this was the first fictional subject to be produced for screening (as distinct from showing in the Kinetoscope) in Britain. Robert Paul’s Animatograph had been a successful attraction on the programme of the Alhambra music hall in Leicester Square, London, since 21 March 1896, competing with the Lumière Cinématographe at the nearby Empire. After a month, the Alhambra’s manager, Alfred Moul, “wisely foresaw the need for adding interest to wonder and staged on the Alhambra] roof a comic scene called The Soldier’s Courtship, the 80 ft film of which caused great merriment”, as Paul later recalled. The choice of subject was no doubt prompted by Moul’s theatrical experience. John Poole’s play A Soldier’s Courtship opened at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1833, and became a popular addition to the “Adelphi screamers”, named after the London theatre which specialized in these vehicles for inventive comic actors to deliver the lively physical action that made them a vital part of the Victorian theatre (an 1834 playbill records The Soldier’s Courtship featured between The Wedding Gown and My Neighbour’s Wife Tit for Tat in Bridgnorth, Shropshire). In another account of how Paul came to make the film, he recalled Moul suggesting “that I should make a short comedy in order to put a few laughs into the programme of scenic and interest films I was showing”."

"The cast of three principals – soldier, fiancée, and intruder – were all drawn from the company currently appearing in the ballet Bluebeard at the Alhambra, which also supplied the woodland setting, park bench, and some extra actors “to appear as people strolling in the park”."

"Fred Storey, the amorous soldier, had made his name in Augustus Harris’s Drury Lane pantomimes, and was now a leading dancer in the spectacular ballets for which the Alhambra was noted. The object of his affections, Julie Seale, was also a dancer at the Alhambra. But perhaps most intriguing is the presence of another dancer, playing the busybody who intrudes on the courting couple. Ellen Daws, or “Dawn”, as she was known on stage, would become Robert Paul’s wife in August of the following year, and it is tempting to speculate that this may be how they met, especially in the near-total absence of information about Paul’s personal life."

"According to a later account by Leslie Wood (who seems to have known Paul personally), Moul directed the actors on the roof of the Alhambra, while Paul operated the camera. Using a city-centre rooftop as a studio was soon to become common: in New York in the following year the first Vitagraph films were shot on the roof of the Morse building, while Vincent and Paley filmed their counterfeit Oberammergau Passion Play on top of the Grand Central Palace. Such locations ensured that unwanted urban background and interference by passers-by were eliminated, and the rooftop ensured maximum available daylight, without intrusive shadows, which suited the first cameras and their slow film stock. Being on top of a theatre also gave easy access to its store of props and costumes."

"The film apparently proved popular, and was only eclipsed by Paul’s Prince’s Derby, which showed the Prince of Wales’s horse Persimmon winning the Derby in June of the same year. The Era welcomed “the element of humour” introduced into the Animatograph programme, and reviewed the film in mock-heroic terms: “Mars and Venus (a befeathered Harriet) are interrupted in their ‘billing and cooing’ by a lady of mature years, who insists on making a third on the seat occupied by the lovers”. A mark of the subject’s popularity – and also of how fast audience expectations were changing – was Paul’s decision to re-stage it in the rural setting of Muswell Hill, where he was building a new studio in 1898. This version, entitled Courtship: Tommy Atkins in the Park, belongs to a group of some 40 films made during an extraordinary burst of invention by Paul, many of which have romantic or erotic themes, including the ground-breaking Come Along, Do! in two scenes." – IAN CHRISTIE

The restoration

Irela Núñez: "Previously titled in our archive Bacio movimentato in pubblico (“Animated kiss in public”), the film was only recently identified, thanks to its tiny perforations over the black film edges – a technical characteristic which Paul declared his own “lab stamp” (Catalogue of Paul’s Animatograph & Films, London, ca. 1901). As mentioned by John Barnes in The Beginnings of the Cinema in England, two fragments of the film survive elsewhere: a few frames from a contemporary print in the Kodak Collection at the National Media Museum in Bradford, and an excerpt of under 200 frames – less than a sixth of the whole film – printed on paper for Henry W. Short’s “flipbook” device, the Filoscope, held by both the Barnes Collection and the Bill Douglas Centre at the University of Exeter. An introductory descriptive page in the Filoscope version indicates the remarkable importance assigned to this film from the very beginning. According to the film historian Amândio Videira Santos (Para a História do Cinema em Portugal, Lisbon, Cinemateca Portuguesa, 1990), contemporary screenings of the film in Lisbon were accompanied with the sound of kisses and of someone being brusquely thrown to the ground."

"A measure of the success The Soldier’s Courtship must have enjoyed is evinced by the print in our archive: more than 100 years ago, wear and tear on the negative already required extensive manual retouching to conceal the defects."

"The film’s condition made duplication difficult: besides brittleness and the unusually small size of the perforations, the film base was laterally shrunken by 3-4% and very warped, which prevented uniform focus and risk-free transport. Added to this was detachment of the emulsion, which finally determined that the restoration had to be carried out digitally, without any prior chemical treatment, to prevent any further damage to the film."

"Determined as far as possible to restore the film to its original state, we posted our concerns on AMIA-L, the Association of Moving Image Archivists’ e-mail discussion Listserv. This produced a variety of excellent suggestions, using both analogue and digital methods, from the best specialists in the film restoration community. Among these was a proposal by Hendrik Teltau, head of preservation and restoration at OMNIMAGO, a film and television lab in Germany, who wanted to experiment with the possibilities and problems of restoring such an old and precious film using a very interesting scanner his lab had recently acquired. Developed by DigitalFilmTechnology, the SCANITY has a curved gate that seemed suited to match our film’s convexity, while its focus is attained by means of infrared light."

"A pinless driving system prevents friction and wear on the film, the perforations being scanned in parallel to regulate the registration of the frames. These factors, along with Mr. Teltau and OMNIMAGO’s clockwork efficiency, convinced us to try digital restoration. A first stabilization and cleaning was achieved with Digital Vision’s PhoenixFinish DVO. As the film was scanned at more than 2K, there was enough space to stabilize or reposition frames without loss of resolution. Thereafter we proceeded with Diamant software, establishing a typology of the element’s defects in order to treat them in a coherent way, respecting the film’s age and production conditions."

"This was followed by further stabilization and cleaning, including some of the old, poor retouching, which had only distracted our attention from the story. Other flaws like lacunae and deformation due to camera and duplication instability were respected – although they seemed to be present only in the print, and not in the camera negative that had been used to produce the Filoscope flipbook. We also decided to respect the lack of focus, the important manual retouching of the negative’s lacunae, and the missing frames, though we were at last able to incorporate the frames preserved by the National Media Museum in Bradford that were missing in our print. Finally, the restored files were recorded back onto 35 mm film." – IRELA NÚÑEZ

AA: A farce of passion, a scene on a park bench. There is more passion in this early film than in typical British films in decades to come. The kiss between the soldier and the maid is more ardent than the one between May Irwin and John Rice, and it is also hotter than anything in the contemporary Lumière films. Quite a discovery, then. One can imagine the dedication and expertise needed to this wonderful restoration. 2K scan, Omnimato, 2011.

2 comments:

Hendrik Teltau said...

Dear Antti,

Thank you for this nice and very complex review on the film.

If anyone has questions on the restoration, I would be pleased to answer them. You can also visit our facebook presence at www.facebook.com/omnimago and start a discussion there or meet us at the BBC's archive symposium this week. http://www.dft-film.com/archive/symposium.php

Antti Alanen said...

Dear Hendrik, thank you, and as you noticed, I copied Ian Christie and Irela Nuñez's notes from the Le Giornate del Cinema Muto catalogue, and just added a few sentences to the end. Remarkable work from you!