Category Archives: Film Technology

From the career of Louis J Mannix

Louis J. Mannix, Memories of a Cinema Man. Leeds: Associated Tower Cinemas, 1987.

(Page references refer to this volume).

The local history section of the Central Library in Leeds holds an interesting volume that provides a unique, personal history of the film industry in the UK in the form of the memoir of Louis J. Mannix. This volume, titled Memories of a Cinema Man, is Mannix’s recollection of his career in the film trade in Leeds. It is a career that began in 1916 as assistant to the projectionist at the Hyde Park cinema and witnessed the major upheavals of sound, war, strikes, and trade organisations until Mannix’s retirement in the 1970s.

It is not a volume that is widely available – this is a personal memoir and only 250 copies were printed (there appears to be no copy listed by the British Library) – but it does provides an interesting take on the history of British cinema because it is the memoir of someone who worked as a projectionist, ‘technical director,’ and cinema manager for the Leeds and District Picture Houses. This is a perspective that is certainly missing from the history of British cinema and it will reward the historian of British cinema. Mannix also spent some time in Drogheda, Ireland after 1916, and this period is also covered giving a brief snapshot of the state of cinemas prior to the creation of the Irish Free State.

Here I note some highlights from the career and memories of Mr. Mannix. Three areas are broadly covered by his memoir: the technology of the cinema from the point of view of the exhibitor; the day to day running of a small chain of provincial cinemas in a major British industrial city; and the experiences of a cinema manager in the industry during the twentieth century.

Mannix was trained as an electrical engineer, and he initially worked as a projectionist on a part-time basis only. His interest in technology and the cinema was apparently piqued as a young boy when he was given a toy projector/magic lantern to play with. As an engineer, he subsequently pays considerable attention to the practices of exhibiting a motion picture from a practical point of view with considerable detail given to the technology involved. Thus we learn the advantages and disadvantages of different types of screens and the problem of light loss, arc lamps, and projectors, and so on. This is always tempered by a consideration of what was right for the audience, because Mannix was not just the ‘chief engineer’ for a chain of cinemas (though as he points out he was the only engineer) but also the manager of a cinema in that chain. We have therefore a detailed firsthand account of the technology used by a provincial cinema chain with some assessment of its commercial impact. Some examples follow.

An interesting problem for film archivists and restorers, and for analysts of film style, is the duration of intertitles in silent films: how long should the titles of a silent film remain upon the screen? Mannix provides us with a first-hand account of a projectionist faced with precisely this problem:

The conscientious projectionist would always slow down for subtitles – particularly the longer ones – because not everybody could read quickly and there was nothing more frustrating to the patron than for the subtitle to disappear before he or she had read it (11).

The correct projection speed cited by Mannix is 60 feet per minute or 16 frames per second.

As a projectionist and all-round technician for a chain of cinemas in Leeds, Mannix was intimately involved in the installation of Western electric sound systems at the Lounge and the Crown. Western Electric brought over engineers from America to install the sound equipment – a Mr. Hudeck is appreciatively recalled, though his supervisor is described as the ‘brash, arrogant type of American.’ Western Electric also sent specially trained projectionists to instruct Mannix and his fellow projectionists in how to run the projectors, but apparently he was drunk and could not keep the image in synch with the sound. The local Warner Brothers’ manager was roused from his bed, and a second projectionist with a new copy of the film had to be brought in. The Crown opened on the Bank Holiday Monday of 5 August, 1929, with The Singing Fool. The Lounge opened a week later with The Doctor’s Secret – an amplifier at a cinema in Manchester had broken down, and the one for the Lounge was the only replacement in the country, so Western Electric decided to install this in Manchester, thereby disrupting the company’s big opening. Mannix’s account is mostly concerned with the practical problems of introducing a new and complicated system into an existing building, and deals largely with necessary alterations to the wiring, structural changes to the buildings, and the relocation of the organs and orchestra pits. These changes sometimes resulted in the loss of seating, thereby increasing the economic burden on the exhibitor. All in all, this process appears to have been a mixture of tension, farce, and a considerable amount of joinery – but what we have is an account of the coming of sound like no other I have come across in the history of cinema.

Mannix notes that not everyone in the trade was enthusiastic or sensible about the coming of sound:

Yet there were many important members of the trade who decried it [sound] as a ‘flash in the pan’ and settled down smugly, convinced of their own omniscience. One such was an important member of the local branch of the Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association; he engaged the services of a well-known band leader and larger than usual orchestra, advertising the fact that his cinema would continue to show pictures in the well-tried, traditional way without ‘gimmicks’ and with a wonderful musical accompaniment, ignoring the fact that every picture coming out of Hollywood was now all or partly sound-recorded, and that he was not equipped to play them. He was not alone in this attitude (62).

The introduction of sound technology added a new role to the projection role – that of the sound watcher, whose responsibility it was to listen and signal if the level needed to changed up or down. Apparently, this role was fulfilled by the organists, who obviously would have previously been accompanying the film.

Mannix goes on to discuss the introduction of Cinemascope (107), which he notes caused considerable upheaval and expense that the exhibitors could have done without. Cinemascope not only required exhibitors to purchase anamorphic lenses, but also to invest in new screens and screen frames. Again, there is the matter of joinery – theatres were not built for Cinemascope and so changes had to be made to buildings and this also resulted in the loss of some seating. Problems were created for double bills, with the need for movable masking due to the fact that not all films were shot in Cinemascope and this had a negative impact on the picture quality of non-widescreen films. (There follows from this a discussion of the merits of different types of anamorphic lenses and problems of screen lighting that I shall not relate). Cinemascope is typically discussed by film historians form the point of view of producers, and this exhibitor’s account provides an interesting corrective to that.

As Mr. Mannix’s memoir is a firsthand account of the day-to-day running of a provincial cinema chain we get an intimate picture of the people and practices working there. We have Mannix’s opinions of his fellow projectionists, his fellow managers, the members of the board (especially Mr. Denham, whom Mannix appears to spend most of his time arguing with), and other members of the cinema trade in Leeds. This gives a much more human angle to the film trade than we typically find in historical accounts, and it is certainly more detailed than more academic histories. For example, we have an account of the organisation of the Leeds and District Picture Houses, where each director was responsible for a single cinema in the chain. We learn that the attendants were paid 12s for six nights, with 1s-6d per matinee, but did not receive an annual increase in their wages (Mannix describes this as ‘appallingly low’); that the pianist at the Beeston cinema, a Mr. Brooksbank, was paid £4-10s; and that the musical director was paid £6.there are also detailed descriptions of the orchestras, their directors, and their popularity with audiences.

One interesting observation quoted is attributed to a Mr. Matthews, who appears to have been at one time the Chief Constable in Leeds (and was therefore responsible for the inspection of safety measures in theatres on behalf of Leeds City Council’s Watch Committee):

The Cinematograph Regulations are like the Bible – it’s a matter of interpretation. That’s why there are so many crackpot versions of them both.

A curious story regarding the transfer of the (now closed) Lounge Cinema in Headingley from Charles Metcalfe to Harry Hylton is related:

[The Lounge] had been taken over from Mr. Charles Metcalfe and the original directors during the latter part of the 1914-1918 war. Mr. Metcalfe told me that he signed the transfer deeds for the Lounge in the trenches in France, because, as he said, ‘The war wasn’t going to well and it looked as if we would lose’ (108).

Finally, numerous theorists have remarked upon the importance of unofficial discourses in the promotion of a film. Few, however, have remarked upon the role of Sid Haddock, a Leeds fishmonger, who apparently had considerable ability to sway the audience with his opinions on the fare available at the Regent.

In 1926, the UK was hit by a general strike. The response of the film industry was to maintain the supply of films by the same means that they had operated during World War I.  A film dump was set up at Charles Metcalfe’s theatre at King Charles Croft and stand by films were stored at cinemas. Mannix notes that the major change that resulted from the 1926 strike was that, because the railway workers joined the strike, road distribution became much more important to the industry.

Another major social change to affect the exhibition market in Leeds was the improvement of living conditions is come of the poorer parts of the city, particularly in Burmantofts and Wortley. These were the main catchment areas for many of the city’s cinemas. Mannix notes that the Regent in particular was adversely affected by the loss of its audience.

Mannix was a manager at the Beeston and later the Regent for Leeds and District Picture Houses, and became involved with the Cinema Managers Association (CMA). He describes himself as resolutely not a union man, but his is committed to improving the working conditions and pay of cinema managers. This is of great interest: this is a group of employees in the film industry that rarely (if ever) finds itself the attention of scholarly inquiry in film studies and there is clearly a great deal to be learnt from the records of the records of the various institutions involved. This is all the more surprising given the politics between the CMA and the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association (CEA), which was determined not to allow the former to become established. As before, this is a personal account and so we get lively descriptions of meetings and the persons involved.

The CMA had arisen from the National Association of Theatrical and Kinematograph Employees (NATKE), but was not recognised by the CEA who regarded the cinema managers who tried to form their own association as malcontents: Captain (later Sir) Sidney Clift, CEA president, reportedly threatened ‘If any of my managers dares to join the so-called union, he will be out on his ear – and quickly’ (104).The CEA took active steps to stop the CMA on two occasions by setting up alternative unions that would draw support away from the CMA. The first was not successful, and was apparently stopped by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) following an appeal from the CMA:

… one morning when The Daily Film Renter came in, I was astonished to read the headline ‘Federation of Cinema Managers Sponsored by the CEA.’ Further details were to the effect that a group of managers in Lincolnshire had formed this ‘Federation,’ … Within a day or so the literature came in, obviously emanating from the CEA. … It was emphasised that when a reasonable membership was attained, wages negotiations would take place.

I got onto [CMA general secretary Len] Pember at once.

‘They cannot do it,’ I said. ‘A union within a union – it just cannot be done. See somebody. Talk to [TUC secretary Walter] Citrine again, or the registrar of Friendly Societies.’ He did – with the result that the so-called ‘Federation’ was still born (104).

The attitude of the CEA was apparently to change its opinion with the recognition that cinema managers had the right to unionise, but this did not apparently mean engaging in negotiations with the CMA (see 117-118). Mannix notes that his suspicions were aroused when the CEA announced it was amenable to a managers’ union but did not contact either himself as a senior officer in just such a union or the CMA’s secretary who was based in London. The CEA was attempting to pull the same trick it had tried with the ‘Federation:’ the creation of an alternative union – the Society of Cinema Managers (SCM), the address of which was at the office of the CEA. The named officers of this new Society were all Odeon men – Leslie Holderness, Bill Fuller, and Harry Kerr. Many members of the CMA defected to the SCM, thereby relieving themselves of a stain on their professional character in the eyes of their employees, and ultimately the CMA was disbanded. But Mannix’s assessment is that it had achieved what it had set out to do: the existence of the CMA had forced the industry to look at the working conditions of managers and pay was improved, and the SCM had only come into being because of the existence of the CMA (albeit for largely negative reasons); and, as Mannix writes, ‘the manager was recognised as a responsible member of the trade, and his financial rewards adjusted accordingly.’

I have presented here some brief episodes from Louis Mannix’s career. There is much more detail available, and anyone interested in researching the history of the exhibition of motion pictures in the UK should make their to the Central Library in Leeds as I can think of no other firsthand account that is so detailed or so varied.

Shot length distributions in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1927 to 1931

In an earlier post I mentioned I was looking at the distribution of shot lengths in the two versions of Blackmail (1929), along with several of Alfred Hitchcock’s late-silent and early sound films, and today’s post is the first draft of that paper. The abstract is below, and the pdf can be download here: Nick Redfern – Shot length distributions in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1927 to 1931.

Shot length distributions in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, 1927 to 1931

The shot length distributions of the silent and sound versions of Blackmail (Alfred Hitchcock, 1929) are analysed in to determine if the introduction of synchronous sound technologies led to a difference in film style. The two versions of this film are then analysed along with four of Hitchcock’s silent films prior to the filming of Blackmail and four of his early sound films. The results show that there is no significant difference in the shot length distributions of the two versions of Blackmail at any point (Kolmogorov-Smirnov: D = 0.07, p = 0.19). Putting Blackmail into the context of Hitchcock’s late silent and early sound films from 1927 to 1931, there is no significant difference in the median shot lengths (Mann Whitney: U = 4.5, p = 0.12), but there is a significant difference in the interquartile ranges (Mann Whitney: U = 0.0, p = 0.01). Closer inspection of this change in the dispersion of shot lengths reveals that there is no significant difference in the lower quartiles of these films (Mann Whitney: U = 10.0, p = 0.66) but there is a significant change in the upper quartiles (Mann Whitney: U = 0.0, p = 0.01). The impact of sound on Hitchcock’s style can, therefore, be seen in the increase in the dispersion of shots above the median rather than in the distribution overall. Comparing the interquartile ranges for the ten films it is possible to sort them into three groups: the late sound films, the two versions of Blackmail, and the early sound films. The results show that there is no difference in the distribution of shot lengths between the two versions of Blackmail due to the unique circumstances of production and that as silent-sound hybrids they represent a transitional phase between Hitchcock’s ‘pure’ silent pictures and his ‘pure’ sound films.

Claude Hamilton Verity in New York

I have written about Claude Hamilton Verity, an inventor from Leeds, and his efforts to develop a commercially successful synchronization between sound and image before (see here). This post follows up on Verity’s trip to America, and looks at his efforts through his own words.

On 9 November, 1923, Verity set off for New York aboard the Aquitania from Southampton, and on arriving declared he was meeting the vice president of the Vitagraph film company, J. Stuart Blackton. Verity’s purpose in traveling to America was to promote the synchronized moving pictures he had demonstrated at Harrogate in 1921 and London, Leeds, and Bradford in 1922.

On 20 January, 1924, the New York Times published an article comprised largely of Verity’s pronouncements on the future of the sound film. If you want to read the article in full you will, I’m afraid, have to pay (about $4); but you can also find this article in The New York Times Encyclopedia of Film, 1896-1979.

Verity’s pronouncements cover three topics: the need for the sound film to reinvigorate the interest of audiences, the prospects for the sound film, and the technical difficulties of the sound film and Verity’s attempts in overcoming them.

Verity first remarks on the fact that audiences, as far as he is concerned, are wearing of the silent films, as its novelty has long since worn off:

Personally, I believe that music carefully edited and synchronized with the pictures adds greatly to the enjoyment of the production. And I really believe that the public is losing interest in the silent film – it maybe gradual but nevertheless I believe it is true.

To explain this loss of interest, Verity points to the varied nature of the programme provided by exhibitors, including musical interludes, and singing and dancing acts as proof that audiences needed some other entertainment alongside a silent film. He also goes onto point out that this fine for moderately-sized theatres large towns and cities where, exhibitors can afford to put on such additional entertainments, but that this is scarcely possible in the more numerous smaller establishments that he describes as the ‘backbone of the industry.’ The need for sound, then, is a matter of maintaining audience interest in the medium of cinema, especially as everything else appears to have been tried:

Producers have exhausted nearly every conceivable subject; they have clothed their artists in elaborate costumes and presented them with almost nothing on.

Despite the fact that he spent so much of his time and own money on developing devices for the synchronization of sound and image, Verity seems to be ambivalent about their prospects. On the one hand, he thinks that there is a ‘great future’ in the synchronized picture and that pictures synchronized with sound, ‘be it voices or music, will enhance the worth of productions;’ while at the same time, he states that ‘I don’t think that talking and singing pictures have really much entertainment value.’ This is, I think, an odd opinion for some one who claims to have spent some £7000 on his own inventions for precisely this purpose (see here), but then many inventors fail to realise the potential of their devices because they view the problem from a purely technical standpoint. The synchronization of sound and image was a technological puzzle, but it took a showman to really make it work. Sound pictures, would Verity states, lead to new interest in films with the recording of music hall acts, sketches, and songs, but he sees it only as a means of recording existing acts and not of creating something new; and the principle beneficiaries would be the legion of small theatres that cannot attract such acts and can, therefore, substitute for them, with a film.

The second half of the article is comprised of Verity discussing the technical problems of the sound film, but his first statement in this area is an intriguing plea for government investment in potential technologies.

The history of almost all discoveries reveals how fate clings to the secrets stored up for the future welfare of mankind. Progress is ever slow. Inventors carry on their lonely and strenuous efforts secretly, and nearly always under the greatest financial difficulties. The state should alter this so that when an inventor could prove before an appointed commission that he had practical ideas, which, if developed, would be to the general welfare of the community at large, he could receive laboratory facilities or financial assistance.

Such a scheme would immediately cut venture capitalists out of the picture with the state holding the rights (in some form) to patents and would therefore never happen; but this argument provides an insight into Verity’s own position as an inventor. Born into a family of hardware merchants in Leeds, Verity produced a range of inventions and held a series of patents but he never worked for a large corporation and appears to have met the expense of development from either his own pocket or from the profits of the family firm. We know from Douglas Gomery’s research on the history of sound technology that the major corporations with the large research laboratories (Western Electric, General Electric, Radio Corporation of America, and so on) along with the major Hollywood film studios (Warner Bros., Fox) successfully introduced synchronized pictures at the end of the 1920s. In Verity we have a skilled and creative inventor, but one who also epitomizes the British tradition of the ‘practical man’ working alone his shed – that said, as a lone inventor he has achieved much, getting to New York to meet with the vice president of the Vitagraph film company. Verity’s trip to New York at the end of 1923 comes just before Warner Bros. purchases Vitagraph (in 1925), and begins turning out Vitaphone sound shorts using a sound-on-disc system. Verity’s patents for sound cinema from 1916 to 1929 all relate to sound-on-disc systems, and it would be interesting to discover what, if anything, Vitagraph learned from Verity or if (and why) they thought his invention unworthy. Verity went to the trouble of traveling over 3000 miles to meet Blackton, and Blackton went to the trouble of meeting Verity, so each must have expected something from this meeting. It would be fascinating to know if either of them got it. It would also be fascinating to know who else Verity was meeting with, but the New York Times article refers only to his being ‘in the city for several weeks.’ (The Ellis Island immigration records list his intended stay as 3 months, so the article was published at the end of this period). Verity is dismissive of the film industry, so perhaps he found it to be a wasted trip:

It stands to reason that the vested interests in the screen are not particularly anxious for the success of the synchronized film, but I think when a commercial solution is actually found they will fall over one another to obtain its actual control.

It is also interesting to note that there is a break in the patents filed by Verity in the UK for sound film devices from 1922 to 1928. Perhaps he found his New York trip to be particularly discouraging, as his swipe at ‘vested interests’ would indicate.

Verity refers to his various attempts to produce synchronized films. The first attempt he refers to only to say that it was ‘too complicated,’ but gives no other details. The second attempt he refers to was a sound-on-disc system that would provide a ‘commercial solution.’ Verity states that this system has been successfully demonstrated in England several times, and is presumably the device demonstrated at Harrogate in 1921. This ‘second attempt’ is almost certainly the device described by the 1916 GB patent and the 1917 US patent and later improved on the early 1920s. (See here and here for details on Verity’s patents and how to access them). It would seem obvious that it is these patents that Verity has traveled to New York to discuss with Vitagraph. The ‘Verity system’ operated by recording the sound separately from the images, and then providing the projectionist with the sound and the disc and a mechanism that would allow him to keep the two in synchronization to within 1/25th of a second by adjusting the variable speed of both devices according to an array of lights that represents their relative speeds.

Although, Verity states that his system ‘never once failed,’ he admits the need for a new device that will enable for sound to be ‘synchronized on the same film’, and claims that his third attempt has provided a solution to this problem.  He is, however, somewhat sketchy on the detail here, and it may be that an idea had suggested itself to him after the meetings in New York. The impetus behind this ‘third attempt’ appears to have been frustration with projectionists who could not follow the instructions for the Verity system and thereby let the film get out of synch – cuttingly he remarks that while the technology ‘never once failed,’ ‘it is human nature to fail at times to work according to instructions.’ This is, of course, perfectly true, and if sound film had been dependent upon the skill of the projectionist it may have failed due to the variability in the quality of the show from one theatre to another. Sound-on-film was an advance on sound-on-disc for many reasons, not least because it removed human error from the exhibition of motion pictures. Sound-on-film would also mark an improvement, in Verity’s opinion, for shooting on location as this would allow for the simultaneous recording of sound and image. He notes that a sound-on-film system would present considerable difficulty in editing down the 50000 feet of film shot to the 8000 of a feature, but then at no point does he ever seem to express any understanding of the process of editing (or any other production practices) and so his calim to have solved this problem is perhaps dubious. In Verity’s patents there is no mention of a sound-on-film system, and his patents from the late-1920s all relate to improvements for sound-on-disc systems, and one patent which refers to a method of synchronizing films with wireless broadcasts (notably after Logie Baird, Marconi, and Farnsworth). We can therefore conclude that this ‘third attempt’ was not realized – certainly not in form suggested by this interview. Nonetheless, he signs off by stating that ‘inventors are having a race in various parts of the world hunting for the true solution of the synchronized picture. I believe that at last I have found it.’

Stan Laurel’s Eyes

Over the past couple of months I have been diligently collecting shot length data from Laurel and Hardy short films in order to compare the shot length distributions of the silent and sound films to see what  impact – if any – sound technology had on the style of these films. I have now completed this and done the analysis, and am currently in the process of writing the article to explain the results. A draft version will be posted here as soon as I’ve finished. (This constitutes proper research and in no way was an excuse to watch Laurel and Hardy films).

As part of this I have been reading a lot about Laurel and Hardy, and remembered that I have several issues of an old film magazine The Silent Picture, founded in 1968 and edited by Anthony Slide. You can access Slide’s website here. These came into my possession, along with some American 16mm newspapers, via the Oxfam shop in Harrogate sometime in the late-1990s, and mighty interesting they are too. In particular number six from 1970 (Figure 1), which features an interview with Hal Roach – Laurel and Hardy’s producer.

Figure 1 The Silent Picture 6 from Spring 1970

In the course of this interview, Slide asks Roach how Laurel and Hardy came to be paired and the answer is fascinating.

AS  Can you tell me how the Laurel and Hardy team developed?

HR  Hardy was working for us as a heavy; in fact he’d worked for other companies as well, but then he came to work steadily for us. And Laurel – I saw him in vaudeville and engaged him. After we did engage him, we found out that because of the film at the time – he had very light blue eyes – hi eyes wouldn’t photograph, so he became a writer. And I think for about a year he was a writer at the studio. The panchromatic film came in, and so we made a test for him on panchromatic film and found that his eyes now did photograph. So we put him in a bit – he was still a writer. Hardy was also in the picture, and they seemed to complement each other, so the next one, we gave them a bit more. AT that time all comedy teams, or most of them, had a straight man and a comedian. Here were two funny men that would complement each other, and could play straight tot he other one, and I though that would be a very good thing for comedy. You would do a gag as you did in any normal picture, and you could always cut to a close-up of either one, and their reaction was good for another laugh.

The Silent Picture 6 Spring 1970, p. 4

An important factor in Roach’s decision to use Laurel as a performer was, then, predicated on the available technology, with panchromatic stock becoming widely available in the 1920s Laurel’s films career may have been a good deal shorter, comprised only of films like The Lucky Dog (1919) where heavy eye make up was necessary (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Laurel and Hardy in The Lucky Dog (1919) (Image from The Laurel and Hardy Forum)

In total I have 15 issues of The Silent Picture, nos. 2-17 (11 and 12 were published as a double issue), covering the period from Spring 1969 to Spring 1973 so its nearly a complete collection. The Silent Picture ceased publication in 1974.

Motion Picture Patents

The cinema is art, it is industry, and it is also technology. One of the simple joys of film studies for me is the amount of time you can spend just focusing on this last aspect, reading through technical descriptions and patents so you can work out how things are done. Film students seem to me to have too little understanding of the technical and technological side of the cinema – they understand style as technique (which it is), but too often do not understand it in relation to the technology employed. This may be due to the fact that most film studies lecturers also have a very limited understanding of how motion picture technology came into being or how it works.

This is a shame, because there are some fantastic web resources that could be used for teaching film studies. For example, the teaching of digital cinema needs to address technological issues (not least because they impact on the theory and practice of film studies), bit this need to go beyond simply distinguishing between an analogue image and a digital image, so that students can understand how a digital image is produced – the best explanation for this that I have come across is at Nikon’s Microscopy U website, which is obviously not aimed at film studies students but which has brilliant explanation with great diagrams and animations of how the parallel and serial registers of how a CCD chip functions.

There is also a wealth of historical material available, that is simply fascinating to read and provides a great deal of information on the technological history of the cinema.

The Internet Archive has the full text of Monthly Abstract Bulletin from Kodak Research Laboratories for 1917 to 1919, which contains a huge amount of information on magazine and journal articles on photography, cinema, and other visual entertainments; and it provides abstracts for patents covering every possible topic for motion pictures.The patents are international and covers the US, the UK, France, Italy, and Germany.

(The Bulletin also covers many other areas, and so you will also find references to articles on ‘The Sodium Nitrate Industry in Chile’).

Some examples to whet your appetite (NB: the spelling mistakes below appear in the source material, and are probably due to the digitisation process):

1207527 W. F. Fox, Assigned to Kinemacolor Co. of America K/43

A Process of Color Photography. Two negative images are made, one taken through a green filter and one through a red filter. One of these is printed upon positive material and toned to a color complementary to that of the screen through which the corresponding negative was taken. Next the other negative is printed on the positive material in registry with the toned image thereon and the st cond positive image is dyed a color complementary to that of the screen through which its negative was taken. The patentee states that the method may be used either where the two positive images are upon the same side of the positive film stock or where they are formed ujfcn opposite sides. The second negative is printed over the first positive image on the previously exposed positive emulsion without first developing and resensiti/Jng.

1204091 K. von Madaler, Assigned to Projectophone Co., Inc. 323

An Apparatus for Preparing Ck)mbined Motion Picture and Phonograph Records, so as to produce absolute synchronism. Motion pictures and a phonographic record are taken simultaneously of a scene in the usual way. The motion picture positive is then run through the present apparatus and a phonographic record is made in fhe edge thereof from the original phonographic record. As the original phonographic record is turned it oscillates a needle which actuates a lever carrying a heated platinum wire which bears against the moving picture strip so that for every wave in the original phonographic record a corresponding wave will be burned or melted into the edge of the motion picture strip.

B103407-1916 C. H. Verity 069

Synchronizing Photographs and Cinematographs. In recording a play or an opera, the pictures are first taken by means of a cinematograph camera, and the words or other sounds are subsequently recorded by the actors speaking into a phono- graph horn whilst watching their own movements as portrayed on the picture screen ; and during the recording of the sounds, or during a combined reproduction, the speed of the photograph is adjusted into synchronism by the operator watching a tape which bears a series of marks corresponding to marks on the picture film.

The abstracts can be accessed here

Another interesting site is Phonozoic, from Patrick Feaster. As the name suggests, this website is devoted mainly to early sound technologies, but it does have some information on patents that relate to motion pictures and sound technology. The index to patents is extensive, but if you scroll down to class 352: Optics: Motion Pictures, you will find references to patents relevant to film studies.

Finally, there are also some search engines specifically for searching patents and some of these have good historical searches. IPEXL is a multilingual patent search, and will link to the office holding the patent. A search for ‘Kinematograph’ produced 3281 results. In some cases, I was able to access a pdf of the patent – this appears to be restricted to British patents, but to be honest I was only looking for Claude H. Verity at the time. (Verity is a good example of an inventor who not only took an interest in the cinema, but who also held patents in a number of other areas – he appears to have paid particular attention to the problems of revolving doors and turnstiles, as well as sound in the cinema. Patents for these other inventions can also be accessed)

Unfortunately the Canadian International Patent Office does not make images for patents from before 1920 available, but you can still find information about who patented what.

An example is Archibald Stannard Cubbitt’s patent for Obtaining stereoscopic effect in photography (GB 259341, 1926)

259,341. Cubitt, A. S. Aug. 7, 1925. Stercoscope systems; relief effects in kinematograph images, producing. -In order to obtain an effect of relief in a photograph, a camera having a lens of large aperture is used, and a diaphragm having a small aperture is moved either across the lens from one side to the other, or in a circular path round the centre of the lens. In the production of kinematograph pictures, the moving diaphragm is geared with a shutter so that alternate pictures are taken when the diaphragm is moving on opposite sides of the centre of the lens. In the form shown in Fig. 11 for still photography, a diaphragm 5 having an aperture 2 is geared at 6, 7 with a rotary shutter 4 having an exposure opening 3, so that, on release of the shutter trigger 10, the aperture 2 passes approximately horizontally across the lens 1 when this is uncovered by the exposure opening.; This form may be modified for kinematography by arranging the gearing between the diaphragm and the shutter so that during alternate exposures the aperture 2 moves respectively over the right and left halves of the lens 1. In the form shown in Fig. 13 for kinematography, the shutter 4 carries a pinion 7 gearing with teeth on the periphery of the diaphragm 6 so that the aperture 2 therein describes a circular path round the centre of the lens 1 as the shutter rotates. At each exposure the aperture 2 describes an angle of 45 about the centre of the lens, alternate exposures being made on opposite sides thereof. A modification is also described for still photography in which the diaphragm aperture describes a complete circle round the centre of the lens during exposure.

The pdf of this patent can be accessed here.

Wikipatents does very much the same thing, but only it seems to me less easy to get information out of it. Nonetheless, there is information there, and you can get information on Improvements in kinematograph film strips of single width, as patented by J.E. Thornton (GB 279220, 1927):

Abstract of GB279220 279,220. Thornton, J. E. Sept. 11, 1926. Kinematograph apparatus.-A film strip, either sensitive or carrying a kinematographic or other series of pictures, is connected permanently or detachably to blank leader strips which are permanently attached to two spools and are formed so as to render the feed mechanism of the projector &c. inoperative upon them; the film may be single-width or multi-width with two or more rows of pictures, first pictures of all the rows being at the same end of the film, and the picture heads being all similarly placed. Single-width films may have marginal perforations or perforations between the pictures, and multi-width films A may have perforations p in the outer margins, and, additionally or alternatively, between the rows of pictures, as shown in Fig. 5, or centrally between the pictures in the rows, as shown in Fig. 7. The perforations may be of round, square, diamond, or oblong shape, and are formed only in the film, or extend only a short distance into the leader strips D. being then discontinued, or replaced by slots p’ or cut-away portions of the strips, to render the feed mechanism inoperative. The leader strips may consist of mercerized cotton, linen, artificial silk, parchmentized paper &c., and may comprise two thicknesses of material cemented together, or a textile strip cemented between two paper strips. The strips may be rendered lightproof and fireproof, and may carry stencilled wording or directions, or may be in part semi-transparent with wording in opaque ink. Each strip may be permanently secured to a spool by means of a wooden peg passed through a loop of the strip and housed in a groove formed in the core of the spool, and the film may be secured to the strips by being cemented between two layers of the strip, or by means of hooks or other disconnectible fastenings. The images may be in one or more colours, and sound records s may be provided along the margins.

You can read the whole claim here.

Google patents makes it easy to search for patents, and using this function I was able to download (for free) the US patent for Cecil Wray (of Bradford and Leeds), for his Coin freed photograph exhibiting apparatus (661, 299, 1900); and for Charles Urban’s Kinematographic Feed Mechanism (934, 242, 1909), amongst many others. A quick search for ‘kinematograph’ brought up pages of results, the oldest of which was a US patent for Auguste and Louis Lumière (634, 560) from 1898.

This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to learn about the history of motion pictures, as it lets you read the words of the pioneers of the art and the industry directly. We can learn what they were thinking at the time. George Albert Smith, for example, (Kinematograph apparatus for the production of colour pictures, 941, 960 [1909]) does not favour three strip colour, and instead finds two-strip colour sufficient for persistence of vision:

It has been proposed to take, for  such purposes, and exhibit, by kinematograph apparatus, photographs taken as three color records requiring three times the ordinary number of pictures for a given subject, but it has been found that the persistence of human vision is not such that the series of three successive color records, hitherto considered necessary for the exhibition of colors resembling the original, can be either taken, or exhibited, in the short space of time necessary to enable, on exhibition, the eye to retain, by persistence of vision, the impressions received from the three successive records so that the three color sensations appear to be received by the eye at the same time.

I have found that persistence of vision is such, however, that only series of two color records, (the records of one color sensation alternating with those of the other color sensation), are necessary to present to the observer the appearance of the picture being in its natural colors, or approximately so, and I have found that the red and green color sensations are sufficient to give such appearance. As it is possible to take and exhibit series of two color records with sufficient rapidity to comply with the requirements of persistence 01 vision as regards color sensation, I can therefore pro vide means whereby so-called moving photographs, or bioscope pictures, can be taken, by photography, as color records, and exhibited in apparently their natural colors.

Fascinating! Wrong – but fascinating nonetheless.