28/07/2017

Every Year In Film #17 - Comical Encounters In Tiergarten, Stockholm

Thoughts On: Comical Encounters In Tiergarten, Stockholm (Komische Begegnung im Tiergarten zu Stockholm, 1896)


A brief display of comedic anarchy; people dance down steps, faint, fall off bikes, get into fist fights and all ends in chaos.


In 1896, cinema really began to explode across the world as a spectacle and new invention that brought images to life better than any other forms of projection or animation that anyone had seen before. Much of this can be contributed to the Lumières and the beginnings of the French film industry, which saw the start of the careers of Alexandre Promio, Alice Guy-Blaché and Georges Méliès. However, over in America, Edison's manufacturing company are still relevant with Dickson, Heise and James H. White producing dozens of kinetoscope shorts. And attached to these two hubs are countless imitators who are either making their own film equipment, copying the likes of the Cinématographe or are utilising official equipment - much of this was notably fuelled by Edison's decision to not file for international patents on his equipment. But, it's at this point in the Every Year series that we will have to assume that film history is going to get far too voluminous for us to keep a total grip on it. Whilst I certainly wouldn't say that we've covered every detail of cinema up until 1895, we have certainly touched on a good portion of it; something we won't really be able to do again. In fact, we will reach a point much like this one around every turn of a decade as there is a clear ramp of world-wide film production that has escalated over the first 100 years of cinema. This is up until, as we will all know, the modern age and the advent and popularisation of digital cinema. It's here where we would even start to struggle with a question of "What is cinema?", but would also be swamped with a seemingly infinite pool of films that no one, not even with 1000s of life times, could ever get through.

So, what we have to establish at this very early stage of the Every Year series is the means through which we will try to move forward. Firstly, we will be trying to pick up on every major change in cinematic history, but also attempt to give examples of the most significant filmmakers and movements. What we will then certainly not be doing is constructing a history of American cinema. Whilst the American film industry is one of the most significant, and has been since the birth of cinema, certainly the late 1920s, we will try to be looking at cinema as a body of work belonging to the world, not just one corner of it. So, as an extension of our attempt to find the most significant examples of cinema that, whilst they will not provide you a picture of all of cinematic history, will be great representatives of its evolution, we will be attempting to find interesting and non-obvious selections.

However, with all of that said, we will not be looking at the year of 1896 prospectively. Instead, we will take this moment to put to rest the era of 'pre-cinema'. Whilst the argument for this era ending in 1900 is a strong one, we will be taking advantage of the next few posts to build up to the 1900s. However, as implied, before that we will be taking a quick look over our shoulder to see what we've missed - and this is why our subject for today is, Komische Begegnung im Tiergarten zu Stockholm (Comical Encounters In Tiergarten, Stockholm).

This is a short film made by Max Skladanowsky with some peripheral help from his older brother, Emil - who primarily worked as the promoter. Born in Berlin (Max, 1863; Emil 1859), these two brother's were German inventors. Max himself was trained in glass painting, photography and optics and would go onto work in the manufacturing workshops of Willy Hagedorn where lights, magic lanterns and other theatrical paraphernalia were constructed. He, along with his brother, would join his father, Carl, in 1879 after their schooling and apprenticeships to aid in his new enterprise concerning magic lanterns. In German, the type of shows they would put on would be referred to as "Nebelbilder", which translates to "fog pictures", which were otherwise known as "dissolving pictures". These shows involved magic lanterns with multiple lenses that would allow for superimposition and, as implied, dissolves between different slides. These kind of shows were interesting in themselves as they imply where different types of cuts would later come from in cinema - they certainly weren't the pure inventions of filmmakers. However, with Emil, Max and Carl Skladanowsky venturing into this enterprise and touring across Germany, later Central Europe, there developed an interest in the capabilities of 'magical' pictures within Max. Thus, after a many years of touring with various forms of projection devices, Max and Emil constructed their first chronophotographic camera in 1894. This utilised unperforated Kodak roll film, and so was already behind the frontier of film equipment. Nonetheless, in 1894, Max began shooting his first pictures. However, with over a decade of experience in projection shows, we can assume that Max was designing and creating these films for one purpose; public showing. This is why, only a year later, Max had constructed his Bioskop...


The Bioskop was a projector that utilised two lenses and two bands of films. The image projected onto a screen would then be an amalgam of two images projected via an alternation between the two lenses that would be controlled by the spinning shutter on the front face. This technology has very clearly been inspired by their magic dissolving picture lantern shows. Whilst my research into the Bioskop hasn't confirmed this, it seems apparent that the two strips of film would be projected through the lenses producing two continuous, overlapping images. However, without a shutter, the two superimposed images would just be a blur. With a shutter spinning, one of the lenses would be covered whilst the other would intermittently be projecting a passing frame.


What we can then imagine that this would produce the on-off effect and the switching between the two lenses that would be required to mitigate the blur of the moving film rolls. And in understanding the Bioskop down to this level, it becomes very clear that this was a pretty unique, and equally strange, invention - one that in no way resembles the manner in which moving picture projectors would come to function. (Note: Polish inventor Kazimierz Proszynski also constructed, around 1894, a device called a Bio-Pleograph that used two strips of film to function, meaning Skladanowsky's Bioskop wasn't entirely unique).

Inspired and motivated by their experience in magic lantern shows, the Skladanowsky brothers, having shot their first films and constructed a projector, would then show their new product publicly for the first to a small audience that included the directors of the Wintergarten Theatre in Berlin. Impressed by the presentation, they contracted the Skladanowskys to project their films in their theatre for a substantial 2500 Reichsmark. It was then in November of 1895, two months before the Lumières would publicly project their films to a paying audience, that the Skladanowskys played their films at the Wintergarten Theatre. Some of the films are the following...


... Boxing Kangaroo, which, though it may seem absurd, is/was a fairly common vaudeville or circus act. The Wrestler...


... which features Eugen Sandow, a famous vaudevillian renowned to be the World's Strongest Man, also considered the father of modern bodybuilding. Sandow also features in an Edison kinetoscope short directed by Dickson a year later:


However, a last example of the first films that Max Skladanowsky shot is The Serpentine Dance...


This dance is something we've discussed before and is actually featured in countless early silent films made by everyone from Edison to the Lumières to Alice Guy-Blaché with some of the most mesmerising examples being colourised. In fact, you can get a good sense of how popular this dance was by the extremes to which Guy-Blaché took the performance as to keep it fresh and interesting. She shot a performance in a cage with live lions and tigers:


As absurd as that is, we'll move on. Whilst the Skladanowsky's were the first to project moving pictures for paying audiences and were initially incredibly successful, this only lasted a matter of months. When the Lumières released their first films, the Skladanowskys' contracts were cancelled. This was simply because the Lumières' technology was superior; not only was it simpler to operate, but the image quality was better.

This marked the beginning of the end for the Skladanowskys. Whilst they had a few more screenings over the years and made a handful of new films, they were quickly out of business. And without the means to market and evolve they were pushed out of the spotlight and have stayed out of it to this day - which is a reason why we are all told that the Lumières made the first films and were the first to perform a a public screening for a paying audience. When we then look to our subject for today, we have a representative of the last strains of pre-cinematic technology...


(I should mention that "slut" in Swedish means "finished"). This was an effort made by the Skladanowkys as they travelled through Europe. In fact, this is actually the first known film to have been made in Sweden - which of course developed its own film industry that would become world-renowned in the nineteen-teens with directors such as Victor Sjöström, who made The Phantom Carriage, and become a key player in the European art cinema of the 50s and 60s through the master that is Ingmar Bergman. However, and as said, when we look to Max Skladanowsky's Comical Encounters In Tiergarten, Stockholm, this is not really a representative of the start of the Swedish film industry. Rather, this is a film made by a German that signals the triumph of the Lumières over all pre-cinematic efforts, who then gave cinema its first stable point from which to flourish - something that no one else in the pre-cinema era managed to do.

Before we end, there are many names that we should mention that define this pre-cinematic era. Firstly, we have Janssen, a pioneer in chronophotagraphy...


Muybridge, who was the first to make pictures move...


Marey, a scientist who produced astounding art...


Le Prince, who put 16 lenses onto one moving picture camera and was seemingly the first to actually use film to create moving pictures...


Greene, who never quite managed to produce technically viable products and whose films are gone.


Demenÿ, who worked with Marey and later attempted to commercialised chronophotography...


Dickson who, with Edison, successfully commercialised cinema...


Reynaud, the first animator and one of the first to put narrative into the moving picture...


Anschütz, who electrified and blew up the phenakistoscope...


There are many more names that could be mentioned, but here we have the main players in a world-wide race to invent the next great fad... something that almost no one could foresee developing into cinema as we know it today. And so, it's here where we'll end today, ready to jump into the epoch of cinematic attractions and leave behind everyone from Muybridge to the Skladanowskys.

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