91 years ago today, a fun time was had by all at a sporting event at Athletic Park, Wellington. This silent film footage, shot on 6 March 1926, includes scenes showing various sporting events, including: javelin, long and short distance running, hurdles, cycling races and high jump – as well as some slightly less conventional athletic feats, such as the “boys inside tyre race.”
The film also features footage of Randolph Rose, one of New Zealand’s first great distance runners, defeating the American champion at Masterton two days earlier.
The film was produced to a high standard by Joseph Sylvanus Vinsen. The smart intertitles that introduce each event are designed in modern 1920s fonts and feature a graphic of a runner. It would have been screened locally, as a prelude to a longer film feature, allowing people who participated in the event the pleasure of seeing themselves or their friends / family members on screen.
- By Ellen Pullar (Digital Programme Developer, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
120 years ago, on 13 October 1896, New Zealanders first got their chance to see moving pictures, when the first film was played to an audience at the Opera House in Auckland. Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision is marking this anniversary with a series of screenings of a selection of Films that Shaped New Zealand in Wellington over the next 10 days – and we will be preceding each of these screenings by showing either Sandow the Strong Man or The Serpentine Dance before each feature. These were two of the first films ever watched by New Zealand audiences back in 1896.
Eugen Sandow in the film Sandow the Strongman (Edison Studios, 1894, directed by William K.L. Dickson).
The inaugural screening of moving pictures in New Zealand was as part of a vaudeville programme by Charles Godfrey’s Vaudeville Company. The “kinematograph” screenings were part of the show’s line-up, along with singers and musical items. After the first performances in Auckland, the show moved to Thames, Paeroa and Wellington later in October 1896, before further screenings in Christchurch and Dunedin in November that year.
Annabelle Whitford in the film The Serpentine Dance (Edison Manufacturing Co., 1895, directed by William K.L. Dickson and William Heise)
What was it like to own a movie theatre in 1915? How were films projected 100 years ago? In today’s rush to embrace digital cinema projection, the act and ritual of handling physical film during projection is becoming something of a lost art (fortunately though, film archives around the world remain dedicated to projecting on film – the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision cinema is equipped to project both 35mm and DCP – Digital Cinema Package). Call me nostalgic, but for me there’s nothing like watching a film that by its very tangibility evokes its conditions of production and exhibition – the “cigarette burns” that mark where one reel of film is about to run out, or usage scratch marks that testify to the enjoyment of the film by the audiences of a previous generation. The third edition of F. H. Richardson’s Motion Picture Handbook: A Guide for Managers and Operators of Picture Theatres, suggests that the craft of film projection had already developed to a high level of sophistication by 1915, when this edition was prepared.
This handbook is housed in the Jonathan Dennis research library, accessible by appointment at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Wellington, where it sits alongside a diverse range of books relating to film and television production, exhibition and reception, dating back to the late 1800s. I immensely enjoyed reading the Motion Picture Handbook, even though some of the detailed electrical, scientific and mathematical information contained within far exceeded my limited comprehension in these fields. The author Richardson’s encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of film projection and movie theatre ownership is most impressive. He considers everything – electrical wiring, amperage, rheostats, how to avoid short circuits, alternating currents, arc rectifiers, the pros and cons of different kinds of lenses, the science of light reflection, persistence of vision, how to care for a range of different brands of film projection equipment / tools / electrical equipment, how to look after and repair film, making your own advertising slides, the colour and intensity of projection lamps, ways of laying out and furnishing cinemas, the ideal dimension of the space between rows of seating, cinema lighting schemes, what type of neighbourhood to build your cinema in, what sort of personages to hire as staff, and a lot more in-between. Continue reading →
In part two of our guest blog from Russell-based local historian Lindsay Alexander, the tale of a 1930s documentary filmmaking venture continues… and questions arise about the fate of the final footage.
Chasing The White Whale: The Mystery of the Missing Whangamumu Whaling Film
by Lindsay Alexander
How did Woodard know to contact Herbert Cook? Possibly through a marine scientist. Herbert Cook was regarded as an expert in Bay of Islands whaling and the Discovery Reports, research papers from the scientific RRS Discovery expeditions of the mid 1920’s, say that the Bay of Islands whaling section ‘is compost almost entirely from conversations with Mr H. F. Cook manager and part owner of the station at Whangamumu, who visited the RRS Discovery at Auckland…’. Continue reading →
This two-part guest blog from Russell-based local historian Lindsay Alexander tells the incredible tale of a 1930s documentary filmmaking venture: Hollywood movie-man Stacy R Woodard’s mission to find 74 year old Herbert ‘Bertie’ Cook (legendary Bay Of Islands whaler), build a replica American-style whaleboat and go harpoon whales the old way.
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision is very pleased to be able to share Lindsay’s essay with you. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Chasing The White Whale: The Mystery of the Missing Whangamumu Whaling Film
by Lindsay Alexander
On December 12 1933 Stacy R Woodard, “of Hollywood”, and his wife Margaret boarded the steamer Niagara at Auckland bound for Los Angeles via Honolulu. With him was a priceless Bay of Islands legacy. Stacy had arrived in New Zealand some four months previously. He had a mission to “depict whaling in the olden days … to resurrect and to preserve for all time a record of those old methods…the risks to life and limb were many and various”.
The place to do this was Whangamumu. Though the whaling station had recently closed in 1931, Stacy knew that “one of the last whalers of the old school… ‘Bertie’ [Herbert] Cook” was still living in Russell. Herbert Cook had “over 50 years’ experience of whaling in all its phases and in many seas”. He was from a Bay of Island’s whaling dynasty. His grandfather, father, uncles and brothers had all been whalers. Born in 1859, he had cut his teeth on whales while growing up in the Bay of Islands and then honed his skills when he joined the American whaling barque Alaska of New Bedford on the 29th September 1879, at the age of 20. He was on a “170th lay for the balance of the voyage”. This was a very small share of the profits indeed. Captain Fisher had anchored the Alaska off the old whaling port of Russell, both to refit and provision; and ‘refresh’ his crew.
When the Alaska reached New Bedford in May 1880, at end of her voyage, Herbert was described as “[from] New Zealand, twenty years old, 5 foot 10 inches, Boatsteerer”, i.e. harpooner, and, as such, had risen rapidly through the ranks, increasing his earnings as he did so. Herbert was aboard when the Alaska left New Bedford on her next whaling voyage in September 1880. He was now most likely one of the mates, the most experienced of the whalemen on this crack American whaler. Eventually when she returned to Russell, Herbert left the Alaska in the mid 1880’s.
After arriving at Russell Herbert was back whaling again alongside his brother George Howe Cook, as one of the founders of the Whangamumu whaling station, run under the business name of “Cook Brothers”. The Cooks hunted the humpback whales which passed the Bay of Islands on their yearly migration to and from the tropics. Continue reading →
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision staff have been admiring beachside fashion circa 1925, in anticipation of summer. This footage depicts a Motion Picture Bathing Beauty Contest held in Auckland.
The film was shot by Frank Stewart and produced by pioneer film maker Rudall Hayward.
“The first of the ‘bathing beauty’ contestants depicted appears to be Nola Casselli, who was chosen to play the role of Cecily Wake in Rewi’s Last Stand (1925). Might this contest have been a form of screen test?” – Clive Sowry. Read more, and watch the film here.
Wouldn’t it be great if swimming hats came back into fashion?
Are you ready for your close-up? Film a silent movie screen test of yourself enacting one to four of the common silent film emotions in the list below, post the video to YouTube, and email the link to us at email@example.com (or post the link to The Film Archive’s Facebook or Twitter page) for an chance to win fame and fortune, as well as great prizes. Remember to send us your name (or your movie star alter ego’s name) and the name of the emotion(s) you are expressing, along with your entry.
The top three screen tests, as voted by audiences online here, will be shown on the big screen – so the public can see their star quality – at the final screening in the Ticket to Hollywood festival, 7pm Saturday 21 June.
Select between one to four of the emotions in the list below. How would you express this emotion (or emotions) in your acting if you were a silent movie star? Record a short screen test (please keep your screen tests under a minute – and shorter than this is fine). Remember this is a silent movie, so you’ll need to use your facial expressions and gestures to express your character. If you like, you could get into the spirit of the era by applying a sepia filter to your film!
The New Zealand Film Archive and Archives New Zealand recently opened New Zealand’s first specialised nitrate film vault. The new 100 square metre vault is shared by the two organisations, which will store nitrocellulose film there under controlled preservation conditions.
Nitrate film is fragile and needs a high level of care. This type of film is flammable and prone to deterioration over time. The new vault has been designed to prolong the life of nitrate films by slowing deterioration. As well as having built-in safety mechanisms, the environment inside the vault is well-suited for nitrate film storage – with a stable and closely monitored temperature and relative humidity.