And so to Bradford, for the National Science and Media Museum show marking the end of this Paul 150th anniversary year. What Bradford can offer, uniquely, is a range of Paul’s original equipment, which he donated to what would become the Science Museum. We will never know for sure how much he contributed to the cameras that he and Birt Acres used to make their Kinetoscope subjects in 1895. Although it seems likely that Paul, with a machine-shop at his disposal in Hatton Garden, would have played a leading part.
But when it came to projecting these films onto screens, running neck and neck with the Lumières, he was on his own – and managed to show his mk.1 Theatrograph on the same day as the Cinématographe made its debut in London: 20 Feb 1896. Which explains the boxing ring concept in the exhibition – Paul vs Lumière – except you couldn’t buy a Cinématographe, whereas you could join the queue to buy Theatrographs as fast as Paul could produce them (Méliès bought a batch, as seen here in the Cinémathèque Française collection, one of which he converted into a camera).
Toni Booth, Bradford’s curator of early film, has also put on display the 1898 model camera, as used for filming Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and a later ‘Reliance’ projector (below), which apparently had provision for carbon-arc illumination.
Seeing these in Bradford’s exhibition really brings home just what a foundational part Paul played in getting cinema off the ground, not only in Britain but also around the world. This was the earliest equipment available to buy, and Paul would continue to develop and improve it for over a decade, offering a comprehensive range – as well as constantly expanding the repertoire of what there was to show, with his studio’s innovative output.
The replica Kinetoscope we created for the London exhibitions continues to provide Bradford visitors with an impression of what it was like to look into the earliest moving-picture display, to see Edison’s as well as Acres’ and Paul’s first efforts. And the museum has added an entertaining ‘time machine’ display, realising part of Paul’s 1895 proposal for an H. G. Wells-inspired concept (the moving seats) with a flash-forward to George Pal’s 1960 film version. Altogether, well worth a trip to UNESCO’s first ‘city of film’ for this, and much else to see in Bradford.
‘The Forgotten Showman’ exhibition is open daily at NSMM until March 2020.