Like all museums, the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford is currently closed, and there is as yet no firm re-opening date. But the museum has decided to retain The Forgotten Showman exhibition into 2021, and aims to enhance this for the extended run. Meanwhile, some research into the museum’s historic holdings reveals that a donation made by Robert Paul around 1898 – a mounted display of 24 six-frame film strips – includes at least 18 films not currently known to exist anywhere else.
The quality of these bromide prints is superb – recalling how valuable the paper prints deposited by Edison and others in the Library of Congress have proved, enabling many early films to be resurrected. The Bradford strips are only short portions of Paul’s early work, but they belong to a crucial period in his development as a producer, and may help archivists elsewhere to find material among their ‘unidentifieds’ – as the BFI National Archive did last year (see earlier post).
Above left is a frame from Arrest of a Deserter (1898), also known as In the Name of the Queen, in which a mother tries to hide her son from the police who have come to arrest him. And at right The Sailor’s Return, which formed a pair with The Sailor’s Departure, part of the burst of activity at Paul’s new Muswell Hill studio in the summer of 1898, which he proudly advertised in October as a series of 80 animated photographs, ‘each of which tells a tale, whether Comic, Pathetic or Dramatic, with such clearness, brilliancy and telling effect that the attention of the beholders should be riveted’.
Among the presentation strips is a portion from Paul’s Come Along, Do! (1898) – currently the only one of these eighty known to survive – showing much more detail than we previously had from a printed catalogue illustration. This historic ‘second shot’ may well be the first instance of any filmmaker created a continuity cut between an exterior and interior. The irritated wife here may also very well be Paul’s wife Ellen, his partner in launching the studio.
A trial animation of this second shot was produced last year, but this discovery should allow a new version to equal the quality of the surviving first shot. And among other good news, Alessandro Rizzi, of the University of Milan, a specialist in film restoration software, plans to set one of his students the project of re-colouring some of Paul’s films, allowing them to be seen as they were from as early as April 1896.