On this day, moving pictures launched in London…

4.alt.Rough Sea
Rough Sea at Dover, showing waves breaking over Admiralty Pier. Probably filmed in June 1895, with the Paul-Acres camera, and sent by Paul to Edison, who showed to great acclaim in  his 1896 Broadway debut show.

Under the quaint heading ‘The Theatrograph’, I found that there were to be exhibited that day two sets of living, or at least moving pictures, one at the Polytechnic in the afternoon and the other at a conversazione in the evening. The chance of comparing these two inventions was not a think to be missed, and I decided that I must be present at both entertainments.

I had, of course, like everyone else, read the graphic description of the cinématographe [misspelled as cimetographe], and I was accordingly prepared for most of what I saw at the Regent Street show. The movements were for the most part wonderfully lifelike, especially the slower and more uniform motions. Some of the more quickly moving figures were very jerky… I am told that it was due to the imperfect working of the mechanism, and that it will be set right in due course.

In the evening I attended the conversazione at the City and Guilds Technical College, with the full expectation of seeing the cimetographe equalled, if not surpassed by Mr Paul’s Theatrograph. I was the more inclined in favour of the latter, in that the details of the mechanism had been shown to me, while Messrs. Lumière et Fils carefully conceal their method of work. An accident, for which Mr Paul is in no way responsible, prevented any satisfactory comparison being possible. The lantern was mounted on an unsteady support, and on the hand-wheel being turned to bring successive films into view, the whole picture joggled up and down on the screen… So far as it is possible to mentally eliminate the superposed motion, I incline to think there is little to choose between the processes.

Lightning, the Popular and Business Review of Electricity, 27 Feb 1896 [discovered by Richard Brown, quoted by John Barnes, The Beginnings of the Cinema in England, vol 1, 1976/1998]

 

Two demonstrations held on 20 February 1896 (a Thursday incidentally) allowed an anonymous correspondent of Lightning to attend the first Lumière and Paul moving picture shows in Britain. Within four weeks the two systems would be competing commercially in Leicester Square, at the neighbouring Empire and Alhambra music halls, while Paul’s Theatrograph was also running at the Olympia Palmarium, advertised there as ‘ Animated pictures in living colours’. Teething problems with both had been eliminated, and the two received equally enthusiastic reviews.

But what did Paul actually show at Finsbury College, and eight days later at the Royal Institution in Albemarle Street? At the second demonstration, we know he included The Boxing Kangaroo and Rough Sea at Dover, which led to ‘a few people being observed dodging the flying foam’ (both films he and Birt Acres had made during their brief partnership in the previous year). Then there was ‘some performers rehearsing a play’ and ‘an acrobat performing with a pole’ (both assumed to be Edison Kinetoscope subjects) and, tantalisingly, ‘various other scenes’ (reported in The Morning, 29 Feb).

The Royal Institution show was obviously more successful that its forerunner, and led to a member of the audience, Lady Harris, telling her husband, Sir Augustus, that he must engage Paul for Olympia. Then Alfred Moul, dynamic manager of the Alhambra, decided he must compete with his Leicester Square rival the Olympia. He proposed that Paul rename the projector Animatographe, and start a residency that would run until the following June, along with nightly shows in at least five other London music halls.

Animated photography was well and truly launched …

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