Ruth Barton, lecurer in film at Trinity College Dublin trawled through the archives to find out what was happening in Irish cinemas over Christmas 1914.
Going to the Pictures in 1914
by Ruth Barton
Cinema and the War:
At this early stage of the war, very few propaganda films were being shown in cinemas.
This was primarily because the British government was unwilling to consider cinema as a propaganda tool. They also didn’t want to replicate the filmmaking technique of the Boer War films, which, for logistical reasons, were staged in fields in England rather than shot in South Africa.
The propaganda films of the First World War were to be realistic. They were also to be factual, and the notion of the propaganda fiction film – Mrs Miniver for instance only really came into its own in World War Two. The other problem was that shooting on the front line was almost impossible. Thus war films tended to show the aftermath of the action rather than the action itself.
It was left to Fred Evans to transfer his Music Hall act to screen and to churn out a series of comedies based around the misadventures of Lieutenant Pimple. Audiences in Dublin and across the country were treated to Pimple Enlists, and The Capture of the Kaiser by Lieutenant Pimple.
Audiences, however, were avidly attempting to follow the action and thus every cinema advertised the latest from The Topical Budget, the Pathe Gazette and Cherry Kearton’s war pictures.
Cinemas provided a careful balance between escapist entertainment and war pictures.
Thus, the Cinema House, Town Hall Cavan showed on 19 December the thrilling From the Lion’s Jaws, in which the heroine was attacked, while lying unconscious on the ground, by a huge lion, which, according to reports, was fired on at the crucial moment, much to the relief of the audience.
At another point the heroine was saved from death by an immense elephant which treaded its way down the side of a ravine and carried her in its trunk from her perilious position. Such was the success of this film that audiences increased night after night as word spread around the Cavan area and the cinema quickly capitalised on its success by offering When Lions Escape the following week.
The latest adventures of the Keystone Kops delighted audiences across the country, as did Bronco Billy’s Wild Ride, telling of how the outlaw was reformed.
This was swiftly replaced by the next instalment, Broncho Billy Wins Out.
Another big seasonal hit was Mabel’s Married Life, with the great (Irish-American) silent star, Mabel Normand, directed by Mack Sennett and co-written by Charles Chaplin and Mabel Normand. In it Chaplin plays Mabel’s husband, a sad wimp who can’t intervene when a big lug with a tennis racket chats her up. Mabel buys a dummy hoping it will inspire her husband but wen he returns home from having a drink he takes it to be her assailant and accosts his wife for having an affair with it. A knockabout ensues until she persuades him that it is just a mannequin.
[link to the film here: https://archive.org/details/CC_1914_06_20_CharlottEtLeMannequin]
Local propaganda efforts:
If the value of cinema as propaganda was lost on the British government in the early stages of the war, it was quickly picked up on by more sharp-witted individuals. the Earl of Portarlington toured the country with free screenings of films that showed the aftermath of the German destruction of places such as Louvain.
Venues included the Gaelic Hall in Stradbally, and the Town Hall in Maryborough The films showed scenes cities of before and after the invasion, and of marching men leaving for the front. The message that accompanied these screenings was unambiguous, if Ireland was to escape the fate of Belgium, more young Irishmen must join up.
In a rousing speech to the audiences who had piled in to the Town Hall in Maryborough, the Earl’s invited speaker, a Mr Crowe, reminded them that ‘if you happen to lose your life in the defence of your country on foreign soil your memory will be revered, and if you survive, you may be able to march into the capital of Germany to dictate terms of settlement’ (loud cheers). The pictures you are about to see will show you may expect if the Germans succeed in invading us.
New Local Cinema in Skibbereen:
In Skibbereen, Gerald Macuara funded the building of a local cinema, the Kinematic, which opened just in time for Christmas. Macuara was a well known face in the Skibbereen area, having recently purchased and renovated Lough Ine House.
An entrepreneur, in today’s terms, Macaura’s best known invention was the Pulsicon, which was a mechanically-operated vibrating machine and was used to ease pain suffered by those with rheumatism, arthritis and many other ailments. From the proceeds, Macuara built the magnificent Kinematic. The cinema was intended to raise funds to support the West Cork Volunteer Corps.
He also provided a band for the volunteers and instruments for the band. After the grand opening, the first film shown was a local picture, ‘The Irish National Volunteer (Cork Regiment) Review at the Mardyke Football grounds.’ Huge enthusiasm accompanied the opening, though sadly, Macaura’s plans were not to work out, and the Kinematic, like many of his ventures, lasted only a few years, before being sold off in lots in 1917.
The big picture was The Sea Wolf, and adaptation of the Jack London story. But one of the most popular was the latest starring vehicle for Irish-American actor, Maurice Costello, The Mysterious Lodger, which opened in the Rotunda on 21 December.
Musical accompaniment was, of course, a big feature of going to the pictures, and many cinemas relied on the reputation of their musicians to gain custom. At the Coliseum in Cork, audiences were entertained by the boys band from the Greenmount Industrial School. However, in the Dublin courts, a case was being heard against the owners of a cinema on Talbot street who had not paid their music licence. The inspector told the court that they were playing music appropriate to the content of the pictures. The defendants said that, on the contrary, they were using music to cover up ‘inappropriate noises’ from the audience, so that the public could focus on the picture. The defendants admitted that in the evenings, when a full orchestra played, they enjoyed greater attendances than in the afternoon, when only a piano played. In the end, the owners were fined a penalty of £1.
The Bohemian Theatre in Phibsborough Road showed Maurice Elvey’s The Loss of the Birkenhead, deemed very attractive to ‘lovers of the higher phase of cinematography’.
Dublin seat prices ranged from 3d, 6d to 1/.
The new Pillar Picture House opened next to Nelson’s Pillar (where the McDonalds now is). It was on the smaller scale, with only 400 seats, but panelled in walnut and satinwood with a giant glass dome.