TARTANS OF SCOTTISH CLANS
(G.A. Smith, 1906, UK)
TARTANS OF SCOTTISH CLANS (G.A. Smith, 1906, UK)
Directed by George Albert Smith
Release dates 1906
Running time 1 minute 36 seconds
Country United Kingdom
Tartans of Scottish Clans is a 1906 British short silent documentary film, directed by George Albert Smith as a test for his newly patented Kinemacolor system, which features a sequence of appropriately labelled Scottish tartan cloths, with an abundance of reds and greens, the two colours used by the system. The film, which was one of Smith's first Kinemacolor experiments, was according to Michael Brooke of BFI Screenonline, "a very simple idea which nonetheless demanded colour in order to convey the necessary information."
It's common knowledge that Scotsmen are macho enough to pull off wearing a skirt - perhaps it's all that caber-tossing. This disarmingly simple film concentrates on the tartan cloths of various clans rather than the men who wore them, and is an early filmic reminder of their huge importance to both Scottish national identity and the thriving tourist industry north of the border. The film's unique selling point was that pioneering filmmaker G. A. Smith showed off the vibrant designs in Kinemacolor, among the earliest colour film processes that didn't involve meticulous hand-painting. And no dangly bits in sight. At the end of the film is 'Woman Draped in Patterned Handkerchiefs' (1908), another Kinemacolor test by G.A. Smith.
George Albert "G.A." Smith, the British film pioneer, was born in London and first received public attention as a result of his activities as a popular hypnotist in Brighton in the early 1880s. In 1892 Smith acquired the lease to St Ann's Well Garden in Hove. Here, in 1894, he staged a public exhibition of a series of dissolving views, by means of a powerful long-range limelight apparatus. Smith's skilful manipulation of the lantern to produce an effective dissolving view would be very important to his role in the development of film editing from 1898-1900. Cutting between lenses - in effect from slide to slide - enabled lantern stories to deal with changes in time, perspective and location. In a film such as As Seen Through the Telescope (1900), Smith guides the viewer from long shot to close-up to long shot. The smooth and logical transition found in this sequence reveals this connection with the lantern.
His promotional booklet for St Ann's of 1897 brought together the old and new technologies by advertising his "High Class Lecture Entertainments with Magnificent Lime-Light Scenery and Beautiful Dioramic Effects", and, "Cinematographe. Displays of Animated Photography, Interesting and Sensational Moving Pictures". This provides us with an important indication that Smith was interested in the relationship between lantern slides, lantern projection and film, including the integration of still and moving images in performance. Smith was also actively involved in translating popular stories into the new medium, stories that had already undergone the conversion into sets of lantern slides.
In 1896 he had acquired his first film camera from Alfred Darling, the Brighton-based mechanical engineer, and built his 'film factory' (his film processing works) the following year. By the late 1890s, he had developed a successful commercial film production and processing business. Smith's largest customer became the Warwick Trading Company, and through this relationship he started a partnership with its Managing Director, Charles Urban. Smith's films in the years 1897-1903 were largely comedies and adaptations of popular fairy tales and stories. His wife, Laura Bayley, influenced his work within these genres. Her life in popular theatre before 1897, particularly in pantomime and comic revues, placed Smith in intimate contact with an experienced actress who understood visual comedy and the interests of seaside audiences. Laura performed in many of his most important films, including Let Me Dream Again (1900) and Mary Jane's Mishap (1903).
Smith made only the studio shot of the train carriage in The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899) but when he inserted it into Cecil Hepworth's phantom ride, View From an Engine Front - Train Leaving Tunnel (1899), he created an edited film which demonstrated a new sense of continuity and simultaneity across three shots. This filmic imagination was radical for the time and Smith used this innovation to develop a series of films in 1900 that, along with The Kiss in the Tunnel, are the most important works of his film career. They are Grandma's Reading Glass, As Seen Through the Telescope, The House That Jack Built and Let Me Dream Again.
These four films depict a number of short narrative actions and as such are probably best described as narrative fragments. However, they each introduced editing concepts that would be central to the future development of film form, such as interpolative close-ups, subjective and objective point-of-view shots, reversal, the creation of dream-time and a dissolve effect. They revealed film's distinctiveness as a new visual medium and demonstrated to his contemporaries how to create a filmed sequence. These films established Smith's significance as a major film pioneer.
Grandma's Reading Glass merits close attention because it offered a new way of entering into a fictional world by sharing a very particular kind of vicarious visual pleasure. The logic of the narrative is that we can see what the Grandson can see through the reading glass. Magically, as if through the action of a spiritualist medium, we enter into his mind in order to share his vision. The sights revealed by this cinematic illusion are of everyday objects but they all possess a degree of charm and beauty, especially the close-ups of the human eye and the cat's head.
This film renounced the conventions of a theatrical perspective - the fixed view from the stalls - that had been the dominant model for film production up to 1900 and continued to be a feature of Méliès' new and longer multi-scene narratives. In its place, it presented a new filmic understanding of space and time, which was designed to reveal a new subjectivity. Grandma's Reading Glass, in effect, expressed a revolutionary new form of visual representation because of its embrace of multiple perspectives within a comprehensible linear narrative. After 1900, the two-colour additive process known as Kinemacolor came to dominate the rest of Smith's career in film. It was launched in Paris and London in 1908 and transformed by Urban into a new enterprise: the Natural Color Kinematograph Company. It had success in the period 1910 to 1913, producing over 100 short features from its studios in Hove and Nice.
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