The Marvellous Corricks

On show at the National Folk Festival
 Jillian Mackenzie

Film curators Jennifer Coombes and Jillian Mackenzie introduced the screening of eight short films from the Marvellous Corrick Family at last week’s National Folk Festival.

At Canberra’s National Folk Festival, the NFSA ran a program of eight short films from the Marvellous Corrick Family, with pianist Elaine Loebenstein providing accompaniment. The audience had a unique opportunity to view the films as they were screened back in the 1900s.
Jennifer Coombes and Jillian MacKenzie at the 2013 National Folk Festival.

We introduced the screening, which was held in the Trocadero venue on Saturday 30 March. Approximately 350 people attended the event; a mixture of young and old, film buffs, music buffs and excited young children who ran up from their seats to touch the screen when Mimir the Panther escaped during Babylas Inherits a Panther.

The Marvellous Corrick Family of ten musicians, orators, singers and picture show presenters toured Australia from 1901 to 1914. Leonard, the only boy in the family, became the projectionist and cinematographer as they built a collection of short films from the UK, the US, Italy and France, and their own films, made in Australia. Comedy, melodrama, actuality, special effects and brilliant stencilled colour films were shown with live music – music and entertainment were an important part of their two-hour program. More than 130 of the short films which make up the collection survived against the odds on combustible nitrate stock. The NFSA has preserved the films and brought them back to irrepressible life.
Image from La Fee Aux Fleurs (The Flower Fairy, France 1905). NFSA: 717499

The screening program was selected by Jillian, who focused on some of the lighter, comedic titles. The program opened with the heartwarming Toto Exploite La Curiosite (Ralph Benefits by People’s Curiosity, France 1907), which then flowed into the very popular Babylas Vient D’hѐriter D’une Panthere (Babylas Inherits A Panther, France 1911).

Other audience favourites were Leonard Corrick’s own film, Street Scenes in Perth (Australia 1907), the beautiful butterfly ladies of La Peine Du Talion (Tit for Tat!, France 1906) and the rambunctious women in A Winter Snow Ride (USA 1907).
Poster promoting a Corrick matinee performance at the Town Hall, Adelaide, South Australia, August 1906. NFSA: 755843

As this was an introductory screening to the Corricks for the audience, Jillian included a sampling of different genres and filmmaking styles: a program of comedies in black-and-white and splendid hand-stencilled colour; special effects, actuality, and surrealist tales. It was important to include a cross-section of films that would appeal to an audience who would not have seen anything quite like this before.

The National Folk Festival allowed us the opportunity to screen the films in an atmosphere and setting much akin to their own time, rather than the more formal environment of contemporary cinema. Audience members came and went, there was a constant murmur of commentary, particularly during the screening of Babylas Inherits A Panther and the joyful, exuberant and mischievous games played by the women in A Winter Snow Ride.

Elaine’s improvised piano accompaniment added to the carnival mood, moving from a light delicate cascade of sound for La Fee Aux Fleurs (The Flower Fairy, France 1905) through to a more sombre, warning key in the moral fable La Peine Du Talion, (France 1906) when the professor is punished for carelessly capturing butterflies.

The program was warmly received with much applause for Elaine’s playing and delight expressed at the opportunity to see films screened in Australia 100 years ago. The end result captured a feel of the vaudeville, magic and piano music of the marvellous Corrick troupe.