Sydney in the Silent Film Era

BY SIMON SMITH

Large crowds depart Randwick Racecourse c 1928. NFSA title: 20035

In celebration of the renewed interest in silent films through the recent successes of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) and Academy Award-winner The Artist (2011), the NFSA has curated a program of over 80 minutes of silent film highlights from our collection of over 300,000 moving image titles. Screening on the Sydney Film Festival’s big screen at Martin Place in central Sydney, SFFTV @ Martin Place will run these 8-10 minute segments for the duration of the Festival (6-17 June).

Screening is a compilation of actuality and newsreel clips we’ve titled Before The Bridge – Sydney in the Silent Film Era (1896-1929), featuring footage of events filmed in and around Sydney before completion of ‘The Coathanger’.

Frame capture from Patineur Grotesque (Marius Sestier, France, 1896). NFSA title 744845

© Association frères Lumière

Highlights include:
• the earliest known surviving footage of Sydney, filmed at Prince Alfred Park in late 1896 (see right);
• rare 1910 footage of Australian cricketing great Victor Trumper in action at the Sydney Cricket Ground;
• dramatic footage of the infamous Kirribilli Point Woolstore fire in December 1921;
• footage of Sydney’s tramway system coping with massive Sydney Cup crowds departing Randwick Racecourse circa 1928;
• a 1929 cinema advertisement for Bushells Tea featuring shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge during its construction;
• rugby league opening round action from the 1924 NSWRFL (now NRL) season;
• 1909 film of Dame Nellie Melba arriving at Sydney’s Central Station;
• a 1923 promotional film for the refurbished Orpheum Theatre, North Sydney, later demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Warringah Expressway;
• American heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson’s December 1908 training session at Rushcutters Bay;
and other rare films of Sydney from a long-forgotten era.

Adelaide wall advertisement for the Corrick Entertainers, October, 1912. NFSA title 653402

The program also features highlights from The Corrick Collection, an internationally recognised significant early film collection. The Corrick Collection comprises approximately 130 black-and-white 35mm silent films – some beautifully hand coloured – exhibited by The Corrick Family Entertainers at the turn of the twentieth century. These important early local and international short films were produced by leading British, European and American film houses of the day, supplemented with several shot locally by Leonard Corrick. The films were painstakingly restored over five years by the NFSA, with assistance from leading film restoration specialist Haghefilm Conservation in Amsterdam.

Several of the Corrick Collection’s most amusing films have been curated for this event including:
Babylas vient d’hériter d’une panthère (Alfred Machin, France, 1911), in which a panther escapes from its new owner’s city apartment causing complete chaos;
The Short Sighted Cyclist (Charles Urban, Eclipse, Great Britain, 1907), featuring a telegram messenger’s disaster-filled ride across town;
Le Sculpteur Express (Segundo De Chomón, Pathé, France, 1907), in which a French sculptor and his assistant create, at great speed, an emotive clay face which alters every few seconds (below right); and
La Poudre Antineurasthénique (Pathé, France, 1909), featuring the 'Anti-Irritability powder’ which transforms all who are sprayed.

Frame capture from Le Sculpteur Express (Segundo De Chomón, Pathé, France, 1907). NFSA title: 789946

The NFSA is delighted to screen these silent insights into our cinematic past. If you catch these clips at Martin Place during the Festival, please tell us what you think on Twitter or at the NFSA Facebook page.

Find out more about The Corrick Collection and its preservation at the NFSA.

Sydney locations shown in this clip include: George Street, Rushcutters Bay, Bondi Beach, Circular Quay, Central Railway Station, Sydney University, Martin Place, The Domain.

Sydney locations shown in this clip include: Balmain, Kirribilli Point, Randwick Racecourse.