Gray, F., 'The Sensation of the Century: Robert Paul and Film Exhibition in Brighton in 1896/97', chapter within, Visual Delights – two: Exhibition and Reception, Vanessa Toulmin and Simon Popple, eds., John Libbey Publishing, Eastleigh, 2005, pp 219-235. ISBN 0 86196 657 0.
This essay, which developed out of a paper for the 'Visual Delights' Conference at the University of Sheffield in 2002, concentrates on film exhibition in Brighton and Hove in 1896-97 and, as such, represents the first part of a film exhibition history of Brighton & Hove that I am now preparing. This wider history begins with the arrival of the Kinetoscope in 1895 and concludes with the opening of the first purpose-built cinemas in 1909-10. It is shaped by the need to conceptualise the dynamic and holistic relationship between production and exhibition within film culture as it evolved within one particular place. This research also recognises the fact that the history of film exhibition in Britain before the First World War has not yet been systematically chronicled and analysed.
1896 was the first year of commercial film projection in Britain and therefore marks the birth of the domestic film industry. It is in this year that Robert Paul demonstrated the commercial viability of the new medium and probably became the most successful British film-maker and film exhibitor. In Brighton in 1896 his name become synonymous with ‘animated photography’, this being one of the terms used in the 1890s for cinematography. Paul’s films were exhibited both here and throughout the country not only by Paul but also by showmen who had either purchased or hired the Paul projector, the ‘theatrograph’, and a selection of Paul films. Paul’s machine visited over thirty British towns and cities in 1896, often for more than one week and sometimes returning to the same venue for repeat visits.
The film screenings in Brighton in 1896 were mounted by British exhibitors using American, French and British films. Five distinct exhibition contexts have been uncovered in this period: (i.) the film programme as a self-contained entertainment, (ii.) a film programme within a music hall show, (iii.) a film programme as part of a demonstration of photographic and cinematographic apparatus and techniques, (iv.) a film programme within a theatrical production, and (v.) a film programme attached to a magic lantern show. This essay examines these different exhibition practices and positions Robert Paul as having the commanding presence in Brighton in 1896/97 because of his film presentations at the Victoria Hall and the Theatre Royal.
In 2006 at the Ninth International Domitor Conference held at the University of Michigan, I presented another paper on film exhibition in Brighton. Focussing on the years 1897 to 1900, it charted the rise of patriotic multi-media entertainments that combined film with lantern slides, music, song and narration. It will be published as part of the conference proceedings in 2008. Domitor is the international early cinema society.
The triennial Visual Delights conference is allied to Early Popular Visual Culture (Routledge), the peer-reviewed journal dedicated to popular visual culture before 1930. I am one of the journal’s associate editors.