Tuesday, December 24, 2013

When the Talkies Came to Hucknall – Philip Torkard

Republished by permission of the author ....


A night out at the cinema is still considered a treat today, but in 1915, when film making was in its infancy it would be the highlight of everyone's week - if you could afford it! This particular evening, as the audience began to settle in their seats there was an air of expectation. For the past week there had been an advertising campaign with posters, leaflets and a promotion in the Dispatch for what they were about to see.

As the lights began to dim and a hush descended on all those seated, the unmis­takable sound of the projector beginning to turn and a flickering picture appeared on the screen: a white-haired man in a frock coat appears, and, without a note in hand, he begins to speak; there were no auto cues back then. This is no ordinary silent movie. It is something special, both technically and in the message it conveys. Who is this man? He is Charles Taze Russell. What is the production? It is the Photo-Drama of Creation.

The audience did not know it but history was in the making and they were about to witness it! Everyone was used to watching silent films at the local picture houses, such as the “Scala” picture house on Annesley Road or the ”Empire” on Vine Terrace. And, no doubt, were not surprised to see a sign asking Ladies to remove their hats so as not to block the view of others!

So what made the Photo-Drama of Crea­tion a special and historic presentation? Pictorial slides and motion pictures were synchronized with phonograph records of talks and music. There had been various experiments with colour and sound movies, but years would pass before they would be commercially successful. Not until 1922 did an all-colour, feature-length motion picture make an appearance. And film audiences in general had to wait until 1927 to hear both dialogue and music combined in the commercial movie, yet the Photo-Drama of Creation was not without the colour, the spoken word and the music. It was years ahead of its time, and millions saw it free of charge!

 

 

 

An immense amount of work and effort had gone into its production. Over 2 miles of film was used. Choice musical recordings as well as 96 phonograph-record talks were prepared for the Photo-Drama. Stereopti­con slides were made of fine art pictures illustrating world history. It was also neces­sary to make hundreds of new paintings and sketches. Some of the colour slides and films were painstakingly hand painted. And this was done repeatedly, for before the age of quick means of copying was available much work by hand was required in producing 20 four-part sets. This made it possible to show a portion of the Photo-Drama in 80 differ­ent cities on any given day!

One of the astounding features was the use of time lapse photography, where viewers could watch as lilies opened in just a few seconds before their eyes. The presentation of the "Photo-Drama of Creation' had been produced by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania under the direction of Charles Taze Russell, the found­er of the Bible Student movement. The film presented Russell's beliefs about God's plan from the creation of the earth through to the fulfillment of the Bible prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come.”

The Photo-Drama was mammoth in scale, lasting over 8 hours and designed to be watched in four 2 hour sessions over consec­utive days, what we might consider to be a mini docu-drama series.

Production began in 1912, and the presen­tation was introduced to audiences in the United States in 1914. It is estimated that the cost of production then was around $300,000 (now $ 6,922,000) By the end of its first year of release around eight million people in North America had seen it. In Britain, within 6 months of it first being shown, over 1.25 million people in 98 towns and cities had also seen the presen­tation. At showings in London there were overflow crowds at the Opera House and at the Royal Albert Hall, plus many more saw it across Europe, Australia and New Zea­land; no mean feat in a world being torn apart by the Great War.

What of the man that had pioneered its production? “Pastor” Charles Russell was no stranger to people back in 1914. He had become well known as a bible preach­er challenging religious beliefs of his day and saying almost 40 years in advance that 1914, would be a marked year in hu­man history. When World War I broke out in 1914, “The World,” then a leading news‑paper in New York City, stated in its maga­zine section: “The terrific war outbreak in Europe has fulfilled an extraordinary proph­ecy. ... ‘Look out for 1914! ’ has been the cry of the hundreds of travelling evange­lists, who, representing this strange creed [associated with Russell], have gone up and down the country enunciating the doc­trine that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand.’”—“The World Magazine,” August 30, 1914.

(“Pastor” Russell sermons had also appeared in over 4000 newspapers around the world, including the Hucknall Dispatch. He was also known locally as the preacher who had corresponded with Aaron Riley, the first headmaster of Butler’s Hill school (see Aaron Riley, A Voice in the Wilderness, HT-Times December 2012).

The Dispatch of January 28 1915 had an article explaining in part the reason for the production. It stated: ‘The entertainment is part of a world-wide campaign to arouse an apathetic race to things religious. The instruction is non-sectarian. The endless story begins with the cosmic nebulae of pre-solar eras and dwells upon the salient events of biblical history from the Garden of Eden to Paradise restored. The progress of ancient and modern civilization down to this year of grace A.D 1915 is traced, and by the light of prophecy the glories ofg the future are pictured.

A lecture is given with each exhibition by a wonderful talking machine accurately geared to accompany the progress of the story on the screen. The apparatus sings and talks with such aptness to the varying scenes and figures that one might fancy it a human lecturer of unusual vocal gifts.

The teaching which the Photo-drama is designed to disseminate is that the Bible account of creation as well as its other records are not contradicted by modern science, but that in fact science proves the truth of the book’.

Like many of the other presentations around the world some may have come just out of curiosity, others because it was free, but doubtless many were impressed with what they witnessed, but whether it had the desired affect to awaken spiritual inter­est the record does not say.

It is quite probable that the turbulent times in which they lived soon eclipsed the mem­ory of that event as they came to know of the horrors of the western front and later for the world to be struck with the even worse devastation of the “Spanish Influen­za” which quickly followed on the heels of the Great War.

However, some who heard the message that Russell brought by means of the PhotoDrama of Creation may have been given the hope of a brighter future.

Regardless of the effect that the drama may have had, those who had the privilege of seeing the Photo-Drama of Creation witnessed the dawn of a new age in mass entertainment, one which we today take for granted!

 

Sources:

Hucknall Dispatch January 28th 1915

http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r 1 /lp-e/2001042?q =photo+drama http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Photo-Drama_of_Creation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastor_Russell
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7cF0nw5S-g http://www.youtube.com/user/photodramaofcreation http://pastorrussell.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/ 1914a-significant-year-in-bible.html

1 comment:

Ton Hollander said...

Thanks Jerome, also for your scan through Rachael!
This is interesting background, just as the other Photodrama posting, and the cemetery Posting

Go on, go on
your brother,
Ton