(Republished and updated from Blog 2)
The Bible Students embraced the new medium of motion pictures to spread their message. This article is about six examples that were released between 1914-1922. Some of this information has already been presented in more detail on this blog in years gone by, but this will present a brief overview and give links to where a modern viewer can see in whole or part, five of the six examples.
Photodrama of Creation
This approximately eight hour production, normally shown in four parts on consecutive weeks or evenings, will require no introduction to readers here.
There are a number of places on YouTube where you can watch it, including some surviving films of CTR in action. Sound was on disc so CTR mimed to the recordings, not always with complete success. There are also a number of places where you can buy a DVD set of the production. However, it must be noted that all the work of restoration over the last 40 years has really been performed by one person, Brian K. This has been a labor of love and the work is still ongoing, and an even better version in Blue-Ray will appear in due course.
Unfortunately, because the source material is out of copyright, others have felt no qualms about copying earlier restorations (perhaps from inferior VHS videos) and marketing them commercially. Leaving aside the ethics of this, if you want the very best version possible from surviving material, you really need to obtain one that bears Brian’s name.
Here is a link to one of the films of CTR.
Restitution - Mena Film Company
This writer plans to do a whole article on just this film and its history one day. But in brief, the company was put together by Bible Students in 1917. It had no direct connection with the Watch Tower Society, although the original Photodrama was briefly sold to Mena by the Society before everyone thought better of the deal. Unlike the Photodrama this was commercially produced, and needed to be shown to paying audiences in a commercial setting to succeed. By all accounts, it didn’t. It was shown to a non-paying audience at an IBSA convention in Seattle in July 1918, but then with the difficulties of the day - the Society directors jailed, others leaving association with the IBSA - it sank. It was reissued commercially under a new title The Conquering Christ and by the end of the 1920s one of the former Mena directors, Leslie Jones, was selling off 16mm prints in seven minute segments as a serial, now rebranded as Redemption. Just one of those segments has recently been rediscovered.
The sequence is Herod’s plans to massacre the innocents. While still primitive by modern day standards, film technique had advanced considerably since the Photodrama of Creation. The director, who obligingly also cast himself as Jesus Christ, had worked with D W Griffith on his epic Intolerance.
But enough of such details for perhaps another time. Here is the clip that only recently has been put on YouTube.
Moving forward from 1918, we come to Kinemo. The Society produced a series of three films on the soon to be doomed 17.5mm gauge, and sold them to Watch Tower readers and the public in general via the Kinemo Company. Three were produced. The history and description of this venture, with its ups and downs, has been described in past articles on this blog and can be checked there. They were filmed over 1920-21 but not sold to the public until the fall of 1922.
Here are links to all three films. The Imperial Valley one is missing a bit of footage, the other two appear complete. All three films include footage of J F Rutherford. Perhaps the most entertaining is the end of the pyramid film. It must have been like a furnace inside the Great Pyramid, and JFR apparently ventured inside wearing a three-piece suit. Watch him as he leaves! (15:28 on the video)
One final film completes this article, but alas, has not come to light. The Kinemo system of 17.5 mm film offered a film from the 1922 Cedar Point Ohio convention. The panoramic view of the audience out of doors hearing J F Rutherford speak includes a film crew. Here is a close-up from that photograph.
The subsequent films were offered for sale in the New Era Enterprise newspaper.
The same paper (October 31, 1922) also mentioned that the original Kinemo films had been shown on a large screen at the Cedar Point convention, along with footage of “the Bible House and other organization buildings and offices in Brooklyn, the Bethel Home, etc. the printing and binding of booklets and pamphlets etc.”
I know for certain that the modern Watchtower Society has no copies of any of this material, and I suspect had never heard of it until it was brought to their attention. While it would be silent footage, it would of great historical interest to see it. That is, of course, if it still exists.
Come on now. Anyone out there?