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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    There are many references to this film in books and documentaries. I would assume it is very well known and familiar in Britain but it is virtually unknown here and I have wanted to see it for years. I finally taped it on TCM.



    I have very ambivalent impressions about it, but I’m glad I saw it.



    I think as a whole the film doesn’t work, but it is a fascinating failure.



    It is evident this was intended as a major film on a large scale; I found out that it was made for the Festival of Britain. The production is impressive and the color is the usual high quality for British films I have seen from that period. It seems that almost every major British actor and actress makes an appearance. But it is frustrating to see Margaret Rutherford for one minute and Peter Ustinov for five seconds and Joyce Grenfell in a tiny role. michael Redgrave and Muir Matheson and Eric Portman and Glynis Johns and Marius Goring and Dennis Price and Joan Hickson take over the screen - and then vanish. Sybil Thorndyke is supposed to be there, somewhere but I have no idea where. Laurence Olivier makes an acting showcase in a very small role as a policeman. It is interesting but also frustrating.



    The use of flashback and the mixture of present, past and future is confusing and takes the urgency out of the story. We already know what it going to happen at several points.





    But the main problem with the film is that it never makes clear who William Friese-Greene was. The film seems to take the view that he was a disgracefully overlooked pioneer but the details are never clear.



    I became very curious and I looked up information on the BFI website and other film sites as well, and it seems that he was - and is - a highly controversial figure, and that his reputation is sometimes much too high and sometimes much too low.



    Who's Who of Victorian Cinema



    screenonline: Friese-Greene, William (1855-1921) Biography



    William Friese-Greene (British motion-picture pioneer) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia



    It seems that he was indeed a true pioneer in the early stages of film but the actual results were disappointing. Maybe that is wrong? I don't know.



    The film also portrays him as a self-absorbed and self-righteous, but brilliant, inventor; often his behavior is so callous and so selfish that he seems self-destructive. Is this true? I have no way of knowing. What is it based on?



    Did all of his sons take the action they did in the film because they didn't want to be a 'burden'? Did the choral society scene with Sir Arthur Sullivan actually take place? Film biographies are filled with inaccuracies and fantasy - but the facts regarding his inventions are never clarified and that's different.



    Robert Donat was such a gentlemanly and sensitive actor and so gifted that he makes the character likeable even when his behavior is the opposite. But it is Donat who is likeable – not the character as written. His final scene is beautifully done and apparently accurate.



    There is a beautiful and charming actress who played one of his wives; she turned out to be Maria Schell. Their scenes together are well done.



    I found this film utterly perplexing but I thought about it a lot.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: UK CaptainWaggett's Avatar
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    My understanding is that the film is far more accurate than most biopics - it goes into enormous detail about the nature of Friese-Greene's experiments with celluloid for example. And it does seem fairly clear that he neglected his family while messing around with film. The one area of controversy is over the Hyde Park film, ironically.



    Isn't Sybil Thorndyke in a photo? Or in one of the montages of sitters?



    From the DNB



    Greene, William Friese- (1855–1921), developer of moving pictures and photographer

    by Peter Carpenter

    � Oxford University Press 2004–10 All rights reserved



    Greene, William Friese- (1855–1921), developer of moving pictures and photographer, was born as William Edward Green on 7 September 1855 at 68 College Street, Bristol, one of seven children of James Green (b. 1816), a metalworker and goldsmith, and his wife, Elizabeth Sage (b. 1816). He entered Queen Elizabeth's Hospital school, Brandon Hill, Bristol, at the age of ten, leaving on his fourteenth birthday. He was apprenticed to a local photographer, Maurice Guttenberg, and developed a special skill for portrait photography. At the age of eighteen, in 1874, he left to run his own studio. That same year he married Victoria Mariana Helena Friese (d. 1895)—a Swiss woman whose name he joined to his own. Two years later they had their only child, Ethel Adelaide. Friese-Greene enjoyed a high reputation as a photographer, opening two shops in Bristol, one in Plymouth and two in Bath—the family's new home.



    It was in Bath that Friese-Greene met John Arthur Roebuck Rudge (1837–1903), an instrument maker and inventor who had devised several adaptations of the magic lantern which created an illusion of movement by showing a number of photographic plates in quick succession. Friese-Greene assisted him in this work and demonstrated the machines. It undoubtedly inspired him to try to develop more fluid moving pictures. In 1885 he moved to London where he opened six studios and had a laboratory. He subsequently studied science at the Regent Street Polytechnic and joined a number of learned societies.



    By early 1888 Friese-Greene had designed his first camera for taking a series of photographs on a flexible base, which at that time was paper film. Friese-Greene then had a second camera built with two lenses for stereoscopic filming. He next teamed up with Mortimer Evans, a civil engineer, to improve on these designs. They claimed their patent 10,131 (provisionally registered on 21 June 1889 and accepted in May 1890) could take ten pictures a second, but the speed is likely to have been slower. It did, however, incorporate many of the mechanical essentials for a moving picture camera. The first film successfully taken and projected with the new apparatus was supposedly of a scene at Hyde Park Corner in October 1889; it was first publicly exhibited at Chester town hall in July 1890 (DN. However, some film historians now dispute this testimony, arguing that such projection would not have been possible.



    A few months later Eastman celluloid film became available in this country and Friese-Greene immediately used it for filming. With Frederick Varley he further improved on the camera designs and demonstrated these new models at photographic societies. Meanwhile, Friese-Greene was trying various means of showing these images. A number of his contemporaries have testified to seeing him project films off a strip of transparencies about 1890.



    Friese-Greene spent the considerable profits from his studios on inventing and in the process neglected his business affairs to such an extent that he was sued for debt and imprisoned in 1891. The following year he was declared bankrupt. None the less, he made some money from his patents for high-speed printing of photographs for cigarette cards and publications.



    By 1895 the beginnings of commercial moving pictures were happening in Europe, but they were led by Thomas Edison, Auguste and Louis Lumi�re, and Robert Paul rather than Friese-Greene, who had been largely forgotten. He nevertheless persisted with his printing ideas, and registered a patent for photographic typesetting and a system for printing without ink. His wife had been of poor health for some time and died that year. He remarried in 1897. His second wife was Edith Harrison (d. 1921); they had six sons, one of whom died in infancy.



    From the late 1890s Friese-Greene started to focus on creating moving pictures in colour. By 1905 he had a working system in which successive images were taken through alternating filters (for example, red and blue-green), with the printed frames then being dyed these colours. If projected at sufficient speed, they created an impression of colour. By this time he and his family were living in Brighton.



    In the first decade of the twentieth century, Friese-Greene's patented ideas included the electrical transmission of images (inspired by a meeting with Guglielmo Marconi), a chemically driven engine, and a gyroscopically controlled airship (which according to his sons was sold to the German government). By 1910 Friese-Greene was bankrupt again, but ironically he was called to New York to testify to his prior invention in a case which broke the Edison monopoly on film production and distribution. On returning he found himself in a prolonged court battle with Charles Urban over their rival colour processes. Friese-Greene won, but it was Urban's Kinemacolor that made all the money.



    The onset of the First World War stopped all colour developments. Friese-Greene and his family were by this time in such a state of poverty that a friend organized a collection for them from the film industry. It was too much for his wife, who left him in 1917. Friese-Greene worked for the government during the war and afterwards returned with vigour to his ideas for colour cinematography. New companies were formed that successfully exploited his patents, though without benefit to him. On 5 May 1921 Friese-Greene attended a major meeting of film distributors, at the Connaught Rooms, 61–3 Great Queen Street, London, where he stood up and made a speech in which he wondered what a film of his life might be like and whether it would tell the truth. He died a few minutes later. In his purse was 1s. 10d.—apparently all the money he had. His wife survived him, but died later the same year.



    The film industry gave Friese-Greene a big funeral and commissioned a monument by Sir Edwin Lutyens for his grave in Highgate cemetery, where he was buried on 13 May 1921. His tombstone was inscribed with the words ‘the inventor of Kinematography’, as well as patent number 10,131. A film about his life was produced by the film industry for the Festival of Britain: this was The Magic Box (1951), directed by John Boulting, and was a fitting tribute. He was one of the few to point the way ahead for the film industry, and he inspired Edison's workers in their crucial research. As an inventor he was often ahead of his time. His son Claude Friese-Greene (1898–1943) continued to develop his colour process, using it to make a series of films of a car journey from Land's End to John o' Groats. Titled The Open Road, the series was distributed in 1926 for promotional purposes, but never achieved commercial success. A restored version was televised in 2006.



    PETER CARPENTER

    Sources R. Allister [M. Forth], Friese-Greene, close up of an inventor (1948) � B. Coe, ‘William Friese-Greene and the origins of cinematography’, Screen, 10/2 (March–April 1969), 25–41 � B. Coe, ‘William Friese-Greene and the origins of cinematography’, Screen, 10/3 (May–June 1969), 72–83 � B. Coe, ‘William Friese-Greene and the origins of cinematography’, Screen, 10/4 (July–Oct 1969), 129–47 � W. Friese-Greene, Moving Picture News, 3/49 (3 Dec 1910) [court affidavit] � private information (2004) � G. H. Friese-Greene, ‘William Friese-Greene: the beginnings of cinematography’, The Elizabethan [magazine of Queen Elizabeth's School, Bristol] (July 1947) � E. Rudge, ‘John Arthur Roebuck Rudge’, The Bath Critic (Jan 1953) � W. E. L. Day, Twenty-five thousand years to trap a shadow, unpublished MS, Cin�math�que Fran�aise, Paris [chapters on Friese-Greene and Rudge] � B. R. Davis, ‘William Friese-Greene’, The Elizabethan [magazine of Queen Elizabeth's School, Bristol] (March 1947) � G. Hendricks, The Edison motion picture myth (1961), 173–180 � H. V. Hopwood, Living pictures: their history, photo-production, and practical working (1899); repr. (New York, 1970) � DNB � b. cert. � d. cert. � m. cert. � �



    Archives Cin�math�que Fran�aise, Paris, France, Will Day MSS � National Museum of Photography, Film, and Television, Bradford, Yorkshire

    FILM BFI NFTVA � Cin�math�que Fran�aise, Paris, France







    Likenesses W. Friese-Greene, self-portrait, photograph, c.1890, National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford [see illus.]







    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    � Oxford University Press 2004–10 All rights reserved

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainWaggett
    My understanding is that the film is far more accurate than most biopics - it goes into enormous detail about the nature of Friese-Greene's experiments with celluloid for example. And it does seem fairly clear that he neglected his family while messing around with film. The one area of controversy is over the Hyde Park film, ironically.



    Isn't Sybil Thorndyke in a photo? Or in one of the montages of sitters?



    From the DNB
    That's a helpful biography.



    Yes, the film does go into great detail about the experiments and that was interesting. But I could not understand from the film what came of them in practical terms. That was what led me to the sites I provided links for - and they take differing views. Some are sympathetic to him and some are not. He was apparently a complex and contradictory man - not unusual for a creative type and it presents a mystery.



    Perhaps the film makers were assuming that he is so famous in Britain that it wasn't necessary to provide the details about what happened after that. That would be a fair assumption. But even the articles by British writers take different viewpoints.



    I think Sybil Thorndyke was one of the sitters. I am intrigued by her and read a biography. She made almost no film appearances and I was hoping to see her but I am only somewhat familiar with her appearance.

  4. #4
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimR
    But the main problem with the film is that it never makes clear who William Friese-Greene was. The film seems to take the view that he was a disgracefully overlooked pioneer but the details are never clear.
    I never had that problem with the film - because I always knew who he was, even before I saw the film.



    But I suppose it could be a problem for people who didn't have the same interests in film and in physics, engineering and optics that I did as I was growing up.



    Even more so if you were brought up being told that Edison invented the movies



    Friese-Green was a pioneer, but he was one of many, all over the world, who were all working towards making a practical system of moving images, all at about the same time.



    As well as the basic B&W film, Friese-Greene also did a lot of work on early colour film. His son Claude went on to develop the two colour (red & green) system and used it to film a tour of the British Isles from 1924-26. Much of this has been found and restored (to reduce the flicker) and is available on DVD



    [ame=http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B000TVNR1E]The Open Road [1924] [DVD]: Amazon.co.uk: Neil Brand, Gunther Buchwald, Claude Friese-Greene: DVD[/ame]



    Steve

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: Australia lllIIlllIIlllIIl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimR View Post
    ... Sybil Thorndyke is supposed to be there, somewhere but I have no idea where...
    She appears around the 110 minute mark. She sits for her pose at the photographic studio business owned by Donat and his cousin Eric Portman. Portman complains that Donat is neglecting her, the customers and his wife but doesn't photograph Dame Sybil.

    I missed Googie Withers and Emlyn Williams.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lllIIlllIIlllIIl View Post
    She appears around the 110 minute mark. She sits for her pose at the photographic studio business owned by Donat and his cousin Eric Portman. Portman complains that Donat is neglecting her, the customers and his wife but doesn't photograph Dame Sybil.

    I missed Googie Withers and Emlyn Williams.
    Oh thanks - I don't how to address you as your forum name seems to be Bar Code...!

    I never did find her before. I will look at that film again. I may see more in it this time. It certainly has happened that way for me before.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Country: Australia lllIIlllIIlllIIl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimR View Post
    ...I never did find her ...
    It really was an odd decision to use so many great English stars in this film— in fact I think I could say they were misused. I spent more time being frustrated at missing a fleeting cameo than caring about this aggravating inventor who cared more for his 'magic box' than his wife.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lllIIlllIIlllIIl View Post
    It really was an odd decision to use so many great English stars in this film— in fact I think I could say they were misused. I spent more time being frustrated at missing a fleeting cameo than caring about this aggravating inventor who cared more for his 'magic box' than his wife.
    That is close to my own response. It was clearly intended to be a major production and the production is interesting in its design and cinematography, but the inspiration of the inventor was missing on screen. Too much was attempted, but it was an honorable attempt.

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