Holy City was the million-seller song of 1892. A little while ago, accompanied by a singer and pianist, I projected my set of magic lantern slides, complete with double exposures and hand colouring, which were made to illustrate the song. Imagine my surprise this weekend when I read that its composer, the singer Michael Maybrick, has just been fingered as Jack the Ripper by the latest contribution to Ripperology, the 800 page They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper (it’s all the fault of the Masons, apparently). If the book’s author, Bruce Robinson, is right, Maybrick had given up ripping a few years before he penned Holy City. I had always been fascinated by the song because of the way it took the trope of sublime religious vision, and reduced it to a nineteenth century opiated dream of travel. I had always been fascinated by my slides because they transcode the idea of the hallucinatory travelogue, as the dreamer takes a metaphysical Cook’s Tour to Heaven, to the visual technology of the double exposure and the dissolve — presaging the transitive media of the twentieth century. But now it may also be an act of expiation by its author!
I’ve just brought these magic lantern slides manufactured by York & Son, UK, just before1888 to a temperance text by Charles Mackay. I’m trying to think why the faces might be obscured in slides two and three, the most beautiful and dramatic slides of the set.
The Gin-Fiend cast his eyes abroad
And looked o’er all the land,
And number’d his myriad worshippers
With his bird-like, long right hand
He took his place in the teeming streets,
And watched the people go,
Around and about, with a buzz and a shout,
For ever to and fro; —
”And it’s hip!” said the Gin-Fiend, “hip, hurra!
For the multitudes I see,
Who offer themselves in sacrifice
And die for love of me!”
There stood a woman on a bridge;
She was old but not with years;
Old with excess, and passion, and pain; —
And she wept remorseful tears
As she gave to her babe her milkless breast;
Then, goaded by its cry,
Made a desperate leap in the river deep
In the sight of the passer-by!
”And it’s hip!” said the Gin-Fiend, “hip, hurra!
She sinks but let her be —
In life or death, whatever she did
Was all for the love of me.”
There watched another by the hearth,
With sullen face and thin:
She uttered words of scorn and hate
To one that staggered in.
Long had she watched, and when he came,
His thoughts were bent on blood.
He could not brook her taunting look,
And he slew her where she stood.
”And it’s hip!” said the Gin-Fiend, “hip! hurra!
My right good friend is he;
He hath slain his wife — he hath given his life —
And all for the love of me.”
And every day, in the crowded way,
He takes his fearful stand,
And numbers his myriad worshippers
With his bird-like, long right hand;
And every day the weak and strong,
Widows, and maids, and wives,
Blood warm, blood cold, young men and old,
Offer the Fiend their lives
”And it’s hip!” he says, “hip! hip! hurra!
For the multitudes I see,
That sell their souls for the burning drink,
And die for the love of me.”
I am continually failing at controlling my addiction to buying magic lantern slides on ebay. I have just received in the post two remaining life-model slides out of what had originally been a set of four made, Richard Crangle’s estimable Lucerna magic lantern web resource tells me, by York & Son in 1892 to illustrate the 1880 poem by the massively famous melodramatist and social reformer George R Sims.
The Lights of London Town
The way was long and weary,
But gallantly they strode,
A country lad and lassie,
Along the weary road.
The night was dark and stormy,
But blithe of heart were they,
For shining in the distance
The Lights of London lay.
O gleaming lamps of London,
That gem the City’s crown,
What fortunes lie within you,
O Lights of London town.
The years passed on and found them
Within the mighty fold,
The years had brought them trouble,
But brought them little gold.
Oft from their garret window,
On long still summer nights,
They’d seek the far-off country,
Beyond the London Lights.
O mocking lamps of London,
What weary eyes look down,
And mourn the day they saw you,
O lights of London town
With faces worn and weary,
That told of sorrow’s load,
One day a man and woman
Crept down a country road.
They sought their native village,
Heart broken from the fray;
Yet shining still behind them,
The Lights of London lay.
O cruel lamps of London,
If tears your light could drown,
Your victims’ eyes would weep them,
O lights of London Town.
George R. Sims 1880
I love the zoom-in from distant St Pauls, framed by trees in the first slide and barely visible except perhaps in projection, to close-up St Pauls (in exactly the same spot on the screen) framed by the garret window in the second slide. I love the way, in the second slide, the poverty-signifier of the bare walls visually constricts London down to the single schematic London logo. Sims used the same theme for his smash hit play The Lights of London, which was filmed twice in the twentieth century, most recently in 1923. Of course subsequently these something more, walk on the wild side thematics permeated popular culture. Although, perhaps nowadays the urban moths of pop songs, films and art are more likely to be single chancers, rather than eloping couples.
My ANU colleagues Lucien Leon, Kit Devine, Marcia Lochhead, Zoe Tulip, and myself, each designed an Enlighten Canberra projection for the National Library of Australia. Mine was derived from one of the hundreds of beautiful hand tinted magic lantern slides in the Library.
The explanatory text: The Reverend John Flynn was Superintendent of the Australian Inland Mission for almost forty years from 1912. A keen photographer, Flynn used magic lantern slides in the lectures he gave to publicise the work of the mission in providing medical, nursing and pastoral services to the people of the inland. The Library now holds a large collection of these beautifully hand-tinted images. The one used for this projection was taken in 1926 by a ‘Miss Colley’ and documents the Oodnadatta to Alice Springs Mail. Presumably it was used by Flynn to illustrate the vast distances of the inland.
On July 24, 2014, I was able to project a show of five magic lantern song-slide sets and one recitation set from my ‘Iron Duke’ lantern of 1905, with some additional effects added from a smaller 1890s lantern. Professor Peter Tregear and Dr Kate Bowan from the ANU School of Music sang and played the original words and music, and they were fabulous. Trevor Anderson from the National Film and Sound Archive also operated the ‘effects’ lantern for the angel effect in Jane Conquest. The event was part of the History, Cinema Digital Archives organised by Jill Matthews from the Humanities Research Centre and held in the theatrette of the NFSA. Here is our original abstract:
Martyn Jolly, Kate Bowan and Peter Tregear: ‘Will the Angels Let Me Play’, and other songs and recitations: a performance of magic lantern slides with song and piano
Collections such as the National Film and Sound Archive or Museum Victoria hold hundreds of magic lantern ‘song slides’. These sets of hand-coloured glass transparencies were produced in the early twentieth century to promote the sale of the sheet music for popular songs. They were projected by a magic lantern and accompanied by musicians and singers. Their popularity peaked with the First World War. The slides that remain, with their sentimental and melodramatic storylines, surreal photographic montages, and lurid hand-colouring, are still fascinating when we see them on the museum light box, or see the digitized copy in a museum database. But they were made to be performed, and were part of a technical ensemble which included the magic lantern, a musician’s performance and, most importantly, a singer’s voice. For this presentation this complete ensemble will be brought together once more, the slides will be projected by vintage magic lanterns and accompanied by live music and singing from the original sheet music. Will this be a reenactment, like we might see at an historical theme park? Or will it be authentic interpretation, such as an early music ensemble might perform on their antique instruments in a concert hall? Why bother with an original magic lantern when the optics and resolution of a contemporary scanner and data projector can reveal more detail more conveniently? And, no matter how brilliant the performers are, is it even possible to re-enter the affective power of a long ago performance when so much has changed in the meantime? Through this practice-led research experiment, and through subsequent discussion with the audience, these questions and other will be explored.
Bronwyn Coupe has now edited a video of the complete performance, cunningly disguising my mistakes with edited-in digital copies of a few of the slides, but retaining the flavour of my projections, and the brilliance of Kate and Peter. Here it is:
I learnt a lot from the experience. Fortunately I had Ian Christie turning the pages of my cue sheets for me, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the changes for any of the songs! As it was I muddled two. Despite my rehearsals I need to have a better system for quickly accessing the slides in the dark, I was scrabbling around. I also think I should have realised that there was a certain amount of redundancy built into the slide sets by the manufacturers, and I could have left some out which would have given me more time to load the slide changer. The authority and smoothness (or lack of it) with which I changed and focussed the slides also became very important for the audience’s experience. The light levels in the auditorium— to satisfy both projection from the lanterns with their relatively low-lumen output from the LED floodlights I had in them, as well as the necessity for Kate and Peter to be able to read the music — was also crucial. I have been reading nineteenth and early twentieth century newspaper review of lantern shows in Australia and exactly these same issues are frequently reported on — both negatively and positively — by the writers. The audience discussion afterwards didn’t decisively answer any of the questions raised in the abstract. However it covered the historical accuracy, or inaccuracy, of our ‘re-enactment’ — a big issue with some of the experts in the audience — and the general visual culture of the period — in both America and the UK where the slides were made, and in Australia where they were shown. Also discussed were small but crucial details such as the lack of gain in the painted wall on which I was projecting, compared to the modern cinema screen on which the digital versions were projected. But there was enough there to go on with.
Below are simulations I reconstructed using digital copies of the slides we projected at the National Film and Sound Archive performance, and an NFSA recording of Peter Tregear and Kate Bowan’s wonderful performance. Unfortunately, in this recording Kate’s perfect piano is somewhat soft, except in Blue Bell and Holy City. I’ve selected two transitions from the video editing menu: a dissolve, which I wasn’t able to do on the night, but which was a very popular effect in the nineteenth century; and left-to-right/right-to-left slide transitions, which at least give a hint of the mechanical slide changer I used, but which are a lot smoother than mine! Unsimulated is the flame effect I produced in the window during Jane Conquest by flashing some red gel in front of the lens.
A good couple of hours were spent at the ANU experimentally projecting magic lantern slides from the collections of Professor Nic Peterson, Martin Thomas and David and Judith McDougall, as well as my own, on my two vintage lanterns. Nic’s handcoloured mission slides from the 20s (I think that was the dates) were especially interesting, the handcolouring adding to their poignancy. Nic also had the back story on what was going on at the missions. I need to work on my skills as a lanternist, but we agreed we had discovered a lot here to develop further later in the year.
Now I have got my two lanterns working with LED lights, I spent the weekend beginning to catalogue the slides I have recently acquired. It turns out I have hand-painted slides of the Hymn Rock of Ages, very similar to the set which the Salvation Army used in one of Australia’s first outdoor projection in Melbourne in1894; as well as many complete sets of Life Model and Song Slides, such as were frequently used in Australian missions and churches. I’m now thinking of where to go next with my research, I’m currently looking at the reaction of nineteenth century Australian audiences to the lantern through newspaper searches, but there are so many other exciting things to do:
- Commission contemporary artists to make contemporary lantern slides — paintings on glass or anything that can be sandwiched between 82 x 82mm glass!
- Recreate shows using the Song Slide sets and the mp3 transcriptions of the Edison wax cylinders and Columbia records which the Library of Congress have made available on-line
- Recreate shows using the Song Slide sets and Life Model sets with sheet music available from Trove and the recitations available online with performers interested in the genre of melodrama and sentiment
- Build a rig that will allow me to ‘wear’ the smaller lantern as part of a performance (which was a technique developed by the London Polytechnic)
- Collaborate with contemporary performers and musicians
I ambled down to my letterbox to find the latest issue of the Magic Lantern Society Newsletter waiting for me. Delighted that there was a report on Professor Ian Edwards and his wife Margery’s presentation to the 9th Magic Lantern Society Convention in Birmingham. (See below). Professor Edwards presented a lantern show at my symposium of last year the Projected Image Heritage of Australia and New Zealand, and he also presented a show at the Australasian Magic Lantern Society Convention. We are working on another event next year, so like our facebook page please.
My ‘Soldiers of the Cross’ article has been published in the Journal of Early Popular Visual Culture. Click on the link below to start ratcheting up my downloads!