Mechanical motion versus manual dexterity in pre-cinematic Australian animation

‘Mechanical motion versus manual dexterity in pre-cinematic Australian animation’,

The Animation Machine, Society for Animation Studies Conference, RMIT University, 25-27 June 2012.

 

Before I begin I would like to acknowledge the National Film and Sound Archive Collection Scholar and Artist in Residence Fellowship program which supported the research that led to this paper. Some of my examples come form their collection as well.

 

For over fifty years, from the late 1840s to the early twentieth century, magic lantern operators astounded and delighted Australian audiences with exhibitions of a wide variety of optical phenomena. These ranged from swirling and pulsating patterns of pure colour as two hand-painted glass discs were rotated in opposite directions by the rack and pinion mechanism of the chromatrope, to the enlargement of live insects onto the screen. Central to their displays however were two key optical experiences, the essential visual pleasures of which are still familiar to us today. One was the dissolving view, the other was the mechanical slide. The dissolving view needed two aligned magic lanterns and a device for dissolving from one to the other, by either sweeping a feathered fan in front of the two lenses to give the audience the frisson of a defined ‘wipe’ from one image to another, or by turning down the gas supply on one lantern as it was simultaneously turned up on the other so that the audience experience the jouissance of one image literally dissolving into another. Dissolves could be done quickly, to give the impression of, say, a volcano suddenly erupting; or they could be done slowly, to give the impression of, say, day turning to night, or summer to winter. The second experience came from mechanical slides, which were hand-manipulated whilst in the projection-gate of the lantern. In slipping slides a sheet of clear glass with strategically placed areas of black paint was quickly slipped across the hand-painted image — obscuring one part of the image, while simultaneously revealing another. In lever slides one layer of circular glass was quickly rotated, producing a simple animation effect. Other slides used the circular rack and pinion mechanism of the chromatrope but replaced the kaleidoscopic patterns with hand-painted scenes.

 

For most of the period these phenomena were illuminated by limelight, a powerful white light produced when a gas flame heated a block of lime.

But they were also incorporated into larger intermedial performative contexts which might have included music played by an orchestra to accompany each slide, singing, and commentary from the lantern operator — either instructional information, light hearted patter or narrative storytelling. When lanternists purchased their sets of hand painted slides imported from overseas they also purchased booklets containing the accompanying patter.

 

In April 1848 the Sydney Daguerreotypist Joseph Newland offered customers a minstrel show, an orchestra, and a: BEAUTIFUL SCIENTIFIC EXHIBITION OF DISSOLVING VIEWS covering  10,000 SQUARE FEET OF ILLUMINATED SCENERY. His show featured several simple narrative transitions such as ‘Punch before Dinner’ to ‘Punch after Dinner’, and one based on a famous recent event, the burning of the East Indiaman ship the Kent in 1825, which transitioned from a ship in gale to a ship on fire. There was also at least one animated mechanical slide,  ‘Leap Frog’.

 

In the audience’s experience of the show it was the spectacular attraction of the apparatus and the various transition effects that were given priority, over the putative content of the views. When Newland took the show to Maitland in August 1848 the local newspaper specifically commented on the aesthetic and spectacular effects, rather than the actual content, of the various components to his show.

 

 Mr. Newland showed great skill in the gradual fading away of one view and encroachment on it of the succeeding one, until one had finally disappeared, and the other was revealed in all its beauty.(Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser 9/8/48 p2

 

As a variety of other lecturers displayed them throughout the colonies during the rest of the century many other newspapers reported on the dramatic and narrative evocations dissolving views were able to create in their audience, particularly when accompanied by music and a well presented lecture. In 1852 Alfred Cane exhibited a variety of dissolving views in Sydney, and the Sydney Morning Herald was quick to report on the effectiveness of the sequence of dissolves.

 

” A ship in a calm” was a particularly truthful representation of that most tedious, most trying, most wretched predicament. Gazing at the view, one might almost fancy one saw the lazy sharks crawling about in the blue water, carrying on their eternal war against every other creature … Then suddenly the scene changed, the ship is caught in a storm, and with double-reefed foresail only set, struggles vainly against the furious surge, which too fatally drives her onto the inexorable rock. These two representations of the chances of the ocean were followed by “the ship on fire,” and “the raft,” and elicited several rounds of applause, especially from the juvenile portion of the audience, who, with true British feeling, seemed to delight in the danger, although ’twas but in show. (SMH 30/1/52 p2)

 

Alfred Cane must have been very skillful to create such a seamless effect and such an extended narrative from just four slides, a dissolving apparatus, and his own voice. Of course shipwrecks were particularly vivid for colonial audiences in Australia, and the narrative followed a familiar trajectory triggering socially programmed responses, but nonetheless the unified, single effect of a coherent animation of the painted pictures, produced in their midst by the magic lantern,  must have been very compelling for the audience. However they knew that, to use the newspaper’s words, ‘twas but in show’, so their pleasure was an alloy of both the enjoyment of the illusion itself, and the realization that the illusion was a mechanical creation.

 

Within their shows of other optical attractions such as chromatropes most dissolving view exhibitions  strove for extended narratives in at least one slide sequence. For instance the first exhibition of Mr Lillywhite’s views was described by the Adelaide Register in 1853 as containing an extended narrative involving a tiger:

 

The representations included pleasing landscapes, magnificent architecture, grotesque figures, and other features of a grave, fantastic, and startling character. The spectators were particularly delighted with some very amusing representations of the extraordinary means successfully resorted to by two Bengalees, who entrapped a ferocious tiger, which had scented them out whilst taking their noontide repast.

 

This exhibition also included a famous rack-work slide called ‘The Rat Catcher’.

 

Compelling short narratives were also being produced in the 1850s which relied on abrupt sudden unexpected changes, rather than a sequence of scenes.  James Smith displayed a series of imported slides in Melbourne in 1855. One was the popular image of Vesuvius erupting. According to The Age the image began as:

 

‘[t]he Bay of Naples , smiling in the serenity of sunshine, with Vesuvius at rest lowering grandly in the distance. Then: Clouds and thick darkness come over the scene, and the volcano belches forth its red fires and gloomy vapours, and the effect produced is really admirable.” (9/5/55 p6).

 

Newspaper reviews weren’t always so complimentary, however. For instance, a report in The South Australian of November 1847 commented on the mish-mash of the effects as well as the morally ambiguous subject matter of the dissolving views exhibited by Messrs Hall and Plush:

 

The exhibition was a sort of melange, consisting of optical illusions, phantasmagoria, fun, and harlequinade. The dissolving views were numerous and diversified, but contained too few representations of local objects. Some of the personal figures bordered upon indelicacy; so much so, as, in our opinion, to deter parents from treating their children to an otherwise harmless amusement; and it struck us that the dance of death savoured too much of profanity… a prudential change in their exhibition, with an improvement in the mechanical arrangement, would make it worthy of general patronage.

 

Although by the end of the century magic  lanterns had become associated  with didactic, scientific , religious,and temperance lectures, in the 1840s and 50s dissolving views and mechanical slides were still associated with ‘low’ entertainment — juvenile and obsessed with the occult —  often appealing to the baser instincts of their audiences. This is something that lanternists needed to both encourage and manage. But sometimes they weren’t able to entirely manage unpredictable audience responses in the dark. For instance a report of the lanternists’ Seymour and Gordon’s opening night in Adelaide in 1864 said:

 

The audience was not very large, and consisted entirely of occupants of the pit and gallery who, being unable to appreciate the nature of the entertainment, created such confusion that it was with great difficulty that the exhibition was gone through. The views were good, but the descriptive part was rendered inaudible by the noise.

 

Throughout the century newspapers regularly reviewed dissolving view performances and assessed as good or bad a consistent set of aspects of each evening’s entertainment, such as: the brightness and size of the disc of light on the screen (generally from 8 to 12 feet); the consistency of the illumination which was difficult to maintain because of a limited supply of gas; the focussing of the lantern; the  artistic control of the dissolve; the thematic appropriateness of the music (provided by orchestra, piano, accordion, or harmonium); the interest and relevance of the accompanying patter; the strength of the lecturer’s voice; the behaviour of the crowd (often the rowdiness of ill-bred children in the dark was commented on); the moral appropriateness of the subject matter (which ranged from ecclesiastical to occult themes); the topicality of the subject matter; and the educational value of the subjects. The wide range of experiences persistently commented on by the newspapers indicates the complex intermedial nature of the performances in which mechanical animations were embedded, and the way that they were an integral part of the re-organisation of modes of audience spectatorship.

 

We also know that dissolving views themselves were an important part of Australian colonial visual culture, because by the 1850s the term had firmly entered the Australian language as a metaphor. For instance in 1857 a correspondent to the Hobart Courier satirized the various rhetorical exertions of colonial politicians in parliament as an exhibition of ‘dissolving views’. In his satire, taxes and debts were ‘dissolving’ the bright future that Tasmania’s politicians were laying out:

 

A mist came over the glowing colours [of the politicians promises], extensive plains contracted to little valleys, undulating hills became rocky scrub, and the expected gold never came, and behind all appeared TAXES. Tax upon income; tax upon property; tax upon luxuries; tax upon four-wheeled carriages. It was evidently a mistake the obtrusion on so beautiful a vision of these unseemly and disagreeable objects, but unequivocally they made themselves apparent, and thus this beauteous scene dissolved away. (Hobart Courier 11/4/57 p3)

 

This would be equivalent to a satirist saying today that a politician’s promises were merely ‘virtual reality’.

 

In 1852 a poem called Ode to Melbourne was published in the Argus which was a satirical take on Melbourne’s poor drainage and alcoholic binge-drinking culture. It satirized Melbourne’s ‘filthy lanes’ and ‘atrocious smells’. Melbourne was full of pubs and drunkards, so the gutters ran with filth which reflected the debaucheries above:

 

Oh Pleasant city, full of pleasant places,

Thy very gutters show ‘dissolving views’

 

The dissolving view, far from the high minded education language of the ads the exhibitors put in the papers, remained associated with the gaudy, the low, the inebriated and the insubstantial.

 

It is clear from accounts such as this that it was the optical effects which were most responded to by audiences, rather than any putative content. However, when these effects could be extended over a narrative which linked them together they were responded to even more strongly. In the 1880s, a new kind of slide called ‘life model slides’ began to be produced. These hand-coloured live models adopting tableau-like attitudes in front of painted backdrops foregrounded narrative, rather than special effects, even more.

 

In life-model slide sets the various poses of the life models told a story, but not in the sense of a realistic story teleologically extending through linear time, rather in an iterative way, suited to the structure of a popular song with it repeating chorus and separate self-contained verses. These songs and recitations were issued in booklets along with the slide sets.

 

The sequence of life model slides called Daddy had a special effect, the appearance of an angel, double exposed  (or in our contemporary parlance, composited) on one slide, so it was suitable for a lanternist with a single lantern. However another series of life model slides, Jane Conquest, which would have been shown accompanied by a melodramatic poem about the mother of a sick baby who nonetheless managed to heroically ring a church bell in order to save fishermen from a shipwreck, was designed for dissolving lanterns, so a skilled lanternist could make the angel slowly appear and disappear above the baby’s crib.

 

REMEDIATION AND CONVERGENCE

The 1890s saw the convergence of magic lantern lectures, which had been developing for fifty years, with the cinematograph. Companies marketed lantern slide sets as well as Lumiere films, and cinematographic adapters for lanterns were also for sale.

 

Long-time lanternists were quick to defend themselves against the new technologies. For instance in 1897 the senior lanternist Edmund H. Wilkie wrote an article called ‘The Dawn of Animated Photography’ in the British journal The Magic Lantern Journal and Photographic Enlarger. First of all he dismissed motion pictures as an:

 

 ephemeral idea which will be the fashion for a season and then subside into the background to be seen no more … so far from superseding  general lantern work [animated photography]  will most likely act in the contrary manner, and by directing public attention to optical exhibitions give a powerful impetus to dissolving view entertainments generally.

 

But even after dismissing motion pictures as a fad he felt compelled to also argue that in fact magic lanternists such as himself had been involved in the same project as the new cinematographers all along:

 

Ever since the lantern emerged from what we may turn the chrysalis stage, and took rank amongst other valuable scientific instruments, attempts have been made to obtain natural motions with regard to the figures of human being and animals. The forces of nature, the great terrestrial and atmospheric phenomena presented generally no particular difficulty to the slide painter and mechanician, but with the appliances until recently obtainable, movements such as walking could only be imitated in a degree and with great difficulty, and could not be considered as successful. p21-22

 

Wilkie couldn’t have been more wrong about the future of animated photographs. This blind spot was because, as a veteran lanternist, he was focused solely on the optical effects of the new cinematograph, rather the indexical ‘reality effect’ it promised. He saw the natural motion of the cinematograph as just another category of illusion which happened now to merely incorporate the persistence of vision, as compared to the optical effects of the dissolving view, which had, in his eyes, the advantage of rich hand-painted colour and fine detail that at the time still far outstripped the cinematograph, particularly in spectacular and sublime weather effects, if not always in complex motion.

 

In the same issue of the Almanac  Henry J. Walker wrote an article Animated Photographs versus Dissolving Views, in which he, too, lamented that the new cinematographic craze was pushing aside the old dissolving view exhibitions. To defend dissolving views he retreated to the argument that the cinematograph was merely mechanical copying, whereas the dissolving view required manual craft on the part of the operator:

 

If animated photographs draw a large amount of applause from the audience, it is because they think the moving figures wonderful; but they do not know which requires the most skill, the dissolving views or animated pictures. The majority know, comparatively speaking, nothing of the working of the lantern; and have know idea of the skill required to carry through successfully a first class dissolving view exhibition … with some dissolving view effects, a very considerable amount of thought and skill is required to make the pictures projected on the screen appear ‘just right’ to the spectators … I think I shall be right when I say that, placed side by side [dissolving views take] infinitely more skill to turn out a first class entertainment … The animated photographs I put down as a mechanical triumph, and the success of dissolving views to the skill of the operator. P110.

 

But nonetheless the two co-existed for about a decade during a period of major technological remediation, both around the world and in Australia, as modes of mass spectatorship were re-organized around both established viewing conventions and emergent new technologies. Actuality, illusion and the trick were key terms during this crisis, but so was the idea of ‘animation’. At stake was not only what animation might become with the persistence of vision, but also what it had been. I would therefore like to argue for the discussion of the history of animation to not begin with the cinematograph but much, much earlier.

 

Obviously the long history of cartooning is one archaeological substrata to modern animation. For instance we can clearly see newspaper cartooning being remediated into cinematographic animation in the World War One films of Harry Julius, which open with him in his role of a traditional cartoonist, before zooming in on his hand doing ‘lightning sketches’ in front of the camera in real time, before cutting to a stop frame animation where his role as the artist has been totally sublimated into the retinal flow of the animation itself. This process, which happens in a few exhilarating seconds in Julius’s films, mimics a process which had been happening in the auditoriums of Australia and the world over for the previous two decades, when the projectionist moved from being a performer at the centre of the audience artfully manipulating his lantern and delivering his patter, to being invisible inside his bio box using his skill to make the cinematographic mechanism run so smoothly that the audience forgot it was there.

 

But while most people would recognize cartooning as a tradition which was mediated into the cinema and is still present — subsumed into twentieth and even twenty-first century animation, I wonder what happens when we put dissolving views into a similar remedial framework. The ruptures and discontinuities have already been clearly identified by our alarmed lanternists from the late 1890s. They saw that their hand-produced illusions, produced live in the midst of an audience who were willing to emotionally enter familiar narratives through the intermedial techniques of music and poetry, whilst also appreciating them as illusion, were gradually being replaced with automatically recorded and projected illusions that relied on the persistence of vision alone. But they were too alarmed by the new cinematographic technology to realize that other visual pleasures were also continuing from the dissolving view to cinematographic animation. The newspaper accounts of the shipwreck stories, or transformation scenes, reveal that the audiences felt a raw pleasure in seeing pictures  move and morph, and dissolve from one to another. In both the dissolving view and the cinematographic animation it seems to be the between states, the indeterminate states of fluidity, the constant change that caused the most pleasure. To me it is this raw visual pleasure which unites contemporary audiences with audiences of the 1840s, despite the massive changes in technology in the intervening 170 years. This unifying pleasure in transitional images needs further investigation.

 

Martyn Jolly

 

 

 

 

Soldiers of the Cross and the Quo Vadis connection

Soldiers of the Cross and the Quo Vadis connection, blog entry, National Film and Sound Archive

One of the highlights of my CSAR Fellowship a couple of years ago was the chance to see the two hundred or so glass magic lantern slides from Soldiers of the Cross on the light-table out at Mitchell. I’m really interested in magic lantern slides and the history of the magic lantern in Australia. I kind of suspected that maybe these slides hadn’t yet received the attention they deserved because Soldiers of the Cross, an evangelical lecture produced by the Salvation Army in Melbourne in 1900, had been thought about by historians primarily interested in finding the origins of Australia’s cinema industry, and of course the cinematic part of the original presentation, the thirteen or so kinematographic films, had been lost. The slides, however, far from being just the remnants of a primarily movie-related event, are fascinating in their own right.

There is a lot visual information recorded on the 9 cm by 9cm glass slides, not to mention their extravagant handcolouring, or their careful and inventive narrative sequencing. One of people responsible for the production, Herbert Booth, the youngest son of the founder of the Salvation Army, left the Army in 1902 and took the slides with him overseas as an independent evangelist. He died in 1926, and the slides he had used for all those years didn’t return to Australia until the fifties. When I got access to some of the high resolution digital copies the NFSA’s Darren Weinert had made, in order to show them as part of Arc’s ‘Autumn Silents’ program, it was wonderful to be able to dive in to the detail in the slides, particularly the faces of the members of the Salvation Army who had dressed up as Romans or Christian martyrs to reenact the stories of the persecution of the early Christians. By showing the slides in sequence I hope I established that there were several distinct modes of temporality in the production, including what I dubbed the ‘iterative’, ‘expository’ and ‘action’ modes.

We had always known that some of the slides in the set that came back to Australia had been made a long time after the original production — the tableaus were more complex and the costumes and sets more elaborate. So I became intrigued to know where exactly the later slides had come from. At the Salvation Army Heritage Centre in Melbourne I had been shown a page from the Illustrated London News of 1907 where Booth was featured with his ‘evangelisation by tableaux vivants’ and ‘bioscope lecture’, so Booth was ‘on the road’ with slides and film for quite a long time. He was still touring when his first wife died in 1920.

I showed some of the later slides to colleagues in the lantern-slide researcher community, as well as the cinema historian community, and dropped them in to Google Image Search. I found that some were production stills from the 1913 Italian blockbuster Quo Vadis. Quentin Turnour had also cunningly programmed Quo Vadis into the NFSA’s season of ‘Autumn Silents’, and when I saw the film at Arc I identified twelve slides from the NFSA’s Soldiers of the Cross set as having their origin in Quo Vadis. They were most probably a set made by a commercial slide manufacturer in association with the exhibition of the blockbuster, purchased by Booth, and interleaved amongst the existing Soldier of the Cross set.

Back in 1900 the Salvation Army had incorporated slides of many famous nineteenth century paintings directly in their production, as well as using them as inspiration for their painted backdrops. Two of the paintings they had used, Thumbs Down and Last Prayers of the Christian Martyrs featured scenes in the coliseum and were by the popular French academic painter Jean Léon Gérome, also know for his soft-core porn harem scenes. The same paintings were clearly also the inspiration for the sets and costumes of the 1913 Italian Quo Vadis. My ANU colleague Gino Moliterno put me on to an article by Ivo Blom about the relationship of Gerome’s paintings to the Quo Vadis film where, as in Soldiers of the Cross, several scenes are directly modeled on the paintings. Blom’s article also discussed the relationship between the tableau vivant and early European cinema, as well as the general interest in ‘sword and sandal’ (or what I prefer to call ‘blood on the toga’) themes from the nineteenth century into the twentieth century, and indeed right up to the present day, including the Quo Vadis novel about early Christian martyrs published in 1895.

Clearly much work remains to be done. But I think we now have a richer, more international and more intermedial context for the Archive’s Soldiers of the Cross slides.

In thinking about the narrative and temporal sequencing of these slides I had relied on the numbers painted on the edge of each slide. But the numbering system incorporates the Quo Vadis slides, so these numbers were added after 1913, at least 13 years after the first slides were produced back in Melbourne. What was going through Booth’s head, I wondered, as he interleaved, amongst the slides he himself had produced a decade and a half earlier, the new slides from a mega commercial blockbuster which drew on the same literary and visual sources he had drawn on. But I think Lindsay Cox from the Salvation Army Heritage Centre gets it right when he says:

“First and foremost the prime motivation in Herbert Booth’s life was the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It consumed him in his Salvation Army service and then as ‘Ambassador’ Booth the travelling evangelist. His creativeness and entrepreneurial skills were in their entirety for his work for God. The production achievements of Herbert were entirely a means to an end. If Herbert could not see a direct connection between using the technology and the saving of souls, he would have discarded it. Herbert Booth was adamant that his lecture was ‘not an entertainment.’ As commander of the Australasian Territory he was able to draw upon resources he never could have after leaving the Army. He was not a wealthy man, although no doubt, comfortable. Nor was his family wealthy, or able to, or perhaps desiring to support him. So, I do not feel that he had the resources to make the slides himself. There is also no evidence that he had anything other than artistic involvement in the productions. All the technical and processing stuff was Perry’s domain. I’m comfortable with the thought he just used whatever commercially available slides were available.”

Soldiers of the Cross – NFSA

‘Herbert Booth and Joseph Perry’s Soldiers of the Cross of 1900’, National Film and Sound Archive, Arc Cinema, 1 March, 2013

I’d like to thank Quentin for the opportunity, and Clare, Darren and Brooke for the yummy files.

I want to go back to the turn of last century and try to re-imagine the experience that audience members might have had at the Salvation Army evangelist lecture Soldiers of the Cross. This massive production, the most elaborate of the Army’s many technologically cutting-edge productions, was seen by large numbers of people around Australia, and was particularly aimed at recruiting young men.

What other media experiences would the excited crowds we see milling about Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne or the Sydney Town hall have had, before the went inside to take their seats? They would certainly have seen many dissolving view magic lantern shows, featuring hand painted slides in series such as Jane Conquest, or life model slides of actors in tableau vivant photographed against backdrops, such as Daddy. These slide shows used a dissolving mechanism to produce special effects by, for instance, dissolving an angel over a scene with a separate magic lantern, or creating a montage on the slide itself. They would have experienced stereo views, where they clamped a viewer onto their face and immersed themselves in virtual three dimensional space as they took a trip through a sequence of twelve scenes, usually of exotic locations they had no hope of visiting in real life. They might have visited one of the new kinetoscope parlours — there was one across the road from the Army headquarters — where they could bend their heads to eyepieces and crank through sixty seconds of animated pictures. They may even have seen animated pictures projected onto a screen from an adaptor placed at the front of a magic lantern. They might have gone to the Melbourne cyclorama building, where they could immerse themselves bodily in a panorama of the Siege of Paris. And they would have been aware of the great celebrity paintings of the day which they would have mainly know from numerous lantern slide reproductions or prints, but even perhaps by experiencing the aura of the paintings themselves. Some celebrity paintings such as Holman Hunt’s 1850s Light of the World, after being familiar for decades through slide and reproduction, physically toured the world like aging rock stars. And finally they would have experienced the hurly burly of the cosmopolitan streets themselves.

All this can be summed up in three buzz words from the period: thrills, animated photographs and colour. So all that was in their heads as they took their seats, but what had been going on behind the scenes? Soldiers of the Cross was produced in the Salvation Army’s Limelight Studios, headed by Joseph Perry, which combined gramophones, magic lanterns and the kinematograph in a ‘triple alliance’. However the key piece of equipment was the most unglamorous, and the most overlooked — it was the copy camera, which could take virtually any flat image, and turn it into a glass slide that could them be hand-coloured before projection. For this production Perry, along with the Commandant of the Army in Australia Herbert Booth and his wife Cornelie produced about 250 glass lantern-slides and approximately fifteen sixty-second strips of Lumiere film. Of the slides about thirty were copied from other sources, and of the films about two were produced by the Lumiere company. The rest were produced in Melbourne, and the whole lot was integrated together by the Booths and Perry. The script has been lost, as well as the films the Army shot. But a large proportion of the slides, and two Lumiere films, survive.

The best way of thinking about the logic of Soldiers of the Cross is to imagine it as a turn of the twentieth century Powerpoint. Like Powerpoint it brought together disparate sources into a singly formatted lecture. Like Powerpoint every time it was performed it was slightly different. And like Powerpoint it was the lecturer who made the show. The Booths wrote the script and read it, while Perry and his team dissolved the slides one into the other and projected the cinematographs. A band also played well-known hymns from the period, and led the congregation is singing. Although it included narratives, these were chapters embedded in an overarching structure which was liturgical and sermonic.

THE ST STEPHEN SEQUENCE

The production began with general scenes of the Life of Christ derived from reproductions of prints and painting, as well as two commercial kinematographs which were each one-minute reels, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem and the Crucifixion, from the thirteen one-minute-reels of the Lumiere production The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ made in 1898. It is important to look carefully at these Lumiere films. Although they weren’t shot in Melbourne they give an indication of what the Melbourne footage may have looked like. In these films it is the micro-movements, the swish of the palm fronds, the pounding of the Roman hammer, and the movement of the sponge through the air, these unmistakable markers of living animation, which would have most excited the audience.

After this introduction the first chapter of the lecture was the Martyrdom of St Stephen.  This is based on the biblical story of the first Martyr. It opens with St Stephen before the Jewish court. Why, one wonders, does this first chapter open with five very repetitive slides where not much is happening, where the narrative isn’t moving? This is because in Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles St Stephen spends 53 Biblical verses defending himself against the Jewish court by recounting the story of Moses’ persecution. So it appears as though these slides would be dissolved, one in to another, perhaps quite slowly, as Booth recounted those 53 biblical verses.

After that, the Biblical narrative suddenly picks up. Stephen looks up and Heaven opens up to him. There he sees God with Jesus on his right hand. The Bible says:

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried out in a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.’ Acts 7 55-60

Booth and Perry have superimposed a commercial slide of Jesus and angels for the effect of Heaven opening up.

The way the slides in this sequence have been made differ. We begin with slides shot with live models standing in front of a painted backdrop. But the slide of St Stephen being removed from the city is assembled in a different way. It is a collage of cut-out photographs pasted onto a painted background, and re-shot onto a glass-slide before being hand-coloured. Both quite different techniques are used throughout the Army’s productions.

The slides only follow the Biblical text loosely, but the general narrative would have been familiar enough to the audience. The account of this chapter in the Salvation Army magazine the War Cry closely follows the slides we have:

The events that lead to the martyrdom of Stephen passed in review. The [Sanhedrim, the] trial, Stephen’s impeachment by the rulers and the stoning of the first martyr. The kinematograph was employed in this latter scene. The effect on the audience, as they beheld in a moving picture the innocent Stephen cruelly beaten to the earth, and killed by fiendish fanaticism of the formal religionists of his day cannot be described. The kinematograph give place to a picture of Stephen lying dead upon the roadside, while Paul (sic) the persecutor stands over him in an attitude of painful contemplation.’ (MWC 22/9/00 p9)

The backdrop painting for the exteriors has clearly been inspired by a Gustave Doré engraving. There are three slides numbered in sequence for the stoning, two are shot against a backdrop, the third is a collage. The kinematograph would have come after this sequence of slides, which may have been dissolved more quickly, perhaps, than the earlier court slides. So the audience would have seen the same action again, repeated, but this time in moving picture.

We can get an indication perhaps of how this might have worked by looking at the script of a later set of life model slides called Lazarus, produced by the Army in 1902. This is a set of eight slides. The script for the later and shorter slide set tells the story of the raising of Lazurus with the usual cues for slide changes. At the end of the story the cue changes to ‘Kino’. Unfortunately the corner of the script has been torn off, but the lecturer says something like:

We shall now show you … (missing) … actually took place … (missing) … this remarkable miracle, most impressive and realistic. WE WILL SHOW YOU IN LIVING FORM WHERE MARTHA MEETS CHRIST, and tells him Lazurus is dead,…….’

The script then runs on as a commentary on the kinematograph, with prompts for the reader of the script for when the kinematograph scenes will change.

To return to the earlier, longer, Soldiers of the Cross production, as the War Cry says, the kinematograph then gives way to a slide of Stephen lying dead, with Jesus receiving his spirit. Then we see a hand-coloured copy of a lithographic reproduction of a Pre-Raphaelite Millais painting of St Stephen, before cutting back to two slides of Salvation Army Officer Colonel James Annetts, who played St Stephen, lying on the ground. Between the final two slides we see his crimson blood poo, as though a few moments of time have elapsed, and a crucial character for the next chapter, Saul, appear to look over him.

So in this chapter, even though viewers are experiencing a synthesized production, it is not built on anything like a unified visual syntax. Instead they are experiencing   at least five different modalities of affect, and four different expressions of time:

  1. A strophic, verse-like, iterative mode of slowly dissolving lantern slides, familiar from previous commercial slide sets
  2. An expository mode of tableaus taking us through key narrative points
  3. A faster, time-based, action mode, often in couplets or triplets, and perhaps linked to an accelerated lantern dissolve, which is an innovation of the commercial slide format
  4. The real-time animation and realistic living-picture mode of the kinematograph, giving a visceral feeling of natural movement
  5. The contemplative mode of a familiar work of ‘great art’ which is embedded in some kind of universal historical/symbolic/aesthetic time

These five different modalities I have identified are reflected in the contemporaneous comments on the production. For instance often the micro-movements magically captured by the kinematograph are mentioned, such as the splash of water as a martyr is thrown in a river, the rising of smoke, or the falling of stones. But also the beautiful colour of the slides is frequently mentioned. All of these modes, although not syntactically unified in any way we would recognize from subsequent cinema history, nonetheless worked together to directly involve the audience with the story through shared sight. This sense of collective witnessing, which this opening sequence sets up, is caught well by the War Cry:

We saw the great stones falling thick and fast upon the white robbed figure on the ground, till it grew strangely still. Then the ‘witnesses’ left the scene, and Saul of Tarsus stood alone looking down upon the dead young man. (MWC 29/9/00 p14)

SAUL

The next slide, after we have shared with Saul our contemplation of the dead St Stephen, is a shot of contemporary Damascus extracted from a stereograph. But this clever segue still follows the Bible pretty closely, because after being transported to contemporary Damascus as it was in 1900, the next slide whooshes us back to Biblical times for Saul’s conversion. We then see a tight sequence of three slides, shot outside rather than in a studio, which is a time-based triplet shows us St Paul’s escape by basket from the walls of Damascus to continue his preaching.

These time-based ‘runs’ of slides often seem to pick up momentum towards a kinematographic climax. For instance at slide number 72 there is a sequence of Romans raiding an outdoor service by Christians who are then forced to flee underground to continue their worship clandestinely in the catacombs. In 1901 this sequence was added to with a kinematograph of the Romans chasing the Christians across a plank over a stream, augmented with the much commented on comic relief of a Roman boinging off the springy plank and into the stream.

CATACOMBS

A later sequence focuses on life in the catacombs, perhaps to parallel life for Salvationists in the midst of pagan Melbourne. Like an establishing shot from a movie of twenty years later, it begins with an aerial map of the catacombs, and then swoops us down through the contemporary underground stone passages using stereo views from a commercial stereograph set. We then see daily life— worship, marriage, birth, sickness and eventual death — carried on in what I have called the ‘iterative’ mode through a mixture of Army collages and copies of prints and engravings. As the War Cry put it:

All these scenes, painted and reproduced to sight and sound by word and art pictures, simply enchain the mind, and carry one in thought 1800 years back through the ages. The listener sups, prays, praises, adores worships, suffers and dies with these saints of apostolic times.

The mode switches from ‘iterative’ to ‘time-based’ for a detailed and strangely beautiful, even today, funeral sequence of four monochrome slides. Once more there is kinematographic climax, before a final extended contemplation of souls ascending into heaven painted in brilliant supersaturated colour, which may perhaps have been accompanied by music or singing.

LIME KILNS

About twenty slides later another quartet of slides appears which encapsulates a tight action. A Christian woman is about to be burnt to death in a lime-kiln. Will she offer just one grain of incense to the Pagan Gods and save herself? No! After pointing upwards to the one true God she disappears into the kiln. This again was followed by a kinematograph of martyrs joyfully jumping into the kiln, with the added bonus of smoke effects.

COLISUEM

Fourteen slides later another run of five slides introduces an extended piece of action. Christians wait at the gate of the Coliseum, while a stuffed tiger with a virulent red tongue threatens them from a cage. Then the gates inch open in the final three slides, before a kinematograph shows the Christians entering the Coliseum and being approached by lions, after which individual slides show their martyrdom.

PERPETUA SEQUENCE:

The final sequence of the two and half hour show was for many people the most affecting, in Hobart for instance, it caused ‘general sobbing’ in the audience. (MWC 26/1/01 p9)

Perpetua, played by the young, attractive Army member, Cadet Mabel Tolley was a young wealthy Roman woman who chose to give up her baby and be martyred in the coliseum rather than renounce Christ. A script with slide and music cues exists, probably for a stand-alone version made shortly after Soldiers of the Cross. The surviving script is also punctuated with nine popular hymns requiring audience participation, with a hymn supplementing the narrative about every four slides. However in Soldier of the Cross itself there were most probably far fewer hymns because of the whole production’s larger scale.

The script is ekphrastic, that is, it describes what the audience is seeing with their own eyes, and rhetorically explains what they should be feeling. For instance, during a dissolve between two opening slides the script says:

We may picture the surprise of this Christian lady when sitting in one of her well furnished rooms. The stillness of the occasion was broken by the intrusion of two armed men. On learning the object of their sudden appearance, Perpetua showed neither fear nor alarm.

This was immediately followed by a hymn. Later, when she is cast into prison, the script tells the audience:

Glory filled her soul amidst the gloom of her surroundings.

Later on, a tight sequences of slides showed the visual evidence of interpersonal conflict, while the script provided the ekphrasis. After her father leaves, disappointed that he has not been able to convince her to drop the whole Jesus thing, the script says:

This was to her a dark and trying moment. The grey beard, the fatherly face, the agitated frame, the loving entreaties, and the stern rebuke; as well as the somber environment of the place, all spoke to her heart with a weird-like eloquence. Still she faltered not. An invisible power supported her even now.

As we have seen in the St Stephen sequence at the beginning of the production, the script is often self-referential, making direct links between Perpetua’s experience and the experience of the audience seeing the projected slides in Melbourne eighteen hundred years later. After Perpetua has finally handed over her baby to her mother the script says:

But when the mother had gone a dreary lull set in. The baby’s prattle had given way to a deep silence. The past rose in vivid pictures, and strong as she was in the grace of God, her poor heart was grief stricken. But there is always solace in prayer, and even in this dark dungeon Perpetua might well prove the unfailing words, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee’.’

The script then calls for the hymn What a friend we have in Jesus.

In a second courtroom sequence more tight time-based, rather than expository, action is shown. She is offered pagan incense to burn and her mother and father show her the baby which will be returned to her if only she renounce Jesus. She refuses. Her father remonstrates with her once more, and is struck to the round by a guard.

After Perpetua has been martyred and before the final hymn the script ends with:

But the end was near, for soon Perpetua lay bruised and bleeding upon the floor of that slaughter house on iniquity still praying to Him she loved. The excited crowd yelled that her misery and pain might end with a thrust of the gladiator’s sword. A moment later the soul of Perpetua had gone to be with God, gone to hear her master say, “Now that thou hast been faithful unto death, I will give thee a Crown of Life”.

THE VOICE

Now we have looked in as much detail as possible at a few of the many sequences in this production, what general conclusions can be drawn? The unifying force in the piece was the voice, the live human voice reciting that sermon. That voice was provided first by the charismatic Herbert Booth, youngest son of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army movement. Herbert spoke in ‘short and harmonious’ sentences, ‘constructed with due regard to the balance and equilibrium of the whole’ (MWC 22/9/00). After he got sick the lecture was conducted by his equally charismatic wife. The War Cry  reported:

The lights went down, and the audience were hushed into breathless silence as the immense pictures were thrown upon the canvas. The Commandant’s voice alone broke the stillness thrilling the enthralled audience with burning words fitted in compact sentences, forming an eloquent and beautiful tribute to the heroic deeds and unflinching endurance of the saints whose pictorial reproduction riveted every eye. (MWC 22/9/00 p9)

Other connecting forces were musical, the familiar hymns and masses played by the orchestra and sung by the audience. But the dominant force which distinguished the limelight lecture from others was the lanternist himself, who was always present in the audience’s consciousness as his lanterns hissed and spluttered and projected their beam above their heads. As the War Cry noted:

Carefully watching the screen as the lecture progressed, and noting the rapid changes from one slide to another, from slide to kinematograph film, and then again from kinematograph film to slide, each appearing exactly at the right time, one could not help but admire the consummate skill with which Major Perry manipulated his elaborate and complicated apparatus. (MWV13/10/00 p8)

RETINAL POWER

The presence of the lanternist signaled the radical shift in focus of the site of principle address which the Salvation Army made in their evangelism: from the body, or the ear, or the mind, or the voice — although these were of course still present — to the eye and to the retina; from the phenomenological architecture of the church to the dominating address of the projection sheet; from the magical ritual of the service to the narrative power of the projected image.

The magic lantern shifted the locus of the spiritual to the limelight itself, and turned the lanternist into a kind of thaumaturge. For instance, before the third presentation of Soldiers of the Cross at South Melbourne Town Hall Brigadier Unsworth prayed with the congregation:

that the pictures might be luminous with Divine light, [instilled] with divine power, and fruitful in bringing about more of that spirit of heroism that dominated the lives of the Christian martyrs of old. (MWC 13/10/00 p8)

The Army’s spiritual bellicosity was evoked in another comment by the War Cry:

The lecture is a double-barreled weapon, which captivates both sense of sight and enchains the mind, while indelible impressions are made upon it. (MWC 22/9/00 )

THE DISSOLVE

The Army’s slides, like all slides of the period, were propelled forward by the retinal frisson of the dissolve, as one image appeared to materialize itself within the very optical substance of the image it was replacing.  The rhetoric of the Army frequently equates the light of the lantern with the light of salvation, and the magical transformation of the dissolve with the transformative power of Jesus.

INNOVATION

The Army’s main innovation was to use lantern slides to describe tight time-based actions, rather than expository narrative elements or iterative strophic elements. This I think is globally significant at the time.

The Army’s second innovation was to scale up the traditional lantern lecture into a complete evening’s production, and to give it a thematic unity. As the War Cry reported:

Although the audience was taken through a great variety of scene and incident, the intervals were cleverly bridged or, to change the metaphor, the stories, instead of being scattered gems were strung on an elocutionary necklace and, in their semblance or contrast made into a beautiful and complete circlet. (MWC 29/09/00 p8)

A third innovation was to work the kinematograph into the slides more closely. In Booth’s words:

I saw at a glance that living pictures, worked in conjunction with life-model slides, would provide a combination unfailing in its power of connecting narrative.’ (Citation)

THRILLS

These three innovations were all in search of thrills — Army thrills to compete with all of the other thrills young people, particularly young men, had to divert them in 1900. In its pre-publicity for Soldiers of the Cross, the War Cry described it as a ‘new sensation’. It was the power of the thrill which led Booth to chose as his subject the martyrdom of the early Christians, because the bloody and violent martyrdoms provided opportunity for spectacle and action. If the thrill was one key concept, the other was realistic action. The intention was to create a retinal connection between the audience and the Christian martyrs. The ultimate objective was for people, particularly men, to pledge their souls to Christ and their lives to the Army at the end of the lecture. Realism was one conduit of empathy, the other was the contemporary travel shots of the Holy Land and the copies of the great and familiar paintings which introduced each chapter.

As the War Cry predicted before opening night:

The thrilling scenes in the arena, the cruel tests, the thrilling presentiments of Christians under torture, the sustaining power of the presence of the invisible Christ should bring forth all that is best in the nature of the observers, while the graphic and eloquent word-pictures of our leader should tinge with colour, as with the hands of an artist in studies of human nature, these pictures, which all but speak their own story. May God’s spirit be poured upon lecturer, operator and audience alike!’ (MWC 15/9/00) p8)

TRANSPORT

Part of this thrill was also a sense of transport, to take the audience out of their seats in Melbourne, and into another spatio-temporal realm. As Booth promised:

I have sought to make everything absolutely correct. From the plumes on the Roman helmet and the imperial robe of Nero to the rough garments of the pagan slave, everything will be exact. You only have to follow the screen and you will be as much in Rome as if you had been there – now in the palace of Caesar, then in the open square – now in the residence of the patrician, then in the den of the libertine — now in the coliseum then in the Catacombs, where the early Christians concealed themselves for safety — all will be absolutely exact’ (MWC 18/8/00 p9)

This is very similar to the promises which had been made by stereograph manufacturers since the 1850s. By the 1900s sellers like Underwood and Underwood were marketing complete ‘Travel Systems’ incorporating, stereographs, guidebooks and maps, to give a similar, touristic sense of optical and retinal transport.

But to the Army audience this transport was more than just virtual tourism, it was transport of a more profound kind. A later report on a limelight meeting said:

the meeting almost becomes as a séance, and our spirits seem to blend with the spirits of these just ones.’(MWC 9/2/01 p9)

AFFECT

Was Soldiers of the Cross effective? The War Cry frequently reported on the ‘involuntary interjections, moans of pity, sighs of relief’ coming from the audience. (MWC 29/09/00 p8) All the Army reports are ecstatic, but they would be, wouldn’t they. However even the hard-bitten seen-it-all mainstream press confirmed the affective power of the production. The premiere scored a review from two out of the three of Melbourne papers, and both used the word ‘thrilling’.

The Age said:

To have some of the most tragic episodes of Christian history carried out in all savage but ?should? destroying realism is an accomplishment essentially of today. It was done by the aid of the kinematograph, when Commandant Booth delivered his thrilling lecture last night.

The Argus said:

Opening with the last days of the life of Christ, Commandant Booth dealt with the lives of the disciples [… ] and the thrilling scenes that were enacted in the arena of the Coliseum. Bold as the lecture was in conception, the illustration were even more daring. (MWC 22/9/09)

CONCLUSION

Soldiers of the Cross is extremely important because it was Australia’s first large scale multimedia production. On at least several occasions it kept close to 2000 people simultaneously enthralled by a production that was experientially integrated over an entire two and a half hour period. It innovated on narrative formats from the nineteenth century, and incorporated technology that would come to dominate the twentieth century.  It created an entirely new experience by weaving familiar visual forms and technological experiences in with established viewing protocols and ritualized behaviours that had been developed and inculcated into Australian audiences during the previous five decades. The scale and the complexity of the integration of these experiences looked forward to twentieth century media forms. One of those media forms was certainly the cinema, but others include the history of the lantern itself which continued in parallel to cinema for another five decades, as well as much later media forms such as broadcast radio and television, and even, at a stretch, contemporary digital media platforms. For these reasons it is an extraordinarily important event in Australian history. Much more important than we first realized.

Martyn Jolly

Soldiers of the Cross: Time, Narrative and Affect

‘Herbert Booth and Joseph Perry’s Soldiers of the Cross of 1900’, Magic Lantern Convention, Australasian Magic Lantern Society, Melbourne, 27-28 October 2012.

INTRODUCTION

The Salvation Army lecture of 1900, Soldiers of the Cross, was an extremely important event in the history of Australian media. It is reasonably well known, but because it included fifteen sections of kinematographic film along with its 200 lantern slides, until now it has largely been seen through the lens of subsequent Australian cinema history. Although it does have a place in that narrow teleology, it is much more important to a larger archaeology of media experience in Australia.  So I would like to discuss it on its own terms, and in particular try to think about it from the point of view of its audience’s experience. I would like to tease out two related aspects of that experience: the sense of realistic action it gave its audience, and the emotional affect it generated in them. In doing so I am building on the previous work of Chris Long, who discussed the production in the 1990s from the point of view of cinema, Elizabeth Hartrick who discussed it recently from the much more relevant point of view of broader Australian lantern slide culture, and Lindsay Cox who has discussed it from the point of view of the heritage of the Salvation Army. I’d also like to thank the National Film and Sound Archive who gave me access to the Soldiers of the Cross slides during my Collection Scholars and Artist Residency fellowship.

THE MYTH

Soldiers of the Cross has acquired a mythic status as Australia’s first film. It was not. Furthermore, a fixation on its an some kind of lost originary text has worked to obscure the complex multimedia work of the Salvation Army at the time, as well as the complex multimedia landscape of Australia as a whole. So one must return to it with circumspection. In addition, large parts of the production have been lost — the fifteen or so kinematographic films, and the script itself. All that remains are about 250 slides in the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive, which have not even all been scanned. In addition, this collection may have been modified after the initial production. Nonetheless, through looking carefully at the slide which are available, and putting them in their projection sequence by following the numbering system written on their edges, and then correlating that with published accounts of the production as well as scripts from other related productions, I think it is possible to make some general speculations about how it would have been experienced at the time. Further, I want to argue that seen on its own terms, stripped of its myth, it is an even more important and precious part of Australia’s history than we first thought

THE LIMELIGHT DEPARTMENT

Soldiers of the Cross was made in the middle of an extraordinary period of Australian media, from 1891 to 1909, when the Salvation Army were using advanced technologies to do two things: to convert souls to Christ, and to recruit new members to the Army. During this period the Army saw themselves as competing for attention with all of the other fantastic, thrilling, colourful attractions of the nineteenth century: the panoramas, the cycloramas, the dioramas, the pantomimes, the illuminated transparencies, the kinetoscope parlours, and the moving cavalcade of the streets themselves.

For instance in 1894 Joseph Perry of the Army’s Limelight Department used a limelight magic lantern to stage an outdoor meeting in a vacant lot on a cold and wet night in the middle of winter in the middle of Melbourne to divert the people who were aimlessly drifting along Little Collins street. The illustration in the Army’s magazine War Cry of this somewhat dismal event dramatized how the lantern not only obliterated with a blast of light the Schnapps ad on the side of the pub across which they had stretched their projection sheet, it also literally shouldered aside the attractions offered by Melbourne’s Cyclorama building. Other War Cry illustrations visually dramatized the ways the Army directly pitted their limelight lectures against the tired old productions of the theatre.

During this early period Perry used a variety of commercially produced and distributed media. From later in the 1890s they began to use commercial kinematographic films, as well as the gramophone recordings. But right from the early 1890s they extensively used many different types of lantern slide, these included: dissolving mechanical slides and chromatropes, which had been shown in Australia for over forty years; painted slides and life-model slides, that is hand-coloured photographed slides of models enacting a sequence of tableaus in front of painted backdrops to accompany the verses of a song, poem or short narrative, which had been popular for several years; ‘social’ slides, photographs of slum life and charitable works; song slides which projected the words of hymns for audience participation; and finally hand-coloured copies of famous paintings and engravings, such as Millais’s Light of the World  or Doré’s bible engravings.

The commercial slides the Army used before Soldiers of the Cross tell their stories in an iterative way, like visual verses. Some, such as Jane Conquest, which the Army used, are entirely painted, so they are able to move their narratives through a series of diverse scenes, though they are nonetheless locked into the repetitive verse structure of the accompanying poem that will be read by the lecturer. Other, such as the life-model set Daddy, are photographic, so they repeat exactly the same scene with only slight variation, in a strophic way. Many of these slides also feature additional special effects, usually angels, projected over another slide by a skilled lanternist, or collaged onto a slide by a skilled slide maker. Many commercial slide manufacturers copied each other in the competition for market share, so there is not much innovation during the 1890s.

From 1894 the Limelight Department began to produce its own life model slides, social slides and, from 1897, kinematographs of both ‘life model’ and ‘social’ topics. And they began to innovate on commercial formats.

When Herbert Booth took over as Commandant of the Salvation Army in 1896 he moved this production to the centre of the Army’s proselytizing, and began to work closely with Joseph Perry. They produced a major slide and kinematograph lecture in the ‘social’ genre called Social Salvation in 1899, and then embarked on another lecture in 1900 in the ‘life-model’ genre to be called Soldiers of the Cross. Even after the departure of Herbert Booth, who quit the Army in 1901 and took Soldiers of the Cross with him to the US, the Army continued to make slide and kinematograph lectures for a further eight years, as well as becoming an independent and active production company, before being precipitously closed down in 1909.

THE PRODUCTION

So what of Soldier of the Cross itself? What was it? It was a lecture. Although it included narratives, these were chapters embedded in an overarching structure which was liturgical and sermonic. What did the lanterns project? Occasionally, during the two and a half hours of the performance, about fifteen 90 second Lumiere kinomatographs were shown, but primarily the audience experienced about 250 slides dissolving one into another. These slides were a bricolage from various sources: copies of paintings and Gustav Doré bible engravings; copies of one half of stereo view photographs, which had been previously sold in sets of twelve as travel views for viewing in a home stereoscope; and commercially produced life model slides. But, predominantly, the production featured Army produced life model slides.

THE ST STEPHEN SEQUENCE

The production began with general scenes of the Life of Christ, as well as two commercial kinematographs which were each one-minute reels, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem and the Crucifixion, from the thirteen one-minute-reels of the Lumiere production The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ made in 1898.

After this introduction the first chapter was the Maryrdom of St Stephen.  This is based on the biblical story of the first Martyr. It opens with St Stephen before the Jewish court. Why, one wonders, does this first chapter open with five very repetitive slides where not much is happening, where the narrative isn’t moving? This is because in Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles St Stephen spends a whole 53 verses defending himself against the Jewish court by recounting the story of Moses’ persecution. So it appears as though these slides would be dissolved, one in to another, perhaps quite slowly, as Booth recounted these 53 biblical verses.

After that, the Biblical narrative suddenly picks up. Stephen looks up and Heaven opens up to him. There he sees God with Jesus on his right hand. The Bible says:

 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried out in a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.’ Acts 7 55-60

Booth and Perry have superimposed a commercial slide of Jesus and angels for the effect of Heaven opening up. (This effect could have been dissolved as a superimposition on top of the slide if they had been using a triurnial lantern, but they reportedly used a biurnial lantern, so to give the animated effect of the heavens opening, only a dissolve from one slide to another double-exposed version of the same slide was possible.) The backdrop painting for the exteriors has clearly been inspired by a Doré engraving, but the way the slides in this sequence have been made seems to differ. We begin with slides shot with models standing in front of a painted backdrop. But the slide of St Stephen being removed from the city seems to be assembled in a different way. I think it is a collage of cut-out photographs pasted onto a painted background, and re-shot onto a glass-slide before being hand-coloured. Both quite different techniques are used throughout Soldiers of the Cross.

The slides only follow the Biblical text loosely, but the general narrative would have been familiar enough to the audience. In the effect generated by the montage with the commercial slide we see Jesus and angels, not Jesus on the right hand of God. We don’t see the court stopping their ears, or other details. However the account of this chapter in the War Cry closely follows the slides we have:

The events that lead to the martyrdom of Stephen passed in review. The Sanhedrim, the trial, Stephen’s impeachment by the rulers and the stoning of the first martyr. The kinematograph was employed in this latter scene. The effect on the audience, as they beheld in a moving picture the innocent Stephen cruelly beaten to the earth, and killed by fiendish fanaticism of the formal religionists of his day cannot be described. The kinematograph give place to a picture of Stephen lying dead upon the roadside, while Paul (sic) the persecutor stands over him in an attitude of painful contemplation.’ (MWC 22/9/00 p9)

There are three slides numbered in sequence for the stoning, two are produced in one method, the third in the other method. The kinematograph would have come after this sequence of slides, which may have been dissolved more quickly, perhaps, than the earlier court slides. So the audience would have seen the same action again, repeated, but this time in moving picture.

We can get an indication perhaps of how this might have worked by looking at the script of a later set of life model slides called Lazarus, produced by the Army in 1902. This is a set of eight slides. The script for the later and shorter slide set tells the story of the raising of Lazurus with the usual cues for slide changes. At the end of the story the cue changes to ‘Kino’. Unfortunately the corner of the script has been torn off, but the lecturer says something like:

We shall now show you … (missing) … actually took place … (missing) … this remarkable miracle, most impressive and realistic. WE WILL SHOW YOU IN LIVING FORM WHERE MARTHA MEETS CHRIST, and tells him Lazurus is dead,…….’

The script then runs on as a commentary on the kinematograph, with prompts for the reader of the script for when the kinematograph scenes will change.

To return to the earlier, longer Soldiers of the Cross production, as the War Cry says, the kinematograph then gives way to a slide of Stephen lying dead, with Jesus receiving his spirit. Then we see a handcoloured copy of a lithographic reproduction of a Pre-Raphaelite Millais painting of St Stephen, before cutting back to two slides of Salvation Army Officer Colonel James Annetts, who played St Stephen, lying on the ground. Between the final two slides we see his crimson blood pool, and a crucial character for the next chapter, Saul, appear to look over him.

So in this chapter, even though viewers are experiencing a synthesized production, it is not built on anything like a unified visual syntax. Instead they are experiencing   at least four different modalities of affect, and four different expressions of time:

  1. A strophic, verse-like, iterative mode of slowly dissolving lantern slides, familiar from previous commercial slide sets
  2. A faster, more expository mode of action-tableaus, often in couplets, perhaps linked to an accelerated biurnial dissolve, which is an innovation of the commercial slide format
  3. The real-time animation and realistic living-picture mode of the kinematograph, giving a visceral feeling of natural movement
  4. The contemplative mode of a familiar work of ‘great art’ which is embedded in some kind of universal historico/aesthetic time

These different modalities I have identified are reflected in the contemporaneous comments on the production. For instance often the micro-movements magically captured by the kinematograph are mentioned, such as the splash of water as a martyr is thrown in a river, the rising of smoke, or the falling of stones. But also the beautiful colour of the slides is frequently mentioned. All of these modes, although not syntactically unified in any way we would recognize from subsequent cinema history, nonetheless worked together to directly involve the audience with the story through shared sight. This sense of collective witnessing, which this opening sequence sets up, is caught well by the War Cry:

We saw the great stones falling thick and fast upon the white robbed figure on the ground, till it grew strangely still. Then the ‘witnesses’ left the scene, and Saul of Tarsus stood alone looking down upon the dead young man. (MWC 29/9/00 p14)

SAUL

The next slide, after we have shared with Saul our contemplation of the dead St Stephen, is a shot of contemporary Damascus extracted from a stereograph. But we are still following the Bible pretty closely, because after being transported to contemporary Damascus as it was in 1900, the next slide whooshes us back to Biblical times for Saul’s conversion. We then see Saul’s own persecution, and a tight sequence of three slides which in an expository triplet show us his escape by basket from the walls of Damascus to continue his preaching.

These expository ‘runs’ of slides often seem to pick up momentum towards a kinematographic climax. For instance at slide number 72 there is a sequence of Romans raiding an outdoor service by Christians who are then forced to flee underground to continue their worship clandestinely in the catacombs, or by the cover of night. In 1901 this sequence was added to with a kinematograph of the Romans chasing the Christians across a plank over a stream, augmented with the much commented on comic relief of a Roman boinging off the springy plank and into the stream.

CATACOMBS

A later sequence focuses on life in the catacombs, perhaps to parallel life for Salvationists in the midst of pagan Melbourne. Like an establishing shot from a movie of twenty years later, it begins with an aerial map of the catacombs, and then swoops us down through the underground stone passages using stereo views from a commercial stereograph set. We then see daily life— worship, marriage, birth, sickness and eventual death — carried on in what I have called the ‘iterative’ mode through a mixture of Army collages and copies of prints and engravings. As the War Cry put it:

All these scenes, painted and reproduced to sight and sound by word and art pictures, simply enchain the mind, and carry one in thought 1800 years back through the ages. The listener sups, prays, praises, adores worships, suffers and dies with these saints of apostolic times.

The mode switches from ‘iterative’ to ‘expository’ for a detailed and strangely beautiful, even today, funeral sequence of four monochrome slides. Once more there is kinematographic climax, before a final extended contemplation of souls ascending into heaven painted in brilliant supersaturated colour, which may perhaps have been accompanied by music or singing.

About twenty slides later another quartet of slides appears which encapsulates a tight action. A Christian woman is about to be burnt to death in a lime-kiln. Will she offer just one grain of incense to the Pagan Gods and save herself? No! After pointing upwards to the one true god she disappears into the kiln. This again may have been followed by a kinematograph, with the added bonus of smoke effects. We have quite good scans of these slides and we can burrow into their details to appreciate the fine brushwork of the Army’s colouring studio applying swathes of colour on the robes and dabs of optical accents. These scans also bring us extraordinarily close to the ordinary Australian faces of the Army members who have consented to Booth’s request that they pose for his production.

Fourteen slides later, after another contemporary view of the coliseum, another run of five slides introduces an extended piece of action. Christians wait at the gate of the Coliseum, while a stuffed tiger with a virulent red tongue threatens them from a cage. Then the gates inch open in the final three slides, before a kinematograph shows the Christians entering the Coliseum (check), after which individual slides show their martyrdom. In the publicity for the production much is made of the violence of the scenes, but often the extreme action is not in the Army slides but in the copied prints. It seems unlikely to me that the kinematographs would have been any more violent than the slides.

PERPETUA SEQUENCE:

The final sequence of the two and half hour show was for many people the most affecting, in Hobart for instance, it caused ‘general sobbing’ in the audience. (MWC 26/1/01 p9)

Perpetua, played by the young, attractive Army member, Cadet Mabel Tolley was a young wealthy Roman woman who chose to give up her baby and be martyred in the coliseum rather than renounce Christ. This sequence of twenty slides perhaps only used the kinematograph at the very end. (CHECK) The sequence was remade at least two times again after Booth took Soldiers of the Cross away with him, and a script with slide and music cues exists, probably for a stand-alone version made shortly after Soldiers of the Cross. Although the slide cues of this script do not correspond exactly with the slides in Soldiers of the Cross they are pretty close and still, I think, give us a good sense of how the voice of the lecturer would have unified the experience for the audience. The surviving script is also punctuated with nine popular hymns requiring audience participation, with a hymn supplementing the narrative about every four slides. However in Soldier of the Cross itself there were most probably far fewer hymns because of the whole production’s larger scale, and they may have been sung for the audience.

The script is ekphrastic, that is, it describes what the audience is seeing with their own eyes, and rhetorically explains what they should be feeling. For instance, during a dissolve between two opening slides the script says:

We may picture the surprise of this Christian lady when sitting in one of her well furnished rooms. The stillness of the occasion was broken by the intrusion of two armed men. On learning the object of their sudden appearance, Perpetua showed neither fear nor alarm.

This was immediately followed by a hymn. Later, when she is cast into prison, the script tells the audience:

Glory filled her soul amidst the gloom of her surroundings.

Later on, a tight sequences of slides showed the visual evidence of interpersonal conflict, while the script provided the ekphrasis. After her father leaves, disappointed that he has not been able to convince her to drop the whole Jesus thing, the script says:

This was to her a dark and trying moment. The grey beard, the fatherly face, the agitated frame, the loving entreaties, and the stern rebuke; as well as the somber environment of the place, all spoke to her heart with a weird-like eloquence. Still she faltered not. An invisible power supported her even now.

As we have seen in the St Stephen sequence at the beginning of the production, the script is often self-referential, making direct links between Perpetua’s experience and the experience of the audience seeing the projected slides in Melbourne eighteen hundred years later. After Perpetua has finally handed over her baby to her mother the script says:

But when the mother had gone a dreary lull set in. The baby’s prattle had given way to a deep silence. The past rose in vivid pictures, and strong as she was in the grace of God, her poor heart was grief stricken. But there is always solace in prayer, and even in this dark dungeon Pepretua might well prove the unfailing words, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee’.’

The script then calls for the hymn What a friend we have in Jesus.

After Perpetua has been martyred and before the final hymn the script ends with:

But the end was near, for soon Perpetua lay bruised and bleeding upon the floor of that slaughter house on iniquity still praying to Him she loved. The excited crowd yelled that her misery and pain might end with a thrust of the gladiator’s sword. A moment later the soul of Perpetua had gone to be with God, gone to hear her master say, “Now that thou hast been faithful unto death, I will give thee a Crown of Life”.

THE VOICE

Now we have looked in as much detail as possible at a few of the many sequences in this production, what general conclusions can be drawn? The unifying force in the piece was the voice, the live human voice reciting that sermon. That voice was provided first by the charismatic Herbert Booth, who spoke in ‘short and harmonious’ sentences, ‘constructed with due regard to the balance and equilibrium of the whole’ (MWC 22/9/00) then after he got sick by his equally charismatic wife. The War Cry  reported:

The lights went down, and the audience were hushed into breathless silence as the immense pictures were thrown upon the canvas. The Commandant’s voice alone broke the stillness thrilling the enthralled audience with burning words fitted in compact sentences, forming an eloquent and beautiful tribute to the heroic deeds and unflinching endurance of the saints whose pictorial reproduction riveted every eye. (MWC 22/9/00 p9)

Other connecting forces were musical, the familiar hymns and masses played by the orchestra and sung by the audience. But the dominant force which distinguished the limelight lecture from others was the lanternist himself, who was always present in the audience’s consciousness as his lanterns hissed and spluttered and projected their beam above their heads. As the War Cry noted:

Carefully watching the screen as the lecture progressed, and noting the rapid changes from one slide to another, from slide to kinematograph film, and then again from kinematograph film to slide, each appearing exactly at the right time, one could not help but admire the consummate skill with which Major Perry manipulated his elaborate and complicated apparatus. (MWV13/10/00 p8)

RETINAL POWER

The presence of the lanternist signaled the radical shift in the site of principle address which the Salvation Army made in their evangelism: from the body, or the ear, or the mind, or the voice — although these were of course still present — to the eye and to the retina; from the phenomenological architecture of the church to the dominating address of the projection sheet; from the magical ritual of the service to the retinal power of the projected image. This separation of the Army lecture from convention religious experiences was signaled as early as 1891. For instance in reporting on a 1891 limelight lecture by the Army’s founder, General William Booth, at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings the War Cry reported:

A dim religious light pervades the building, which was, however, relieved at one end by a huge white sheet, behind which a mysterious manufacturing of light and shade seemed to be going on. (Citation)

The magic lantern shifted the locus of the spiritual to the limelight itself, and turned the lanternist into a kind of thaumaturge. For instance, before the third production of Soldiers of the Cross at South Melbourne Town Hall Brigadier Unsworth prayed with at congregation:

that the pictures might be luminous with Divine light, [instilled] with divine power, and fruitful in bringing about more of that spirit of heroism that dominated the lives of the Christian martyrs of old. (MWC 13/10/00 p8)

The Army’s spiritual bellicosity was evoked in another comment by the War Cry:

The lecture is a double-barreled weapon, which captivates both sense of sight and enchains the mind, while indelible impressions are made upon it. (MWC 22/9/00 )

THE DISSOLVE

The Army’s slides, like all slides of the period, were propelled forward by the retinal frisson of the dissolve, as one image appeared to materialize itself within the very optical substance of the image it was replacing.  The rhetoric of the Army frequently equates the light of the lantern with the light of salvation, and the magical transformation of the dissolve with the transformative power of Jesus. A War Cry comment on William Booth’s 1891 lecture says:

You would be gazing intently at a street girl’s red jacket, until all at once you would discover that it was not a street girl’s dress, but a Salvationist’s guernsey, and the surroundings were totally different. You would be taking in that fact when a glance would show you that what you took for a guernsey was a fire, the pantaloons of an actor, the side of a house, red Maria, a red flannel petticoat, or the leg of a horse. (Citation)

INNOVATION

Booth’s major innovation was to scale up the traditional lantern lecture into a complete evening’s production, and to give it a thematic unity. As the War Cry reported:

Although the audience was take through a great variety of scene and incident, the intervals were cleverly bridged or, to change the metaphor, the stories, instead of being scattered gems were strung on an elocutionary necklace and, in their semblance or contrast made into a beautiful and complete circlet. (MWC 29/09/00 p8)

A secondary innovation was to work the kinematograph into the slides more closely. In Booth’s words:

I saw at a glance that living pictures, worked in conjunction with life-model slides, would provide a combination unfailing in its power of connecting narrative.’ (Citation)

THRILLS

This was in search of thrills — Army thrills to compete with all of the other thrills young people, particularly young men, had to divert them in 1900. In its pre-publicity for Soldiers of the Cross, the War Cry described it as a ‘new sensation’. It was the power of the thrill which led Booth to chose as his subject the martyrdom of the early Christians, because the bloody and violent martyrdoms provided opportunity for spectacle and action. If the thrill was one key concept, the other was realistic action. The intention was to create a retinal connection between the audience and the Christian martyrs. The ultimate objective was for people to pledge their souls to Christ and their lives to the Army at the end of the lecture. Realism, through the meticulously researched and supposedly historically accurate costumes, was one conduit of empathy, the other was the contemporary shots of the Holy Land and the copies of the great and familiar paintings which introduced each chapter.

As the War Cry predicted before opening night:

The thrilling scenes in the arena, the cruel tests, the thrilling presentiments of Christians under torture, the sustaining power of the presence of the invisible Christ should bring forth all that is best in the nature of the observers, while the graphic and eloquent word-pictures of our leader should tinge with colour, as with the hands of an artist in studies of human nature, these pictures, which all but speak their own story. May God’s spirit be poured upon lecturer, operator and audience alike!’ (MWC 15/9/00) p8)

TRANSPORT

Part of this thrill was also a sense of transport, to take the audience out of their seats in Melbourne, and into another spatio-temporal realm. As Booth promised:

I have sought to make everything absolutely correct. From the plumes on the Roman helmet and the imperial robe of Nero to the rough garments of the pagan slave, everything will be exact. You only have to follow the screen and you will be as much in Rome as if you had been there – now in the palace of Caesar, then in the open square – now in the residence of the patrician, then in the den of the libertine — now in the coliseum then in the Catacombs, where the early Christians concealed themselves for safety — all will be absolutely exact’ (MWC 18/8/00 p9)

This to me sounds very similar to the promises which had been made by stereograph manufacturers since the 1850s. By the 1900s sellers like Underwood and Underwood were marketing complete ‘Travel Systems’ incorporating, stereographs, guidebooks and maps, to give a similar, touristic sense of optical and retinal transport.

But to the Army audience this transport was more than just virtual tourism, it was transport of a more profound kind. A later report on a limelight meeting said:

the meeting almost becomes as a séance, and our spirits seem to blend with the spirits of these just ones.’(MWC 9/2/01 p9)

AFFECT

Was Soldiers of the Cross effective? The War Cry frequently reported on the ‘involuntary interjections, moans of pity, sighs of relief’ coming from the audience. (MWC 29/09/00 p8) All the Army reports are ecstatic, but they would be, wouldn’t they. However even the hard-bitten seen-it-all mainstream press confirmed the affective power of the production. The premiere scored a review from two out of the three of Melbourne papers, and both used the word ‘thrilling’.

The Age said:

To have some of the most tragic episodes of Christian history carried out in all savage but ?should? destroying realism is an accomplishment essentially of today. It was done by the aid of the kinematograph, when Commandant Booth delivered his thrilling lecture last night.

The Argus said:

Opening with the last days of the life of Christ, Commandant Booth dealt with the lives of the disciples [… ] and the thrilling scenes that were enacted in the arena of the Coliseum. Bold as the lecture was in conception, the illustration were even more daring. (MWC 22/9/09)

CONCLUSION

Soldiers of the Cross is extremely important not because it was Australia’s first film, but because it was Australia’s first large scale multimedia production. On at least several occasions it kept close to 2000 people simultaneously enthralled by a production which was experientially integrated over an entire two and a half hour period. It used technology from the nineteenth century, and technology which would to come to dominate the twentieth century, while it weaved together familiar technologically mediated experiences, collective viewing protocols and ritualized audience behaviours that had been developed and inculcated into Australian audiences during the previous decades. The scale and the complexity of the integration of these experiences looked forward to twentieth century media forms. One of those media forms was certainly the cinema, but others include the continuing history of the lantern itself, as well as much later media forms such as broadcast television and even, at a stretch, contemporary digital media platforms. For these reasons it is an extraordinary event in Australian history.

Martyn Jolly