Magazines of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sometimes published illustrations of motion picture films that show a number of successive frames. In most cases, there was no expectation that readers would try to set the images in motion, regardless of whether they had originally been captured with that purpose in mind; they were intended just for static viewing. And the clips are generally pretty short. But most of the original films on which these illustrations were based are probably lost today, so by animating the images as they appear in the magazines we can gain a few glimpses at moving pictures that would otherwise be wholly inaccessible.
Granted, there’s nothing new about the principle of educing early motion pictures from images on paper. The Paper Print Collection at the Library of Congress famously consists of contact prints of motion pictures made on photographic paper strips so that they could be registered for copyright as photographs at a time when there wasn’t yet any provision for copyrighting motion pictures per se. These prints are often the only surviving sources for important early films. And super-early motion sequence photographs—particularly those taken in the late 1870s and 1880s by Eadweard Muybridge—are routinely animated today from paper prints (see e.g. here). However, I don’t think anyone has methodically scoured magazines looking for early motion picture sequences to reanimate—at least, I wasn’t able to find any such efforts represented out there on the Interwebs. With this blog post, I’ll aim to fill that gap. Many of my examples are drawn from magazines scanned as part of the Media History Digital Library, and none are based on scans I made myself; even where I could have done this and obtained a higher image resolution, I thought it would be a more interesting challenge to rely exclusively on “ordinary” and readily-available scans.
A sequence called “Practicing Putting the Shot” (i.e., throwing a shot put) appeared on the front page of the Scientific American of October 31, 1896, as well as in the American Amateur Photographer for December 1896. The fifteen images follow each other continuously from bottom to top and from left to right.This sequence had been photographed by Charles Francis Jenkins, who was the inventor of the Phantoscope (called “Phantascope” in these sources)—now recognized as the first practical movie projector—as well as a pioneer of television in later years. To the best of my knowledge, none of Jenkins’s motion pictures are currently available anywhere else for viewing in motion, so any surviving scraps of his filmography seem well worth the effort to reanimate. In the case of Jenkins’s shot put sequence, there are a couple different strategies we can apply, both of which may be equally defensible. First, here’s the sequence with the frames aligned to hold the circular border steady, shown at the rate of twenty-five frames per second specified in the accompanying article:And here it is with the frames aligned to hold the subject steady instead (or at least as steady as I could easily manage):
“Practice Putting the Shot” from 1896 isn’t the only snippet of Jenkins’s motion picture output to survive in the form of magazine illustrations. He also furnished a couple strips of film to help illustrate an article by J. Miller Barr on “Animated Pictures” in the December 1897 issue of Popular Science Monthly.
At twenty-five frames per second, these excerpts don’t last very long, but here’s “Soldiers at Drill”:
And here’s “An Approaching Train”:
Another nice set of specimens appears in the Phonoscope for May 1897, viewable in context here.
Three different films are represented by sixteen frames apiece, although there’s a short gap in each case between the two eight-frame strips. The frames on the left come from Fire Rescue Scene (1894), which is already available in full on YouTube—so the excerpt found here isn’t all that exciting. The frames in the middle are recognizably from Performing Animals; or Skipping Dogs (1895), which Wikipedia describes as “featuring one dog jumping through hoops and another dancing in a costume.” This work, we read there, was “considered lost until footage from an 1896 Fairground Programme…donated to the National Fairground Archive was identified as being from this film.” However, I’ve been able to find only the dancing-in-costume segment online (here), so that may be the only part that survives elsewhere. Here’s the jumping-through-a-hoop part, as salvaged from the Phonoscope:
The practice of printing illustrations of strips of motion picture film in magazines continued into the twentieth century. So, for instance, here’s a plate from the February 1917 edition of the Photo-Play Journal, listed in the table of contents as a “full-page novelty portrait” of Mary Miles Minter.
You can find it in context within the magazine online here. The two-frame snippets above and below the central portrait don’t connect together to form any continuous action. Each column contains a pair of excerpts from (apparently) the same section of film, and the top left column seems to continue where the bottom right column leaves off, but even so, these just aren’t good candidates for reanimation. Fortunately, the two thirteen-strip frames at the far left and far right are another story. If we present all twenty-six frames from upper left to bottom right in rapid succession at twenty frames per second, we can bring to life a nice little motion picture of Mary Miles Minter blowing a kiss. Here she is:
I don’t know for sure whether this clip exists anywhere as an actual film print, but according to Wikipedia, only nine of the twenty-three major films in which Mary Miles Minter appeared through the end of 1917 are currently known to exist. I’d say chances are good that the paper print in Photo-Play Journal is all that survives of this particular sequence. Indeed, it’s possible it was shot specifically for use in the “novelty portrait.” There surely wasn’t any expectation that people would create a flip-book from these images—among other things, there’s a minor loss at the join between columns, which results in a visual glitch that would have been easy to avoid if anyone had cared to do so.
The accompanying article (“Your Own Moving Pictures on Your Own Country Place,” by George Brewster) promotes home film projection, and the illustrations were chosen to give readers a taste of the range of content this could involve.
“A litter of collie puppies—scene from a film in the Pathescope library”:
“Scene…from the motion picture play ‘Maud Muller,’ arranged and photographed by an amateur on his own estate”:
This must have been a film adaptation of John Greenleaf Whitter’s poem by the same name—“Maud Muller”—in which the beautiful Maud is out raking hay when she meets a local judge approaching on horseback; the two are privately smitten with each other but move on and are both forever after regretful. The clip we see here presumably shows the two characters meeting.
“Film…of Mr. Willard B. Cook’s motor boat Westward, photographed by himself from his own dock at New Rochelle, N. Y.”:
The final example comes from another home movie, but with a difference. An enlarged still from it is captioned: “Enlargement of a motion picture film taken by professionals at the country estate of Mr. Joseph C. Baldwin, Jr., Mt. Kisco, N. Y.,” with the credit line: “Photographed by Lifshey-Anderson.”
The strip of successive frames from the film is then identified as a film “taken at Mr. Baldwin’s, showing the interesting picture possibilities inherent in the combination of children and saddle horses.”
Joseph C. Baldwin, Jr.’s estate was Shallow Brook Farm (see here), but I’m more interested in “Lifshey-Anderson,” the firm credited with shooting the film. In the accompanying article, Brewster writes:
AS TO the camera, it is perhaps not wise or practical at the present time to own one, unless your hobby is taking pictures. An experienced professional can operate with better results. And it is results that you want–pictures of your children playing naturally at their ordinary games–indeed no better subject can be found for this new style of photography than the unconscious child–or a picture of the grandmother picking flowers in the garden she loves; or of your pet dog, or your horse. There are motion picture concerns which make a specialty of taking pictures of home and country life, and some of the best photographers are adding motion picture departments to their establishments. It is just as easy to-day to arrange for motion pictures as for the ordinary photograph.
According to the Photo-Miniature, Volume XV, Number 175 (June 1919), 321-22, online here, Lifshey-Anderson was a motion picture concern that specialized in such work, and perhaps the only concern of its kind:
MOTION-PICTURE PORTRAITURE. Surely this is something new under the sun: A professional studio devoted to motion-picture portraiture, at the home of the patron or in the studio, as may be preferred. If there is another such establishment in the world, I have not heard of it. This studio, conducted by Messrs. Lifshey and Anderson, is at 537 Fifth Avenue, just below 45th Street, New York City, and comprises a suite of sunny rooms atop of the building, formerly occupied by Histed, a portraitist of international fame.
Mr. S. H. Lifshey, the principal in this novel adventure, has devoted himself to working out the possibilities of moving-picture portraiture for the past few years, and is quite an expert in this special field. Those who would see for themselves what can be done in this direction are invited to visit the studio and ask for a demonstration on the screen. I enjoyed this experience a few weeks ago and have little doubt but that the new studio will turn out to be a great success.
In Camera 20 (1916), p. 122, we read further:
Film portraiture is sufficiently rare to warrant mention. S. H. Lifshey, a Brooklyn photographer, who has rather a select clientele, realizes that a motion picture possesses a permanent value. To this end he makes a specialty of filming children in action, and brings out their pleasing characteristics. Mr. Lifshey also shows them at play with their pets and their favorite pastimes. Children are born photoplay actors, consequently they require comparatively little coaching.
I am convinced that every photographer with a high-class trade can add this latest branch with profit and prestige to himself.
A nice advertisement for Lifshey-Anderson appears in Town and Country for July 1919 (here), and Lifshey himself is identified more precisely as Samuel Hector Lifshey (1871-1954) in a footnote to The Life and Photography of Doris Ulmann by Philip Walker Jacobs. So it seems we’re dealing here with a forgotten cinema entrepreneur who had carved out a distinctive niche for himself: the filming of home movies for wealthy clients. I haven’t been able to locate any surviving specimens of “real” films by Lifshey. However, a couple more sequences appear in the article “Exit the Family Album,” describing the work of professional photographer “F. [sic] H. Lifshey,” who had begun specializing in taking family portraits with a motion-picture camera.
Once again, you can see the page in context online here. The two strips of motion picture film illustrated in the article both repeat themselves, and in the same way: there’s a sequence of seven frames, and then a repetition of the same sequence up through part of the sixth frame. I imagine the person designing the magazine page had a couple seven-frame strips of film available and just doubled them up to fit the desired layout, but the result is a kind of looped action, as seen below. The strip on the left shows a little girl with, I think, a doll and a bottle:
The examples we’ve seen so far were apparently intended for static viewing rather than animation, but that’s not true of a sequence that appeared in the April 1922 issue of Film Fun, online in context here:
CUT OUT each of the little panels illustrated below and arrange them one after the other, in numerical order,—number 1 on top, the others following in sequence. Take an ordinary paper clip and fasten all the slips together at the bottom; or fasten around with a rubber band. Then hold the booklet firmly at bottom with thumb and index finger or left hand and snap the leaves at top with thumb of right hand and you’ll see Buster perform one of the many tricks that have made him foremost among the comedy stars of the screen!
You can print the page out and try to create a flip-book from it if you like, but I’ve animated the sequence digitally here at twenty frames per second, trying to hold the pattern of the floor as stable as possible:
The Motion Picture Magazine for May 1917 ran an article by Hi Sibley (1883-1971) entitled “Those Aggravatin’ Animations: The Trials and Tribulations of an Animated Cartoon Artist”—one of the best written accounts of the experiences and strategies of an early animated cartoonist. In it, Sibley provided samples of specific animations he’d created. Here’s the first, which can be seen in context here:
A second example, viewable in context here, purports to show an actual strip of film, although the sprocket holes aren’t lined up correctly:
Hi Sibley was a native of South Bend, Indiana, and there’s a whole blog dedicated to his memory here, focusing on his prolific work as a popular science writer. As far as I can tell, the sequences accompanying his Motion Picture Magazine article are the only surviving fragments of his contributions as a pioneer of animated cartoons.
In this post, I’ve shared a few brief fragments of the cinematic work of Charles Francis Jenkins, Willard B. Cook, Samuel Hector Lifshey, Hi Sibley, Mary Miles Minter, and Buster Keaton, all of which I suspect would be lost today if it weren’t for their use as magazine illustrations. And I’m sure there must be plenty more examples like these out there to be found.