Writing History: “May and December” and “Never Again!”

The following slideshows are in place to accompany the written composition on the topic.  If you are interested in the larger work, please let me know through my Contact page.  For context, the introduction of my paper is included below.


by Matthew Ari Elfenbein

Introduction

Within the depths of the Library of Congress’ vaults, there lies an early cinema collection, with material that holds the origins of Hollywood cinema and the studio system.  Before copyright for film and celluloid was possible, studios would reprint every scene onto a paper reel, thus preserving the image and protecting their intellectual property.  Early in my exploration of the archives, I came across an interesting film, May and December, which due to its nature as a split reel feature is prevalent to study.  According to Kemp Niver and evidenced in the placement of reviews in The Moving Picture World, the accompanying film is another comedy titled Never Again.  Analyzing these two films together will provide insight on the studio output practices in 1910, the personnel hierarchy, and how less prestigious films were marketed and received.[1]

May and December and Never Again are two short comedies, despite the fact that the latter is classified as a drama in some accounts, that were released June of 1910 by the Biograph Company as a split reel. A split-reel consists of two films in the same program that is marketed and exhibited together, even though the films can be purchased separately. These two conflicting points set the tone of this history, one that is filled with ambiguity and divergences. The first source of information concerning the paper print collection leads us to Kemp Niver, who documented all the films in the vault, although we know his account is not always factual.  For instance, in this record D.W. Griffith directed this film, but in all other accounts, which will be discussed later, Frank Powell is credited with heading the production.  This discrepancy causes a conundrum concerning the quality of production and the subsequent exhibition. These pictures were not given preferential treatment, and most likely placed among more elaborate films within a program, but they are consistently actor and actress produced with Griffith, more likely than not, supervising.

The promotional and editorial material that would have circulated before these films were shown to the public provides good insight into understanding the public’s taste and expectations.  Eileen Bowser’s research and compilation of the Biograph Bulletin leads to the in-house publicity.  Not only is Never Again placed at the top of the page, a marker of which is the feature picture of the two, but also this film accompanies a picture of the cast with autographs.  It seems Biograph was beginning to market their star players, thus emphasizing the relationship that would form to create “fans” and “stars”.  A leitmotif that will continually come about is that of ambiguity and lack of clarity.  The first discontinuity comes about on the page and on the film, since the order of the two pictures is normally (as evidenced by the Paper Print collection, Kemp Niver print, and a recent nitrate version in the LOC) May and December followed by Never Again, so why does this publication place special emphasis on the latter? The following attempts to document all the various areas of information that is available regarding these films, the outcome will demonstrate the understanding of these films within a larger cultural context of silent films.

[1] May and December. Dir. Frank E. Powell. By Mary Pickford. Perf. Mary Pickford, Billy Quirk, Kate Bruce, W. Christy Miller, and Charles H. Mailes. Biograph Co., 1910.

Never Again. Dir. Frank E. Powell. Perf. Mary Pickford, Billy Quirk, and Mack Sennett. Biograph Co., 1910.


May and December, 1910. Directed by Frank Powell

 

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Never Again!, 1910. Directed by Frank Powell

 

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