The Year 1906 in Film: The Debuts of Éclair, Feuillade, Bosetti and Finland0
This is a work in progress as I am still researching the year 1906 in film. I’ve added 308 films to my index so far whereas IMDb has 1,866 entries. I think I may have, however, found most of the surviving films. Conclusions drawn will be based on the data I’ve gathered so far and this article will be revised as my research continues.
Out of those 308 films, 129 were produced in France, and 81 of those by Pathé frères, the leading film production company worldwide in the early 20th century. There are 18 films produced by Georges Méliès and 29 by Gaumont. So far the USA is nearly tied with France with 114 films, 48 of which were produced by the Edison company and 47 by American Mutoscope & Biograph. The remaining films were produced by Siegmund Lubin, the Selig Polyscope Company, Winthrop Press, Vitagraph, the Miles Brothers and there is one film from an unknown production company.
There are 33 films from the UK which seems to have had the largest number of film production companies in 1906 including the Charles Urban Trading Company, the Williamson Kinematograph Company, the Warwick Trading Company, the Walturdaw Company, the Gaumont British Picture Corporation, the Alpha Trading Company, the Natural Color Kinematograph Company, Cricks & Martin, Cricks & Sharp, Paul’s Animatograph Works, Mitchell & Kenyon and the Clarendon Film Company.
So far I have six films from Italy, one from Belgium, four from Germany, fourteen from Denmark, one from Switzerland, two from Argentina, one from Finland (1906 marks the beginning of Finnish cinema), one from Australia, two from Brazil and one from Sweden.
My YouTube playlist contains 224 films, 14 of those are either fragments, incomplete, or cutdown versions for home projectors. Of the remaining 83 films in my index 33 are held in the Library of Congress Paper Print Collection, 19 are held in various archives and 6 are viewable at the British Film Institute’s screenonline.org which is only available to educational institutes and libraries in the UK and 26 films are lost (this number will certainly grow as my research continues).
Significant Events of the Year in the Film Industry
The film studio Société Générale des Cinématographes Éclipse was founded in August, 1906 by George Henri Rogers and Paul Joseph Roux. Originally a subsidiary of the Charles Urban Trading Company, it began producing films in 1907. Famous actors who worked there include Sarah Bernhardt and Marcel Perez. The company produced several serial films including the detective serial Nat Pinkerton (1911-1914) starring Pierre Bressol. By 1913, Éclipse was the fourth largest French film manufacturer, releasing 150 films per year. Ten years later, after suffering financially during World War I, the company was purchased by Omnium EEG.
Director Louis Feuillade (1873-1925) made his debut in 1906. At the beginning of 1905, he started to submit screenplays to Gaumont, and Gaumont’s artistic director Alice Guy-Blaché both bought his scripts and invited Feuillade to direct them himself. Concerned about his financial difficulties and family to support, Feuillade declined the directing job in order to continue working as a journalist. At his suggestion Guy-Blaché hired Étienne Arnaud to direct Feuillade’s early screenplays at Gaumont. But by 1906 he had gained enough confidence to start directing his own scripts, which were mostly comedies. In 1907 Guy-Blaché moved to the United States and upon her suggestion Feuillade was made Artistic Director of Gaumont. He would work for Gaumont until 1918, while at the same time producing his own films, so that by 1925, the year of his death, he estimated that he had made around 800 films. He made films of all types—trick films at the beginning, modeled on those of Méliès, comedies, bourgeois dramas, historical or biblical dramas, mysteries and exotic adventures—but he is remembered best for his serial films such as Fantômas (1913), Les Vampires (1915) and Judex (1916).
Romeo Bosetti (1897-1948) is another director who got started in 1906 at Gaumont. He also worked for Pathé, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France and Éclair. He made over 300 films.
J. Stuart Blackton made the earliest surviving example of an animated film called Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906). It was the first animated film to use the single frame method. The studio that Blackton and Albert E. Smith founded in 1897, the Vitagraph Company of America, opened the first modern film studio in the US in 1906 in Brooklyn, NY, and for a short time it was considered “the movie capital” of the world.
The California earthquake of April 18, 1906 ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Today, its importance comes more from the wealth of scientific knowledge derived from it than from its sheer size. Rupturing the northernmost 296 miles of the San Andreas fault from northwest of San Juan Bautista to the triple junction at Cape Mendocino, the earthquake confounded contemporary geologists with its large, horizontal displacements and great rupture length. Indeed, the significance of the fault and recognition of its large cumulative offset would not be fully appreciated until the advent of plate tectonics more than half a century later. At almost precisely 5:12 a.m., local time, a foreshock occurred with sufficient force to be felt widely throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The great earthquake broke loose some 20 to 25 seconds later, with an epicenter near San Francisco. Violent shocks punctuated the strong shaking which lasted some 45 to 60 seconds. The earthquake was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada. Several film studios sent cameramen to film the aftermath including the Miles Brothers, who had a studio based in San Francisco but have left for their New York office the night before the earthquake, American Mutoscope & Biograph, Edison, and Lubin. In the video below David Kiehn presents more details about the filming of the aftermath.
More than half of the films in my index from 1906 produced by the Edison company were shot by Robert K. Bonine during his three month stay in Hawaii. These weren’t the first films shot in Hawaii. James White shot a couple films for Edison in Honolulu on his way back from a trip to Japan in 1898. Bonine’s film of surfers, however, may be the oldest surviving surf film.
“The year 1906 was the beginning of the second era of film development – between this year and the outbreak of war was ‘a period of experimentation from which crystallized the eventual structure of the trade’ (Rachael Low, A History of the British Film, 1906-1913). The film business was expanding, films were getting longer and more sophisticated, and news film was becoming more regularly available and established. In 1906 films were still shown principally as a turn in music halls and in fairground shows, although a variety of other venues showing just films were being explored, such as the news film show at the Daily Bioscope in Bishopsgate just outside the City of London which opened on 23rd May, and Hale’s Tours (a ‘ride’ in which the spectator experienced a journey by film in a reconstructed train carriage). Daily attendances for film shows in 1906 has been estimated as just short of 4000 in London alone. Audiences would have been mixed, with a high proportion of children and largely working class. Admission prices started at a penny.
Films were now hired rather than bought directly, changing the balance of power between producer, distributor and exhibitor. The business was becoming increasingly competitive, and in September 1905 the world’s largest producer of films, Charles Pathé, started a calculated move to put the small producers out of business by undercutting their prices from 6d per foot to 5d. During the course of 1906, British producers mounted a campaign to counter this manoeuvre. In the long term, the result of this move by the French company was ironically to lead to the failure of the Europeans to capitalise on their early success. But that was yet to occur: in 1906 it was still business, if not quite as usual, then differing only in the ferocity with which the price war was conducted.
In 1906 too, the British trade began to organise. The reaction to Pathé’s price-cutting was the setting up of the Kinematograph Manufacturers Association on the 19th of July. Signatories included Charles Urban, Hepworth Manufacturing Co., Warwick Trading Co., Mitchell & Kenyon, Walturdaw, Alpha Trading Co., Williamson & Co., British Gaumont, Sheffield Photo Co., Cricks and Sharp, R.W. Paul and Clarendon. But this gentleman’s agreement had no effect on Pathé’s dominance of the market and in December he reduced his price again to 4d a foot forcing the British producers to follow or go out of business. The exhibitors and renters also set up trade associations at this time.
The survival rate for British films made in 1906 is not high: of 250 fiction titles (with series contributing an additional 46), just 22 survive, or less than 10%. Gaumont Chronophone films which were a particular feature of the year and matched sound discs to on-film performances of music hall acts, light opera and other songs and recitations were produced in considerable numbers but none survive that we know of from this year. Of the 264 nonfiction titles (with series an additional 75 titles) only 28 are known to survive.
But these few survivors provide a fascinating insight into life in Britain in the mid Edwardian era and its developing film industry. Many of the pioneer filmmakers were still in business, G.A. Smith now experimenting with colour for Charles Urban, R.W. Paul and W.R. Booth still producing inventive comedies, Cricks & Martin, Alpha, Clarendon, Warwick and Hepworth were still in the picture. The types of film they were producing were becoming slightly more sophisticated, slightly more polished, year on year but in terms of genre remained largely the same. The trick film, the chase comedy, the costume drama and adaptations of famous literary and theatrical works continued to form the staples of the film trade.
On the non-fiction side things were more dynamic. World events such as the eruption of Vesuvius and the great earthquake in San Francisco were brought to the screen by an increasingly well organised industry. There were even a few cinemas offering news only shows for London’s city clerks during the lunch hour. There was a thriving market too throughout the land for local films. Producers such as Mitchell & Kenyon were still executing commissions for the fairground showmen such as Sydney Carter’s films of S.S. Mongolian leaving Glasgow with its load of emigrants on their way to Canada and a film of a visit to McIndoe’s fairground show by Lord and Lady Overtoun was presumably similarly destined for a local audience. Unknown filmmakers recorded the crowds attending the opening of a transporter bridge at Newport in South Wales. The interest film, the mainstay of the trade in factual film was flourishing.
These films were documentary, though perhaps not in the way we would understand the term today. They recorded people, places and processes that would be ‘of interest’ – perhaps more equivalent to television programmes than to the ‘classic’ documentary of the sound era which has a mission or a message. Often these interest films would be travelogues or would concern themselves with industrial or commercial processes – for example, tea growing in Ceylon, from the picking of the leaves to the processing, packing and transporting to it’s final destination the consumer in a European home. Cricks & Martin’s film of the workers at the Peek Frean biscuit factory in London’s Bermondsey is one of the finest of this type.”
Bryony Dixon screenonline.org
The world’s first true feature-length or narrative film at 70 minutes in length, director Charles Tait’s Australian film The Story of the Kelly Gang (aka Ned Kelly and His Gang) (1906), premiered in Melbourne, Australia on December 26, 1906. It was the longest narrative drama seen there and in the world. The showing of the film was accompanied by an orchestra, sound effects, and a narrator. When the popular film was screened in England in 1907, it was claimed to be “the longest film ever made.” The film told about Australian popular culture icon and folk hero Ned Kelly (portrayed by Canadian actor Frank Mills) from the late 1800s, who was a notorious outlaw (or “bushranger”). Today, only fragments of the film exist. The original cut of this silent film ran for more than an hour with a reel length of about 1,200 metres (4,000 ft). As of 2020, approximately 17 minutes of the film are known to have survived, which, together with stills and other fragments, have undergone restoration for theatrical and home video releases.
Many famous actors and directors were born in 1906:
January 14 – William Bendix, actor (d. 1964)
February 5 – John Carradine, actor (d. 1988)
March 6 – Lou Costello, comedian, actor (d. 1959)
April 22 – Eddie Albert, actor (d. 2005)
May 3 – Mary Astor, actress (d. 1987)
May 8 – Roberto Rossellini, film director (d. 1977)
June 22 – Billy Wilder, director, screenwriter (d. 2002)
July 3 – George Sanders, actor (d. 1972)
August 5 – Joan Hickson, actress (d. 1998) and John Huston, director, actor (d. 1987)
August 30 – Joan Blondell, actress (d. 1979)
October 6 – Janet Gaynor, actress (d. 1984)
November 2 – Luchino Visconti, Italian director (d. 1976)
November 14 – Louise Brooks, actress (d. 1985)
December 27 – Oscar Levant, composer, screenwriter, actor (d. 1972)
December 30 – Carol Reed, director (d. 1976)
See Wikipedia for the complete list.
The films are arranged in chronological order of release date but films for which the month and day of release cannot be determined appear at the beginning of the playlist in alphabetical order. The total running time of the playlist is over 20 hours. Click “Watch on YouTube” to see all 224 films.
Next article in this series: The Year 1907 in Film.
Previous article in this series: The Year 1905 in Film.