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Liverpool Overhead Railway archive film footage
This lecture by Dr Richard Koeck of the University of Liverpool was part of an event in 2010, unveiling new research into the archive film footage of Liverpool's Overhead Railway.
Some of the archive film footage of the railway that is referred to in this lecture can now be seen in the Liverpool Overhead Railway gallery, which opened in the Museum of Liverpool in 2011.
This project has been enabled by Northwest Vision and Media and the UK film Council's Digital Film Archive Fund supported by the National Lottery.
Dr Richard Koeck: Thank you very much for coming for today’s event. Sharon, thank you for the introduction to this very interesting journey into the history if the Liverpool Overhead Railway. I actually prepared also a brief outline of the history so it’s great that you got this introduction.
We ended Sharon’s history of the Overhead Railway with its breaking down. My talk is hopefully slightly more cheerful because we will go all the way back to its very beginning. To briefly introduce myself and the content of this lecture and how this idea came about; I am a researcher and a lecturer at the University of Liverpool in the School of Architecture, and I have worked for a number of years in what is called the City in Film research group, which was headed up by Professor Robert Kronenburg, the head of department, and Dr Julia Hallam from the Department of Politics and Communications Studies. Myself and a colleague, Dr Les Roberts, were appointed to come to Liverpool in order to spend a few years, two years to be precise, to look at the way in which Liverpool is represented in film. Over the years my colleague and I looked altogether at about 2,500 films, shot in Liverpool between the year 1897 and 1984. When I first saw the LumiÃ¨re films, it became clear that that is footage that absolutely deserves to be further researched.
I should also mention that, as an architect by training, that I am particularly interested in the dimensions of cities and the architecture of the place, so when I came to Liverpool I combined two research fields; two areas of my research. First, there was my interest in the modern city, the turn of the century, how cities came about, the electrification and all the changes it brought with it. And secondly, I’m interested in archive footage; material that is usually not seen by many people. So, when coming to Liverpool there was this enormous opportunity to combine both of these fantastic fields and to look at archive films. We eventually ended up building a database, which anybody who is interested can access online.
I came to Liverpool in 2006. I lived for a few years in Cambridge before coming up to Liverpool. I vividly remember the first time coming to Liverpool. I had never been here, didn’t know anything about the city. I was driving along the Strand and was amazed by that streetscape. The houses on the right hand side and then the docklands, and this very, very wide street. I travelled a lot and I’ve been to many port cities, for instance in Genoa. In fact I see a lot of similarities between Genoa and Liverpool. But what struck me in Liverpool is the dimension and scale of The Strand just outside of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, and I wondered back then, without knowing anything about the Liverpool Overhead Railway whether there is something missing. Only when I later looked at the archive films, I realised, “Oh my god! Liverpool had an electric Overhead Railway. And it was right there at the Strand”. So that was my first introduction to Liverpool, and the Overhead Railway, the dock wall, the Waterloo warehouses and I was absolutely fascinated. And I was immediately intrigued and wanted to know more about the way the docks operated at a time when it was an integral part of Liverpool’s economic culture.
When somebody told me there are these films that are referred to as LumiÃ¨re films, I said “OK, can I see them?” They said, “Yes, you can see them. You have to go to London to the British Film Institute and look at the film there”. So my colleagues and I went to London, into the basement â€“ they have these viewing stations there â€“ and when I finally saw the footage I was mesmerised. I was mesmerised by a number of things. First of all the visual quality of the stock footage itself. I was not prepared to see footage of that quality whereby the contrast of the pixels was very, very good considering the footage was dated 1897. The first moving images ever made and recorded were produced only two years prior to that with a device that you see here. [points to old, 3-legged camera on the stage] That’s actually a copy of the LumiÃ¨re cinematograph. I was surprised to see the quality of the footage, and the second thing I thought, “Actually, what do we see?”, because the footage is from the Overhead Railway, we don’t see much of Liverpool. We see the River Mersey, we see the docksâ€¦ So my colleagues and I â€“ none of us experts on the docks â€“ looked at the material and wondered, “What are we actually looking at?” What part of the dock? Is it St Georges Dock or Canada Dock? And also who shot the footage? Is it material edited? Has someone in a studio edited it together? Who was the film maker and why did they choose to film only parts of the Liverpool Overhead Railway and not the entire length? And also why in the first instance, and this was my first question, was he looking out to the River Mersey and not towards the city given the fact we have an elevated, fantastic sort of opportunity for lateral tracking shots as the film makers would call it?” I would have thought it would have been interesting to see the city at the time, but somebody decided to come to Liverpool, to take a journey on the Liverpool Overhead Railway and film footage in the very peculiar and particular way. I knew back then in the basement of the British Film Institute that I wanted to do more research about those films. My talk today is going to be an invitation to come along on a journey into the way in which I tackled this research, and I would like to share with you some of the research findings which since then have been published. I would like to believe that my research contributed to the finding of new facts about the footage that previously were unknown to the people that looked at the films.
I would like to start by talking about the filming strategies that are applied in the film. I should mention that we commonly refer to the films as the LumiÃ¨re films, as if the LumiÃ¨re brothers, that you see here sitting on a chair on one of the images [points to image on screen], would come to Liverpool and film it. It’s actually not true. The LumiÃ¨re brothers never came to Liverpool, to my knowledge, but sent instead a person called Alexandre Louis Promio. Sometime between June 21 and October 21 1897 Jean Alexandre Louis Promio, one of the most valued and prolific cinematographers working for the LumiÃ¨re company, went on a tour to England and Ireland. Promio shot during his visit to Liverpool eight rolls of films. At least in part those films were shown in the Gatti Theatre in London thereafter. My presentation will concentrate today on the four scenes taken from the Liverpool Overhead Railway and leave out and exclude four other films that Alexandre Louis Promio shot while in Liverpool, two of which are particularly interesting to me. One of them is shot in Lime Street and the other in Church Street. I will argue that the year 1897 was crucial in Promio’s professional career and that his films about Liverpool, and shot in Liverpool, in many respects are unique films as a well as architectural documents that 112 years after their production have remained enigmatic and contain many unanswered questions.
Despite Promio’s central role within the operations of the LumiÃ¨re company for many years relatively little was known about Alexandre Louis Promio himself. Promio at one point was appointed into a very special role within the LumiÃ¨re company. He was appointed the Royal Cinematographer. Relatively recently a French scholar called Jean Claude Seguin produced a very insightful book into the life of Alexandre Louis Promio, and a lot of the biographical details that I came across come from his work. This book that this scholar wrote about Promio was the basis for my research plus a research visit that I undertook to Paris. In 2007 I went to Paris to look at the original stock footage, and I will tell you more in a moment.
In 1897, the same year that Liverpool films were produced, the LumiÃ¨re company named Promio as the Royal Cinematographer which meant that it was him and only him who was sent out to film dignitaries and royalty all around the world. This meant that Promio, who previously worked in England and elsewhere in the franchise system, held suddenly a very special role when he came to England, and was given different tasks to those given to other LumiÃ¨re cinematographers such as Gabriel Veyre, Charles Moisson and others. It is further notable that in 1897 practice within the LumiÃ¨re company, which is the company who sort of invented the idea of going into a cinema, changed quite significantly from being an enterprise where somebody like Promio would go out to a city by himself and shot the films and then bring them back to the archives, to being a collective enterprise. So the year 1907 in film historical terms is quite interesting within the LumiÃ¨re company because it was that date that suddenly individual enterprise stopped and it became a collective undertaking where more than one person went on site including an actor, a cinematographer, and a director.
I would like to tell you a bit about the location and the cinematography. Frank Kessler, a colleague of mine, has recently published text in which he compares the various strategies applied by early film practitioners such as the LumiÃ¨re Company but also Thomas Edison and Mitchell and Kenyon. Perhaps some of you have come across the Mitchell and Kenyon collection in which Liverpool features prominently. Frank Kessler studied these early film makers in regard to the way they filmed the space, and at the LumiÃ¨re Company he recognised that films were filmed primarily on location where the cinematographer would find:
a) a characteristic or recognisable monument, for instance a landmark building, or
b) a very particular picturesque scenery or backdrop, which is not necessarily a landmark or a building, or
c) a movement for instance caused by traffic.
So the notion of movement was very important for these early cinematographers.
Such location-specific strategies that Promio applied to his work are completely different to those applied by Mitchell and Kenyon, this other famous company that was working in Liverpool, whose work was really deriving from the practices of travelling showmen. It focused more on the inhabitants of the city and not so much on the architectural features or locations or the cities they visited.
So, looking at the films from an architectural perspective my study made use of a digital Ordnance Survey map and other digital tools in order to highlight two essential problems that I came across with regard to the spatial continuity of the material; the truthfulness of the film material that we’re looking at with regards to the representation of space. The first problem has to do with the numbering of the films, and the second with the footage itself.
The first problem is about cataloguing and numbering. The LumiÃ¨re Company began their cataloguing of films in 1897, the same year as the Liverpool material was produced. The four reels of the Panorama Pris du Chemin de Fer Electrique, which is nothing else but the footage of the electric overhead railway, are numbered in the order of, and you see it here on the screen: 704 reel number one, two is 705, three is 706 and four is 707, thus indicating a sequential and cohesive journey from the north to the south of the docks. According to Natalie Morena, a representative of the Association FrÃ¨res LumiÃ¨re in Paris â€“ the body that holds all the rights to the LumiÃ¨re material - it is unclear who within the LumiÃ¨re company actually determined these numbers. It is likely however that Promio himself labelled the rolls and returned them to the LumiÃ¨re headquarters in Lyon where the negatives where developed, numbered and catalogued.
From 1992 to 1995 the archives of film at the Centre National de la CinÃ©matographie, the so called CNC in Paris, restored and catalogued the LumiÃ¨re collection which in all consists of 1400 views, and this is the book that they published. It essentially lists all the footage the LumiÃ¨re company ever produced during their existence. The 35mm print of the Liverpool Overhead Railway material currently is held at the CNC in a town called Bois d’Arcy which is just outside Paris, and kept in reel cases numbered one to four. You can see one of those original cases that I examined in Paris. The prints of the films themselves have a blue marker on, indicating only the title of the footage, without the numbers. From this 35mm print the Association FrÃ¨res LumiÃ¨re produced a DVD compilation of the Liverpool Overhead Railway films in the order that is outlined here. This DVD was subsequently given to the BFI in London as well as to the North West Film Archive in Manchester. So every time you see the LumiÃ¨re footage in England it is via Paris and it comes from this one compiled DVD that at one point was given to various institutes. Now, and here comes the problem I have as a researcher, whenever anyone in Liverpool or Manchester or elsewhere shows the films shot by Promio to the public, they show the footage in this precise numeric order. We have four rolls and they are shown from that one DVD in that precise order, giving the impression of a cohesive panoramic moving image document of how the Liverpool dock landscape looked in the year 1897. I think this is problematic because there is compelling evidence that the rolls have been numbered in the wrong order. At this point I would like you to picture me at the archive in Paris in a underground world surrounded by men and women in white coats and white gloves who have just handed over to me the first positive print of the original negative and who I then told, “Excuse moi, you have mislabelled, or somebody in the LumiÃ¨re company has mislabelled the footage.” I can only tell you that they were not impressed. [laughter]
Now this problem has emerged when searching for architectural landmarks and other features in the landscape in the film, and comparing them against historical maps and photographs, which eventually allowed me to approximate sections of an Ordnance Survey map â€“ and I’ll demonstrate this in a moment. Looking at the order of all four films I have then come to a conclusion that the way in which the LumiÃ¨re overhead material is currently presented presents what I call a panoramic montage than a panoramic view, and there’s absolutely no spatial coherence whatsoever. The correct sequential order of the Liverpool Overhead Railway footage should read: three - 706, four - 707, two - 705 and one â€“ 704.
Now, I would like to talk with you about the so called spatial gaps. Plotting the films on a historical map also has revealed that the four locations covered in the films are actually relatively, evenly spread out over the entire stretch of the dock landscape, which to me holds some clues with regard to the production of the films. The LumiÃ¨re negatives had an approximate length of 17metres, which gave Promio the chance to film about 57 seconds before the rolls needed changing. What I mean by that is the following. [goes to the camera and points to a door in the casing] That is actually the location where the film roll would be inserted into the camera, and Promio had obviously only so many metres of film at his disposal, which when cranking this cinematograph at a normal speed of 12 frames/sec would give him approximately 45 to 50 seconds of film footage. After that the film would run out. Now, this operation that I just demonstrated to you - with regard to the changing of the film roll required no tools - a colleague of mine, Sean Markland, who is an absolute specialist on the LumiÃ¨re films, estimated that Promio, being an experienced and skilled cinematographer could perform this operation in less than 2 minutes. Despite being on a rattling Liverpool Overhead Railway train with limited space and freedom. This is, I think, precisely in line with my findings when plotting the Promio films on a map in a plan view. Bearing in mind that the speed of the train and the stopping point of various stations, the estimated time in between the rolls would just be enough for him to change the reels in one go. As such, it is possible to assume that Promio could have shot all four films with one camera in one journey by himself. If that was the case the recording of the Liverpool dock is not only in itself a fascinating record of a landscape at a time but also a document showing particle traces, or indeed as I would call it, the cinematic handwriting of Promio shooting the films in Liverpool. More importantly, seeing the entire sequence of the four rolls in such a geo-corrected way as I am going to demonstrate to you in a second will also allow for a quite precise and an altogether new reading of the dock landscape, and the activities that took place there in those places we see in the films.
What I am going to show you here is what I just spoke about. [points to screen] That is an animation we have produced, and have highlighted here the difference sections in yellow for instance, the various reel numbers. And you see that the next film actually starts here â€“ this is the blue section â€“ and this is roll number 707, and then the next section is the green section, from here to here. That was the last reel. Yes? So what I just demonstrated to you here in principle is the fact that the footage is relatively evenly spread out on the landscape.
The second problem that I have, with regard to the spatial gaps and the acting of the film, required a technically more sophisticated approach that I borrowed from my architectural and film making background. Early films, such as that of film pioneers like the LumiÃ¨re Brothers, Mitchell and Kenyon, Robert W Paul in London and others, are often associated with a type of film practice that pre-dates the notion of editing. What I mean by that is that this was a time when film makers took the camera out there, onto the streets, recorded it and nobody in the studio would edit and cut and manipulate the films themselves. As such, the Liverpool Overhead Railway films are generally seen as something that can be called photographic continuity, which is nothing else than a continuous film of what the dock landscape looked like in 1897. This assumption has been brought into question only recently by a scholar called Andre Gaudreault, and Jean-Marc Lamotte, with their study on the so called ‘fragmentation’, the cutting and gluing, and the ‘segmentation’ which is a technique that is essentially an edit of the LumiÃ¨re collection. According to those two research studies, 5.4% of all the films that the LumiÃ¨re company produced in the year 1987 contain some form of interruption in the film stock. This was a sensation when it came out. Responding to my enquiry, Lamotte has kindly confirmed he remembered when examining the Liverpool materials that there were in fact interruptions in the films, but he could not as far as his study was concerned, find out the precise location or where those break of points were.
So, an analysis of the original negatives actually is impossible because the original negative that Promio took with him on the journey on the Liverpool Overhead Railway are currently at the CNC archive in a freezer. They put these old films under cold conditions so they are prevented from further damage. I have instead, together with a technician at the French film archive, chrono-photographically examined a positive copy, the first copy, of this original 35mm print. So, even when I magnified the individual frame of this first copy it produced absolutely no evidence that there had been any form of physical intervention with the film material, for instance, the cutting or splicing of the film. So since it was impossible to determine the location of those potential interruptions on the original films themselves, or on the copy, it became necessary to find such gaps in the landscape. This led to the idea of developing a special method which would allow highlighting if and when, in terms of the locations seen in the film, the original film was interrupted. I had earlier established the proximate areas as I outlined in this little animation on the map that we see in the films. However, in order to create a synchronous and precise geographical representation between the locations where the films were shot and those scenes in the film, it was necessary to produce an animated 3D Ordnance Survey map to which the LumiÃ¨re material was visually linked, which is something that we are still currently working on for the exhibition for the museum. By simulating such a 3D view of the dock landscape, generated from the view of the dock landscape and generated from the OS map, the spatial inconsistency between the film and dock landscape is fully revealed, and the illusion of an uninterrupted continuity is broken. In the case of the Liverpool Overhead Railway films, it is likely that the segmentation of the films can be explained by manual stopping and the resumption of the filming â€“ a procedure Promio undertook on location and not in the film laboratory. The particular recording mechanism of the LumiÃ¨re cinematograph you see here actually allowed stopping and resumption of the film while generating only one blank frame. With other devices, if you would have done that, you would over expose 3-5 frames â€“ not so with the LumiÃ¨re cinematograph.
What I would like to do now is to show you the animations that I have referred to, that link the archive footage with the precise position on the OS maps. [points to the screen] This is the journey from north to south â€“ this is the first film. I’ll explain to you what we have done. [footage starts to play on the screen] I’ll stop the frame here. Before I continue I want to explain what happened here. This here [points to a frame on the screen showing black and white film footage] is a small window that shows the original footage â€“ the archive film, and here [the rest of the screen is take up by a map] you see an animated line that is travelling, elevated on an OS map approximately of the year when Promio took the journey, which allows us now to do a number of things. We see the precise start and position of the camera man at every second of the frame, and we can gather a number of pieces of information that is currently embedded in, for instance, the maps themselves. That information helps a researcher like myself to go back into the library and find out more about certain things.
What I’m planning to do now, if you permit me, is to look at this animation while I’m talking over some of the details that I’ve found out while examining the films in that particular way. Promio starts his journey moving from north to south at Brocklebank Dock, overlooking a timber yard in which cargo from Canada and other places on the North American continent are stockpiled. A tower in the background seems to belong to the Canada Hydraulic Station Complex on the other side of the dock which operated the large special entrance made to Canada Dock which was designed for very large ships. Promio then passes North Carrier Dock in which a number of sailing ships are moored to the pier. His film is then suddenly interrupted and he approaches a small warehouse complex with heavy wooden sliding doors, signposted ’Manchester Ship Canal, Great Western Railway Station’. And this animation also has another little trick â€“ I can slide precisely to the point and slide back. So I’ve just mentioned to you the Manchester ship canal, so if we stop here for a moment you see here actually on the building that the green line is precisely at the corner of a building here drawn into the map. We can see here, probably not with this projector, but certainly under a magnifying glass, what is written on the side of the building. It is indeed ’Manchester Ship Canal, Great Western Railway Station’, which is located precisely at the end of North Carriers Dock.
I’ll resume my reading of this landscape. Some yards after the building, which we passed, the film resumes near a small access alley to Canada Dock. From here onwards Promio captures one of the largest and most important yards of the Liverpool timber trade which belonged to Canada Dock. Interestingly, yet partially disguised by the timber stacks and blurred from the speed of the train, the footage also shows a series of so-called travelling steel cranes designed to manoeuvre large stock piles of timber from one end of the dock to the other. I’ll fast forward again to point out this small detail. Can you see that here? Coming up now? Yes? This iron work? That is actually a specially designed mechanism to move timber. I’m now going to do the same reading with regard to the next film.
The second reel begins in the middle of Sandon Dock graving dock which means Promio misses filming, arguably through the changing of the rolls, large parts of Huskisson Dock and other areas. The graving docks consist of four narrow docks which opened in 1851. They run parallel to Liverpool Overhead Railway. They were the first docks that could be artificially increased using a system of pumps that was designed by GF Lister in around 1885. A closer look reveals two men crossing the narrow path of a lock gate, perhaps belonging to the steam boat moored perpendicular to the graving sock at the small landing stage. I’ll just go back to this place here â€“ you see here, now actually two men crossing a bridge, walking towards the ships. Don’t worry â€“ the animations are rather small at the moment â€“ you will later enjoy the films in the full screen. Just outside Promio’s framing on the right hand side, and as such not visible in the shot, is also a location of a very large steel crane set installed into the ground at the front and between the graving docks four and five. That’s interesting because now we have this reference to the map we can find out things which are not visible in the films themselves, but knowing where they were shot we can access this information. The film proceeds passing by the Sandon Dock â€“ the way the dock looked before a three storey concrete shed was built in 1908. In the film Sandon Dock is full of large steam ships which were at the time were feared because of the fire hazard to other ships, cargo sheds ad storage sheds. The train passes a steel crane and then approaches what is marked on the map as ‘West India Shed’. This West India Shed is interesting â€“ we just passed it â€“ it is that one. Yes? I’m stopping here. A closer look at the facade of the building reveals the name ‘CompaÃ±Ãa Sansinena de Carnes Congeladas’ which translates as the ‘Sansinena Frozen Meat Company’ which indeed was an Argentinean firm founded in 1891 with a capital of Â£300,025 and known for its freezing plants which it operated in places like Buenos Aires, Paris, London and indeed, and we have evidence, in Liverpool. The train then reaches Wellington Dock which is connected via a viaduct â€“ see that? I swear to you, when we first looked at this footage in the BFI basement we looked at this viaduct and had no clue what it was. But since we know where we are in relation to the map it is now clear that this high level viaduct is nothing more than a high level coal railway built in the early 1880s, which played a significant role in Liverpool’s coal trade.
After passing exactly 13 of these walls Promio’s film is interrupted by five blank frames. Here the Liverpool Overhead Railway passes under another train line that is marked on the map, and the train emerges after another interruption in a slightly elevated position which allows a more detailed view of the top of the high level coal railway revealing, for instance, train carts and parts of the cranes that were used to unload the coal. Just going there [moves the film back] â€“ so the train actually is going up, we’re starting here at the level and now we are going up â€“see that? â€“ and can look at little details of what’s going on at the top of the elevated coal railway that we just passed.
Film number 705, Promio leaves Bramley Moor Dock, Nelson Dock, Collingwood Dock, Stanley Dock and Clarence Graving Dock behind him and resumes filming at the very south end of Clarence Dock. The first few seconds show the north sheds and south sheds located on the small pier perpendicular to the Liverpool Overhead Railway between Clarence and Trafalgar Dock, not far from the traffic manager’s office. The view from Liverpool Overhead Railway is high enough to look over the east sheds into Trafalgar Dock and subsequently Victoria Dock, in both of which are ships moored in relative proximity to the Liverpool Overhead Railway. Shortly before the huge Waterloo grain warehouses emerge on the left hand side of the frame, the film is seemingly interrupted for about one second. And I’m just going to this place now â€“ we are approaching Waterloo warehouse â€“ see what’s happening here? Suddenly the frame becomes black. We looked at this â€“ I looked at it â€“ and was puzzled. What is that? Actually, it emerged that this interruption has nothing to do with the footage itself because I had a magnifying glass and looked at the film frame by frame, almost under a microscope. It emerged that this interruption is indeed exactly the moment when another train is passing by, so Promio simply didn’t expect that another train was coming. So with that in mind I’m sure you’ll view the footage differently now. I’ll continue playing the film and reading my text.
Promio’s film then shows a unique moving image shot of Waterloo warehouse in its full splendour of which only the eastern wing has survived today. The eastern part of Waterloo warehouse is approximately 196 metres long and belongs to one of the largest warehouse complexes of Liverpool docks. I have to admit I was mesmerised by this shot because that shot shows in the form of a film and not a still photograph, how the Liverpool warehouse complex looked before the Blitz destroyed the buildings. What has survived is only the front complex which is capped off here â€“ I’ll come that that in a moment. All these buildings in the back belong to Waterloo warehouse.
So, since this complex runs very closely to and parallel to the Liverpool Overhead Railway the building would have obscured the view and as such created a long sequence of exposed frames with poor contrast quality. Shortly before the Liverpool Overhead Railway arrives at the building, the filming is stopped by Promio and resumed a few yards before the end of the warehouse complex. When we go to this you actually notice that when we come to the end of it, again the frame becomes absolutely black. These few dark frames are the result of a premature resuming of the film, and when I watch the film actually add to the continuity effect that the shot has, and to an illusion that the warehouse isn’t that big. Only people from Liverpool would see the shot and know the Waterloo warehouse is pretty long and notice that something has been cut out here. After the warehouse follows a shot which I think is particularly nice because it shows an unobscured view of the Pier Master’s head office. [moves the film on very slowly] So, we are passing by and you can see that? I’m going back frame by frame now. So what you see now in the background, coming up on the right hand side of the frame, is the Pier Master’s office and residence which was built in 1868, and here you see the tower. See that? Yes?
So Promio was then, because he’d just passed the Waterloo warehouse where he’d stopped and resumed filming, I think he was surprised because what then happened â€“ he probably didn’t see it coming â€“ is a longish east shed which again obscures his view for approximately nine seconds. Can you see that? I’m absolutely sure that Promio wasn’t happy with that because these nine seconds are essentially a quarter of the length of the reel. We are thankfully rewarded with an impressive showing of the south entrance of Princes half tide and Princes Dock in which we see a small number of sailing boats and so on. The film then ends as you have just seen at pretty much the only location that was absolutely clear when I first looked at the film â€“ clearly signed posted ‘Princes Dock Station’.
Now, I’m coming to the last animation but perhaps the most significant roll of film. It begins at the far north of Georges Dock which was opened in 1771, and which is today one of Liverpool’s most important urban sites. Liverpool’s signature buildings - the Liver Building, the Cunard Building, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Building and soon the Fourth Grace, the new Museum of Liverpool - stand tall precisely at the same location today. Here Promio produced a unique moving image document of how the site looked before the dock was filled in in 1900 - so only a few years later - a move which altered the character of the site from being a commercial dock to a publicly accessible extension of the inner city fabric.
Approaching the south end and most significant part of Georges Dock â€“ I’m just going back here - here is Georges Dock which is now filled in. I’ll just stop here for a moment. The camera captures a series of two-masters in the foreground, one interestingly has an American flag at the stern and you can only see that when you look at the original frame. And I think this part of Georges Dock obviously is particularly interesting because that is the area you know under the name Nova Scotia â€“ now known as Mann Island â€“ a fascinating district that at the time was occupied by residences for sea captains, merchants etc. Actually that history goes back to the year 1740. Mann Island was bustling with residences and people on the street which engaged in all sorts of merchant activities and the business of those people on that part of Mann Island also has to do with the fact that a tram line passed by here and went all around the side to link up to a tram interchange.
Now, Promio’s film presents evidence of commercial and civic operations that took place in this unique urban landscape, showing for instance the stationery marketeers, the passing by of horse drawn carts, passers by, the activity even around the building site. As the Liverpool Overhead Railway train enters a swing bridge the camera comes close to a building such as the Harbour Master’s office at which point the film is suddenly interrupted. Analogously to the previous shots, Promio’s film resumes right after these buildings which in this case allows for wonderful site over Canning towards Albert Dock and the adjacent hydraulically operated pump house built in 1878. Interestingly the footage shows of Albert Dock â€“ I’ll fast forward here â€“ shows also the Philip Hardwick clock tower on the north eastern stack of Albert Dock in 1848, which is missing in the architectural ensemble today.
The entire stretch of the Liverpool Overhead Railway extends over a distance of six miles of which Promio covered approximately 1.1 miles with his four rolls. This means that in terms of sheer space recorded along this specific site, Promio‘s shots from the Liverpool Overhead Railway are absolutely unique and distinctive in film history. I argue that Promio recognised the Liverpool dock landscape as an emerging horizontal landmark, emerging because the Liverpool Overhead Railway had played an important role in bringing this site to the mind within the general public as the elevated structure enabled tourists to overcome the visual separation produced by the tall walls of the dock landscape and the inner city: a fact specifically highlighted in early advertising and postcards, some of which you saw earlier today. The physical characteristics of the Liverpool docks required a mobile way of recording, for which the Liverpool Overhead Railway in combination with the medium of film seemed to be the perfect answer. The Liverpool example was not the first time in his career that Promio employed a mobile camera. In fact it is often wrongly cited that this LumiÃ¨re material is the first lateral tracking shot â€“ it’s simply not true. In fact, according to his own account Promio took the idea of a lateral tracking shot, in which the camera would be fixed on a moving vehicle, from one of his visits to Venice - one year before he visited Liverpool. In fact, from examining all his films arising from the shots he produced while travelling to England and Ireland, it is clear that he used similar strategies of lateral tracking shots more than once. However, when comparing the Liverpool Overhead Railway footage with that taken in Dublin or elsewhere it becomes evident that Liverpool films are, from a historic point of view, exceptional.
Beyond all fascination for Promio‘s films along Liverpool docks and the city centre, they also convey to me the sense that large parts of Liverpool’s urban space or spatial experience were either lost by war or planning; atrocities in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. His films are a document that portrays an urban space that oscillates between the familiar and the unfamiliar looking sites; the space in which traces of the present can still be found, in which however large parts of the urban fabric and activities significantly differ from today. Promio‘s films, therefore, do not simply indulge the audience in a sense of nostalgia but also have an unsettling effect at the same time, in particular for those of you in the audience who remember the Liverpool Overhead Railway in operation. Promio‘s filming of the Liverpool Overhead Railway constitutes an outstanding and unique early film document of an early urban landscape that is more descriptive and more representative than views from the city centre. I think this answers my question that I posed at the beginning â€“ why did Promio film the docks and the Mersey, and the answer obviously is clear. This horizontal landmark â€“ the Liverpool docks were at the time infinitely more important to the city than any of its churches or other historical buildings.
So, together with the film and the many photographic stills that are available of the docks, I think we have - by demonstrating to you the technique between stitching archive footage and Ordnance Survey maps â€“ given you an opportunity to read and engage with this Liverpool Overhead Railway material in a much more spatially cohesive way. Hopefully this will contribute to the exhibition we are going to do in the museum, to our understanding and appreciation of the dock landscape and the LumiÃ¨re films as such.
So, I am aware of the fact that you have been sitting quietly for quite some time. However, if you wish I have prepared a full screen screening of the Liverpool Overhead Railway material, and as far as I know this, today, is the world premier of showing the films in the correct order, giving you a geographically correct reading from north to south. I’ll just fire this up. Here it comes.
[full screen version of the four reels]
These films, as I mentioned at the beginning, were shown in London just after Promio returned from his visit. I don’t think they were shown in Liverpool. Promio came in 1897 to England and Ireland. He first arrived in London, then went up to Liverpool, then took the ferry to Dublin. Did some shots of Dublin, then to Belfast. Needless to say this is the best footage.
[points out the sights] Waterloo warehouse.
It’s amazing to imagine this is now the Cunard Building.
Nova Scotia. I looked at every single frame â€“ you can almost see the facial expressions of the people.
The pump house station. That’s it! Thank you very much.