Monday, December 22, 2008

A portrait of the artist as a young cinema manager

2009 sees the centenary of one of the odder corners of early film history. In December 1909, the then unknown James Joyce, future author of Dubliners, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, opened a cinema in Dublin. This was through no particular passion for film; Joyce was merely seeking the means to get rich quick, and like a good many other people at the time, he saw the new cinema business as the way to do so....

Happily for literature, Joyce turned out to be a hopeless cinema manager, or rather he left the business all too quickly in other hands, only to see the hoped-for source of his fortune rapidly fail. The Volta (which was located at 45 Mary Street) floundered, as much through competition from other film entertainments as its own mismanagement, and it was sold at a loss in June 1910. Joyce’s own specific involvement with the cinema was brief, but intense. He spent several weeks setting up the business, staffing and equipping, promoting it, obtaining a cinematograph licence, and—it is to be assumed—selecting the films.

It is this last element that continues to attract scholarly interest. What films were shown at the Volta, what role did Joyce play in their selection, what did he think of such films, and what traces of the cinema can be uncovered in his art?

The Bioscope

(Via L.G. Thos.)



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