Topic

Scenics

‘Scenics’, the term commonly used for travelogues, formed an important part of early cinema programmes. Deriving from the traditions of the lantern or limelight show which commonly offered ‘views’, they covered a surprisingly wide geographical area to bring the exotic, the marvelous and the ‘wonders of the natural world’ to the screen, playing an important part in the trade’s promise of the educational value of the cinematograph.


They were filmed by companies like Charles Urban, Warwick Trading Company and Kineto in England, …clair, Essanay and Kalem in the USA, and Cines, Gaumont and Pathé (particularly Pathé) in Europe. Scotland was by no means an exclusive territory, but it was an area of particular interest and both British and American trade press record a large number of titles. The areas of interest were the West Highlands, the Islands (including Shetland and St Kilda), the Scott Country of the Borders, and the waterfalls and castles of the lower Clyde Valley. The landscapes they covered tended to be those already made resonant by the wide international appeal of Scott’s Waverley novels, by the legend and history of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and by the enlightened and romantic tours made by, for example, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, Mendelssohn, and J.M.W Turner. These tours, already described by eighteenth-century writers like Johnson and Boswell, Thomas Pennant and Elizabeth Diggle, replaced the fashionable ‘Grand Tours’ of Europe in the early nineteenth century when Europe was not a safe place to travel. They were popularized by travel guides like Cook and Baedekker in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and often followed line that had been opened up by the development of railways. Film scenics, for the most part, inhabited the same landscapes, drawn to waterfalls, mountains and the traces of romanticized history made accessible by the railways and improved roads. In many senses, they laid out the map of early twentieth century Scottish tourism. Where the landscapes are populated, it tends to be with a quaint and exotic peasantry, with children as ragamuffins, or with Highland cows. Where they overlapped with the ‘interest’ film, the interest seemed to lie in fishing villages and farms. Edinburgh appeared as the old town, and industrial Glasgow held little interest.


On a survey of just under fifty ‘scenics’ reviewed in The Bioscope between 1910 and 1927 — using trade reviews that have quite detailed identifications of locations, probably for the benefit of the film’s ‘interpreter’ — the map which can be drawn tends to focus on landscapes which have one of the lowest population densities in Europe. It is the diametrical opposite of the map of local topicals.