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Action! 100 years ago

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Columnist for The Canberra Times

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Gang-gang

A still from the silent 1913 movie <i>Atlantis</i>, coming up at Arc Cinema.

A still from the silent 1913 movie Atlantis, coming up at Arc Cinema.

Were there movie-goers among the crowds who came to the live attraction of the naming of Canberra ceremony in 1913? What films might they have seen in 1913? How did the live, talking entertainment of the ceremony on the Canberra hillside compare with the thrills of that year's silent pictures?

The Arc cinema at the National Film and Sound Archive is about to offer us some silent films of those times. Arc's chief cinema programmer, Quentin Turnour, says that the looming Golden Summer screenings will focus on the birth of the feature film, in Australia and the world, in the period 1910-13.

''The year 1913 is not just the year of Canberra's birth, but it is also recognised as an international milestone in modern cinema'' Turnour relates. ''It's the pivotal year that dramatic feature films of 30 to 40 minutes began to take over from film shorts.''

The lights at Manuka could host a different gathering.

The lights at Manuka could host a different gathering. Photo: Melissa Adams

He tells Gang-Gang that one of the longer new films Australians first saw in 1913 was the Danish Atlantis, released in that year. It is 116 action-packed minutes long. He says that Atlantis was a ''big-budget adaptation'' of a novel by Gerhart Hauptmann who had just (in 1912) been awarded the Nobel prize for literature.

And how about this, from the NFSA, for a titillating synopsis of the film! ''Damaged by professional rejection, helpless before his wife's enveloping insanity, and spiritually exhausted, brilliant young bacteriologist Friedrich von Kammacher (Olaf Fønss) loses himself in a tour of the great cities of the pre-First World War world. His journey quickly evolves into one of erotic obsession with the self-absorbed dancer Ingigerd; a pursuit that eventually places the doctor on board a doomed transatlantic luxury liner [very like the Titanic, sunk the year before the film was made].''

In the above still from the film, frenzied passengers are getting into the liner's lifeboat.

Eerily, there is, when you have a columnist's agile imagination, a kind of connection between Atlantis and Canberra. It is that just as Canberra was thought an eligible site for the capital because of its healthful and ''bracing'' mountain air, the hero of Atlantis, grief-stricken Friedrich, is taken to a mountain sanatorium. He becomes desperately ill with grief and Eva, a good woman (better than that self-absorbed hussy Ingigerd), whisks him away to a mountain cabin in a place very like Canberra.

Will the powerful combination of Canberraesque mountain air and Eva's saintly goodness work a miracle? If they do, will the spark of love leap between these two ''friends''? Or is the brilliant young bacteriologist doomed to a hopeless unrequited obsession with Ingigerd? You will have to go to Atlantis on the evening of March 1, to find out.

The Golden Summer program, which runs from this Saturday (live musicians will accompany every film) until March 9, can be ogled at the NFSA's website.

Moths will see light

Oh, horror! What if the new floodlights at Manuka Oval attract plagues of bewildered bogong moths?

A reader who shares this column's enthusiasm for the elegant and literally brilliant new lights at Manuka Oval contacts us to rejoice that with this facility we can now apply to stage a Women's World Cup Cricket tournament like the poorly attended one just completed in India that our Australian damsels won.

''It couldn't offend anybody,'' he fancies, naively underestimating the ability of the Canberra Taliban to take offence at anything new.

Then in the same breath, and (we hope) frivolously, he offered another idea of a Festival of the Bogong Moths based on the clouds of them he thinks are bound to descend on the newly illuminated oval. We felt sure the Canberra designers of the lights had given the moth risk some thought, and Ian Smith a director of Cox Architecture (its office above the blush-making knickers boutique in Kingston) confirms that, ''Yes, we thought of that.''

''But the issue that occurred at New Parliament House in around 1988 was due to the lights there never fully being turned off at night, and so the moths got 'trapped' by the light [I guess thinking the light was the sun and so not venturing out under cover of night!], interrupting their natural migration patterns.

''Once this issue was understood and the lights turned off to allow the pattern to re-establish, the issue was largely solved. Undoubtedly, as with any bright light, the Manuka lights will attract moths when in use, but the short duration and fairly infrequent use will ensure there is no significant impact on moth migration. Any gathering of moths will dissipate soon after the lights are turned off and will go on their merry way.''

Window illuminated

We could tell that the stained-glass window at All Saints in Ainslie (the subject of Tuesday's column) was really rather wonderful, and said so in our mawkish, underinformed, inarticulate way. But it turns out to be far more special than we knew. A well-informed Duffy reader illuminates us with the news that the window (once part of a church in Sheffield, England) is so good because it comes ''from the workshop of Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), whose stained glass was highly valued in its day''. Kempe windows are for some ''the Victorian zenith'' of the artform.

Our reader quotes one Kempe glass scholar Stephen Dykes Brown MA, FRIBA, FSA saying that ''Consummate draughtsmanship; masterly handling of intricate architectural detail; heraldry; colour; decoration of the richest, most exquisite kind - these are some ingredients of Kempe glass that make its appeal so enticing … [with as well] an absence of anything showy, arty, crude or incompetent''.

What an unsung Canberra treasure the window is! Watch this column for news of the reinstallation of that part of the window (including a very Swedish-looking Jesus on the cross) presently being spruced up in a Queensland workshop.

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