By Kirsten Larvick
Angela Murray Gibson, a silent era filmmaker receives due attention at Orphan Film Symposium’s line-up this April 11th – 14th, 2018 at the Museum of Moving Image.
That Ice Ticket (1921), a recent NYWIFT Women’s Film Preservation Fund and Kino Lorber preservation, will screen on April 13th as part of the presentation, Camerawoman Angela Murray Gibson Films Herself into History, 1921-1925.
Here, its presenters Marsha Gordon and Buckey Grimm offer some insights into this distinguishing filmmaker and her broader mark on American cinema.
Still from the Library of Congress Paper print fragment, Aunt Tabitha (lost film) (Gibson on Far Right)
Buckey Grimm: For the last several years I have undertaken a project to compile a database of cinematographers who were active in the Silent era. Various friends have sent me notes when they see something that might be of interest. One of these bits of info led me to Gibson and I was off and running.
Marsha Gordon: Buckey contacted me a year or so ago to see if I wanted to talk about collaborating on this camerawoman research he’d been doing. There are a lot of interesting candidates from the pool who worked as cinematographers in the teens and 1920s, but Gibson has a specific appeal because of the number of documentable film titles and her autonomy as a one-woman film studio.
The fact that Gibson was so versatile in her training (including taking a course in photoplay making at Columbia University) and in her career (singing, dancing, filmmaking, acting, teaching) is part of what makes her interesting. I also love that she worked as an actress on a Mary Pickford film, which clearly taught her that women could make movies! That’s a pretty awesome lesson for the late nineteen teens, when, in fact, there were more women making movies than there would be a decade later! I also love that she was a North Dakota-based filmmaker who had her own studio (which was likely a symbolic idea consisting of having a camera and production skills), and that she drew her performers from her community.
Angela Murray Gibson film still (pre-preservation)
Grimm: She started her career to become a teacher, graduating from College in North Dakota, and moving to the east coast to teach and further her studies, but she seemed to show a definite interest in theater and drama. While she initially took courses related to domestic science, she also sprinkled in drama and music classes. Over time it seems her focus shifted to the entertainment industry, [and] she began to appear at various venues, initially doing dramatic readings, then later incorporating material that came from her Scottish roots, by dressing in costume and performing Scottish songs and dances. What was very interesting to me was her resolve. She took this one-time opportunity, working on Pride of the Clan for Mary Pickford, and parlayed it into a film career.
She seems to have learned her lessons from her photoplay making course at Columbia University well. While obviously operating on a tight budget and using all local talent, her films use tried and true formulas and are edited pretty well. They do have a flow about them, so she looks to have understood the methods of putting together a complete film effectively.
Angela Murray Gibson film still (pre-preservation)
Gordon: I was really struck by how short the shots are in That Ice Ticket (1921). So many of them are one to two seconds in length, much shorter than films being made by her contemporaries. There are a lot of cut-ins (letters, photos, signs) and it makes watching the film seem rather fast-paced.
Although her filmography is short (and perhaps incomplete)—with a total of nine films that we can confirm that she produced from 1921-1925—she made a really diverse product: comedies, educational films, fictional films based upon poems, and even newsreel type actualities.
Grimm: Her contribution for me has many layers, not only was she a woman who wrote, directed, acted in, and produced her films, but she made this happen in Casselton, North Dakota. Gibson was able to create something unique that was placed in “Small Town America.”
It’s our hope that this presentation on Gibson opens up another avenue for researchers and historians to continue to delve into what some people tend to classify as “footnotes” in the industry.
Many thanks to Women’s Film Preservation Fund and Kino Lorber, without whose assistance this wouldn’t have been possible.
Angela Murray Gibson Film Preservation and Archive History:
The Angela Murray Gibson films are held at the State Historical Society of North Dakota (SHSND) archives. Gibson’s surviving work was first preserved by Bill Snyder Films in the 1970s under the preservation standards of the day. Three Gibson films were preserved photo-chemically under contemporary preservation standards in 2017 at Colorlab with support from Women’s Film Preservation Fund and Kino Lorber. Buckey Grimm managed these preservations under the guidance of Shane Molander at SHSND. Kino Lorber will include two Gibson titles in their upcoming PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS collection.
To catch Gordon and Grimm’s presentation at Orphan Film Symposium, visit http://www.nyu.edu/orphanfilm/ to register for attendance.
About the presenters:
Marsha Gordon is Professor of Film Studies at North Carolina State University. She has written and edited of a number of books on film, including Film is Like a Battleground: Sam Fuller’s War Movies in 2017 (Oxford University Press). She is a former co-editor of The Moving Image (University of Minnesota Press), the journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Her show, “Movies on the Radio,” with NC Museum of Art film curator Laura Boyes & Frank Stasio, is heard monthly on 91.5/WUNC’s “The State of Things.”
Charles “Buckey” Grimm is a manufacturing engineer for Eaton Corporation. He has been researching various facets of the motion picture industry for over 30 years. He has been published in The Moving Image (University of Minnesota Press), and in Film History (Indiana University Press). His current research focuses on cinematographers of the Silent Era.