Thursday, September 23, 2010

Straight from the Impressario's Mouth

The Ouimetoscope. 1000 people at the cinema. Full house so its probably Sunday. Oh my!

In my continuing quest to see if there exists any silent film footage of 1910 Montreal, I stumbled upon a gem of a resourse, an 1965 interview (on the Radio Canada archives) with Earnest Ouimet!

You see, on another site, Silent Film Quebec, it is mentioned that this Mr. Ouimet, who I 've blogged about before in my essays on early film in Montreal, not only owned the fanciest motion picture house in town, he also made films!!

He started shooting in 1908 and first filmed his own family, then his surroundings and then special events like the 1908 Quebec Tercentenary and the 1910 Eucharist Congress. (The only YouTube footage of early Montreal is a Gaumont Newsreel clip of the Congress parade.)Illness kept him from filming between 1912 and 1915, but then he continued. (That's just as more films were being made for the War effort.)

Was some of his footage around, I wondered.

Well, no. That interview of Radio Canada starts out by showing some footage from the thirties or forties of Ouimet's family and says that that's the earliest surviving footage.

Well, at least the interview is illuminating. As he sits in his chair, an 88 year old man, Ouimet talks about how he spent his first earnings: on a car, (but of course) and a new kitchen set (for the legs slid on the floor) and on making the large Vaudeville stage at the Ouimetiscope (the first smaller one) smaller. They didn't need a large one. He showed three films a night and had a singer between the films.

Prices. 35 cents for the loge. 25 for the orchestra and cheaper for the poulerie or something, cheap seats. (More expensive than the Nickel, which cost "a nickel.")
What kind of people came to your theatre? asks the reporter. Oh, nice ones. Convent girls very Thursday afternoon...With the nuns, asks the reporter. No, school was out, Ouimet replies.

How many seats in the new theatre, built 1906, on Ste. Catherine?
Always filled.
Well, certainly on Sunday. Standing room only. (OOO) (They discuss the Lord Day's Law a bit.)

Did you have couples kissing in the theatre, like today?

No... We had ushers patroling the place and no man arriving alone was allowed to sit near a woman.. (Editor: That doesn't answer the question, really, does it.)

Great interview....Now, I tracked down a book written in 1999 about the Quebec Tercentary (which I have blogged about) and the author claims he did track down a few newsreels of the events at that celebration. This book, The Art of Nation Building, which I will have to track down, describes how grand the celebration was and how it has been erased from the history books. My point exactly, in Flo in the City, my book about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era based on the letters of