In Focus: Film Magazine History: A Snapshot

By Helen Cox

Almost as long as there have been films, there have been people writing about them. New Empress Magazine is the latest in a long line of motion picture periodicals. Here’s a little bit of illumination on just a few that lead the way before us…

Cinematography and Bioscope Magazine. To call this publication (and the Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly for that matter) a magazine is probably a bit of a push. It really operated as more of a trade paper; primarily discussing issues and developments relevant to people working in the film industry. In April 1906 for example the magazine reports: “The cinematograph trade appears to be an especially remunerative one for lawyers and those of that ilk.” You can’t say you weren’t warned early on about that one.

In September of the same year the magazine reports on cinematography in colour: “It has been the dream of scientists, physicists and experimentalists of all kinds to invent some method of rendering in one straightforward process the colour of nature.” The magazine also included reviews of films for distribution such as Dick Turpin’s Last Ride to York, A Pair of Desperate Swindlers and A Slippery Visitor which was described in December 1906 as: “One of the funniest pictures on record and one that will evoke laughter wherever it is shown.” Here’s hoping the Frat-Pack don’t get their greasy little mitts on this one for a remake. One might argue that the likes of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are slippery enough characters as it is when it comes to churning out average, popcorn-busting “comedies”. Just saying.

The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly started in 1907 and was another trade publication that focused on business developments in the world of cinema and provided short, snappy reviews of current features. According to the British Film Institute (BFI) it is a distant ancestor to today’s Screen International. In their issue of the 23rd February 1911, for example, The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly report on  the release of The Fall of Troy.  “Probably no subject has been so eagerly anticipated in this country as the Italia “Fall of Troy” which the Tyler Film Co. Are now showing for release of April 8th …Undoubtedly, it is the greatest feat in staging yet accomplished in the trade…” For its time The Fall of Troy was indeed a spectacle. A kind of Helm’s Deep for the early 1900s.

Variety (1905-present) Variety was originally a trade magazine that covered vaudeville entertainments. In those days it was based in New York city but in 1933 Sime Silverman, founder of the magazine, launched Daily Variety in Hollywood. The publication still exists in various forms, including, and is famous for using its own form of “slanguage.” Writers for other publications often mirror the terms used in Variety as, being the longest running film publication, they are considered pretty much the ultimate authority on film.

Picturegoer (1913-1960) was one of the earliest, prominent consumer magazines about film. In January 1931 it included features such as “The Truth About The Talkies” and “How to get a job in Hollywood.” With the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the onset of The Great Depression the latter article was no doubt of keen interest to the American readership.

In the April issue of 1941 Ingrid Bergman appeared on the front cover and the leading feature was “Tragedy Without Tears – Weeping heroines have gone says Hollywood.” The article suggested that wartime heroines were made of stronger stuff and would no longer be represented on screen in tears every few minutes. Maybe someone should send this article to Gwyneth Paltrow. Or Julianne Moore for that matter. It may prove an illuminating read for both of them.

Movieline (1985-2009) originally published articles that were generally derogatory in their demeanour. One of the most sarcastic critics of all time, Joe Queenan, enjoyed a long and glorious reign as one of their chief columnists. An issue from August 1990 reports on how Charlie Sheen landed his acting debut in Grizzly II: The Predator way back in 1984. It also explains why Brooke Shields never really got the respect she should have had from the industry and elaborates on how Howard the Duck was responsible for finishing off Lea Thompson’s acting career. These are all important stories to read up on; none of them are particularly positive. Eventually the magazine folded in 2009 and was relaunched as a website.

Empire (1989-present) Empire is still the leading film monthly in the UK today and you’d be hard-pushed to find any self-respecting film fan without at least one or two copies lying around. Their very first issue got off to a cracking start taking readers through the life and death of cult character Freddy Kreuger and offering insight into how Wall Street star Sean Young got such a bad name for herself. The front cover featured Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder posing for their roles in Great Balls of Fire – the 1989 biopic about Jerry Lewis.

Hotdog (2000-2006) Hotdog was, sadly, one of the shorter-lived film publications. It offered quite similar content to Total Film, putting a quirkier edge on mainstream movies. Favourite asides they specialised in included things like Movie Maths: “Se7en + Marilyn Manson x The Wizard of Oz = Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.” (September 2005). Their first issue in July 1990 lead with De Niro: the Man, the Myth, the Method and the Madness, a sensational free poster of Angelina Jolie and the Top Ten Psychos of Movie History (The list was topped by Kevin Spacey as John Doe in Se7en).

In addition to these titles mentioned there are the likes of Little White Lies, Sight and Sound, genre titles such as Starburst and now us: New Empress Magazine. Here starteth our history. We hope you’ll want to be a part of it! Issue one and subscriptions are available at our webshop.

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