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Marvellous Corricks

The Corrick family were vaudeville-style entertainers who toured Australia, New Zealand, and the world in the early 1900s.

They screened this collection of approximately 130 short films as part of their performance. The films offer a rare insight into the way Australians first experienced cinema. The collection includes silent novelty, comedy, chase and travel films, only a few of which were made by the Corricks themselves. The rest they purchased.

Between 1901 and 1914, the Australian-based Albert and Sarah Corrick and their eight musically talented children toured shows that balanced live music, comedy and variety acts with film programs of short melodramas, coloured fantasies with special effects and film 'tricks’, travelogues and other actualities. The Corrick Family Entertainers, later known as the Marvellous Corricks, increased in popularity and extended their program as their collection of films increased and diversified.

Musical performances, poetry, comedy and kinematograph were the specialty of the Corricks, with son Leonard becoming the expert projectionist, mechanic and cinematographer within the troupe. They successfully promoted their shows as wholesome, respectable family entertainment, performing thousands of concerts in hundreds of venues. The films, all on nitrate film stock, featured the cutting-edge filmmaking skills of the day, including trick and special effects. As well as black-and-white films, there were brilliantly coloured films using stencil and tinting techniques (see La Poule aux Oeufs d’Or, 1905).

The Corricks purchased films from France, England, the USA and Italy, and produced some of the films themselves in Australia and on their world tour. Films the Corricks made in Australia include Street Scenes in Perth, Western Australia (1907), The Day-Postle Match at Boulder, Western Australia (1907) and The Bashful Mr Brown (1907). Ever conscious of promotional opportunities, a banner for the Corrick Entertainers can be seen in the Day-Postle film as the camera rolls, and the Corricks themselves feature in the farcical chase scene in The Bashful Mr Brown. They also feature in one of their international tour films, Sports at Sea on the SS Runic (1909).

The Corricks built up a substantial catalogue of films during their 13 years on the road. When the troupe finally disbanded in 1914, following the death of patriarch Albert, most of the family settled in Launceston, Tasmania. The film collection was stored in a family garage and used for local screenings into the 1920s. As silent films were overtaken by the sound era’s 'talkies’, the film collection and projection equipment remained with Leonard’s family. The reels were sometimes screened in their backyard with the children practising cutting and splicing on them. Eventually, Leonard’s son John became the enthusiast who kept the films together, adapting his garage to become a small cinema to screen the nitrate originals. John Corrick eventually donated the original projector to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston.

The Corrick Collection is an example of one of the earliest travelling film shows in Australia. The wide range of both Australian and international productions also makes the collection unique. One of the highlights is the many special effects or 'trick’ films, which were especially characteristic of the French Pathé studio. La Poule aux Oeufs d’Or (1905, The Hen that Laid the Golden Eggs) and the English film The Hand of the Artist (1906) are two fine examples which highlight the ingenuity employed in early filmmaking.

In terms of Australia’s filmmaking techniques in those earliest cinema years, the Corricks developed their skills independently as did other cinematographers of the day. Contemporaneous works include Patineur Grotesque (1896, The Humorous Rollerskater), a novelty comedy act shot by visiting French cinematographer Marius Sestier and Australia’s earliest surviving film; The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), acknowledged as the world’s first true feature film, running for more than an hour and surviving in over 15 minutes of fragments restored by the NFSA; and Soldiers of the Cross (1900), a Salvation Army production which was part of one of the world’s first multimedia productions combining film with glass slides, lectures and songs.

In an age when international travel was not common for most people, the travelogue films were a popular part of the Corrick shows, transporting audiences to the exotic worlds of Africa, Europe and the Middle East (including the French Fantasias Arabes, 1909). Also known as ‘scenics’, travelogues were often single-shot actuality films recording people milling at a train station or walking along the street. They extended to parades and special occasions and sometimes included a novelty or event to give a point of interest as they were generally unscripted. For example the fight on the street in Street Scenes in Perth, Western Australia (1907) may have been staged for the camera. The technology of the day limited the amount of film that could be shot, but by the coming of sound travelogues had become full-blown narratives such as Frank Hurley’s Treasures of Katoomba (1936) and Isle of Many Waters (1939).

The Picture Show Man (1977) lovingly re-creates the 1920s era of itinerant travelling entertainers with shows incorporating vaudeville comedy acts, audience singalongs and silent films screened with piano accompaniment. Whilst very different to the Marvellous Corricks’ ten-person troupe of musicians, orators, comics and kinematographers, The Picture Show Man still offers a hint of what it must have been like to travel the countryiside, endlesssly setting up and pulling down the show. The rediscovery and preservation of the Corrick Collection films now brings that picture into even sharper focus.

Almost all of the short films in the collection have survived in excellent condition, several being the only surviving copies in the world. The NFSA is restoring the entire Corrick Collection over a five-year period. Read more about this extraordinary project and how to see the films on the NFSA website.

Titles in this collection

The Hand of the Artist 1906

The artist’s hand gives a young man and woman a number of options for romance. This English short film was used by the Corrick family entertainers in their performances.

La Poule aux Oeufs d’Or 1905

A fable of wealth and greed leads to disaster for a farmer and his wife. The Corrick family entertainers incorporated this early French film into their touring show.

Street Scenes in Perth, Western Australia 1907

Leonard Corrick recorded actuality-style footage in places where the Corricks were currently performing.