The above clips are theatrical advertising trailers that would have been seen in Vancouver cinemas between about 1928 and 1937. They were advertisements produced on film for screening to movie audiences; this was an exhibition trend during the silent film era and well into the sound era.
The first two trailers came to the BC Archives in 1982 from the provincial Office of the Fire Commissioner. They’re on a reel of 35 mm film, which probably ended up at the Fire Commissioner’s office after someone found it and thought it might be on cellulose nitrate film stock, which is highly inflammable. The archives received three 35 mm reels in all from the Fire Commissioner as accession F1982:10. (The film items on those reels are described on-line in the BC Archives’ AtoM system.) Through careful testing by the technical staff, it was established that all of the material was on acetate (“Safety”) stock.
[Marriage fable] and East Side vs. West Side are both printed on film stock manufactured in 1928; they came with no other documentation. They were retained by the archives and described as representative examples of silent theatrical advertising trailers, source unknown, that had found their way to BC. Years later, when I was taking a closer look at the original films, it occurred to me that they might have been produced locally in Vancouver. Sure enough, both of the commercial firms mentioned in the trailers — Restmore Manufacturing Company and John Watson Limited — turned out to be the names of Vancouver companies. That being the case, it’s safe to assume that they were made by a Vancouver production company named Motion Skeenadz Limited.
Motion Skreenadz, originally operated by J. Howard Boothe and Harry Rosenbaum, was founded in 1920 to make advertising trailers like these. A related company, Vancouver Motion Pictures Limited, was started in 1928 to provide film lab and technical services; both companies were based in the Film Exchange Building at the corner of Burrard and Davie in downtown Vancouver. In 1936-37, businessman Leon C. Shelly took over both companies and began making promotional and industrial films for BC companies, the provincial government, and the National Film Board. Many of Shelly’s employees would make important contributions to the development of the Canadian film and television industries.*
The third trailer shown here, known as [Pacific Milk advertising trailer: “Why?”], was made by Motion Skreenadz around 1937. It shows some progress in the Skreenadz product, since it was shot with synchronized sound on a studio set. The design of the piece, starting with an on-screen announcer and moving to a scripted dialogue with actors, represents a more sophisticated approach than the simple, “shot-on-the-fly” stories of the earlier trailers. The archives’ video master of “Why?” was copied from a 35 mm nitrate print loaned in 1987 by Lew Parry, who succeeded Leon Shelly as B.C.’s leading producer of industrial films in the years 1945 to 1977. Parry directed “Why?”, and he is shown at work in a fascinating production still from the shoot (below).
The Pacific Milk ad is followed by 47 seconds of edited silent footage of a fashion show, with women modeling expensive furs. This may have been yet another Motion Skreenadz advertising trailer, possibly made to promote a Vancouver furrier such as Pappas Furs or G.L. Pop.
In later decades, theatres continued to show “coming attractions” trailers as part of each movie program, but this form of advertising (i.e., for products outside the cinematic realm) gradually disappeared from the program — along with the regular newsreels, cartoons, and travelogues that used to accompany each feature film. Theatrical advertising reappeared in the 1990s and is now a regular part of most commercial movie screenings; the ads are pretty much identical to TV commercials, and they’re something we all have to sit through before we can see the “feature presentation”.
These vintage trailers, however, were something different. They offered more of a “soft sell”; their makers attempted to tell little stories, and they highlighted the sponsor’s product almost as an afterthought.
* Dennis J. Duffy, Camera West: British Columbia on Film, 1941-1965 (Victoria: Provincial Archives, 1986), pp. 11-12.