Charles Urban

Charles Urban

Charles Urban (April 14, 1867 – August 29, 1942) was an Anglo-American film producer and distributor, and one of the most significant figures in British cinema before the First World War. He was a pioneer of the documentary, educational, propaganda and scientific film, as well as being the producer of the world's first successful motion picture colour system.


Early life

Urban was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Urban first entered the film industry in 1895 when he exhibited the Kinetoscope in Detroit, Michigan in 1895. He moved to Britain in 1897, and became managing director of the Warwick Trading Company, where he specialised in actuality film, including newsfilm of the Anglo-Boer War. In 1903 he formed his own company, the Charles Urban Trading Company, moving to London's Wardour Street in 1908, the first film business to be located in what became the home of the British film industry.

In 1903, he created a one-minute-long science film named The Cheese Mites[1] which features cheese mites crawling around on a piece of Stilton.[2] It was an early science film, possibly the first made for the public,[3] and as such amazed viewers. It also affected the price and sales of cheap microscopes,[4] increasing the sales[3] and causing the producers to include packets of mites as samples.[4]

In 1904, Urban made a 12-minute silent documentary film called Living London, which was rediscovered at the National Film and Sound Archive in Australia in October 2008. The shows Londoners going about their business on a typical day.[5]

Among his other business interests was a French production company in Paris called Éclipse, which Urban founded in 1906, mainly to supply fiction films. His connection with that company lasted until 1909. He also established Kineto Limited in 1907, primarily for the production of scientific and non-fiction films.[6]

In 1906, his associate George Albert Smith (1864–1959) developed a two-colour (red-green) additive motion picture system, which Urban launched in 1908. From 1909 it was known as Kinemacolor. This enjoyed great success worldwide until 1914. Urban's most celebrated Kinemacolor film was a two and a half hour epic With Our King and Queen Through India (1912), also known as The Durbar in Delhi, depicting the December 1911 Delhi Durbar which celebrated the coronation of George V. Kinemacolor expanded its operations to produce fictional feature films such as The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1914), but the company soon foundered.

World War I

During World War I, Urban worked for British propaganda outfits, producing the documentary features Britain Prepared and Fight for the Dardanelles (both 1915) and editing the classic documentary The Battle of the Somme (1916). He then promoted British war films in America.

Later life

In 1921, Urban relocated to America to establish himself as a producer of educational films, such as The Four Seasons (1921). He built a large studio at Irvington, New York, and planned to introduced a new color film system called Kinekrom, based on the earlier Kinemacolor. However, his business interests collapsed in 1924 and he returned to the UK in the late 1920s. He died in Brighton in 1942 in relative obscurity.

Notes and references

External links

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