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How The Cinema Began in Alexandria...

Ten minutes spent with Mr. Conegliano and Signor Rambaldini in that dark and animated room of the management of the Alhambra. The show is about to begin in ten minutes and Bettino is gracious enough to receive me. There is even a crowd in the room: no doubt they are friends. The amused smile on Mademoiselle Léa’s face shows that she is listening to the interview with great interest…

‘The first cinema camera to be imported into Egypt, was by my late father, Salomon Conegliano. It was a Lumière camera. That was at the end of the last century (in 1898, I think). It was set up in an annex of the old Alhambra Theatre, which at that time was located in the Rue de la Gare du Caire. Short two to three minute films were projected there, including the inevitable Arroseur arrosé which must have been seen the world over! The projection room, which was hermetically closed, was dark red to make the projection appear bright, because at that time, the sheet which served as a screen had to be transparent and the film was projected behind the screen!”

Signor Rambaldini reminds us how at the turn of the century there were at least three cinemas competing against each other for the Alexandrian audience: the Cosmograph, the Urbanora and the Belle-Vue. In 1908, the Eden Casino was inaugurated with its double act of cinema and music hall. Located by Ramleh Station, the Eden had the peculiarity of having two projectors in the same room. Whilst a short comic film was being shown on one side of the room, on the other the audience would be clapping to a drama in three acts… and which lasted twenty-five minutes! Those who were not happy simply had to change places!

Oh the beautiful films of the day! L’Abîme (The Abyss) the first great film in two parts with the Swedish star Asta Nnielson (that was perhaps in 1912); Les Tentations de la Grande Ville (The Temptations of the Big City), La Jérusalem Délivrée (Jerusalem Delivered) — all Swedish films from the “Nnordish Film” Company (I am just guessing at the spelling).

“The first American films,” adds Mr. Conegliano in turn, “appeared in 1914. One of the first produced by the Laski Company was Among Eagles. Nnewcasts were also given: the first were produced in France by Méliès. But that takes us so far back.”

And while Signor Rambaldini is reliving the past, we feel the urgent need to return to the present and the lights of the city. Good Gracious! A camera is worse than an old wardrobe for giving one the blues!

Sunday 7 June 1936