I discovered this little nugget about film projection speed in a January 1916 issue of Moving Picture World, a trade magazine published throughout the silent film era. It’s rare to find mentions of a film’s running speed in the trades, very rare. When it happens, it tends to be the sort of complaint I found here.
“The Projection Department” is a four-page section of the Moving Picture World covering all sorts of topics related to projection. Usually technical stuff about the machinery, booth set-up, etc. In a brief paragraph of opinion in this particular issue, under the heading “Why Do They Do It?” I found something about the speed a Keystone was shown at.
The writer had caught a show at a Triangle theater in Brooklyn, and discussed the theater itself, some details about the projection booth, and what was on the bill. Which was, as the practice went then, all Triangle releases. The Triangle program running that week, in December 1915: Her Painted Hero (Keystone), The Disciple (Ince, with William S. Hart), Saved By Wireless (Keystone), and The Martyrs of the Alamo (dramatic feature from the Griffith studio, dir by Wm. Christy Cabanne). The shorts were 2-reelers, the features are 5-reelers. 14 reels of film.
Interestingly, all four of these films survive.
While the writer does not mention anything about the running speeds of the features or of Saved By Wireless, he vents that Her Painted Hero “was literally shot through [the projector] at no less than seventy feet per minute.”
Back then, feet-per-minute was the lingo used for speed more than frames-per-second; occasionally minutes-per-reel is used.
To save you doing the math of what feet-per-minute is, I’ll just let you know that 70 feet per minute lies somewhere between 18 and 19 fps.
A perfectly respectable speed for a Keystone. Heck, I’d go up to 20-ish (80 ft/min) for a 1915 Keystone.
While the outrage is from the reporter — and who knows what his experience as a projectionist may have been, if any — one would have to assume that this being a Triangle theater, they had their information on the appropriate or desired running speed for a Keystone.
You can read the article here.