I can’t believe I had forgotten about this little Joycean tidbit until my interview with Vincent O’Neill. James Joyce started Dublin’s first cinema in 1909.
In the early 1900s, demand for moving pictures was fierce and cinemas were springing up all over the world. After visiting Trieste, the writer James Joyce was determined to bring a cinema to Ireland, so after receiving the backing of his Italian friends, he set up the Cinematograph Volta on Mary Street. It opened its doors on 20 December 1909. The opening night featured an eclectic program, with the comedy Devilled Crab, the mystery Bewitched Castle, La Pourponièrre, The First Paris Orphanage, and The Tragedy of Beatrice Cency.
Imagine the world where Joyce spent the rest of his life in Dublin running a picture house! I’m sure he could have kept writing, at least to some extent, but I’m not sure we’d have ever gotten Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake.
In any case, he abandoned the project after seven months:
Joyce soon became disillusioned with the venture, as the cinema mainly showed films from Europe and Italy, which were largely shunned by Dubliners at the time. [Editor’s note: Maybe they should have tried showing the movies with female action stars that Radha Vatsal described.] After seven months, Joyce withdrew his involvement and the cinema was sold to the British Provincial Cinema Company. The cinema stayed open until 1919.
Here’s a beautiful tribute to the world of Joyce’s Volta and its successor, the Lyceum: