A Sea Cave Near Lisbon

A Sea Cave Near Lisbon is an 1896 British short silent actuality film, directed by Henry Short, featuring a view looking out to sea through the Boca do Inferno (Hell's Mouth) cave near Lisbon, with waves breaking in. The film was popular with audiences and received positive reviews.

A Sea Cave Near Lisbon
Screenshot from the film
Directed byHenry Short
Produced byRobert W. Paul
CinematographyHenry Short
Paul's Animatograph Works
Release date
  • 22 October 1896 (1896-10-22)
Running time
13 secs
CountryUnited Kingdom


A Sea Cave Near Lisbon consists of a single shot, looking out through the entrance of the Boca do Inferno (Hell's Mouth) cave near Lisbon. Waves enter the cave, breaking on the rocks at the cave's mouth. The film lasts 13 seconds.


In 1896, film pioneer R. W. Paul sent his associate Henry Short on a film-making trip to the Iberian Peninsula, with a new lightweight portable camera he had developed.[1] Paul, who had earlier in the year developed a projection system known as the "Theatrograph", was at the time in commercial competition with the Lumière brothers, who themselves had demonstrated a projection system in London on the same day, 20 February. The Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square, London, were impressed by Paul's system and offered him a contract to supply equipment and staff. Paul was thus keen to acquire footage to make a positive impact on audiences at the Alhambra.[2]

During the five-week trip in August and September, Short created 18 actuality films, mostly in the cities of Cádiz, Lisbon, Madrid and Seville. Most of these were either urban views, including the Puerto del Sol in Madrid and Triana, Seville, or cultural scenes, such as an Andalusian dance and Fado performers.[3]

Films documenting waves had become popular with audiences, as exemplified by the April 1896 film Rough Sea at Dover, and many others were produced in the years up to 1912.[4] A Sea Cave Near Lisbon was, however, the first cinematic depiction of a cave.[5][6] Short travelled to the Boca do Inferno for filming on 13 September.[3] It was filmed using a camera mounted on a boat inside the cave.[7]

Release and receptionEdit

The film was shown for the first time at the Alhambra Theatre on 22 October 1896,[4] as the thirteenth part of a fourteen-part programme of Short's films, entitled "A Tour in Spain and Portugal".[8][n 1] Paul included it in his film catalogue for wider exhibition, where it was described as "a very striking and artistic photograph of a large cave near the Atlantic coast, into which waves dash with great violence".[1]

The film was immediately popular with audiences and received very positive reviews. A reviewer in The Era described it as "one of the most beautiful realisations of the sea that we have ever witnessed...the grandeur of the scenes are remarkable".[4] The Daily Telegraph described it as "a picture of real beauty".[9] In the Morning Post, a reviewer described it as "one of the most remarkable effects produced by any of the 'graphies' yet put forward".[9] The film was the most popular of the 14 films, and one of the most successful films in early British cinema.[10][11] Its popularity continued in subsequent years, and it still appeared in Paul's sales catalogue in 1903, with the statement: "This film has never been equalled as a portrayal of fine wave effects".[4]


Film historian Michael Brooke has described the film as "a very impressive achievement", and "one of the first instances in early cinema of a creative approach towards framing a shot".[12]

He has also pointed to the importance of A Sea Cave Near Lisbon and the other films shown in A Tour of Spain and Portugal in terms of its contribution to the history of the British documentary movement, of which he describes R. W. Paul as "was one of its most important precursors." Where previously, factual films generally consisted of stand-alone actualities intended for individual show, the programme put together by Paul from Henry Short's sequences was his first attempt to gather short actualities into a longer collective work. Paul sent Short on a similar trip to Egypt in 1897. From this time Paul continued to experiment with multi-shot actualities, leading to longer works such as Army Life (1900) and Whaling Afloat and Ashore (1908).[1]

Unlike most of the other films from Short's trip, A Sea Cave Near Lisbon has survived in its entirety, and has been made available on the British Film Institute DVD collection RW Paul: The Collected Films 1895-1908, with music by silent film accompanist Stephen Horne.


  1. ^ The four other films brought back by Short, namely two shots of bull fights and two other Lisbon street scenes, were not included in the programme, or in Paul's film catalogue.[3]
  1. ^ a b c Brooke, Michael. "Paul's Animatograph Works: Longer Actualities". Screenonline. British Film Institute. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  2. ^ Soto Vázquez, "Lo que de real tiene el mar", p. 206.
  3. ^ a b c Soto Vázquez, "Lo que de real tiene el mar", p. 209.
  4. ^ a b c d Petterson, Palle B. (2011). Cameras Into the Wild: A History of Early Wildlife and Expedition Filmmaking, 1895-1928. McFarland. pp. 32–33. ISBN 978-0-7864-6166-0.
  5. ^ Howes, C. J. (1989). "E. K. Tratman's Underground Cine Films 1933-1937" (PDF). Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society. 18 (3): 415.
  6. ^ Travassos, Luiz Eduardo Panisset (2007). "Visões do relevo cárstico na mídia: literatura, filmes e notícias" (PDF). Revista de Biologia e Ciências da Terra (in Portuguese). 7 (2): 111. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 November 2013.
  7. ^ "Still from Sea Cave Near Lisbon". Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  8. ^ Barnes, John (1983). Pioneers of the British film. Bishopsgate Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-1-85219-012-5.
  9. ^ a b Brown, Julie; Davison, Annette (1 November 2012). The Sounds of the Silents in Britain. Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-19-933975-4.
  10. ^ Barnes, John (1983). The Rise of the Cinema in Great Britain. Bishopsgate Press, Limited. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-900873-51-5.
  11. ^ Herbert, Stephen. "Henry William ('Harry') Short". Who's Who of Victorian Cinema. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  12. ^ Brooke, Michael. "Sea Cave Near Lisbon, A (1896)". Screenonline. British Film Institute. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  • Soto Vázquez, Begoña (2004). "Lo que de real tiene el mar. Sobre 'A tour in Spain and Portugal' (R.W. Paul / H.W. Short, 1896)". In Pedro Poyato Sánchez (ed.). El Documental, carcoma de la ficción. Tomo I. Filmoteca de Andalucía. ISBN 9788496229167.

External linksEdit