On 18 April 1910 Joyce was contacted about closing the Volta cinema.
The Volta was the first cinema in Dublin, opened in December 1909 by Joyce with the backing of a group of Triestine businessmen. But, by April 1910, Joyce’s partners felt the enterprise had failed and they wrote to say they wanted to sell the cinema.
The idea for a cinema in Dublin came from Eva Joyce when she arrived in Trieste with Joyce in September 1909. At that time there were twenty-one cinemas in Trieste and none in Dublin, and Eva thought a Dublin cinema would be a successful venture. Joyce mentioned it to his friend, the lawyer Niccolò Vidacovich, who seemed taken with the idea.
Vidacovich introduced Joyce to a group of Triestine businessmen who had already opened a cinema – the Volta – in Budapest. Giuseppe Caris had opened the first cinema in Trieste – Il Cine Americano – in 1905 and owned a textiles shop; Antonio Machnich ran a few cinemas and a carpet shop; and Giovanni Rebez ran the Salone Edison cinema and sold tanned hides.
The partners agreed to put up the money for cinemas in Dublin, Belfast and Cork, though in the end nothing came of the cinemas in Belfast or Cork. For his part, Joyce agreed to provide his knowledge and to do the work of establishing and launching the cinemas. A contract was signed between Joyce, Caris, Rebez, and Machnich’s wife Caterina on 16 October 1909, and with money supplied by the partners Joyce set off for Dublin on 18 October.
He found a suitable location on Mary Street and the partners arrived in Dublin in November to be joined later by a new partner, Francesco Novak, a bicycle shop owner, who was to manage the cinema, and Guido Lenardon, the projectionist. The cinema opened on 20 December 1909 and had an audience capacity of 420.
Despite its novelty, the venture seems to have been failing from the start, possibly because Dublin audiences were not interested in the Italian and European films that were shown. By April 1910 the partners wrote to Joyce to see if he could find a buyer for it. He asked his father to contact the British Provincial Cinema Company, but John Joyce did nothing about it. Eventually, the cinema was sold in June 1910 at a loss for all the partners involved.
Sources & Further Reading:
McCourt, John: The Years of Bloom – James Joyce in Trieste 1904-1920, Dublin: Lilliput, 2001.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Zimmermann, Marc: The History of Dublin Cinemas, Dublin: Nonsuch Publishing, 2007.