This is a really fascinating idea, and a hugely entertaining hour and a half of anyone’s time. The BFI has compiled a typical “mixed” cinema programme from a century ago, and is releasing it theatrically this summer. It’s called, of course, A Night at the Cinema in 1914, and it comes out in August. Yes, you may be seated in an air-conditioned room with comfy seats and Dolby 5.1 sound, but you’ll be able to watch a variety bill of drama, actuality, comedy, serials and travelogues – just like your own great-grandparents in the Hippodromes of yore.
Some of the titles in the bill will be familiar to you, but there are a few surprises too – and the cumulative experience of watching 15 films in one sitting is wholly refreshing. There’s Chaplin, Florence Turner and Pimple larking about, but also newsreel footage from the front, and from suffragette demonstrations in London, and Ernest Shackleton’s preparations for his Antarctic voyage. Of course, there’s a segment from The Perils of Pauline, and an opportunity for a singalong too. Music is provided by an expert – Stephen Horne has recorded an improvised score for the whole shebang.
Cinema a century ago was a new, exciting and highly democratic form of entertainment. Picture houses nationwide offered a sociable, lively environment in which to relax and escape from the daily grind. With feature films still rare, the programme was an entertaining, ever-changing roster of short items with live musical accompaniment. 100 years on, this special compilation from the BFI National Archive recreates the glorious miscellany of comedies, dramas, travelogues and newsreels which would have constituted a typical night out in 1914
You really couldn’t ask for a better introduction to early and silent film, and it’s a real treat for those of us geeks too.
I’ve been very lucky with this one – I’ve had a sneak preview of A Night at the Cinema in 1914, and I had the chance to talk to Bryony Dixon and Stephen Horne about the project too. You can read my feature in the August issue of Sight & Sound magazine, which is out now.
It’s a cracker of an issue of course, and if you need further silent-film related reason to buy a copy, I’ve written the Primal Screen column this month too, all about the Women Film Pioneers project: a website so stonkingly brilliant that if you don’t love it, we can’t really be friends.