Make more noise! More than a silent film? More noise than an Edwardian lady? No, more noise than the patriarchy.
Make More Noise! is the title of boisterous new compilation from the BFI, an anthology of films related to the British campaign for women’s suffrage. It contains newsreels of protests and personal appearances by the leaders of the movement, as well as short fiction and actuality films that reveal the changing role of women in British society. In the second category, you’ll spot Tilly films, and footage of women working in munitions factories and field hospitals. It’s a fascinating mix, beautifully programmed by Bryony Dixon and Margaret Deriaz and superbly scored by Lillian Henley.
This anthology pretty much had me at hello – the combination of early cinema and feminism is right up my street. But I’d like to think that Make More Noise! holds an appeal for people who aren’t pre-sold on the content that way. If you enjoyed Sarah Gavron’s very moving Suffragette, this programme gives you a more complete picture of the world of the characters in that movie – these are the films they would have seen at the cinema, the ideas they would have discussed at the dinner table, and just possibly, a glimpse of their future.
If a protester died at a major sporting event in 2015, social media would soon be bouncing around grainy 30-second clips from awkward angles. But when Emily Davison fell under the King’s horse at the 1913 Derby, the newsreel cameramen weren’t even aware they had caught a landmark in political history in a cool long-shot. Here it is, alongside less well-known scenes of protests, marches and meetings in central London. Here you can see social change happen in front of your eyes: messy, violent and occasionally slow.
The comedies here, such as Milling the Militants (1913) and Wife the Weaker Vessel (1915), reveal how ideas of a kind of women’s liberation intruded into private homes – with rebellious wives outsmarting indignant husbands.
If you missed it in the cinemas, or it didn’t play near you, then you may have your eye on this new DVD release. If you saw it at the flicks, you may well want the chance to rewind and enjoy it again. I did.
For the benefit of those who haven’t already added this to their letter to Santa, here’s what else you get on the disc. First, the compilation itself, and a chance to enjoy Henley’s brilliant piano accompaniment all over again. Second, a booklet packed with details about the films, putting them in useful context, and essays by Bryony Dixon, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (on the “gutsy British women who fought tirelessly for the vote”) and Henley too, who reveals that when she recorded these scores, she made so much noise that she broke the piano.
The third extra is the best though – 12 more films. Most of them are very short, but there are some fascinating actualities in there, and a return visit from the Tilly girls. All the bonus films are scored by Henley and accompanied by explanatory notes, so it really is like returning for second helpings.
One of my favourites among the extras is a one-minute clip from 1911 labelled Suffragette Pageant in London in which “all the famous women in history are represented”. Wouldn’t you love to see something similar staged in the streets of London today? And you can be sure that Emmeline Pankhurst would be among the women celebrated in costume today too.