First things first – you’re all invited to a bank holiday Monday party! Some friends of mine, based in London’s most happening* postcode of E17 will be unveiling a plaque on 1 May 2017 to celebrate a slice of suburban London’s silent movie history. And you should be there!
Walthamstow was home to several movie studios in the silent era – Precision, British & Colonial, Broadwest and I. B. Davidson all had their premises on these streets. Why? Because silent film producers loved to shoot in the suburbs, beyond the “fog zone” of central London, where the air was muggy, and apparently the movie-savvy punters would try to get their faces on camera. But they liked to stay close enough to Theatreland that their actors could get back to work after shooting finished.
So on 1 May, actor Paul McGann (who you may know is a bit of a silent film fan) will be unveiling a special blue plaque to mark the sites of the Precision studios, and he says: “I am proud to be associated with this event to give the deserved recognition to the silent film pioneers of the last century.” There will be more plaques to follow, marking the site of each studio.
So, yesterday I spent the afternoon in the cinema watching 18 movies. Jealous, right? I was lucky enough to be part of the judging panel for the Walthamstow International Film Festival and we were watching the shortlisted works in order to hand out some prizes. It’s a fun job, and a great local festival that I am chuffed to be a tiny part of. All the entries are around five minutes or less, and while the festival encourages local film-makers, particularly young people, it is open to all, and this year we saw films from as far away as Australia, Argentina and Hong Kong. Our overall winner was the fantastically moving, and intriguing, Speed by Jessica Bishop – a film that interrogates the grieving process by counterpointing family photos and voices. A worthy winner indeed.
Walthamstow is at the very heart of the British film industry, or at least it used to be. Between 1910 and 1930, 400 movies were made in London’s E17 postcode at four studios, including a very grand establishment on Wood Street that was built by the Broad West Film Company in 1914. Nowadays, the suburb is more associated with a 90s boyband than film pioneers, but that doesn’t mean that the locals have turned their back on the area’s cinematic heritage. This summer, for example, the BFI will be showcasing the silent work of a little-known local film-maker called Alfred Hitchcock.
Check out this picture of the Wood Street Studio in the silent era. And do read this interview by Kevin Brownlow with Tilly Day, a woman who worked there as a Continuity Girl at the time. Her memories of a sharing a scene with Kenneth McLaglen, being frightened by the horses on location shoots in Epping Forest and watching Walter West directing silent films are all fascinating.
The Wood Street Pop-up Picture Palace will celebrate the days when Walthamstow was in the movie business in grand style on Friday night, with a special event that includes live music and the chance to dress up like a vintage film star. There’ll also be a screening of a new silent film, which incorporates animation and live action, and was filmed with help from the children of Woodside Primary School. I haven’t seen the movie myself, but the artists involved in the project are Elizabeth Hobbs, who makes animated films, and Emily Tracy, who produces beautiful light sculptures and collaborative art projects.
I popped down to the project’s offices at the new Wood Street Indoor Market on the weekend, but sadly they were closed. However I did spot a few sketches of the old Wood Street Studio that certainly intrigued me. Do get along to the special event on Friday 30 March, if you can. It’s free and promises to be very interesting and a lot of fun.
To read more about the indoor market, and other cultural events in E17, visit the very hip and happening Walthamstow Scene website.
We all have powerful memories of visits to the cinema – your first trip, as a child; the first time you saw your favourite film; your first cinema date; maybe even your first silent film. And if Alfred Hitchcock were here to share his memories with us, they would surely involve a few educational afternoons at the EMD cinema in Walthamstow, north-east London, where he watched silent films as a boy. We can’t all claim to have come away from the cinema as inspired as Hitchcock, but we all know what it’s like to stumble out of the foyer with images reeling around our heads, thinking: “I’ve got to see that again.”
Well, the EMD Cinema has fallen sadly out of use and into disrepair, but there is a thriving, celebrity endorsed campaign to get it up and running again. And the Save Our Cinema group wants to collect your cinema memories, not just of the EMD, but of other “characterful” independent picture palaces, all in the name of art. The stories will be collated and turned into an exhibition at the E17 Art Trail in September.
There are two strands to our special storytelling project – as well as written or recorded voxpops of YOUR OPINIONS, we’re looking for PERSONAL ANECDOTES about going to the pictures in a cinema with character. We hope to make sound and video clips of people telling their own stories, along with written pieces, photos, music and drawings. Whatever way you’d like to tell your story about why a distinctive cinema matters to you, we’re interested. If you have special memories of childhood matinees, first dates, first kiss!, wild nights at concerts or just a warm feeling about the place, we want to hear about it. If you missed the chance to visit the EMD before it was closed but you have first-hand stories of a cherished cinema somewhere else, please share them with us.
So if you have a cinematic story to tell, do get involved – you might even help to save Hitchcock’s cinema. If you want inspiration, here’s Ryan Gilbey, film critic of the New Statesman, showing us how it’s done. More details about the history of EMD Cinema can be found here, and details of the Storytelling project can be found on Facebook here. Maybe this is why they call it “awesomestow”.
To get involved, or to send your anecdotes, images, videos or audio clips, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet @saveourcinema or send post to Save Walthamstow Cinema, 39-41 High St, London E17 7AD