BFI present A Night at the Cinema in 1914
A collection of short silent films from 100 years ago with a new score by composer Stephen Horne.
“With feature films still rare, the programme was an entertaining, ever-changing roster of short items with live musical accompaniment.”
This piece is presented as what a typical night at the cinema in 1914 could have entailed. From our perspective a 100 years on, it’s hard to know what life would be like at the time when the moving image was a novel experience. The world is a much changed place, with 24 hour news services, twitter and facebook giving you current events within seconds of them occurring. In fact, one of the few times you feel separated from world is when you are in a cinema with your phone turned off!
The early segments are news reels and it was a fascinating time in history, not least due to the start of the first world war. We get to see the devastation caused by bombing of a small town in Belgium and troops preparing for their trip to the front line. Scouts are told to help the war effort by watching the shores. We also get to see the plight of women closer to home, with the arrests of 50 suffragettes outside Buckingham Palace, as women continued their battle for equality.
The longer pieces were in the form of several shorts, such as a woman who was determined to win a funny face competition. She gets in trouble with the law, due to scaring people. It seems simple when viewed with our modern eye. Two other segments fare better and captured the imagination. Lt. Pimple and the stolen submarine was something of a revelation, and this comedy had lots of inventive moments, playing with the form and their limitations of filming under water. An early Charlie Chaplin short was also included, Film Johnny. It’s easy to see why he became a star as his work is still funny today, his gift for slap stick comedy is rarely surpassed.
This collection of shorts and newsreel footage is interesting as it gives us an insight into another life. Some of the shorts have dated badly, while others are just as funny as they were at the time. A number of the stars in the shorts were famous, but their time in the lime light has long since ended and they are now unknown. Only Chaplin has survived, and he was at the very top of his craft. The others names have disappeared entirely, and it makes you wonder who will be remembered in another 100 years from today’s stars of the silver screen.