To mark 100 years since the beginning of WW1, the BFI have released A Night at the Cinema in 1914. The idea behind the film is to recreate the experience of the average cinema goer at the time, and is a blend of newsreels and short films (features weren’t readily available at the time). There’s films such as ‘Austrian Tragedy’, reporting on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand with footage of the Austro-Hungarian royal family, mixed in with ‘Egypt and Her Defenders’, a travelogue of the landmarks of the country. Of course, no 1914 cinema outing would be complete without Charlie Chaplin, and in this instance A Film Johnnie rounds off the piece, ending on a slightly more uplifting note than how the programme begun – there was a war on, after all.
It’s certainly an exciting and interesting concept. Programming at the time was obviously not crafted the way it is now. Film was still in its infancy almost, and just the very act of being able to see images from far flung lands would have been excitement enough, let alone the opportunity to watch comedies and tales of adventure in a setting which for many would still have been a novel experience. The film is scored by Stephen Horne, one of Britain’s leading silent film composers, to ensure an authentic war-time experience.
The main issue with the film is that it is now being shown to a far more sophisticated audience. Whilst a lot of archive film takes short clips from many places that are cut to form a narrative that in itself forms an entirely different film altogether, the simple act of watching a series of programmes makes for a unique experience, it doesn’t necessarily make for an edge-of-your-seat watch. This of course, is down to the personal taste of the viewer, and the researchers have taken care to ensure that a variety of different films are shown, so at the very least, everybody should be able to take something away from it.
That said, the BFI’s dedication to the preservation, restoration and exhibition of such work can never be highly praised enough. It must be acknowledged that the very existence of the film, one that marks the heritage of our cinema, is something that we cannot underestimate or take for granted. To sit in a cinema 100 years later and watch Emmeline Pankhurst striding to petition the King is an experience that even 50 years ago, would not have seemed even possible. It’s a piece of social and cinematic history, and it’s absolutely remarkable.
Originally published on Hey U Guys