A documentary about the early years of silent films made in Britain. Showing that it wasn't just a few, easily dismissed comedies, but many high quality films including some very popular ... See full summary »

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Matthew Sweet ...
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Ian Christie ...
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Bryony Dixon ...
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Michael Eaton ...
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Frank Gray ...
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Joan Morgan ...
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George Pearson ...
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Mabel Poulton ...
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Chrissie White ...
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A documentary about the early years of silent films made in Britain. Showing that it wasn't just a few, easily dismissed comedies, but many high quality films including some very popular comedies and some fine dramas. Matthew Sweet shows through examples how the art and even the language of film was developed by some of these pioneers working in Britain. Written by Steve Crook <steve@brainstorm.co.uk>

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31 May 2006 (UK)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Accessible and engaging for casual viewers but also affectionate and detailed enough to appeal to those with a passion for the subject as well
6 May 2007 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

In the early says of cinema, Britain was one of the pioneers of the medium, producing thousands of short films and using styles and techniques for the first time that would become so common to be unnoticeable now. This documentary uses clips and the odd contribution to build a history of the films, directors, producers and actors from the period.

The film opens with the fact that the BFI only holds hundreds of films from the period in their vault despite their having been thousands made. It goes on to discuss the accepted wisdom about the birth of cinema in the UK and how many records quote the universally harsh critics of the time despite never having seen the films themselves. This has led to the accepted wisdom being all about Hollywood being on the cutting edge all alone with the UK industry at the time being compared to how it is now. It is an unfair history of the period and one that this film and presenter Matt Sweet seeks to address.

This is done by building from the very early stage of cinema in the UK and indeed three men who all tried and failed to make "moving images" work before anyone else managed it are covered up front. Sweet carries this path on, chronologically going through the main films and players, providing detail and discussion on and around them. For this reason it is an interesting and engaging documentary for anyone with a passing interest in film history. The film doesn't have many strong contributions from people other than Sweet and, although this is a minor problem it is perhaps an understandable one given the time that has passed and the fact that the history is so thin on the ground in this area.

Casual viewers vaguely interested in cinema history will find it accessible and easy to follow and it is affectionate and detailed enough to appeal to those with a passion for the subject as well. Probably helps to have picked up a DVD featuring British silent shorts or have downloaded some from the BFI but even with no previous knowledge it is an engaging documentary.


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