Tuesday 24 October 2017

A Night at the Cinema 1914 (G) 'some very special moments'

A Night at the Cinema 1914
A Night at the Cinema 1914

George Byrne

Clearly a labour of love on the part of the good folk at the British Film Institute, A Night at the Cinema 1914 does exactly what it says in the title and takes us back to a time when feature-length films were a relative rarity.


Audiences were shown a wide range of shorts that encompassed everything from newsreels to comedies, animation and even a song synchronised to film.

Considering that film was in its infancy as a medium there are some every special moments to be enjoyed here, not least in the primitive special effects seen as a woman who's a face-pulling champion (there were a lot of music hall acts chancing their luck with this new-fangled forum) has a dream about the ghastly gurning she'd done during the day.  We get to see Lord Kitchener reviewing troops in Egypt, watch as the dogs for Shackleton's Antarctic expedition are chosen (sponsored by Spratt's Dog Food), in case thought commercial marketing was a recent phenomenon) and get a glimpse of the ruins of Louvain in Belgium, destroyed by a German barrage in September of that year.

The spirit of the music hall is very much in evidence, from the saucy song The Rollicking Rajah (he's a millionaire and he's "all there", apparently.  Oo-er missus!) to the cheap-as-chips comedies of Fred Evans as Lt Pimple (who made hundreds of clips for next to nothing) and the moustache-twirling villainy that perpetually hounded Pearl White in The Perils of Pauline.  Best of all, though, is the closing segment, The Film Johnnie, in which Charlie Chaplin causes havoc by invading a film set, this after we've seen him annoying fellow cinema-goers.  Oh yes, we're watching a film of Charlie Chaplin watching a film.  How meta was that for 1914?

At 80-odd minutes A Night at the Cinema 1914 is the perfect length for any film fan to get a look at how the form set out many of its trademark tropes from the off, with the excellent piano score from Stephen Horne adding to the magic.  Thoroughly recommended.


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