Only the screen was silent

I was pleased to find a copy of Harry Blacker’s Just Like it Was: Memoirs of the Mittel East (London: Vallentine, Mitchell, 1974) in a second-hand bookshop recently. This memoir of a childhood spent in London’s East End in the early years of the twentieth century has a marvellously evocative section on going to the cinema before the First World War. Here’s an extract:

On the diminutive screen, the ‘big picture’ had already started. Under it, curtained off from the main audience, Miss Daniels, a heavily made up brunette, played a piano accompaniment to the tragic drama that flickered overhead. The heat was terrific. A perpetual buzz of conversation mingled with the crackle of peanut shells that littered the floor like snow in winter. Every step in any direction crunched … Nearby, children were reading the titles out loud for the benefit of their foreign parents. Some even translated the words directly into Yiddish. Babies cried, kids were slapped, and an endless procession to the ‘ladies and gents’ was greeted by outraged cries of ‘Siddown’. Only the screen was silent.

Americanizing the movies

Americanizing the Movies

Richard Abel’s latest look is Americanizing the Movies and “Movie-Mad” Audiences, 1910-1914. Its subject is the relationship between early cinema and the construction of a national identity. Abel analyses film distribution and exhibition practices to reconstruct a context for understanding moviegoing at a time when American cities were coming to grips with new groups of immigrants and women working outside the home. It makes use of a hugely impressive range of archival sources archive prints, the trade press, fan magazines, newspaper advertising, reviews, and syndicated columns.

Crime and deviancy

The British Silent Cinema Festival is now in its 10th year. The festival is held at the Broadway, Nottingham, and is a ‘celebration’ of British cinema before 1930, organised in collaboration with the British Film Institute. The Festival aims to showcase the vast collection of films, fiction and non fiction, produced in Britain before the advent of sound. This year’s theme is Underworld: Crime and Deviancy in the British Silent Film. The call for papers is now closed. The Festival is taking place 26-29 April 2007.