The Bioscope has reported on the BFI’s You Tube channel before now, but this just to alert you to the fact that they have been adding many more videos to the site, a good number of them silent. There are currently 177 videos, and there isn’t time or space enough to point out all of the gems that lie therein. So I’m just going to point you to three, and then urge you to go explore for yourselves.
To start with, here’s an odd little newsreel story from 1921 which I first showed at the National Film Theatre in 1992 (ah, memories):
The peculiar event on show is the Eton Wall Game, filmed by the Topical Budget newsreel. This sport, which only the British public school system could have produced, involves the schoolboys piling up into a scrum and trying to push a ball along the wall. If they get it to the end of a wall it’s a goal, but in the traditional St Andrew’s Day game there hasn’t been a goal scored since 1909. What is of interest here is that one of the boys taking part was Eric Blair – yes, the future George Orwell is somewhere in the pile of boys, and despite many people having stared very closely at the film over the past sixteen years, no one has spotted him as yet. So now it’s your turn.
This next gem is called Old London Street Scenes. That’s what we call a supplied title in the trade. It wasn’t called that originally, someone gave it the quaint title later:
This is a piece of footage which has been shown countless times on television because of its spectacular closing shots of London traffic. It demonstrates how a fixed camera single shot of ordinary human life can nevertheless astonish. Look out in particular for the epoch-making moment when a motor car appears among the horse-drawn carriages. It dates from 1903 (we know this because of some of the London shows seen advertised on posters on the passing vehicles). The likely production company is Walturdaw.
Finally, some more sport:
This is part of the extraordinary Mitchell & Kenyon collection of Edwardian era films. Having presumably sold all of the DVDs that they are probably likely to sell of this collection, the BFI has put up quite a selection on the YouTube site. This cricket film has been given the supplied title Arthur Mold Bowling to A.N. Hornby, and was made in 1901. As the DVD commentary (courtesy of Adrian Chiles) explains, there had been a huge controversy at the time when Lancashire’s Arthur Mold was accused of having a dodgy bowling action; that is, throwing (apologies for American readers who may not appreciate how profoundly shocking this to any cricket follower). So he appeared before the cameras demonstrating his bowling style, so that viewers could judge for themselves how legitimate he was. Compared to, say Muttiah Mulitharan, you may wonder what the fuss was about (a bit sideways on, maybe, but hardly chucking). Or, for poetry lovers among you, note simply that the batsman in the nets with Mold is A.N. Hornby, subject of a famous set of lines by Francis Thompson (the poem is called ‘At Lord’s’), recalling the cricket of his youth (when, of course, the game was always better):
For the field is full of shades as I near a shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host
As the run stealers flicker to and fro,
To and fro:
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!
On which wistful note, let me just recommend once again the BFI’s YouTube site (not all silents, not all non-fiction, by the way), and look out for further posts on the stories behind one or two of the videos to be found there, in due course.