Paul Merton’s Weird and Wonderful World of Early Cinema

A quick reminder in case those in the UK hadn’t spotted it, but tonight BBC4 is showing Paul’s Merton Weird and Wonderful World of Early Cinema. Merton continues on his mission to reveal the wonders of silent cinema to a general audience by going in search of the origins of screen comedy, revealing a “forgotten world of silent cinema – not in Hollywood, but closer to home in pre-1914 Britain and France”.

Revealing the unknown stars and lost masterpieces, he brings to life the pioneering techniques and optical inventiveness of the virtuosos who mastered a new art form. With a playful eye and comic sense of timing, Merton combines the role of presenter and director to recreate the weird and wonderful world that is early European cinema in a series of cinematic experiments of his own.

It should be interesting to see what is revealed. Such programmes – which are rare enough in themselves – not only open up largely hidden films to new audiences, but should be a lesson to those of us who may know these films well to see them in a fresh light, not least as a television commissioner sees them. The programme will be available on iPlayer for the usual week after transmission, and it would be interested to read people’s thoughts on it.

Merton also takes on early film in his interactive guide Paul Merton on Early British Comedy for the BFI’s Screenonline site. It’s a useful tour of the basics, well-illustrated with clips, covering Early Days, Fantastical Films, Fantasy & Realism, Cars & Robots, Facials, Stars, and Bad Boys & Girls; filmmakers such as James Williamson, Cecil Hepworth, Robert Paul, and Charles Urban; and performers such as Florence Turner, Fred Evans (Pimple) and Little Willy Saunders.

Paul Merton on Early British Comedy