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Reel Spokes – Bikes on Film

Posted by Roy Stafford on 5 July 2014

Le tour races through itpworld‘s home town on July 6 so it seems appropriate to celebrate a glimpse of the Yellow Jersey with a favourite collection of images of bikes on film. Pride of place should go in this case to one of my favourite Jean-Luc Godard films, Une femme est une femme (France 1961) in which Anna Karina is the partner of Jean-Claude Brialy who follows sport with a passion, listening to football on the radio and cycling around the tiny apartment as he thinks about cycle races:

Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Brialy in UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME

Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Brialy in UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME

I’ve scoured the internet for interesting images and discovered several ‘bikes in the movies’ blogs. I’ve listed some of the best at the end of the post. Apologies to all concerned from whom I’ve borrowed images – I hope you feel that it’s a good cause.

Who could resist the idea of Stan and Ollie running a bike shop?

AIR RAID WARDENS (1943)

AIR RAID WARDENS (1943)

Five entries for the sexiest cyclist:

Emily Lloyd in WISHING YOU WERE HERE (d. David Leland, UK 1987)

Emily Lloyd in WISH YOU WERE HERE (d. David Leland, UK 1987)

Bernadettle Lafont in LES MISTONS (d. Francois Truffaut 1957)

Bernadette Lafont in LES MISTONS (d. Francois Truffaut 1957)

Jeanne Moreau with Oskar Werner and ? in JULES ET JIM (d. François Truffaut 1961)

Jeanne Moreau in JULES ET JIM (d. François Truffaut 1961)

Paul Newman in BUTCH CASSIDY & the SUNDANCE KID (d. George Roy Hill, 1969)

Paul Newman in BUTCH CASSIDY & the SUNDANCE KID (d. George Roy Hill, 1969)

Paul Newman and Katherine Ross in BUTCH CASSIDY & the SUNDANCE KID

Paul Newman and Katherine Ross in BUTCH CASSIDY & the SUNDANCE KID

Bikes can be sexy I think you’ll agree. Part of the appeal is the sense of freedom, the ‘go anywhere’ possibilities of the bike. But I have to confess those loose dresses and flashes of suntanned legs pumping the pedals are very alluring. As for Paul Newman on a bike, I’m not best equipped to explain why it works but it does. Here’s another trio:

Anna Karina gets help from Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur in Godard's A BANDE A PART (France 1964)

Anna Karina gets help from Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur in Godard’s A BANDE A PART (France 1964)

Nina Hoss in BARBARA (Germany 2012 dir. Christian Petzold)

Nina Hoss in BARBARA (Germany 2012 dir. Christian Petzold)

Cécile De France and Thomas Doret in LE GAMIN AU VÉLO (dirs Jean-Pierre et Luc Dardenne France-Belgium 2011)

Cécile De France and Thomas Doret in LE GAMIN AU VÉLO (dirs Jean-Pierre et Luc Dardenne France-Belgium 2011)

Our local cycling connection from film history is A Boy, A Girl and a Bike (dir. Ralph Smart, UK 1949) filmed in some of the locations visited by the Le tour this weekend. It’s remembered now partly because the British 1950s sex symbol Diana Dors has a minor role, but there is much more to it than that.

Honor Blackman looks back

Honor Blackman looks back

Miss Dors in the Dales

Miss Dors in the Dales

Sam (Patrick Holt) and Sue (Honor Blackman) out riding with the Wakeford Wheelers.

Sam (Patrick Holt) and Sue (Honor Blackman) out riding with the Wakeford Wheelers.

Bicycles feature in several well-known British films, here are a few more:

Maggie Smith in THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (dir. Ronald Neame, UK 1969)

Maggie Smith in THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (dir. Ronald Neame, UK 1969)

Cycling was once essential for workers and here’s a famous example of riding home from work. It’s appropriate that Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (dir Karel Reisz, UK 1960) was set in Nottingham, home to the UK’s most famous manufacturer of bicycles, Raleigh.

Besides the practicalities of cycling, bicycles are an important part of the neo-realist tradition – an important plot device in those societies where ownership of a bike, or even just the chance to ride one, can change people’s lives. Bicycle Thieves (dir Vittorio De Sica, Italy 1948) is perhaps the most influential film on new filmmakers across the world:

Antonio and Bruno ask their friends to help them look for the stolen bike in BICYCLE THIEVES

Antonio and Bruno ask their friends to help them look for the stolen bike in BICYCLE THIEVES

Two images from Beijing Bicycle (dir Wang Xiaoshuai, China 2001):

The bike is first leased to the courier . . .

The bike is first leased to the courier . . .

. . . and is then stolen by the schoolboy to impress his girlfriend

. . . and is then stolen by the schoolboy to impress his girlfriend

Bicycles have given women freedom at certain times and here in Late Spring (dir Ozu Yasujiro, Japan 1949) Hara Setsuko is able to go out for a ride inan unusual sequence from an Ozu film:

latespring

In some societies, the bicycle is a potent symbol of gender difference and cultural/religious conflict as in Wadjda (dir. Haifaa Al Mansour, Saudi Arabia-Germany 2012):

Tribeca Wadjda

and in The Day I Became a Woman (dir. Marziyeh Meshkini, Iran 2000)

Ahoo takes part in a bicycle race in THE DAY I BECAME a WOMAN

Ahoo takes part in a bicycle race in THE DAY I BECAME a WOMAN

And to round off our tribute to the peleton, a reminder of one of the most enjoyable bike films, Breaking Away (dir Peter Yates, US 1979)

BreakingAway

Here’s that list of useful sites:

http://ridesabike.com

http://www.dollyrockergirl.com/2011/05/i-want-to-ride-my-bicycle-bicycle.html

http://quitecontinental.net/tag/history/page/2/

http://hollywood-legacy.tumblr.com/post/48457889233/paul-newman-and-katharine-ross-as-butch-and

http://inter.pyramidefilms.com/content/beijing-bicycle

Happy pedalling!

Posted in Film culture | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Where have all the foreign language movies gone?

Posted by Roy Stafford on 1 February 2014

In the last few years, January has become a desert as far as diversity in UK cinemas is concerned. The US/UK ‘awards films’ fill all the specialised cinema screens that would usually take a major foreign language film release. Distributors are discouraged from competition with Hollywood and mainstream independent distributors. So, currently, 12 Years a Slave (eOne), American Hustle (Columbia/Entertainment) and Gravity (Warner Bros) are still in cinemas alongside The Wolf of Wall Street (Universal). Dallas Buyers’ Club (Universal) and Her (Warner Bros/Entertainment) are to open soon. We did get The Missing Picture the Cambodian entry for Foreign Language film (in French) a couple of weeks ago but only in a very small number of cinemas and the Palestinian entry Omar has not yet been released in the UK.

I’ve complained about this before but it is getting worse and as Charles Gant reported in Sight and Sound (February), 2013 was the worst year for foreign language films at the UK box office since he started monitoring data in 2007. I genuinely fear that we are going to lose the audience for these films. The two most dynamic film industries in the world in terms of production and domestic success in 2013 are China and South Korea. When was the last time you saw a Chinese or Korean film at the cinema? I should point out that both exhibitors and distributors are part of the problem, but both are likely to rely on perceptions of what audiences want. Where do these perceptions come from? If younger audiences have never had the chance to see foreign language films how can they form a view about them?

It’s very important to support any foreign language films you can find on release. We do get regular South Asian films in our multiplexes but they remain ghettoised. Please, please go and see what is on offer. I’m hoping to catch a Pakistani film today and a Chinese film on Tuesday (a special screening at Cornerhouse by the indispensable Chinese Film Forum UK). I’m also looking forward to tonight’s last two episodes of The Bridge on BBC4. The popularity of foreign language drama on UK TV is one of the few pluses at the moment.

February should bring the new Claire Denis film Bastards and Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best – while the former is most likely to attract devotees, the latter sounds like a return to more accessible filmmaking. I’m sure both will feature on the blog and I hope they find their audiences in cinemas.

Posted in Film audiences, Film awards lists, Film culture, Film exhibition, Film industry | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

The BFI Board of Governors

Posted by keith1942 on 13 January 2014

bfi_logo_bw_555px1

The British Film Institute is overseen by a Board of Governors. The Board can have up to 15 members [including a chairman) and most of them seem to be distinguished members of the Establishment. Their functions are set out in the Royal Charter of the Institute. Their appointment is proposed by a sub-committee of the Board: it has in the past advertised such vacancies. The Chairman has to be approved by the Secretary of State for Media, Culture and Sport. It was the case that Governors had to be approved by the UK Film Council but since its demise it is not clear if there is requirement for any approval beyond that of the Board.

There are also two member Governors, elected for a period of three years. The member Governors date from an earlier time when there was a large, angry meeting of members at the National Film Theatre: and expression of serious discontent with the running and organisation of the BFI. These Member Governors are elected by a combination of paid-up members of the BFI and subscribers to the Institute’s journal Sight & Sound. The latter is necessary as these days BFI membership is only worthwhile if one is resident in London or visits it regularly.

For the last few elections the Board has introduced a quota requirement on these elections: 10% of the electorate.  The only other area of British elections where I can think of quota requirements are the Trade Unions: which speaks volumes about the values of the Board members. The recent elections for Police Commissioners, for example, had no minimum requirement regarding the proportion of people voting. The BFI, like the Commissioners, administer public funds, so this would seem the relevant parallel.

The most recent election of a Member Governor was in the autumn of 2013. The result was as follows:

Dear Candidates,

As you are aware, voting for the election of a new Member Governor recently closed. The number of votes cast was commutated as follows as follows:

CANDIDATE

VOTES

% OF VOTES CAST

% OF TOTAL ELECTORATE

Karim NATHAN

333

21

1.1

Gerald FOX

304

19

1

Jason WOOD

303

19

1

Stephen KLOPPE

192

12

0.64

Francis BENNETT

161

10

0.53

Keith WITHALL

135

8

0.45

David MILLER

109

7

0.36

Duncan WHEELER

85

5

0.28

Total Number of Votes Cast

1,622

Percentage of Electorate

5.4%

Article 13 of the rules for electing a BFI Member to the Board of Governors requires 10% of the electorate to participate in the election. In circumstances where this is not the case, as in this instance, the election will be null and void. The Board of Governors will then determine how to fill the resulting vacancy.

I will contact you in due course to advise you of the determination of the Board.

Kind Regards     Iain Thomson  Board Secretary.

I have not seen any other communication on this topic, even as a voter. However, the minutes of the Board do contain further information. Following on from this at the October Meeting the Board members considered the election result and decided as follows:

a. Not to appoint the winning candidate in the BFI Member Governor Election 2013 owing to insufficient participation of the electorate and lack of a representative mandate;

b. To withdraw one of the two positions reserved for Member Governors on the BFI Board;

c. That the Nominations and Appointments Committee recommends a candidate to

the Board to fill the subsequent vacancy.

The above is recorded in the Minutes of the Meeting. The minutes are available online. However, the most recent minutes of those of the October Meeting though meetings are usually monthly. I should add that the only circular or reported information that I have seen from the BFI only records item a.: there appears to be no mention of items b. and c. anywhere.

A friend who is a member checked the Members’ pages online – and found a notice that I have not seen. It reported on the Election and ended with the following.

At a recent Board meeting it was determined that the vacant position of a second Member Governor will now be filled through the normal appointments process. A further vacancy will arise next year and the Board will decide on a course of action at that point.

It is likely that most readers of this will not realise that the ‘normal appointment process’ means what is actually recorded in the minutes.

In fact there is an information deficit on the Board. The minutes regularly exclude items on the grounds of confidentiality, though it is not clear what such items might be.  There is sometimes information available on the Notice Board at the National Film Theatre. There are occasional Press releases, mainly about additions to the Board. I have not found any Press release about the withdrawal of one of the Member Governors.

The information on meetings is fairly brief. The meetings are attended by the Chief Executive, the Deputy Chief Executive, the Director of Finance & Resources, the Board Secretary and occasionally by other managers for particular items. Voting, if it occurs, is not recorded: neither is any individual comments or indeed if there are disagreements. So it is not possible to tell if the decisions on the Member Governor post were unanimous or not.

This raises a question for the remaining Member Governor, Peter Kominsky, who was in attendance at the October meeting. Did he question these proposals on behalf of the voters? Certainly there appears to have been little or no reporting back on the issue by him. There may be something on the Members section of the BFI website, but this is not accessible to Subscriber voters like myself.

In fact, there appears to have been little interaction by most Member Governors with their electorate in recent years. Apparently there is, or was, the notice board for this purpose outside NFT 3. At one point there was an opportunity for report back and comments at the National Film Theatre, but this was on a Tuesday evening so of limited access. I have also on a couple of occasions written to the Member Governor about issues. On one occasion I copied these to the Board Secretary and he confirmed these had been passed to the Member Governors. However, I never received a response. The honourable exception to this was the Member Governor who term ended last year, Cy Young. He was the most active representative in my experience with the Board. He told me that he had questioned the 10% quote rule at the Board Meetings. It seems that he received little support, even from his fellow Member Governor.

It is worth noting that in 2013 the Board approved five new members. These included three described in this Press release:

The BFI announced the appointment of three new members to its governing board on Friday (3 May).

Pat Butler, Charles Cecil and Oona King attended their first BFI board meeting the previous week (25 April) together with the eight existing governors, BFI chair Greg Dyke and the institute’s CEO Amanda Nevill.

In a statement Dyke said: “We are very pleased to have three such talented individuals join our board. They each bring a wealth of experience, from finance and management, politics and broadcasting, to the video games industry.

“With such a team the board is well equipped to face the significant opportunities and challenges in the years to come in supporting the BFI’s growth agenda and international strategy for film.”

The BFI also announced that Libby Savill – who has served on the board for two years – has agreed to become the BFI’s new deputy chair. According to Dyke, “Libby combines pragmatism with one of the best legal minds in the entertainment industries and she is a great asset to the board”.

Introducing the BFI’s new board members

New member Charles Cecil MBE has been a leading figure in interactive entertainment for over 30 years and has worked on some of the most critically acclaimed and bestselling games of recent years. He founded the company Revolution Software in 1990, whose Broken Sword is one of the world’s most successful adventure series, achieving multi-million sales. He is currently a visiting lecturer at both the University of York and the National Film and Television School.

Oona King, Baroness King of Bow, is a member of the House of Lords since 2011. She is a writer, broadcaster and political campaigner and has worked as a television presenter for Channel 4, BBC, Sky, Five and ITV. She has chaired the steering committee of the Cultural Diversity Network (an organisation representing all Britain’s major broadcasters) and is currently employed as diversity executive at Channel 4.

Pat Butler is the only appointment without a clear link to the TV, film or games industry. Butler is a former director of McKinsey &Co, international management consultants. He spent 25 years with the firm and has helped CEOs and boards of global companies in the UK, Europe, Middle East, North America and South Africa on issues of strategy, organisation and performance improvement.  He is a chartered accountant and also sits on the board of the Bank of Ireland.

The three new Board members appear to be typical establishment candidates, two of them graduates of the honours system. It is extremely discouraging that in the same year the Board both declined to replace an elected member and then proceeded to discontinue that post.

The modern era started with the ringing demand of the North American colonists in their conflict with the then British Establishment:

No Taxation without representation.

But it is difficult to see what representation on the Board there is for the ordinary British tax payer, from whence the majority of the Board’s funding comes. And the electorate for Member Governors is presumably overwhelmingly composed of just such taxpayers.

Given the Boards actions over the recent election one can have little confidence that they will reverse these decisions. Certainly not without substantial pressure. I have written a letter to the Board for the attention of all the Governors. My points are:

  1. They should rescind the withdrawal of the second Member Governor Post.
  2. They should either appoint the winning candidate in the recent election to the Board or proceed immediately to a fresh election.
  3. They should withdraw the requirement for 10% in the election.
  4. They should increase the representation of  Member Governors on the Board.
  5. And they should introduce an effective method of reporting back to members and electors.

The initial response was a suggestion that I write to the Deputy Chairman who supervises the Appointments sub-committee. However, I addressed my letter to all the Governors as these decisions were taken at a full meeting.

I would encourage any concerned members, subscribers or indeed users of the BFI to write in some similar fashion to the Board. Their next meeting is scheduled for January 23rd 2014. It would be good if by then they received a substantial number of complaints and demands to that or similar effect.

Note you can contact the Board by writing to the Board of Governors and also by email. The contact should be the Board Secretary Iain Thomson.

His Office is at the BFI main building, 21 Stephens Street, London W1T 1L

Iain.Thomson@bfi.org.uk

Can I add a note regarding Cy Young who died last autumn. In my experience he was the most effective Member Governor that there has been for years. He will be missed.

Posted in British Cinema, Film culture | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

All in the Family – a film evening class

Posted by Roy Stafford on 19 September 2013

The classic tableau shot of the Edwards family at the beginning of The Searchers.

One of the classic tableau shots of the Edwards family in The Searchers.

This evening class at the National Media Museum in Bradford offers the chance to study three films currently on release and to explore how ideas about the family can be exploited to develop different kinds of film narrative and different genres. There are seven sessions on Wednesday evenings from 25 September, 18.15 – 20.15.

The three films are Looking for Hortense, Metro Manila and Like Father, Like Son – all screened in full in the museum’s cinemas with a short introduction.

The first of these films is a comedy drama set amongst the ‘creative/academic’ bourgeoisie of Paris in which family relationships constrain and ‘trip up’ the central character with comic effects. The second becomes a genre thriller when it tests what characters will do to keep the family together. The final film is a form of family melodrama/relationship drama. Since the films come from different filmmaking cultures (France, Philippines/UK and Japan) there will also be the opportunity to explore the extent to which genres and representations of the family are ‘universal’ or heavily skewed by ‘local’ cultural considerations. We’ll also consider a range of other films that use the family as an important driver of the narrative. The image at the head of this posting refers to the famous John Ford Western in which Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) searches obsessively for his two nieces who have been taken by a Comanche raiding party.

A course outline can be downloaded here: (pdf) FamilyCourseProg

We’ll try to post some of the handouts here over the next few weeks and also to discuss some of the issues that arise.

Posted in Film audiences, Film culture, Melodrama | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

1,000 posts and counting

Posted by Roy Stafford on 17 September 2013

(From http://jigsawabacus.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/mystery-of-abacus/) An abacus is an ancient Chinese form of counting widely used in Asia.

(From http://jigsawabacus.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/mystery-of-abacus/) An abacus is an ancient Chinese form of counting widely used in Asia.

With the flurry of postings last week, The Case for Global Film passed 1,000 individual postings. The 1,000th post was on Vicky Donor. Our stats tell us that we have a regular group of visitors that is steadily growing but that most of you visit us when you are looking for something specific on a film and on average you visit just under 2 separate postings on your visit. Perhaps you aren’t aware of the vast array of material (approaching 1 million words and thousands of images) that we hold?

The best way to get the most out of this blog is to have a quick look at the How to navigate this site page and discover how to search through the material.

We are moving forward onto the next 1,000 now, so watch this space! Suggestions for better ways of organising the material are always welcome.

Posted in Festivals and Conferences, Film audiences, Film culture, Film history, Film industry, Film Reviews | Leave a Comment »

100 Years of Cinema in Keighley

Posted by Roy Stafford on 13 July 2013

Bob Thorp of Keighley Film Club introduces the programme

Bob Thorp of Keighley Film Club introduces the programme

As an addendum to my earlier post about the centenary of Keighley’s Picture House Cinema, the cinema operator Charles Morris decided to hold a centenary celebration (some two months late) on July 10 in conjunction with the town’s Film Club which began  to screen films at other venues earlier this year.

Wednesday’s film programme put together by the Film Club comprised a free afternoon programme, part of which was then repeated in the evening alongside a screening of The Artist (France/US 2011) for which tickets were sold. The afternoon programme was introduced by Charles Morris, fresh from lunch with invited guests. He quickly handed over to the Film Club’s Secretary Bob Thorp who explained that the Film Club would in future be showing films once per month in the cinema. We then watched a short film by one of the film club members on the history of early cinema and also a documentary on the Picture House itself made last year (see it here). The main part of the programme which I want to comment on here was the selection of Maya Deren’s At Land (US 1944) and Episode 1 of the Fantômas serial directed by Louis Feuillade and starring Renée Navarre as Fantômas and which was released in five episodes each of 54 minutes in 1913.

Maya Deren in 'At Land'

Maya Deren in ‘At Land’

At Land was shown first with a musical accompaniment – a piano in front of the small stage, played very well (but the pianist’s name wasn’t given). However, I’m not sure whether Maya Deren ever intended that her silent films should have accompaniment. Some of Deren’s films had music soundtracks created by her collaborators, but not this one to my knowledge. Music does change the experience of watching a silent film. Commercial film screenings of films without soundtracks up to the early 1930s usually had some form of accompaniment but later avant-garde films (often shown in non-theatrical spaces) might be shown silent. Anyone who has watched a film in a cinema without any sound at all knows what a strange experience it is, so perhaps accompaniment here was a wise decision. As an aside, the three major texts on Deren and the 1940s American avant-garde that I consulted all failed to discuss soundtracks (or at least to include a reference in an index).

Maya Deren had arrived in the US from Ukraine as a small child in 1922 and by the mid 1940s she was becoming a leading figure in the ‘New American Cinema’ as the group of avant-garde filmmakers working out of New York became labelled. Her collaborators included the composer John Cage and her husband Alexander Hammid and others who appear in At Land. Hammid co-directed and photographed Meshes in the Afternoon (1943), Deren’s first film (but not Hammid’s first). At Land was photographed mainly by Hella Heyman. This creative collaboration is just one of the reasons why Maya Deren has been so celebrated within feminist film studies. She effectively controls her own liberated image on screen – ironically, she photographs so well that her image equals if not surpasses those of the artificial Hollywood goddesses of the period. Her background was in anthropology and poetry. She wasn’t a trained dancer but she was interested in dance cultures which featured directly in her later films and her work generally acquired the tag of ‘trance films’. The films are indeed ‘dreamlike’, not just in the strange juxtaposition of sequences but also in their rhythms which through careful camerawork and editing create almost seamless transitions and a sense of swooning. At Land begins with Deren washed up on a beach, but as she pulls herself up on a tree stump she climbs directly onto a long dining table where she is seemingly oblivious to the diners. Later she enters a building with an array of doors to open. There is clearly a relationship with surrealism, but most critics of avant-garde film see Deren as an original rather than simply a follower of Buñuel and Dali.

Maya Deren’s work is now easily accessible on DVD and much of it is also on YouTube. If you haven’t seen it before, it is well worth seeking out. I always assumed that Kate Bush must have been a fan.

fantomas

The selection of Fantômas was announced as simply an example of a film released in 1913. Bob Thorp said he didn’t yet know whether Fantômas ever played in the Picture House at the time. Nevertheless it was an interesting choice and given its great influence on subsequent filmmakers such as Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock it reminded us of some of the thrills and spills that cinemagoers of the next forty or fifty years would have enjoyed. I haven’t seen the serial before but from the little I’ve read the first episode was perhaps not the best to show since it is mostly setting-up the battle between Inspector Juve and the mysterious criminal Fantômas. The vision behind the adaptation of a successful novel is such that at first it is easy to forget that the film is 100 years old. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that most scenes are still conventional tableaux with a more or less static camera. The main movement comes in the sequence detailing  a remarkable prison escape. At the end of the episode is a piece of Méliès camera trickery, matching some of the promotional footage for the series which emphasises Fantômas as a master of disguise, constantly changing his appearance – and demonstrating what we would now term ‘morphing’ on screen.

The Film Club programme was enjoyable and it showed imagination and enthusiasm from what is essentially a volunteer group. There were a few problems in the projection of the films but the projectionist assured us afterwards that these had been sorted in time for the evening screening. The next step is to attract audiences to the monthly screenings being organised by the Film Club in this grand old venue and we wish them well.

Posted in Avant-garde cinema, Early film, Film culture, Film history, Film industry, Silent Era | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Keighley Picture House is 100 today!

Posted by Roy Stafford on 10 May 2013

Keighley Picture House in 2006

Keighley Picture House in 2006 with its birthdate proudly presented to the world

The focus for film scholarship should be global – and local. I’m delighted then to celebrate the 100th birthday of my local cinema. The Picture House in Keighley opened its doors to the public for the first time on Saturday 10th May 1913 and it’s still showing current releases today on its two screens. Unfortunately there were a couple of periods in the 1980s and 1990s when its doors were closed for repairs with the building changing ownership, but it has seen more than 90 years of film projection as well as occasional variety performances and pop concerts.

The Picture House wasn’t the first cinema in Keighley. It wasn’t even the first purpose-built cinema, but it was the first to fully embrace the possibilities of cinemas as distinctive architectural expressions of a new entertainment form and as important social amenities. The period from roughly 1910 to 1914 is recognised as the beginnings of the cinema industry that would come to dominate mass entertainment for the next fifty or sixty years. During this period films developed rapidly in terms of production, distribution and exhibition and it is interesting to place the emergence of the Picture House in this context.

In the 1890s Keighley was a thriving manufacturing town with significant employment in textiles mills and engineering. The population of the town, which is located at the confluence of the Rivers Aire and Worth in what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire, grew rapidly and reached 43,000 by 1911. It had become a municipal borough in 1882 and it had all the ambitions of a modern urban community. Bradford, some ten miles away, became a city in 1897 and an early centre for entrepreneurship in cinema (See Mellor 1996). Keighley was determined not to be left behind. Films were first shown in Keighley in the autumn of 1896 and filmshows became part of the mix of programmes at the Mechanics Institute – the centre for all kinds of activities in the industrial towns of Northern England and elsewhere in the anglophone world. The first purpose-built cinema in Keighley was the Picture Palace in Russell Street that opened on 27 December 1909. A year later the same entrepreneur, Walter Pallister, opened a second cinema in Cavendish Street, just days after the opening of the Theatre de Luxe in Market Street by John Watson. This latter cinema was financed by the London Animated Film company which had previously shown films at the Mechanics Institute. In March 1911 the Oxford Hall opened on Oakworth Road and in 1912, the Cosy Corner in an alleyway off Low Street. These cinemas were located within a few hundred yards of each other in Keighley’s town centre (with the Oxford Hall slightly further out). They also competed with the town’s Frank Matcham-designed theatre, the Hippodrome – previously the Queen’s Theatre.

With all these local attractions, the new Picture House had to be something special. It was funded by a group of local business people including the Smith family of ‘Dean, Smith and Grace’, one of the town’s major employers. The cinema was built on North Street, one of the two main streets in town. It was conceived as a ‘superior’ amenity with specialist cinema contractors brought in to create an 800 seat cinema with a balcony (a ‘grand circle’) and two cafés, a small one in the foyer which had an Italian mosaic floor and a larger one upstairs with ‘wicker furnishings, potted plants, best cutlery and Foley china’ (Liddle 1996). The cinema had its own four-piece orchestra and a stage for live events. The local newspaper’s coverage of the May 10th opening emphasises the lavish decorative work and the safety features (fire hoses and ‘chemical extinguishers’ – fires were a major problem in early cinemas), the new electric lighting and the electric fans that drew out the smoke from all the pipes and cigarettes smoked by audiences. Local historian Cathy Liddle suggests that Keighley cinema audiences were predominantly working-class until after the First World War but the descriptions of the Picture House appointments suggests an attempt to attract the gentry. The opening programme ran from 2.30 on the Saturday afternoon for  two and a quarter hours and from 6.30 for four hours. Tickets were 3d and 6d in the ‘Body of the Hall’ in armchairs and 9d and 1/- in the Grand Circle.

Liddle goes on to suggest that the Picture House did not take customers away from the existing five cinemas, but that eventually it was forced to lower its prices (which elsewhere were more like 2d, 4d and 6d). After the war Keighley got another new cinema, the Regent Picture Palace built almost opposite the Picture House in 1920. It proved to be very popular and the building survives today as a nightclub. In the 1930s the Picture House also hosted live variety performances by the Arcadian Players from Morecambe – and later in the 1960s, pop music concerts. Keighley’s last new cinema, the Ritz, was built in 1938 for the Union circuit but by the time it opened Union had been bought by the ABC chain. The Ritz was the ‘next step’ up from the Picture House with seating for over 1500 and a ‘mighty organ’. It also had the advantage of being able to take the circuit releases from ABC which by the late 1940s had become part of the duopoly of British cinema production, distribution and exhibition with only the Rank Organisation as its major rival. However, the Ritz was tucked away in a back street round the corner from the Picture House and behind the old Keighley Grammar School. I don’t know how well it did compared to others in the chain, but it was closed as a cinema by 1974, switching to bingo (which still operates today). When I researched Keighley’s cinemas operating in the early 1950s, most of them were still open with only the two earliest, the Russell Street and Theatre de Luxe having closed. The Picture House was eventually sold to the Essoldo chain and then became a Classic briefly before closing first in 1983. By this time the upstairs café had become a second small screen and the Picture House was the only survivor of the original eight cinemas. After some extensive repairs paid for out of public funds it re-opened in 1984 as a workers’ co-operative, only to close again in 1991 when it was proving difficult to get new releases and even the addition of a video rental business wasn’t enough to keep the operation afloat. Bradford Metropolitan Council bought the building and sought to find an exhibitor to take it on after further building repairs. At one point it looked like the building might become parts of an arts complex  linked to the town’s Central Hall, but in 1997 the cinema finally re-opened as part of the Northern Morris chain run by Charles Morris. The 1913 Picture House joined three 1912 cinemas in Skipton (Plaza), Elland (Rex) and Leeds (Cottage Road) plus the Royalty in Bowness (1926) and the Roxy in Ulverston  (1937). Keith reported on the Centenary of the Cottage Road cinema last year and a history of the Rex is available from the cinema.

Unfortunately there don’t seem to be any signs of celebration at the Picture House this week, though the ‘100 Years of Cinema’ banner did figure in the cinema’s advertising for a few weeks. For the record, this week the cinema is showing Iron Man 3  and Star Trek into Darkness with matinees/early evening showings of All Stars and The Croods. Cinema 1 has 300 seats and Cinema 2 has 93 seats. The lack of celebration is perhaps explained by the uncertainty surrounding the cinema’s future. Cineworld have been announced as one of the the tenants of a new development in Keighley with plans for an 8-screen cinema. The site has been cleared and the development is scheduled to be built over the next two years. Charles Morris has reportedly said that he will end his lease with Bradford Council as soon as the Cineworld operation becomes a reality – leaving the council with an empty 1913 building. Let’s hope the building, now the oldest working cinema in Bradford can find a suitable new purpose for many years to come. In the meantime. Happy Birthday!

References/Sources

Mellor, Geoff (1996) Movie Makers and Picture Palaces: A Century of Cinema in Yorkshire 1896-1996, Bradford Libraries

Liddle, Cathy (1996) Picture Palace: Cinema and Community, Silsden, West Yorkshire: Sleepy Heron Publishing

Keighley News Archives

[For various reasons I haven't been able to finish my research on the cinema's opening programme in 1913, but I'll try to add further details later.]

Posted in Film culture, Film history, Film industry | 4 Comments »

Split International Film Festival (15-22 September 2012)

Posted by Rona on 26 September 2012

Resistance inside Diocletian’s Palace: Split International Film Festival 2012

Split International Film Festival , which is in its 17th year, is a fascinating antidote to some of the larger film festival we may be familiar with and defines an area of film culture that can truly argue itself to be alternative. This festival, under the directorship of Branko Karabatić (himself an independent film-maker) seeks to maintain a rigorous adherence to its starting idea – to find films that are truly experimental and challenging in nature, to find film-makers who stay working outside of a system. Film festivals (in the same way as studios or film-makers) can perform a vital ‘service’ in maintaining spaces for a different kind of film culture to thrive, increasingly when the terms ‘experimental’ or ‘independent’ where used in reviews or criticism can have a mainstream feel to them. With Looper opening Toronto, packed with indie cool and arriving to reviews promising intelligent S-F but already with its distribution deal in place, we’re reminded yet again of the tightrope organisations running festivals have to walk between film culture and film commerce.

To stay outside of that category, and to maintain a base for genuinely new and challenging voices generates you neither large funds nor huge audiences. But my small experience of the programme last week in Split revealed that films – sometimes underfunded or small or star-less, or the vision of one person – can deliver real pleasure and surprise and these not necessarily with a lack of finish or sophistication. It is, as it is curated this year, a substantial programme with some beautifully-crafted narratives that are engaging films (easily better than some I’ve seen at much ‘bigger’ festivals. Just as some of the performances given by actors or got by directors put better-funded work to shame). The reach is international (e.g. Germany, Cambodia, Thailand, Mexico, China – to name a few) and it also included seminars relating to the work of artists (e.g. animator Simone Massi) and a collaboration with the Estonian Film Foundation, with a review of that country’s film culture and of its own winter festival, ‘Black Nights’. Tristan Priimägi (Estonia’s representative) commented on the shared experience of countries emerging out of more submerged political identities amongst their geographical neighbours – a statement which received a very warm response from the audience. A Croatian film festival might be pigeonholed (in more Western audiences’ view) by its recent history. Instead, its emphasis couldn’t be more strongly on being an international point of ‘cultural conversation’ and without an insular feel. It has drawn film-makers such as Bela Tarr (who held a series of masterclasses at the festival last year) and Sally Potter who has exhibited her work here and clearly intends to be an intellectual meeting point (more so than a market-driven festival).

Inside Zlatna Vrata (Golden Gate) Cinema

The opening night film from Colombia, Chocó(which had already appeared at the Berlinale) represented the festival’s intentions nicely, with some beautiful cinematography, naturalistic performances and a structure that maintained a tricky balance between the inner and outer consciousness of its protagonist.

The festival’s theme throughout was ‘resistance’. Of the films I saw (also screened at Cinema Karaman in the old town), I’ll add some brief reviews of Chocó, Roman Polanski A Film Memoir, Despite the Gods and The Catch – which, even in a small range, threw up very different ideas of resistance. There are films here that talk about the resistance of cultural differences, modern politics, gender oppression and the importance of finding a place to make your stand. They all pay attention to the particular international culture they arise from. In a town thriving commercially from the cruise ships and sun tourists (me included) with a rich Dalmatian culture, these intelligent films provided an intellectual “cool breeze” (to borrow from Carl Sandburg) as a striking and stimulating counterpoint to the “play of sun-fire” on Split’s antiquity outside. You need to allow extra time to travel up Zlatna Vrata’s airy staircases to view its collection of fascinating film posters and who needs a traditional red carpet when Split’s film festival is staged within Diocletian’s Palace! More details, all in both Croatian and English, can be found at http://www.splitfilmfestival.hr/.

Posted in Festivals and Conferences, Film culture | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

 
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