Happy Anniversary Hyde Park Picture House

Filling up with an expectant audience

Filling up with an expectant audience

This anniversary fell on November 7th: presumably on November 8th the friendly, hardworking staff of the cinema were all recovering from their exertions. For the Friday saw six separate screenings during the day and the evening. The key event though was the evening presentation of A Night at the Cinema in 1914. This was preceded by drinks and excellent cakes whilst the ‘After Hours Quintet’ played appropriately varied syncopations. Meanwhile the screen was filled by a selection of World War I stills and film extracts.

By the time the film time rolled round there was a fairly full house and an expectant audience. There were Welcomes by Wendy Cook, the General Manager, and by Counsellor Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, Chair of the Leeds Grand Theatre Trust, which now controls the cinema. Wendy offered many thanks, but especially to the Friends of the Hyde Park, now in their thirtieth year, and to the co-founder and current Chairperson Peter Chandley. Counsellor Yeadon complemented the staff of the cinema on their work over the years and the audiences whose support has meant that the Hyde Park is still a thriving venue for film and related events. She also managed a reference to Louis Le Prince: the centenary of his pioneer film was the centre piece the 1988 Leeds International Film Festival. Then two local poets, James Nash and Matthew Hedley Stoppard, read us works written in or at least about the cinema.

The feature was a compilation of films produced in 1914, both in the UK and the USA. One wonders if any of them were in the original or early programmes of the cinema. There were a number of Actualities, Travelogues, Newsreel extracts and War Shorts (including Christmas at the Front but not any fraternisation or football). There was an entertaining animation by Lancelot Speed. His name referred to his style of animation, in which drawings were applied on-screen at high speed and then animated into short scenes.

One of the pleasures of early cinema is the frequent appearance of canine performers. We had a whole pack of Dogs for the Antarctic being trained up for an expedition by Ernest Shackleton. There was also an early example of product placement: by a firm named Spratt who appeared to specialise in dog treats.

There was an example of an early attempt at accompanying sound, The Rollicking Rajah. In 1914 the film was accompanied by a recorded song on synchronised disc. In this transfer it had been recreated with a piano accompaniment.

There was an extract from a US series featuring the Intrepid Pauline (The Perils of), one of the feisty heroines who were popular in the period. Since it was only an extract some of the plot developments had to be guessed at. But we had a flight in a balloon, a dangerous descent to and fight in a steep quarry, and a frantic chase followed by a last minute rescue from a burning house. Thrills and spills.

And there were three one-reel comedies.  The first featured Florence Turner, a very popular actress from the USA.  Daisy Doodad’s Dial was filmed by Turner’s own Production company at the Hepworth Studio on the Thames. The ‘dial’ referred to her facial contortions for a competition, but which frightened unsuspecting passersby. There were some witty moments and a couple of clever superimpositions.

Lieutenant Pimple and the Stolen Submarine featured the comic persona of Fred Evans, a popular music hall star turned kinema star. This film was comic pastiche of one reel naval heroics. The film made witty use of simple sets and had some imaginative sequences ‘underwater’. There was one splendid visual joke with a fish!

The third comedy was an early Charlie Chaplin vehicle, from Keystone A Film Johnny. One could see that Chaplin was still developing his persona of The Tramp. And the direction lacked the flair that he himself would bring to filmmaking. Even so there were delightful moments and sequences that suggested later routines in embryo, The film was set first in a nickelodeon, then in a film studio and then on location: so there was pleasure in seeing the working of early cinema. I did think that the transfer had the film running a shade too fast.

The whole feature had piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne, who has a fine sense of the rhythms of early film and a great knowledge of the musical forms of the time.

The event was clearly enjoyed by the audience. We came out to see a queue for the last screening of the day, Final Cut, a popular film which also featured in last year’s Film Festival.

So felicitations to the staff for a delightful and successful evening, which I am sure involved much hard work. There are a lot of promising screenings to follow during the rest of the Festival and more special events to come throughout the centenary year. Next in line will be a commission by the Pavilion and the Hyde Park – To the Editor of Amateur Photography.

Thanks to Stephen Brown for the photograph.

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