We are now approaching the final hours of 2014, so as an added bonus, here’s a last blast of seasonal strangeness from the BFI’s National Archive for you all. The only thing I know about it is that this odd little film was shown in British cinemas in late 1949. I can find no other information about it, although some thought has clearly gone into it, and some of the special effects are really rather fun. Despite this film being more than sixty years old, it must be said that it’s still better than most of the tat British TV broadcasts on New Year’s Eve these days…
On a more personal note, thank you so much to everyone who has read, commented, liked, shared, suggested things, written guest posts and sent me stuff in 2014 – your interest and intellectual contributions keep Another Kind Of Mind (and me) going in more ways than one. I am incredibly lucky to have such a great bunch of readers!
Wishing you all much light, luck and love for 2015 – and a very Happy New Year!
No, the date in the title of this post isn’t a typo. This final festive selection from the BFI National Archive really is a rare and unusual late Victorian film short, which uses some extremely clever and – for the time – groundbreaking special effects to show a Christmas Eve visit from Santa Claus to two excited young children. Made by G.A. Smith (1864-1959), an ex-magic lantern operator, hypnotist and one of the pioneers of British cinema, this is, in the words of Michael Brooke at the British Film Institute, “one of the most visually and conceptually sophisticated British films made up to then”. Aside from that, it’s also an endearing and rather sweet encapsulation of the thrill of a childhood Christmas Eve, all distilled into less than a minute and a half…
For more from the BFI National Archive, visit their website or their excellent YouTube channel. You can also find more BFI festive goodies (and numerous other seasonal posts) on Another Kind Of Mind here.
And a very Merry Christmas to one and all!
This seasonal wartime propaganda short was produced for the American market and has since become a minor classic of the genre, also being nominated for the Best Documentary (Short Subject) Oscar in 1942. Written and narrated by the London-based US journalist Quentin Reynolds (1902–1965) (whose distinctively intimate voice can also be heard on the previous year’s now-iconic London Can Take It!, also aimed at American cinemagoers), this film tells the story of Britain during the Christmas of 1940, when the country was quite literally under fire.
Wearing its propaganda colours firmly on its sleeve right from the off (the opening shot tells us this is a ‘Ministry of Information film’), this film knows exactly which buttons to press in order to get an emotional and visceral reaction from the average American viewer. As a result, there are vivid images of the way the war has had an impact on what Reynolds sees as the timeless peace of British life – so there are shots of shelterers in the London Underground, children playing at soldiers, troops watching out for enemy planes or manning guns in British cities and countryside, and bombed-out shopkeepers in what remains of their premises, declaring ‘business as usual’.
One of the earliest surviving adaptations of Charles Dickens’ work on film (and certainly the earliest surviving film version of A Christmas Carol), this is a remarkably ambitious piece of film-making for the time – for a start, it attempts to cram an eighty page story into a mere five minutes, which, for anyone who knows the source text well, seems quite an achievement!
Sadly, the only known remaining print is incomplete, but enough of it is left to demonstrate magician and director W.R Booth’s (1869-1938) creative approach to special effects (watch out for the scene where Scrooge’s doorknocker turns into Jacob Marley’s head, and the initial appearance of Marley’s ghost himself), some of which even now are pretty impressive.
In the first of this week’s seasonal offerings from the British Film Institute’s National Archives, we’re visiting an Edwardian cracker factory, probably somewhere in east London, where we see the process of making these now-traditional Christmas essentials by hand and with the aid of machines. Next, we are transported to a cheerful and festively decorated living room, where we meet a family in the process of celebrating Christmas. They pull a giant cracker and a very special guest arrives…
This is an interesting film for a number of reasons. Its production was sponsored by Clark, Nickolls & Coombs, the company who were responsible for making the crackers, and it shows that their workforce was almost entirely made up of women. These working class women stand in distinct contrast to the middle-class family shown enjoying the fruits of such factory labours around the Christmas tree – suggesting this was a form of advertising and possibly education, demonstrating both the processes of manufacture and that the company sold (or at least aimed to sell) their products to an aspirational middle-class market. The idea of consumerism and consumption at Christmas is clearly not a new one!
For more seasonal posts on Another Kind Of Mind, see here.
Now, here’s something rather intriguing and strange. This wartime (1943) short film encouraging the viewer to get their cards and presents in the post in plenty of time for Christmas has a deliciously surreal feel to it (particularly the distinctly odd final scene!). It’s one of a huge number of public information films made by and starring the wonderfully expressive and deliberately bumbling actor and director Richard Massingham (1898-1953), and can be found in the British Film Institute’s fascinating National Archive.
If you’d like to see more of the BFI’s holdings, visit their website or check out their excellent YouTube channel – I’ve been having a thoroughly enjoyable rummage through the latter and have found some fantastic vintage festive film treats for you, which I’ll be posting in the run up to Christmas…
And if you’re a bit disorganised and haven’t even started thinking about Christmas yet, you can find this year’s last posting dates for cards and parcels (sent from the UK) here.
Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.
- as teacher John Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989)
Advice for us all, however old we might be. And his life was extraordinary.
Robin McLaurin Williams: 1951-2014.
Rest In Peace, Genie.
Grasp the Nettle is the latest film from director (and friend of Another Kind Of Mind) Dean Puckett. This documentary explores the experiences of a disparate group of activists who came together in 2009 to create a sustainable community outside of the mainstream on a patch of derelict land at Kew Bridge, west London. I was involved in this project too (indeed, it was at the Kew Bridge Eco-Village that I first met Dean and his ever-present camera!), photographing and writing about the site as it grew and changed over the eleven months of its existence. It would be true to say that this was a place that inspired me both practically and creatively – and I wasn’t the only one.
Here, Dean describes what inspired him to make a film about the Eco-Village:
There was an intoxicating energy about the place, a sense of freedom from a system which many of us recognise is unequal and destructive. Yet this rag-tag bunch of occupiers defied conventional stereotypes of the ‘ecowarrior’. Most of them were ordinary people from different walks of life – some were students, others were former professionals. And they had come together to not simply occupy a piece of land, but to transform it, bit by bit – in an exciting and unnerving sense, creating their own reality outside the system. I wanted to truly understand this emerging hotbed of radical practice that was both outside and inside wider society, the people involved, and the way they understood what they were doing.
So he got his camera out – and the result was Grasp the Nettle. Having been successfully screened at a number of festivals, the film is now available online for anyone to watch – wherever, whenever and for free. I’ve posted it above, so now it’s your turn to meet the inhabitants of Kew Bridge Eco-Village and see what you think…
Long-time readers may be familiar with Dean’s name from my posts on ‘The Crisis of Civilization’, his previous film collaboration with Lucca Benney and Nafeez Ahmed – which is also available online if you haven’t yet seen it.
Sorting through a large file of newspaper clippings this afternoon, I came across this 2008 article from The Times on the subject of the legendary and late-lamented British music TV show, Top Of The Pops. The article quotes Julian Cope on the subject of his 1981 appearance on the show with Teardrop Explodes. If you know anything about Cope and his eccentric working methods, you’ll soon realise that this was no ordinary TOTP performance – in fact, he had dropped some acid beforehand, which probably wasn’t particularly sensible under the circumstances, since:
The piano started melting and I was wading up to my thighs in it by the chorus.
I dread to think how much mess that made….
Just say no to melting pianos, kids.
As we’re now well and truly into the party season, here’s some very good advice on how to get the best out of your festive bash from the late actor and professional hellraiser Peter O’Toole. Does this perhaps describe your work Christmas party?
Fornication, madness, murder, drunkenness, shouting, shrieking, leaping polite conversation and the breaking of bones, such jollities constitute acceptable behaviour, but no acting allowed.
I’m sure O’Toole both hosted and attended many an epic party along such lines, although I’m not sure he’d remember much of it the the following day – after all, this was a man who once self-deprecatingly said:
I loved the drinking, and waking up in the morning to find I was in Mexico. It was part and parcel of being an idiot.
Idiot or not, he was a great actor in his time, and the worlds of theatre and film are lessened by his passing – they don’t make them like Peter O’Toole any more. Raise a festive toast in his memory at the next wild Christmas party you go to…