Today is the opening day of the football European Championships in France and I’m quite excited. Indeed, I’ve got my fixtures wallchart ready and am planning my match predictions as we speak. One reason I’m quite excited by all this is that my team, the mighty Spurs, have sent a whole eleven (count ’em!) players to Euro ’16 – including five who are in the England squad – which, after the highly dramatic season we just had, is absolutely as it should be!
While I was looking for something football-related to mark the occasion, I came across this fantastic silent newsreel footage of the 1924 Spurs team in training and I just had to post it here (for obvious reasons…). Even from this brief clip, it’s fascinating to see how much is familiar to the 21st century football fan, as well as how much the game has changed since the 1920s – just look at those shorts and that heavy ball in comparison to the hi-tech kit worn and used by modern players, for a start. I honestly can’t see the likes of Wayne Rooney in get up like that…
Watch out for more vintage football-related posts coming soon.
Here’s something short and sweet to begin this new series of vintage film treats from the BFI National Archive. Regular readers will be aware that I have a fondness for river creatures (you can see my most recent encounter with such wildlife here), so when I came across this hundred year old snippet of film I just couldn’t resist.
The antics of this very cheeky little otter were filmed around about a century ago by Charles Urban, an American-born film-maker and producer. Despite being born on the other side of the Atlantic, Urban had an important influence on early British cinema generally – including producing some early examples of wildlife films, a genre which remains highly popular on British TV. We are still fascinated by otters too, although it is not often that we see one in the kind of environment that Urban found here!
Personally, I think Christmas isn’t Christmas without at least one version of A Christmas Carol being on TV over the festive season (my favourite is actually the Muppets’ take on the story: it’s great fun, and remarkably faithful to the original source material, believe it or not) – and, most importantly, I re-read the book every year. However, I’ve also recently become intrigued by the many early film versions of this classic tale, particularly those made during the silent era of British cinema. And it is there that we are heading today, via the BFI National Archive.
Last year, I posted a fascinating film clip of the 1901 version, which is possibly the earliest cinema adaptation of Charles Dickens’s festive fable of redemption known to exist. This Christmas Eve, however, we’re moving forward in time by thirteen years, with a short extract from the 1914 version. Released during the first Christmas season of World War One, which, with hindsight, adds a stark layer of poignancy to the Victorian sentimentality of the story, this film is regarded as being among the best Dickens adaptations of the period.
For many people, Christmas is about family and friends and home and comfort. But it’s not always like that for some, and a surprising number of folk also have to work over the festive season. This is by no means a modern 21st century phenomenon, as this unusual and rather cheering 1922 Topical Budget newsreel clip from the BFI National Archive shows.
Stuck out in the North Sea for Christmas, the crew of the Lynn Well lightship are still determined to celebrate, and are delighted when a chaplain from the Seamens’ Mission arrives with the makings of a festive feast. We see the men preparing their well-earned Christmas dinner, observing a religious service, and then having some fun with music and dancing on deck. But the lightship’s lamp must still be trimmed to keep shipping in the area safe, just as it would be on any other day of the year…
Lightships (more commonly known now as lightvessels – a term which will be familiar to anyone who, like me, is a devotee of the Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio 4) are basically floating lighthouses which, in some cases, also function as weather stations. Modern lightships in British waters have all been unmanned and automated since 1989.
You can also find more BFI festive goodies (and numerous other seasonal posts) on Another Kind Of Mind here.
I don’t know what I want to say to people. I get ideas and I want to put them on film because they thrill me. You may say that people look for meaning in everything, but they don’t. They’ve got life going on around them, but they don’t look for meaning there. They look for meaning when they go to a movie. I don’t know why people expect art to make sense when they accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense – David Lynch
With the prospect of a new set of Twin Peaks episodes in the next couple of years and all the surrealistic magic and mystery that will inevitably entail (I, for one, cannot wait), David Lynch has been in and out of the news in 2015 at quite a rate of knots. However, the quote above is from an interview Lynch gave to the Los Angeles Times in 1989, round about the period when he was making Wild At Heart. And it contains an almost illogical logic that arguably still applies twenty-six years later.
A well-known proponent of making art that may or may not make sense (depending on how you look at it), Lynch is quite right in his comments in my view. Why should we expect a film or a novel to have a coherent structure, a beginning, middle and end that hang together in a sensible way when life is not like that at all? Obviously, life has a definite beginning and a definite end, but what goes on in between is mostly unpredictable and usually unstructured – and down to us to make sense of, or not, as the case may be.
We know life has no real structure, which is, I think, at least partly why we so often expect art to, particularly when we’re dealing with a novel or a film or a TV series. It’s comforting to think that the lives of fictional characters are in some way predictable, even if our own lives aren’t. But one of the main purposes of art is to be provocative, to unsettle, to produce an element of disquiet, and – most importantly – to make the audience think. And those are all things I would immediately associate with Lynch’s work. It’s that artistic unpredictability that forces us to think, forces us to confront the fact that we have to make sense of our lives where we can find it – and reminds us that, in this existence, almost anything can happen.
And it usually does.
I knew you wouldn’t let me down! Just as it was with the music books, I’ve been sent so many suggestions of must-watch music documentaries that I’ve had to compile a separate list. And there’s some fantastic stuff here – almost every musical genre you can think of is represented on your list; pretty much something for everyone, whatever your tastes run to.
Again, we’d be here all night if I were to list everyone who contributed to the list (there were a lot of you…). You all know who you are – a big thank you to everybody involved, on and offline! If, after perusing these selections, you still think there’s something missing, have a look at my original list of documentaries first. If it’s not there, then please feel free to leave a comment or tweet me, and I’ll add it to this list.
As before, the list is arranged in alphabetical order by title, followed by the director’s name (if known – I have been unable to track down the director details for some of the BBC productions), the year of the film’s release, and any other necessary information. Some of these are straight-up documentaries, others are tour or concert-type films with a documentary aspect. One or two have a fictional and/or comedy element – this list does indeed go up to eleven… Most (but not all) of these films are available on DVD or can be downloaded/streamed online, and quite a few of them are also on YouTube.
I’ve recently been watching Beware of Mr Baker, Jay Bulger’s fascinating warts-and-all documentary about the legendary drummer Ginger Baker, and it got me thinking again about an idea I had when we last updated the music books lists* – how about a similar list of recommended music documentaries? Contemplating the music films I’ve seen over the years and rummaging through my own DVD collection, I found more than enough to start a decent list of the films I’d recommend, which you’ll find below. However, I bet you’ve got loads of other suggestions for me and I’d love to hear them! You know what to do – tweet me or comment here, and we’ll see if we can compile the ultimate music documentary list…
The list is arranged in alphabetical order by title, followed by the director’s name and the year of the film’s release. Some of these are straight-up documentaries, others are tour or concert-type films with a documentary element. I’ve included one radio documentary, but I suspect there are plenty more of those too. Most of these films are available on DVD, and quite a few of them are also on YouTube. If you want any more information on any of the films on the list or why I chose them, just ask!
Today’s election-related film is a bit different. It comes from the British Council film archive and is a short documentary explaining the processes involved in conducting the 1945 General Election from the perspective of one constituency – that of Kettering in Northamptonshire. The film offers the viewer a guided tour around Kettering as the various candidates (including the incumbent Tory MP John Profumo – yes, that John Profumo) valiently attempt to win their contituents’ votes, showing how their campaigns are run and reported and how the votes are cast and counted. Little has changed in this respect – much of what the viewer sees will still be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the way an election is organized in recent years.
Held in July 1945, this was the first General Election in ten years as a result of the Second World War and the results took some time to come in due to the huge numbers of the electorate who were still serving overseas in the armed forces, whose votes had to be returned to Britain from vitually every corner of the globe. This is also mentioned in the film and was, to a cetain extent, probably a factor in the end result – because the 1945 election is one of the most important of the twentieth century, as it returned a large and unexpected Labour majority for the first time.
This came as a real shock to the Conservative Party, who had expected to be carried into power on the back of Winston Churchill’s record as war leader. However, the nation thought otherwise and made their views very clearly known. The impact of this election result has echoed down the years following 1945 – indeed, modern Britain still owes a huge debt to this groundbreaking Labour government, as it was they who introduced the NHS and the welfare state.
Today’s newsreel footage comes from the General Election of December 1923 and features a remarkable FIVE politicans who had been or were to become prime minister in the first half of the 20th century: Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, Herbert Asquith, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill (again! He randomly popped up yesterday too…) – plus Austen Chamberlain, senior politician and half-brother of the late 1930s prime minister Neville Chamberlain.
This election was a hugely momentous one in that the result gave Labour their first ever stab at forming a government (with the support of the Liberals, for whom it was the last time they would win over a hundred seats and more than 25% of the vote – although they came close with the Liberal Democrats’ controversial result in 2010 with 22.1%). This minority government only lasted until the following year, but it was the first time that the traditional two-party system had genuinely been threatened in an electoral context.
If you’d like to find out more about the BFI’s National Archive, you can visit their website here.
Some of you might remember that in the run-up to Christmas I posted some seasonal film snippets from the wonderful BFI archive YouTube channel. Since it is now election week, I was pleased to discover they’ve uploaded some bits and pieces of newsreel footage relating to various 20th century General Elections – so I’ll be posting a particularly interesting example every day until Thursday’s crucial ballot…
Today’s choice is very brief snapshot of one of the two elections held in 1910 (January and December – this film is probably from the January one), showing footage of the Labour MP Will Crooks and his Tory opponent Major William Augustus Adams on the hustings at Woolwich in London, plus a glimpse of the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill.
The results of both of the 1910 elections had been ridiculously close and very tense, with Asquith’s Liberals being separated from Balfour’s Conservatives by a matter of only two seats in January and a mere one in December. These deadlocked elections were particularly significant for being the last elections to be held until after the First World War. They were also significant for being the last elections to be held over a period of days, unlike the single polling day we are used to now – this, in many ways, was the beginning of the modern electoral system.
If you’d like to find out more about the BFI’s National Archive, you can visit their website here.