Some people claim they are part of the “YouTube generation”. This is a generation whereby they digest their news, entertainment and education through bite size, under 10-minute videos.
There is a sense that these YouTubers are viewer’s whose attention span is short and if videos are too long, they simply switch off. Comparatively, cinema in 1914 seemed to be primarily made up of shorts and bulletins that were bite size and included comic celebrities to round-off the screening. Considering many mornings will start off with a short viewing of Russell Brand’s ‘The Trews’, a video from a friends holiday on Facebook and then a comedy from Funny or Die – it seems viewing habits haven’t changed too much since 1914 at all.
A Night at the Cinema 1914 is part of the celebrations to mark the centenary of the start of World War I. The short 85-minute run-time of the film is comprised of 14 short films that range from news bulletins informing us of Emmeline Pankhurst’s arrest outside Buckingham Palace to the magnificent Egyptian pyramids and sphinx’s as troops march through the territory. Comedy includes a Monty-Python-esque ‘Rollicking Raja’ and a Charlie Chaplin short that shows a little insight into filmmaking of the era.
It is strange to imagine these films, on rotation, whereby visitors would simply pop in and watch whatever is on. Of course a new Chaplin will always sell additional tickets and important news coverage would pull in the punters also, but the very “short burst” nature of each film makes the time fly by and can become a mental timer to judge how far into the programme you’re at. Not to mention how, when you’ve seen military march across a desert landscape, you know it is only a short while before it stops and a completely different film will begin if it’s a little drawn out.
Stephen Horne provides the piano-based score to accompany the film. The music is playful, joyous and representative of the period. The ‘Rollicking Raja’ is the only composition that also includes a vocal track as a singer uses the original composition notes to sing in time with the merry man who could easily pass for Michael Palin in another bizarre disguise.
A Night at the Cinema 1914 veers from laugh-out-loud moments (as the ‘Perils of Pauline’ depict a hot air balloon rising from the ground, taking Pauline with it) to the sadness in the historical moment we see. The first of two World Wars is due to affect every man, woman and child (and dog) depicted on screen – and this was the innocent world before the bombshells hit. But many shorts vividly remind you of the time-period. Planes flying at Hendon airfield must’ve been simply breath-taking a mere decade after the Wright brothers first took flight. Daisy Doodad pulling faces as shocked men, smartly dressed, react isn’t too far from the face-pulling we’ve seen from Jim Carrey and Jack Lemmon. Then we have the underwater adventure of Lieutenant Pimple, whereby the “special effects” are so crude and practical, you cannot help but chuckle at the rickety production. It’s not without its faults, but it is a unique experience that those who appreciate the era will thoroughly enjoy.
This post was originally written for Flickering Myth in August 2014