Part of the beauty of cinema is the birth of the medium, and how it managed to pick up enormous changes in society at the start of the 20th Century. The BFI’s latest archival selection, Make More Noise, purposefully coincides with the release of Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette.
Using its full title, Make More Noise! Suffragettes in Silent Film collects one-minute newsreel pieces and short comedy-films of the era to give a sense of the climate the suffragettes fought under. The collective team effort and protest rallies that contributed to the success of the movement is a history that Britain should be proud of. The assumption that the suffragette movement only picked up steam following World War I is not entirely accurate, and the short films that date from 1899 reveal that the fight for equality had been boiling for many years, before it finally gained an equal gender vote in 1928, as a result of the Representation of the People Act.
Make More Noise isn’t entirely chronological, beginning with rallies within London and elsewhere, before rewinding to the earliest footage. From 1899, men in drag play gossipy women and the small girl that terrorises a copper, is also played by a little boy. Comedy sequences of men, dreaming of the suppression of women (whereby women are forced to wear – *shock* – trousers!), is awfully surreal. Back to the suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst is arrested and footage of the infamous races, whereby Emily Davison was trampled by the king’s horse, is captured, and ignored, as it seems the lovely horses is more important to these particular cameramen. The final few films portray Scottish suffragettes who literally moved to France to care for the troops coming off the battle field while on British soil, women built the bombs that were used to fight the war.
It’s a world we can barely recognise, but we appreciate. We are all descendants of these inspiring figures – whether we’re looking at the soldiers that fought bravely or the women that nursed them back to life. Vividly, it is women in Make More Noise who remove shrapnel from their bodies. But there is an element that’s consistent throughout the short films: community. The Scottish community band together by leaving their home country to assist on foreign soil. The endless protests through Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and outside Buckingham Palace show strong solidarity. The enormous crowd that mourn Emily Davison is truly inspiring.
This is not a world we know. Community work forces, within unions, are now at risk of losing their strength further as the current government push for more regulations and control over strike action. Ed Snowden’s revelations regarding the GCHQ, whether you agree with his actions or not, ultimately force us, the communities and people affected by their access to data, to act. Emmeline Pankhurst demanding that women “Make More Noise!” could be applied to the rise of Corbyn’s liberal Labour party. Owen Jones, of The Guardian, argues how collectively, Labour must work together to be victorious in 2020 – supporting local councillors; protesting against issues we care about; celebrating our liberal history. Make More Noise does indeed celebrate this profound victory, and to watch this collection of films, liberals need the solidarity of the era to push for an equal society. In 2015, perhaps we need to make more noise ourselves.