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July 31, 2014 3:54 pm
A hundred years ago, when people sat in cinemas and pictures first moved, novelty was enough. We know this, or can intuit it, from the British Film Institute compilation feature A Night at the Cinema in 1914. Today’s audiences – needing raccoon superheroes or faculty-flexing screen marathons – would be stunned by the simplicity. A newsreel about Lord Kitchener; a cartoonist at his drawing board; some boy scouts on a cliff. You might strike lucky with a Perils of Pauline escapade. You might strike luckier with Charlie Chaplin. But all is in black and white, soundless but for piano accompaniment.
The BFI film is wondrous less for what it is than for what it chronicles and attests. An age when enough was as good as a feast. An age before the army and navy and Lord Mayor’s show were needed to stop the fidgeters fidgeting in the £15.50s.
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