I’ve been watching old films. They’re great for observing historical change. Last week The Blue Lamp (1949) dramatized the message that the decent and brave metropolitan police were fighting against a rise in violent crime levels in post-war London. I love the details – the furnishings of the kitchen at Jack Warner’s home, the bomb sites, constant smoking and punctilious deference to senior officers and CID.
Also on The Talking Pictures Channel, I’m becoming a regular fan of a series called Scotland Yard, produced on 35mm for the cinema between 1953 and 1961. They were filmed at Merton Studios and on location in a London – a London you can only just recognize. The streets are wonderfully empty. Traffic is very light, except when needed for a chase, and there’s a refreshing absence of signage, street markings, parking control and street furniture. London looks calm and, even the acting and plots are unhurried – very therapeutic in this post-lock-down period. But it’s quite salutary to see the attitudes of the past so unselfconsciously expressed – especially patriarchy and class relationships.
A Channel 5 programme featured late Victorian black and white film that has been recently colourised. Most were taken by independent photographers so the choice of subjects – from a horse-drawn fire engine hurrying to an emergency to the launching of a ship on the Thames that itself caused a major accident – seemed like straightforward recordings of contemporary activities. More familiar was newsreel footage of the old Queen’s funeral. What an extraordinary amount of pomp and circumstance with all the crowned heads of Europe and the ample figure of Edward VII riding behind. And it’s so much better in colour!
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