Early reality film was all about capturing movement: people, vehicles and animals doing something or going somewhere. If the object was static the camera moved – it would be loaded onto a boat, car, tram or train to film ships, buildings, views and panoramas (link). Nothing stayed still, least of all a city. London as a spectacle and a novelty was a big deal in Victorian visual media, which celebrated the capital in illustrations, literature, phonographs, engravings and magic lantern slides. By the time film came along in 1895, people everywhere wanted to see what the biggest city in the world really looked like.
Recently, the British Film Institute (BFI) staged A Night In Victorian And Edwardian London, a programme of short films (projected on actual film) about London, shot between 1895 and 1910; it was a captivating 100 minutes, enjoyed enormously by the full house in Screen 1. The BFI’s silent film curator Bryony Dixon introduced the programme and as she said, ‘chatted’ along, telling us where and when each film was made (if known). It felt like we had our own ‘barker’; Bryony’s knowledge and brilliantly dry wit was highly entertaining and informative. But we were a much better behaved audience than she could have expected in 1910… Neil Brand provided the piano accompaniment, an unexpected treat, and his light-touch improvised playing added sparkle to the moving images.