Silent Britain

London, The Arts

80% of all the silent films produced in Britain were destroyed, leaving just a tiny handful of films and pieces now in the vaults of the BFI. Matthew Sweet, who wrote ‘Shepperton Babylon’, also made a documentary about these forgotten silents called ‘Silent Britain’, which is a real eye-opener. We’ll probably never get to see ‘The Rat’, ‘The Informer’, ‘The Lodger’ and ‘The Constant Nymph’. The deals Hollywood studios had with theatres wrecked the British film industry as their films were squeezed out from British cinemas.

One of the most fun things you can do in London is visit the BFI Mediatheque on the South Bank and look through the film archives for an hour – you see the most extraordinary footage, but come away with a regret that you may never find it again. A slew of British film books are out – but I hesitate to add to your burdensome reading list, although I should mention the terrific ‘Studies In terror’ by Jonathan Rigby, which explores some little-seen horror films across the years.

7 comments on “Silent Britain”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    off topic, but I thought you’d like to know a quotation from Seventy-seven Clocks came up on today Word of the Day at

  2. Gretta says:

    I know it doesn’t really fall under the auspices of ‘silent films’, but I saw a little piece of movie footage shot by Mitchell and Kenyon a few months ago, and found it utterly fascinating. It was just a simple street scene from the middle of Manchester, but even though it was only a few minutes long, I found myself watching it over and over. It must have been on about the fifth or sixth viewing I realised there was a Policeman standing in the middle of it all. I guess he was there directing traffic, but in honesty, it looked like such utter chaos it was hard to tell whether he was having an effect or not. I was watching through trembling fingers, thinking someone was going to get trampled or run over at any minute.

  3. porl says:

    The Lodger exists, no?

    As for the others, never give up hope of them surfacing! Remember all the extra Metropolis footage? and werent the Charles Ogle “Frankenstein” and 1913 Student of Prague (admittedly none of these are British!) considered lost for some time? (or I think it said so in one of the 70’s Horror Books and Encyclopaedias I had back in the day!
    Still, stuff like the Mitchell and Kenyon footage just “appearing from no-where” must give us hope!

  4. Gretta says:

    Didn’t bits of Metropolis turn up here in NZ(and several other countries)? Some early Hitchcok was found here a few months ago, as well…

    …Gods knows what else is sitting in the NZ Film Archives vaults, or hidden away in the garages/sheds/attics of long forgotten projectionists.

  5. Rosie says:

    Don’t quite understand your article: The Rat, The Informer, The Constant Nymph and The Lodger all survive! The BFI showed The Constant Nymph last year and are currently restoring all of Hitchcock’s silent films including The Lodger.

  6. admin says:

    I read in the paper just last week that The Constant Nymph was incomplete and the others were unrestored, so it’s great to hear that they are becoming available once more. Perhaps I should have put ‘out of circulation’, as they’d need to be released on DVD for most people t find them, like Asquith’s ‘Underground’, which I missed the screening of and am desperate to see.

    I’ve just delivered my sequel to ‘Paperboy’, which points out that a surprising number of British talkies are also out of circulation, including a great many postwar films.

  7. Gillian says:

    Oh tell me about it. I’m about to start my PhD in British Crime Cinema of the 50s and 60s and even there you are presented with a list of films that were made but trying to find them all is a nightmare. Fortunately it seems that people are becoming aware of this and we are getting more and more on DVD. I would have thought given the recent “we’ve got to make cuts” mantra by the BBC that now would be an ideal opportunity to trundle them out on an afternoon.

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