Friese-Greene really is busting out all over.
Two years ago, when I was invited to give a talk about William Friese-Greene at the rather wonderful Cinema Rediscovered festival, I proposed that since Friese-Greene’s reputation was basically trashed on the centenary of his birth, it would be appropriate to use the 2021 centenary of his death as the basis for a reassessment. What has happened since then has been beyond anything I could have hoped for.
Bristol Ideas took the ball and ran with it, and despite all the disruptions of the pandemic, managed to successfully obtain support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for a programme entitled “Opening Up The Magic Box” using the centenary as a springboard to celebrate film-making and film-going in his home city of Bristol.
So, this weekend Friese-Greene returns to Cinema Rediscovered in style. I’m delighted to say that I shall having a discussion with none other than Sir Christopher Frayling, a great cultural historian with a passion for cinema, chaired by Bryony Dixon from the BFI National Archive and – authority on early cinema, as we attempt to answer the question “Who Was William Friese-Greene?”. I’m happy to say that the discussion is now going to be live online, so you can join it for free at 2pm on Sunday 1st August by registering here:
Both Christopher and I have written essays for a book to be published by Bristol Ideas later this year, but both of these can be read online now.
In mine, I try to make sense of my decades-long obsession with William Friese-Greene: https://www.bristolideas.co.uk/read/william-friese-greene-and-me/
Christopher writes about the changing perceptions of the film The Magic Box down the years, recalling his childhood visit to the Festival of Britain: https://www.bristolideas.co.uk/read/opening-the-magic-box/
If you’d like a brief introduction to what all the fuss is around William Friese-Greene, I’ve prepared this handy primer, which covers 100 years of controversy in an intense 90 seconds:
Also on Sunday afternoon there will be the chance to see the delightful travelogue of 1920s Britain, The Open Road, shot by William Friese-Greene’s son Claude with an early colour system based on his father’s ideas. It will be accompanied with live music from silent film maestro and BBC TV and radio presenter, Neil Brand.
I wrote this article for Bristol Ideas about Claude Friese-Greene’s work and the fall and rise of the reputation of The Open Road, if you’d like to know more: https://www.bristolideas.co.uk/read/taking-to-the-open-road/
Unfortunately, Covid-related issues mean that the screening of The Magic Box that I was due to introduce has been cancelled. A double shame as the family of its star, Robert Donat, sent me a message to pass on. However, the organisers of the screening, South West Silents, seem determined to still go ahead at a later date, and from what I know of them, that means it will happen.
However, in case you are feeling some kind of withdrawal as a result, or if you don’t have more than one minute to spare to watch the film, let me offer this loving homage to its most famous scene:
And as if that wasn’t enough, there will be a couple of walks around Bristol to take in film heritage, including places that relate to William Friese-Greene and a special speaker to discuss the very first film show ever in the city: https://www.watershed.co.uk/whatson/10813/cinema-walk
I’m happy to say that the BBC have shown interest and I shall be talking about Friese-Greene on Radio Bristol on Saturday morning (which can be heard live here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/live:bbc_radio_bristol) and there is a piece about the celebration on the BBC News website: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-57984681
As you can see, it all adds up to a very busy weekend, so I hope you can check out some of the things I’ve mentioned. Wherever you are in the world – and I know people visit this blog from every corner – I hope you can at least join us for that discussion.
And finally, here’s glimpse of what a television programme about Friese-Greene, presented by me, might look like (and why I might not get hired):
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If you’d like to ask me a question, go ahead: