Electric Edwardians – The Films of Mitchell & Kenyon (2005) – By James L Neibaur

 During the first experiments with moving pictures, people looked at cinema the same way they looked at photographs. Only these photos featured images that actually moved. They did not expect a story, color, sound, special effects. The very fact that the pictures featured moving images was amazing enough.

Electric Edwardians offers footage from the very early days of cinema, when moving images were shown to everyday audiences. According the the DVD’s introduction, "the films of Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon were commissioned between 1900 and 1913 by touring showmen in the days before purpose-built cinemas. Advertised as "Local Films for Local People,’ they were screened at town halls, village fetes, and local fairs."

The DVD is separated in the following sections:

Youth and Education
The Anglo-Boer War
Workers
High Days and Holidays
People and Places

Within those sections are several short films such as Audley Range School, Blackburn (c.1904) which shows uniformed youngsters engaged in morning exercises, in careful, regimented formation. And Special March Past of St Joseph’s Scholars and Special Parade of St. Matthew’s Pupils, Blackburn (1905) where several children march in formation with their teachers and headmaster. Most of them are smiling, clearly enjoying what they’re doing. Many look directly at the camera lens, despite not likely being terribly aware of the moving picture that is photographing them for all time and generations.

There are tram rides, shots of busy streets, soccer games, stage shows, and other events that give us a fascinating glimpse that Great Britain in the early part of the twentieth century.

The real beauty of these nicely restored pieces of history is how they so beautifully document the people, places, and events of the era. Such documentation is essential for even the most cursory understanding of history.

The Mitchell and Kenyon films were donated to the British Film Institute by Peter Worden. This collection was restored by the British Film Institute’s National Film and Television Archive between 2000-2004.

In one of the DVD’s special features, dealing with the restoration process, Patrick Russell, the Senior Curator of nonfiction works at the National Film and Television archives states, "I think when people use or hear the term film archive they often tend to think about the great feature films, basically," adding that the archive holds a huge amount of television and twice as many nonfiction as fiction films. The project coordinator shows how many of the films arrived in rusty drums in need of restoration. They had been rescued from being thrown away. Other films arrived, separately wrapped in plastic, in cake boxes that had been stored in a freezer. The National Film and Television archives performed a restoration process that had little invasive treatment of the original material, protecting these films with the realization that they represented the archaeology of the cinema. The damage on some of the footage was extensive and in need of full restoration. Some of the film did not even fit existing machines, so a machine had to be built to project the fragile material for restoration.

Electric Edwardians is yet another terribly important release from Milestone Film and Video, making available and accessible some remarkable, significant footage that serve as sociocultural checkpoints for studies in twentieth century history