Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Lost World of Friese-Greene

The BBC is trailing its new series The Lost World of Friese-Greene heavily. It is based around a colour documentary about a journey through Britain which was filmed by Claude Friese-Greene in the 1920s. And it does look ravishing, even if a little Dan Cruickshank can go a long way sometimes.

You can see the first part of the series on Tuesday on BBC at 9 p.m. In the mean time, Simon Garfield has written about it in today's Observer, and you will soon be able to buy the DVD from the BBC.

The name Friese-Greene is well known to British cineastes through Claude's father William, who was a pioneer of motion photography. In particular, he was the subject of the 1951 film The Magic Box. This was produced to coincide with the Festival of Britain and featured just about every well-known British actor of the period, up to and including Sid James. The full cast list is worth a look.

Unfortunately, the film was based on the premise that William Friese-Greene had invented motion photography but been denied the credit by posterity. The consensus amongst film historians seems to be that this is nonsense, and if anything William has fallen into even obscurity as a reaction to the film.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, William Friese-Greene's brief return to fame in the 1950s probably explains the reference to him in the Goon Show which Tim Worstall remembers.

When they say everyone was in The Magic Box, they really mean it. In his Lights Out for the Territory, Iain Sinclair claims that Ronnie Kray can be briefly be seen as an extra:
In a still taken from the television version, he is dark, sallow, serious. In his flat cap, he looks unnervingly like a ghetto child marching away to a darker destiny.
I am not sure what Sinclair means by "the television version", but we have come a long way from Claude Friese-Greene.

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