In this documentary Cruickshank presents three films, constructed from the Mitchell and Kenyon film rolls discovered in a Blackburn chemist shop in 2002. These “create a virtual landscape of the period more extensive than anything comparable in UK cinema.” (Keiller, in Weber and Wilson, 2008, p.35). The British Film Institute restored the fragile nitrate film, producing a compilation of some of the best of the twenty-six hours of filming. The collection included eight hundred and twenty six reels of black and white actuality primitive films, which according to Nelmes “has extended our understanding of cinema’s debt to pre-cinematic genres.” (2003, p.322).
Film theory tends to have taken a “spatial turn” in recent decades (Shiel, 2001, p.5) and this analysis explores people’s attitudes to space within modernising cities. The films demonstrate how aspects of space affect people within their industrialising, urban area. Shiel suggests that cinema has a “striking and distinctive ability to capture and express the spatial complexity” (2001, p.1). In an age before motorised transport totally dominated roads, the walker or flaneur could wander along city streets wondering at the marvels of the modernising technologies which were shaping the developing cities. In these films the contemporary audience can share this sense of awe. This may account for cinema’s ability to shape our imaginings of cities.
The city plays a central part in modern and post-modern life, and from its conception cinema has played an important part in creating imaginings of a “cinema-city.”(Shiel,2001, p.1). These films have allowed audiences a snapshot of industrialised cities, such as Nottingham and Manchester, as they were at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The locations of the films are Edwardian streets and local industries, and the focus is upon the people who lived and worked in these urban areas and the spaces they inhabit. These nameless individuals perform for the camera and are eager to do so. The non-fiction, non-narrative films are examples of early silent movies, produced through one continuous shot, using a static camera. Nevertheless they are entertaining and useful historical records of life in Victorian and Edwardian cities and towns.
Nelmes argues that “British cinema frequently depicts Britain as a geographical entity.” (2003, p.334). The locale is viewed from above, as well from the street. Keiller argues that Mitchell and Kenyon use ‘phantom rides ‘to allow “a view not [usually] available to anyone but a phantom (ghost in the machine)” (2005, p.18) . By placing the camera on the top of a motorised tram action shots are created, as if the audience is moving through and above busy towns. This bird’s eye shot allows the viewer to glimpse a panoramic shot of the modernising cityscape, which they have probably never seen in such a way before. In this manner Bordwell and Thompson indicate that “framing imposes the distance, angle and height of a vantage...