Saturday, February 27, 2010

A stroll through cinema history


Just back from the Cinema Museum in London, which has been hosting a film memorabilia fair today.
Books and lobby cards and soundtracks and Super-8 movies... and, as special guest, none other than the winner of Carfax Abbey's recent Hammer glamour girls poll: Caroline Munro herself.
I'd like to be able to tell you I spent half an hour chatting casually with Caroline, but the embarrassing truth is that I found myself stood right in front of her before I even realised she was there: our eyes met, I did one of those double-takes like Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace, she smiled warmly, and I ran away.
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The museum, open to the public by appointment only, is the home of the Ronald Grant Archive, and houses an incredible collection of posters, artifacts, fixtures, cameras, uniforms, carpets, memorabilia and anything else remotely connected with the world of cinema.
The building, not far from the Elephant and Castle, was originally part of the old Lambeth workhouse, and is now all of the once sprawling structure that remains, lost in the middle of a maze-like modern housing estate.
.Many of you will not need telling what this imposing Victorian structure's significance is to the world of the cinema, but if you do, perhaps the names of some of the apartment blocks on the surrounding estate will give you a clue:
.Yes, it was to this very building that the infant Charlie Chaplin was sent, with his brother Syd, after his mother's mental breakdown. Many of his later movies, such as The Kid and Easy Street, draw on his memories of the time he spent here.
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Here's some of the great stuff inside:
.Angela auditioning for DeMille
Cinema seat arm-rests
"Stewart Rome, honoured recipient of 133470 votes in 'Pictures Popularity Contest', June 1915."
His real name was Septimus Wemham Ryott, and only Chaplin got more votes in that 1915 poll. By the nineteen-forties he's regularly taking uncredited roles. Between 1913 and 1950, he made over 150 movies. I had never heard of him until this morning. Oh if we could only swap him for Colin Farrell.
Angela took these photos. That's why there's not 400 pictures of Caroline Munro. Or one, even.
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Here's some of the great swag I brought home from the fair:
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Jaws: I've bought it on Betamax; I've bought it many, many times on VHS, and I've bought it three times (so far) on DVD - now at last I have it on two-reel sound and colour Super-8.
.Programme leaflets for the Stoll Picture Theatre, Kingsway. These were produced purely for information purposes, and designed to be thrown away as soon as they went out of date, just like the forthcoming attractions leaflet for the Vue chain I picked up when I went to see The Wolfman this weekend that didn't even get as far as the car park before I slung it in the crapper.
But just look at these beauties!
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The days when you could watch a Laurel & Hardy short sat in a box.
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Here's a genuine typed letter from D. Goldenberg, General Manager of the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square, dated March 11th, 1931, urging me to see Trader Horn, "the miracle film of the decade":
.Dear Patron,
For the first time, we venture to trouble you with a personal letter about a forthcoming attraction, because we feel that the greatest talking picture made so far... merits our doing so...
To make it, the director, W. S. Van Dyke, who was previously responsible for White Shadows of the South Seas and other successes, took his company of actors and actresses and technicians, 60 strong... into the dark recesses of the African jungle. For almost two years they faced death, from wild beast, reptile, disease and cannibal, daily and often hourly.
Scenes of almost unbearable excitement are included... This is an attraction we can bring to your notice without the slightest fear of your being disappointed...
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But this, I fancy, is the find of the day:
An original and mint condition 1953 carton formerly containing one whole pint of Valley Farm's Bing Crosby Ice Cream, "the cream of the stars".
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Unbelievably, this incredible item (being shown to you today by our two lovely young ladies Esther and Penelope) cost me just three pounds! That's less than an actual pint of ice cream - one without, what's more, Bing's friendly visage and reassuring signature assuring us of the high quality produce within!
I shall sleep well tonight.