The Lost World of Mitchell & Kenyon: Edwardian Britain on Film (review)
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The Lost World of Mitchell & Kenyon: Edwardian Britain on Film, edited by Vanessa Toulmin, Simon Popple, and Patrick Russell; pp. 201. London: British Film Institute, 2004, £15.99, $25.00.

The last decade has been an exciting one for students of British cinema. A virtual explosion of scholarship has explored questions of genre and identity through compelling [End Page 560] overviews of cinema's first century and in-depth studies of particular decades of British film production. Cinema's origins, however, have received much less attention. The decades between the first exhibition of film in Britain (1896) and the 1920s remain mysterious, documented primarily by classic works by Rachel Low and John Barnes and a burgeoning yet fragmentary periodical literature. This collection, published by the British Film Institute, offers a new approach and should serve as a model of how film scholarship, when truly interdisciplinary, can contribute significantly to our understanding of the evolution of film and film culture in the first decade of the new medium.

The Lost World is built around the 1994 discovery, in the basement of a shop in Blackburn, England, of some 826 uncored rolls of nitrate film from the first decade of the twentieth century. Research determined that the twenty-eight odd hours of negative were shot by Sagar Mitchell (1866–1952) and James Kenyon (1850–1925), the photographer and furniture dealer, respectively, who released films under the trade name "Norden Films" between 1899 and 1913. A four-year collaborative partnership between the British Film Institute and the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield culminated in this collection of essays and a DVD highlighting selected films from the collection, released in 2005. Mitchell and Kenyon were known previously for their "fake" Boer War films, and the discovery of this "lost" Mitchell and Kenyon footage substantially expands our knowledge of their company's productions and affords us a multi-regional, rather than national, framework for understanding British film production in its early years.

The book is divided into three sections. Section one describes the discovery of the films, explains the process of archiving them, and situates Mitchell and Kenyon alongside other late-Victorian and Edwardian film producers, such as the more familiar Cecil Hepworth. Notable is Patrick Russell's essay, which explicates the archival process as "fundamentally a cultural, not a solely physical or administrative" one (12). Russell skillfully delineates competing interests in the process of archiving film: the needs of potential users, issues of intellectual ownership, and contemporary audiences' experiences of the films all shape the decisions archivists make.

Section two explores why the films were made, how they were exhibited, and what they can tell us about cinema-going practices of the Edwardian era. Stephen Bottomore locates the Mitchell and Kenyon collection within an international context of "local films," which he defines as films with "considerable overlap between the people appearing in the film and those who watch it or are intended to watch it" (33). In conjunction with Tom Gunning's essay on the relationship between the history of cinema and the emergence of the working class "onto a new stage of visibility," this section of the book suggests that early cinema owed much to the era of the music hall and popular theater. Early cinema, Gunning argues, was based on a relation between viewer and film involving direct address: here, people "were shot in order to be recognized, filmed for the pure delight of seeing themselves and others" (53). Essays by Vanessa Toulmin and Richard Brown reiterate this point as they chart the network of connections between exhibitors and audiences. Janet McBain takes the development of this argument further, arguing that the Mitchell and Kenyon collection provides "evidence of a direct link between the experiences of the first generation of film exhibitors on the fairground, and their successors in the picture palaces of the 1910s and 1920s" (111).

Section three presents a variety of methods for using the films as historical evidence. Two essays in particular rethink the genre of the actuality in British cinema [End Page 561] history. Andrew Prescott draws on the Mitchell and Kenyon collection to study the use...


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