This BFI collection of short films offers a snapshot of the sort of material that was playing in British cinemas a hundred years ago. Needless to say, there’s not a blockbusting comic-book sequel in sight. Instead we’re treated to a curious, winning mix of travelogue (scenes of Cairo and the pyramids), comedy (including one of Chaplin’s first films), musical entertainment (a blacked-up, singing ‘rajah’) and news (Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested outside Buckingham Palace; scenes of the destruction of Louvain in Belgium).
What we witness here, and it’s thrilling, is an entirely new medium emerging and finding its feet, drawing on old traditions (music hall, especially) and inventing new ones. Composer Stephen Horne offers a lively piano score, but the real atmosphere of wonder in those early picturehouses is left to our imagination.