Old Joy


Ancient cinema is its own ex post facto aesthetic achievement—then, it was merely gadgetry and spectacle, but today it’s time crystallized, a magical artifact eloquently speaking of life, death, everydayness, and humanity. This feature-length collection of “actualities” was shot between 1900 and 1913 by traveling Brit cine-ethnographers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon. The pair of pioneers simply toured England and photographed public life—parades, fairs, school processions, factory workers going home, ad infinitum—uniquely capturing the Edwardian quotidian in amber. Twenty-eight hours of their negatives have been discovered and cataloged by the National Fairground Archive, but this selection is as succinct, sweet, and rueful as an elderly dream. It’s doubtlessly invaluable as archaeology—no other visual record of the era in Great Britain is nearly as rich—and as viewing it’s primeval cinema, a fragile window on an extinct universe. Of immeasurable help is the new and poignant soundtrack by In the Nursery, who should be drafted to score every surviving silent film. The extras include a raft of additional M&K shorts (including footage of the announcement of Queen Victoria’s death, in Blackburn), a lovely video essay by Tom Gunning that turns the films into a documentary about themselves, commentaries, and more.