Rethinking the Familiar in Steven Soderbergh‘s The Limey
This article complicates the notion that Steven Soderbergh‘s films are simply a
refashioning of familiar materials, as evidenced by his ongoing appropriation of
classical Hollywood and the European art cinema. Through a close analysis of The
Limey (1999), this essay argues that Soderbergh‘s film interrogates the idea of
familiarity, as such, beginning with the perceptual experience that it generates for
viewers. With reference to Victor Shklovsky‘s notion of defamiliarization as well as
Martin Heidegger‘s formulation of temporality in Being and Time, this discussion
proposes that Soderbergh‘s reiteration of the filmic past can be seen as a meaningful
event for film-critical practice that sheds new light upon issues of filmic
temporality and film history.
Memories of childrens cinema-going in London before the First World
Before 1906, there were no dedicated venues for the exhibition of film in London.
Five years later, cinemas had spread all over the city, and 200,000 people were
attending a film show in the city every day. Many in these first cinema audiences
were children. Significantly - indeed probably uniquely for the time - cinema was a
mass entertainment deliberated aimed at, and priced within the range of, the young.
Decades later, some of these children left memoirs (published or unpublished), or
were interviewed by oral historians. This body of evidence on the experience of
cinema-going before the First World War has been hitherto ignored by film historians.
This essay examines this testimony from London audience members, which is constructed
around the various stages of the act of going to the cinema. The testimony
demonstrates that the experience and the enjoyment of the social space that the
cinema provided were at least as important as the entertainment projected on the
screen. The early cinema demands greater recognition for its function as a social
sphere, and particularly as a welcoming place for children.
Cecil Court and the Emergence of the British Film Industry
Cecil Court is a small pedestrian passageway in the London Borough of Westminster.
Under its more famous name of Flicker Alley, it is also the mythic birthplace and
romantic heart of the early British film industry. This essay sets aside romantic
myths and adopts the economic theory,of agglomeration, using the film businesses
moving in and out of Cecil Court as a case study to demonstrate the changing patterns
within the industry. In doing so it charts the growth patterns and expansion of the
British film industry from 1897 to 1911. It shows its development from its origins,in
equipment manufacture, through to production and finally to rental and cinema
building and outfitting, marking the transition from its small-scale artisan-led
beginnings into a large and complex network of distinct but interlocking film
Glasgow Corporation had been sponsoring films for almost twenty years when in 1938
its Public Health Department commissioned seven silent films. This marked new
relations between the Corporation and the emerging Scottish documentary film movement
and a change of approach towards the films’ audiences and the city itself. The essay
traces the Corporation‘s film sponsorship from the late 1930s to 1978 when the final
images of Glasgow‘s Progress, the Corporation‘s last sponsored film - on its urban
renewal projects were taken. By then the Corporation had been amalgamated into
Strathclyde Regional Council, the century-long social project of reform had come to
an end and television had made its own documentary impact. It argues that over time
Corporation films served a variety of political and institutional purposes and often
prefigured the fortunes of the city and its people.
This short essay draws on research undertaken by the curator of the Scottish Screen
Archive on the few surviving films credited to Greens Film Service of Glasgow in the
teens and twenties. The research revealed a dynamic family business, born out of the
travelling cinematograph shows of the late nineteenth century, growing to assume a
dominant role in the Scottish cinema trade in the silent era, across exhibition,
distribution and production. One small part of a lost film history waiting for
rediscovery – early cinema in Scotland.
Although film renting began in Britain in London, the rapid spread of cinemas after
1910 meant that there was a demand for distribution closer to the sites of
exhibition. As a long-established trading centre, Manchester was well placed to
become the hub for Northern distribution, and local trade directories list
distributors from 1912 onwards. These clustered at first near Victoria Station, but
soon moved to Deansgate, as independent distributors began to outnumber branch
offices of the major companies. The life-expectancy of these was short, and the First
Worlds War affected their business, but they remain an important and under-researched
aspect of the early British cinema business.
Over fifty feature films have been made either in or about Brighton and they have all
contributed to popular understandings of Brighton‘s history and its character.
Collectively, they present the city as a site for extreme emotions and conflicts
found within narratives that are always set either on the seafront or at the Royal
Pavilion. It can be argued that these Brighton films are not about Brighton at all
but instead serve as vehicles for the expression of popular anxieties, concerns and
desires. As such, they transcend the specificities of place and history and become
projections of what could be described as a national unconscious.
In the early years of the cinema and into the 1910s and 1920s, it was less the film
than cinema-going itself that attracted urban publics. In this era, people were
enthusiastic about technology and the achievements of modernity; while at the same
time they felt anxious about the rapid and radical changes in their social and
economic life. In Germany, this contradictory experience was especially harsh and
perceptible in the urban metropolis of Berlin. The article demonstrates how within
city life, Berlin cinemas – offering the excitement of innovation as well as optimal
distraction and entertainment – provided an urban space where, by cinema-going,
appeal and uncertainty could be positively reconciled.