Film A couple of years ago there was a screening in Manchester of Mitchell & Kenyon’s football films. M&K were two Blackburn entrepreneurs who for a period in the early part of the last century set about filming people and work and play and then charging them to see their life projected that evening at various locations including fair grounds and libraries and it turned out St George’s Hall. I’ve thought since then how wonderful it would be to organise such a showing at that venue again and last night I got to see what that looked like as hundreds of people piled into the main hall to see a selection of their films of Liverpool, in a screening organised by the BFI and Liverpool University.

My version of the event was a plasma tv running from a Matsui dvd player with about thirty chairs. Instead, the main stage was filled with a giant screen, showing images from a state of the art projector sat on the organ balcony and an audience covering the whole floor. The programme selected highlights from over two hours of footage shot in the city, generally places with large gatherings of people such ass football matches, parades, the return of soldiers from the Boer War, the leaving of Cunard ships from the Pier Head and oddly a reconstruction of the arrest of a criminal.

As you can see from these edited highlights, that’s a very broad description of the marvels we saw, blurry scenes of the past put into context by the guest speakers, Julia Hallam from Liverpool University and Vanessa Toulmin from Sheffield’s National Fairground Archive, who’d also commentated on the football in Manchester and has apparently presented over a hundred and thirty similar shows throughout the country. Vanessa seems tireless and has the same enthusiasm for the subject that I saw two years ago.

I went with my Dad and he was particularly impressed with the musical accompaniment provided by Stephen Horne, who at one point played the flute and piano simultaneously creating a spooky atmosphere to accompany the recreated Arrest of Goudie (a film which demonstrates exactly how difficult it was to spin a narrative when you’ve only very long static shots to work with, establishing shots lasting many minutes). Now and then Horne imported familiar melodies including You’ll Never Walk Alone and The Leaving of Liverpool, which created some wonderfully post-modern moments, different eras of the past combining.

Seeing images such as the giving of medals to soldiers even I can’t but feel that we’ve lost something in our stupid cynical world. True, some of the audience in the footage of the May Day Demonstrations look bored stiff (with the exception of one particularly enthusiastic gentleman waving his hat in the air) but it was at least a regular gathering in which the entire community could become involved and which by the looks of things hadn’t been hijacked by commercial concerns (with the exception of the ice cream man perhaps).

The Capital of Culture year, with collective experiences such as this screening are proving that actually such things are still possible. Usually in screenings I’m quite obsessed about talkers making noise during the main feature. Here it seemed positively encouraged, a collective brains trust attempting to work out exactly were in Liverpool particular films had been shot, or exclamations of surprise as the older demographic of the audience saw shops and streets that have long disappeared.

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