Friday, July 24, 2009

Hepworth: The Mogul in the Cottage on the Thames

My eyes were misting over at the sight of Robert Donat, that most "beautiful loser" in the cut-throat world of moviemaking, as I watched the end of The Magic Box (1951) on TCM earlier this month. That actor could break this sap's heart with a change in the inflection of his voice, but the somewhat romanticized portrayal of cinema pioneer William Friese-Greene in the all star John Boulting-directed film was very well done. Still, it made me think about another pioneer in British movie history, Cecil M. Hepworth (1875-1953).

In Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's documentary series on early film pioneers across the pond, Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood (1995), the film historians called their chapter on the British film industry, "Opportunity Lost". Unlike the flourishing Swedish, Italian and French cinemas of the early years of the 20th century, English movies struggled from inception, with little government protection from foreign filmmakers, and constant copyright violations occurring among the hardscrabble film companies.

This outpost of the British cinema was little more than "a cottage industry", based in the 8 room house of the of Cecil Hepworth in Walton-on-Thames. Hepworth's movies may have had their hand-crafted limitations, but they were also innovative, had charm, and definitely had an off-hand, singular British humor. And their creator was one of the most influential figures in movies internationally--if one of the most obscure today. Since many of this filmmaker's few existing, brief movies are in the public domain, I hoped it might be interesting to gather many of them together here for readers who might enjoy these, as I have. None of the movies here are any more than a few minutes long...please click here for the rest of the blog.


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