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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

April 19, 2006

The Lost World of Friese-Greene

The Lost World of Friese-Greene, first episode of which was on BBC2 last night, was very interesting. And - shock horror - not a single dramadoc moment in the whole hour. What were the BBC thinking? How can people possibly understand something that happened more than 5 years ago without some ac-tors dressing up and acting it out?

Claude Friese-Greene (Or Claude Greene, if he'd known me, since I will not tolerate a double-barrelled name in my presence), made films with black and white stock and colour filters, then colourised the frames, alternately with red and green. Played back at faster than normal speed, the effect tricked the eye into seeing (sort of) colour pictures. The effect worked best, of course, on strong reds and greens. Friese-Greene sported a Hitler-style moustache.

They said in the documentary that these films, had they been experienced in cinemas of the day, were a little hard to watch, given the equipment available, which couldn't show the film quickly enough. But the BFI have obviously been able to restore the effect. As it was, the films were only ever shown at trade shows, so never seen in cinemas proper.

Presenter Dan Cruikshank comes across as a bit of an idiot, though not too annoying, as he retraces a journey (in a similar vintage Vauxhall) through Britain as filmed by Greene in 1924 and called "The Open Road". The original film was a snapshot of a brief moment in history, shortly after the First World War but before the General Strike, at a time when some people - young women in particular - were experiencing a sense of freedom they'd never had before.

At times, it seems that mere minutes after Greene's cine camera stopped rolling, buildings were being torn down, roads widened, hedgerows flattened etc. All a bit depressing.

The old film was fascinating to see, and - in this first episode at least - the researchers had done their work well, and Cruikshank was able to talk to people who recognised some of those in the film. But this was in Cornwall and Devon, mostly, and I wonder how that will play as he gets further into the industrial areas.

The shame of the programme was that we were only shown short snippets of film at a time, and then lots of shots of Cruikshank driving along telling us how much things had changed. In case we hadn't noticed. But, thankfully, you can explore the archive online. Doesn't look as if Greene ventured to the Eastern half of the country, apart from some bits in London.


  • I watched it too. Borrowed a portable TV. It's the only television I've seen in two months.

    I really enjoyed it. Especially for the sense of decay that it imparts when you see how bland, trivial, selfish, and cluttered things are today.

    Likewise I enjoyed that epic sense of mortality you get from seeing an entire life's span of time.

    By Blogger SimonHolyHoses, at 2:32 am  

  • I enjoyed it too. I was looking forward to it after seeing his other series last year. The first time I heard Dan Cruickshank, I thought he had a very strange voice for a TV presenter. I thought he was the chap who found the old film reels and maybe he had insisted on giving the commentary himself.

    Now I think he's great. I did have a look at the films on the Web but it's not the same without his commentary. I suppose there's not really much film so maybe they have to have the modern bits. I don't mind them much either though.

    The more of this sort of stuff they dig up, the better as far as I'm concerned.

    Not very long ago, the former Jewish Lord Mayor of Cork died. They showed a documentary about him that was made in the 1970s. What fascinated me was not only the footage from the early 20th century but also the then current footage from the 1970s that showed people being interviewed. I recognized areas that are now completely changed.

    By Blogger Paul, at 7:00 am  

  • You're right, Paul. The more of this kind of thing (and the less of the drama-documentary kind of thing), the better

    By Blogger bot37363838, at 3:14 pm  

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