Friday, 27 May 2011

England's Oldest Film Society

The Early Days Of Manchester & Salford Film Society

AS part of the 'Invisible Histories' series at the Working Class Movement Library, Robert Taylor gave a talk on the history of the Manchester & Salford Film Society. It was a balanced account that focused on the rise of film in working class culture in the 1920s and 1930s. This was a time when Hollywood films dominated popular culture and the Manchester & Salford Film Society under the influence of the trade unionist and shop steward Reg Cordwell tried to present an alternative with Russian films promoting the virtues of Soviet life such as 'Storm over Asia' , 'Turksib' which would now be accused of 'Orientalism' and later, more psychological German films like 'The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari'.

The first secretary of the Film society was Tom Cavanagh, who had been a founding-member of the Communist Party, and the long-term organiser and archivist, Reg Cordwell, was a shop-steward with a strong interest in workers' education. The first show was on 15 November 1930 at the Prince's Cinema, Liverpool Street, and included a Laurel and Hardy short and a ‘travelogue' on the River Thames. More significantly, it also presented two Russian films - 'The First Time in History' concerned the USSR's first five-year plan, and 'Two Days' was a drama about the conflict between Whites and Reds in southern Russia. Russian films were to feature heavily in the Society's programmes. This policy fell foul of Salford's Watch Committee, which in July 1931 refused permission for the showing of Pudovkin's classic, 'Storm over Asia'. Billing it as ‘the film Salford must not see', the Society moved the show to Manchester, where it was largely to remain for the next 66 years.

As our cultural correspondent, Chris Draper, has shown in the current issue of Northern Voices - see 'Six O' the Best Northern Films' in NV12 - that in a sense 'Cinema was invented in the North (of England) with the earliest surviving, 1888, film featuring street life in Leeds city centre' with popular producers including Bradford's "Captain Kettle Films", Frank Mottershaw's Sheffield Photo Company, Walter Scott of Manchester, Bamforths at Holmfirth and Mitchell & Kenyon of Blackburn. But after World War I, Hollywood and the studios down South tookover the medium and, it seems, that the only alternative was presented by these independent film societies such as those described by Robert Taylor.

OUR publication Northern Voices is on sale at the Cornerhouse cinema bookshop and in our publication there have been regular reviews of cinema at the Cornerhouse particularly during the Viva Festivals. If you have difficulty finding our journal on sale at your local newsagent you may make a postal subscriptions by sending a cheque for £4.20 payable to 'Northern Voices' for two issues (post included)to 52, Todmorden Road, Burnley, Lancashire, BB10 4AH.

1 comment:

James Williams said...

Hi, I've made a page for the early film pioneer Frank Mottershaw, so maybe someone will add to it. In any case it's there perusal.