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A Year in Film: 1907

A quiet year for world events, but not for the film industry

Main image of A Year in Film: 1907

Almost nothing happened in 1907. No great international events, no major climactic or natural disasters disturbed the peace (an earthquake in Jamaica hardly registered beside the San Francisco quake of the previous year). Edwardian Britain enjoyed itself. The arms race, which would eventually make a European war inevitable, had just reached the fun part where the military boys showed off their new toys (last year the launch of the Dreadnought, this year the demonstration of the new torpedo boats faking an attack on that very battleship) and it is significant that by this time no one would consider staging such an event without the inclusion of the cameramen. Cinemagoing was expanding rapidly, to the point where it became viable to establish purpose built cinemas rather than screen films in shop-fronts, nickelodeons and church halls. Film was becoming big business, and as more theatres opened the demand for more and newer films increased.

For British filmmakers, 1907 was another difficult year, with the ongoing problems of international competition fomented by the Pathé company in France. Charles Pathé hit a critical mass in his plans to industrialise the film business and further reduced the price per foot of his films to undercut his competitors. But falling prices, while eating into profits, were not enough to discourage British producers; at least 467 films were released (a conservative estimate), of which 82 survive in the BFI National Archive. Exhibition was healthy, with purpose-built film theatres opening in London, and pioneering companies such as Electric Theatres Ltd. were founded to establish circuits of cinemas.

The surviving films are heavily dominated by the London contingent of pioneering companies such as Hepworth, Urban and Clarendon. Content and styles of filmmaking continued along the lines of previous years with comedy, drama, trick films and animation, interest films and actualities being produced in similar proportions. For the moment film producers steered a steady course and produced the same films as their competitors but strived to make them better.

In this selection, we see the dominant position played by Charles Urban in British production, and we feature the work of W.R. Booth, a cartoonist, animator and amateur magician who had worked with Maskelyne and Devant at the Egyptian Theatre before going into film with R.W. Paul and then Urban. In drama, adaptations of literary works likely to have a international appeal were popular and would anticipate the establishing of Film d'Art in the following year. Percy Stow's source for his film The Pied Piper of Hamelin was the Robert Browning poem of 1842, to be found in most British nurseries but with a basis in European folk culture. Cecil Hepworth continued to produce good quality comedies along tried and tested lines. In the non-fiction field, Mitchell & Kenyon were still producing wonderful local films. The Crewe hospital pageant is a remarkable compilation of highlights of the event with performances by the prize-winners, illustrating the sophisticated filmmaking strategy that the company was operating.

One newcomer to the film scene in 1907 was the Cinematophone, a synchronised disc system not unlike the Gaumont Chronophones being produced in the same year. These 'singing' films featured well-known songs of the day. One example is By the Side of the Zuyder Zee, a popular song of 1906 by A.J. Mills (lyrics) and Bennett Scott (music).

Bryony Dixon

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Anarchist and His Dog, The (1907)Anarchist and His Dog, The (1907)

Comic film in which an amorous anarchist overreacts to rejection

Thumbnail image of Bury St. Edmunds Pageant, The (1907)Bury St. Edmunds Pageant, The (1907)

Impressive document of the first pageant in the historic Suffolk town

Thumbnail image of By the Side of the Zuyder Zee (1907)By the Side of the Zuyder Zee (1907)

A girl performs the famous song

Thumbnail image of Diabolo Nightmare, A (1907)Diabolo Nightmare, A (1907)

Comedy about an office worker obsessed with the game of diabolo

Thumbnail image of Dreamland Adventures (1907)Dreamland Adventures (1907)

Adventure film in which three children travel to the Arctic

Thumbnail image of Great Victorian Fall, Zambesi River, The (1907)Great Victorian Fall, Zambesi River, The (1907)

African travelogue exploring the region Dr Livingstone made famous

Thumbnail image of Juvenile Scientist, A (1907)Juvenile Scientist, A (1907)

A boy uses his chemistry set to take revenge on his parents

Thumbnail image of Mitchell and Kenyon: Crewe Hospital Procession (1907)Mitchell and Kenyon: Crewe Hospital Procession (1907)

A fundraising pageant for Crewe Cottage Hospital

Thumbnail image of Pied Piper of Hamelin, The (1907)Pied Piper of Hamelin, The (1907)

Silent adaptation of Robert Browning's famous poem

Thumbnail image of Reedham Boys' Drill (1907)Reedham Boys' Drill (1907)

Boys group themselves into a number of elaborate formations

Thumbnail image of Sorcerer's Scissors, The (1907)Sorcerer's Scissors, The (1907)

Animated film about a pair of scissors with magical powers

Thumbnail image of That Fatal Sneeze (1907)That Fatal Sneeze (1907)

Comedy about a practical joke involving pepper

Thumbnail image of Torpedo Attack on H.M.S. Dreadnought (1907)Torpedo Attack on H.M.S. Dreadnought (1907)

A naval exercise involving Britain's then newest battleship

Thumbnail image of When The Devil Drives (1907)When The Devil Drives (1907)

Comic horror about the devil taking charge of a train

Thumbnail image of Willie's Magic Wand (1907)Willie's Magic Wand (1907)

Comedy in which young Willie causes chaos with his magic wand

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