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A Year in Film: 1908

Another year in the life of the swelling British film industry

Main image of A Year in Film: 1908

1908 was a year of high profile international events for Britain's capital, not least of which were the Olympics, which took place in a specially-built stadium originally constructed as part of the White City site for the really important event of the year, the Franco-British Exhibition. Running from May to October and including a state visit from the French President, this very visible celebration of the entente cordiale perpetuated the anti-German bias of British foreign policy. The arms race between the two navies continued apace, as we see illustrated in films such as The Birth of a Big Gun, which aimed to impress with the sheer scale of the naval guns under manufacture. The films of 1908 reflected these grand public events, as well as recording interesting features of daily life around the Empire. A keen interest in the natural world is also demonstrated in the surviving examples.

In fiction, the trend towards quality continued. In France, the establishment of the Film d'Art company reflected an interest in bringing the great classics of the theatre and literature to the screen. In Britain, this was already happening, as is well illustrated by Clarendon's clever adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest in a series of well known scenes from the play in a condensed form with which audiences would have been familiar from such publications as the Charles and Mary Lamb's 'Tales from Shakespeare'.

Animation techniques progressed in the output of Arthur Melbourne Cooper's Alpha Trading Company. His Dreams of Toyland added depth and complexity to the format established by W.R. Booth, using the device of the child's dream to present a fantastical world of living toys. As with the non-fiction films, the interest in the natural world and animals in particular was ever present and in this genre we meet again Rover, played by 'Blair' the Hepworth family dog, who takes command of a motorcar to rescue the baby from dastardly kidnappers in the descriptively titled The Dog Outwits the Kidnappers.

In the film business, the commercial jostling which was about to result in a patents war in the USA and a fierce competition for market share in Europe hadn't yet affected the volume of production. Some 608+ films were produced in Britain in this year. Principally, these were the bread and butter output of the established companies of the pioneers like Charles Urban, James Williamson and the partnership of George Howard Cricks and John Howard Martin, producing non-fiction films, short dramas, comedy films and animations which ran for a single reel and were presented in a mixed programme.

As well as the great music hall circuits, the films were increasingly being presented in purpose-built or adapted venues, so much so that the following year would see legislation to ensure the safety of audiences in these halls. 1908 also saw the establishment or commercialisation of quite a few film companies, and the launch of The Bioscope, a film trade paper to rival the Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly. The film business was changing fast, and the fight for dominance of the international trade was about to begin in earnest.

Bryony Dixon

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Arrival of President Fallières at Dover May 25th, 1908 (1908)Arrival of President Fallières at Dover May 25th, 1908 (1908)

An official welcome for a state visit by the French president

Thumbnail image of Birth of a Big Gun, The (1908)Birth of a Big Gun, The (1908)

The manufacture of a new weapon in the pre-WWI naval arms race

Thumbnail image of Cliff Climbing  - The Egg Harvest of Flamborough Head (1908)Cliff Climbing - The Egg Harvest of Flamborough Head (1908)

An insight into a rare and potentially dangerous occupation

Thumbnail image of Dog Outwits the Kidnappers, The (1908)Dog Outwits the Kidnappers, The (1908)

The very resourceful Rover saves the day

Thumbnail image of Dreams of Toyland (1908)Dreams of Toyland (1908)

Wonderfully odd part-animated fantasy in which a child's toys come to life

Thumbnail image of Man and His Bottle, The (1908)Man and His Bottle, The (1908)

A comic cautionary tale about the demons of alcoholism

Thumbnail image of Nature's Hidden Beauties - Pond Life (1908)Nature's Hidden Beauties - Pond Life (1908)

Spectacular early example of microphotography

Thumbnail image of Our Banana Supply (1908)Our Banana Supply (1908)

Presentation of plantation work that serves as a record of colonialism

Thumbnail image of Quick Change Act (1908)Quick Change Act (1908)

A glimpse of a music hall changing room

Thumbnail image of St. Kilda, Its People and Birds (1908)St. Kilda, Its People and Birds (1908)

First film from the subsequently evacuated Hebridean island

Thumbnail image of Tempest, The (1908)Tempest, The (1908)

A witty, stylish precis of Shakespeare's play told in silent tableaux

Thumbnail image of Whaling Afloat and Ashore (1908)Whaling Afloat and Ashore (1908)

R.W. Paul's last surviving film documents the entire whaling process

Thumbnail image of Wheat Fields of Canada, The (1908)Wheat Fields of Canada, The (1908)

Actuality film showing the production of grain for bread

Thumbnail image of White City Franco-British Exhibition 1908 (1908)White City Franco-British Exhibition 1908 (1908)

Major exhibition cementing friendship between Britain and France

Thumbnail image of World's First Caterpillar Track, The (1908)World's First Caterpillar Track, The (1908)

First glimpse of an invention that would transform modern warfare

Thumbnail image of £100 Reward (1908)£100 Reward (1908)

Drama about a burglary and how it was solved by a faithful dog

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