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Vanishing Street, The (1962)


Main image of Vanishing Street, The (1962)
16mm, black and white, 20 mins
DirectorRobert Vas
Production CompanyBFI Experimental Film Fund
SponsorJewish Chronicle
EditorRobert Vas
SoundRobert Allen

The vanishing way of life of the Jewish community of Hessel St., Whitechapel.

Show full synopsis

A year after directing Refuge England (1961), which described the first day of an East-European refugee in London, Robert Vas chose another familiar subject for his new project. Himself brought up in a Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Hungary, he decided to make a film on a traditional London Jewish community threatened by a redevelopment scheme in the area. Initially called District for Sale, the project attracted funding from the BFI Experimental Film Fund and the Jewish Chronicle.

Vas shot the film in 1961 in and around Hessel Street in London's East End, moments before bulldozers started pulling down the old shops and houses. Post-production was completed the following year and, after the film was officially approved by the Council of Christians and Jews, it was first publicly shown at the National Film Theatre in November 1962, alongside other BFI-sponsored shorts.

The Vanishing Street documents, in twenty minutes, the life of a typical Jewish community in 1960s Britain, showing us its street market, kosher food shops, newspaper and synagogue, all preserving the community's identity. However, it quickly proves to be more than an informative documentary. Using once again the techniques of Free Cinema - possibly more than in Refuge England - Vas manages to give the film a truly lyrical dimension, and to convey a sense of nostalgia and deep affection for the community and its members.

Rejecting an authoritative voice-over commentary and didactic images, the director, with only a lightweight 16-mm camera and a tape recorder, combines longs shots of the street and close-ups of people with a mixture of non-synchronised natural sounds, snatches of conversations and old Yiddish songs. As much as any official Free Cinema film, The Vanishing Street is a genuine personal statement, written, directed, photographed and edited by Vas himself, without the pressure of commercial sponsors.

Christophe Dupin

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Free Cinema'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (18:43)
Production stills
Kid for Two Farthings, A (1955)
Petticoat Lane (1903)
Vas, Robert (1931-1978)
Beyond Free Cinema