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Fire! (1901)


Main image of Fire! (1901)
35mm, black and white, 281 feet, silent
DirectorJames Williamson
Production CompanyWilliamson Kinematograph Company

The occupants of a house in Hove are rescued by the local fire service.

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James Williamson's Fire! (1901) dramatises the work of his local fire service (Hove Fire Station is clearly identifiable) in five tableaux: the raising of the alarm, the fire brigade leaping into action, the horse-drawn fire engines rushing to the scene, and two longer shots of the fire rescue as shown from inside and outside the building (the derelict Ivy Lodge in Hove).

Along with Williamson's earlier Attack on a China Mission, Fire! was one of the very first films to make use of multiple shots edited together to create a chronological sequence propelling a coherent narrative along. Williamson also creates suspense by showing the audience the extent of the fire in the first shot, which heightens the sense of urgency as the fire crew (who lack this privileged information) leave the station and rush to put it out.

Though the action itself lacks the sophisticated staging and construction of later films such as Desperate Poaching Affray (d. William Haggar, 1903) or Daring Daylight Burglary (d. Frank Mottershaw, 1903), Fire! shares with those two films the distinction of being a major influence on a pioneering American film, Edwin S.Porter's The Life of an American Fireman (1903), which borrowed Williamson's narrative model and developed it further by introducing close-ups.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (2:58)
Production stills
Attack on a China Mission (1900)
Brighton Fire, The: Arrival of the Brigade (1899)
Metropolitan Fire Brigade Turn Out (1899)
Stop Thief! (1901)
Topical Budget 167-1: Great Forest Fire (1914)
Topical Budget 856-1: A Monster Fire Fighter (1928)
Williamson, James (1855-1933)