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Old Chorister, The (1904)

British Film Institute

Main image of Old Chorister, The (1904)
DirectorJames Williamson
Production CompanyWilliamson Kinematograph Company

Hearing singing from a nearby church, an old man reminisces about his past as a chorister.

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First announced in James Williamson's November 1904 catalogue, The Old Chorister represents a return to the territory he explored in The Little Match Seller (1902), where Williamson uses superimposition effects to depict a character's thoughts on film. But the later film, in addition to being made up of multiple scenes, also attempts to convey the effect of overheard sound in a silent medium.

Although Williamson described it in the catalogue as "a pathetic story, adapted for musical effects", which suggests that he intended screenings to have some form of accompaniment, the film is perfectly comprehensible without it, as it is clear from his gestures that the old chorister hears something in the distance, and precisely what he hears is then revealed in the form of a superimposition of a young chorister singing. This image has a dual function, representing both what the old chorister hears at this particular moment in time, and also his simultaneous memory of his own past life.

While it was common for Williamson's films from this period to be made up of several scenes (four in this case), he normally moved from one to another by a straightforward cut. But with The Old Chorister, each scene transition is heralded by a fade to and from black, an effect that would have been familiar to audiences at magic lantern slideshows, but which was still relatively unusual in films.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
Complete film (3:49)
Little Match Seller, The (1902)
Williamson, James (1855-1933)