Cinema marks centenary with classic 'visual buffet'

Picturehouse celebrates anniversary with sample '1910 Show'
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It has hosted bingo games and live wrestling, provided an impromptu place of worship and, according to local legend, housed an illegal punk concert. Now Britain's oldest cinema has turned back the clock 100 years by returning to its celluloid roots.

The Duke of York's Picturehouse in Brighton last night screened "The 1910 Show", a two-hour programme of short films mixing documentary, newsreel and fiction to mark its 100th birthday. The show offered what organisers called the sort of "visual buffet" laid on when the establishment first opened its doors. "These were the days before feature films," explained Dr Frank Gray, director of the Screen Archive South East at the University of Brighton. "Viewers were simply transfixed by the technology, so they would be content to watch a selection of short films: local or national newsreel, something that might make them laugh or cry, perhaps some romance."

As one of Britain's first purpose-built cinemas, the Duke was crucial to the evolution of the British film industry, nurturing some of cinema's earliest pioneers, including James Williamson and George Albert Smith.

But as film distribution became increasingly centralised, the Duke gradually slipped down the pecking order of release dates.

By the 1960s, bingo tournaments were being hosted twice a week to raise funds; wrestling matches and church services followed in the 1970s. In the 1980s, however, things began to look up, with the conversion of the cinema into a dedicated art-house venue.

Today, the Duke of York flourishes as part of the Picturehouse Cinemas group and hosts the town's annual film festival, Cine-City.

Now showing: What we watched 100 years ago...

Prehistoric Peeps, by Cecil Hepworth, 1905

Cecil Hepworth was perhaps one of the greatest British directors of the silent period and this was one of the first films to be shown in a cinema, according to Dr Frank Gray, of the Screen Archive South East at the University of Brighton. It is a dream sequence, a common subject back then and, indeed, today. A scientist dreams of going back in time and meeting cave people. The dinosaurs are particularly wonderful, despite looking like crude papier-mâché models.

The Birth of a Flower, by Percy Smith, 1910

Like Scottish Tartans, this would have been a curiosity for cinema-goers. Time-lapse photography is used to show the development of flowers. It is among the earliest time-lapse footage and marks a milestone in the evolution of film.

The £100 Reward, by James Williamson, 1908

James Williamson was a local director who achieved national and international success. This is a simple morality tale about a dog owner who is going to sell his dog for money, until they find some buried loot. The owner goes to the police, and in return gets a reward which transforms his life, and allows him to keep his dog.

Bank Holiday at the Dyke, by James Williamson

Along with Temperance March, Brighton Seafront, Bowling on Hove Lawns, and Empire Day Hove, this was a selection of local documentary/newsreel pieces. Each cinema would produce their own local material. It was seen as a point of attraction. Audiences simply had a totally different understanding of film.

Kinemacolor: Scottish Tartans, by GA Smith, 1908

George Albert Smith was the father of Kinemacolor, the first use of colour in film. This would have been a new wonder for viewers. The films were produced by Charles Urban, one of the largest producers of documentaries in the country.

Tilly and the Fire Engines, by Cecil Hepworth, 1911

The popular Tilly series was about two teenage girls getting up to mischief and featured Alma Taylor and Chrissie White. There were no film stars at the time – though these two went on to be some of the first.

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