Ep. 108: Bryony Dixon on Victorian Film • Maggie Hennefeld on Women and Death by Laughter • Sam Dunn on Tod Slaughter

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Ep. 108: Bryony Dixon on Victorian Film • Maggie Hennefeld on Women and Death by Laughter • Sam Dunn on Tod Slaughter

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Mon Mar 04, 2024 7:52 am



NitrateVille Radio Episode 108: Bryony Dixon on Victorian Film • Maggie Hennefeld on Women and Death by Laughter • Sam Dunn on the Deadly Doings of Tod Slaughter

It's the Victorian episode! (87:21)

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[2:13] People talk about silent films well into the 1920s as being "Victorian" in their outlook, but there really are Victorian films—films made between the beginning of film c. 1896 and Queen Victoria's death in 1901. Bryony Dixon, curator of silent film at the BFI National Archive, has led efforts to make these early films available online, and her book The Story of Victorian Film tells us what we learn about both early film and the Victorian era by looking at these movies from the dawn of film.

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[31:01] Maggie Hennefeld, professor of cultural studies and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota, is one of the curators of the Cinema's First Nasty Women set, and appeared on NitrateVille Radio to talk about it in 2022. Her new book Death by Laughter: Female Hysteria and Early Cinema, from Columbia University Press, looks at the way women's reactions to comedy unsettled men in the late 19th and early 20th century, but film gave women a new cultural space to laugh hysterically.

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[55:37] Tod Slaughter was a workaday stage performer who found a kind of stardom as a hammy, over-the-top villain in revivals of Victorian stage melodramas like Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. In the mid-30s, the need for British movie product—"quota quickies"—led to him starring in eight film productions of these full-blooded, gleefully grisly melodramas. Powerhouse Films' Indicator series has put out a blu-ray box set of Slaughter's films, taken from original material at the BFI. We talk to Sam Dunn, Powerhouse's co-director, about this cult horror star and his work, captured in the spectacular 4-disc set, The Criminal Acts of Tod Slaughter: Eight Blood and Thunder Entertainments, 1935-1940.


Powerhouse's trailer for the Tod Slaughter set.

I reviewed the set in the Old Movies on Blu-Ray thread here.

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The BFI's online collection of Victorian films is limited to UK viewers, but Bryony Dixon suggested some publicly available titles to watch to get a sense of what Victorian film was like:


The source of the book's cover image, James Williamson's 1901 trick film The Big Swallow. "It shows that they were already really aware of film form," Dixon says.


James Williamson's Fire! (1901): "A most fabulous and interesting film. A policeman, noticing a house on fire, runs out of the picture, and there's a cut—and you see him running into the picture. It's the first-ever continuity edit, where someone runs out of frame and into frame, indicating a passage of time."


An example of science and nature films: the first-ever film of a solar eclipse (1900). "This film turned up because we were doing the project [to put all Victorian films online]. The guys at the Royal Astronimical Society rang us up and said, we've got this film can..."


Travelogue films were sometimes made in larger formats—like IMAX films today. This collection of 68mm Biograph travel films from Eyefilm in the Netherlands, but including ones from the BFI, shows the clarity and scale of these films.


A feature-length compilation of the Mitchell and Kenyon films, examples of the "local people" genre in which people paid to see themselves on film. Discovered in 1994 in the demolition of a toy shop in Blackburn, they're notable for the charm and immediacy of their subjects looking at us across the century.


A synchronized sound film (film and Gramophone record) from 1900, starring the music hall performer Lil Hawthorne: "It's the closest you'll ever get to a genuine Victorian music hall performance." Weird Tod Slaughter-esque fact: Hawthorne played a role in reporting the murderer Dr. Crippen to the police (he had murdered a friend of hers).

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Re: Ep. 108: Bryony Dixon on Victorian Film • Maggie Hennefeld on Women and Death by Laughter • Sam Dunn on Tod Slaughte

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Thu Mar 07, 2024 2:37 pm

Speaking of Victorian film, Hippfest (see episode 82) just put up a video in which Bryony Dixon talks about and shows some Victorian films:

Cinema has no voice, but it speaks to us with eyes that mirror the soul. ―Ivan Mosjoukine

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Re: Ep. 108: Bryony Dixon on Victorian Film • Maggie Hennefeld on Women and Death by Laughter • Sam Dunn on Tod Slaughte

Unread post by Zepfanman » Fri Mar 08, 2024 8:06 am

As always, a great group of interviews. Enjoyed your "Victorian" accent between interviews lol. And thanks for the HippFest video from yesterday.
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Re: Ep. 108: Bryony Dixon on Victorian Film • Maggie Hennefeld on Women and Death by Laughter • Sam Dunn on Tod Slaughte

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Fri Mar 08, 2024 10:26 am

Thanks! That was hard! I was trying not to do a fake English accent (on an episode with actual Brits) but something that sounded 19th century and proper...
Cinema has no voice, but it speaks to us with eyes that mirror the soul. ―Ivan Mosjoukine

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