Tuesday, 27 March 2007

A Visit to The New BFI

I am just back from paying a visit to the reopened British Film Institute. The space neighbouring the National Film Theatre under Waterloo Bridge which used to house the Museum of the Moving Image which closed in 1999. Ever since the space had remained unusued. Until last week that is, when it reopened, having been revamped. The space now houses the Foyer of the NFT together with a bookshop, a cafe (with free wifi), a gallery and a Mediatheque.

The last area is where I wandered not really sure what I would find there. I booked 15 minutes with a screen, a mouse and a keyboard in one of the small booths dotting the space. A nice assistant gave me a number and I logged in and started trawling around the list of films on offer.

I watched a few seconds of an episode of Little Brittain and a short silent film shot arround Old Street in the 1920's and showing a pub called the London Apprentice which apparently became one of the most famous gay pubs of the capital. However, I quickly found and switched to The London Nobody Knows. A 1967 wander around uncongruous parts of London, guided by James Mason. We go from the derilict Bedford Theatre in Camden Town to several markets or a cottage (public toilet) in Holborn. We stop for a bit at one of the Manze's restaurants before heading for some unknown cemetery before having tea with destitute people in a Salvation Army hostel. There is also an interview with two buskers and a scene in riverside egg cracking factory. People seem to think this scene rather wierd but I actually found it really funny if rather out of tone with the rest of the film which is based on a book of the same title by Geoffrey Fletcher. I have spotted a similar "programme" with Kenneth Williams, which should be interesting.

By then I had had to go and ask the assistant for another session. You can book between 15min to 2 hours at a time. This time I asked for 2 hours.

THe nest short film, I viewed was Finisterre; a 2003 film inspired by The London Nobody Knows and produced as a substitute to video clips for St Etienne's latest album: Finisterre. This is a more arty love letter to London but I found myself well up at several point (particularly during the segment on rain in the city).

I then watched a 10 min film called The Elephant Will Never Forget and shot during the last week in which Tram were in circulation between Westminster and New Cross via the Elephant and Castle. The last tram was retired (and presumably burnt, like the others!) on 5 July 1953.

Finally, after watching a 1935 short, called Colours on the Thames (yes, it was in colour), I watched Borderline, a 4 min 2005 film collage of bits of London buildings, creating a new but recognisable landscape, and a few seconds of the rush hour on Blackfriars' Bridge in the 1890's...

Reading this, one may think that only short films are available but they also have feature films at hand.

I have to say that I am not particularly impressed by the interface used to view the films. It is rather slow to respond (particularly when you ask it to pause or move forward or backward) and it doesn't tell you how far you have gone in whatever you are viewing. The search engine could also be better. The space of the mediatheque itself is ok but could have been designed better, I think. More isolation between each booths and certainly more confortable seating would be an improvement. It would also be good to be able to find online or some sort of catalogue what material is available, before a visit.

The experience however is free and the wealth of information and films available (presumably to be extended as time goes by) means that I will certainly be back.

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