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Screevers on Film
In this silent film; the social spaces of 1920s London (parks, pubs and shops) play an important role in Anthony Asquith’s working-class love story.
A love story set in and around the London Underground of the 1920s. Two men – gentle Bill and brash Bert – meet and are attracted to the same woman on the same day at the same Underground station. But the lady chooses Bill, and Bert isn’t the type to take rejection lightly.
This is thought to be the first ever ‘feature film’ to capture an actual pavement artist working on the Victoria Embankment, London.
The scene is described as follows: Main character “Nell’s walk on the Embankment; a down-and-out pavement artist is caught casually by the camera.”
I have no stills of this scene and it may only be brief, but it is significant in the history of pavement art and the aesthetic use of screevers to add colour and a sense of place to a movie; a device that has since become commonplace amongst filmmakers. Who today often use street entertainers, jugglers and performers, to add local colour and pad out a street scene for artistic purposes.
Underground is a very rare example of a British silent film that has survived, most were destroyed and recycled for the silver content in the nitrate. The silver was then used to line the wings of aeroplanes! The film was restored by the British Film Institute in 2009 using a newly found French print, and given a ‘Archive Gala screening’ at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of The London Film Festival 2009.
It was shot in 35mm, black and white, silent and totalled 7282 feet.
Anthony Asquith (1902-1968) was born in London; he was the son of H. H. Asquith, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the First World War. He was thought to be Britain’s most important film director, second only to Alfred Hitchcock.
Underground has yet to be released for general viewing on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Written and researched by Philip Battle
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