Birmingham is the home of cinema. Obviously.
Why wouldn’t Channel 4 come to Birmingham? We’re the home of cinema!
The last few months have seen the push to entice Channel 4 to the second city ramp up in intensity. Birmingham is a city on the up, bustling with endeavour, and represents an attractive option should the broadcaster choose to leave the capital.
For those of us in media roles, the excitement is real.
With more recent accomplishments, including the successful bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games, making the ‘here’s why’ lists – there is one narrative that needs to be brought to the fore. We’re the home of the ‘moving picture’.
It sounds far-fetched to be so bold. But bold is what Brummies aim for.
2018 represents an anniversary for our city. It is 150 years since John Barnes Linnett patented the kineograph – the ‘moving picture’. Today we recognise it as the flip book. Although the Frenchman Pierre-Hubert Desvignes is generally credited with being the inventor of the flip book, Linnett was the first to patent the invention – here in his home city of Birmingham.
These flip books were the first form of animation to employ a liner sequence of images rather than circular and thus played a key role in the birth of cinema.
On its own, that alone might warrant a challenge to being the ‘home of the movies’. Indeed, patenting isn’t quite the same as inventing (no-one tell Alexander Graham Bell). But Birmingham has further cinematic tradition thanks to Alexander Parkes.
In 1856, Suffolk Street’s own Alexander Parkes created Parkesine. Fourteen years later we’d come to know the product as Celluloid. Beyond its role in the British plastics industry, celluloid would be a the most crucial material for the world of cinema until the widespread move to acetate films in the 1950s. Casablanca, Gone with the Wind… all on Parkes’ celluloid.
Our story doesn’t end there.
The Electric Cinema, opened in 1909, is the oldest working cinema in the UK.
We’re also home to a triumvirate of noted pioneers of cinema.
They were born within five miles of each other. Oscar Deutsch was born in Balsall Heath, Victor Saville's first home overlooked Cannon Hill park, while Michael Balcon was brought up were Spaghetti Junction now stands. Together they helped to shape the course of Western cinema.
In 1923 their company, Victory Motion Pictures, produced Woman to Woman, the most expensive UK film at the time, and the first film shaped by Alfred Hitchcock.
Oscar Deutsch became a leading cinema entrepreneur responsible for the iconic ODEON cinema chain, the first of which opened in Perry Barr.
Victor Saville became a film director and producer, remembered both for his radical and progressive treatment of women (his leading ladies included Vivien Leigh and Rita Hayworth) and for his realistic depiction of the working class in films such as Goodbye Mr Chips and The Citadel.
Sir Michael Balcon became a film producer of great standing. His fingerprints are all over the ‘golden years’ of classic UK cinema. Alongside his discovery of a young Alfred Hitchcock he oversaw the output from Ealing Studios in their halycon years, with titles including The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob.
There are more stories to tell. We’re the home of silent film star Albert Austin, Felicity Jones, Julie Walters, David Harewood, Carry On’s Jacki Piper, James and Oliver Phelps (the Weasley twins) and even R2-D2. The award winning score for Deer Hunter was composed by Stanley Myers. If you wanted a score for a silent film in the 1910s, Aston-born and Birmingham trained Albert Ketèlbey was the person to go to.
Now we’re rekindling our love affair with film. Our cinema going audience is on the up. Independent outlets – the Electric, Everyman and Mockingbird are going strong. Outdoor cinema screenings sell-out in no time. Star City is the place to go for the latest Bollywood blockbuster.
Birmingham, true to its nature, is evolving, and a recent move towards wooing the film industry has seen us become a location of choice for big-budget movies.
The excellent work done by Film Birmingham has enticed major pictures including The Girl With All The Gifts and Spielberg’s Ready Player One.
Channel 4 have celebrated British cinema for decades, no more so than with projects supported by Film Four Productions; Trainspotting, East is East, Shaun of the Dead. It has a reputation for backing the trailblazers, the hard-working underdogs.
Our forward-thinking city and is deeply rooted in its proud heritage of innovation and support for those who think a little differently. And we love a great storyteller.
It could be a match made in heaven.
Image: Birmingham Central Library